With its all-around adventure landscape, heritage-rich capital, diverse folk traditions and feted night market scene, Taiwan offers a continent-sized travel list for one green island.
Why I Love Taiwan
By Robert Kelly, Writer
I have been living in Taiwan for the past 17 years and when I wake up in the morning I still wonder how I can possibly find time for all the new passions I've developed here: go cycle or hike in the lush mountains in my Taipei neighbourhood? Visit a traditional temple and study historical allusions in yet another sculptured masterpiece? Try a new strain of organic tea or single-origin coffee? Improve my Mandarin? Or just catch the latest mass rally downtown of locals trying to make this a better place?
I love that Taiwan gives me the freedom to go anywhere, do anything, and that no matter what I delve into, I'm always rewarded for going deeper.
The Tao of Today
Taiwan is heir to the entire Chinese tradition of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and that amorphous collection of deities and demons worshipped as folk faith. But over the centuries the people have blended their way into a unique and tolerant religious culture that's often as ritual heavy as Catholicism and as wild as Santeria.
Taiwanese temples (all 15,000) combine worship hall, festival venue and art house under one roof. Watch a plague boat burn at Donglong Temple, go on a pilgrimage with the Empress of Heaven, study a rooftop three-dimensional mosaic, and learn why a flag and ball have come to represent prayer.
Asian Values On Their Terms
Defying those who said it wasn't in their DNA, the Taiwanese have created Asia's most vibrant democracy, and liberal society, with a raucous free press, gender equality and respect for human rights and increasingly animal rights as well. The ancestors are still worshipped, and mum and dad still get their dues, but woe befall the politician who thinks it's the people who must pander, and not him. If you want to catch a glimpse of the people's passion for protest, check out Taipei Main Station on most weekends, or just follow the local news.
Have You Eaten?
The words are used as a greeting here, and the answer is always 'yes', as there's just too much nibbling to do. Taiwan offers the gamut of Chinese cuisines, the best Japanese outside Tokyo, and a full-house of local specialities from Hakka stir-fries and Taipei beef noodles to aboriginal-style barbecued wild boar. Night markets around the island serve endless feasts of snacks including stinky tofu, steamed dumplings, oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls and shaved ice. And when you're thirsty you can look forward to fresh local juices, outstanding Taiwan teas and, in a surprising twist, Asia's best gourmet coffee.
The Beautiful Isle
Famed for centuries as Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Isle), this is a land with more sides than the 11-headed Guanyin. Towering sea cliffs, marble-walled gorges and tropical forests are just the start of your journey, which could take you as far as Yushan, Taiwan's 3952m alpine roof.
In Taiwan you can criss-cross mountains on colonial-era hiking trails or cycle a lone highway with the blue Pacific on one side and green volcanic arcs on the other. And if you simply want a classic landscape to enjoy, you'll find them around every corner.