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Taiwan: Majestic mountains, fantastic hiking trails and exuberant festivals
May 21, 2017, 12:27 pm

With legacies as varied as its adventure landscape and spirited traditions thriving alongside the cream of Asian sophistication, Taiwan is a continent on one green island.


Taiwan’s capital city is home to some of the country's most impressive cultural treasures, both modern and historical. Chief among them is the National Palace Museum, which houses the most extraordinary collection of Chinese art anywhere in the world. Another highlight is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Commemorating the former president of the Republic of China, the hall features an exhibit of his cars as well as a mock-up of his former office, and a ceremonial guard change takes place on the hour. Outside, palatial buildings flank a large square in the style of Beijing's Forbidden City. To experience the pulse of the city as well as its world-class foodie culture, head to the Shilin night market, Taiwan's largest.


Less developed than Taipei, the atmosphere of Taitung is pleasant and laid back. Situated on Taiwan’s east coast where the Eurasian and Philippine Sea tectonic plates meet, it is home to an impressive geological landscape. Head to Siaoyeliou, a veritable sculpture park of rock formations molded by sea erosion, or cross Taitung's famous eight-arched bridge, built to resemble a dragon, to reach Sansiantai Island, a nature reserve offering exceptional views of sunrise and sunset. And step back in time with a visit to the Caves of the Eight Immortals, the discovery site of Taiwan’s oldest prehistoric civilization.

Taroko Gorge:

This 18km marble-walled gorge has been a popular walking and hiking destination since the 1930s. It began as coral deposits deep under the sea. Under pressure from geological forces, the coral was transformed into limestone and then marble, schists and gneiss. Five million years ago, as Taiwan was lifted from the sea by the collision of the Philippine and Eurasian plates, the gorge began to be formed. In essence, the upward thrust of hard rock, combined with the erosion of the soft layers from water and landslides, left towering canyon walls that are so narrow in places that you could play catch with someone on the other side.

Blue Tears:

Every year from late spring to the end of summer, algae called dinoflagellates teem in the waters along the coast of the Matsu archipelago, and when disturbed by waves or paddles, they emit a surreal blue glow. 'Blue Tears', as they are called, have been spotted along all of Matsu's islets, including Dongyin, Nangan and Beigan. Usually the darker the sky, the calmer the sea, and the hotter the weather, the better your chances of spotting them. June to August are the best months to see 'Blue Tears', though you can theoretically spot them any time between April and September. During 'Blue Tears' season, Beihai Tunnel also runs night-time tours for those who wish to see the phenomenon in the setting of a former military tunnel.

Alishan Forest Recreation Area:

Visiting Alishan may almost feel like a cliché, but do not lose heart – there may be equally beautiful and less-visited places in Taiwan, but Alishan, with its giant cedar and soaring pines reminiscent of sculptures or temples, not to mention the uncanny way in which clouds, wind and sun interact with it, can still take your breath away.

Lalashan Forest Reserve: This 63.9 sq. km expanse of mixed forest holds one of the largest stands of ancient red hinoki cypress trees left in Taiwan. The most ancient of the ancients is over 2800 years old, but there are a hundred more that are not much younger. A 3.7km wooden boardwalk winds through the dense forest, and interpretative signs indicate the age, species, height and diameter of each giant.

Taiwan's Ninth National Park: Taiwan's latest national park covers 370 hectares and comprises of breathtakingly beautiful islets in the southern part of Penghu county and their surrounding waters. The four islands (of a total of a hundred islands in the entire county) – Dongji, Xiji, Dongyuping and Xiyuping – feature dramatic ocean basalts that take the form of columns, grottoes, sea stacks, sea cliffs and wave-sculpted platforms. For a long time since the early Qing dynasty, the islands had been witness to seafaring activity between Taiwan and Fujian in China. The islands are largely uninhabited now but, despite their desolate beauty, it is not hard to imagine that there had been Chinese, Japanese and Western settlers and visitors. You will see remnants of Fujian-style residences, some with Western architectural features, and stone garden walls that the early migrants built to protect their plots against the strong winds of these parts.


Bao'an Temple:

Recipient of a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for both its restoration and its revival of temple rites and festivities, the Bao'an Temple is a must-visit when in Taipei. This exquisite structure is loaded with prime examples of the traditional decorative arts, and the yearly folk arts festival is a showcase of traditional performance arts. The temple was founded in 1760 by immigrants from Quanzhou, Fujian province, and its modern size and design began to take shape in 1805. The main resident God is Baosheng Dadi (Saint Wu), a historical figure revered for his medical skills. The rear shrine is dedicated to Shengnong, the God of agriculture.

National Palace Museum:

Home to the world's largest and arguably finest collection of Chinese art, this vast collection covers treasures in painting, calligraphy, statuary, bronzes, lacquerware, ceramics, jade and religious objects. Some of the most popular items, such as the famous jade cabbage, are always on display. The historical range at this museum is truly outstanding. Even within a single category, such as ceramics, pieces range over multiple dynasties, and even back to Neolithic times.

Minquan Old Street:

Sansia's name (Three Gorges) reflects the fact that it sits at the confluence of three rivers. The town prospered as an important transport hub for charcoal, camphor and indigo dye, as is evident in this old block of red-brick merchant houses and residences dating from the end of the Qing dynasty to the early years of the Japanese colonial era.

The street, tastefully restored, looks much as it did 100 years ago. On weekends there is a lively market atmosphere as the little shops operating from behind dark-wood doors sell specialty snacks, tea, vintage toys and souvenirs, and run indigo tie-dye workshops. Street performers also work the area, making this a fun venue to take in after the spiritual and aesthetic treasures of Tzushr Temple.


Taiwan Lantern Festival:

The Lantern Festival arrives on the first full moon of the Chinese calendar and marks the last day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. The lanterns are meant to ward off evil spirits and bring families closer together to watch as they flood the streets. The lanterns play their own theme music and tower over 10 meters tall, with many featuring ornate designs that correspond with the signs of the zodiac. Taiwan began recognizing this Chinese festival in 1990 as an effort to spread the traditional folklore to the masses. One of the most important events that takes place on this evening is the Fengpao ceremony, where thousands of firecrackers are burned and hung in the Wumiao Temple. The lantern event and the fire ceremony together are known as ‘Fireworks in the south, sky lanterns in the north’ and are meant to call in wishes for the New Year.

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