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Did You Know … ?
- There are 12 aboriginal tribes on Taiwan, accounting for only 2% of the population.
- The traditional Taiwanese language does not have a written form.
- The National Palace Museum harbors the world’s largest collection of Chinese art treasures.
- Written Mandarin Chinese uses more than 5,000 characters.
- The name Taiwan means terraced bay in Chinese.
For a trip of discovery
Taiwan is a mountainous island about 90 miles off the coast of China. It is an often-overlooked destination — except when the tug-a-war with China over Taiwan’s future makes the news. The island, which is nearly the size of Delaware and Maryland combined, was initially occupied by aboriginals who may have come from the Philippines.
Over the centuries, Chinese immigrants also settled on Taiwan, and eventually — in the 17th century — China incorporated Taiwan into its empire. Those Chinese immigrants created a unique Taiwanese society; the Taiwanese language is based on Fukienese, a Chinese dialect.
In better-known recent history, 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan after the 1949 Communist victory on the mainland; the Nationalists established a government using China’s 1947 constitution. They have since democratized and included locals in the government. China claims Taiwan as one of its provinces.
For the traveler, who may not have previously considered Taiwan for a holiday, the island nation promises a trip of discovery. It’s a chance to look at Taiwan’s particular version of Chinese culture, which reflects a fusion of several Chinese traditions. The language differences are one indicator of that.
There are treasures to see, within and outside museums; a wide variety of foods and festivals to sample, and houses of prayer that reflect the diversity of religious traditions. Visitors also may dig deeper by, say, consulting a fortuneteller, or more ambitiously, studying Mandarin Chinese.
Much of the population lives in the western, relatively flat third of the island. The rugged mountains and fast-moving rivers in the other two-thirds plus water on all sides offer active travelers a tempting menu of options for climbing, diving, rafting, trekking and the like.
Taiwan has a hot and humid climate, especially in summer, but temperatures are cooler in the mountains. June to October is typhoon season, and the island averages four typhoons a year. September to November are the driest and most comfortable months. Skies are often cloudy.
The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Therefore, the American Institute in Taiwan is authorized to provide emergency assistance to Americans.
Things to do for Venturers
- Climb Mount Chushan to see the sun rise. If you are an experienced mountaineer, climb the more challenging Mount Yushan (12,966 feet). Or, if you want scenery, consider Mount Tungpu, which promises stunning views from its trails which thread along high mountain passes and along precipitous cliff tops.
- Go diving at Kenting in the south of Taiwan. Other options are sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing. Kenting is a national park.
- If you have the stamina for this, and the interest in aboriginal cultures, the Saisiyat tribe stages the Short Spirit Festival every two years in November. The event involves a huge feast and four days/three nights of nonstop singing and dancing.
- Eat typical Taiwanese fare of rice congee with yam, served with stir-fried fish, omelet with picked radishes and bean-curd dishes.
- At Hualien, book a full-day whitewater rafting trip on the Hsiukuluan River.
- Mingle with the locals and grab a snack in the night market in whichever city you are visiting. The night markets generally run to about midnight.
Things to do for Centrics
- Do more than just see Taiwan’s dramatic Taroko Gorge, framed by cliffs of marble. In the Taroko Gorge National Park, you can hike, visit natural hot springs and visit Ami aboriginal villages.
- If you time it right, you could see “grappling with the ghosts” competitions at the Ghost Month festivals in Hengchun or Toucheng. Participants, working in teams, compete to climb greasy 40-foot poles.Taiwanese believe that during Ghost Month (dates vary), ghosts leave the underworld to return to the world of the living.
- See an outdoor performance of Chinese opera at a neighborhood festival. The opera can be seen in the theater, as well.
- Try one of Taiwan’s new cuisines, either tea cuisine or flower cuisine, which result in dishes like tea-flavored beef noodle soup, in the first case, or something like deep-fried wild ginger flowers, in the second instance.
- Work clay, and fire your creations in a kiln during the Yingge International Ceramics Festival, held in Yingge in October. At any time of year, tour the town’s Ceramics Museum and shop for anything made with fired clay on Ceramics Old Street, a pedestrian section of Jianshanpu Road.
- Be creative about your beach time. Go by air or by ferry to Penghu and perhaps join a tourist excursion to see other islands in the Penghu island group, as well. The islands are between Taiwan and China.
Things to do for Authentics
- See as much of Taipei as you can from the observation decks of Taipei 101, until recently the world’s tallest building.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to admire a wide range of invaluable Chinese art at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
- In summer, watch a dragon boat race which is part of the annual Dragon Boat Festival, observed across the island. Teams of rowers push their long boats along the island’s rivers in the hotly contested races.
- Shop for fine handicrafts, and these include ceramics, glassware and wood carvings.
- The island has numerous volcanic hot springs. Snatch an opportunity to soak in one.
- Visit one or two active Taoist temples. There are many to choose from.
For more information, consult the Taiwan Tourism Bureau at www.go2taiwan.net