Considered one of Taiwan's most liveable cities, Taichung City is home to award-winning restaurants, buzzing night markets, a diverse cultural scene and beautiful scenery, writes Kathleen Davidson.
Taiwan's second largest city is an hour south of its northern capital Taipei by high-speed train, but offers a completely different experience for the curious traveller.
Taichung City, in Taiwan's central west, is known for its pleasant climate, historic sites and pearl milk tea, and is one of the access points for the country's hinterland.
Here are some of the reasons you should go.
THE SIGHTS TO SEE
A must-do is a visit to the landmark Taichung National Theatre, designed by Toyo Ito in 2005. It is composed almost entirely of curved walls and is extraordinary both inside and out.
There are, of course, also many historic buildings to admire. Be sure to stop by the ornate Taichung Station, which was constructed during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and, if temples interest you, the 200-year-old Dajia Jenn Lann Temple is one of the most famous Mazu temples in the country.
Taichung is also the home of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, one of the biggest in Asia, which showcases the works of Taiwanese artists.
For a bird's-eye view of the region, make the most of its temperate climate and head for the hills — just 30 minutes from downtown Taichung are the Dakeng Scenic Area's hiking trails, which offer stunning views of the city and its surroundings.
Or for something entirely different, rent a bike and make for the 12km Dongfeng Bicycle Green Way, the first bicycle lane in Taiwan to be converted from an abandoned train line. You'll enjoy lovely scenery, and go through former train tunnels and over bridges.
One really cool thing to do in Taichung is seek out the painted walls and alleyways of certain areas of the city, some of which can be found on the outsides of historic homes and buildings. They tell the stories of the city's evolution or sometimes are just fun — such as at Monster Lane in Neighbourhood 13, Zhongming Village, which features a different monster on each wall as a guardian to the community; or Painted Anime Lane, which features cartoon characters.
The Feng Chia Night Market, one of the biggest in the country with more than 15,000 vendors, is your best bet for tracking down some of Taiwan's famous street food, as well as clothing, electronics and many other goodies.
Head to Feng Chia for stinky tofu, beef noodles, barbecued octopus, inventive desserts and great people-watching of both locals and tourists. From 6.30pm-11.30pm every night.
Hot pot, or shabu shabu, is another local specialty and Ding Wang Hotpot is reportedly one of Taichung's best places to find a spicy version. Basically, hot pot is a soup dish with seafood, thinly sliced meat, meatballs, vegetables and tofu. You have a burner at your table and ingredients and you cook it yourself.
DRINK IT IN
Following the trend everywhere, craft beer is increasingly popular in Taichung. Run by three expats, 3 Giants Brewing Company sells its beer Taiwan-wide but is based in Taichung where you'll find the company's brewery and brewpub.
High Seas Going High is a cosy local hangout that has cocktails, a great beer selection and live music, including acoustic sessions on Thursdays, and Vinoza is a French wine bar with several locations across the country serving quality European wines at reasonable prices.
BEST SELFIE SPOT
The Gaomei wetlands, about an hour northwest of the city, are not only a great spot for admiring the sunset or a little birdwatching, but their backdrop — a giant wind farm — also makes for great photos. Wander along a boardwalk munching on street food from stands near the wetlands' entrance and keep an eye out for the perfect selfie location along the way. Also try the photogenic Taichung National Theatre building mentioned previously.
DON'T LEAVE TOWN WITHOUT ...
Making the short trip east to the famous Gugan Hot Spring (80 minutes by car) where you can soak in natural mineral waters in a ruggedly scenic setting with views of the Bashan Mountain and the Dajia River. The waters of Gugan were thought to have helped the Meiji emperor of Japan father a son, so that's something to keep in mind if bathing here.
PLAN A TRIP AROUND ...
The Taichung World Flora Exposition takes place from November 3 to April 24. The enormous expo is split into three sections: The Flower and Fruit Village, the Horse Ranch and Flower Paradise and the Floral Metropolis by the Water, and the 2018 event has the concepts of "Green, Nature and the People" as its main project goals.
flies from Auckland to Taipei, via Brisbane, with return Economy Class fares from $1097.