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Trip of a Lifetime: Taiwan

Taiwan is often overshadowed by its next-door neighbor, China. But as Michaela Trimble discovers on a tour with Goway Travel, the small country has much to offer from the towering peaks in Taroko National Park to finger-licking street food and mystic mountain towns.

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Raohe Street Night Market

In Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei, night markets are king. But the one that rules above the rest? Raohe Street Night Market. Before you enter, look up to see the temple-like arch that is evocative of traditional Taiwanese architecture. Inside, the perimeter is lined with shops selling everything from decorative wigs to white doves, but don’t miss the middle aisles, where you can sample Taipei’s best street snacks. Try the famous Taiwanese buns — round dough stuffed with pork and vegetables— and wash it down with a Gold Medal Taiwan Beer.

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Sun Moon Lake

Nestled in heart of the country, almost a three-hour drive from Taipei, is Sun Moon Lake, the largest lake in Taiwan. The eastern side is shaped like a sun, while the western portion is formed like a crescent moon. (Aka, making it a prime insta shot, especially when the sunrise paints the sky pink and purple.) Wander the many trails that circle the lake, and discover Lalu, the tiny island in the lake’s center. Bed down in a private villa at The Lalu, near the Wen Wu Temple, and grab a drink at the hotel’s teahouse to finish off the epic trip.

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Jiufen Old Street

Just an hour northeast of Taipei, Jiufen (also known as Chiufen) is a small mountain town that has a mystic aura thanks to a thick, enchanting mist that hangs over the maze of winding alleyways. Old Street is the main shopping district, where you can browse for specialty oils, pottery and jewelry, as well as taste local delicacies like yu yuan (taro or yam balls), hong zhao ba wan (pork marinated in red wine), A-Zhu peanut ice cream rolls, and mua-chi (glutinous rice cakes). We love Ah Lan Hakka for rice cakes and Ah Gan Yi Yu Yuan, a food stall at the top of a secret stairway, for the sweetest taro balls. Also make sure to stop by one of the many Chinese tea houses that overlook Keelung outer sea.

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Taroko National Park

Translated as “magnificent and splendid,” Taroko National Park (or Taroko Gorge) earns its lofty title thanks to its stunning landscape of 27 craggy peaks at nearly 10,000 feet high. If you’re taking a day trip from Taipei, drive along the Central Cross-Island Highway for one of the most scenic routes in the world. But you may want to leave the maneuvering to the experts: this narrow, curvy road is carved into the mountain, with an adrenaline-inducing, tunnel-like overhang. Along the way, visit the Eternal Spring Shrine, marvel at the monstrous coastal Qingshui Cliffs, and cross the iconic Cimu Bridge, a red suspension bridge guarded by marble lions at each end.

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Lungshan Temple and Taipei 101

Founded in 1738, the Lungshan Temple in the Manka District is one of the most striking structures in Taipei. It was dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and it’s tradition to buy a flower before entering. Once inside, check out the cascading waterfall and koi fish pond, then pick up an incense stick and place it in the central urn (the smoke adds to the ethereal ambiance). Afterwards, dive back into the bustling city life at Taipei 101, Taiwan’s 101-story skyscraper that was the world’s tallest building at one point. Snap a photo of the skyline from the glass dome before snagging a table at the on-site Din Tai Fung for a plate of the country’s best dumplings. (But make reservations in advance, or you could be stuck in a two-hour wait!)

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Kaohsiung City

Take the bullet train from Taipei to Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, which is known for its beautiful harbor views. Explore Cheng Ching Lake’s small islands, pagodas and tree-lined walking paths, then stroll along the shores of Love River, which flow through the heart of the city. Leave some time to hike up Shoushan Mountain for panoramic ocean and city vistas — don’t be surprised if you see monkeys playing along the paths. A two-hour drive away is the tropical Kenting National Park. Here, you’ll find the Eluanbi Lighthouse and the Maobitou seascape and coral reef.

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