If you read my monthly newsletter, you know that my next destination this winter will be Taiwan. This post explains why I’ve chosen to spend six weeks (January 12 to February 22) in this small Asian nation.

When most people hear the name Taiwan, the first thing that comes to mind are factories mass-producing all those “Made in Taiwan” products in large industrial cities. I know I was one of those people until last fall, when I attended a media event sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. After what I discovered that evening, I decided to put Taiwan at the top of my travel list!

So then, what’s so special about Taiwan?

The food

If you mention Taiwan to anybody who’s been there, the topic of food will surely come up. In a nutshell, Taiwan’s food culture is one of the highlights of this country, some say on-par with Singapore. People here are obsessed with food. Night markets are some of the best in the world, and food traditions hail from the mix of cultures that make Taiwan their home, mostly Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwan’s own indigenous groups.

Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan. Soup dumplings, beef noodles, stinky tofu, and oyster omelette are other specialties I’m panning to try, but I’m sure I’ll discover many more.

Shilin Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan (why go to Taiwan)

Shi Lin Night Market in Taipei Taiwan. Photo by: Kyle Mullaney via Wikimedia Commons

Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer and the variety of climates, both tropical and subtropical is perfect for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Seafood also features prominently on the menus. I get hungry every time I read an article about Taiwan’s food!

Last but not least, Taiwan enjoys a world-class coffee culture, which is unusual for an Asian country. Of course they have tea (and tea plantations) too, with the signature variety being oolong.

The landscapes and outdoor activities

Contrary to popular belief, Taiwan is not all industrial and urbanized. In fact, most of the country is green (and 50% forested) with mountains in its centre. The highest peak is Yushan (Jade Mountain) at 3952 metres. Winter is not the best season to go at altitude (rather cold) but there are plenty of natural landscapes in the country. These include a marble canyon (Taroko Gorge), an idyllic lake (Sun Moon Lake) and a national park fringed by white sand beaches and turquoise waters (Kenting National Park), among many others.

Just google “Taiwan nature images” if you’re not convinced.

Would it surprise you to learn that Taiwan is one of the top cycling destinations in the world? Thousands of kilometres of bicycle trails and good bike rentals around the country makes cycling one of the best activities to practice here. I’m especially looking forward to cycling around Sun Moon Lake.

Hiking is another activity you can enjoy in many places, from short easy walks to multi-day treks. The country has hundred of hiking trails through various terrains and climactic zones. I’m planning to do short hikes in Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake and Kenting National Park.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan (why go to Taiwan)

Sun Moon Lake, Nantou, Taiwan. Photo by Eddy Tsai. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The ease of travel

Full disclosure: for the first three weeks of this trip I won’t be solo. I’ll be travelling with my childhood friend who’s never been to Asia before. In order to gently introduce her to the continent which probably feels the most exotic to a North American, I decided that a developed, first-world country would be best.

Taiwan is a democracy, and Asia’s most liberal society. The infrastructure is modern, including high-speed trains, and because of its small size, you can travel around quickly and easily.

As well, every account of Taiwan I read reiterates how friendly the population is, something that you shouldn’t underestimate when you venture to a destination with a very different language and script. Having trouble communicating with people is one thing; having difficulty communicating with hostile, rude, or dishonest people is another one altogether.

Which brings me to my next point: due to its low crime rate, Taiwan is considered one of the safest countries in the world It’s so safe that people don’t even bother locking their rental bicycles!

The old, the new, and the truly quirky

It sounds cliché, but like many Asian countries, Taiwan is a mixture of ancient and ultra-modern. This is especially apparent in cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung, where 18th century temples coexist side-by-side with skyscrapers, concert halls and art galleries.

Yes, Taiwan is full of temples – around 15,000 – from the Bhuddism, Taoist, and Confucianism faiths, with their elaborate decorations and art. But the cities also display modern and whimsical art installations in new areas such as Pier 2 Art District in Kaohsiung and 321 Art Alley settlement in Tainan.

The Mengjia Longshan temple in Taipei (why go to Taiwan)

Mengjia Longshan temple in Taipei. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia Commons

The largest cities have excellent modern metro systems, and better transit options keep popping up all the time. Taipei Taoyuan airport is now linked to downtown Taipei by a new metro line. The high-speed trains travelling between the main cities are reminiscent of Japan’s bullet trains.

And talking of Japan, Taiwan also has those weird electronic toilets, as well as specialty-themed restaurants and hotels, and dozens of cat cafés, which are just the tip of the novelty iceberg. From what I’ve read and seen so far during my research, I’m sure to come across many interesting and surprising sights. Can’t wait!

My itinerary

Taiwan itinerary map (why go to Taiwan)

In designing the itinerary for the first three weeks with my friend, I let myself be guided in part by the weather. In winter, the south and west of the country are warmer (in the low 20s C) and dryer, so most of our trip will be in those regions. I also tried to mix cities and nature in equal parts. Here is what I came up with:

Taipei: 4 nights

Taroko Gorge: 2 nights

Kenting National Park: 5 nights

Kaohsiung: 2 nights

Tainan: 3 nights

Sun Moon Lake: 3 nights

Taipei: 1 night

Yes, we are going “around” the entire country in three leisurely weeks! After my friend leaves, I’ll have three more weeks to do as I please. I would like to base myself in one city for at least two of these weeks, so I can write a bit and get to know the place in more depth. Right now I lean toward Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city. My last week overlaps Chinese New Year, so this may help determine where I spend it. I still have to complete this part of my research. The guidebook I’m using on this trip is Lonely Planet Taiwan. (This is an affiliate link.)

Eight weeks to go, and I’m getting excited! 🙂

Is this post inspiring you to go to Taiwan? Or have you been there before? Let me know in the comments.


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