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Photographer Miguel Tarrosa on capturing cinematic Taiwan and having the best time doing it

Photographer Miguel Tarrosa on capturing cinematic Taiwan and having the best time doing it

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  • It took Tarrosa three trips to finesse an itinerary that veers away from the usual but is just as breathtaking from any angle

Last March, freelance photographer and senior operations associate at a fintech company Miguel Tarrosa embarked on what would be his third time visiting Taiwan. There for a week, he and his friends spent the first few days at the center of the island, Taichung City, with its skyscrapers and pulsating neon lights, and the latter half in its famed capital Taipei.

Taiwan [in terms of COVID measures] was not as strict as I had expected. I did not have to present any COVID vaccination card/certificate or even the yellow international COVID vaccine passport. You are expected, however, to wear your mask at all times (except when eating/drinking) when indoors,” says Tarrosa.

“The first time I went was in 2015 with my sister and her best friend. The second one was in late 2019 with my family.”

A motorcyclist passing one of the streets of Taichung.

The small island, officially the Republic of China, is approximately a third of the land area of Luzon. It is a politically-charged territory with a long history of colonization and upheaval and yet, most of its culture remains intact, attracting millions of tourists from all over the world yearly.

One way to easily go around the island is to take the high-speed rail that runs from the capital Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung.

One of the chief reasons why people flock there every year is the ease at which you can go around—in a day even. In Miguel’s week-long trip, they were able to go from the west in Taichung, down Nantou, east to Hualien, and north to Taipei.

Driving through Mount Qilai, a popular scenery and mountaineering destination.

Their itinerary still covered old hauls like the seaside town of Jiufen that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” the tourist attraction Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and Taiwanese street food haven Raohe Night Market, one of the many night markets that Miguel says all tourists should try.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

“To my surprise, not much has changed from what I recall,” Miguel says. “The energy in street markets, for example, felt very much the same: street vendors asking passersby to try out their grilled mushrooms/stinky tofu/herbal milk tea, fashionable young people drinking with friends.”

Qingjing Farm in Nantou

In Nantou, Taiwan’s lone non-coastal county, they made three stops: the Buddhist Xuanguang Temple, the high-altitude tourist destination Qingjing Farm, and the country’s largest body of water, the Sun Moon Lake, with which Miguel resonated the most.

A ferry ride from Xuanguang Pier to Shuishe Pier across Sun Moon Lake

“I felt very at peace just walking around the small town and observing people—both the locals and fellow tourists. Being around the water and the mountains was such a delightful experience, especially because the place didn’t seem very gentrified even though it’s a relatively popular destination.”

Here, he lists other worthy spots accompanied by cinematic photographs he took during their journey.

Miguel’s Taiwan travel itinerary
  • Feng-Chia Night Market (Taichung)
  • Mount Qilai (Hualien)
  • Qingjing Farm (Nantou)
  • National Taichung Theater (Taichung)
  • Audit Village (Taichung)
  • Sun Moon Lake (Nantou)
  • Xuanguang Temple (Nantou)
  • Daan Forest Park (Taipei)
  • Jiufen (Taipei)
  • Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Taipei)
  • Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (Taipei)
  • Shilin Night Market (Taipei)
  • Raohe Night Market (Taipei)

Miguel’s Taiwan tips

Go to as many night markets as you can. There’s great food and drinks everywhere.

Spend a whole day exploring Jiufen. Half a day just isn’t enough. Have some tea, try as much street food as you can (especially the free-taste ones), and stay until nighttime so you can see the red lanterns glow. “Spirited Away” vibes!

The seaside town of Jiufen inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.”
A Mei Teahouse amidst the fog at Jiufen

Hike Elephant Mountain just before sunset because the view is breathtaking. I would also argue that you’d get the best view of Taipei 101 from the top. Definitely worth the 30-to-40-minute hike.

View of Taipei skyline from Elephant Mountain Peak. Shot in December 2019

Spend a whole day (or maybe two) at Sun Moon Lake. We weren’t able to do so, but we definitely will the next time we come back. There are so many activities to do and even if you don’t feel like doing much, you’d still enjoy the laidback vibe of the town.
A ferry ride from Xuanguang Pier to Shuishe Pier across Sun Moon Lake
Xuanguang Pier

Try your best to get a reservation at Da-wan Yakiniku. The last time I ate here was during my 2019 trip, yet I still think about how amazing all the dishes were, especially the chateaubriand, the gyutan, and the often underrated wagyu oyster blade.

Have a nice picnic at Daan Forest Park. There are convenience stores across the park so you could buy some snacks.

A group of picnickers at Daan Forest Park

Explore the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. It’s an abandoned tobacco factory converted into a complex with exhibits, galleries, design stores, and a library.

Not Just Library at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

The best lu rou fan or braised pork rice—at least for me (and a lot of other people!)—is served by Jin Feng in Yang Ming Shan near Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. There will most probably be a line in front of the restaurant and you might be seated with a stranger at the same table but it’s really worth it.

A bowl of lu rou fan braised and pork belly jin feng.
Lunch with friends at Chun Shui Tang in Taichung, which claims to have invented bubble milk tea.

Other stops worth making are:

National Taichung Theater, an opera house designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito
Shilin Night Market is a famed destination owing to its huge variety of street food.

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