Taiwan has been putting in a lot of work to bolster the growth of its MICE sector. After wrapping up its four-year Taiwan MICE Advancement Program, the island’s Bureau of Foreign Trade (the Bureau) launched Taiwan’s MICE Pilot Program last year, with the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) as the implementation body.
Last December, the Bureau organised a familiarisation trip for a small group of journalists from Asia and Europe to experience a four-day tour of Taiwan’s largest cities – Taipei and Kaohsiung – with the aim of showcasing the best of both worlds, and building up interest in the region.
Situated a few hours by air from major Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, Taiwan provides quick links and vast opportunities within the region.
The world-renowned Taipei 101, our first stop for the trip, best exemplifies Taipei’s advanced infrastructure. At 101 stories it was ranked the tallest skyscraper in the world until the opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. Its height, one better on 100, is symbolic of the city’s ambition of being “one above perfection”.
For a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, a visit to Taipei 101 Observatory costs NT$500 (US$17) per person, or NT$450 (US$15) for individuals in groups of 20 or more.
For those in need of a different sort of timeout from the busy streets below, two notable experiences make excellent incentive travel options: a visit to Dian Shui Lou restaurant for DIY workshops on the making of xiao long bao (Chinese soup dumplings); and a trip to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.
DIY DIM SUM
Our visit to Dian Shui Lou began with a tasting of acclaimed xiao long bao. To say that one would be spoiled for choice would be an
understatement. With three traditional fillings – meat, seafood and vegetable – there was a dumpling to suit everyone’s taste.
The highlight was the signature 19-fold dumpling that takes its name from the complex work that goes into creating the dish.
At first we watched chef demonstrate the art of dumpling folding. The dough, made from flour and water, was rolled and stretched into long ropes, which were then cut by hand into smaller pieces resembling gnocchi. Each was then rolled into a circular thin wrap, stuffed with pork filling, and folded 19 times.
Whilst he was able to make perfectly shaped dumplings within a few effortless seconds, when our turn came we found it much trickier to do so. Still, it was a great opportunity to laugh and bond with one another.
Dian Shui Luo offer hour long xiao long bao making lessons for groups of varying sizes. Large numbers can be accommodated at a factory-like facility in Kaohsiung. Lessons are held between 1430 and 1730. Price per individual is NT$315 (US$10), which does not include a tasting session at the beginning. There is no group concession.
IN WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Walking through the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is like taking a step back in time. Initially constructed in 1937 as a tobacco plant, it survived Japanese occupation and was converted into a public park in 2001 before being redeveloped in 2011 as a platform to encourage creativity and culture.
Old tobacco-making warehouses are now used to stage conferences, performances, and other types of events. Our trip to the park, for example, coincided with an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of popular Chinese comics, Old Master Q.
Historic buildings are surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens and an eco-pond with marine life offering guests a tranquil and welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Taipei.
Indoor areas are open daily from 0900 to 1800, while outdoor areas are open till 2200. No entry fee is applicable to the park, but admission fees for exhibitions and performances are charged at the discretion of each event presenter.
TRADITIONAL CRAFT MAKING
Less than two hours away on Taiwan High Speed Rail is Kaohsiung (Zuoying), the island’s second largest city after Taipei. Standard adult tickets cost NT$1,630 (US$54) each, but groups with 11 or more can enjoy a slightly reduced price of NT$1,545 (US$51) per ticket.
Both Taipei and Kaohsiung feature distinctively different identities. While the former brims with life and energy, the latter is industrialised and more reserved.
Upon reaching Kaohsiung, we made our way to Meinong, a famous Hakka Village, to try our hand at a local activity – crafting colourful oil-paper umbrellas.
The process of making and designing these umbrellas encourages interaction and friendly competitiveness between participants. Sharing watercolour paints with those around you, and having a good laugh commenting on each other’s work builds team spirit. The experience costs NT$100 (US$3) per person.
CRUISE AROUND AN ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE
Our final activity in Kaohsiung was a dinner cruise around the harbour of the municipality, and it proved to be a boat ride like no other. Instead of views of a city skyline, passengers are treated to magnificent sights of the container port, with heavy crates and cargo being transported around quietly and smoothly.
As the fourth largest container port in the world, and the largest in the country, Kaohsiung Harbour plays a vital role in Taiwan’s economic development. Measuring over 18km long, the port consists of 97 docks that are able to hold ships of over 100,000 tons cumulatively. An evening cruise around the harbour may lack the glamorous city sights that one may be accustomed to, but as we sailed down the channel it was impossible not to appreciate the economic significance and sheer scale of the port.
Kaohsiung City Shipping Co offers a single daily cruise that departs from the Love Pier at 1730. It includes an international dinner buffet, as well as a guided tour throughout the journey. Standard adult tickets cost NT$700 (US$23) each, but groups with ten to 19 people are entitled to a 10 per cent discount while larger groups enjoy a further 5 per cent off.
Taipei 101 Observatory
Tel: +886 2 8101 8898
Dian Shui Lou
Tel: +886 2 2312 3100 (Huaining Street branch)
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
Tel: +886 2 2765 1388
Meinong Hakka Village
Tel: +886 7 681 7508
Kaohsiung City Shipping Co Ltd
Tel: +886 7 216 0668