My Top 5 Favorite Leisure Activities in Taiwan
Written by Keri Smith
One of the best perks of working with Teach Taiwan is that you will be asked to work a very reasonable work schedule, and after the school day is over, it is unlikely you will have any after hours or weekend responsibilities. You will have a good deal of personal leisure time, perhaps more time than you've ever enjoyed before. As such, you should take the opportunity to try out all the wonderful and wacky forms of recreation Taiwan has to offer. While there are certainly hundreds of interesting and unique ways to recreate in Taiwan, I am going to share what have personally become my top 5 favorite recreational activities since moving to Taiwan. These activities are common enough to be accessible in almost every city in Taiwan and can be accomplished in a day trip or perhaps even on a weekday evening.
1. Visiting a Traditional Tea House
Taiwan is of course famed for its many quick and convenient bubble tea shops, wonderful in their own right, but my favorite way to enjoy tea is to enjoy the slow and relaxing ritual of traditional tea service in a tea house with lots of ambience. And fortunately, Taiwan is not only the producer of some of the world’s finest teas, but also has many beautiful and scenic tea houses where you can relax for a few hours whilst enjoying traditional gongfu or gaiwan tea service.
In these more traditional forms of tea service, loose leaves of tea or small, compact, “bricks” of tea tea are brewed in a somewhat complex manner, involving first warming of the tea pot, then rinsing the tea leaves, and afterwards, multiple brewing of the tea to bring out different subtleties of flavor. But don’t worry if you don't know anything about tea service or don’t have the refined palette of a tea sommelier, just sit back and enjoy the process. At such establishments, your server will first demonstrate the tea process and give you full brewing and serving instructions. Additionally, in most tea houses you can also order some sweet and savory snacks or a meal to accompany your tea set.
Each tea house has their own atmosphere and slightly different tea culture or preparation method. For example, some are decorated in traditional Chinese architectural style, others in Japanese style, while others have a modern feel. Some have koi ponds and gardens, and others are known for their fantastic sea or mountain views. Regardless, tea houses are a great opportunity to unwind and soak yourself (and your tea leaves) in lots of rich ambience and maybe snap a few gram-worthy pictures.
2. Cruising in City Parks
Because Taiwan is a densely populated island, the closest access to nature or space from the hustle and bustle of city life is to the nearest city park. And, in my personal opinion, Taiwan has some seriously awesome and accessible city parks. The larger parks have walking paths, basketball courts, exercise stations, and are often beautifully lit up like Christmas trees at night. However, the best parks for me are those connected to well-paved bike paths or those that have outdoor skating rinks.
In cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung there are some great riverside bike paths that go on for miles. Biking is very convenient because you don’t even need your own bike. There are YouBike stations all over where you can very inexpensively rent a bike and get some relaxing nature time cruising along the river for hours, if you so choose. It’s also super nice to have these dedicated bike paths because it's not very pleasant or safe to bike along the busy city streets.
The other super cool thing about some of the parks in Taiwan that I’ve never heard anyone else rave about are the outdoor skating rinks! In the USA, where I am from, we have indoor roller skating rinks, but never in my life have I seen an outdoor skating rink until coming to Taiwan. And, I don’t mean a skate park (yes, Taiwan has those too), but I mean a dedicated outdoor roller skating/blading rink! The perimeter is an oval-shaped, tilted track for speed skating and on the inside is a flat rink for drills and artistic skating. Roller blading is very popular in Taiwan, it’s like the 90’s just never stopped. There are many youth and adult speed skating clubs that utilize these outdoor rinks for practice. But if it's not during practice time, you are free to bring your own skates and cruise at your leisure. Or, you can cruise for miles on those very nice bike paths I mentioned.
3. Soaking in Hot Springs
You may think that Taiwan is a “tropical island” and marvel at why anyone would desire to go to a hot spring. But trust me, it actually does get pretty cold and rainy from the months of November-March. And when it does, the best way to spend a cold or rainy day is soaking in one of Taiwan’s many hot springs.
Due to its location on active tectonic plates, Taiwan is home to many natural hot springs. This hot spring water, which is rich in minerals and purported to have many health benefits, can then be enjoyed as either a “wild hot spring”, an outdoor, nature-made geothermal pool, or at a hot spring resort where the hot spring water is pumped into indoor or outdoor man-made pools. Additionally, these hot spring pools come in a few flavors: public pools with mixed gender (bathing suit required), male/female segregated pools (nude), and private bathing rooms. If you get a private bathing room, you rent the room by the hour or two and will be given a room with bathtubs to fill with hot and cold water. You can spend your time dipping in and out of the hot and cold pools. If the idea of getting in the buff with a bunch of strangers makes you uneasy, just make sure you do your research ahead of time and either go to a bathing suit required hot spring, or book a private room.
If however, you’re willing to bathe in the buff in a public hot spring, I can highly recommend the Beitou Huangci hot springs. At this hot spring resort, if you pay to dine at their restaurant, you receive complimentary tickets to the hot spring. They are famous for their restaurant’s seafood congee (rice porridge) which I attest is worth the hype. Also, you can choose to dine after your soak, which I recommend because hot congee is just about the coziest thing in the world to eat after soaking in a hot spring.
While the largest concentration of hot springs is located in northern Taiwan and thus very accessible to those living in Taipei, there are hot springs located all over the island(s) of Taiwan. So no matter where you become situated in Taiwan, you most likely can make a day trip to enjoy your nearest hot spring.
4. Shrimp Fishing
Recently, I had my first try at shrimp fishing, and I greatly surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying the activity. If you’ve never heard of shrimp fishing, it's a pretty special activity unique to Taiwan. All around Taiwan there are establishments to go indoor shrimp fishing. At such places there is a shallow pool, much like a swimming pool, that is continually restocked with fresh, live shrimps. Customers pay a fee to rent a fishing rod and bait, and then sit in chairs along the edges of the pool with their fishing lines in the water, attempting to ensnare any passing shrimp. Customers can catch and keep as many shrimps as they are able in a specified allotment of time. Any shrimp that are caught can be grilled, salted, and eaten right on the premises, without any additional fee.
I lean towards being a bit of a stereotypically “girly” kind of gal, so I didn’t think the sport of indoor shrimp fishing was really going to capture my heart. But, as I think it’s important to try things outside of one’s typical interest, I gave it a try. I thoroughly surprised myself by feeling highly engaged and a bit addicted to the sport. When you finally catch a shrimp, it’s an adrenaline rush! You get to have a small competition with yourself and your friends to catch as many shrimp as you can. Then afterwards, you get to enjoy the bounty of your catch by enjoying a deliciously fresh shrimp dinner.
5. Wandering Night Markets
Perhaps the single most well known and uniquely Taiwanese way to spend an evening is to wander through one of Taiwan’s many night markets. Night markets can be found in basically every city in Taiwan and are a great place for anyone and everyone to go to. You can easily go to a night market on your own, with a friend, on a date, with kids, or with family. Their convenient hours, about 5pm-11pm every night of the week, and abundance of things to do make them a great place for people of all ages.
Every evening dedicated streets line up with vendors. Pedestrians can dine, shop, and play games as they wander through a night market. All manner of freshly prepared and traditional food, drinks, and desserts can be found at the food stalls. Shopping also spans the gamut: from clothing, accessories, electronics, toys to bedding. And the games are carnival style games such as ring toss, dart games, and fishing for live small fish and turtles.
Each night market usually has their own specialty or famous food items, whether it be the stand that sells the best fried chicken, best fried onion pancake, best stinky tofu, etc. You can usually discern which vendors are the most famous by observing the length of the queue waiting to purchase said item, if it’s a long line, it’s most likely pretty delicious.
When I’m at a night market, I like to keep an open mind and love to try out any new dishes. I also love to harness my inner child by playing all the night market games. Maybe it's because they are geared towards children…but for a non-sporty person, I have oddly good luck at winning night market games.
Since moving to Taiwan, visiting tea houses, cruising through beautiful parks, soaking in hot springs, going shrimp fishing, and trying out different night markets have become some of my favorite ways to spend my free time. Each activity is rather common and accessible throughout Taiwan, but most of these activities are unique to Taiwan, or at the least I have found them to be much more accessible in Taiwan than in most other places. I hope if you come to teach in Taiwan you will use your free time to explore these or other new hobbies of your own.