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Unless you’ve got close ties to Taiwan, you might not have considered the Southeast Asian country as a vacation destination, which is a shame! From Taipei to Pingtung, this island begs further exploration. Why pass up a location with a favorable dollar exchange rate, a packed stable of creatives, and all the food opportunities you can chew? While by no means exhaustive, consider this your starter pack of fun trip ideas that’ll help you fall in love with the essence of Taiwan.

ALSO: The Best Chinatowns in the U.S.

Get Lost in Taroko National Park

Taiwan

Taroko National Park | Photo by Laura Studarus

If you’re anything like us, a visit to Taroko National Park, all tropical plants, sharp cliffs and fresh air, will inspire a string of terrible Jurassic Park jokes. (If you’re not like us, your reference material will be significantly more highbrow.) Either way, the area is a cinematic example of Taiwan’s tropical beauty. Let the breezes restyle your hair on Qingshui Cliff, shoot a few instagrams of Eternal Spring Shrine’s picturesque tribute to those who died during the construction of the highway and hike along turquoise rivers on Shakadang trail.

Feel Crafty at Shuangfeng Wood Duck Factory

In 1963, Shuangfeng became the unlikely capital of decoy ducks, a move funded by the area’s surrounding trees and the Tang brothers, who launched a factory that for a time, exported the hunting accoutrements internationally. While no longer functional accessories, people still flock to the duck factory for the DIY craft. In addition to fowls, you can paint just about any other woodland creature. Pick up a brush, channel your inner artesan, and if you feel like creating a horse of a different color…game on.

Have a Sip or Two at Jiaming Tea Garden

tea, Taiwan

Jiaming Tea Garden | Photo by Laura Studarus

Tea is the most popular beverage in the world. But it’s fair to say Taiwan, with its delicate oolong, might know it best. For insight into tea from bush to cup, stop by Jiaming Tea Garden. There you can strap on a sun hat (yes you will need this), and pick some of your own. Return to their storefront to massage and break down the leaves by hand and even sample some of their numerous varieties in order to find a new favorite.

Get a Foot Massage

Sore feet after a day of sightseeing? No problem. Foot massages are popular in Taiwan, with many parlors offering late, or 24 hour rubdowns. Note: this is a mainstream activity that doesn’t carry the illicit whiff of cheap massage that some Asian parlors do in the US. So, relax into reclining chairs similar to what you might see in a nail salon, and allow your therapist to rub the tension out of your feet, calves and even back and shoulders. After this tiny indulgence, usually clocking in at about an hour, you’ll be more than ready for another round of adventures.

Find Enlightenment (Or at Least a Great Vegetarian Meal)

Okay, so maybe the path to zen is more than a day long, but you can start the process with a visit to Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. Located in Kaohsiung, this complex is home to perhaps the world’s only vegetarian Starbucks, a sit-down restaurant called Hi-La (also meat free), and a number of artisanal stores. But the real treasure here is located under the imposing Buddha statue—one of the famous religious leader’s teeth.

Visit Taipei’s Night Markets

Taiwan, Taipei, night market

Taipei night market | Photo courtesy of Laura Studarus

As of last year, Taiwan became a Michelin Star awarded country. But you don’t have to drop serious dough to taste the best of the nation’s eats. For a street food intensive, head to one of the night markets. Shilin Night Market and Raohe Street Night Market are our personal favorites—but honestly, this isn’t a situation where you can go wrong. Likewise, you really can’t pick a bad snack. Start with pork pepper buns, stinky tofu, any form of bao, and mango shaved ice.

Hike Elephant Mountain

No gym? No problem. Located in the Xinyi District of Taipei is Elephant mountain, a rugged outcropping with treacherous steps … that if you’re a fitness nut you’ll bound up like a caffeinated mountain goat. Even if you’re not training for the Iron Man, it’s worth the effort to get a view of Taipei 101, the 10th tallest building in the world, and the futuristic pride and joy of Taiwan’s capital city.

Visit the Original Home of Bubble Tea

bubble tea, taiwan

Taiwanese bubble tea

Those milk teas with tapioca balls you love so much? Yup, totally Taiwanese. The drink was invented in 1980 in Tainan and Taichung. Get up close and personal with your favorite beverage at Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House, where you can make your own with traditional Taiwanese black pearls. After you’re done with your masterpiece in a cup, head over to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts to investigate the nation’s creative output in other, non-dietary forms.

Stay in a Hotel with Traditional Amenities

If you’re going all-out on a trip to another country, why not stay somewhere that reflects the culture? Bathing is a big part of Taiwan life, and few places offer hot springs quite like the Chihpen area. In addition to being one of Taiwan’s five-star resorts, Hotel Royal Chihpen also offers private hot spring bathing via large-in room tubs. Craving a more social experience? Grab your complimentary yukata and slippers and head to the in-hotel bath house, where you and friends can take a gender-segregated soak to your hearts content. Yes, this is an all-nude, all the time activity—so reframe it as an opportunity for body positivity, and yet another in a long string of must-have vacation experiences. Jump in!

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