If you thought the only things to come out of Taiwan were laptops, toys and bikes bearing the words ‘Made in Taiwan’, then think again.
When 16th-century Portuguese sailors first came across Taiwan’s dramatic sea cliffs and white sand Pacific beaches, they named it Ilha Formosa, or ‘Beautiful Island’. This often overlooked island has jaw-dropping national parks, quiet surf beaches, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and round island bike tours, and some of the most hospitable people in the world. They are also some of the most liberal in Asia, having just legalised same-sex marriage.
Compact, diverse and with hidden gems still to uncover, here’s why Taiwan should be on your travel radar.
In May 2016, Tsai Ing-wen became Taiwan’s first female president. An avid supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, workplace equality and female participation in politics, she’s helped to influence the country’s social and political landscape. It’s partly down to this modern and free-thinking climate, combined with hundreds of years of ancient traditions and hospitality, that Taiwan regularly ranks in the top ten friendliest nations in the world. With an offer of help on pretty much every corner, it’s also a great destination for solo and female travellers.
It’s out and proud
On May 24, 2019, Taiwan sent a massive rainbow-coloured message to both its more conservative Asian neighbours, and to the rest of the world, by becoming the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage. The news was met with tears and celebrations by the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters, a huge amount of national pride, and a rush for couples to tie the knot.
The capital, Taipei, also hosts one of the planet’s most famous annual Pride parades, which happens over four days each October.
It’s also camp
Taiwan is a tantalisingly diverse mix of modern and ancient, man-made and natural. So if your expectations are of steam-filled night markets, exciting karaoke bars, intricate temples and sky-scraping rooftop bars, you won’t be disappointed. However, Taiwan is also home to more places to stay than just high-rise hotels. Mainly, its campsites.
Somewhat unexpected, but perhaps not surprising given that much of the country’s lush mountainous interior and rugged coastline are dedicated national parks and national scenic areas, Taiwan has more than 1,700 campsites. From luxury wilderness yurts, to riverside huts and roughing it under your two-person festival tent, Taiwan has seen a surge in camping in recent years. If you’re looking to discover the island’s great outdoors, this is the way to do it.
We’re not just talking about its vivid mountains, valleys and volcanoes, but also its initiatives. Famous for manufacturing and exporting its bikes all over the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Taiwan has some incredible cycling. Which, combined with its impressive rail network, makes it an ideal destination for eco-conscious travellers.
The country is set up for cyclists. The roads are smooth and well-maintained, drivers are respectful of bike lanes, and there’s even an initiative where all the police stations are Bike Aid Stations if you need to stop for help or directions.
In 2009, the government also initiated a Bicycle Network Path Construction Plan to encourage more two-wheeled riders. There are currently 2,500 miles of cycle trails across the country, with routes suitable for all riders, from week-long challenging mountain trails to cross-island routes and coastal roads.
The route from Taipei to Kenting, which dissects stretches of wild coastline, dramatic gorges and hot springs, is one of the most famous for experienced bikers. Or if you need even more of a challenge, the Formosa 900 – a 900-kilometre race that circumnavigates the entire island along Cycle Path 1 – takes place every November.
While Taiwan is now well-known for its national parks and neon cities, it still doesn’t seem to rank on our beach radars in the way that other Asian countries do. Time to change that.
For a start, it’s an island. And what do islands mean? Coastlines. Approximately 700 miles of coastline, flanked by the year-round warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. There is something for every beachcomber – surf beaches, luxury beaches, rugged beaches, and some fun seaside towns to explore. Also, many of its best beaches are just a metro ride from Taipei, so your city stopover can easily include some sandcastle building.
Snorkellers, kayakers and surfers should head to Ping Tung County, the island’s southernmost county. Subtropical in climate, it is home to Kenting National Park – Taiwan’s first national park. With spring-like conditions year-round, it’s a great place for wildlife, bird life and exploring on foot or bikes.
Surfers should definitely check out Baishawan Beach, Junshan Beach in Yangmingshan National Park, Wushi Harbor and Taitung Beach, which all have a decent local surf scene, great waves and surf shops.
If you’re more of a sunbather than boarder, try Dawan Beach. Flanked by a luxury resort, it’s both peaceful and pristine.
For a contrast to the sleek skyscrapers of Taipei, photographers should head to Laomei Green Reef by taking the metro. The naturally carved stone troughs and bright green algae make for some stunning photography.
Convinced? Check out our Taiwan travel guide.