a. bucket. of. words.

by Cherszy (@cherszy)

Come Experience Taiwan!

It may just look like a mini sweet potato floating in the Pacific Ocean that you might probably think it’s just some random lost isle, but don’t underestimate the wonders you may find in Taiwan. After all, it was called ‘Formosa’ once which literally means “Beautiful Island”. And staying true to its former title, Taiwan is one place that’s filled with many hidden alluring surprises just waiting to be discovered.

So, you ready to explore with me?

Taipei 101

You may know that Taiwan is most famous for Taipei 101 (whose 671 seconds of fireworks display last Dec. 31 was breathtaking) and night markets situated almost everywhere, but this little island proves that it is more than just modern buildings, street food, and Chiang Kai Shek stories.

With approximately 36,000 square kilometers of area, Taiwan encompasses so much of nature’s beauty as its most scenic spots are found in its numerous mountains-turned-national-parks. Touring around Taiwan probably makes one appreciate nature more than anywhere else in Asia. There are beautiful mountains here, blue waters of lakes there, and lines of trees everywhere. And it is in this abundance of nature that Taiwan finds some of the world’s most interesting natural products from which it takes pride in as it offers them to its citizens and tourists alike.

Yang Ming Shan Clock

Taiwan’s Famous Natural Products

Large sugar-apples or sweetsops are being sold along the streets, and they are deliciously sweet. Very meaty and juicy, these sugar-apples are unlike the ones you buy in your local supermarkets or those shops around the corner. They’re seriously huge, heavy, and tasty! A must try when you go visit the island.

The prices for these fruits vary, depending on which area you’re in. It’s more expensive in places like Shilin Night Market since it’s one of the more famous night markets around Taiwan where prices can go as high as 160 NT/pound. Cheaper ones can be found in small stores along the sides of the streets or outside the temples where they are priced at 80 NT/pound.

Aside from large sweetsops, there are also large white bitter gourds being sold on the streets, most especially in night markets. But, these white bitter gourds are more famous for being sold as juice drinks rather than as vegetables. Go near a store with a large white bitter gourd hanging as a logo, tell them you want to try out the bitter gourd juice, and they’re squeezing them in no time. And voila! Your white bitter gourd juice drink is good to go. And guess what? It’s not exactly that bitter especially with that spoonful of honey added to it! It’s delicious and healthy. For a glass worth 45-50 NT, it’s not that really that bad of a deal for something as unique as this.

Probably the most celebrated natural product of Taiwan is neither the sugar-apple nor the white bitter gourd but the lingzhi mushroom which is also called the ‘Herb of God’ or the divine fungus as it is believed to help cure diseases such as diabetes and certain kinds of cancer. It is also believed that the lingzhi mushroom can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. As such, this particular product is known to be the “miracle product” as it has proved to treat certain people of their illnesses because of its anti-tumor and immunotherapeutic activities. As for its cancer treatment capability, it has been said that the lingzhi mushroom has the ability to inhibit tumor growth.

The lingzhi mushroom can be ingested either by drinking the soup of the boiled lingzhi or taking lingzhi capsules. As for where to buy, the province of Hua Lien is the most abundant as it is the closest province to Mt. Cilai (Qilai Shan) where the lingzhi mushroom is believed to grow.

But, due to limited availability, these items are rather expensive where the prices for capsules are in the range of 24-48 NT each while fresh, sliced lingzhi mushrooms are priced at around 12,000-18,000 NT/box.

Well, then, I guess it’s about time that I stop babbling about the natural products (since I think I’m beginning to sound like some saleslady now) and let’s move on to some of the recommended spots in the island.

Taroko National Park [太魯閣國家公園]

Walls and walls of white marble greeted us as we wound up the roads leading up to the mountains of Taroko National Park. This experience has got to be the most beautiful and breathtaking of all the places I’ve been to on this trip. The scenery is truly amazing!

Fallen boulders and small rocks rest at the foot of the towering marble cliffs while blue-green waters of the ravine rushed and splashed across each shiny white marble surface. The  landscape of marble cliffs, lucid waters, and the green environment around ushered in such a feeling of serenity and beauty. It feels like it’s just you and nature at that particular moment. Nothing else. No pollution. No sirens. No crying babies. No irritating noises. Just a calm feeling of nature’s presence. It will make you smile even for a second, I promise. I think no words or photos can truly express how stunning the whole place is. You have to be there to be able to be completely in awe.

So, the next time you’re planning for a Taiwan tour, don’t miss this place. Seriously, you just can’t.

Yehliu Geopark [野柳]

If Taroko is all about the wonders of the marble mountains, Yehliu Geopark takes us to an adventure of rock appreciation. Yes, you read that right. Rocks. But, they’re no ordinary rocks that you’ll find just about anywhere. These are “special” rocks as they have undergone the changes of time. They have experienced centuries of erosion which led to the rock arts we now see along the beach.

Mushrooms

The Yehliu Geopark is truly one of the geological curiosities as well as one of the geological wonders in the world where you just can’t leave the place without uttering a ‘wow’ even if it’s just under your breath. How the rocks managed to naturally form into the shapes that they now are is simply amazing and jaw-dropping. Nature’s really got its way of painting some of the most magnificent and unique designs. Some formations include “The Bee Hive” and “The Fairy Shoe”, but the most famous one is “The Queen’s Head”.

The Queen's Head

Spring and Autumn Pavilions (春秋閣)

In the midst of Lotus Lake are these two tall pavilions dedicated to Guan Gong (God of War) connected to the shore by a nine-cornered bridge and guarded by a dragon on one end and a tiger on the other. It is believed that entering through the dragon’s throat and exiting through the tiger’s mouth will bring good luck to a person.

Inside the two pavilions are walls filled with pictures depicting heaven and hell and which have been crafted by delicate hands and by one with a great mastery of the art. Staircases which lead up until the 7th floor are also located inside for those who want to climb up and get a better view of the Lotus Lake.

There may not be much here – not as breathtaking or as special as the two aforementioned places – but it’s worth a visit especially that there is a good luck charm involved.

Fo Guang Shan Monastery (佛光山)

Whether you’re a Buddhist or not, the Fo Guang Shan monastery is worth taking a trip to. If you’re a Buddhist, then all the more you should go because it could be the peak of your Buddhist pilgrimage. However, even if you’re not, you’d find that this place offers more than just incense sticks and praying monks.

The biggest Buddhist monastery in the island, Fo Guang Shan imparts to its visitors a feeling of calmness and enlightenment as it invites them to relax by its small garden of small stone monk statues, fountains, and flowers as well as to admire at the thousands of golden Buddhist god and goddess statues while trekking up to the main temple.

There are two ways to get to the main temple. The shorter and less tiring one would be to ride this small cart that drives you all the way from the main entrance to the temple. However, I wouldn’t recommend that previous method unless you have breathing problems or you really can’t walk that far. It’s a more wonderful experience if you walk through the road leading up to the temple because you get to stop at the beautiful garden, at the smaller temple which houses around a hundred golden monk statues, and in front of the giant Amitabha statue with thousands of golden replicas of it surrounding it on both sides.

Amitabha is known as “The Buddha of Infinite Light”, and his posture where his one hand is raised

to like a stop sign and the other pointing downwards as if releasing something to the ground signifies letting go, whether of unhealthy emotions, grudge, anger, bad habits, or whatever that’s keeping us from living a good life and being a good person. And as you may have noticed in the photo, there are thousands of replicas of it all around (and even below) the giant Buddha which serves as a reminder to all visitors to learn how to let go of ill feelings as they walk on to the main temple and on to the rest of their lives’ paths.

Aside from the big Amitabha Buddha statue, the monastery also has this beautiful garden where you can sit and just take a breather as you watch the waters smoothly flowing like a mini falls and the  butterflies floating around the colorful flowers. Take a seat by one of the round stone stools or by the swinging bench. Take photos of the lovely scenery with your family and friends. Watch the monks and some pilgrims pass you by. Breathe in the sweet air of enlightenment and goodness as you find yourself meditating, reminiscing, or chatting with some of the people you’re with. It’s really a nice and soothing experience.

Also, one of the things that you shouldn’t miss out on is the “hitting” of the big metal bell in one of the smaller temples that you’d see on your way up to the main one. It is said that hitting the bell three times gains you a chance to make a wish, so yeah, don’t miss that one.

Night markets

Liu He Night Market (Kaohsiung)

When you go to Taiwan, you have got to love one thing: FOOD. There’s just so much of it everywhere! And needless to say, the food is absolutely delicious! And what better place to grab some cheap appetizing delights after work than in night markets!

Jiu Fen Night Market (Ruifang)

Everywhere in Taiwan, night markets are a blast! Once the clock strikes five in the afternoon, thousands of people start to flock to the numerous stalls either to order their favorite meals or to try out some new specialty dish being offered by the cook.

Street food has really been integrated into a local Taiwanese’s daily routine as they spend their nights squeezing through the crowd to visit the food stalls and enjoying their plates of goodness while sitting down at some dinner tables there or while walking along, still squeezing through the thick crowd of visitors, the narrow streets part of the night markets.

These street foods range from common misua (rice noodles) soup [most famous one is that of Ah Zong Mien Xian in Xi Men Ding Night Market] to weirder ones like ice cream fresh lumpia. The fish ball soup in Jiu Fen Night Market is also a hit among the locals. Some other famous foods include flavored mochi balls, dried pork strips/sheets, grilled shrimps, peanut soup, fruit balls coated with a solid melted sugar layer, smelly tofu, and chicken feet.

Aside from these delectable treats, Taiwan’s night markets also offer various other commodities for sale such as watches, clothes, shoes, fruits, and so many other things. You should really go check these night markets out when you happen to visit Taiwan. There may be so many people and some smells your nose wouldn’t welcome, but it’s an experience, so don’t miss it. After all, they are not exactly that difficult to find.

Some night markets that you might want to check out include Shilin Night Market (in Taipei) which is probably the biggest and most famous one around the island with stalls scattered along several lanes and can be quite unorganized as compared to the other night markets, Liu He Night Market (in Kaohsiung) which is a one-lane night market dedicated to satisfying your taste buds, and Jiu Fen Night Market (in Ruifang) which is my personal favorite because although it’s just one lane and is found near the top of a mountain, this night market is organized, clean, and has so many interesting things. You may also want to check out Ximending (西門町) which is not exactly a night market but is a great shopping district.

Two things to remember when visiting night markets or other food stalls:

First, if they offer you free tastes, don’t be shy to try them and don’t feel bad if you don’t like it and decide not to buy. The Taiwanese are nice, and they don’t want to force you to buying something you don’t like or you don’t know the quality of.

Second, most, if not all, prices are fixed. The Taiwanese frown upon haggling, so do not waste your time and energy in persuading them to lower the price as they really won’t do so. If they want to give you a discount, they will either tell you right away when you ask the price or they will give you a free gift or something extra when you buy.

Taiwan is really full of interesting things, so come vacation time, why not give yourself a chance to explore and discover the treasures that this little island possesses? Book that ticket, grab your camera, and prepare for a fun-filled trip to Taiwan! Enjoy!

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