JUST a two-hour and 15-minute plane ride from Manila, Taiwan has all the charm that traveling Filipinos are fond of—a rich culture and history, unique night markets, mouth-watering street food, efficient mass transport system, the four seasons, and most of all, amazing people.
However, a survey done by a global payment technology company indicates that while Filipinos are among Asia’s top travelers, Taiwan is not commonly in their bucket list because of limited knowledge on the beauty of the island-republic.
At best, Taiwan came into Filipino consciousness when the blockbuster television series “Meteor Garden” was shown in 2003 over ABS-CBN. Starring Barbie Shu, Jerry Yan, Vic Zhuo, Vaness Wu and Ken Chu, based on Japanese shojo manga series “Boys Over Flowers,” the Taiwanese drama series in fact started the trend of Asian telenovelas on Philippine TV.
Fourteen years after, 200,000 Filipino tourists visited Taiwan in 2016 based on the report of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines.
Visa-free entry for Filipinos
Thankfully, with the proliferation of budget airlines and new routes, Filipinos are coming around to visiting another Asian neighbor in Taiwan after enjoying Hong Kong and Japan as much as they can. Come September, the number of tourists from the country is also sure to rise when travel to Taiwan becomes visa-free for Filipinos.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan’s official name) announced the implementation of visa-free entry to Taiwan for Filipinos as part of its “New Southbound Policy.” The program aims to enhance the bilateral relations and expand the multi-faceted exchanges and cooperation between the two countries.
ROC representative to the Philippines Gary Song-Huann Lin explains, “The Philippines is considered an important partner of Taiwan, so we are really making efforts to welcome more Filipino visitors to come.”
Tourists who have existing or used visas from Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, any of the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and the United States may also enter Taiwan visa-free. For now, a single-entry visa to Taiwan costs P2,400 and a multiple-entry visa is P4,800.
As part of its campaign to introduce Taiwan to Filipinos, TECO, in cooperation with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Eva Airways [which flies from Manila to Taipei and back thrice daily]invited traditional and non-traditional media to experience four cities in Taiwan in five days in early June.
The Sunday Times Magazine was the only national broadsheet to join the familiarization tour, and offers the following as a guide to enjoying Taiwan.
Upon arrival at Taipei’s Taoyuan airport via Eva Airways BRO 261, the tour participants were advised to exchange money from the Taiwan Bank and other exchange centers. Official currency is the New Taiwan Dollar or NTD, roughly equivalent to P1.66.
The group then proceeded to the Taoyuan MRT Station adjacent to the airport. Jerry Chen, Taiwan Tourism Bureau representative, welcomed the delegates and familiarized them with the High Speed Rail station.
The High Speed Rail runs at a top speed of 300 kph (186 mph) from Nangang Terminal in Taoyuan, Taipei to Zuoying Terminal in Southern Kaohsiung. As such in an hour and 45 minutes, the group arrived in Kaohsiung, which is approximately the same distance from Manila to Bicol.
Foodies going to Kaoshiung City should make it a point to dine at Mei Nung Hakka Restaurant in HuaXia Road. According to the owner of the restaurant, Hakka is a Chinese minority group who has its own tradition and style of cooking, and thus perfect for those who want to try something a little different than the usual Chinese fare. The group was also welcomed by Chun-Liang Sun, Kaohsiung City Government Tourism Bureau chief.
As for accommodations in Kaoshiung, The Sunday Times Magazine recommends Hotel Indigo in Kaoshiung Central Park—a unique high tech boutique hotel with excellent service and delicious F&B outlets. Moreover, it is in close the famous Liuhe Night Market, which is truly a shopper’s dream come true.
For the crafty and art loving traveler, the Dashu District, also in Kaoshiung, is a point of interest in Taiwan. There, the group experienced a simple DIY (Do it Yourself) brick-making activity in a former tile factory established in 1918.
Even dining in the district is artful when the group lunched with white porcelain tableware at a restaurant located at 1300 Art Center. Apparently, the resto is the only artist-run porcelain brand in Taiwan established by Henry Shen and three of his students.
Another must-see is the breathtaking Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum and Monastery and its hall of giant Buddha. Built to enshrine the Buddha’s tooth relic symbolizing the everlasting presence of the Buddhadarma or Buddhism. Constructed over 10 years upon the personal instruction of Master Hsing Yun, the Buddha Museum is now an international tourist spot that advocates religious integration and world peace.
A children’s park, which is also for the young at heart is E-Da World located right beside Quan-Yi Mountain. A scenic spot in Kaohsiung City a visit here is indeed a treat with its “Flying over Taiwan” ride, which imitates a plane ride with 22 scenes of Taiwan. A monorail runs through the whole amusement area with over 50 facilities to choose from. Considered the largest tourist resort in Taiwan, E-Da World also houses the I-Shou University, I-Shou International School, an outlet mall, Skylark Hotel and Royal Villa and Eda-Royal Hotel where the group stayed for a night.
Historical Tainan City
The site of the main Dutch colony on the island, which was the first capital under Chinese supervision, Tainan is the republic’s oldest city. As such, it has become more of a historic tourist destination than a cosmopolitan hub.
The group arrived at the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House and Anping Tree House as the first stops in Tainan. Anping was one of the four harbors opened to foreign trading in Taiwan as per the treaty of Tianjin signed in 1858. Behind the Tait & Company building is the Anping Treehouse. It was the old warehouse building for Tait & Company. After years of neglect, some banyan trees have claimed the building making it a giant brick flowerpot for the foliage that pours out of the roof.
The Anping Old Street there abounds with delicious street food like fresh oysters steamed or fried, and the crunchy coffin bread. A walk along Yan Ping Street and Anbei Road is also quite interesting with vendors giving away free samples of shrimp crackers.. These and more culminated in another heavenly lunch at the Zhou Shi Shrimp Roll Restaurant in the Anping District.
When it comes to temples, the Tainan Confucian Temple is on top of the itinerary of the city. First completed in 1666, the temple is one of the oldest buildings and most historically important buildings in Taiwan—among 500 Buddhist and Taoist temples within city limits.
For travelers who are into high-end accommodation and service, Silks Place in the heart of the city is just perfect. The hotel has timeless designs—from the suspended calligraphy brush lamp in each of the 225 guest rooms to the motif of pottery rooftop tiles in the lobby walls—reflecting Tainan’s rich history of art, literature and architecture.
To end the day in Tainan, try a wall-climbing adventure, followed by a delicious dinner and an amazing show at the Ten Drum Cultural Village, the first drum-themed international art village in Asia.
Located at the mid-western part of Taiwan is Taichung City where some memorable scenes of Meteor Garden were shot at Chung-she Tourist Flower Market, the only flower market in Taiwan that succeeded in growing tulips in low-altitude areas—truly a photographer’s delight.
Taichung is also the home of Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House, where the original bubble milk tea was discovered.
Taiwan’s charm is enhanced by how its people treat tourists and visitors. An example was the kindness of a Grand Hyatt Hotel staff in leading The Sunday Times Magazine to its designated spot for breakfast. It turned out the unassuming man is the general manager of the hotel, Sammy Carulos. He made recommendations to the guest how to enjoy Taipei best.
Rahoe Street Night Market, Taipei’s oldest night bazaar, abounds with street food like the unique stinky tofu, black pepper buns, beef cubes, beef noodles, Chinese sausages, and freshly squeezed juices. At either end of this street are retail stores with chic clothing, fashionable accessories, cute gadgets, stylish clothes all with affordable prices.
Taipei takes pride in its Taipei 101 World Financial Center, a landmark in Xinyi District, which was officially classified as the world’s tallest building in 2004 until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2009.
Here, a Taiwan food trip would not be complete without eating the famous Xiao Long Bao at the original branch of Din Tai Fung Restaurant on the ground floor of Taipei 101.
A sight to behold is Shifen Waterfalls, a 20-meter tall waterfall that creates a rainbow as it splashes into the lake. The train station located down the river from the waterfall area, originally built for transporting coal, was built alongside the Shifen Old Streets where lanterns are released after writing wishes on them.
Truly an experience to behold and a very fitting end to an enchanting trip to Taiwan, the author wrote on the lantern, “I pray and hope that I can go back to Taiwan to bring family and friends to Formosa—the original name of Taiwan—which perfectly means beautiful island.”