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Taiwan

Taiwan
Sitting pretty as one of Asia’s best-kept travel secrets, the spicy, scenic island of Taiwan (tái wān 台湾) makes a habit of smashing visitor preconceptions. Outsiders tend to see it as somewhere notable only for its technological prowess, an image consistently reinforced by the global prominence of “Made in Taiwan” stickers. The fuller picture, however, is a destination that serves up awe-inspiring panoramas, a rainbow of different cultures and a startlingly rich history.

Taiwan is one of the few places on earth where ancient religious and cultural practices still thrive in an overwhelmingly modernist landscape. This juxtaposition is expressed most clearly in Taipei, where futuristic marvels like Taipei 101 (tái běi yī líng yī 台北101)-still the second-largest building in the world-share the city with thronged, incense-fogged temples. The sharp contrast between old and new is apparent elsewhere too, with the corridor of factories and cities on the west coast offset by the indigenous communities that still form an integral part of day-to-day life.


Overview


Taiwan is situated in the Pacific Ocean about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the southeastern coast of the Chinese mainland. Located about midway between Korea and Japan to the nort and Hong Kong and the Philippines to the south, Taiwan is a natural gateway for travelers toand within Asia.
 

Taiwan

Shaped roughly like a tobacco leaf, Taiwan is 394 kilometers (245 miles) long and 144 kilometers (89.5 miles) wide at its broadest point. The Central Mountain Range (zhōng yāng shān mài 中央山脉) bisects Taiwan from north to south and about two-thirds of the island is covered with forested peaks. The rest of the island is made up of foothills, terraced flatlands, and coastal plains and basins. Taiwan includes the Penghu Archipelago (péng hú qún dǎo 澎湖群岛)-a group of 64 islands previously known as the Pescadores--and 21 other islands.


History

Indigenous tribes have been here for some 4000 years, with Chinese settlements springing up from the sixteenth century onwards. It subsequently drew the interest of European colonists, with the Dutch and Spanish both putting down roots. In 1684, Taiwan was then taken over by supporters of the deposed Ming Dynasty, before becoming completely controlled by the Qing Dynasty, turning into a province in its own right.

Treaty of ShimonosekiIn the 1890s, Chinese defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War brought the first occupation of Chinese territory by the Japanese. Taiwan was “ceded in perpetuity” to Japan by Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Although it was fiercely resented and actively resisted by the population, Taiwan remained under Japanese rule from 1895 until its defeat at the end of World War II.

The Chinese Civil War, which had already been in progress for some years, came to a head in 1948. The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek (jiǎng jiè shí 蒋介石) were defeated by Mao’s Communists, and the nationalist leadership, along with thousands of supporters, fled to Taiwan. Here, their political vehicle, the Kuo Min-Tang (KMT in short, guó mín dǎng 国民党) rapidly came to dominate Taiwanese politics.

After having ensured its survival, the KMT set about developing the economy. In this, the KMT regime was spectacularly successful, helping Taiwan become one of the fast-developing “tiger economies” of the Pacific Rim. Politically, Taiwan relied for a long time upon the support of the USA until the early 1970s, when a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing took place, the USA effectively shifting its allegiance from Taiwan to China.

The Chinese still consider Taiwan to be part of the national territory and continue to harbor the long-term objective of reunifying Taiwan with the mainland. International recognition of Taiwan is therefore unacceptable to Beijing. But for all their political disagreements, extensive trade, travel and communications links have built up between Taiwan and China since the early 1970s. Annual bilateral trade is now worth well over USD 50 billion and one million people travel between the two countries each year.


Climate

Taiwan’s climate is subtropical, with average annual temperatures of 22°C (72°F) in the north and 24°C (75°F) in the south. Summers, which last from May through September, are usually hot and humid with average daytime highs from 27° to 35°C (81° to 95°F) Winters, from December through February, are short and mild, with average lows from 12° to 16°C (54° to 61°F.); snow falls only on the higher mountains.


Geography

TaiwanThe island of Taiwan lies some 180 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China, across the Taiwan Strait (tái wān hǎi xiá 台湾海峡), and has an area of 35,883 km2 (13,855 sq mi). The East China Sea (dōng hǎi 东海) lies to the north, the Philippine Sea (fēi lǜ bīn hǎi 菲律宾海) to the east, the Luzon Strait (lǚ sòng hǎi xiá 吕宋海峡) directly to the south and the South China Sea (南海) to the southwest. The shape of the main island of Taiwan is similar to a sweet potato seen in a south-to-north direction, and therefore, Taiwanese, especially the Min-nan division, often call themselves “children of the Sweet Potato”.

The island is characterized by the contrast between the eastern two-thirds, consisting mostly of rugged mountains running in five ranges from the northern to the southern tip of the island, and the flat to gently rolling Chianan Plains in the west that are also home to most of Taiwan’s population. Taiwan’s highest point is Yu Shan (yù shān 玉山) at 3,952 meters, and there are five other peaks over 3,500 meters. This makes it the world's fourth-highest island.

Taiwan StraitTaiwan lies on the Tropic of Cancer, and its climate is marine tropical. The northern part of the island has a rainy season that lasts from January through late March during the northeast monsoon, and experiences mould rains in May. The entire island experiences hot, humid weather from June through September. The middle and southern parts of the island do not have an extended monsoon season during the winter months. Typhoons are common between July and October.

The Penghu Islands (澎湖列岛), 50 km west of the main island, have an area of 126.9 km2 (49.0 sq mi). More distant islands controlled by the Republic of China are the Kinmen (jīn mén 金门), Wuchiu (wū qiū yǔ 乌丘屿) and Matsu Islands (mǎ zǔ liè dǎo 马祖列岛) off the coast of Fujian, with a total area of 180.5 km2 (69.7 sq mi), and the Pratas Islands (dōng shā qún dǎo 东沙群岛) and Taiping Island (tài ping dǎo 太平岛) in the South China Sea, with a total area of 2.9 km2 (1.1 sq mi) and no permanent inhabitants.


Language

A large majority of people in Taiwan speak Mandarin Chinese, which has been the medium of instruction in the schools for more than 5 decades. Native Taiwanese and many others also speak one of the Southern Fujianese dialects, Min-nan (mǐn nán yǔ 闽南语), also known as Taiwanese. Recently there has been a growing use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media. The Hakka, who are concentrated in several counties throughout Taiwan, have their own distinct dialect. As a result of the half-century of Japanese rule, many older people also can speak Japanese. The method of Chinese romanization most commonly used in Taiwan is the Wade-Giles system. In 2002, Taiwan authorities announced adoption of the pinyin system used on the mainland to replace the Wade-Giles system, but its use is not consistent throughout society, often resulting in two or more romanizations for the same place or person.


Attractions

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon LakeThe Sun Moon Lake (rì yuè tán 日月潭) is the largest lake in Taiwan and one of the most beautiful and most famous tour sites in Asia. Shaped like an irregular rhombus, the eastern part of the Sun Moon Lake is shaped like a round sun while the western part is like a crescent moon. Thus it was named “Sun Moon Lake.” The beauty of the Sun Moon Lake is the calm, turquoise water complemented by the majestic mountains that surround the lake. Layers and layers of mountains and countless mountain peaks can be seen as more distant mountains fade into the sky. Like a mystical Chinese painting, the scenery of the Sun Moon Lake is truly breathtaking.

Location: No.599, Jhongshan Rd., Yuchih Township, Nantou County
Tel: +886-49-285-5668
Opening Hours: The Whole day
Admission Fee: NT 28
Transportation:
1. Take the THSR to Taichung Station; continue by Nantou Bus to Sun Moon Lake stop.
2. Take the train to Taipei Railway Station; continue by Kuo-kuang Bus to Sun Moon Lake stop.
3. Take the train to Taichung Railway Station; continue by Renyou Bus to Sun Moon Lake stop.


Taipei 101

Taipei 101Taipei 101 is Asia’s tallest skyscraper with 509 meters tall. It was designed by Taiwanese renowned architect Zu-Yuan Li (lǐ zǔ yuán 李祖原). Taipei 101 is the landmark in Taipei City and was designed based on the Chinese lucky number 8. Comprising 101 floors, Taipei 101 has the world’s second fastest elevators that can travel 9 floors in just 37 seconds (nearly 64.4km per hour).

Officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center (tái běi guó jì jīn róng dà lóu 台北国际金融大楼), this 101-floor, 508-meter high skyscraper is in the Xinyi District (xìn yì qū 信义区) of Taipei (tái běi 台北) and is the second tallest skyscraper in the world. The tower is rich in symbolism; it was designed to resemble bamboo rising from the earth, a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility, both of which are ideal characteristics for a financial building.

Location: No. 7, Sec. 5, Xinyi Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei City
Tel: +886-2-8101-8898
Transportation: Taipei 101 is a 15 to 20-minute walk from the Taipei City Hall MRT station.
Opening Hours: 10:00-22:00, Tuesday through Friday
Admission Fee: TWD 400
Recommended Golden Time: Late afternoon
Travel Tips: You’d better get in the observatory of Taipei 101 before 21:15.


Ali Mountain Range

The mountainous Alishan (or Alishan, ā lǐ shān 阿里山) region is the premier mountain resort in Taiwan and one of the most Ali Mountain Range popular travel destinations in the country. Known as an area of great scenic beauty, Alishan is home to imposing mountains, spectacular views, river valleys, waterfalls, forests, and wildlife. Alishan Mountains offer great opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing and bird watching. The area is also well known for its scenic Ali Mountain Rangenarrow-gauge forest railway and includes many villages with cultivations of tea and high altitude food products.

Alishan mountain range is located in Central Southern Taiwan close to the city of Chiayi. The tallest peak in Alishan is over 2,600 meters high. The protected Alishan National Scenic Area sprawls through the mountain area and includes also many small villages. The most popular place to visit in Alishan Range is the Alishan Forest Recreation Area. Originally settled by indigenous Tsou people (zōu zú 邹族), Alishan now hosts also many Han Chinese inhabitants.

Location: In the west of Taiwan
Transportation: Traveling to Alishan can be done by train, bus or car. The famous Alishan Forest Railway is a great way to travel to the region. Take the train or a bus to Alishan from the nearest city, Jiayi, or drive there by yourself. There is an entry fee to Alishan National Scenic Area that is lower if you arrive on public transport.
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00
Admission Fee: CNY 200 (for reference)
Recommended Golden Season: August, September


Kenting

Located in Pingtung (píng dōng 屏东), a beautiful city in southern Taiwan, Kenting is a popular, enchanting holiday destination for all types of travelers. Having a tropical climate, summer in Kenting is usually hot and mild in winter, which makes Kenting a pleasant Taiwan holiday destination to visit all year round.Kenting

Kenting is the paradise of leisure and fun, as well as the home to tropical forests, meadows, and seaside cliffs. The Kenting National Park has an area more than 33 hectares covering notable Kenting attractions include Eluanbi Park (é luán bí gōng yuán 鹅銮鼻公园), Nanwan (or South Bay, nán wān 南湾), Maobitou (māo bí tóu 猫鼻头), Longluantan (lóng luán tán 龙銮潭), and many others. Discover Kenting, the wonderful Taiwan tourist destination that enthralls travelers of all ages.

Location: No.596, Kending Rd., Hengchun Township, Pingtung County
Tel: +886-8-886-1321
Transportation:
1. Take the THSR to Zuoying Station; continue by Zhongnan Bus (torward Kending, Eluanbi) to Kenting National Park Administration.
2. Take the train to Kaohsiung Railway Station; continue by Zhongnan Bus (torward Kending, Eluanbi) to Kenting National Park Administration.
3.  Take the train to Kaohsiung Railway Station; continue by Kaohsiung Bus (torward Kending) to Kenting National Park.


Tamsui

TamsuiTamsui (dàn shuǐ 淡水) is a town filled with history. As you walk the streets of the town you will see many old buildings, in the Western, southern Fujian, and Japanese styles. A casual stroll is a good way to appreciate the history of the town, with the ancient flavors of the old streets and the special characteristics of buildings from different periods best manifested along Zhongjeng Road, Zhenli Street, Chongjian Street, Sanmin Street, and Qingshui Street. Visitors traveling to Tamsui have the option of taking a ferry from Bali (just across the river) or Dadaocheng (in Taipei City) and enjoying scenes of the Danshui River along the way.

Location: In the northwest of New Taipei City, Taiwan
Tel: +886-2-2626-7613


National Palace Museum
National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum (tái běi gù gōng 台北故宫) is home to what could quite easily be termed the world's largest and finest collection of Chinese art; it is unfortunate that the overall interior setup of the museum does not match with the grandeur of the collection. The museum's interior is poorly lit and for the most part its grand collection is laid out with little sense of theme or design, giving the museum a stagnant feeling overall. This is especially strange in light of the fact that the exhibits are rotated frequently; the vast collection (much of it liberated from mainland China during the last retreat of the KMT) is far too large to exhibit at any given time. Nonetheless, the sheer volume and beauty of the museum's treasures still makes it a must visit.

Among the treasures on rotation at the National Palace Museum are painting, calligraphy, statues and ceramic and jade. Some pieces date back thousands of years into Chinese history and even prehistory. The museum also has an amazing collection of Buddhist artifacts inherited from the Forbidden City. Some of the most popular items are always on display - check with the front desk to find out where they are during your visit.

Location: No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin Dist., Taipei City 11143, Taiwan
Tel: +886-2-28812021
Opening Hours: 8:30-18:30 all year around; 18:30-20:30 every Saturday
Admission Fee: TWD 160
Transportation:
(1) Take the MRT Danshui Line to the Shilin Station and take bus R30 (Red 30 - Low-floor bus) to the National Palace Museum. Other routes that will take you to and near the Museum plaza are buses 255, 304, 815 (Sanchung – NPM Line), Minibus 18 and Minibus 19.
(2) Take the MRT Wenhu Line to the Dazhi Station and take bus B13 (Brown 13) to the National Palace Museum, alighting before the Front Facade Plaza of the Museum. Alternatively, visitors may choose to take the Wenhu Line and get off at Jiannan Rd. Station, then take bus B20 (Brown 20) to NPM's front entrance (Main Building).


Food & Specialty

Oyster Omelette

Oyster OmeletteOyster omelette (kē zǎi jiān 蚵仔煎) is a Chinese dish that is widely known in Taiwan, Fujian, and many parts of Asia for its savory and addictive taste. Variations of the dish preside in some southern regions of China although the actual taste and appearance of these can vary by a lot from the original version from Taiwan. Oyster Omelette is often sold in night markets, and has constantly been ranked by many foreigners as the top cuisine from Taiwan and one of the most addictive food in the world.


A-Gei

A-GeiA-gei (ā gěi 阿给) are a speciality food originating from Tamsui District of New Taipei City and consists of a piece of fried tofu, stuffed with cooked Cellophane noodles, and sealed with surimi, which is widely sold by vendors in the district. The name A-gei was derived from aburaage, age, a fried and stewed Japanese tofu packet from which the A-gei is made. The individual A-gei are steamed to completion and served with either a plain soy-based or a sweet chili sauce. A-gei is commonly eaten with a bowl of stuffed fish ball soup in the winter and a glass of cold soy milk in the summer.


Coffin Board

Coffin Board
This Tainan specialty often turns peoples’ heads for its very unusual name. The sandwich is a thick slice of toast with a hollow center filled with a mixture of chicken meat and liver, shrimp, carrots, potatoes, and milk. The filling is then covered with another piece of toast and cut into four pieces. The coffin board (guān cái bǎn 棺材板) tastes best when served hot.

Fish crisps
Fish crisps

Fish crisps (yú sū 鱼酥) are fish snacks that are light crispy with a texture comparative to shrimp crackers. They are available in original and hot flavors.


Pineapple cake

Pineapple cakePineapple cake, locally known as “fonglisu (fèng lí sū 凤梨酥)”, won an online vote for the best home-grown offerings tourists must try. This is a famous pastry from Taiwan. These little square cookie-like pastries are filled with real pineapple (not like pineapple bun or bo law bao which does not have any pineapple). Most of pineapple cakes in stores are not made with pineapple anymore. Instead, it is filled with some kind of melon and flavor with pineapple extract.


Tamsui Fish BallTamsui Fish Ball

Because Tamsui is near the ocean, therefore, it is a good place to try their fish balls (鱼丸 yú wán), which are balls of fish paste stuffed with meat and garlic cooked in light broth.


Small Sausage in Large Sausage

Small Sausage in Large SausageSmall sausage in large sausage (dà cháng bāo xiǎo cháng 大肠包小肠, literally means “Small Small Sausage in Large Sausageintestine wrapped in large intestine”) is a snack invented in Taiwan in the late 20th century. A segment of Taiwanese pork sausage is wrapped in a (slightly bigger and fatter) sticky rice sausage to make this delicacy, usually served chargrilled. It may be compared to a hot dog. Deluxe versions are available in night markets in Taiwan, with condiments such as pickled bokchoi, garlic, wasabi and thick soy sauce paste to complement the taste.


Iron-hard Preserved Egg
Iron-hard Preserved Egg
Iron eggs (tiě dàn 铁蛋), are eggs that have been repeatedly stewed in a mix of spices and air-dried. The resulting eggs are dark brown, chewy and full of flavor compared to normal boiled eggs. The famous Iron eggs store is Grandma’s Tiedan (ā pó tiě dàn 阿婆铁蛋), which is on 135 Zhongzheng Road (Old Street).


Chi Li Fish
 
Chi Li FishThe chili fish (qí lì yú 奇力鱼) was recorded in Qing Dynasty documents. The Thao called the fish “kiluat”, and the Han Chinese adapted this name to become the “chili fish”.  In recent years, an ichthyologist claimed that the chili fish is actually the same variety as the hemiculter leucisculus (Basilewsky) fish that grows in rivers and lakes of low elevation. However, because this fish has a special relationship with the Thao, it has more of a local characteristic here.


Aruzay Fish
 
Aruzay FishThe Chinese name of aruzay (qǔ yāo yú 曲腰鱼) makes reference to the fact that its belly is slightly crooked. This is one of the fish varieties that breed extensively in Sun Moon Lake. When former President Chiang Kai-shek visited Sun Moon Lake, the locals presented him with some aruzay. President Chiang greatly enjoyed it, and from that time, it has also been known as “president fish”.  Although aruzay is not unique to Sun Moon Lake, those found in Sun Moon Lake tend to be larger, and can grow to over 30 centimeters long. They have a very Aruzaydelicious flavor, with a tender meat quality, which can be steamed or fried. They can also be steamed with bird lime tree fruit, a favorite among the tourists.


Assam Black Tea
 
Assam Black TeaSun Moon Lake is Taiwan's major Assam black tea (ā sà mǔ hóng chá 阿萨姆红茶) production area. In December of 1925, during the Japanese occupation, the Japanese imported tea seeds from Assam Province in India, and attempted to cultivate it in the Sun Moon Lake area’s Yuchih Township. This experiment proved to have outstanding results, and was then promoted extensively, becoming the most famous of Sun Moon Lake’s special teas.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 18:35
 

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