Despite being rated as an ‘exceptional’ travel destinations by those who have been, Taiwan continues to fly well below the Western tourist radar. This is despite the fact that this modern, thriving and totally happening island-nation boasts more attractions than many countries 100 times its size. Yet having achieved an impressive level of economic and political independence in recent decades, this mysterious and little-understood country is actually making huge strides forward in the international tourism world. So much so, that we expect Taiwan to be widely regarded as one of the world’s hottest travel destinations in the next two years. Are we fortune-tellers, you ask? Oh no, but we trust that if China Airlines introduces non-stop flights between London and Taipei, joining its non-stop services from Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Vienna, Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco…you’d better believe demand is skyrocketing.
And how could it not?
Boasting an impressive array of magnificent temples and gilded pagodas, an ancient culture infused with a vibrant modernity, an outstanding cuisine and sensational natural treasures, Taiwan is a pocket-rocket of highlights, as varied and addictive as its most glistening cities.
So come discover what the fuss is all about before everyone else does!
Overview of Taiwan
Politics: Taiwan’s relative anonymity in the travel sphere has had much to do with the fact that its political standing has been a highly controversial subject for more than half a century. Is Taiwan a part of China…or isn’t it? Technically speaking, China claims Taiwan under its ‘One China’ police yet in effect Taiwan has a self-governing rule, its own democratically-elected government, different currency and even plenty of its own embassies in countries that recognize its political autonomy. For those who prefer to keep the peace with mainland China (like Australia) there are ‘Taiwanese economic and cultural offices’ instead, or consulates, if you will. The confusion over Taiwan’s standing lies in the fact that China and Taiwan hold different views as to what constitutes the country of ‘China’. Basically, they both think they’re it. As far as foreign visitors are concerned, however, the only thing that matters is that Taiwan and China are not one and the same: different destinations, different visa systems, different laws and different experiences, all meaning that, at least as far as tourism is concerned, these really are two separate and unique countries.
Economy: Taiwan’s free-market economy has helped the country blossom, both economically and culturally. Infrastructure is top-notch, services are great and you’ll find local Taiwanese to be well educated, modern and very friendly towards tourists, especially the younger generation who boast an impressive proficiency in English. With a population of more than 23 million people in an area that’s 215 smaller than Australia, Taiwan is one of the most densely- populated countries on earth. How can the country boast such impressive natural treasures, you ask? Easy: four million live in Taipei alone and the great majority live in the western half of the country. The evolution of modern-day Taiwan has been impressively swift. In just 60 years, Taiwan has become one of the world’s economic powerhouse and one of the famed ‘Tigers of Asia’. Many major consumer electronic brands have their headquarters here and the country is renowned for producing, using and propagating, some of the world’s foremost technologies.
Culture: With a rich history influenced by all its neighbours, Japan and China primarily, Taiwan is a cultural hub with few rivals in the region. Populated by Chinese indigenous tribes for thousands of years, and briefly colonized by the Dutch and the Spanish in the 1600s, Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire for more than 70 years and although the province was lost by Japan at the end of WWII, its influence influence is visible and palpable, everywhere. Meanwhile, ethnic Han Chinese now make up to 95% of Taiwan’s population so, at least culturally, this is as Chinese as China gets (just to add to the confusion). Traditional temples, festivals, languages, foods, crowds, fun and oodles of markets: Taiwan brings you the very best of Asian cultures.
Geography: Taiwan is traversed north to south by a stunning mountain range right in its centre, effectively dividing the island into east and west. The eastern side is the more remote and lesser-inhabited side and the one which boasts the most mesmerizing natural highlights. On the western side, instead, is where you’ll find most of the country’s cities, its cultural centres and historic highlights. The southernmost tip, comprising the outstanding Kenting National Park, is a tropical stunner, complete with turquoise waters, coral reefs and blinding white sandy beaches. Taipei, the bustling capital and likely entry point for the great majority of foreign visitors, sits at the northern opposing end of the island. Despite its reputation as a busy techy hub filled to the brim with people, Taiwan (outside the cities) is an oasis of natural splendours any visitor would be crazy to miss.
Best Things to Do in Taiwan
Temples, night markets, food stalls, thermal pools, mountains, lakes and raging rivers: visit Taiwan and you’ll never run out of sensational thing to see and do.
Here are the best bits you shouldn’t miss:
Taipei – Crazy, vibrant, colourful and ever-busy, Taipei is both the springboard for Taiwan wanderings and reason enough to visit. Dedicate an entire day to retracing 8,000 years of history in the National Palace Museum, enjoy a head-spin on the 91st floor of Taipei 101, shop till you drop in Ximending and start your temple-athon in earnest, by visiting the stupendous Baoan Temple at night. Taipei’s historic centre, its remarkable architecture and overall vibrant atmosphere make it one of Asia’s most delightful large cities to visit.
Natural hot springs – Sure, lying on a tectonic joint has its disadvantages but when you soak in one of the many natural hot springs scattered about Taiwan, you won’t be able to think of any. The sheer number of natural mineral hot springs here is outstanding and the Japanese legacy of enjoying them at every chance means that you could, literally, spend your entire holiday just soaking in one.
Chung Tai Chan Monastery – Pull yourself out of the thermal spring and drag yourself to Chung Tai Chan, the true Kardashian of the Taiwanese monastery-cache. Bold, bling and glitzy, Chung Tai Chan is a feast for the eyes and, being new, is still mostly undiscovered by foreigners. To us…that’s reason enough to go!
Fo Guang Shan Monastery – For a more traditional dose of holy-ness, but no less bling, visit Fo Guang Shan. The largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan takes quite a few hours to peruse and on a guided tour you’ll learn all about the order and the charitable work they do. A beautiful temple in a very picturesque setting.
Sun Moon Lake – The Taiwan of postcards, Sun Moon Lake is a high-altitude lake in the foothills of the central mountains and boasts some of the most dreamy landscapes in the whole country. With its crystal clear waters and steep mountainous backdrop, not to mention an array of hiking trails, this is the side of Taiwan the world needs to see.
Take a hike – Speaking of hiking trails…take one, or ten or as many as you want! Taiwan’s eastern half is a hiker’s paradise and, no matter where you go, you’re guaranteed to find a national park and rewarding trails nearby. So do what the locals do and GET OUT! Include a few days of hiking in your itinerary and you won’t be left disappointed.
Liuhe Night Markets – With more than 300 famous night markets in Taiwan…why not start with this one? Shop for exotic trinkets and handicrafts, feast on piping hot pork dumplings, beef noodles and all manner of delicious mysteries. One of the most ‘touristy’ markets in Taiwan, Liuhe is ideal if visiting Taiwan for the first time.
Yushan National Park – One of nine national parks in Taiwan, Yushan is most famous for hosting the country’s tallest peak (the homonymous Yushan – 3,952m) as well as its ginormous 2000-year-old cypress trees, super scenic walking platforms, lake, Buddhist Temples and UNESCO-listed heritage gauge train, which takes visitors on a whirlwind adventure of endless switchbacks, tunnels and breathtaking vistas. Hikers head to Yushan for multi-day trips to bag the peak but even a day-trip excursion is well worth the effort.
Enjoy a feast – Irrespective of size, Taiwan boasts a seriously impressive array of regional specialities and, no matter where you go, trust that you’ll find a local delicacy that’s best enjoyed there. So ask your guide for recommendations: eating your way through Taiwan is totally a thing. Trust us. Snacks are particularly popular here, and best eaten from street-side stalls, so whether sweet or savoury, don’t hold back and feast away. Influenced by Japan, China and its wealth of ethnic cultures, Taiwanese cuisine is distinctive and unique and Western influence has also enticed a string of fantastic bakeries where sourdough and rye bread sell like hotcakes among locals.
Taroko National Park – One of the many highlights in the east, Taroko impresses with its deep narrow gorges, milky blue rivers and luscious forests. Visit the Eternal Spring Shrine, head off on a hike and look out for whales across the impossibly sapphire bays.
Best Time to Visit Taiwan
Opposite climates in the north and south mean that Taiwan, generally speaking, can be visited at any time of year. The south receives most of its rainfall during the tropical summer whilst, in the north, rain is a year-round occurrence. Autumn and winter are the preferred seasons for travelling throughout the country. Visit between the months of October and April and skip typhoon season (September, primarily) which heavily impacts the eastern half of the country. During the touristy months, you’ll find Taiwan mostly dry, all over, so country-wide tours are ideal. As far as temperatures are concerned, the averages in Taipei are mild in winter and high in summer, with lows ranging between 17 and 22C and highs hovering between 24 and 32C. The south is generally between two and five degrees warmer than the north and, of course, temps tend to drop the higher in altitude you roam.
How to Get to Taiwan
As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, Taipei is linked with a bevvy of international cities via non-stop flights, operated by China Airlines, Taiwan’s national carrier. Taiwan offers visa-free stays of up to 90 days for numerous nationalities, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and a host of others. Click here to view the complete list. Do note that your passport must have at least 6 months validity and you must hold an onward (or return) ticket out of Taiwan to be allowed entry.
Tickled your fancy yet? Visit our Taiwan Tours page, check out our itinerary ideas and contact us for more inspiration and to find out how easy and affordable a bespoke tour of Taiwan can be. Leave all the hard work to us, as well as a list of your most fervent wishes, and we’ll plan a tailor-made itinerary to suit your tastes, budget and time availability. For this, and multi-country tours of Asia, trust GetAboutAsia.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”