In the south, people’s ties to rural folk culture are strongest. Local gods are more fervently worshipped, traditions more respected, and a clannish regard for kith and kin more obvious. And in a land of hospitable people, southerners shine as the most hospitable of all.
Outside of Taipei, the only cities really worth visiting are in the south: ie Tainan and Kaohsiung. Tainan has a temple heritage second to none, and a great array of local foods to sample. Kaohsiung is a harbour city on a mad drive to make up for decades of lost development time. Ten years ago we could hardly stand to drive past it. But these days you can feel the buzz (much like Taipei a decade ago) and couple of days here soaking it in would be well spent.
For some of the best mountain scenery in the country head to the South Cross-Island Hwy. This route literally crosses the island, and can be used as a walking path, with side trips up to 3000m-plus mountains and down to beautiful natural hot springs in the river valleys.
In fact, the south pretty much has it wrapped up for the nature-lover. There are two butterfly valleys – one of which (in Maolin) has recently been put on equal footing with the Monarch Butterfly Valley in Mexico – and a winter resting ground for the rare black-faced spoonbill. The southern landscape also varies from coastal mud flats, to grassy headlands, to majestic cypress forests.
Weatherwise, the south is hot and sticky in summer and warm and dry in winter. If you want to swim in January, head south.