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Taiwan or also officially known as the Republic of China, a sovereign country located in East Asia. It is surrounded by People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the West, Japan to the Northeast, and the Philippines to the South.
The capital of Taiwan is Taipei or Taipei City in official records, being a special municipality that sits on the Northern tip of the island. A major part of the city area is situated on the Taipei Basin which is an ancient lakebed bounded by thin valleys of Keelung and Xindian rivers that would eventually join together to form the Tamsui River. Once known as Taipeh-fu during the Qing dynasty and Taihoku under the Japanese rule, Taipei became the capital since 1949. It is the centre of politics, economy, education and culture of the country, being one of the major hubs in East Asia. Partly a major high-tech industrial area, Taipei is connected to all parts of the island via railways, high-speed rail, highways, airports and bus lines. As of 2015, it is home to 2 million residents while its metropolitan area has a higher population count of roughly 7 million people. However, the population is not evenly distributed, with the districts of Daan, Songshan and Datong being much more populated than others.
Once an island was known as Formosa, in which the name came from the Portuguese sailors sighting of the island and marking it in their maps as Ilha Formosa which literally means a beautiful island. The island is said to be populated since 6, 000 years ago, with the majority of the settlers being farmers from mainland China. They are believed to be the ancestors of present day Taiwanese aborigines, having a much more diverse language family. It is only in the 13th century that Han Chinese fishermen began to come over to the nearby Penghu islands, yet the main island area remained unvisited till the 17th century where the Dutch East India Company established trading outposts and importing labourers from Fujian. In 1626, the Spanish Empire occupied Northern Taiwan but later, lost to the Dutch forces in 1642.
In 1662, Koxinga, a Ming dynasty loyalist seized control of the island from the Dutch and started the Kingdom of Tunging which lasted till 1683 when Qing dynasty annexed Taiwan to place it under the province of Fujian. This lasted till 1895 when the Qing dynasty was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War and the sovereignty of Taiwan, Penghu and Liaodong was ceded to the Empire of Japan. The Japanese colonial rule had driven the island’s industrialization but was forced out of Taiwan after the World War II. The political instability that occurred afterwards led to the Chinese Civil War between Chinese Nationalists and the Communist Party, in which the former further retreated into present-day Taiwan after several losses the Communist Party offensives. It was not until 1987 that the martial law is aborted and democratization process is completed in Taiwan and its economy grows rapidly to the point that it is regarded as one of the “Four Asian Tigers”.
A prominent language in Taiwan would unquestionably be Mandarin, further strengthening to its position as a national language by making it compulsory in schools as well as the restriction to other languages besides Mandarin during the implementation of the martial law. Nonetheless, there are also local dialects and other variants being spoken such as the Taiwanese Mandarin, Hokkien, Matsu, Hakka and aboriginal languages known as the Formosan languages.
The weather in Taiwan is tropical marine climate, considering its location on the Tropic of Cancer. The northern and central regions are typically subtropical, while the southern area is tropical and the mountain regions are temperate. Its rainy season is concurrent with the East Asian Monsoon in May June, while the hot and humid weather is experienced from June to September. July to September would witness a handful of typhoons as well.
The culinary experience in Taiwan would be unique, unlike any other. Regarded as one of the best food destinations in the world, the dishes here are made to be eaten in small portions but at a higher frequency. Most of the cuisines would witness the marriage of Min Nan, Teochew and Hokkien elements with a twist that includes the Japanese cooking techniques. There are also halal restaurants for Muslim tourists, as well as Indian, Turkish, German and Spanish dishes being served around town.
A ticket flight from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei would cost you around MYR500 to MYR 1100 per pack which is dependent on the choice of airline and the date of travel. Note that Taipei is served by two airports, namely Taipei Songshan and Taiwan Taoyuan, in which the primary international gateway would usually be Taoyuan International Airport. Once you reach the airport, there is a multitude of modes of transportation to choose from in order to get around town such as a plane, train, bus, rapid transit, taxi, scooter, motorcycle and car, with the latter three being available for rent depending on the city. From Taipei, the access to other cities is pretty much well established due to the extensive domestic carriers, high-speed rails, train stations available in all major cities and bus networks jointly operated by local governments or private companies running shuttle services. Therefore tourists do not have to be worried about getting around town.
The only way to make the best choice is to plan your route accordingly – if you are going to the smaller islands, the plane would be your best bet, while high-speed rail would save time and the rail stations allow bypassing highways. If you are coming over with a tight budget, going by bus would be a good idea since the cost is much lower. For end-to-end trips, there is always the taxis. Rent scooter, motorcycle and cars only if you are well-versed with the roads and would like to exercise higher flexibility in your schedule.
There is limited cruise service operated by Star Cruises from Keelung and Kaohsiung to Hong Kong and other Japanese islands. In addition to that, there are ferries heading to Matsu from Fuzhou which runs twice daily. The tickets would cost ¥350 CNY between mainland China and NT$1,300 from Taiwan and the trip would take around two hours. After reaching Matsu, one can also look for ferries heading to Keelung. Nonetheless, the trip would include a bed since it is taking 10 hours to reach there. Other cities like Xiamen and Quanzhou on the mainland would also offer several ferry services to Kinmen, while Xiamen at Dongdu Harbor has weekly ferry heading to Keelung as well.
It feels incomplete to come over to Taiwan without spending the time to appreciate the remarkable buildings and facilities as well as the city layout. Taipei alone as the main city definitely has a lot to offer in terms of awe-inspiring landmarks such as the Taipei 101 which used to be the tallest skyscraper in the world, Shihlin Night Market which is the most famous night market in the town, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial built in memory of Chiang Kai-Shek and Longshan Temple which is the renowned temple in Taiwan.
Taiwan is well recognized for its vibrant night markets which are typically open-air on the street or the alleyway. One may be able to get a good bargain on goods such as jade, computers, lingzhi, tea and iron eggs, in which some haggling skills are necessary. In addition to that, there are also prim and proper shopping centres selling more genuine items and would also allow credit card purchases.
While Taiwan has been known as a major industrial hub housing a lot of electronic factories, there are still some parts of the island in which the natural wonders have been relatively untouched which is prime for ecotourism. One of such would be the Taroko Gorge which is a massive 19 kilometres long canyon found in the Taroko National Park which also has 144 species of birds and 30 species of mammals among others. Central Mountain Range is ideal for hiking or just walking along the trails of bamboo forests. Beach lovers would find themselves in love with Kenting.
Located approximately 50 kilometres from Taoyuan International Airport, this three-star property is close to some of the established shopping centres and districts around. The facilities are maintained well and the service provided is definitely satisfying.
Ximen WOW Hostel is a modern hostel with a very vibrant setup and glowing environment that allows interaction with fellow travellers, which is great if you are coming as a solo backpacker. The staffs are friendly and helpful and the place is really clean, giving a nice touch to the stay.
For those who come to Taiwan or specifically Taipei with bigger pax size, this hotel might be a good choice. Its room offerings are typically much bigger and spacious, and the decoration is prim and proper. There is also an in-house dining establishment serving wonderful breakfast, yet guests are advised to come over early in order to avoid having run out of seats.