CONTRIBUTED BY MONETTE EAMES
For Part Three, let’s get a little cultural. As you travel through Taiwan, the unique culture surrounds you and is truly something to be enjoyed. Taiwan has a lot of very interesting, but often little-known history and it can be seen almost everywhere you go if you know where to look.
The National Palace Museum – If you love art, this is the place for you—especially if you are into Asian art. Some artwork dates all the way back to the 10th Century, a thousand years ago, making us realize what a young country America is with only 200 years to compare. There was just so much to take in at the National Palace Museum, with enough art and architecture to spend hours exploring. Before going inside, there were the beautiful grounds and gardens to enjoy. We planned on taking some time after the museum to look around, but a huge downpour of rain made us wish we had explored outside first. Security was tight, and before we could look at one piece of art, we had to check in our back pack because it was not allowed in the museum.
I had imagined the museum to be calm and peaceful inside, like some Smithsonian museums are, but I was very wrong. The museum was extremely packed with people. We had to wait in long lines to see many of the exhibitions. In fact, it was a bit overwhelming. It felt as if I was in some type of Chinatown street surrounded by thousands of people and amazing art. Some of the most famous items include the Jade Cabbage and the Meat-Shaped Stone. There were Chinese Art-calligraphy, jade artifacts and art, paintings, antiques, books, furniture, ceramics, and so much more. We needed at least a full day to see everything, but we only had a few hours.
After a while of being corralled in lines, we needed a break from the throngs of people and the plethora of art. Our haven was the Children’s Children’s Gallery which is on the underground floor. It had a little children’s theater and special exhibition areas for kids. Many of these exhibits were hands-on and the children loved it—I did, too!
Discovery Centre of Taipei – As we walked around the Taipei 101 area, we found a great place to stop that gives you an awesome look at the history of Taipei. We thought it would be a quick stop, and we would fly through the boring parts, but with four floors of unique experiences and modern displays to explore, we ended up being here for a few hours. It is a free attraction and we learned a lot about Taipei, the history of the city, and many more things. There were many hands-on activities for the young ones, including a huge light up map that kids could step on and explore. Almost all of the displays and activities were interactive, and this was a highlight for my husband and I, but even more so for our 7 and 4-year-old sons. We had to pull them through the exhibits because they did not want to leave any of them! Guided tours and audio guides are also available. And a real trick to enjoying your time in Taiwan would be to visit this place at the beginning of a trip, instead of the middle or end. The lady at the information desk had so much information that we wished we had met her at the beginning of our Taiwan trip.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – This was a very impressive place and our whole family enjoyed it a lot because of the many things to see and learn. In addition to the memorial hall, the grounds include the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. The gardens were beautiful and vibrant, full of greenery, flowers, little ponds and waterfalls here and there. The ground floor of the Memorial Hall is where you can learn all you need to know about Chiang Kai-shek’s life. His office, his military uniforms and awards, what he did in history, even his bullet-proof limos were there. He was a very interesting man and many people in Taiwan have their opinions on Chiang Kai-shek. For those of us who do not fully understand his significance, Chiang Kai-shek ruled China for 22 years, fought against the Chinese Communist Party for control of China, and then ruled Taiwan for 26 years. There is a huge statue of Chiang Kai-shek at the Memorial Hall guarded by two guards with an hourly changing of the guard ceremony. In addition to the museum, there was also a dinosaur exhibition and a Chinese dancing/acting exhibition at the hall when we visited.
Temples – Temples were all over Taiwan; everywhere we travelled there seemed to be another beautiful temple. In our short visit, we probably saw more than 100 temples. They reminded me somewhat of the tombs that we see all over Okinawa, except on a much larger scale. They ranged in sizes from little shrines to huge, elaborate, artistic buildings and are also found in different places like in the corners of fields and in the center of communities. We found temples that were extremely colorful and full of deities and offerings but there were also other temples that were very simple with no statues of gods.
Conclusion – Our trip to Taiwan was wonderful and we enjoyed every minute of our experience, but parted knowing that we will have to return one day. We learned of Taiwan’s charms and met some of the wonderful people. The countryside that we did see was gorgeous and dramatic, but we know that there was so much more of it to see. Taiwan also has tropical beaches that we did not get to experience, so we hope to do that next time. In the mountains and gorges, there are spectacular and beautiful cliff roads and trails that we did not get a chance to venture on due to the recent storm. My husband vows to go back there one day to run the Taroko Gorge marathon. We were very blessed that we did get a sampling of Taiwan. It was indeed a beautiful place. But we left feeling as if we opened a huge book and only made it to the very first page. We look forward to continuing to explore Taiwan on our next trip!