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.