Itinerary: Taipei – Tainan – Lukang – Sun Moon Lake

When I visit Taiwan in early 2024, tensions have been rising between the People’s Republic of China and its small neighbor for some time. China is following the ‘one China principle’ and wants to make Taiwan part of China again, if necessary by force. However, in the last elections, the Taiwanese voted against joining China. It remains to be seen what will happen next.

Taiwan, officially and somewhat confusingly called the Republic of China, is located off the coast of the communist People’s Republic of China, separated from the mainland by the Taiwan Strait. The island is slightly smaller than the Netherlands and, with 23 million inhabitants, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The interior of Taiwan is mountainous and half of the country’s surface consists of forests and nature reserves.

The island has traditionally been strategically located on the trade routes in East Asia. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch trading organization United East India Company (VOC) founded a base in what was then Anping (now Tainan), called Fort Zeelandia. Half a century later, the Dutch were chased out by the Chinese and in 1683 the Chinese emperor declared that Taiwan was now part of China. In 1895, Taiwan was conquered by Japan. That same year the country declared independence, naming itself the Republic of Formosa, but Japan quickly restored order and the island remained a Japanese colony for half a century. At the end of World War II, after Japan was defeated, Taiwan returned to Chinese control.

In 1949, the Communist Party took power in China and Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the previously ruling Kuomintang (Chinese nationalists), fled to Taiwan, which from then on called itself the Republic of China. It was the beginning of a dark period for Taiwan. Chiang Kai-Shek established a military dictatorship on the island and declared martial law that would last until 1987. Under the autocratic rule of the Kuomintang, human rights violations took place on a large scale, known as ‘white terror’, and political opponents were being detained and executed en masse.

In 1975, Chiang Kai-Shek died and Taiwan began a period of transformation into a Western-oriented democracy. Democratic elections have been held in Taiwan since 1996. Only thirteen countries in the world recognize Taiwan as an independent country and, as mentioned, its large neighbor China has never accepted Taiwan’s independence. It is to be feared that Taiwan will sooner or later be forced to reunify.


The Taiwanese capital Taipei is located in the north of the island. I fly to Taipei with Singapore Airlines, with a transfer in Singapore. That means first a twelve-hour flight and then another four-hour flight. Not something to look forward to, but as a traveler you have to be willing to do it. I leave on Friday morning and arrive at Taoyuan International Airport, about forty kilometers east of the Taiwanese capital, on Saturday early afternoon. I quickly get through passport control and then take the metro (MRT) into the city. The ride takes about fifty minutes and there is little to see outside. Suburbs with apartment complexes, industrial estates, highways and construction sites.

My accommodation is near Taipei Main Station, in the busy center of the city. By the time I get there, I have been awake for 24 hours. I freshen up and then walk to Dihua Street. This historic market street is lined with old merchant houses, some of which date from the mid-nineteenth century. To see this, you have to look up every now and then, at the old facades above the modern shops, cafés and restaurants that are now there.

2-28 Peace Memorial Park Taipei
2-28 Peace Memorial Park, Taipei

On this Saturday afternoon (also Chinese New Year) it is pleasantly busy in Dihua Street. Besides shopping and strolling Taipei residents are eating on the street everywhere, or they are standing in line at one of the many stalls where you can buy Taiwanese street food. ‘Do as the locals do’, so I also stroll through Dihua Street and eat street food. That’s actually all I do on my first afternoon in Taiwan. In the evening I go to bed early to catch up on sleep.

The next morning the sun is high in a clear blue sky and with a temperature of just above twenty degrees it is perfect weather to explore the city. Well, a part of the city anyway. I first walk to the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park. The name of this park refers to February 28, 1947, the day that the Kuomintang violently attacked demonstrators protesting against corruption and poor economic conditions. The intervention marked the beginning of the ‘white terror’. In memory, the 2-28 Memorial, a modern copper sculpture, has been placed in the middle of the park.

At the north end of the park is a photogenic Chinese pagoda, in the middle of a pond and surrounded by four small pavilions. The Taiwan National Museum is also located on the north side of the park, and the National 2-28 Memorial Museum on the south side. If you walk out of the 2-28 Memorial park on the south side, you will see the Presidential Office Building on the right, at the end of the wide Ketagalan Road. This red and white building, with a tower in the middle, is a mixture of European and Japanese architecture. It was built by the Japanese in 1919 and remains the official office of the President of Taiwan.

If you walk down Ketagalan Road in the other direction, you will pass the Taipei Guesthouse. This building dates from 1901 and functioned as a guesthouse for dignitaries visiting Taipei. A little further on is a roundabout, with the Chinese East Gate in the middle, the eastern city gate from the time of the Qing dynasty.

chiang kai-shek memorial taipei
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei

Nearby is the very photogenic Liberty Square, a huge rectangular square, bordered on the west side by a beautiful five-fold white arched gate with blue roof tiles. This Liberty Square Arch provides access to the square, where you will first see the National Concert Hall on your left and the National Theater Hall on your right. Both are built in classical Chinese style and are reminiscent of Chinese temples. They seem identical at first glance, but they are not.

At the other end of the square is the unmissable Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The imposing monument stands at the top of a series of stairs, has robust-looking sloping walls of white marble and a roof of blue tiles. Inside, two soldiers dressed in spotless uniforms stand guard over a large statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. The monument is controversial, because after all, Chiang Kai-Shek was a brutal dictator. Nevertheless, the Memorial Hall is one of Taipei’s iconic buildings and is therefore quite busy.

I take the metro to eastern Taipei, the newest and most western-feeling part of the city, with modern skyscrapers and shopping malls. This part of the city has only existed for a few decades, before that it was a rural area. In eastern Taipei you will find the 508 meter high Taipei 101 tower, the very symbol of modern Taiwan. From the observation deck on the 89th floor you have a panoramic view of Taipei. When you leave the observation deck, you will pass the Damper Ball. This large gold-colored ball hangs between the 87th and 92nd floors of Taipei 101 and weighs no less than 660,000 kilos. The ball is intended to keep the tower stable during earthquakes and typhoons.

Not far from Taipei 101, overlooking a large pond, stands the National Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. This symmetrical, palatial building is a monument honoring the founder of modern Taiwan. In the central hall you will find a large statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, who, like Chiang Kai-Shek a few kilometers away, is flanked by soldiers on guard.

taipei 101
Taipei 101, Taipei

On the way back to my hostel I walk along Qidong Street, where, among the contemporary buildings, there are a number of renovated wooden houses from the time when Taiwan was occupied by Japan. I also take a look at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. The old buildings, dating from the early twentieth century, once housed a wine factory. Now you will find shops, restaurants and exhibition spaces there. On this Sunday afternoon there is also a market and activities for children, making it pleasantly busy.

In the early evening I walk to Ningxia Night Market, about ten minutes from where I am staying. Night markets can be found everywhere in Taiwan and are extremely popular places to have a cheap eat. And it shows: the cramped Ningxia Night Market is extremely busy, visitors slowly shuffle past the countless food stalls with all kinds of Taiwanese street food dishes. Fun fact: eating out is so popular in Taiwan that some apartments in Taipei don’t even have kitchens.

It is Monday morning and sunny again when I take the subway to the Songshan District. This district is located on the south bank of the Keelung River. First I visit the Bao’an temple. Taiwan has approximately 12,000 temples, most Taoist, the rest Buddhist and Confucian. The Bao’an Temple is a beautiful temple complex, built in 1760 by immigrants from the Chinese province of Fujian. The complex includes several rooms. The roofs and columns are decorated with dragons and other figures, the walls have been decorated panels with gold leaf and murals, and inside you will find colorful ceilings with wood carvings. The Bao’an temple is an active temple, where locals come to honor the gods and burn incense sticks. Across the street is a walled garden belonging to the temple complex, with a fountain and statues and the first cherry blossoms of the season in bloom.

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Taipei
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei

Around the corner from the Bao’an temple is the walled Confucius temple. Behind the entrance gate you will first find a pond in the shape of a crescent moon (with turtles). You then walk through several gates and eventually reach the main prayer hall. The Confucius temple is also beautifully decorated with paintings and carvings, but more modest than the Bao’an temple. It is also much quieter than in the Bao’an temple, there is an almost serene tranquility in the complex.

In the afternoon I go to the Wanhua District. This is the oldest part of Taipei, located on the Tamsui River. Here I visit the Longshan Temple, the oldest temple in Taipei and, like the Bao’an temple, founded by immigrants from the Chinese province of Fujian. The temple complex originally dates from 1738, but has been rebuilt many times after earthquakes, typhoons and war caused damage to the temple. It is incredibly busy in the Longshan temple as well as in the area around it. It seems like the whole of Taipei is visiting the temple today. Most visitors come to perform rituals, although I am not the only one who just comes to watch and take photos. The Longshan temple, like the Bao’an temple, is lavishly decorated with beautiful wood carvings, decorated columns and walls and large dragons on the roofs. Everywhere there are long tables with flowers, fruit and other food that is offered to the gods

After the Longshan temple I walk a bit through a nearby shopping street. Taipei is a vibrant city, with both modern skyscrapers and traditional temples, and in addition to Chinese and Southeast Asian, also clearly Western influences, as can also be seen in a modern shopping street like this. The large billboards make it almost feel American. My final visit in Taipei is to the Qingshan temple. This temple, originally built in 1856, is sandwiched between two gray contemporary buildings. It has an octagonal shape and appears small, but turns out to consist of three floors. The gods on the ground floor seem to be slightly more popular than those upstairs.


Towards the end of the afternoon I collect my luggage and walk to Taipei Main Station. At 16:50pm the HSR high-speed train leaves for Tainan, for which I bought a ticket online in the handy app. In an hour and a half we drive across the western part of the island to the city located in the southwest of Taiwan. Tainan’s HSR station is located a bit outside the city, a local train runs to Tainan Main Station in half an hour. From there it is a short walk to my hotel, which is located in the middle of the pleasantly busy city center.

Tainan is Taiwan’s oldest city and was the country’s capital from 1624 to 1887. I start my day in Tainan at the Yongle Market, just steps from my hotel. Here you can enjoy delicious food from early in the morning until the end of the afternoon at numerous street eateries and small restaurants, often no more than a simple open space with a kitchen and some tables. It is always busy with locals, the popular places are recognizable by the queue. After getting a freshly made and well-filled breakfast spring roll at Kintoku, I walk to the bus stop a little further down the street. Taiwan has a network of so-called Tourist Shuttle Buses that run fixed routes to all kinds of popular destinations. Ideal if you do not have your own transport. I take bus 99 towards Anping.

Anping Fort Tainan
Anping Fort, Tainan

Anping is the western district of Tainan, on the Taiwan Strait. In 1624, the area was then called Tayouan, the Dutch East India Company established a trading post here. The Dutch built a fortress there called Fort Zeelandia. The square fortress had four bastions on the four corners, on the northwest side the fort was later expanded and the village of Zeelandia arose outside the fort.

In 1662, the Chinese warlord Zheng Chenggong (aka Koxinga) captured Fort Zeelandia, ending the Dutch colonial presence in what is now Taiwan. Koxinga changed the name from Zeelandia to Anping and during the Qing dynasty Anping was the seat of government of the island. Not much is left of the Dutch fort, although the name is still in large silver-colored letters at the entrance. Only a few sections of wall and the remains of a semi-circular bastion date from the time when the VOC was established here. The rest of Anping Fort has been reconstructed, including what seems to me to be a somewhat out of place white watchtower.

Near Anping fort is the lively Anping Mazu temple (aka Tianhiu temple). This Taoist temple was founded in 1668, but was then located in a different location in Anping. The temple was rebuilt in its current location in the 1970s. It is still Anping’s most important temple.

I walk some more through the lively streets of Anping, where (how could it be otherwise) there are many food stalls. Then I go back to the center of Tainan. I eat at the Yongle Market and then I walk to the Tainan Mazu Temple. As Taiwan’s oldest city and former capital, Tainan has a number of important historic temples. The Mazu temple is richly decorated on the outside, but on the inside it is a lot simpler than, for example, the Bao’an temple in Taipei. However, there is a constant coming and going of locals who come to perform rituals.

Confucius Temple Tainan
Confucius Temple, Tainan

Then I visit the Confucius Temple (the only temple I visit in Taiwan where you have to pay an entrance fee). This Confucius temple was built in 1665. The central Dacheng Hall is located in the middle of a courtyard where the color red predominates. Just like in Taipei, this Confucius temple is also quieter and simpler in design than its Taoist counterparts.


The next day I already leave Tainan. I walk to the train station and take the local train to the HSR station. The comfortable high-speed train runs to Taichung HSR station in about fifty minutes. Rice fields pass by along the way. Some are already starting to turn green, others reflect the sunlight like a mirror. At Taichung HSR station I store my luggage in a locker and then take the bus to Lukang. According to my information, this town would have a beautiful historic center with heritage buildings, temples and shophouses. To be honest I find it a bit disappointing; I haven’t really been able to discover a beautiful historic center.

The two temples I visit are beautiful though. The Taoist Mazu temple was built in the eighteenth century. Behind a large entrance gate you will find a large, elaborately designed temple complex. Here too, the columns, roofs, walls and ceilings are richly decorated with paintings and wood carvings. Because many Taiwanese are still off work for Chinese New Year, it is extremely busy. Hundreds of locals come to honor the gods and burn incense sticks.

Mazu Temple Lukang
Mazu Temple, Lukang

The Buddhist Longshan Temple also dates from the eighteenth century. The temple has been restored several times after earthquakes and typhoons, but nevertheless still looks as it did when it was built. It is a large temple complex, with many carvings, but it is all much less colorful and exuberant than the previous temples I have visited.

Everywhere on the streets it is very busy and there is an almost festive atmosphere. The narrow Lukang Old Street (aka Lukang Market Street) is so busy that it is almost impossible to get through. Around me there are mainly families (everyone is still free because of the Chinese New Year), as far as I can see I am the only Westerner. I also walk through Nine Turns Lane, a series of back streets with a few renovated old red-brick houses and the occasional old water pump. By the end of the afterboon I take the bus back. I spend the night in Taichung, not far from the HSR station, where the next morning I will take the Tourist Shuttle Bus to Sun Moon Lake.

Sun Moon Lake

I report early at Taichung HSR station to take the bus to Sun Moon Lake. I get there twenty minutes before departure and there is already quite a queue. But I’m lucky: the very last seat on the bus is for me. In about an hour and a half the bus (with 42 Taiwanese and one Dutchie) drives to the Sun Moon Scenic Area, located in the mountainous interior of Nantou province. Sun Moon Lake is so called because the lake consists of two parts: a (more or less) round eastern part (the sun) and a (kind of) crescent-shaped western part (the moon), although you need some imagination to see it.

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is a popular destination in Taiwan where, among other things, you can walk, cycle and sail the lake. There is also a cable car and in the village of Shuishe, the central ‘hub’ on the north side of the lake, there are several restaurants and many bicycle rental companies. From one of those rental companies I rent a bike to ride around part of the lake. From Shuishe, a bike path has been constructed in both directions (which is also used by hikers) with many places where you can stop and enjoy the view over the lake.

On the other side of the lake are Shuishe Mountain, Fenghuang Mountain, Jiji Mountain and Jiufen Mountain. Of these mountains, Shuishe is the highest at 2,059 meters. On the slope on the east side of Sun Moon Lake stands the Taoist Wenwu temple and on the south side the 46 meter high Ci’en pagoda rises above the trees. This pagoda was built in 1971 on behalf of Chiang Kai-Shek. The weather is beautiful and the bike ride along the lake shore is very relaxing after five days of mainly being in cities.

Sun Moon Lake is my last stop in Taiwan. On Friday I take the HSR to Taoyuan and from there the local train to the international airport for my flight to my next destination: the Philippines.