My trip to the island of Formosa was particular. I have not visited many places (for climatic reasons there have been few naturalistic ones) but I preferred to stop for a long time in some places and savour the local culture. I had several experiences with Couchsurfing and Workaway that allowed me to see some realities from inside, such as the one made in the famous Buddhist Chan (or Zen) temple called Fo Guang Shan to which I dedicated a specific article here. Taiwan is a country that has a lot to offer from many points of view: naturalistic, cultural, spiritual, social. The part I loved most was the people. I had never experienced a welcome and openness to a foreigner anywhere else.
“My affection for Taiwan… is witnessed by everyone. My wife is Taiwanese and I am a son-in-law of Taiwan. I am half Taiwanese.”Jackie Chan
What to see
We can say, to simplify that Taiwan is divided into 4 parts: north and south; east and west. The north during the autumn period can be relatively cold and very rainy. I spent two weeks in Taipei the second half of November and it rained most of the time. The south, on the other hand, remains much milder, with pleasant temperatures and little rainfall. The east area is the one with the most cities and civilizations, while the west is mountainous, covered with forests and where the largest number of Aborigines live. I visited the following areas: Taipei, Kaohsiung, the Fo Guang Shan temple (here I talk about my 10-day experience in the temple), Tainan, Taitung and Hualien (the Taroko gorge). There would have been much more to see but I preferred to stop in places and have experiences with the locals. I only tell you the things that particularly impressed me; scattered photos follow.
Taipei and surroundings
Capital of Taiwan, it embodies the typical contradiction of developed Asian countries, where tradition and progress go hand in hand, from an architectural, artistic, cultural, social and religious point of view. The city has some interesting gems, such as Taipei 101, the national theatre, the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, the National Palace Musem, the Daan park, the Lungshan temple, the Zhinan temple, the Jiufen village (which looks a lot like the setting of Spirited Away of Miyazaki), the Wulai area.
The most famous Taoist temple in Taiwan. Also known as Xiāngōng temple, or the temple of the Immortal Grandfather, which refers to the Taoist patriarch god Lu Chunyang. During Japanese rule, the temple began to follow the branch called Phoenix Hall and actively worked to spread it to Taipei and the surrounding area. The temple has been rebuilt many times and the current structure is by the architect Chen Ying-bin (1864 – 1944) who followed the Zhangzhou style. The temple is, in fact, recent, built in 1890.
The Luanism or school of Phoenix Hall is based on the ritual called fúluán, or planchette-writing or spirit-writing. The same technique that is used in spirit sessions (the famous table with letters and numbers and the planchette that moves indicating the letters). Energy purification rituals are also performed with incense, feathers and the laying on of hands. Growing up, the temple also opened up to Confucianism and Buddhism. The magnificence of the very baroque decorations makes it a work of art that leaves you speechless.
National Palace Museum of Taipei
If you want to see archaeological sites of ancient Greece go to Turkey in which they are more beautiful, bigger and better kept than the Greek ones. If you want to see Chinese artefacts go to Taiwan, which Chiang Kai-shek has brought the best out of China. They have so much stuff that they change exposures every six months (and to expose everything it takes them like 14 years …). What you can see is not only artistically beautiful but there are also important archaeological artefacts. You can spend hours without getting bored.
The second city after Taipei, Kaohsiung is definitely more peaceful and relaxed than the capital. It has several attractions and is very dynamic and lively. The climate is mild during the winter which makes it a popular destination for many, including Taiwanese. Definitely the best city to live in Taiwan.
Pier 2 Art Center
Absolutely the most interesting area of Kaohsiung city. Sure, there are many other interesting attractions in the city, various temples, the tiger and dragon pagodas, but this old port revalued by contemporary works of art, often using old gears, machinery and lots of creativity is a gem that cannot be miss. Some hangars are still used by artisans while others have been transformed into bars, restaurants, curious shops. There is also a kind of interactive museum of games made of wood that really has incredible value.
Fo Guang Shan Temple
A recent Buddhist temple of incredible majesty. Founded in 1967 by a Chinese monk, in a few years it has spread like wildfire and today it has 400 branches spread all over the world. In this article, I describe in depth the temple and my experience as a volunteer.
Located on the east coast, the province of Taitung is interesting for places like Dulan and its surroundings. Aboriginal area, Dulan is famous for beaches, waves for surfing, forest and ancient archaeological areas. The ideal place to learn about indigenous culture in its music, art, daily life. Unfortunately, it is also an area of hippies who visit it with the sole purpose of smoking marijuana, surfing, free sex and all those things that hippies do to export their way of life pretending to want to know the local Aboriginal cultures.
Definitely the most famous natural attraction, it is a 20 km long gorge that winds through the Taiwanese mountains. These overhanging rocks, which at certain points reach 1000 meters in height, are made of blue-white marble. The water that flows through it is crystal clear and the vegetation is the typical one of the tropical islands, which makes it a unique landscape. Summer typhoons continue the erosion of the gorge started by the river that crosses it. The gorge can be visited by choosing various paths, and it can take from one to five days. Inside there are various points of interest such as a memorial to the deceased during the construction of the road; the village of Buluowan run by the Truku Aboriginal tribe; the Swallow Grotto which was originally the ancient route; the Jhuilu wall where the rocks reach the maximum height of 1100 meters; the tunnel of the nine curves; the Tiansiang pagoda.
Here are some extra videos to enrich the travel experience.
Taiwan is a country unknown to most, especially in Italy, who mistakenly identify it with China. Yet it contains many of those treasures enclosed in a limited space that makes it a country not to be missed: mountains that touch 4000 meters, wonderful gorges, tropical forests, succulent food, unique beaches, various endemic species of animals, so much culture that varies from the Aboriginal one to the Chinese one but above all the wonderful people ready to welcome you and make you live an unforgettable experience.
For an article on the history of Taiwan and cultural and social curiosities go here.
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