For the Love of Travel
For the Love of Travel

Taking teens to Taiwan

A stroll down the rainbow village

Taiwan is hardly top of mind when planning a holiday with teenagers.  The shy island nation has long hidden behind the shirttails of mainland China to such an extent that many of us know little about its rich history, culture and appeal, writes Amy Bingham

But thanks in part to a burgeoning tech-led economy, modern living standards, crime-free cities and a manageable size – just one hundred and eighty kilometres from tip to tail, Taiwan is also a destination perfectly set up to welcome families with older kids. Chuck in an endearing kookiness, pure natural beauty and breadth of unique experiences, and this “new kid on the block” Asian destination delivers something “alternative” to a demographic that are notoriously hard to please. So here are ten ideas to persuade them it’s a place to be seen!

Anyone for a tea?

Having a cuppa doesn’t scream “perfect for teens”.  But mixing, melting, shaking and stirring your own bubble tea is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Taichung’s Chun Shui Tang Tea House is widely credited as the birthplace of Taiwanese Bubble Tea, a hugely popular iced tea and tapioca brew.  Thirty years on, the craze is still going strong and can be widely tasted across the country. Book a bubble tea-making lesson and learn from the pros while also learning about traditional Taiwanese tea making.  A take-home tea shaker and certificate might even help seal the deal. 

Themed restaurants in Taipei
Themed restaurants in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

Art in action

The industrial city of Kaohsiung boasts Pier 2, an innovative arts precinct re-born from former docklands.  Emerging creatives rent space at minimal cost, courtesy of a government scheme to diversify the local economy. Guided tours meander through the crazy outdoor sculptures and graffiti art and provide colourful selfie backgrounds before heading inside to workshops and retail outlets. With an ever-changing list of tenants every visit is different.  So expect a range of ‘art’; anything from exhibitions of plastics, craftsmen wielding soldiering irons to shops full paper craft and fanzines. Sloth-like teens will love the hipster aesthetic and unhurried pace and relish a coffee and cake in the delectable bookshop.

Pier 2 art precinct in Taipei
Pier 2 art precinct in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

Duck Duck Goose

No visit to Taiwan is complete without a visit to a traditional night market.  A perennial favourite is Kaohsiung’s Liu-He Night Market where food, fashion and electrical goods vie for attention. Taste strange tropical fruits, stock up on flashing phone chargers or grab cheap designer fakery. Stop by the duck stall, a locals favourite, where every body part conceivable from webbed feet to beak are on offer.  

Pier 2 Jewellery maker in Taipei
Pier 2 Jewellery maker in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

What’s for dinner

`Food here is fresh, delicious and affordable and many restaurants have Western menus and English speaking staff. Fussy teens are well catered for and will love the cheap eat-on-the-run street stalls, simple locals-only eateries and convenience store takeaways. For signature Taiwanese dumplings head to Din Tai Fung in Taipei’s 101 Tower.  The window into a heavily-staffed dumpling production line delivers guaranteed entertainment whilst meals are being prepared. Be sure to stop by one of the many themed restaurants.  From favourites like Hello Kitty to robots to teddies, expect creative and expensive themed food.   For some eating turd-like piles of chocolate ice cream out of toilet bowls in Taipei’s Modern Toilet Restaurant may be a step too far.

Din-Tai-Fung-Dumpling-Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

Sports Nuts

For sports-mad teens Taipei’s state-of-the-art indoor sporting arena Taroko Park, is a must-see. Brush up on basketball, golf, skating, soccer and baseball skills and regardless of effort, thanks to the air conditioning, never raise a sweat. Head outside to the theme park and go-karting circuit, the latter a miniature replica of the F1 Suzuki track in Japan.

A stroll down the rainbow village
A stroll down the rainbow village. Photo: Amy Bingham

Speed past the temples

Buddhist temples are not to every teen’s taste, so why not head to Kaohsiung and combine culture with high adrenalin wakeboarding? At The Lotus Cable Wakeboard Park boarders are pulled around the water by an ever-rotating cable.  Instructors speak English and after a few face plants, most teens will master the technique needed. While they repeat the circuit for several hours, amble around the shores of Lotus (Lianchi) Lake taking in the spectacular Dragon and Tiger Pavilions, Pei Chi Pavilion and the giant Confucious temple.

Lemur Hotel in Taipei
Lemur Hotel in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

People Power

Meet the country’s oldest activist and his colourful home at The Rainbow Village in Taichung. When The Taiwanese Government planned to re-develop a 1950s military housing village, ex-soldier Huang Yong-Fu refused to leave his home. In peaceful protest, he painted his home in vibrant colours with distinctive patterns and shapes.  His story went viral and the demolition was cancelled. Most days ninety year old Mr Huang welcomes visitors from around the world and sells souvenirs.  And if nothing else, a visit will spark animated discussions around the dinner table that night.  

Mr Huang's souvenirs in Taipei
Mr Huang’s souvenirs in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

Getting stuck in

In Taipei’s Shihlin District, The Kuo Yuan Ye Bakehouse is famous for pineapple cake, a traditional Taiwanese wedding gift. Pre-book a cookery class and create cakes – under instruction – to their unique recipe.  Teens will find making miniature pineapple versions a surprisingly meditative experience. Almost as popular is the Cake & Pastry Museum – a canny ploy to kill time whilst cakes bake – where traditional silk wedding dresses and headwear can be worn for hilarious photos.

Themed foods in Taipei
Themed foods in Taipei. Photo: Amy Bingham

Robot Wars

Save the teens from fighting and challenge them to do it with robots instead in the city of Taoyuan. The snappily named Sha Yang Ye Robotic Dreams Future Factory is all about engineering, but inadvertently is one of the most original attractions in Taiwan. Teens will love the hands on opportunities to control, move and manipulate robots and use their bodies to remotely manoeuvre lifelike robots in a real robot war. Watching a band of robots sashay in time to music whilst wearing hula skirts is a unforgettable experience.

Robot factory in Taiwan
Robot factory in Taiwan. Photo: Amy Bingham

Doing it for the kids

Teens are oft accused of treating their homes like a hotel, so finding standout accommodation is a challenge.  Luckily Taiwan has a range of quirky hotels with particular appeal for teens. Taichung has the innocuously named Red Dot Hotel with comfortable family rooms. Stand-outs are the disco-lit lifts and the spiral slide between floors.  Who can resist a slippery dip? In Taipei treat the family to the sophisticated ambience of Home Hotel.  The artworks proclaiming various home-themed affirmations, ”Home is where the heart is” and the like, are a fun touch.

Kuo-Yuan-Ye-Bakehouse Museum
Kuo-Yuan-Ye-Bakehouse Museum. Photo: Amy Bingham