Taiwan has always been a popular refuge from mainland China. Over the centuries, everyone from fortune hunters and farmers to persecuted minorities and exiled members of the royal court has found a haven there. So when Nationalists fled the Communist takeover of the mainland in 1949, taking with them the imperial collection of Chinese artifacts, Taiwan welcomed this mass exodus of 1.5 million Chinese and became known as Taiwan, Republic of China, under the leadership of Nationalist General Chiang Kai-shek, who became the first president.

Although time has stood still in certain corners of Taiwan, most tourists concentrate their time in the capital, Taipei, known for its very modern problems such as congested traffic and pollution as well as its cultural offerings and lively nightlife. You can croon in a karaoke bar or shop for just about anything at its bustling night markets. Although we don't recommend bypassing the mainland in favor of this small, compact island, we do think Taiwan deserves a place on your itinerary if you're touring other countries in the region. Its highly industrialized capital may also bring you there for business, in which case it's worth taking in the beautiful landscapes, rugged mountains and ancient temples—many within a day's journey of Taipei.

The modern and the old haven't exactly blended in Taiwan—they coexist. There are days when you'll feel you're very much in a developing country: You can't drink the tap water, the cities are somewhat dirty, and anarchy reigns in the traffic lanes. But there are also hotels in Taipei that can match any in the world for elegance, service and comfort, and business travelers will find a modern communication system that's capable of handling their needs without much fuss.

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