Taiwan is a mountainous country, with terrain ranging from beautiful forested hill to soaring peaks.
Whether you are a hill walker or a mountaineer, you can find the perfect trek or hike for your levels of fitness and experience.
Prime trekking areas include Alishan, where there is an extensive network of hiking trails offer everything from day hikes to serious ascent trekking. Highly recommended is the 10 hour circuit to Fengshan, or the easy dawn hike to the summit of Chushan to watch the sunrise.
There are also good hikes possible in the hills around Wulai, in Tungpu and along the Southern highway. The sheer cliffs near keeling on the North East Coast are popular with technical rock climbers.
West Taiwan Alishan
For experienced climbers, bagging the peak of Mt.Yushan will be the main aim of a trip to Taiwan. This is the highest point in Taiwan with an elevation of 3952 meters. It has 11 separate peaks, all of which are steep and rocky. This makes Yushan an extremely challenging climb for Mountaineers. The best time to climb the mountain is from October to December during the dry season. From January to March, there are deep snows on the upper reaches of the mountain.
A Yushan climb takes you through a subtropical at the lowest levels, a temperate and humid belt, then a cold and damp belt, and finally to an extremely high altitude zone.
Hiking Trails Tungpu
Before entering any restricted mountain areas, foreign mountaineers are asked to apply for an entrance permit. If necessary, the ROC Mountain Association can arrange an English guide for a group of 4 or more members. But for those mountain areas less restricted, the local police stations are responsible for the issue of B Class entrance permit. The applicants have to provide their personal IDs or passports.
In order to apply for an entrance permit, the applicant has to submit an application form with the attachment of passport or alien residence permit, ID or any approval documents issued by competent authorities, to the Police Affairs Department, local police stations or the police team in the National Parks. But if the foreign visitor applies for the permit in company with a ROC citizen for a same reason, he can follow the same procedures of the ROC people.
For the independent traveler with a mountain bike, the mountainous terrain of Taiwan is ideal.
The relatively small area of the island makes Taiwan an ideal cycling destination. The best combination of terrain, scenery and traffic free roads is the East Coast, which is an ideal long distance cycling route.
Remember there are some serious inclines along the way- and be prepared for some seriously challenging riding. For the independent traveler with a mountain bike, the mountainous terrain of Taiwan is ideal.
The relatively small area of the island makes Taiwan an ideal cycling destination. The best combination of terrain, scenery and traffic free roads is the East Coast, which is an ideal long distance cycling route.
Remember there are some serious inclines along the way- and be prepared for some seriously challenging riding.
The many narrow gorges and winding rivers of Eastern Taiwan make for perfect rafting country- and the Hsiukuluan is the best white water in the area. Well organized and fully equipped rafting trips are run from the nearby town of Hualien.
With 22kms of fine grade rapids to run, a white water expedition is a full day event, carrying rafts along a twisting course of challenging water- with unforgettable scenery along the way. This is a must for any adventurous traveler in Taiwan.
The Laonung River is the second most popular spot for white water rafting in Taiwan. It is located at Liouguei Township in Kaohsiung County in the south of Taiwan. Although it doesn’t compare to the volume of activity on the Hsiukuluan which is the biggest in eastern Taiwan, rafting in the Laonung River can be more thrilling than in the Hsiukuluan River because it has lots of riptide and wiggly course.
Rafting trips can be booked and arranged in both Taipei and Hualien.
Taiwan is one of Asia’s great undiscovered dive destinations, with diving to rival neighboring dive spots in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. With its subtropical location directly on the Tropic of Cancer, it's not surprising that the waters around the island are rich in sea life and spectacular reef.
More and more divers are now discovering Taiwan, and there are over 50 dive shops on the island.
PADI, NAUI and SSI qualifications are all recognized in Taiwan, and there are numerous training schools for new and novice divers.
Most dive shops also offer gear hire and air fill- at an average rate of NT$1000 daily. Boat hire varies from place to place.
Some of the top dive spots include:
Excellent shore dives are possible at Kenting on the southern tip of the island. The area is a National Park, and local dive guides can show you the best spots for a direct shore dive.
The precipitous cliffs that line the coast here plummet straight down to extensive coral reefs that are alive with fish. Visibility here is generally very good, averaging 15 meters. There is a lot of surge here over deep coral canyons, which make this an excellent feeding ground for sea life. In addition to large schools of fish, there are hawksbill turtles, blue-spotted sting-rays, and lots of lobsters. The face of the cliffs have plenty of spectacular swim through and caves to explore.
Taiwan’s best diving is found in the waters around the shores of Green Island, 50 kilometers off the coast near Taitung. There are many reefs to explore with regular dive charters and organized trips. There are also shore dives off the beaches at the southernmost point of the island.
If you like drift driving, head to the Penghu Islands. The straits here have particularly strong currents that are ideal for drifts, and as always, strong ocean currents draw in plenty of big pelagic, sharks and the occasional whale.
Golf is one of the world’s foremost travel-friendly sports, and there are 37 golf courses in Taiwan, all within easy reach of major West coast towns and cities. Day membership and club hire are possible at many of the clubs, and a round of golf is a popular social and business networking activity in Taiwan.
For golf events, there is no question that the 1999 Johnnie Walker Charity Classic held at the Ta Shee Golf Course in Taoyuan was the largest tournament ever held in Taiwan. It was an honor that Tiger Woods, the top-ranking golfer in the world, was present, boosting the popularity of the sport in Taiwan.
Sailing and Windsurfing
The Penghu Islands are internationally known for their desirable wind conditions, especially between October and April. Good sailing conditions can also be found along the north and south coasts of the island. Windsurfing contests and festivals are commonly held in November every year.
Surfers from around the world appreciate Taiwan’s fine surfing conditions which are a result of monsoon weather and a consistent ocean swell. The best waves are in the fall and winter. Surfing hot spots include Daxi at Honeymoon Bay, Fulong Beach in northern Taiwan, South Bay in Kenting and Shanyuan Resort Beach in Taitung.
Taiwan has a rich history of performing arts, inherited from centuries of practice in mainland China. It is home to both contemporary dance, as well as traditional Chinese and aboriginal performances. One doesn’t have to look far to find world-class performances. The National Concert Hall and National Theater are twin institutions in Taipei located near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The facilities host a full calendar of classical music, opera and theater performances. In addition, visitors can observe assorted performances throughout the island.
Audiences can absorb refined Chinese culture, well-known for its colorful costumes and sets, dramatic plots, arresting musical forms and enchanting librettos. The opera is performed entirely in the Chinese language. Visitor’s enjoyment will increase by understanding the storyline beforehand. A great place to experience Chinese opera is at the Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy in Taipei, which offers an enlightening tour and a screen beside the stage which translates every song into English.
Taiwanese opera is a crystallization of Taiwan's popular culture and the only extent of traditional Chinese opera. The documentary evidence shows that Taiwanese Opera was originally performed in the Lan-Yang Plain about a hundred years ago. At first it was a small-scale performance of singing and dancing. With later additions of elaborate costumes and various characters, it gradually evolved into a genuine dramatic art form that eventually became the major form of drama in Taiwan.
Young girls dance with shimmering fans which resemble peacock feathers. The peacock is a Chinese symbol of beauty, and the dance expresses a respect for life and peace. The world-renown Lan Yang Dance Troup can be found in Taipei and Lotung.
Puppetry has been a source of Chinese entertainment for centuries. Finely made puppets, elaborate stages, detailed costumes, classic story lines and high-paced action can be easily found during festivals and celebrations throughout the island.
The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre is famed for its fusion of Chinese traditions, Taiwanese folk influences and modern dance.
Aboriginal Cultural Performance
Twelve aborigine tribes survive in Taiwan today. Each uniquely demonstrates a reverence for heaven, earth and spirits through ritual, song, dance, festivals and competitions.
Amazing Woodcarving Art on Display at Sanyi
Wood is probably best appreciated while walking within lush forests, of which Taiwan has many. If you want to take a refreshing "forest shower," a trip to Alishan in south-central Taiwan or Taipingshan in northeastern Taiwan is highly recommended. If you can't go to the forest, however, the next best way to appreciate wood is a visit to Sanyi, the woodcarving capital of Taiwan.
Sanyi is a small town. Located in Miaoli County about 2.5 hours by train from Taipei, the town is almost exclusively known for its woodcarving industry.
Sanyi hasn't always been a center for the art of wood sculpting. It all started in 1918 when a local man named Wu Jin-bao began creating ornamental art using withered camphor wood. Camphor trees are very common in the forest areas surrounding Sanyi. When his artworks came to the attention of Japanese officials (Taiwan was under Japanese rule at the time), the Japanese started researching the possibilities of developing a woodcarving industry in Sanyi. The son of Wu Jin-bao, Wu Luo-song, learned from the Japanese the art of sculpting nature scenes, animals, and people in wood. Many of Sanyi's master woodcarvers thereafter learned the craft at Wu's workshop. Another master carver of the time who acquired his skills from the Japanese was Li Jin-chuan. He established a woodcarving business in Tongsiao, a town about 15 kilometers northwest of Sanyi, and specialized in sculptures of religious and historical figures. One of Li's disciples is the now world-famous master sculptor Ju Ming, who has a dedicated museum on the coast north of Taipei.
Shueimei Street, the main street in the southern part of town, is where most of the shops selling fine-art works created in Sanyi can be found. There are more than 200 shops, selling all kinds of sculptures ranging from small animal statues to elaborate Buddhist icons. The variety of styles and the innovativeness of local artists are simply amazing, and tourists have a lot of choice in looking for that unique souvenir or expensive gift.
If you want to watch master sculptors at work there is no better place than Guangsheng Village, which is within walking distance of Shueimei Street. Master carvers from all over Taiwan, and even some foreign artists, live and work here in close proximity, inspiring and pushing each other to ever higher levels of creativity. Guangsheng Village is also home to the Miaoli Wood Sculpture Museum.
Miaoli Wood Sculpture Museum
To learn more about the history of woodcarving in Sanyi, a visit to the Miaoli Wood Sculpture Museum is highly recommended. The museum was opened in 1995 as the first museum dedicated to the art of woodcarving in Taiwan. Here you will be introduced to all the different aspects of the art. There is a large collection of masterpieces from Sanyi with detailed information about history, techniques, and styles, and you will also learn about the differences between hand-carved and machine-carved objects as well as find out about the different kinds of wood used. Exhibitions cover religious items and temple art, statuary and reliefs, and highly innovative and experimental pieces, as well as works by aboriginal artists.
Sanyi Wood Sculpture Festival
One of the highlights of Taiwan's cultural-event calendar each year is the Sanyi Wood Sculpture Festival. It features the most amazing wood sculptures created in Sanyi, as well as those by invited sculptors from around the world. Apart from the exhibitions, the festival also has a rich program of side activities, including stage performances and DIY courses.
Yingge Pottery Town
The small town of Yingge, a 30-minute train ride south of Taipei City, is always a nice place to visit for those interested in pottery and ceramics, but once a year there is an additional reason to head to the "Pottery Capital of Taiwan" - the Yingge International Ceramics Festival. The festival, this year scheduled from October 6 through 29, features exhibitions, pottery demonstrations, classes, guided tours, and a rich program of stage performances.
Most of the festival activities take place in and around the modernistic Yingge Ceramics Museum, which opened in 2000 and has since been the pride of Yingge's citizens. A gem of architectural creativity in its own right, the museum introduces visitors to the history of pottery in Taiwan, the development of pottery in Yingge, the steps in producing pottery, the many different pottery types and applications, and much more. With the help of bilingual Chinese-English info plates, video showings, and optional audio-equipment, the last of which can be rented on the first floor, going through the exhibition halls is a rewarding educational experience. On the upper level the museum regularly organizes temporary exhibitions of artworks by local and foreign master potters. Outside the museum are a number of installation artworks worth a look. On the basement level you'll find a cafeteria, as well as meeting and workshop rooms where DIY courses and seminars on pottery are staged on a regular basis.
Ceramics Old Street
Beside the museum, the festival's other main venue and another of Yingge's tourist attractions is Ceramics Old Street, a pedestrian section of Jianshanpu Road lined with numerous outlets selling ceramic products. To reach Ceramics Old Street from the Ceramics Museum, just follow Wunhua Road to the town center. Bear left after the railway bridge and walk uphill for about 200 meters. If driving, note there is also a parking lot here.
The shops along Ceramics Old Street sell almost everything made of fired clay, from simple earthen flutes for the kids (about NT$50) to 7-foot vases for your living room (if you live in a palace, that is) that can cost millions of NT dollars. This is a great place to browse and admire pottery objects (many pieces of which are worthy of being exhibited in museums) and to shop for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. The amazing range of styles, shapes, colors, and purposes of usage ensures that every shopper finds a treasure to his liking. Among the most popular items are rice bowls, mugs, vases, flowerpots, decorative items, and tea utensils. If you can't find anything that tickles your fancy here, try one of the many other pottery outlets scattered about Yingge - after all, there are nearly 800 ceramics makers and shops in town. Many of these establishments also offer tours of their workshops, allowing you to get an idea of the production process. If you want to try making pottery yourself, many also offer DIY experience classes where you can mold clay and paint your creations before they are fired.
Demonstrations and DIY Opportunities
An important part of the festival are the on-site demonstrations by local and international ceramists who show the crowds how ceramics are created. Witness how masters of their craft realize their ideas in clay and see how the approaches of Western and Eastern artists differ.
If you are a "hobby potter" there is plenty of opportunity to get hands-on experience in creating ceramic art. Kids especially have a whole lot of fun just playing with the clay and trying to shape it into something beautiful, and recognizable, on a turning wheel. The most exciting part, however, is when it comes to firing the objects in specially constructed mini-kilns on site.
Sanying Cultural Bus
During the festival visitors can make use of a special bus service (bus ticket included in the Festival Pass), which stops at many points of interest in Yingge and nearby Sansia.
Fulong Beach is a fantastic visit. The beach is only a short walk from the nearby train station, the area's key transportation hub, but on the way there are many spots to stop and have a bite, and cafés offering refreshing drinks. With clear seawater and a soft, sandy bottom, Fulong Beach is perfect for swimming, surfing, and windsurfing.
North of Fulong, the jagged coastal area near Longdong offers a beautiful coral reef teeming with ocean life, a great spot for diving and snorkeling. A couple of dive shops operate in the area, renting snorkeling gear and leading dive outings as well.
Surfing is at the center of life for many of Taiwan's new generation of beachgoers, key to the beach-culture explosion. In such northeast coast hotspots as Wushi Harbor, Daxi, and Fulong the streets are lined with surf shops selling and renting boards, and surfers mingle around small cafés. The mostly gentle waves during the summer are great for learning, while the swells from periodic distant typhoons can challenge even a seasoned surfer.
Honeymoon Bay near Daxi, a few miles south along the coast from Fulong, is one of Taiwan's original surf beaches and for good reason. It's a swell magnet, and nearby mountains protect it from winds. Only the slower EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) trains on the north-south coastal railway stop at Daxi, but taxis from the nearby Fulong or Toucheng stations will also take you there.
About ten kilometers south of Daxi is Wushi Harbor. A wide black-sand beach borders one side of the harbor's break wall. Sandbars formed near the wall create consistent waves during the summer, making this spot popular with surfers – and spectators too. Paragliding down to the beach from a neighboring mountainside is another adventure sport available to thrill-seekers at Wushi.
Music comes to Wushi Harbor during the Yilan International Rain Festival, which is held in the months of July and August. Its Pop Music Festival, running eight hours on a single day, features some of Taiwan's hottest groups. If you want to party till the sun comes up, then don't miss the Wushi Summer Solstice Festival, also part of the Rain Festival. This is a two stage all-night beach rave showcasing international electronic and hip-hop DJs. To get to Wushi Harbor, take a train to Toucheng station and then a short taxi ride to the beach.
Hualien and Taitung Offer a Plethora of Indigenous-Culture Experience
Members of seven of Taiwan's 12 officially recognized tribes can be found in Hualien and Taitung counties. These are the Amis (Ami), Bunun, Puyuma , Kavalan (Kamalan), Truku (Taroko), Paiwan , and Rukai . The Yami also inhabit Taitung County, but are concentrated offshore on Orchid Island (Lanyu).
The Amis is the largest of Taiwan's indigenous tribes with a population of about 140,000. This matriarchal society is spread across the coastal plains and mountains of Hualien and Taitung. The Bunun have a population of about 40,000, mostly in the high-mountain areas of central, southern, and eastern Taiwan. This tribe is known for its musical talents, including the development of a multi-part harmony to pray for blessings for an abundant harvest. The Puyuma tribe, similar to its Amis neighbors, has a matriarchal society. With a population of about 10,000, it is concentrated in Beinan Township of Taitung County.
The Kavalan is the only recognized Pingpu (plains Aborigines) tribe. It once inhabited the plains of Yilan, but due to the large influx of Han Chinese into the region was forced to move into what are now Hualien and Taitung counties, the heaviest concentration in Taitung's Sinshe Township. Today, this tribe has a population of about 2,000. The Truku tribe, numbering about 28,000, once inhabited the spectacular Taroko Gorge, but was forced from its tribal lands by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). The Truku are well known for the complexity of their weaving and in the past practiced facial tattooing as a sign of adulthood. The Paiwan and Rukai tribes have populations of about 60,000 and 10,000, respectively, and mostly inhabit the mountains of southern Taiwan, with a concentration of Paiwan villages in Taitung, while the Rukai are concentrated in the village of Dongsing in Taitung's Beinan Township.
Indigenous Art - Beautiful and Meaningful
Many of the tribes make clothing from ramie cloth woven on a crude wooden loom. Motifs have been developed based on natural phenomena, such as the tracks of animals and insects. Dyes are created from a variety of local plants. The coloring and pattern of the hundred-pace pit viper is commonly used by the Paiwan, Rukai, and Bunun tribes, as they consider this snake sacred.
Examples of skilled woodcarving can be found among all of the tribes. East Coast indigenous woodcarvers can today still be seen scouring the coastline after a storm looking for driftwood, their primary source of raw material.
Pottery is one of the sacred treasures of the Paiwan tribe, as according to tribal legend its original ancestors were born from a ceramic vessel. The Amis also produce pottery that is used only during important ceremonies.
Glazed beads are another treasure of the Paiwan. In the past, each bead had a special motif and concomitant meaning, such as the eye, the tears of the sun, the feather of a peacock (which symbolized love) or the lily (which symbolized virtue). Paiwan artists today are making use of these motifs to create beads with more contemporary looks, and are passing on their techniques to artists from other tribes.
Leather engraving is a relatively new form of art, although in the past some tribes used leather for caps, clothing, or other practical purposes. Today, indigenous leather crafters are utilizing themes from their traditional cultures to apply to cell phone covers, notebook covers, business-card holders, wallets, pendants, bracelets, and handbags.
Filling Up on "Cultural Cuisine"
Just as with traditional art, traditional indigenous cuisine makes use of local materials. The men traditionally hunt, sometimes spending long periods in the mountains - preserving the meat they obtain to bring back to the people of their village. Game includes wild boar, Formosan muntjac, and flying squirrels. From the surrounding area also comes a variety of wild greens, used as food, flavoring, and medicine. But not everything is gathered; it is normally the women's duty to tend fields and paddies of millet and taro. In villages along the coast or rivers, fish and shrimp are also part of the diet. Although indigenous peoples suffer negative stereotyping, and are seen to be heavy drinkers, liquor made from fermented millet was traditionally only produced on special occasions. In fact, indigenous peoples do not think of millet wine as liquor; for example, in the Rukai language it is called "water that makes you feel less shy."
There are numerous restaurants in Hualien and Taitung counties serving up dishes made with traditional ingredients. Many owners grow their own greens; some gather wild greens. Boar can be found on some menus, but the meat is most likely from domesticated animals rather than hunted. The more adventurous can try wild-boar tartar, basically raw wild-boar meat pickled in salt. Or sample a dish of crispy cooked wild-boar skin. From about April through the end of summer, flying fish appears on menus.
Other dishes include a nourishing green papaya and chicken soup and betel-flower salad, a cold dish made from the blossoms of the tree that produces betel nuts. Pigeon peas are a common addition to cooked dishes and soups, and add a caper-like flavor. Some restaurants offer sticky-rice and meat dishes cooked inside bamboo tubes or wrapped in leaves. Mochi is a sticky-rice dessert. If it's not on the menu, there are numerous shops that sell it filled with sesame paste, red-bean paste, ground peanuts, or sweet green beans.
Ceremonies Highlight Traditional Customs
Among indigenous celebrations staged in Hualien and Taitung, the Amis Harvest Festival is the best known. Each Amis village holds its own festival, on average spanning three days, in the middle of July for Taitung villages and in August for Hualien villages. Villages also come together for collective harvest festivals. Participants dressed in traditional costume form a circle and dance to the chants of an elder. Some villages are very welcoming to tourists and may invite them into the dance circle. The Paiwan, Puyuma, and Rukai harvest festivals are also held during the summer.
Late in the year, usually in December, each Puyuma village holds a Monkey Festival in which males of the tribe - in the past - slaughtered a monkey as part of young braves' initiation into manhood. Today, grass replicas are used instead of monkeys.
At the end of April, the Bunun conduct their Ear Shooting Ceremony. This is a post-hunting season celebration. Its name comes from the practice of cutting off the ears of prey for the boys of the tribe to use as target practice in developing marksmanship.
There are also other ceremonies carried out throughout the year. For example, in Dongchang Village in Hualien's Jian Township there is a rich Amis shaman culture. Through a healing ceremony in which they communicate with the ancestral spirits, shamans identify and remove the causes of illness, usually negative forces that are creating an imbalance in the natural and supernatural worlds.
Places to Start your Indigenous-Culture Adventure
The best way to experience indigenous culture is to go straight to the source, the indigenous villages. The two largest Amis villages, Mataian and Taibalang, are located in Hualien's Guangfu Township. Mataian is unique in that it possesses a traditional Amis house that is more than 70 years old, which has been converted into a small museum. In the Mataian wetlands on the southwestern side of the village, traditional and ecologically friendly fishing methods are carried out. A restaurant next to the wetlands serves up fresh catch.
One of Taibalang's attractions is a small museum funded and run by the village's chieftain. The exhibits include models of traditional buildings as well as cultural artifacts such as traditional costumes and agricultural tools. In both villages there are artist workshops where it is possible to buy woodcarvings, pottery items, beaded jewelry, and woven items, and to watch the artists at work.
To learn about Taitung's Bunun culture, head to Bunun Village (Bunun Buluo) in Yanping Township. This is a resort offering accommodation, a restaurant serving indigenous cuisine, a stage for traditional music performances, and an exhibition center.
In Taitung's Beinan Township are located the Beinan Culture Park and National Museum of Prehistory. Designed as a complementary package, the culture park was opened first, an outdoor museum created around an active excavation site dating from the mid-to-late Neolithic Age. A few minutes' drive away, the National Museum of Prehistory displays the findings from this site, and its exhibitions introduce Taiwan's history from the time of the first human inhabitants more than 10,000 years ago to today's indigenous peoples.
Every summer the Festival of Austronesian and Formosa Indigenous Cultures is held in Taitung, including events at the culture park and the museum. It has been theorized that Taiwan is the origin of the Austronesian language family, which spread out to many other lands via boat. During the festival, performers and artists from Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Fiji, Palau, and other lands touched by the Austronesian diaspora show off their talents.
Taiwan is a cultural treasure trove, and all year around festivals, cultural events and ceremonies are held in towns and cities all over the island. With a lunar calendar used to decide dates, you can plan to be in the right place at the right time to witness any of these spectacular events.
Chinese New Year (Public Holiday)
As in Mainland China, New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first new moon of the year. This is a serious cause for celebration, with an official three day holiday period often extended into a week of revelry and fun. Street parties, fireworks and music dominate proceedings.
On the 15th day of the first moon, the towns of Yenshui, Luerhmen and Peikang literally erupt with color and spectacle as the lantern Festival begins. Visitors from all over Taiwan- and the world- gather for a loud and explosive celebration of Chinese fireworks- a must see for any pyro-technic fan.
Kuanyin is the goddess of mercy, and festivals in her honor are held at Buddhist temples all over Taiwan on her Birthday- the 19th day of the second moon. One of the main Taoist deities is Matsu- the goddess of the sea, who protects and blesses fisherman and sailors and is often prayed to by those embarking on a long journey over the sea. On her birthday (the 23rd day of the 3rd Moon) celebrations in her honor are held at Tao Temples.
Dragon Boat Festival (Public Holiday)
On the fifth day of the fifth moon, a major day of racing is held across the island. Long, beautifully decorated Chinese dragon boats, each with a crew of expert oarsmen, race for local and national titles. This spectacular event is watched live and on TV by most Taiwanese people, who also regard this day as a time to prepare and eat steamed rice zongzi dumplings.
For the entire seventh moon, ghosts dominate the island of Taiwan. Sometimes called the Mid-Summer Ghost Festival, this entire month is a period when it is believed that the spirits of the dead walk the earth. This is a long held Chinese Taoist belief, which has its roots with the birthday of the Chinese Guardian of Hell. It is believed he celebrates this day by decreeing an amnesty in the underworld, allowing all of the lost souls in hell to rise and return to earth for one month before being sent back.
During this month many special celebrations are held, with sacrifices and offerings laid out to feed and appease the wandering lost souls. The gates of tombs and graveyards are left open to allow the dead access to the world, and lanterns are floated in the sea to guide back the souls of those lost beneath the waves.
On the first and 15th day of the month, colorful ceremonies to honor the ghosts are held in public places and in Taoist temples.
All over Taiwan, Ghost month is regarded with a great deal of superstition, and it is believed to be unlucky to travel, marry or hold a funeral during this time, before the ghosts once again depart the earth, and return to the fires of hell.
The seventh moon may be dominated by ghosts, but there is still time for romance, and on the seventh day- it is Lovers day- the Chinese equivalent of St Valentine’s day.
Moon Festival (Public Holiday)
The Moon Festival is a time to celebrate the celestial light of the moon. During this annual holiday, which falls on the 15th day of the 8th moon, there are plenty of spectacular fireworks displays throughout the night, and bakeries everywhere sell traditional Moon Cakes! (This is also known as the Mid-Autumn festival).
Taiwan has its own cuisine, but has also embraced the best of mainland Chinese cooking. Visitors to Taiwan can experience Chinese food from all of the regions of China, from the roast duck, smoked chicken, lamb hotpot, fish in wine sauce, beef with green peppers, and scallop and turnip balls of the north to the camphor-tea duck, salty fried chicken with spices, honey ham, stir-fried shrimp, dry-fried eggplant, and spicy bean curd of the south.
As the island's economy has developed rapidly in recent years, its culinary culture has expanded beyond the traditional Chinese foods to Chinese-style fast-food chains and other Asian cuisines.
Taiwan has also developed an interest in international cuisine and there are now restaurants offering every imaginable global meal throughout the country.
Visitors to Taiwan will find their taste buds tantalized at every turn- as they discover the very best of Chinese cuisine from the traditional to the modern. While you’re there, try and sample each of these unique Chinese dishes:
Traditional Taiwanese cooking is relatively simple and light, using fresh ingredients and natural flavors. Taiwan is well known for its “tonic food”, made by blending different types of medicinal ingredients many of which have to be sourced and prepared seasonally throughout the year.
The Hakka people of Taiwan have their own unique cuisine, using a great deal of dried and pickled ingredients in their dishes. Meals are usually flavor rich and very filling with plenty of spice.
Cantonese or Chaozhou cuisine originates in Southern China, and is well known for its meticulous methods of preparation, and its wide variety of cooking styles- frying, roasting, steaming and boiling of a remarkable range of common and exotic ingredients. Specialties include Dim Sum, shark fin soup, abalone, squid and much more.
Sichuan and Hunan cuisine is a favorite with anyone who loves spicy food. Strong hot and full of flavor, Sichuan dishes include Smoked Duck, Dried Chili Beef and fish in spicy bean sauce.
This Northern Chinese cuisine combines the features of Qing Dynasty court dishes, Moslem cuisine, and Mongolian tastes, with steamed bread, dumplings and wheat noodles used rather than rice.
Jiangzhe or Shanghainese cooking originated in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the Southeastern coastal areas of China. As a result the predominant ingredient is seafood, with plenty of shrimp, crabs, eels, and fish.
National Palace Museum
Writing about Taiwan's National Palace Museum (NPM) is, perhaps, the "coals-to-Newcastle" equivalent of travel writing. This is to say, no visitor to Taipei needs to be informed of its existence or reminded of its incomparable collections. Indeed, the NPM is not just at the top of most tourists' must-do list - for some it is the main reason for visiting Taiwan.
Why add another thousand words to the millions already written about this "wonder of the museum world" then? The answer is both historical and practical in nature, as this year the NPM is celebrating two events. The first is the 80th anniversary of its founding in Beijing's Forbidden City on October 10, 1925; the second is the reopening at the end of the year of the museum's main building in northern Taipei after the NPM's first comprehensive renovation since it was re-established on November 12, 1965 following the meandering move of its vast trove of treasures to Taiwan.
Founding of the Museum
To recap for those who might not know: the NPM was founded on the imperial collections started by the emperors of the Song dynasty (960~1279 AD) and continued through the Yuan, Ming, Cing, and Republican periods to the present day. Particularly significant were the contributions added from the imperial workshops during the Cing dynasty (1644~1911 AD).
These imperial collections became "national treasures" following the revolution of 1911, but it was only after the last emperor, Henry Pu Yi, was forced from the Forbidden City in 1924 that a Palace Museum was established in the following year, and the general public could see for the first time the artifacts collected over a thousand-plus years.
Seven years later the Japanese invaded China, and the trove was packed into 19,000 crates. These were shipped south to Shanghai, then to Nanjing, Guizhou, and Sichuan. In 1945 the collection returned to Nanjing, only for the civil war to prevent the museum reopening. Following the Communist victory, the cream of the collection, about 4,000 crates, came to Taiwan in 1949 with the retreating Kuomintang forces.
The NPM in Taiwan
Despite construction of a magnificent palatial-style museum facility on the southern slopes of Yangmingshan in the 1960s, the NPM has not been able to display more than a fraction of its collection of more than 650,000 artifacts covering "every time period from the Neolithic to the present."
In fact, only about one percent can be displayed at any time. Exhibits are rotated every three months, and it is commonly held that just to see the 4,000 world-class paintings in the NPM's possession would require continual visits over several decades.
This is similarly true for the NPM's unmatched collection of Song dynasty works, one of the main reasons the museum is considered among the world's top four. Given that it would take almost a decade of regular visits to see the whole collection, the post-renovation re-launch at the end of the year is kicking off with a three-in-one exhibition of Song dynasty paintings and calligraphy, early printed books, and ru-ware ceramics from the innovative imperial kilns at Ruzhou in Henan Province. These latter are prized worldwide as much for their rarity (they were only produced for around two decades at the end of the 11th century) as for their high quality.
Occupying the special exhibition halls on the first, second, and third floors, the exhibitions will not only bring together the best of the NPM's own collection but also feature a number of key items borrowed from other museums. These include ru-ware from the David Percival Foundation of Chinese Art at the University of London and the Osaka Municipal Oriental Porcelain Museum; art and calligraphy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City; and a range of items from the Henan Provincial Bureau of Cultural Relics.
The major consideration throughout the nearly ten years of research, planning, and execution of the new design was to expand the NPM's space, both for displays and for visitors. While the museum's essential nature, known and beloved by Taiwanese and Taiwan's friends around the world, will not change, new displays will try to place artifacts more in historical contexts to bring them alive. Visitor routes will be made clearer and more user-friendly, Japanese-language tour guides will supplement the efforts of their Chinese- and English-language colleagues, and a variety of new printed materials will be published.
The Museum on the Web
Furthermore, creation of a "virtual NPM" on the Internet, which was begun in 1990, will continue apace. While this will never come close to replacing the first-hand experience of a visit to the museum, the web pages provide an invaluable resource. They can also be used before, after, or even during a visit (there are computer terminals set up throughout the NPM) to plan one's route or garner extra information.
Two good web pages to start with are one introducing the curators' choice of ten great national treasures and another showing choices made by visitors. The former includes items spanning different eras, from a 3,000-year-old bronze vessel inscribed with early examples of Chinese writing through three artifacts appearing in the Song dynasty exhibit to a 17th-century Tibetan mandala, and spans artistic fields from bronze ware and ceramics to painting, calligraphy, and early printed sutras. The visitors' choices, needless to say, include the perennially popular Jadeite Cabbage with Insects.
Even better than researching on the Internet, picking up the leaflets available free in every display room, or listening to the multilingual audio guide is to taking a docent tour. English tours are offered daily free of charge at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The real beauty of these tours is not so much in the information offered by the docents, who all take a four-month intensive course before they start, but in the enthusiasm with which they discuss the exhibits. Without any official rote-learned text, but armed with the fruits of their own research for each exhibition, they bring the artifacts alive by discussing those aspects they themselves find most interesting.
The NPM is not closed during the ongoing renovation and still has a good selection of important pieces and temporary exhibitions in part of the main building and in the southwest annex. In recognition of the reduced range of artifacts on display, however, the museum is offering a second visit free until the end of the year, so visitors during this final period of restoration should hang on to their first-visit tickets.
Souvenirs and More
Similarly, the NPM gift shops are still open and are still among the best places in Taiwan to find souvenirs and presents. Last year, the museum organized a competition for design companies to dream up new NPM-related products to be sold in the shops. Such imaginative creations as trays that make ice-cubes in the shape of famous NPM artifacts, a clock imitating the traditional incense-burning method of telling the time, and lollipops in the shape but not the flavor of ancient jades will go on sale in time for the reopening.
Finally, for those long-term residents or repeat visitors who, having spent much of the last, say, forty years keeping abreast of the NPM's exhibitions and feel they have seen everything on offer from the original 650,000-artifact trove, a new southern branch museum will open in Taibao City in Chiayi County in 2007. This will expand the museum's horizon from Chinese artifacts to those of Asia in general and, hopefully, will keep NPM aficionados busy for another forty years.
Restaurants are an important part of Taiwanese social life, and in most cities and towns you’ll literally find one on every corner. Restaurants range from 5 star establishments to cafes, noodle shops, snack bars, food courts and fast food shops.
With such a wide range of choice, you can always find the perfect spot for your ideal meal.
Taiwan is an excellent shopping destination, with everything from Ultra-modern shopping malls to traditional markets offering a wide array of goods.
Taiwan's ready access to Asia makes it an ideal place for the bargain hunter, with large scale shopping centers and malls for clothing, electronic goods, cosmetics and much more.
In many cities and large towns, Night Markets are a popular choice for shoppers. These open air street markets come to life in the cool of the evening, with stalls and vendors selling a remarkable range of products- and there are plenty of bargains to be had.
Taiwan has a diverse range of traditional handicrafts, all of which make excellent souvenirs.
Jade jewelry is very popular with both locals and visitors alike, with many elegant designs crafted from this precious Chinese stone.
Finely painted Chinese scrolls and traditional Chinese watercolors and decorated cloth are also widely available, as are bamboo and rattan mats and screens.
Pottery and ceramics are a great Chinese tradition and Taiwan is a great place to find both practical and decorative ceramic products- Tea sets for serving traditional Chinese tea are a particularly popular item.
Decorative incense burners are an important part of Buddhist culture and can be found all over Taiwan, and make great gifts and souvenirs.
For traditional handicrafts in Taipei- visit Lugang-Jhongshan Road, the Sanyi area for wood carving, Yingge for pottery or Jioufen for modern artwork.
One of the most popular traditional Chinese handicrafts is the “Name Chop”. A chop is a personalized seal, which can be carved from any number of materials. The chop is similar to an ink stamp, with the owners name carved in Chinese characters.
Chops have been used in China for centuries as a means of identification in place of a signature. Chop stamps in red ink are still used in Taiwan to authorize legal documents.
Visitors can have their name translated into Chinese characters and then have their own personalized chop made for them. Chops can be made inexpensively from wood, and more elaborate chops can be made from stone, jade or steel.
A boxed chop makes an excellent, very personal gift.
Tug-of-war — an Olympics fixture between 1900 and 1920 — is now a regular feature of the World Games. The women's contest, which is to be held in the National Sun Yat-sen University Affiliated High School Gymnasium, is expected to draw a big crowd. The Taiwanese ladies are the reigning champions, scoring one of the island's two gold’s in the 2005 Games in Duisburg, Germany.
The other winner was Chang Pei-wei in the men's pool competition, another category likely to do well in terms of ticket sales.
Canoe polo, as the name suggests, involves two teams going head-to-head and trying to score goals. As you've likely guessed, rather than ride horses, the players paddle, though kayaks rather than canoes. Many people think it’s much more fun than simply racing in a straight line, or slaloming against the clock, which is what Olympic paddlers do.
In Olympic archery, competitors stand behind a line and shoot at a target a fixed distance away. Field archery is regarded as more challenging, in that the archers must follow a course and shoot at targets over varying distances, sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill, and occasionally in poor lighting.
Nothing like the sport of orienteering appears in the Olympics. Orienteers are men and women who race across rough terrain; there may be hills to climb, forests to be navigated, and streams to be crossed. What makes it more difficult — and more interesting — is that there is no marked route. Competitors must use a map and a compass to find their way from one control point to another. The one that covers the entire course in the shortest time, having visited every one of the control points, is the winner.
Mountain-bike orienteering is popular; there are also ski and canoe variants. But Kaohsiung 2009, like previous World Games, will see foot racing only: one event for men, another for women, and a third for mixed relay teams. The IWGA's website describes orienteering as “highly athletic, mentally challenging, environmentally sound (because no fixed structures are used), and gender-neutral!”
Kaohsiung 2009 thus may not appeal much to fans of boxing, weightlifting, and track and field. However, those who adore the martial art called jujitsu, or rugby sevens (a variant featuring seven players per team instead of the usual 13 or 15), will enjoy seeing some of the world’s finest sportsmen and -women in action.
Taiwanese audiences are already familiar with sumo, a contact sport unlike any other. Invented in Japan and still retaining elements of the Shinto religion, this form of wrestling has in recent years gained fans throughout the world. The stars of the Japanese Professional Sumo Association's tournaments do not take part in the World Games, but the very best sumo wrestlers from Europe and North America will be there.
The invitational sports are also expected to garner a lot of attention. Among them, dragon-boat racing has long had a place in the hearts of the Taiwanese, as the sport is inextricably associated with the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
For those who don't know, a dragon boat is a long, thin, human-powered vessel. Teams consist of 20 oarsmen (or oarswomen), a helmsman at the back who steers through voice commands, and a drummer in the bow whose rhythmic pounding helps the crew coordinate their strokes.
Another invitational event is wushu, a broad martial-arts category that includes both performance and fighting skills. Jet Li, an actor who has found fame and success in Hollywood, won several gold medals in national wushu competitions in his native land, mainland China.
Beach handball needs little explanation, but relatively few people have heard of tchoukball, a derivative of handball. The latter was invented more than 30 years ago by a Swiss doctor who believed existing sports were too aggressive and caused too many injuries.
Tchoukball teams have 12 players, though only nine can be on the court at any one time. Teams can score points at either end of the court (tchoukball is almost unique in this regard) by bouncing a ball into one of the trampoline-like goals. Tchoukball is an established sport in Taiwan — the island played host for the 2004 World Championships, and triumphed in both the women's and junior divisions.
Some of the less-well-known official sports will surely intrigue open-minded viewers. There are two good reasons why the local audience just might embrace the obscure team sport known as korfball. The game is somewhat similar to basketball (in terms of regular participants, surely Taiwan's No. 1 sport), and Chinese Taipei (the name under which Taiwan participates in international sports events) placed second in the most recent World Youth Korfball Championships.
Korfball teams are six strong; four members must be female, and two have to be male. Points are scored by throwing the ball through a basket, called a “korf.” However, korfs are much higher than basketball nets — three-and-a-half meters above the court, to be precise — and players can only challenge opponents of the same sex. The sport emerged in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 20th century, and so far no nation has come close to overturning Dutch domination of the game.
Dance competitions always attract large audiences in Taiwan, and three forms will be contested in Kaohsiung 2009: Latin, rock 'n' roll, and standard.
Tickets for the dance events in Kaohsiung Arena will set you back between NT$400 and NT$1,200. Attending the opening ceremony will cost slightly more than that, but most of the other events have been priced very reasonably, NT$200 to NT$300 per session.
Sports enthusiasts naturally hope the games will spark long-term local interest in several of the disciplines featured in Kaohsiung 2009. Some are eminently suited to an island where space is at a premium. For instance, boules, a game especially popular in France during which players try to throw metal balls as close as possible to a smaller wooden ball, would fit in well with Taiwan's existing park culture.
The population is certainly becoming more and more interested in outdoor activities (the cycling explosion is dramatic proof of this). It might be interesting, in a decade's time or so, to look back and say, perhaps of boules, perhaps of another sport: “It wasn't much played here until the World Games of 2009. Then it suddenly took off!”