Taiwan is a fascinating destination. It has a culture that sits somewhere between China and Japan, with elements of both. The food is a spin on Chinese, with delicious dumplings and wontons as well as Mongolian barbecue restaurants. The Japanese influence can be seen in the country's architecture, onsen towns and their love of quirky Japanese cartoon characters and crazy game shows.
Some things however, are uniquely Taiwanese — and you won't experience them anywhere else in the world.
1. Visit a painted village
Rainbow village in Taichung is one of the last of Chiang Kai Shek's "temporary" veteran housing projects, built in the 1940s. The government started demolishing these villages in the 1990s, replacing them with high-rise apartments. However, 93-year old Huang Yung-Fu was having none of it. Now known affectionately as "Rainbow Grandpa" by the many tourists that visit his home, he taught himself to paint and turned his village into a work of art.
2. Learn how to make Pearl Tea — in the place that invented it
Pearl Tea (or Bubble Tea) has become a sensation all over the world but did you know it was invented in Taichung in the 1980s? Chun Shui Tang Tea House, the cafe that started it now runs tea-making classes, so you can learn how to make it yourself — they'll even provide you with a takeaway kit.
3. Eat lunch from a toilet bowl
Yep, in Taipei's Xi Men shopping district you'll find a three-storey eatery called Modern Toilet. It's actually been here for more than 10 years — proof that gimmicks work? Well maybe, and also, the food's actually pretty good. Try the Thai green curry, served in a baby blue toilet bowl, or the chocolate icecream shaped like a ... well, let's just hope it tastes better than it looks.
4. Visit a paper zoo
At Taichung's Carton King, stroll past zebras, giraffes, elephants and toucans, as well as windmills, Big Ben, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower. Then dine in a restaurant completely made of paper (even the Shabu Shabu steamboat you cook your meal in) and learn how to make your own paper lantern.
5. Absorb the art
Taiwan is a great supporter of the arts and nowhere is this more evident than at Pier-2 Art Centre in Kaohsiung. This one-time busy harbour has blocks and blocks of old warehouses that were derelict for years and are now home to artists and artisans, who get grants (and a living space) to kick-start their brilliant careers. There's a wonderful variety of arts and crafts, from hand-illustrated zines to finely crafted jewellery.
6. Bake pineapple cakes
In Taipei's Shilin District learn a bit about the city's pastry culture and bake a batch of pineapple cakes at the place that invented them more than 100 years ago; Kuo Yuan Ye. Now a successful chain of pastry shops, they are famous for their Bride Cakes, Moon Cakes and pineapple pastries, with the Shilin headquarters now a Museum of Cake and Pastry.
7. Get elevated
Check out the view from the top of Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world from 2004 until 2009 when it was surpassed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa. It's also the world's tallest largest green building, and had the fastest elevator in the world — travelling from level five to level 89 in just 37 seconds — until that title was taken by Shanghai Tower.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: China Airlines operates daily flights from Auckland to Taipei via Sydney or Brisbane.
Staying there: Taiwan has some fantastic boutique hotels, some housed in historic buildings and others simply a work of art in themselves. In Taipei, Home Hotel is decorated with funky artwork and accessories designed by Chinglish Concepts. Its motto? There's no place like home.
Taichung's RedDot Hotel is another great example. A 35-year-old hotel was transformed using materials sourced locally, including red brick and pebbles. The eccentric features include a stainless-steel slide that takes you down two storeys to the reception area.
Hotel Royal Beitou hot spring resort is in the old Japanese onsen town of Beitou on the outskirts of Taipei. Soak in the hot springs in the centre of town, or opt for the privacy of your in-room onsen.
Further information: See eng.taiwan.net.tw.