A small island nation in the East China Sea, Taiwan is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, packing in 23 million people within a territory only slightly bigger than Massachusetts in size. Despite the unique characteristics that Taiwan possesses, China disputes their status as an independent nation, considering them to be a renegade province.
Indeed, at one point in their history, they were in fact a province of China, back in the Qing Dynasty more than 300 years ago. However, from 1895 onwards, they were occupied by Japan, and following their defeat in the Second World War they have governed themselves after Nationalists that fled the Chinese mainland after losing a civil war to the Communists, set up a counter government in Taipei claiming to be the legitimate government for all of China. Embracing capitalism, Taiwan became a rapidly growing economic power in East Asia, and stands among the wealthiest nations in the entire continent to this day.
Apart from the urban crush on the west coast, Taiwan is home to abundant sheer mountains and lush forests, dispelling the myth that this country is nothing but wall to wall urbanity. With stunning natural beauty and no shortage of gleaming, highly modern cities to explore, this nation packs a lot of unforgettable experiences in a small package, so let’s get started!
Currency: New Taiwan Dollar
Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka
What To Do
Starting our tour of Taiwan in the uber-modern megalopolis of Taipei, the first point of interest sticks out like a sore thumb. Soaring high into the sky in the midst of Taipei is Taipei 101, the fourth highest skyscraper in the world, making it a national landmark. Take the second fastest elevator in the world up to the observation deck at the 91st floor, whizzing you up there in a dizzying 37 seconds. Go in the late afternoon to catch so you can catch day time and night time views of downtown Taipei, or check in out around noon hour to lose the tour group crowds!
If all the modernity of Taipei’s centre is too overwhelming for you, seek solace and spirituality at the revered Lungshan Temple, a Buddhist institution located in the western sector of the city. This inclusive hall of worship includes many Taoist elements in its design, giving it a distinct Taiwanese bent.
After availing yourself of the many urban attractions of Taipei, head just outside the city to unwind at the hot springs of Wulai. Sitting astride of the trans-Pacific Ring of Fire, the plentiful volcanic activity rumbling beneath Taiwan has granted it copious amounts of geothermal resources, so do as the locals do and enjoy the hot water after a busy day sightseeing! While there are commercial operations that offer indoor saunas, we recommend finding outdoor hot springs, many of which are dug into the side of the river, and can be identified by looking for rings of rocks constructed by fellow bathers along the river.
Heading towards the central part of the country up in the central mountains, we find Taiwan’s most beautiful natural attraction, Sun Moon Lake. This body of water is a popular place for newly wed Taiwanese to visit – and for good reason, as this immensely gorgeous lake is in immensely moving setting, backed by mountains and casting back a deep blue hue that will inspire you. Be sure to take the boat tour that’s available on site, or if you prefer to guide yourself, there are also rowboats for rent as well.
On the southern coast of Taiwan is the old imperial capital of Tainan, which is the oldest city in the country. Check out the Anping Fort, one of the few remnants of the Dutch colonial period, and the Anping Tree House, a former salt warehouse that was abandoned over sixty years ago. In the case of the Anping Tree House, banyan trees have encircled the disused building, creating a unique commentary on how nature takes back what is rightfully hers in the end.
Finally, the east coast of Taiwan is more sparsely populated, but is worth travelling to see the Taroko Gorge alone. A canyon that stretches for more than 19 kilometres, it is a place of incredible natural beauty, with Taiwan’s highest peak standing at 3,400 metres a short distance away. Check out Swallow grotto for the best views of the gorge, and the Eternal Spring Shrine, which honours those who died building the cross island highway.
What To Eat
Unfortunately named but undeniably one of Taiwan’s most famous culinary creations, the aptly named Stinky Tofu can be found easily on the streets of Taipei. Too overwhelming to be served in restaurants, this notorious dish has the pleasant odour of rotting garbage, but has a mild taste with some earthy overtones, according to brave street diners. This dish, for daring culinary adventurers, is best paired with gelatinous duck blood.
For those whose food preferences are slightly tamer, there definitely are some more palatable options that are distinctive to Taiwan. Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is a hearty blend of stewed beef, pickles, and green onions, and thick rice noodles.
Finally, be sure to give an Oyster Omelet a try, which is exactly what it sounds like: an omelet that has been concocted with oysters, with some scallions and sweet potato starch for additional flavouring. Have some sweet red sauce over the top of your omelet to complete your experience, which can be had at night markets all over the country.