Taiwan Travel Guide
The tobacco leaf-shaped island of Taiwan is an industrialized megalopolis clinging to the remainders of an ancient culture. A varied cuisine, scenic mountaintops, volcanic islands, deep gorges and aboriginal tribes in mini-skirts have resulted in more and more visitors coming to see this former Chinese province.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Taipei’s National Palace Museum, fine bird-watching, glove puppet shows, 100 hot mineral springs, great shopping, all-night tea houses, crisp mountain resorts, ancient temples, lacy waterfalls, living aboriginal traditions, betel nut beauties.
What’s Not: Not cheap, typhoons, earthquakes, poisonous snakes, reckless drivers, vagrant men at train stations, seedy Snake Alley, fighter jets on regular training flights.
When to Go
Most areas of Taiwan enjoy a subtropical climate.
The dry season (November to January) extends until April in the south.
Summer (June to August) is hot and sticky in the lower parts of the island, with soaking rains in the mountains.
In winter (December to February), monsoon winds can blow across the island from Central Asia and chill the air by 50°F or more within hours. There is occasional snowfall on the mountains.
Getting There & Away
Most visitors arrive by air in Taipei and domestic flights connect all major cities. A train line goes from the north to the south of the island and provides good services. Private and government coaches are clean, comfortable and link most destinations on the island. Taxis are widespread and drivers are generally honest. Scooters and motorcycles are available for rent, but inexperienced drivers should refrain.
Health & Safety
Taiwan is very safe for tourists and you’re more likely to be caught up in a natural disaster than violent crime. Poisonous snakes can pose a danger to hikers. Lots of noise will scare them away. Tap water should be boiled before drinking. Be wary of eating undercooked meat, particularly at barbeques.
Food & Hospitality
Taiwan cooking originated from the mainland and all the regional cuisines of China can be sampled on this small island. Eggs and seafood feature heavily in Taiwanese local dishes. Hotels catering to westerners tend to charge astronomical rates, while local hotels often feature mattresses as hard as a pool table. In winter, some great last-minute discounts can be found.
One week is the least you need to spend to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two days in frenetic, bustling Taipei to see the main sights and sample the varied cuisine.
Two or three days along the northeast coastal road, passing through a national scenic area and spectacular views along the foothills of the Central Mountain Range, overlooking the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
A couple of days in Tainan, the island’s oldest city known as the ‘City of 100 Temples’ and boasting some of Taiwan’s finest examples of Confucian temple architecture.
Two or three days in the mountain resort of Alisha, joining the locals in the traditional dawn climb up Chesham Mountain.
Two or three days in Yangmingshan National Park, a mountainous park with waterfalls, volcanic craters, hot springs and flowers. • A couple of days near Sun Moon Lake, with peaceful and romantic beauty, lots of temples and the Taiwan nine indigenous tribe villages.
Taipei 101: is the world’s tallest building. Take a lift (the fastest of its kind in the world) up to the observatory on the top floor for the definitive city panorama.
Taipei’s National Palace Museum: is home to the world’s leading collection of Chinese artifacts.
East Rift Valley: is where the world’s largest continental plate (Eurasian plate) and the largest oceanic plate (Philippine plate) meet up.
Taroko Gorge: is a breathtaking canyon with marble walls, lush vegetation and giant cliffs. The Liwu River cuts through the gorge and there are many hiking trails, shrines, temples, hot springs and panoramic views.
Chung Tai Chan Temple: sits on a 60-acre lotus hill outside Puli and is an international center of Buddhist scholarly research, culture and the arts.
Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the attractive temples and shrines, mountain scenery and intriguing ancient traditions.
Eating out: Taiwan is a gourmet’s paradise and Taipei the best place to sample a complete range of cuisines from mainland China, plus some local delicacies.
Glove puppet shows: feature delicately created puppets with stunning costumes and are popular with all ages.
Soaking: in hot springs. There are over 100 hot mineral springs spread around the island.
Hiking: in one of the many national parks, or climb Yu Shan (Jade Mountain), the highest peak in North-East Asia.
Festivals & Events
Many festivals in Taiwan are based on the lunar calendar and their exact Western date is not fixed.
February: Chinese New Year is celebrated with lanterns, lion dances, firecrackers and lots of red.
March: Taiwan Lantern Festival features high-tech laser shows and displays of lanterns in all shapes and sizes.
June: Dragon Boat Festival features dragon boat races, in which competing teams force their boats forward, rowing to the beat of pounding drums.
September: Ghost Festival is marked by slaughtering a pig or sheep, which are then offered to ancestors and ghosts from the underworld.