Travel expert, video journalist and contributor to, Kelley Ferro picked Taiwan for her first trip to Asia. The island nation has so much to offer; from the energy of the big city to the serenity of postcard-worthy beaches. Explore Taiwan alongside Ferro as she tours its vibrant landscape, culture, history and food with USTOA member Ritz Tours.

Ready to explore more? Watch the videos below to experience the incredible culture, landscape and food of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Culture

Tropical Countryside

Taiwan’s Cultural Food

Ritual Ceremony

Taiwan’s Street Markets

by Colin Roohan, AFAR Ambassador

It was the morning of my fifth day of an eight-day tour for USTOA tour operator member Ritz Tours and the tour was set to leave Kaohsiung in southeastern Taiwan. I remember getting on the bus with mixed expectations: I was extremely satisfied with what I had seen of the coast line from Taipei to Kaohsiung, but the cynic in me didn’t expect to see much variety in the sights scheduled for Taiwan’s southern and eastern coasts. However, not too far into our drive that day, these notions were squashed with our arrival at the Kenting National Park.

There was a change in both the climate and the topography of the land outside. The highway we were on crept closer to the ocean, and we got our first glimpse of the picture-perfect turquoise waters of southern Taiwan. The dense forested mountains outside the bus transformed into porous, jagged rock leftover from volcanoes long ago. We were now in the tropical region of Taiwan, and the evidence was all around: the swaying palms, the whitewash of the beach, and the horizon melting under the sun in the distance.

Kenting National Forest Recreation Area

Kenting National Park is gorgeous and has a very diverse ecology. Two of the areas I thoroughly enjoyed within the park were the Eluanbi Lighthouse and the Kenting National Forest Recreational Area. The lighthouse was beautiful, but what I really enjoyed were the elevated walking trails which ran alongside the rocky shore. The Forest Recreational Area is a sanctuary for multiple species of birds and butterflies, and the biodiversity of plant life attracts millions. One big contributor to the park’s popularity in recent years is Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s choice to use some of the park’s scenery for a couple scenes in the hit film The Life of Pi.


We left Kenting National Park and went north via Highway 11, the splendid stretch of highway which runs along the unspoiled coasts of eastern Taiwan. It’s sparsely populated out east and the abundant beauty really made me feel nostalgic for road trips, camping, or surfing trips on the USA’s west coast. Those interested in geology, or nature in general, will want to stop at Hsiao Yeliu, a coastal park with very unique and mysterious rock formations. Here, thousands of years of wind and salt water have created the earth’s breaching crust to smooth and contort in very odd ways. Walking out on the rocks is encouraged, and doing so will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a Salvador Dali landscape.
The bridge to Sansiantai

Another memorable stop we made not far from Hsiao Yeliu was the Platform of the Three Mortals (Sansiantai), where an arched bridge stretches out onto a small coral island. The three hulking rock masses on the island have links to Chinese mythology, but what I found more enjoyable was the unique bridge and a nearby beach comprised of varying size of round stones. One of the last scheduled stops on our west coast itinerary had to be altered due to typhoon flooding, and unfortunately our options at the famous Taroko Gorge were limited. Nevertheless, we made the most of the opportunity to take a small hike over a suspension bridge and up through a tunnel to visit the Eternal Spring Shine, which was built in dedication to 450 workers who lost their lives creating road tunnels through the mountainous park.

A suspension bridge near the Eternal Spring Shrine

On my last day in Taiwan I got the pleasure of visiting the former gold mining town of Jiufen, located in the extreme northeast. Jiufen Old Street is one of the main attractions, and is one raucous bazaar of a street. On both sides of the narrow lane there are cooks and salesman touting the nourishing properties of their vegetable dumplings or the potency of their green tea. After exiting the mayhem, my group rehabilitated at one of the local teahouses. We were served a light lunch which was followed by a tea ceremony, a tranquil end to my incredible journey.

Sampling green tea in Jiufen

As I was at the airport getting ready to leave I wondered why it had taken me so long to visit Taiwan. I came to the conclusion that it just kept getting pushed back on the list behind other destinations. To be honest though, it’s simply because I didn’t know enough about the island, ignorant to the diversity of attractions and activities. Of course now my opinion has changed drastically. I already want to go back and take part in some secluded hiking, or stay in some of the quaint surfer townships that scream relaxation. I want to dine on stinky tofu and freshly grilled octopus. It may be a small island, but it is a beautiful one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

For highlights of Colin Roohan’s tour through Taiwan, click here.

Colin Roohan is a travel photographer interested in documenting experiences with culture and life. In addition to his work with AFAR, Colin has been published in Travel + Leisure, The Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys, and Groove  Magazine, amongst others. In addition to journalistic pursuits, Colin captures portraits and documents events around Southern California.

by Kelley Ferro

When thinking of a story to share about my experience with USTOA in Taiwan, my first trip ever to Asia, there’s so much I could say. I could tell you about the overwhelming smell of stinky tofu, (which I did try, on camera…), the flashing lights, sounds and energy of the Shilin Night Markets–my favorite spot in Taipei. Or I could tell you about the first time I bit into a dumpling meticulously crafted by the world renowned Din Tai Fung at Taipei 101. Or maybe I could talk about joining in the groups of men and women practicing Tai Chi at 5am in the grounds of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. There are so many stories to tell because the real, the in-your-face Taiwanese culture bombarded my senses in all the best ways. But the story I that I’m going to tell you is a very simple one. I’m going to tell you about eating lunch with Taiwanese family in the countryside.

Our last day of our Ritz Tours excursion throughout Taiwan was a Sunday. Hours before our flights back home, we were invited to have lunch with nationally known calligrapher and his family at his home about 30 minutes outside of Taipei. We cruised along the highways of the pristine capital city, which I had felt comfortable in since it was so reminiscent of New York City, onto smaller roads through smaller villages and finally bumping onto ruddy, dirt roads twisting and turning around farms and creeks. Our car came to a halt in front of large, angular white house next to a sprawling lotus pond.

Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan

We were here. I had no idea where here was but I didn’t have much time to think before I was being bowed too and welcomed in broken English by our host, San. A stocky man, we followed him into the front room of his house with a low round table and about eight place settings. We were a group of four: my cameraman Justin, our driver, and our guide, Lily. Who else was coming to lunch?

As it turned out, San invited a crowd of family and friends to join us in what was going to be one of the most memorable meals of my life. One by one, we met San’s family: his younger son who spoke English well, his older son who worked at Eva Airlines, his uncle who didn’t say a word, his wife who had been cooking this feast for two days, and his best friend who lived down the street. Smiling and nodding, his wife excitedly told us in Mandarin to sit down and start eating. San raised his glass and welcomed us, and we all toasted with a resounding hymn of “Gan bey,” which I later learned meant bottoms up. And the multi-course, multi-hour meal had begun.

Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan

I can’t even tell you what was in the feast spread before us, but I dove into plate after plate of meats, chicken, seafood rolls, whole fish, and lots of rice, chopsticks first. San told me that his wife was cooking in a traditional style of her ancestors in China–the flavors and spices were very traditional. I don’t think I could ever recreate any of it but, wow, was it delicious.  After, several toasts later, and a lotus pod dessert, San decided that he needed to up the entertainment.

image3b Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan

Without saying a word, he walked over to his keyboard and started singing a Taiwanese song–which his friend eagerly joined in. Being serenaded at luncheon feast in the middle of Taiwan’s countryside–I don’t think it could get any more local.

Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan

The long lunch continued with more songs, more toasts and more chatter. As we all grew more comfortable with each other, I was able to communicate with his wife in spite of our limited mutual language. She eagerly showed me photos her daughter, which I deciphered studied fashion in Japan. We walked out and took a tour of their garden and admired their massive floating lotus pond–unlike anything I had ever seen. 


San said that beer made him an even better calligrapher and he proved it by giving us a tutorial in calligraphy. I got a one-on-one lesson, which I was told was very rare. With just black ink on the tip of a long haired brush, San flicked his wrist effortlessly to create beautiful swoops and slashes of the characters. He was a poet, and he made up several poems on the spot. Calligraphy is part art, part storytelling and watching him create these fans and scrolls was captivating. He had an impressive background–he had studied calligraphy all his life and now had become one of the most preeminent calligraphers in Taiwan. He told his it takes at least 50 years to really hone the craft–I can believe it as my attempts looked like child’s handwriting next to his beautiful characters. He even showed us his pottery studio in garage, where he molded, carved and fired beautiful, and expensive, vases.

Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in Taiwan

Not only did San and his family open up their home to us, he opened up his life and shared his life story. Being able to be in his home and experience his family dynamic, hear their stories and be part of their Sunday taught me more about Taiwan and it’s people than any pretty view or impressive site ever could. These are the types of moments that really affect your perspective and this unbridled generosity was so humbling. They lined up as we left and waved us off, as we bumped down the road away from them. For a moment in time, we were a part of their family and I’ll carry a little bit of that experience with me forever. Hospitality needs no language.

Kelley Ferro Ritz Tours in TaiwanKelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.






by Colin Roohan, AFAR Ambassador

Prior to heading to Taiwan I asked several friends of mine, most of which are well-traveled, what they thought of their time spent on this beautiful island and in most cases they all replied with the same thing: they wished they had seen more than just Taipei and its surrounding areas. They marveled at the Taipei 101 building, sampled some world famous dumplings from Din Tai Fung, and soaked up the history on display at Taipei’s finest museums…but that was all. They talked of how they could see the gorgeous coast and the mountainous terrain while flying in, but regretted not getting to see it up close. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do love a good dumpling, but when I got my tour itinerary from USTOA tour operator member Ritz Tours that included phrases like “pristine lakes”, “secluded temples” and “misty mountains”, I was thrilled.

The west coast of Taiwan is scenic and full of lush, green mountains occasionally decorated with reflective rice fields or orchards bearing fruit. We made stops at several impressive religious sights: The Wenwu Temple – filled with devotees lighting incense and worshippers throwing buei (moon blocks) in order to ascertain the gods’ advice, Xuanzang Temple – which houses the remains of the famous Chinese Buddhist monk who’s journeys inspired the novel Journey To The West, and the massive Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastery – which serves as the headquarters for the Fo Guang Shan, an international Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastic order with architecture that is a little extravagant but so beautiful you’ll be in awe for hours.

In stark contrast to the peace and serenity of the temples, the city of Kaohsiung (Taiwan’s second largest) was a bustling hub of activity. We entered the city close to dusk, and after stops at the lovely Lotus Pond, which was surrounded by temples and pagodas, we followed the pulsating path of neon directly to the famous Liuhe Night Market.  Over 100 different food vendors at the Liuhe Night Market make it a great place to try one of Taiwan’s well-known street-eats like the famous (or infamous depending on the diner) stinky tofu that has an aroma sure to stop you midstride. On the less pungent end of the culinary spectrum you can find a plethora of fried meats or vegetables, as well as the ubiquitous pork-belly bao bun and if you’re looking for something sweet the mango-ice dessert is a must.

Touring Taiwan's West Coast


As stimulating and exciting as the big, bright cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung are, the true highlight of the first leg of my Taiwanese tour was the tranquil Sun Moon Lake, located southeast of Taichung. As our bus headed deeper and deeper into the forest the temperature dropped, and soon the bus surrounded by a stagnant fog. The driver slowly crept around one final curve of the road and we saw our first glimpse of the lake. It was such a striking scene it prompted several tour members (myself included) to grab their cameras.

Sun Moon Lake Pagoda

We made several stops around the Sun Moon Lake area. The most overwhelming was the towering Tsen Pagoda. We reached the pagoda as a light drizzle started to come down; I entered the base of the pagoda and looked up through the hollow cavity and was mesmerized by two Escher –esque corkscrew staircases which led to the top. To make things even more surreal there was a huge bell that was occasionally struck, causing an echo throughout the entire structure. I made my way toward the top and popped my head out of a window to catch a fleeting glimpse of the mist lifting off of the lake. It was a beautiful sight that will leave an impression on my mind for a long time.

Touring Taiwan's West Coast

When we boarded the bus again, our guide, Lenny, told us about our hotel, the award winning, Fleur de Chine Hotel. Lenny informed us of the natural hot springs, which you could enjoy in the hotel’s spa. Or, if you wanted a little more privacy Lenny told us that the hotel also gives guests the option to fill a smaller tub in their own room with the natural hot spring water. I opted to try both and even though the larger public spa was nice, my tub (which was surrounded by a wall of glass) combined with several cups of locally grown Oolong tea was enough enticement to make me want to lock myself in my room for a week straight. Nonetheless, everyone on the bus looked a little rejuvenated that next morning.

Touring Taiwan's West Coast

I thoroughly enjoyed the start of my tour of Taiwan. Ritz Tours did an incredible job scheduling an itinerary that showed me some of the most intriguing aspects of travel in Taiwan. This was only the west coast portion of the tour and it was off to an incredible start. I had been able to explore both cities and countryside alike, talk with locals to better understand Taiwan’s culture, and eaten my weight in pork belly bao buns…life was good.

For highlights of Colin Roohan’s tour through Taiwan, click here.

Colin Roohan is a travel photographer interested in documenting experiences with culture and life. In addition to his work with AFAR, Colin has been published in Travel + Leisure, The Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys, and Groove  Magazine, amongst others. In addition to journalistic pursuits, Colin captures portraits and documents events around Southern California.