Taiwan has been off the radar for tourism since the tumult of 1949, when Chiang Kai Shek and his nationalist compatriots separated themselves from the communists on the mainland. Only now are travellers beginning to rediscover the place that 16th-century Portuguese explorers named “Ilha Formosa’, the beautiful island. Large sections of Taiwan retain a traditional atmosphere – traditional art and architecture still thrive, and the locals are friendly and welcoming.
Our tour begins in Taipei before heading South, with the temples, houses and streetscapes of the historic towns of Tainan and Lugang. We then head to the beautiful central mountain ranges, staying on the shores of the spectacular Sun Moon Lake and visiting monasteries and other sites. We then travel over the 3,000-metre Central Mountains and into the marble-lined Taroko Gorge, where we’ll spend a night. The last part of our itinerary takes us to Taipei, the bustling capital and home to the world-famous National Palace Museum and other interesting institutions.
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National Palace Museum, Taipei
Enjoy the world’s most extensive collection of traditional Chinese fine and decorative arts. Stretching back over 5,000 years, the museum includes superb Song dynasty landscapes, ancient Han pottery and Ming ceramics.
Sun Moon Lake
Delight in the enchanting Sun Moon Lake, situated in the mountains rising above Taipei’s western plains. Our five-star hotel, designed by Australian Kerry Hill, looks directly over the lake to the mountains and forest beyond.
Explore this dramatic marble opening on the remote eastern side of the Central Mountains, the misty atmosphere and steep wooded cliffs of which make it into a kind of living landscape painting.
Chung Tai Chan Monastery
Tour this remarkably designed Zen Buddhist monastery, where postmodernism meets traditional Buddhist imagery. The towering building resembles a sitting Buddha, and contains prayer halls and shrines with 10,000 Buddha statues, and the adjoining museum contains ancient Buddhist art.
Day 1: Arrive into Taipei early morning, city tour and lunch.
Day 2: Transfer to Tainan on the fast train. Explore the city’s colonial past at Fort Zeelandia and its centuries-old Daoist temples.
Day 3: Admire Lugang’s temples and Japaneseera family mansions.
Days 4–6: Visit the National Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung and travel to Sun Moon Lake. Explore the lake’s surrounds and the Chung Tai Chan monastery and museum.
Day 7: Traverse the central range to Taroko Gorge and experience Taiwanese indigenous culture.
Days 8–11: Drive to Taipei. Ascend the Taipei 101 skyscraper; visit Chaing Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the extensive collection at the National Palace Museum.
The tour begins at Taipei Airport with a transfer to the hotel, and ends at Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei. Cathay Pacific and partner Cathay Dragon offer flights into and out of Taipei via Hong Kong. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Tuesday 12 April: Arrive
Flights from Australia arrive in Taipei early in the morning. Upon arrival, check into your hotel with time to freshen up. There will be a mid-morning tour of Taipei and lunch at a local restaurant. Overnight Taipei (L)
Wednesday 13 April – Old Tainan
This morning we take the fast train to Tainan. Upon arrival we explore some of the historic sites of Tainan, the island’s first capital and site of the overthrow of the Dutch colonialists by the folk-hero Koxinga. Tainan preserves a very atmospheric city centre, with narrow laneways, traditional shop-houses and dozens of ancient temples. Our sightseeing includes the Dutch Fort Zeelandia, centuries-old Daoist temples and the city’s splendid 17th-century Confucian temple, the oldest in Taiwan. After a lunch at which we sample some of Tainan’s well-regarded delicacies, the afternoon is free. You might like to participate in High Tea at the Shangri-la Hotel for your first taste of Taiwan’s highly regarded Oolong tea. This evening there is the option of heading out to Tainan’s vibrant night markets, where traditional ‘small eats’ abound. Overnight Tainan. (B, L)
Thursday 14 April – Lugang
After a morning talk, we depart Tainan, and head north along the island’s seaboard to the town of Lugang. Lugang is Taiwan’s most interesting historic town and was the second largest settlement on the island during the 1700s. Highlights of our visit include the vibrant Tianhou temple, a Daoist place of worship, as well as the Koo family mansion. Built during the Japanese period, it contains interesting displays of furniture, art and design of the 18th and 19th centuries. We have lunch in Lugang before visiting the Longshan Buddhist temple to view the fine wood carvings that decorate its ceilings and roofs. Overnight Lugang. (B, L)
Friday 15 April – To Sun Moon Lake
This morning we head to Taichung to visit the National Museum of Fine Arts. Mainly dedicated to visual arts, the museum places a large emphasis on works by upcoming and established contemporary Taiwanese artists and features an outdoor sculpture garden. The collection also includes documents for the Ming and Qing Dynasties and works from the Japanese era through to the period following the Second World War, effectively documenting Taiwan’s history through its art. We continue to Sun Moon Lake, our base for the next three nights, and enjoy dinner in one of our hotel’s excellent restaurants. Overnight Sun Moon Lake. (B, L, D)
Saturday 16 April – Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is some 1,000 metres above sea level and surrounded by steep mountains. Strict planning laws have preserved the natural environment of the lake. This morning we journey around the lake, visiting the Syanzuang and Syuangang temples that occupy a picturesque location on the lake shore. The temples preserve the relics of one of China’s most famous Buddhists, the monk Xuan Zang. In the early 7th century Xuan Zang made pilgrimages throughout China and as far as India, collecting some 657 Sanskrit texts of Buddhism (sutras). He had an enormous influence on Chinese Buddhism. After a lunch break in a local village we visit an Assam tea farm and experience first-hand the art of Taiwanese tea making. The afternoon is free for you to wander the well-maintained lakeside walks near the hotel, enjoying the lush vegetation, bird life and architecture of the lake. Overnight Sun Moon Lake. (B)
Sunday 17 April – The Chung Tai Chan Monastery
Today we visit one of Asia’s most extraordinary sites: the Chung Tai Chan monastery, located near the town of Puli, about 40 minutes’ drive from Sun Moon Lake. The monastery, headquarters of a well-known Zen Buddhist order, was opened in 2001, and the sheer extravagance of the structure (which cost around US$110 million to build) is an indicator of the order’s popularity. This truly memorable 37-storey structure combines postmodernist architecture with traditional Buddhist subject matter and this morning we explore many of its highlights. After lunch on site, we take a guided visit of the Chung Tai Chan museum. Opened in October 2009, the museum contains an outstanding collection of Buddhist art in stone, gilded bronze and wood, beautifully displayed with comprehensive explanations in English. It easily ranks as one of the world’s great collections of Buddhist art, and it is simply a matter of time before it enjoys an international reputation. Overnight Sun Moon Lake. (B, L)
Monday 18 April – Across the Mountains
This morning we head inland to the highest peaks of the Central Range. We travel along sections of the Central Cross-Island Highway, opened in 1960. The winding two-lane road has views to Taiwan’s highest peaks and is considered Taiwan’s most scenic road. Along the way, we stop at Wushe to view the memorial to aboriginal resistance against the Japanese. Over the next few hours we pass through the most spectacular part of the road, stopping for lunch, brief walks and panoramic views before descending towards the east coast and Taroko Gorge, where we stop for the night. Overnight Taroko Gorge. (B, L, D)
Tuesday 19 April – Taroko Gorge and the East Coast
Taroko Gorge is a narrow marble valley, 19 kilometres long, and Taiwan’s most popular national park. The rugged countryside, dotted with temples and pagodas, is rather like a Chinese landscape painting come to life. Leaving early this morning to avoid the many coach groups which visit, we explore some of the sites of the valley through short walks and stops. We emerge from the gorge on Taiwan’s rugged east coast. We travel north along the Chingshui cliffs, where the corniche road hugs the cliff-face high above the sea. We continue to Taipei, arriving in the late afternoon. Tonight, we enjoy dinner at the hotel. Overnight Taipei. (B, L, D)
Wednesday 20 April – Exploring Taipei
This morning we view some of Taipei’s traditional and monumental spaces. We first visit the Longshan Temple, where there is sure to be chanting and incense-burning in abundance. We then visit the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, whose monumental forecourt consciously mimics Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. This gives us the opportunity to consider Taiwan’s dramatic 20th century history. Our last stop is the towering Taipei 101 skyscraper, until very recently the world’s tallest building. Inspired by Chinese pagodas, Taipei 101’s architect was C.Y. Lee, who also designed the Chung Tai Chan monastery. This afternoon is free for shopping or relaxing. Tonight, there is the option of attending a performance (depending on schedules) at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, which has a regular program of international quality classical music concerts. Overnight Taipei (B)
Thursday 21 April – The National Palace Museum
In the late morning we visit the National Palace Museum, Taiwan’s most famous cultural institution. When retreating from the communists in 1949 Chiang Kai Shek made a careful selection of over 500,000 artefacts and artworks from China’s imperial collection, representing the very finest in Chinese art. After a long and sometimes dramatic journey to Taipei the pieces in the collection were stored in the hills nearby, awaiting their inevitable return to Beijing along with a triumphant Kuomintang government. This never happened, of course, and the Taipei Museum was born. Highlights of the collection include ancient bronzes and jade pieces, exquisite Ming porcelain and fine paintings from the Song Dynasty. Overnight Taipei (B)
Friday 22 April – Departure
The morning is free to relax and prepare for your homeward journey. We share a farewell lunch at a Hot Springs Resort south of Taipei, not far from the airport. We then head to Taipei’s international airport for afternoon flights. (B, L)
An historian with a passion for and deep knowledge of the history, music, textiles and literature of South Asia.
Judy Tenzing is a historian with a passion for all things South Asian – India, the Himalaya, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Her deep knowledge and love for the history, music, textiles and literature of these regions adds a rich dimension to the tours she leads.
Judy has a degree in South Asian History as well as post graduate qualifications in secondary teaching. She has taught at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education – offering courses in the histories of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar, as well as courses on the religions and cultural traditions of these regions.
Judy’s main passions are India of the Raj as well as the Mughal period in India. This naturally leads to a deep interest in the histories of surrounding cultures and nations, notably Tibet, Myanmar and Bhutan – all of which are intricately entwined with that of India. In addition, Judy had taught World Religions at senior secondary level for over a decade and this enables an even deeper understanding of the great subcontinent, where faith and history are inseparable.
Judy led her first tour for Academy Travel in 2012 and has been a regular leader since then, accompanying groups to India, Myanmar, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Judy is also a regular presenter for Academy Travel at the Nicholson Lectures at the University of Sydney.
We asked Judy, what do tour members take away from travelling with you?
“I think the one element most people enjoy about the tours I lead is my passion for the places we visit. Nothing is more infectious and my groups seem to absorb this love for the people and places we encounter. I love travelling and I love teaching – what better way to share this than guide a tour for a company like Academy.”
Frequently described as Taiwan’s best hotel, the Lalu is far more than a place to sleep the night. Designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill, the hotel opened in 2002. It is situated on the site of Chiang Kai Shek’s summer residence, and you can still visit the General’s modest retreat on the hotel grounds. The Lalu’s stylish timber and stone interiors have fine views across the lake, which can be enjoyed from the hotel’s infinity pool, tea house and spa.
The Grand Formosa Regent, a five-star hotel, is located in north-west Taipei, close to the historic sites of Datong, Wanhua and the National Palace Museum. Average room size 40 square metres.
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.