Taiwan is a great vacation destination and I think it’s overlooked by too many people. It is a warm tropical environment, has a very welcoming population, and isn’t as expensive as Japan, Korea, Australia, or Hong Kong.
Taiwan is a large tropical island near China, Japan, and the Philippines with a wealthy, developed economy and democratic government. Modern Taiwan is essentially ethnically Chinese with a western style democratic government. Why? The briefest history of Taiwan is that it was a colony of the Chinese mainland starting in the 1600s, taken by Japan before World War 2, returned after the war, and finally separated from China when the losing faction of the Chinese civil war retreated there a couple years later. Since then they have given up aspirations of taking back China and transitioned from an authoritarian government to a real republic.
Taiwan is a place of hustle and bustle combined with serenity. It has 23 million people on an island the size of Maryland and its large cities are some of the largest in the world, but at the same time much of the island is mountainous and sparsely populated. It’s easy to spend a week wandering around the megalopolis that is its capital Taipei and then another week backpacking through uninhabited jungles.
The number and variety of options available to the traveler to Taiwan can be overwhelming, here are some of the resources I’ve found most helpful.
- WikiTravel – My first stop for any journey, the WikiTravel entry for Taiwan is great. It contains helpful information on how to get there, how to get around once you’re there, and of course ideas for what to do. It also has a brief section on Taiwan’s history and culture which I found interesting. If you know you want to go to a specific area (Taipei, Taroko, etc) they have pages with more in depth information.
- Forumosa - A large and vibrant forum for all things relating to Taiwan (the island used to be known as Formosa). They have tips and tricks for getting around, lists of events in every part of the island, and people willing to answer questions. You can often find invites to events and adventures, it’s well worth a look.
- Explore Taipei Metro Map – Iphone, Android – An easy to use metro map and stop locator. This brand is popular and has maps all over the world, the Taipei version is good and easy to use with all the features you’d expect (trip planning, finding closest stop via GPS, offline and online maps of stops, etc).
- MapsWithMe Taiwan Offline Map – Iphone, Android – I have always found a solid map you can use offline is incredibly important to find your way around. Nothing is worse than trudging around a strange area looking for a hotspot when you have somewhere to be. In my experience the map is up to date and is as useful as as offline maps can be. You can save destinations, find your location via GPS, and do basic searches for restaurants or touristy spots.
- Forbidden Nation by Jonathan Manthorpe – This book is easy reading and covers a lot of ground in explaining Taiwan as it currently exists. If I could suggest one book to someone who wants to understand Taiwan this would be it.
- On China by Henry Kissinger – Kissinger is a legendary figure in politics from the second half of the 20th century and one of the things he’s most famous for is initiating formal recognition of Communist mainland China. In this book he explains that situation and also covers what happened before and since. This book provides a fantastic grounding in the Communist vs Nationalist Chinese civil war which is really the basis for understanding Taiwan in it’s modern form.