When a top airline for a destination flies planes that are adorned with cartoon-themed livery, it's a good bet that the destination is family-friendly.
Case in point: Taiwan's EVA Airlines has a long-standing partnership with Sanrio, owner of Hello Kitty, and Taiwan's infatuation with the character goes back decades. Capital city Taipei, for example, has been home to a Hello Kitty Cafe since 1976.
I visited that cafe four years ago, when I spent nearly a week in Taipei. It wasn't on the agenda for my return to Taiwan late last summer as a guest of the country's tourism bureau. Still, our group experienced a number of family-friendly sites and attractions during the eight-day trip, which included stops in Tainan and Kaohsiung, two of Taiwan's other major cities.
After I arrived at Taipei's Taoyuan Airport (aboard one of EVA's non-Hello Kitty aircraft, alas), our group spent two days in the capital, including a stop at Taipei 101, which at nearly 1,700 feet high was the world's tallest building when it opened in 2004. The first five levels house a number of high-end clothing retailers, and a basement-level food court offers a wide range of Asian- and Western-style venues to please most any palate. Its outpost of Din Tai Fung, the international dim sum chain that started in Taipei in 1958, always draws a crowd, but diners generally don't wait long, thanks to the efficient servers and kitchen staff, who serve about 9,000 soup dumplings on a slow day.
Hello Kitty check-in kiosks for EVA Airlines at Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport. Photo Credit: TW photo by Eric Moya
While in Taipei, we took a day trip to Yehliu Geopark, an attraction seemingly tailor-made for the Instagram era but in fact the product of eons of coastal erosion. The mile-long park showcases a number of sedimentary-rock formations named to reflect their resemblance to everyday objects — some (the mushroom-shaped rocks) more aptly than others (the so-called Fairy's Shoe, which I felt more closely resembled a flip-flop). Admission is about $3 for adults, $1.50 for ages 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.
Next door to the park is Yehliu Ocean World, offering a variety of aquatic exhibits as well as dolphin and sea lion shows. Admission is about $15 for adults, $12 for ages 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.
After Taipei, we headed to Sun Moon Lake, the country's largest lake and a popular destination among Taiwanese for a weekend getaway.
We spent the night at the Fleur de Chine hotel, a 211-room property with a number of family-friendly amenities: a game room and playground; a 40-foot rock-climbing wall; child care services; and a daily schedule of craft-making and other diversions. Guests can also take a spin around the lake on one of the hotel's bicycles, which are available for rent for about $5. Fleur de Chine rates start at about $535 for a king room with mountain view; king rooms with lake views start at about $615.
Next was a two-hour drive to Tainan, with accommodations at the Silks Place Tainan, a five-star property whose 255 rooms include several family-friendly options. Rates for a deluxe room with one king bed or with twin beds begin at about $390 per night, while family suites begin at about $480.
Big-city exploration in Taiwan
A former sugar mill in Tainan is now home to the Ten Drum Cultural Village performance venue and amusement park. During our visit, we got an introductory drumming lesson alongside a group of young visitors before heading to the village's auditorium to watch the pros at work. Performances by the Ten Drum troupe incorporate rhythmic techniques and instruments from around the world with found-object flair that turns the factory's pipes and other surfaces into yet another percussion instrument.
Elsewhere on the grounds, visitors will find a playground, a few amusement rides (including a 40-foot-high slide housed in a refinery chimney), a couple of eateries and a gift shop with all manner of souvenirs, including drums. (Parents, you've been warned.) Admission is about $13 for adults and $5 to $8 for children depending on age.
Finally, we drove about an hour to Kaohsiung, where we spent two nights at the H2O Hotel. The 157-room property, where rates start at about $180 per night, proved an ideal location from which to explore the city.
We'd been invited to Taiwan for a culinary-themed itinerary (covered last year in Travel Weekly's Focus on Culinary Travel issue, Sept. 17) and no trip to Taiwan, culinary-themed or otherwise, would be complete without a trip to one of its famed night markets. However, the cramped, chaotic, often labyrinthine layouts of some of the larger markets can be daunting.
In Kaohsiung, a colleague and I made our way to the Liuhe Night Market, which, thanks to its modest size and a straightforward layout along Liuhe Road, proved easy to navigate and offered plenty of elbow room to browse the assortment of food stalls and inexpensive souvenirs on offer.
Speaking of souvenirs, Taiwan's pineapple cakes, widely available at night markets and department stores in gift boxes, make excellent take-home gifts. The snack-size cakes are usually individually wrapped and are somewhere between shortbread and sponge cake in texture, with a jelly-like pineapple filling at center.
Yes, there are Hello Kitty-shaped pineapple cakes.
For more information on Taiwan tourism, see https://eng.taiwan.net.tw.