Sitting pretty as one of Asia’s best-kept travel secrets, the spicy, scenic island of Taiwan makes a habit of smashing visitor preconceptions.
Outsiders tend to see this country as notable only for its technological prowess – an image reinforced by the global prominence of ‘Made in Taiwan’ stickers – but in reality this is a destination that serves up awe-inspiring panoramas, a rainbow of different cultures and a startlingly rich history.
Alongside night markets, cycle trails and hot springs, there are gleaming skyscrapers, hulking mountains and sparkling lakes. When you factor in the manageable size of the island, which is less than half the size of Scotland, the appeal becomes even more significant.
Taiwan is one of the few places on Earth where ancient religious and cultural practices still thrive in an overwhelmingly modernist landscape. This juxtaposition is expressed most clearly in Taipei, where futuristic marvels like Taipei 101 – one of the tallest buildings in the world – share the city with incense-fogged temples and indigenous communities.
This mix of different influences is wonderfully showcased by the island’s cuisine – a lip-smacking blend of Chinese, Japanese and aboriginal fare.
Like many aspects of life in Taiwan, its diverse cuisine makes sense when you look at the island’s history. Following five decades of Japanese rule, in 1949 a liberated Taiwan became a refuge for the Chinese Nationalist Party and their supporters, who fled here during the Chinese Civil War. To this day, Taiwan remains a product of this period – a maverick sovereign state still viewed with uneasiness by Beijing.
History buff or not, there’s much to enjoy in Taiwan. Away from the sleek towers of the cities, it’s the valleys, lakes and gorges of the countryside that tend to leave the greatest impression. The fact that comparatively few tourists make it here is more to do with a lack of awareness than a lack of things to do – hikers, cyclists, divers, surfers, pilgrims and gourmands will all find a little slice of heaven in this corner of Asia.
36,188 sq km (13,972 sq miles).
23,395,600 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Tsai Ing-wen since 2016.
Head of government:
Premier Lin Chuan since 2016.
110 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style plugs with two flat pins (and sometimes a third grounding pin) are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Advance fee frauds
Individuals and companies in the UK (and elsewhere) often receive letters, faxes and e-mails, offering them large sums of money provided they send various ‘advance fees’ to Taiwanese bank accounts. Fraudsters obtain contact details from telephone or commercial directories, so recipients are not being specifically targeted.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigates advance fee frauds in the UK. Do not reply to these types of communication. The NCA website contains more information on this type of fraud.
There is a risk of road blockages and landslides following typhoons, especially in central and southern Taiwan. You should check the Central Weather Bureau website and the Directorate General of Highways website before travelling.
To drive in Taiwan you need an International Driving Permit (IDP). Once in Taiwan, you will need to take your passport, IDP and a passport photograph to the nearest Vehicle Registration Department and apply for a driver’s licence visa, which will then be secured in your IDP.
The alcohol limit for drivers in Taiwan is lower than in the UK. The current legal limit is 0.15 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath or 0.03% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Driving while over the limit can result in heavy fines and imprisonment. Passengers may also be fined.
Be alert crossing roads, even on protected crossings.
Avoid large-scale political gatherings.
The UK does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The British Assistance and Services Section of the British Office in Taipei can provide certain limited consular assistance. In cases of genuine emergency, the British Office may be able to issue you with an emergency travel document.