When you travel, sometimes you crash on a friend’s couch, sometimes you stay in a motel off a highway or a hotel in the middle of a city, sometimes you camp. Then, there are those times when you go all out and seek a remote resort so stunning you feel like you’ve died and gone to paradise. They’re never cheap, but in my experience, they’re always worth it.
In Taiwan we stayed at two such places. In Taroko, at the heart of Taroko National Park near the Shakadang Trail to Taroko Gorge, we stayed at Silks Place Taroko, run by the same group that operates the lovely Taipei restaurant Silks Palace at The National Palace Museum.
|Rooftop Pool and Jacuzzi at Silks Place Taroko|
After our swim and lunch, we headed up the Shakadang Trail and along the Taroko Gorge, surrounded by naturally sculptured rock cliffs and dense green foliage, we trekked the trail until we reached the inlet to the river below. Having already had our swim for the day though, we were happy to just get our feet wet and cool our calves after burning off lunch on the one and a half hour hike into the gorge.
Well worn, sweaty, but beaming, we arrived at the resort Silks Place. Though we didn’t have much time before dinner, having quickly toured the grounds and discovered the beautiful swimming pool perched atop the hill, Andy, Pichet, Ben and I rushed from our rooms to take a dip before dinner. Between the Pacific swim, the indigenous restaurant, the Taroko Gorge and now the exquisite Silks Place, that day goes down as one of my best ever—near or far from home.
Silks Place was like a wonderful dream. And beyond my love of swimming, mountains, and a kicking hotel room (all of which Silks Place had), I also love a great breakfast buffet. Silks so didn’t disappoint here. One of my favorite dishes is Cha Siu Bao (steamed BBQ pork buns), a common Dim Sum dish that when done well is anything but common. The breakfast buffet at Silks had just about the best Cha Siu Bau I’ve tasted, in the States, China, or Taiwan. They were so damn good that when we were checking out in the morning and Pichet told me he hadn’t had breakfast, I grabbed his hand and dragged him down the stairs to the restaurant, where we stood at the steamer basket shoving our faces with Cha Siu Bao until I finally asked someone for a bag and grabbed some to go. Sometimes good manners are trumped by great food, (but I did say “thank you”)!
|Cha Siu Bao, Breakfast at Silks Place Taroko|
Very different, though equally tranquil, was The Lalu resort at Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County outside of Taichung. Designed by award-winning Australian-born architect Kerry Hill, The Lalu is beauty in resort form. Modern yet full of the warmth and openness of traditional Taiwanese design, The Lalu made for one great escape from the hectic life I live in the city. With its vast infinity-edge pool overlooking the lake, its wood-laden rooms with private terraces, its spa and its immense coy pond, the Lalu is the type of resort one could never leave, and die happy.
Dinner at The Lalu was what you would expect from such a high-end establishment. Its restaurants are staffed by both French and Taiwanese chefs, and while its food heralds tradition, you can also find modern French brasserie fare. For our dinner, we went with the traditional. A large feast served at a round table, we ate with hotel management and the French chefs who oversee the brasserie. Our menu, as extensive as it was elegant, included tea eggs (eggs hard boiled in tea, not actually my favorite), stir-fried shrimps with Loong-Ching Tea, beef filet with abalone, mushrooms and black tea leaves, steamed President Fish caught that day in Sun Moon Lake (so named for its being the favorite fish of President Chang Kai Shek), braised pork belly, double-boiled chicken with wild mushrooms and herbs, and sautéed loofah with lotus (apparently, loofah isn’t just for the bath, it tastes good too).
|Not My Cup of Tea Eggs|
|President Fish from Sun Moon Lake|
|Braised Pork Belly|
|Pork Belly in House-Made Buns|
The next day we motored onto Sun Moon Lake and visited a couple of tiny islands, one of which is still inhabited by indigenous Taiwanese, the other seemed only to be inhabited by tourists. After, we drove into Yi Chi village, where we ate at Sun Moon Restaurant. Headed by a husband-wife team, with the wife being the chef, Sun Moon Restaurant offers traditional local fare, fish from the lake, meat and herbs from the mountains. They stuffed us at Sun Moon Restaurant, and on a trip where the primary goal was to eat as much as possible, this lunch quite possibly topped the list for sheer quantity.
|On Sun Mook Lake with Andy Ricker|
Roasted pork, duck and chicken bone soup, President Fish, glutinous rice cooked in bamboo, batter fried lake-raised shrimp, stir fried pork with vegetables, scallion eggs, sour tofu, and fresh bamboo were all simple yet so good (and so filling).
|Lake Shrimp (In One Very Cool Display)|
|Crispy Fried Baby Lake Shrimp|
|The Spread at Sun Moon Restaurant|
While the food was memorable, what made this lunch stand out was what happened after we’d finished eating. The owners took us all out to the front of the building, gave us some Sharpie pens, and asked us write something on the wall about our meal and sign it. Next time I’m in Taiwan—and there will definitely be a next time—I will have to make a stop in Yi Chi at Sun Moon Restaurant to see if what we all wrote is still there on the wall just outside the entrance.