Picture partaking in an Asian mountain tea ceremony or bike riding down one of the most beautiful trails in the whole world. Taiwan is virtually a playground for active and adventurous group travelers.
The island nation is more than 70% mountains and is completely surrounded by beautiful ocean views. Some think the landscape looks like a cross between Hawaii and Alaska, if that is even possible. Local young people are friendly and love to try out their “Hello, how are you?” on everyone that passes who might speak English. You can can delight in connecting with everyone a little bit in a place so new.
Head for the hills
Cities are wonderful, but Taiwan’s rural wonders impressed and moved me. Taroko National Park covers a huge part of Northeast Taiwan and can only be entered by one way, so check to make sure roads are clear. Visitors are rewarded with temples framed by waterfalls, trails that lead through natural marble caves and even an aboriginal restaurant to taste some authentic pork barbecue in Leader Village. Most roads have paved sidewalks that can be biked for short distances. Or, rent some mopeds and complete the journey faster. Stop at a roadside mango stand and also look for lychee and wax apples, some of the areas more exotic fruits to snack on.
Silks Palace is by far the most luxurious place to stay, seemingly carved into the side of the mountain and offering top-quality amenities. Book a spa treatment with your daughter or take all the kids to a night-time performance on the top floor, featuring aboriginal acoustic guitar players and hauntingly beautiful songs.
Swing by Sun Moon Lake
Recently, the paved and manicured bike trail passing around the perimeter of Sun Moon Lake was rated among the most beautiful in the world. Rightly so—anytime of the day, the mountains dotted with temples frame ice blue, smooth waters for a stunning effect and atmosphere. Highlights include a bikes-only suspension bridge and passing through mini bamboo forests. Not only can you rent bikes from Giant, the local carrier, and explore the shores, but boats have lake cruises leading to restaurants, markets and pretty harbor-side plazas.
Encourage a little culture
It would be great if your teens did learn something outside of how to make dried fish and saying thank you in Mandarin. But these are great stills to pick up too—learn a few phrases to help get by and put a smile on most locals faces as you try. Not to mention, squeezing fish parts through a pasta-like maker is an experience as well—a little icky but an experience.
On the other hand, towering golden monasteries and Buddha statues are easily accessible and can be an enlightening thing for young people to see up close. Make time to visit the Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsuing—complete with museum, Asian-style restaurants and a 100-foot tall gold Buddha. This can be a great place to teach the lesson of the swastika symbol, because it actually means ‘pure’ in Buddhist tradition and was ruined by Nazism later on. You can spot these symbols all over the monastery.
End the trip at the beach
Biking through Taroko National Park and Sun Moon Lake is a thrill, but there is something you and your teen will agree on—biking by the beach can be the best. In the south, Kenting is full of biking opportunities, especially ones through the town and out to the water. If on a budget, the Yoho Bike Hotel, Asia’s first and only cycling-themed accommodations, has rentals available for free to those staying there. There are several other options to stay nearby, or you can simply head to Kenting for the day just to bike. Keep an eye out for the 7-11 perched right on the beach—the kids might get a kick out of it.
You’ll have no problem keeping your teens on the move in Taiwan, encouraging exploration and an active lifestyle. Whether your kid is navigating new teendom or heading toward their future twenty-somethings, leaving them with lasting memories of Asia by bicycle is a priceless rite of passage to try together.