by Hugh Morris, The Daily Telegraph, October 19, 2017
The first non-stop flights from the UK to Taiwan in five years will launch in December, courtesy of China Airlines. From its 100 peaks above 3,000 metres to a toilet-themed restauurant, here are 15 reasons why you should concern yourself with visiting the Asian island.
1. There's a museum of 696,422 exhibits
The sixth most visited museum in the world (6.1m people each year), and home to an impressive 696,422 exhibits, the National Palace Museum in Taipei is a tremendous repository showcasing more than 8,000 years of Chinese art.
John O’Ceallaigh, who visited for the Telegraph in 2017, said it boasts “some of the most exquisite artworks in existence”, while the building itself, on a verdant hillside on the outskirts of the city, is a “dramatically beautiful, multi-tiered complex”. Its vast galleries are dedicated to luminescent jades, lustrous lacquerwares and paraphernalia ranging from snuff bottles to rare bronzes to intriguing oddities such as an intricately detailed miniature boat carved from an olive pit.
2. A gigantic gold bar
In the mountain town of Jinguashi is the Gold Ecological Park where visitors can learn about the history of gold mining in the region, and marvel at one of the original tunnels. And at the park’s museum, you can touch one of the largest gold bars in the world - weighing in at 222kg.
3. And a toilet-themed restaurant
For a different kind of cultural experience, head to Modern Toilet, a lavatory-themed restaurant. “Diners sit on loos decorated with cartoon toilet seats and tuck into novelty dishes – including chocolate ice cream styled to resemble faeces – eaten from miniature cisterns and bedpans: a truly weird culinary experience that’s a big hit with young Taiwanese,” wrote Sally Howard for Telegraph Travel . Each to their own.
4. But Taiwanese food is actually very good
Toilet establishments aside, the cuisine is reason enough to visit Taiwan. Enjoy spicy pork dumplings and beef noodle soup bought from street vendors or gorge on platefuls of xiaochi or “small eats” at one of the nation’s 300 night markets.
5. It has a fascinating history
First inhabited by indigenous Taiwanese before it was colonised by the Dutch and then the Spanish in the 17th century, Taiwan came under Japanese rule after the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The Republic of China then took the island back in 1945. Today, its political status is somewhat ambiguous, having been the safehouse for the ousted Republic of China government after the People's Republic of China won the Chinese Civil War. Its cultural heritage, therefore, is a blend of traditional Chinese, Japanese, Confucianist beliefs and modern, Western values.
6. They love their night markets
Hustling, bustling, buzzing and brightly lit, the night markets of Taiwan are quite an experience. From the best-known Shilin Night Market to Tainan Flowers Night Market, these open-air festivals of sound, smell and taste take place on different nights around the island so be sure to research ahead. There is around 300 to choose from.
7. You can soak in a hot spring
“The result of being located on a tectonic join, the springs come in various colours, temperatures and mineral make-ups, and their popularity among visitors is another legacy of the Japanese,” wrote Ben Lerwill for Telegraph Travel in 2013, of the springs mostly found in the east of the country. “I visited the Ruisui springs, which were warm enough to boil me into an afternoon-long submission. I wallowed until the stars came out.”
8. It has a green and lush valley
Taiwan’s East Rift Valley runs along the island’s eastern coast and boasts acres of rich, lush countryside. Ben Lerwill writes: “While much of the west holds industrial zones and urban settlements, the opposite coast is far quieter. The last portion of my trip was spent in the East Rift Valley, a deep green landscape sliced in two by the Tropic of Cancer, marked by rice paddies and a continuous wall of enormous broken ridges. It is countryside crying out to be explored, a fact aided by a comprehensive network of cycle trails. I spent hours circling the farming town of Guanshan on a hired bike, disturbing little other than flocks of egrets and the occasional water buffalo.”
9. And a bling monastery
“Retail opportunities are not typically associated with monastic orders, but there is nothing typical about the gargantuan Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli Town, where tourists are escorted by saffron-robed monks sporting photo identity cards and earphones and by microphone-wired security guards,” says Anthony Lambert, a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel. “The $190,000 woodcarvings in the shop seem to be the least of their worries. If Mecca is turning into Las Vegas, as a report once suggested, the Chung Tai Chan Monastery is more Canary Wharf meets Las Vegas.
“The colossal structure, finished around the year 2000, dominates the surrounding countryside. Its gold-topped stupa on a 37-storey tower is flanked by sloping barrack blocks for the 1,600 monks, ending in wings with faux battlements, machicolations and arrow slits.”
Chung Tai Chan MonasteryCredit: getty 10. But plenty more arresting places of worship
The island has more traditional religious buildings, too, not least the Unesco-recognised Baoan Temple.
11. There is a gnarly railway
Speaking of Unesco, the world heritage group is mulling over awarding World Heritage Status to the Alishan Forest Railway, an 86km network of narrow gauge railways running throughout the mountain resort of Alishan. Opened in 1912, passengers enjoy dozens of switchbacks, 50 tunnels and more than 70 wooden bridges.
12. Plus a high-speed network
At the other end of the rail spectrum is Taiwan’s high speed network, which opened in 2007 and links the capital, Taipei, to the southern city of Kaohsiung (reaching speeds of 186mph along the way).
13. Taipei was once home to the tallest building in the world
The tallest building in the world between 2004 and 2010, when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took over, Taipei101 (the figure denoting the number of floors) towers over the capital, serving as an icon for the modern evolution of the country. Its lifts reach speeds of 37.6mph, flinging passengers from the fifth to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. There is an observation deck on the 91st floor, some 1,285 feet above the ground.
14. The opportunities for hiking are vast
Taiwan, despite its fairly small size, is home to nine national parks, including Yushan, in which the nation’s highest peak - of the same name - resides. Its maximum height of 12,966 feet gives it the fourth highest elevation of any island in the world.
More than 20 per cent of the country is protected land - in the form of either national park, forest or state reserve - while another 30 per cent is forest. Its network of hiking trails is a paradise for walkers, especially the highly regarded Taroko Gorge routes, while the 100 Peaks of Taiwan (each above 3,000 metres) is a lifetime's work for mountaineers.
15. There's nationwide free internet
Taiwan rolled out free Wi-Fi in 2011, allowing residents to log on to the island's network, ITaiwan, at thousands of hotspots.
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