Steven Crook’s List of Taiwan hot spots
A few days ago a friend asked me this question: “Of the places you’ve been to recently, which have been the most impressive or most memorable?” I thought about this for a little while, and came up with a list of five attractions. I paid my first ever visits these places in the past 12 months. Three of the five were new-opened last year.
National Museum of Taiwan History
Luodong Forestry Culture Garden
Taiwan Theater Museum
Gupoliao Jhuang Family Residence
Buddha Memorial Center
And here are two ‘honourable mentions’ which almost made the list:
Hsiao Family Residence
Of the various exhibition spaces I’ve been to over the past 12 months, the best “new to me” (also new to the world, having opened to the public in October 2011) attraction is undoubtedly the National Museum of Taiwan History on the outskirts of Tainan. Every scrap of information here is bilingual, and rather than depend of text-heavy displays, the museum tells Taiwan’s story through models and images. The former include 200 life-size fiberglass figures: Some are taking part in a religious parade, while others are seafarers negotiating with mandarins in a recreation of 18th-century Lugang, or working the land with a water buffalo.
Another place where you can learn about the past is Luodong Forestry Culture Garden. In scope it’s far less ambitious: A former timber processing center, it’s been reborn as an heritage site with displays about the industry which stripped Taiwan’s mountains of their oldest, finest trees. You’ll learn about logging workers’ tough lives, but there’s virtually nothing about the environmental impact of timber extraction.
I had no great expectations for Yilan City’s long-established Taiwan Theater Museum but the range of glove and string puppets on the second floor is the best I’ve seen anywhere; photographers could spend hours there. The bilingual explanation of opera styles on the first floor is clear and concise, and there are some intriguing props and costumes on the third floor.
As a fan of traditional architecture, I find the abodes built by rich families generations ago always worth a look. I’d not heard of the Gupoliao Jhuang Family Residence before last year, when the name cropped up while I was doing some editing work for Kaohsiung City Government. It’s a splendid courtyard house in pretty good condition, and in the hour I spent exploring it there wasn’t a single other visitor.
Not far from the Jhuang Residence is one of Taiwan’s biggest, most expensive and most visited new attractions, the Buddha Memorial Center. Built to house what’s said to be one of Lord Buddha’s teeth, it’s a museum as much as a house of worship, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in local religion. The mall-like atmosphere puts some people off – the complex includes a Starbucks – but certain Buddhist principles are strictly adhered to: No meat is allowed, not even in the instant noodles sold by the on-site 7-Eleven!
Steven Crook is the author of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide. His guidebook blog, with updates and additional information, can be found here. He is also the author and main photographer of Taiwan For Culture Vultures, a travel app for iPhones.