Traveling to Chinese destinations these days can be fraught with tension as the ongoing trade war between the United States and China has impacted tourism.
According to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office, in 2018 visitors to the United States from China fell for the first time in 15 years. In January 2019, the State Department issued a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” travel advisory regarding China with a warning that “exit bans” can be arbitrarily applied to U.S. citizens.
Separately, travel to Hong Kong has fallen because of continuing protests there.
If you are seeking a Chinese tourism experience without travelers’ advisories or protests, consider a trip to Taiwan. We recently found Taipei, the capital, to be a fascinating experience while also avoiding much of the overcrowded hustle and bustle of cities like Beijing.
Traditional Chinese-style architecture is evident at Liberty Square, which resembles a mini Tiananmen Square. However, here, a pagoda-shaped memorial to Chiang Kai-shek anchors the public space instead of a large portrait of Mao Zhedong.
People settled in Taiwan from mainland China and throughout Asia, and it’s reflected in the variety of food available. One of the best ways to explore the city is through an individualized food tour with a local guide.
Our walking tour with Joan lasted between three and four hours. She first introduced us to such local delicacies as dumplings, fish ball soup, and fresh passion fruit juice at food stalls in the Dongmen Market. We then moved on to Tian Jin, the city’s most renowned scallion pancake stand. We finished with some elegant fruit-filled mochi desserts at Mingyue Hall, presided over by the charming (and very youthful) octogenarian Zhou sisters.
Tea is big — and serious — business in Taiwan. The island nation, once known as Formosa, counts oolong tea as one of its most important crops. We enjoyed a “vertical tasting” of oolongs (served in sherry glasses, no less) at Yan Ling Tang, a serene shop that’s been selecting the island’s finest since 1837. For a more bustling experience, visit Lin Mao Sen Tea Co., a tea wholesaler with an ultra-modern showroom filled with large bins of over 50 varieties, including freshly roasted Tieguanyin, a darker, more robust tea.
Taipei, even with seven million people in the metropolitan area, is very easy to navigate. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive; the incredible subway, which opened in 1996, is space-age modern with spacious stations, cars, and refined touches, plus racks with free loaner courtesy umbrellas. Riders are encouraged to send text messages rather than disturbing fellow passengers by engaging in loud cell phone calls. The MRT provides a convenient — and quiet — method of traveling around the sprawling city.
Take the subway directly to Taipei 101 for a true “modern Taiwan” experience. From 2004 through 2010 this building, shaped like a towering bamboo stalk, was the world’s tallest skyscraper. The observation deck on the 89th floor is an excellent spot to gaze out over the bustling city far below. Architectural geeks like us will enjoy the display of the Super Big Wind Damper, a two-story tall yellow sphere suspended within the upper floors that helps keep the building steady in strong winds.
From modern Taipei to centuries of Asian food heritage, Taiwan makes for an intriguing visit and will satisfy a Chinese travel craving while steering clear of current events.