Usually synonymous with bright lights and high-tech gadgetry, scratch the surface of Taiwan and you’ll discover why it was once described by Portuguese explorers as ‘Ilha Formosa’ or ‘the beautiful island’. Away from the neon lights and vertiginous skyscrapers of Taipei, the island’s tranquil lakes, dense forests golden beaches and ancient cities are just waiting to be discovered.
Having been settled by the ancient Fujianese people, Taiwan has since been inhabited and colonised by the likes of the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese, leaving behind a genuine melting pot of culture, cuisine and history. This fascinating legacy has shaped this charming island into a blend of ultra-modern ingenuity and dramatically picturesque (and remarkably undeveloped) countryside, where the island’s natural beauty takes centre stage. Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, embodies the stereotype so commonly associated with this island nation. Neon lights, cutting-edge technology and a fast-paced city lifestyle define this metropolis, with its high-speed rail network and sleek, modern hotels. But hidden away amongst the backstreets of the city, you’ll discover lively night markets serving up some of the best street food in Asia. Stinking tofu, the fluffiest dumplings and shaved ice are just some of the delicacies on offer amongst the hawker stalls of Shilin Night Market, an iconic Taipei experience. Time spent exploring the Taoist temples, Japanese-era mansions and antiquities of the National Palace Museum offer a glimpse of old Taipei. Away from the bright lights of the capital, discover the bewitching beauty of the Taroko National Park, with its steep gorges, rugged mountain peaks and subalpine forests. Hiking trails snake through the towering canyons, allowing you explore one of the most beautiful locations on the island. Not far from the deep gorges of Taroko is the ancient city of Tainan, once the capital of Taiwan and originally built as a Dutch colony. This atmospheric city in the south of Taiwan is bursting with history, its winding streets lined with Confucian temples, crumbling ruins and traditional merchants houses. Away from the man-made charm of Tainan, discover the natural splendour of Sun Moon Lake, its shimmering waters encircled by mountains. This beguiling body of water lies at 748 meters above sea level and reflects the surrounding mountains that are studded with Buddhist temples. Visit Lalu Island, located at the heart of the lake, sacred to Taiwan’s smallest aboriginal group, the Thao tribe.