Taiwan, Who? (cited from lonelyplanet.com)
Taiwan is a modern industrialized megalopolis clinging to the fringes of an ancient culture; a string of stinking cities at the feet of a glorious mountain range. It's traditional noodles from a 7-Eleven, aboriginal tribes in mini-skirts and a day of temple rituals followed by waterslide rides. The human tide of Taipei will sweep you off your feet, but if you step outside the city limits you'll discover why Taiwan is known as Ilha Formosa, 'the beautiful island'. Mountain peaks puncture a sea of clouds, slick black volcanic rock wrap the coastlines and waterfalls shroud themselves in mist: Taiwan is a computer-generated Chinese watercolor.
Facts at glance:
Full country name: Republic of China
Area: 35,563 sq km (13,869 sq mi)
Capital city: Taipei (population 2,637,000)
People: Taiwanese (70%), Aboriginal (2%), Chinese
Language: Taiwanese, Mandarin Chinese (Many people speak English)
Religion: Buddhism, Taoism
Government: Democratic Republic
Shaped a little like a leaf, Taiwan is an island 160km (99mi) off the coast of China. The island's total area is 35,563 sq km (13,869 sq mi) - it's 394km (244mi) long and 144km (89mi) wide. Taiwan's spine is a ridge of steep mountains, falling away to a rocky coastline on the east and a narrow, fertile plain (where 90% of the population lives) on the west. Mount Yushan is, at 3952m (12,963ft), the highest peak in North-East Asia outside of Tibet. The small islands of Penghu, Lanyu, Green, Liuchiu, Kinmen, Matsu and Wuchiu are controlled by Taiwan. The island's high mountain forests are predominantly cyprus, although camphor used to grow in abundance. Taiwan was once home to many endemic species, including the Formosan black bear, the Formosan Sika deer and the Formosan landlocked salmon. In its headlong scurry towards economic prosperity, Taiwan has managed to destroy most of the western coast's habitat and wipe out a species or two, although the inaccessibility of the rest of the island has made it a natural wildlife reserve. But in the last 20 years Taiwan has declared 67 reserves, including six national parks, and instituted some fairly hefty environmental legislation.
Although Taiwan is subtropical, the mountains can be chilly in summer (June to August) and snowy in winter (December to February). During winter it rains pretty much non-stop in the north-east, while the south-west is much warmer and drier. Summer is hot and sticky all over the low parts of the island, with drenching rains in the mountains. Daytime temperatures in Taipei are around 30°C (86°F) in summer and 20°C (68°F) in winter.
Taiwanese culture is very similar to that of China. Chinese opera, and its half-sibling Taiwanese opera, are an integral part of the culture: you probably won't understand a word, but the costumes, music, acting and atmosphere are beautiful nonetheless. Most Chinese music is made with string instruments or flutes, but you'll have to go out of your way to hear the delightful melodies these produce. You're far more likely to hear the strident noise of temple trumpets and gongs.
The Taiwanese take health and longevity very seriously. Many practise taijiquan - slow motion shadow boxing - for exercise and as an art form. If you're an early riser, you will often see groups of people gliding through the graceful motions of taijiquan as the sun rises. Chinese medicine, acupuncture and faith healing - quigong - provide an alternative to a growing western medical system. Superstitious about death, the Taiwanese avoid its symbols - white and the number four - and never talk about dying or accidents. Despite this, people do die, and when they do the tip-toeing attitude goes out the window. Taiwanese funerals are reminiscent of a Saoshing-soaked night in a karaoke bar: electric organs belt out funeral tunes, bikini-clad women sing songs (and sometimes strip) and everyone eats a great deal.
Taiwan can be a cultural minefield for the uninformed visitor. As in China, 'face' is vital, and destroying someone's face is surprisingly easy to do. In order to save others' face, the Taiwanese rarely express their emotions or speak frankly: smiles and politeness all-round are the norm. Gift-giving - especially when the gift is prestigious - flattery, self-deprecation and flowery rhetoric are an everyday part of Taiwanese interaction. As well as saving face, this rigmarole creates guanxi, a relationship of two-way obligations which allows participants to ask the most outrageous favours of one another.
The Taiwanese love to eat, and they love to feed guests. Food here is much the same as in China, with dishes from Beijing-Shandong, Sichuan-Hunan, Shanghaiese and Cantonese-Chaozhou cuisine. The Taiwanese have added a subtropical flavor with plenty of seafood and the liberal use of sugar. Eating out can be another excuse for a display of face-making, with everyone ordering exotic, high-priced dishes and competing with each other to pay the entire bill. Special foods to keep an eye out for include moon cakes (made during the Moon Festival in Autumn), spring rolls (sold in April), rice dumplings (made for the Dragon Boat Festival) and red turtle cakes (for birthdays and temple worship).
Facts for travelers:
Visas: Some visitors from western Europe, Australia and the USA can stay in Taiwan for five days (not extendable) without a visa. Everyone else needs a visa, which allows a 60-day stay. Single entry visas are easy to get, but if you want a multiple entry visa get it before you leave home. Because the Republic of China (Taiwan) is not recognized by most countries, you'll have to get your visa from a Taiwanese 'pseudo embassy' - look for trade offices, travel services or friendship associations.
Health risks: No particular risks, but you should consider vaccinations for hepatitis.
Time: GMT/UTC plus eight hours
Electricity: 110V, 60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
Flight ticket: If you book early, it can be less than $US 700 round trip.