If you want contrasts, head to western Taiwan and start at the coastline, continue through rich farmland and end in the high mountains of the central range. In fact, for a study in contrasts, just head to the Alishan National Scenic Area. Here you can travel through three biogeographical zones – tropical, subtropical and temperate – in just three hours (a rare old single-track alpine railway is your carriage).
But unless you have unlimited time, the west’s contrasts will demand you choose from among them. Should you explore Taiwan’s southern Chinese heritage (which includes a great collection of temples) or its aboriginal culture? Should you join a pilgrimage for the goddess of the sea or learn to meditate at a Buddhist temple? Should you climb one of the highest mountains in East Asia or cycle easy bike lanes through the countryside?
Of all the regions in Taiwan, this is one we suggest you follow our advice for most carefully (which includes letting you know those areas you don’t need to follow our advice). While there are some real treasures out there, there’s also a lot of dismal wasteland. In general, the cities can be given a miss except as jumping-off points. For smaller towns, don’t miss Lukang, Puli and, to a lesser extent, Changhua, even if your time is tight. Forget the miles of coastline unless you like Styrofoam, cables, plastic and – you get the picture. Look to the rice fields, the mountains and Sun Moon Lake, the largest body of water in Taiwan, for your scenic fix.