Why Visit Taiwan?
Strangely, Taiwan is often missed off the classic bucket list of tourist destinations in Asia. Yet this is one of the things that makes it so appealing. When in Taiwan, you can feel like an explorer, visiting places that very few of your friends will have heard of. I often think about why Taiwan is not more of a mainstream tourist destination. Is it because people confuse it with Thailand? Or because people interested in Chinese culture are more likely to head straight to the more famous Mainland China? Or does Taiwan simply not have a strong marketing department? Either way, in some ways it makes me happy, as Taiwan has managed to retain an ‘unspoiled’ and mysterious appeal, and does not have crowds of tourists everywhere, like many of the destinations in Asia, but rather a whole world of authentic local life, culture, food and nature. Here is an insight into what you are missing out on:
Taiwan is famous for its friendly people and great customer service. Even after hearing this before going the first time many years ago, I was still surprised when I landed and was showered with smiles, compliments, pleases and thank you’s, helpful advice and pleasant courtesies. Every time I visit, I find myself smiling for most of the day, from the continuous trickle of little interactions with people, that are enough to brighten one’s mood. It goes in circles, as the courtesies are made not only to visitors but between the local people, ensuring that high spirits are almost a standard feature of most places you will go.
If you have read anything about the cities of Taiwan, you will probably have heard of the night markets. Here you can pick up the most delicious assortment of food, influenced by the abundance of fresh fruit and seafood, as well as the fusion of Japanese and Chinese cuisine influences, and some truly unique local secrets.
Temples seem to pop up everywhere you go in Taiwan. And not just any temples. These are usually seriously impressive displays of artwork, culture, religious dedication and architecture. The best part is that they are not showing themselves off as tourist attractions, but rather modestly sitting amongst normal buildings, in active daily use by the local community. Traditional Buddhist culture sits alongside strong Japanese influences, ancient Chinese calligraphy and Taoist artwork, European Christian influences and even in some cases the aboriginal patterns and remaining customs of the original tribes of each region. All of this somehow infuses seamlessly with an abundance of cartoon kittens and Pokémon, with a side-serving of the usual modern and Western high-tech consumerist buzz.
Taiwan has an abundance of unspoilt, breath-taking nature. Mountains up to almost 4000m make it the world’s fourth highest island. An archipelago of tiny islands in the West offer excellent snorkelling and island-hopping. Vast plains in west give home to most of the farmland and population. Tropical beaches in the south offer sunbathing, surfing and tasty mangoes. Monkey frolic in natural hot springs. Rivers wind through mountains, dropping off cliffs to create jaw-dropping waterfalls. And dense green jungle dominates the landscape almost everywhere in between. Even in the cities, there is no shortage of palm trees, banyan trees, bamboo, banana trees and green lawns to invigorate your eyes and soothe your lungs on a morning jog in the park.
Taiwan happens to be an adventure lover’s paradise. River Tracing is the very Taiwanese art of wading up a river through the mountains, climbing over rocks and sliding down waterfalls as you go, usually with guides, ropes, helmets and other fancy equipment. Great fun. Combine this with camping, rock climbing, para-gliding, ocean or river kayaking, wind-surfing, wave surfing, sailing, kite-surfing, mountain biking and you might just be tired enough to settle into a peaceful hot spring at the end. Love a good cycle? Taiwan’s roads are smooth and beautiful, and a classic challenge is to cycle the entire way around the island, as one of the best ways to experience the full range of the nature, culture, food and activities mentioned.
An article by Imagine founder Peter Tupper
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