by Andy Khong
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is a captivating island nation located in East Asia. Its history is rich and diverse, with a cultural heritage influenced by indigenous peoples, Chinese settlers, Japanese colonial rule, and its own unique identity. Taiwan offers a wealth of experiences for travellers, from its stunning natural beauty to its vibrant cities and rich cultural heritage.
The story of Taiwan begins with its ancient inhabitants, who lived on the island long before organized governments emerged. In the 17th century, Chinese settlers arrived, and Taiwan became a Dutch colony before falling under the control of the Qing Dynasty of China. In the late 19th century, Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War, and Japanese colonial rule lasted until the end of World War II. Subsequently, the Republic of China took over Taiwan, which led to the division between the mainland, governed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Taiwan (ROC), which has been self-governed ever since.
Today, Taiwan operates as a democratic republic with a multi-party system. The president, elected through popular vote, serves as the head of state and government. The Legislative Yuan, a unicameral legislative body, represents the voice of the people. The political landscape in Taiwan is vibrant, with the main parties being the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Taiwan’s allure as a tourist destination lies in its abundant natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural experiences. The island is blessed with picturesque scenery, from majestic mountains to lush forests and breathtaking coastlines. Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, Yangmingshan National Park, and the East Rift Valley are just a few examples of the stunning locations waiting to be explored.
Sun Moon Lake.
In addition to its natural wonders, Taiwan offers a captivating blend of history and culture. Ancient temples, historic sites, and traditional festivals provide a glimpse into the country’s past. The cuisine is a highlight, with Taiwanese dishes renowned worldwide for their flavours and variety. From street food like stinky tofu (bean curd), and oyster omelettes to renowned night markets and Michelin-starred restaurants, Taiwan’s culinary scene is a delightful adventure for food lovers.
Stinky Tofu – popular street food.
Taiwan’s cities seamlessly blend modernity with traditional charm. Taipei, the capital city located in the north (“Pei” means North in Mandarin), is a bustling metropolis with iconic landmarks like Taipei 101, which held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010 (Taipei 101 was preceded by Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and superseded by Burj Khalifa in Dubai)
Taipei 101 – world’s tallest building (2004 to 2010).
Tainan, located in the south (“Nan” means South in Mandarin), is considered the cultural capital, offering historical sites such as Anping Fort and Chihkan Tower. Taitung, situated in the east (“Tung” means East in Mandarin), is a coastal city that provides access to natural wonders like Green Island and the scenic East Rift Valley. Taichung, positioned in centre (“Chung” means Centre in Mandarin), is known for its art and culture, housing the National Museum of Natural Science and the vibrant Fengjia Night Market. Taisi, located in the west (“Si” means West in Mandarin), represents the west coast and its attractions. Kaohsiung, the second-largest city, boasts the beautiful Lotus Pond and the Pier-2 Art Centre.
Lotus Pond, Kaohsiung.
Taiwan’s innovation and technological advancements are also worth exploring, with the country being a hub for technological development. Visitors can delve into the latest advancements in various industries and visit technology-focused museums.
One cannot talk about Taiwan without mentioning its most famous export – Bubble Tea. The city of Taichung is where Bubble Tea, also known as Boba, originated. In the 1980s, the concept of adding tapioca pearls to tea was introduced at the Chun Shui Tang teahouse, creating the unique and beloved beverage. Today, Taichung remains a hub for Bubble Tea enthusiasts, with numerous shops offering a wide variety of flavours and toppings.
Chun Shui Tang Teahouse, Taichung – where Bubble Tea originated.
One of Taiwan’s defining features is its value for diversity and inclusivity. This is evident in various aspects, including transportation. On the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, announcements are made in Mandarin, English, Hokkien, and Hakka languages, showcasing Taiwan’s linguistic diversity*, valuing differences, and ensuring that locals and visitors alike feel welcome and informed (Around 70% of Taiwanese speak Hokkien, while 15-20% speak Hakka).
[* Contrast this with PRC’s “Zhonghua Minzu”, the Sinicization (Chinese Nationalism) policy of integration or assimilation aimed at strengthening the Chinese identity on the mainland, which is replacing and eliminating the languages of all ethnic minorities with Mandarin, to bring uniformity of language and enhance people’s identity as Chinese – a process which will eradicate identity, language, and culture].
As you embark on your journey through Taiwan, you’ll encounter the warmth and friendliness of its people, who are known for their hospitality and eagerness to share their culture. This welcoming atmosphere, combined with the country’s safety and efficient public transportation system, ensures a pleasant and convenient travel experience.
In summary, Taiwan is a captivating destination that offers a harmonious blend of natural beauty, rich history, vibrant culture, delicious cuisine, warm hospitality, and technological innovation. Whether you seek stunning landscapes, cultural immersion, culinary delights, or the excitement of modern cities, Taiwan has something to offer every traveller. Consider planning a trip to this enchanting island to experience its unique charm, appreciate its linguistic and cultural diversity, and create lasting memories in this remarkable destination.