For a country seemingly obsessed with tea-drinking, it’s surprising to learn that until the 1970s most of the tea produced in Taiwan was exported. Coffee shops tend to be trendier than artisanal teahouses these days, but local tea aficionados have been trying to change that by opening more relaxed yet stylish establishments.
With an almost endless parade of kaleidoscopic temples and folk festivals, it’s a safe bet to say that every visitor to Taiwan has at least one religious experience on his or her bucket list. But for love-seeking sightseers, there’s a single place that deserves top billing: Taipei Xiahai City God Temple in the capital’s Dadaocheng neighborhood.
The magnificent Alishan National Scenic Area, known for iconic Taiwan sunrises, narrow-gauge alpine railway, and “seas of clouds,” is divided into three main corridors, north, central, and south. The northern corridor is perhaps the quietest of the three, a region of steep-slope tea plantations, bamboo forest, scenic heritage trails, soaring waterfalls, indigenous-culture experiences, and much beyond.
Constructed over a century ago, the narrow-gauge Alishan Forest Railway branch line, today plied by tourist trains, is one of just three steep-gradient alpine railways on the globe. The others are also located in exotic locations off the beaten tracks: a line in India that runs through the Darjeeling tea-plantation region and one in Chile-Argentina that traverses the high Andes.
Chiayi is an old city sitting in the middle of the southwest plains with a pleasingly relaxed pace. It is filled with nuggets awaiting the history spelunker, more and more of its architectural nuggets now turned into places of trendy cultural-creative enterprise, joining the legion of friendly old-time shops and eateries.