Forget Christmas, spring in Taiwan is easily the most wonderful time of the year. Think about it: before we’re through the first 100 days of the calendar, Taiwan has already enjoyed 9 additional days off, meaning that as we warm back up from winter, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore.
Weeks away is one of the big ones, Qingming weekend. Normally landing on the first Monday and Tuesday of April, it includes two red-letter days: Children’s Day and Qingming. Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, the latter is an important cultural observance throughout many parts of Asia and the Chinese-speaking world, during which people return to their hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors. It’s a distinct holiday from Ghost Month, and traditional practices on the day are generally private affairs. Therefore, for those without a family plot to maintain, the four-day weekend is an ideal time to get out and explore. Here are a few suggestions of how you can make the most of your break.
1. Wake Up and Smell the Flowers
Yes, we know. Spring. Florals. Groundbreaking. But Qingming weekend is arguably the best time of year to take in Taiwan’s full brocade. In Chiayi, the Alishan Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the last opportunities of the year to sway with the sakura, with ten varieties of local and Japanese cherries covering the area in a flurry of white and pink.
Alternatively, you can also head to Dongfang Temple just outside Yangmingshan National Park, which will be bursting into flower over the weekend. Make a day of it and continue up the highway to reach Zhuzihu, where you can don a pair of adorable fishing pants and pick calla lilies not far from the Datun caldera.
Additionally, Qingming Festival coincides with the start of the tung blossom season, an important cultural symbol of Taiwan’s Hakka minority. Known colloquially as “April Snow,” these powdery white blooms dust the landscapes of northeastern and central Taiwan. Head to Tongluo Skywalk in Miaoli County for one of the most impressive views of these blossoms. By the end of the weekend you’ll be all budded out until next year.
2. Skip through a Forest of Fireflies
What could be more magical? Like the tung blossom festival, firefly season is one of Taiwan’s underrated natural wonders. The bugs are in full glow from March to May and particularly captivating at Dongshi Forest Park, just outside of Taichung. The 212-hectare park is home to 9 species of these bright bugs, hundreds of thousands of which illuminate the forest during the season’s peak — which by the way, tends to be April. Sun Moon Lake and Danongdafu Forest Park, in Hualien’s East Rift Valley, are two other prime locations to see this electric spectacle unfold.
3. Spend an Idle Few Days on Xiaoliuqiu
Xiaoliuqiu might be a year-round destination, but Qingming festival weekend is really when the tiny island getaway is at its peak. The sea has warmed up enough for you to swim with the green turtles (of which there are many) without a wetsuit, but the rain and typhoon season hasn’t quite hit yet. Most importantly, the island is much easier to reach from northern, central, and southern Taiwan than other popular outlying islands, like Green and Orchid. So getting there won’t eat up too much of your holiday weekend. That extra time can go toward a dive with one of the many scuba and free-diving schools, or you know, just lounging on the sand of one of Xiaoliuiqiu’s several coral-fringed coves.
4. Discover the Yuguang Art Festival
The popular beachside arts and culture festival has confirmed it will be back for its third edition over the holiday weekend. Held on Yuguang Island in Tainan’s Anping district, the event is a showcase of large-scale modern art installations by Taiwanese and international artists. Last year over ten thousand people attended the event, which also features performances, food and drink stalls, and a crafts market. And did we mention that the sunsets (right over the Taiwan Strait) are spectacular? Yep, you don’t want to give this one a miss.
5. Cross the Milky Sea to Turtle Island
If you haven’t visited the reptilian landmass yet, Qingming is a great time to do so. Turtle Island is closed to visitors throughout the winter because of rough sea conditions, and it’s only in March that it reopens. Named for its shape, the island is actually one of Taiwan’s two remaining active volcanoes (the other being Datun in Yangmingshan) and is only about 7,000 years old. While you can’t stay there overnight, guided day tours do go out to the landmass from Toucheng, about two hours out from Taipei. These include a detour through the “Milky Sea” a spill of bright — and highly acidic — turquoise water on the island’s south side created by dozens of volcanic vents on the seafloor. According to a BBC report, the mixture of heavy metals and seawater that gives this oddity its unique appearance might actually recreate the living conditions when life first formed on Earth. Fascinating, but perhaps best if you don’t dive in.
Cover photo: Sam Chang on Unsplash