Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in
Sally Howard fell hard for this East Asian gem, with its spectacular scenery, top-notch seafood and pop culture eccentricities
Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile
Fengjia night market, Taichung, Taiwan
A few years ago I found myself eating faeces-shaped ice cream from the U-bend of a miniature loo. A trip to Modern Toilet restaurant, one of five such culinary paeans to the bathroom in Taiwan, was the surreal highlight of a trip that covered all of the East Asian bases.
I ate featherlight dumplings at atmospheric night markets; I poked about gilded Buddhist temples that were thick with the aroma of sandalwood incense; I enjoyed oolong ceremonies in 16th-century teahouses where I could almost hear the bustle of Ming dynasty merchants; and I trekked through the eye wateringly sublime Taiwanese interior. Here, marble gorges plunge into blue-green rivers, and fissures in the earth’s crust bubble with the waters that supply Taiwan’s 130 hot springs (ideal for soothing trekkers’ muscles, once you get a grip on hot-spring etiquette).
Taiwan was the rising star of Asian travel as the pandemic struck, with inbound passengers doubling to 46 million
On that first trip, I came to see Taiwan as a more accessible alternative to China, with all of the Han cultural treasures (literally, as the Chinese palace jewels have been housed in Taipei since the retreat of the then government from Mao’s revolutionary forces in 1949), and lower levels of air and water pollution than its dominating near-neighbour. Taiwan also has an impressive track record on safety and crime, making it one of the world’s safest destinations for lone female travellers.
For these reasons, and thanks to a rapid increase in flight connectedness in the late 2000s, Taiwan was the rising star of Asian travel as the pandemic struck, with inbound passengers doubling to 46 million in the decade to 2018. Cruise companies also had this island nation in the South China Sea in their sights, with the 2019 launch of a new mega category cruise ship port at Kaohsiung, to the island’s southeast. Princess, Celebrity, Azamara and Royal Caribbean cruise lines all added Taiwan stop-offs on popular Tokyo to Hong Kong itineraries.
During these pandemic years, however, Taiwan has been one of the more cautious nations when it comes to the easing of border rules. At the time of writing, Taiwan remains closed to foreigners except for emergency or humanitarian reasons, with these arrivals being required to undertake a 14-day quarantine and capped at 4,000 people per week.
A beach in Taiwan’s Penghu islands
While I understand the trepidation, selfishly, I’ve been pining for a return visit to an island that was nicknamed “Ilha Formosa” (the beautiful isle) by centuries of western merchants who chanced upon its volcanic, teardrop-shaped landmass while plying the spice routes from China and Indonesia.
I yearn, for example, to explore the Penghu archipelago, a cluster of islands off the west coast of Taiwan that are beloved by big-wave hunting windsurfers, but whose wind-whipped coastlines are little-visited. They’re beaded with charming sea temples, coral-stone villages and humble shacks serving a distinctive Penghu cuisine: a combination of umami-rich flavours and seafood, with hit dishes including boiling fish-head hotpots, stir-fried sea mushroom, cuttlefish ink sausages and shrimp rolls.
Since I last visited, I hear that cycling fever has gripped Taiwan’s youth, and I’d love to join them on the popular east coast cycle route between Taitung and Hualien, which carves past golden sanded beaches, fishing ports and “art villages”, where tourists can pick up the wares of local artisans for a song. Then, it would have to be a trip to a pristine “beitou” (hot spring) for a blissful soak. The quieter baths are in the Taiwanese valleys, such as Lelegu Hot Spring in Yushan National Park, a peaceful spot where you can leave your clobber on a rock and plunge into toasty mineralised waters.
The other thing about Taiwan – and here it owes something to its easterly neighbour Japan – is its pop culture eccentricity. In the capital, Taipei, you’ll find this photogenic dottiness in spades, from anime and cosplay cafes to medieval and space-themed “love hotels”, and cartoonish “love signs” erected at scenic spots so tourists can post cheery framed Instagram shots. Lavatory-themed dining is, of course, just one aspect of this East Asian tradition.
Cycling is a popular pastime in lush locations such as Sun Moon Lake
There’s hope that Taiwan’s border restrictions will loosen in autumn (the ideal season to visit, with the summer monsoons gone, plenty of sunshine and daytime temperatures in the mid-20C) – and holiday companies are busy selling 2023 Taiwan packages.
They include Responsible Travels’ small ethical group tour to Taiwan, which features a visit to a mountain tea farm and a woman-led social enterprise in Taipei, plus a trek along the scenic Ci’en Pagoda trail to mystical Sun Moon Lake. There’s also Bamboo Travel’s 15-day Family Adventure in Taiwan, which takes you along the island’s rugged coastline by kayak and deep into the night market stalls of foodie Taipei. Sailing from 2024, Cunard’s much-trumpeted 19-night Far East cruise on the Queen Elizabeth will tour the coast of Japan and the Senkaku Islands before arriving at Keelung (Taipei) on day 16.
Meanwhile, I learn that Modern Toilet used the fallow years of the pandemic to come up with fresh scatalogical confections, including chicken curry served in a replica squat loo. Recent reviews of the Shillin branch are glowing (“Crappy in the best way!”; “I usually eat out of toilets but it doesn’t taste as good as this!”). With due apologies to the brave diners of Taipei, it’s not one for the top of your bucket list.
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.
Already have an account? sign in
By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.
Already have an account? sign in
By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies
Fengjia night market, Taichung, Taiwan
Getty Images/iStockphoto
A beach in Taiwan’s Penghu islands
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cycling is a popular pastime in lush locations such as Sun Moon Lake
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Want to bookmark your favourite articles and stories to read or reference later? Start your Independent Premium subscription today.
Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in
Log in
New to The Independent?
Or if you would prefer:
Want an ad-free experience?

source

Shop Sephari