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TAIWAN

 ALL ABOUT  TAIWAN

Often overlooked in the Asian travel market, this small cocoon-shaped island, with its tiger economy and complex geo-politics, is emerging as one of the butterflies of Asia.

Taiwan may be best known for a geopolitical dispute with China, but for the traveller its a destination that isn't difficult to navigate at all. From the bustling metropolis of Taipei to the forested mountains or coral sea islands Taiwan offers contrast. Easy infrastructure, organised and friendly locals. 

HISTORY & CULTURE

Taiwan pre-history and the polynesians/melanesian indigenous.

In 1895, Japan annexed the island of Taiwan. 50 years later, as part of their WWII surrender and reparations, Japan surrendered the island to Allied Forces who nominally handed control to China. In 1949, as the Maoist Revolution swept through the mainland, General Chek fled to Taiwan and set up government there as the Republic of China (ROC).  Back on the mainland, the Communists took control, redefining the country as the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). 

 

Effectively, there were two governments claiming to be "China". It wasn't until 1971 that the United Nations ejected the ROC in favour of the PRC. Currently, Taiwan holds no official seat on the UN and is not formally recognised as an independent nation. However, it does conduct itself as an independent nation with its own laws, military and a democratic government that negotiates trade and relations with other nations around the world.

The much talked-about "One-China" policy purports that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation but is part of a PRC-ruled China. At the same time, the PRC does not make laws for, nor occupy, Taiwanese territory. Confusingly, several nations, including the USA and its ally Australia, support the 'One-China' policy while also supporting Taiwan's sovereignty - backed by military action if necessary. 

 

The politics is further complicated by the the fact that the vast majority of Taiwanese are ethnically Chinese with continuing business and personal ties to mainland China. Even so, those who may feel culturally Chinese are not necessarily willing to give up their individual political freedoms to a communist regime. For most people on the island, it's not a simple matter of being, or not being, 'part of China'. 

Taiwan's complex modern history has largely overlooked the island's indigenous heritage. Today, around 2.5% of the population belong to one of 16 officially recognised indigenous groups with another 400,000 belonging to 10 tribes from the lowlands that are not yet recognised. Since 1949, there has been pressure on indigenous people to assimilate with the majority Chinese population. However, in recent years, indigenous Taiwanese have gained a higher profile. In particular, the nations current President is MIXED? heritage. 

Taiwan.jpg

Taiwan....

ENVIRONMENT

Far less controversial, is the landscape. Taiwan is a sub-tropical island surrounded by coral seas and atolls. It is one of the most mountainous islands in the world with 80% covered by steep forested terrain and at least 250 peaks over 3000m. Although the altitude is high, the tropical climate prevents snowfall. Instead, the cool damp air produces a cloud forest climate which provides excellent conditions for coffee, tea and similar plantation crops. 

Due to the mountainous terrain, the majority of the population is crowded into urban centres on the coast. In fact, one-third of 25 million population live in the capital Taipei and its extension New Taipei City.  This creates a contrast of densely populated dazzling neon metropolises and small, ancient forested rural villages. The crowded, fast-paced, traffic-jammed avenues and concrete skyscrapers of Taipei couldn't be any more different to the empty, winding roads through peaceful natural landscapes occasionally dotted with rural life. 

SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

Taipei is an exciting, buzzy, city with plenty to do. Whether you're a political history buff, shopaholics or foodie, you won't leave the city disappointed.  But there is more to Taiwan than Taipei. The city dies away pretty quickly at the foothills, leaving you with an island of lush jungle-covered hills, rocky seascapes and sweeping sandy beaches.

 

With such untapped beauty - protected by 9 National Parks - Taiwan has begun to promote eco and cultural tourism. Although Covid put a dent in things, 2020 was designated the year of Mountain Tourism with 7 Mountain Tourism Routes opened up to aid exploration. forests, mountain villages, plantations, natural hot springs and indigenous culture. Taiwan also has two marine parks. Though tourism options remain largely on hold for Atol, the Pangu islands, inlets and coral reefs are a paradise for snorkellers and divers and trips here aren't difficult to arrange. 

 

Indigenous culture is important in a land where the majority are chinese migrants. Centres that expose tourists to the cultural traditions and dance 

Taiwan is not a large island, at 400km long and 200km wide it's feasible to hire a bike or car and zip around the island. Getting out of the city, however, can be an exercise in patience as congested traffic makes a nightmare of the trip by car or bus. On the upside, it's easy to organise day trips with small-group tour operators. These range from scenic seaside trips to culture trips. Alternatively, if time is on your side domestic air and a solid train network will get you to the many towns and centres worth visiting away from the capital. 

WHEN TO GO

Taiwan is subject to the sweltering East Asian Monsoon season May-Sept.  The hot humid weather and typhoons are what keeps the island looking so lush and dramatic, but it's not always traveller friendly. Winter (Nov-March) is mostly sunny and mild except in the Northwest where it continues to rain steadily. Whichever time of year you intend to go, be prepared for steamy days, sometimes chilly nights - especially in the mountains - and a lot of heavy rain.

Chinese New Year features prominently in Taiwan but the real festivities start after this. The Taiwan Lantern Festival which commences as soon as CNY is over, was the brainchild of the Taiwan Tourist Board. The festival fuses Chinese and indigenous culture. 

GETTING THERE & AROUND

Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport is the usual landing place for international travellers with direct flights throughout Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Pacific. If you are coming from Asia and heading to the Kenting National Park, Kaohsiung in the south is Taiwan's second busiest airport and the best jumping-off point. China Air is the country’s flagship airline while EVA is another major Taiwan based airline.

 

Getting around the Capital, Taipei is super easy thanks to its well-connected MRT subway network. Walking is safe but can be unpleasant in the humidity as attractions are spread out. Taipei Metro ticketing is easy - you can purchase a prepaid 'tap and go' style card from the vending machines. The subway info and announcements (in fact, this goes for almost all information travellers will want to rely on around the city) is given in multiple languages including Mandarin, English and local indigenous languages.    

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