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Situated off the coast of mainland China, mountainous Taiwan buzzes with action. From thriving cities to its arresting natural beauty, the island offers travellers an enticing menu of attractions.
Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan when the Communist Party seized control in 1949. Under their leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, they left the mainland with national treasures, gold, and foreign reserves. Their goal was to regroup and retake China. They did not and relations between the two parties remain tense. Still, Taiwan has thrived since the civil war ended.
Today, its cities are wonderfully layered, with traditional folk festivals and ancient temples existing alongside glass-fronted boutiques and bustling streets. Visitors relish the harmonious blend of old and new in one of Asia's great economic success stories.
For nature lovers, Taiwan's national parks have some fascinating wildlife species, many of which are rare or endangered. Popular outings include train trips through the Alishan mountain range or hiking in Taroko Gorge.
All told, visitors to Taiwan will enjoy the cream of Asian sophistication, and some of the region's finest landscapes.
Taipei 101 is the city's financial centre and was once the world's tallest building. Designed to resemble a gigantic bamboo stalk, it is Taipei's major landmark. There are observation decks on the 88th and 89h floors.
The building's lift takes a thrilling 40 seconds to get from ground level to the 89-th floor, where a spectacular view awaits visitors. Decent restaurants and some of the city's swankiest malls make up the lower levels.
Taipei's biggest and best night market is not just for shopping. Instead, it is a cultural experience that every visitor should enjoy. The action begins when the sun sets and thousands of stalls and stores open for business. They sell everything from clothing to pets, souvenirs and DIY tools. It's wise to visit with an empty stomach, given the array of tempting treats on offer.
Taipei's National Palace Museum houses an astonishing collection of Ancient Chinese artefacts and artwork. Representing over 5000 years of Chinese history, it is the largest and perhaps finest collection of Chinese art in the world.
Once displayed in the Forbidden City, Beijing, the collection was moved to Taipei as a result of the Chinese Civil War. Visitors can view world-famous exhibits such as the 'Jade Cabbage' (a piece of jade carved to resemble a cabbage head), and a valuable copy of the Qingming Scroll.
Longshan is one of the most popular temples in Taipei. Dedicated to Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy, it is an excellent example of the architecture commonly seen in Taiwan's older buildings.
Built in 1738 to be a place of worship for Chinese settlers, its troubled history has seen it destroyed several times. To date, it has suffered damage by earthquakes, fires and even American bombers during World War II. Undaunted, Taipei residents have rebuilt it each time, and it remains very much in use.
Taipei Zoo is home to hundreds of animals, including local Taiwanese species such as the flying fox, Formosan black bear and Chinese pangolin. Arranged into different habitat sections that contain their native species, the zoo lets visitors see African savannah wildlife, tropical rainforest creatures and more in context. Visitors should set aside at least three hours to take everything in.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park is the pride of Taipei. Built in memory of the former Taiwanese President, the walled complex contains an impressive, pyramid-shaped monument to Chiang Kai-shek. It's also home to the National Concert Hall and National Theatre.
Everything stands inside a lovely park, which is fronted by a vast plaza where folk performances or other events often take place. The Memorial is also the main venue for Taipei's famed Lantern Festival, Shangyuan. It draws thousands of lantern-carrying revellers to mark the Chinese New Year.
Taipei has a humid subtropical climate. Summers are warm, sunny and humid, with average daytime highs reaching 90°F (32°C). Winters are cool and mild, with temperatures of around 61°F (16°C). Due to Taipei's location, it is affected by the Pacific typhoon season, which occurs between June and October.
Taiwan has sub-tropical climate. Temperatures vary from hot and humid in the south, to cooler in the north and inland mountainous region. Sudden rain showers frequently occur all over the country, making rainwear an essential part of a visitor's luggage.
The driest time of year is autumn (September and October). A short, generally damp and chilly winter follows, during which snow falls on the island's mountain peaks. Summer temperatures can reach 90ºF (35ºC) at the coast. Summer is also typhoon season.
Taiwan's currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (TWD). Foreign currencies can be exchanged at government-designated banks and hotels. Receipts are given when currency is exchanged, and must be presented in order to exchange unused dollars before departure. Major credit cards are accepted and ATMs are plentiful. Banks are open Monday to Friday.
Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, but Taiwanese (also called Hokkien) is often spoken. There is a growing number of English speakers.
Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin, flat blade plugs are standard.
US nationals: US citizens do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days, provided they hold a passport valid for the period of intended stay. Visas cannot be extended or converted. Visitors not holding return/onward tickets could be refused entry.
UK nationals: Passports must be valid for six months from date of arrival. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days for holders of British passports with nationality of 'British Citizen'. Those with temporary or emergency passports endorsed 'British Citizen' can obtain a visa on arrival for stays of up to 30 days. Holders of British passports with other endorsements should confirm official requirements.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days, provided they hold a passport valid six months from their date of arrival.
AU nationals: Australian nationals may stay in Taiwan for up to 90 days without a visa, provided they hold a passport valid six months from their date of arrival.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a visa for travel to Taiwan and a passport valid for six months after intended travel. Passengers with an ROC (Taiwan) Business and Academic Travel Card issued by Chinese Taipei are exempt for a maximum stay of 30 days.
IR nationals: Irish nationals may stay in Taiwan for up to 90 days without a visa and require a passport valid for at least six months from entry.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from entry. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days.
According to Taiwan health regulations, travellers arriving from areas infected with yellow fever must carry vaccination certificates. Also, travellers are advised to have up-to-date vaccines for hepatitis A and typhoid, while long-term travellers should be inoculated against Japanese encephalitis.
Due to recent outbreaks of dengue fever, insect repellents and other measures to prevent mosquito bites are recommended for those travelling to the southern part of the island. Visitors should only drink bottled water and should be wary of potential food poisoning. Taiwan's medical facilities are first-class, but health insurance is recommended for travellers.
Aside from baggage handlers and service personnel in international hotels, tipping in Taiwan is generally not expected. Hotels and restaurants will usually add a 10 percent service charge to the bill.
Most visits to Taiwan are trouble-free. The country has only a low incidence of petty crime, and is considered safe. The only threats are natural ones, given that the island is prone to typhoons and tropical storms, as well as earthquakes and tremors. These are seldom severe.
The concept of 'saving face' is very important on the island, and tourists should try to avoid embarrassing the Taiwanese. Self-control is another key point of etiquette, with locals frowning on outbursts and other public spectacles.
Also, Taiwanese customs include a number of superstitions, such as not writing another person's name in red. Visitors should remove their shoes before entering a person's home. Physical contact with strangers is considered impolite.
Doing business in Taiwan is a pleasure for those who value a high work ethic and technologically savvy business partners. The island has traded heavily with the West for many years and business formalities have melded over time. That said, it's important to observe and respect the cultural heritage many cling to.
Confucian values tend to dictate business etiquette in Taiwan. Consequently, local attitudes revolve around gratitude, respect, mutual understanding and studiousness. Also, bar a few multi-nationals, most businesses in Taiwan are medium-sized and family-owned. In this context, the family's paternal head is always consulted, meaning business decisions can take longer.
Two important aspects of business culture in Taiwan are face and 'Guanxi' (relationships). Face relates to the dignity of a person or a company, and it informs all social and business interactions. It's important to save face at all times. For this reason, foreigners should not correct colleagues or expect them to correct themselves.
Regarding business relationships, gift-giving and conducting deals slowly are key to operating in Taiwan. Generally, business people give a simple gift to all members involved in a meeting, and a better gift to the most important person. It's impolite to open gifts in front of hosts.
Foreigners should always accept invitations to events outside of normal business hours, as this is when locals build relationships. Business people consider it disrespectful to make direct or prolonged eye-contact with someone who is in a very senior position. However, they always direct conversation to the most senior person in the meeting.
The Taiwanese expect punctuality for meetings. Shaking hands is common for men and women nowadays, though a bow goes a long way as a sign of respect. Business hours are from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Business cards are exchanged often and should be printed in both English and Mandarin. Work clothes tend to be formal and conservative. Men wear dark suits, women wear modest dresses and skirts rather than pants. Mandarin is the language of business and hiring a translator is often necessary.
Taiwan's international access dialling code is +886. Local network operators provide mobile telephone services in various regions. Most hotels in Taipei have internet access in their rooms.
Travellers aged over 20 may enter Taiwan without paying customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 454g tobacco, 1 bottle of alcohol (maximum 1 litre), and a reasonable amount of perfume. Travellers are also permitted to bring personal goods valued up to NT$20,000 duty free (or NT$10,000 for those under 20 years). Guns, narcotics, fresh meat and fruit are prohibited.
Taiwan Tourist Office: +886 2 2349 1500 (Taipei) or https://eng.taiwan.net.tw/
Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Washington DC, United States: +1 202 895 1800.
Taipei Representative Office, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7881 2650.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 231 5080.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Barton, ACT, Australia: +61 2 6120 2000.
Taipei Liaison Office, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 6071/2/3.
Taipei Representative Office, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 678 5413.
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 4 473 6474.
American Institute in Taiwan, Taipei: +886 2 2162 2000.
British Office Taipei (formerly British Trade and Cultural Office), Taiwan: +886 2 8758 2088.
Canadian Trade Office, Taipei: +886 2 8723 3000.
The Australian Office in Taipei: +886 2 8725 4100.
Liaison Office of South Africa, Taipei: +886 2 2715 2295.
Office closed in 2012.
New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office, Taipei: +886 2 272 05228. After hours emergency assistance for New Zealanders Phone: +886 934 404 594.
Public transport in Taipei relies on the MRT (subway), and the city's vast bus network.
The MRT covers most tourist spots and is generally the best option for transport. All MRT stations have ticket machines, with prices ranging from about TWD 20 to TWD 65, depending on the distance. Travellers can purchase day passes, while the rechargeable EasyCard is a good option for those spending more than a few days in the city.
The bus network is a bit confusing for foreigners and most get by without using it. Metered taxis are available, though drivers rarely understand English. Travellers should have destinations written down in Chinese if they plan on using taxis.
The soaring Taipei 101 Tower is the capital's greatest engineering feat, and one of its best-loved sights. It's also the city's international financial centre.
Another popular attraction is the National Palace Museum. Through its collection of ancient artefacts and artwork, it showcases some fascinating aspects of Chinese culture. For travellers interested in Taiwanese spirituality and religion, a visit to the Longshan Temple is a must.
As the sun goes down the night markets open up. They're usually packed with tourists and bargain-hunters, who throng the alleyways in the heavy, humid night air. Taipei also has many bars and nightclubs.
If the city becomes too stifling, visitors can relax at one of the spas in the northwest. They utilise the Beitou area's hot springs. Hikers can enjoy the Yang Ming Shan National Park.
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