Learning a little about the history of the countries you visit enhances your travel experience and saves you from doing something offensive or embarrassing. Asia is a vast continent, in both land mass and culture, so we’re zooming in on Taiwan. Before you pack your bags for a romp through this tropical Asian paradise, let’s dive in for some background info.
A brief history
Taiwan neighbors Japan, China, and the Philippines, and is officially the Republic of China. Control over this small island has bounced back and forth from China to Japan a few times throughout history, but currently Taiwan states its own claim as an independent country (China disagrees, but this isn’t an article on international affairs so let’s keep it moving). Most of the island is mountainous, but the western side has plains, which is where the majority of urbanization has occurred.
As the capital city, Taipei offers a wonderful introduction to the nation’s culture and lifestyle. There is plenty to do during the day, but don’t plan on getting tucked into bed too early. The night markets are a must-see, with loads of street food vendors (the best way to experience a country’s cuisine culture). An hour from the capital is the district of Pingxi, where their sky lantern festivals are an other-worldly sight to behold. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike Elephant Mountain. Its trails are surrounded by forests in shades of green you didn’t know existed, and once at the top you’re rewarded with a view of the entire city.
Yangmingshan National Park
A popular attraction in Taiwan, it seems like a planet all on its own. Visitors can see volcanic rock, geysers, and hot springs, as well as a flower clock, cherry blossom trees, and calla lily fields. Pathways are lined with trees, and colorful paper lanterns hanging from the branches. Entry to this park is free, but be prepared to pay for parking. Guides are available to tour you through all the park has to offer. If you prefer to explore at your own pace and want to go without a guide, be sure to visit The Guangfu Building. Its architecture and design are beautiful examples of the Chinoiserie style (and it makes for an amazing photo op).
The former capital city of the island, it is packed with memorable travel possibilities. Frequently the host of festivals and parades, this modern city is rich with history and culture. Ten Drum Culture Village boasts an enormous sugar-refinery-turned-drum, which is surrounded by lights, making night the best time to visit this site. In the Anping district, a trek to the Anping Tree House is well worth the $2 admission fee. Roots, branches, and vines engulf this building almost entirely, making it a surreal and hauntingly beautiful destination.
Taroko National Park
Here, a visit to the Eternal Springs Shrine is a must. This cliffside building, built to honor those who lost their lives during a highway construction through the park, sits atop a waterfall. It offers breathtaking views of the park from within its bell tower, as well as being a site of its own to behold from the path below. The Yanzikou Trail, also known as the Swallow Grotto Trail for the swallows that nest on the rocks, is not just a path up the mountain but also a destination itself. The trail takes hikers through many natural rock tunnels and along the edge of the mountain, offering views of tree-covered valleys, rushing rivers, and waterfalls that flow out of the rocky cliffs almost magically.
Taiwan is a budget-friendly destination for anyone wanting to experience a tropical Asian country. Aside from its minimal financial requirement, its beauty and rich culture are often overlooked when considering top travel spots. You get an incredible amount of bang for your buck on this small island. If you’re looking for a place with unique experiences and scenic excursions, Taiwan should be on your list.