Ancient temples, stunning mountain scenery, superb museums: Taiwan has much to fascinate the cultural traveller. This 11-day tour explores the many facets of Taiwan in depth, from the natural beauty of its interior and coastlines, to the thriving contemporary arts scene in Taipei and some of East Asia’s greatest cultural treasures. The island also has a rich history to be discovered, from Portuguese and Dutch colonists to the enduring influence of its powerful neighbours, China and Japan, and the survival of indigenous cultures and rich artisanal traditions that have been lost elsewhere.
Historic ancient temples, colonial forts and Meiji-era architecture in Old Tainan
The pristine environment of Sun Moon Lake, surrounded by an iconic landscape of steep mountain peaks
The art of Taiwanese tea-making at an Assam tea farm
The extraordinary Chung Tai Chan Monastery near Puli, headquarters of a popular Zen Buddhist order
A spectacular drive hugging the Chingshui Cliffs and penetrating deep into the valley of Taroko Gorge
Taipei’s National Palace Museum, a celebrated cultural institution, home to over 500,000 artefacts and artworks
Days 1–2: Arrive into Kaohsiung and transfer to Tainan. 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 Kaohsiung Airport with a transfer to Tainan, and ends at Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei. Cathay Pacific and partner Cathay Dragon offer flights into Kaoshiung 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 9 March: Arrive
Flights from Australia to Hong Kong depart during the day. At Hong Kong you can transfer to an onward flight to Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. There is a transfer from Kaohsiung Airport to our Tainan hotel to coincide with the arrival of the Dragon Air flight. Overnight Tainan.
Wednesday 10 March: Old Tainan
After a morning talk, 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, AT)
Thursday 11 March: Lugang
Departing Tainan we 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 and the Koo family mansion, built during the Japanese period and containing 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 which decorate its ceilings and roofs. Overnight Lugang. (B, L)
Friday 12 March: 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 13 March: 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, occupying 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 14 March: The Chung Tai Chan Monastery
Today we visit one of Asia’s most extraordinary sites. Costing $US110 million dollars, the Chung Tai Chan monastery is located near the town of Puli, about 40 minutes’ drive from Sun Moon Lake. The monastery, headquarters of a popular Zen Buddhist order, was opened in 2001, and the sheer extravagance of the structure is an indicator of the popularity of the religious order. The architecture of the 37-storey structure combines traditional Buddhist subject matter with post-modernism, and is truly memorable. This morning we explore many of the levels of the monastery building and the landscaped gardens of the complex. After lunch on site we take a guided visit of the Chung Tai Chan museum. The museum opened only in October 2009. It 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 greatest 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 15 March: 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 and stop at Wushe to view the memorial to aboriginal resistance against the Japanese. Over the next few hours we pass 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. This evening the hotel offers a highly entertaining display of Taiwanese Aboriginal dance. Overnight Taroko Gorge. (B, L, D)
Tuesday 16 March: 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, and not to be missed. 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 for a number of kilometres. We continue to Taipei, arriving in the late afternoon. Tonight, we enjoy dinner at the hotel. Overnight Taipei. (B, L, D)
Wednesday 17 March: 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, the world’s tallest building until very recently. 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 18 March: 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 near Taipei, 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. This evening there is the option of visiting the Taipei Eye arts centre, where there are regular performances of traditional Chinese music and singing. Overnight Taipei (B)
Friday 19 March: 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 to Hong Kong. At Hong Kong you can connect to onward overnight flights to Australia. (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:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
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 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.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity