Have afternoon tea, Taiwan style
Nantun District in Taichung is a yet-to-be-gentrified town where plenty of small businesses not only survive but thrive. Take a stroll through the narrow streets (plenty of old architecture and red brick walls) for a peek into the locals’ lives through 300-year-old temples, traditional blacksmiths, noodle shops and classic barbershops with cracked leather chairs. For a break, head to Wanhe Road for Lin Chin Sheng Hsiang, a fifth-generation pastry house that has been around since 1866, providing traditional pastries to the townsfolk. The 150-year-old shop has recently undergone an overhaul to become Yan Hsiang Shuo, a beautiful café where the updated menu focuses on the use of jute (a Taichung speciality) as an ingredient.
Jute is more often used to make ropes and burlap sacks, but at Taichung, the green shoots of the plant are also painstakingly washed and finely milled for cooking. At Yan Hsiang Shuo, chiffon cakes, traditional pastries and even the flaky sun cake (tai yang bing) are all recreated with jute. Somewhat similar to matcha, jute has a smooth earthy flavour, adding a layer of complexity to the sweet desserts. So, take a seat by the glass windows, sip on a jute latte and enjoy a relaxingTaiwanese afternoon tea at one of the oldest streets in Taichung.
Yan Hsiang Shuo 59 Section 1, Wanhe Road, Nantun District, Taichung City (+886 423 899 857/www.1866.com.tw). Mon- Sat, 8.30am-8.30pm; Sun, 8.30am-5pm. From NTD180 (RM20).
Make an architectural pilgrimage
Co-designed by IM Pei and noted Taiwanese architect and painter Chen Chi-Kwan, the Luce Chapel in Tunghai University is named after American missionary Henry W Luce. Completed in 1963, the soaring structure is built with curving walls of reinforced concrete and covered with handmade ceramic tiles, all of which remains in excellent condition today. This campus landmark is one of Taiwan’s architectural triumphs, being one of the lesser known works of Pei as well as bearing the distinction of a rare curved design (if you’ve seen photos of the Louvre’s pyramid, you would know that Pei is not one for curves), most likely influenced by Chen. Visitors can take a peek inside the chapel during Sunday services and special events such as Christmas Eve, but note that the chapel is closed to the public on other days. Have a picnic by the chapel, take a stroll around the campus (frequently hailed as Taiwan’s most beautiful university), and then head on to Tunghai night market for more Taiwanese street food. Best time to visit: June, when the flame of the forest trees on campus bloom in unison.
Luce Chapel 181 Sec 3 Taichung Port Road, Xitun District, Taichung City (+886 423 590 121/www.thueng.thu.edu.tw).
Learn to make bubble tea
Taiwanese tea house Chun Shui Tang invented the pearl milk tea – the perfect combination of milk tea and chewy tapioca balls – in 1987. Today, this addictive drink is still made with natural cane sugar, pure tea and marginally smaller (but smoother) tapioca balls that are produced with a low-temperature process (constantly kept chilled to retain the perfect texture) at Chun Shui Tang.
When in town, pay homage to Taichung’s arguably most famous export by taking a bubble tea-making class at Chun Shui Tang. Shaker cups, golden cane sugar, stirrers and other paraphernalia are laid out on the table while an instructor explains the story and intricacies of the bubble tea. During the 50-minute workshop, learn to make bubble black tea and pearl milk tea, with all the nitty-gritty details right down to the ideal milk-sugar-tea ratio and perfect beverage-shaking angle (quite an arm workout, in fact).
Chun Shui Tang 9 Dadun 19th Street, West District, Taichung City (+886 423 273 647/www.chunshuitang.com.tw). Daily, 8.30am-11pm. Book at least seven days in advance for English-speaking classes. From NTD520 (RM60).
Get a different view of Sun Moon Lake
For a tourism administration office and visitor centre, the boomerang-shaped Hsiangshan Visitor Centre has gone above and beyond its duty by becoming a tourist destination in itself. Designed by Japanese architect Dan Norihiko, Hsiangshan is a stunning architectural and landform project located by a narrow inlet at Sun Moon Lake, where the space’s undulating concrete form, sloping grass roof and long reflecting pools complement and amplify the beauty of the lake.
Not an architecture buff? Check out where you can go next at the tourism office, rent a bike or just have a cup of coffee at the café, overlooking the largest lake in Taiwan.
Hsiangshan Visitor Centre 599 Jhongshan Road, Yuchih Township, Nantou County (+886 492 855 668/www.sunmoonlake.gov.tw). Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm; Sat-Sun, 9am-5.30pm. Free entry.
Visit an outdoor cultural museum
At the northeastern end of Sun Moon Lake is Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, all 62 hectares dedicated to an outdoor cultural museum, amusement park and European garden. Although the amusement park offers some adrenaline-pumping fun and the garden makes for some pretty holiday snapshots, spare a day here to take an anthropological trip through nine reconstructed villages of aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. Things to do: Watch cultural performances, peer at displays of headhunting tribes, learn aboriginal weaving and try some plum wine. Best time to visit: February to March for the cherry blossoms.
Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village 45 Ching Tien Lane, Da Lin Village, Yu-Chih, Nantou County (+886 492 896 233/www.nine.com.tw). Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm; Sat- Sun & public holidays, 9am-5.30pm. From NTD780 (RM90).
Things to do on a Taipei stopover
Visit the hugely popular 24-hour Dun Nan Eslite bookstore (five minutes’ walk from Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station) for design, art, and above all, books. Yes, in Taipei you can browse rare magazines, read a biography or buy postcards at 3am.
245 Dunhua South Road Section 1, Taipei (+886 227 755 977/www.eslite.com). 24 hours.
At Pingxi (Taipei Zoo MRT station, then shuttle bus 759), stroll through picturesque streets, release a sky lantern and then enjoy a cup of finely brewed Chinese tea at Six Doors. Even with 7-Eleven and Family Mart convenience stores in town, the locals are still staunch supporters of the traditional shops (try the Taiwanese candies!) at this charming mountain village.
34 Pingxi Street, Pingxi District, New Taipei City (+886 919 546 098/www.facebook.com/6doors.tea). Mon & Thu-Sun, 10am-10pm.
Here’s the beef on one of Taipei’s best bowls at Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles (ten minutes’ walk from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station). At this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, place an order for the half tendon-half beef combination plus a couple of Taiwanese side dishes, add a splodge of homemade chilli butter to the hearty broth, and get eating.
274 Bade Road Section 2, Jhongsan District, Taipei (+886 227 522 556/www.facebook.com/LDF.TWBN). Mon-Sat, 11am-3am. From NTD 130 (RM15).