Today we left Cambodia and headed to Taiwan. Most of this day was dedicated to travel. Upon our arrival, we joined the other 40 agents who had been following the alternate itineraries. We gathered at a restaurant and enjoyed the hospitality of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. We had an opportunity to learn about the other trips and experiences first hand.
This proved a remarkably interesting day. We took off to the train station and were whisked two hours south along the eastern coast. From there we traveled inland to the Taroko Gorge National Park. I confess my prior total ignorance of the Gorge, but that made it all the more spectacular. The Gorge is a cross between Yosemite and the Grand Canyon except that it is made of marble! The water running through the valley was emerald and turquoise. The entire effect was absolutely breathtaking. We stopped several times to hike and walk along the numerous trails and roads.
Our lunch was deep in the heart of the Park in a settlement of the indigenous Atayal tribe. The gift shop was notable and we sampled some of the local ""wine"" made from grain and served in the traditional boar shaped cup. The food in Taiwan was all very good, but it was not as memorable as the cuisine of Southeast Asia. At the risk of irritating the fans of Taiwanese food, I did not find the dumplings at the famous Din Tai Fung dumpling house all that exciting. We went here upon our return to Taipei on the train. Watching the preparation and seeing the presentation was an experience, but dumpling are not my fancy I have discovered.
After dinner, we dashed over the night market of Shilin. Personally I could have skipped this. I am not fond of streets full of cheap t-shirts and touristy trinkets and trash. The only thing I did find interesting were the few food booths in the market. I was intrigued with the fried goose feet and various inner parts of some non descript creature.
On our last day, we visited the incredible collection of Chinese art at the National Museum. This is definitely worth a stop in Taipei, if you do absolutely nothing else. It contains art from every period. We saw jades, carved miniature, porcelains. Keep in mind that the crowds are crushing so be prepared to wait and give yourself time accordingly. The gift shop is extensive and also worth some extra time. Later that afternoon, we went to the top of Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. Since I don't like heights, I hung back from the windows and enjoyed some Taiwanese ice cream.
That evening we had our grand finale at the Grand Hotel. We loved this historic hotel! Done in enormous proportions with red and gold and designed by Madame Chang Kai Shek in the 50's, it is very impressive. We even had an opportunity to tour her private rooms and see the secret tunnel she had built under the hotel to aid in her escape, should the occasion become necessary. We had our gala dinner in one of the private rooms. We were attended by the various visitors' bureaus, the airlines and tour operators. The food was great and everyone had a wonderful time. It was a perfect end to an amazing trip. From there we rushed off to the airport, said our good byes and prepared for the long flight home.