Asia

Traveling in Taiwan

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2010

Taiwan has certainly been known and undoubtedly enjoyed by North American business travelers over the years, many of whom probably have had little time to savor its attractions, a horrible waste of this beautiful country’s incredibly diverse and seemingly endless leisure vacation treasures. Today, however, North American tourists are beginning to become aware of this Asian jewel sitting elegantly amidst the Formosa Straits.

In fact, last year almost 370,000 North Americans savored its joys and after a recent visit to this land that’s short on size but big on vacation pleasures, it’s easy to understand why. And it’s equally easy to understand why the average leisure stay here has increased from three or four days to more than seven—a number that substantiates the Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s numbers that showed leisure travel overtaking business travel by a significant amount. And no wonder—it offers everything from natural wonders that include soaring national peaks and gorgeous beaches, to Taoist and Buddhist temples, as well as active vacation options and shopping adventures, plus culinary delights that please the palate and sooth the soul.

From the moment you arrive at the Taipei International Airport, there’s a good-natured energy that’s hard to define but easy to get into. It’s a busy place certainly, and one of the things that stands out is the number of tourist groups from mainland China—a virtually unheard of act just a few years ago—as well as a healthy smattering of Chinese business travelers.

Which is another point. If your clients are somewhat wary to come to Taiwan because of the seemingly endless barrage of bombastic threats in the media coming from the Chinese mainland, keep in mind that’s primarily geopolitical gamesmanship. The fact is, there’s much lucrative business and trade going on between Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai. Your clients are going to be just as safe here or even safer, than they would be in just about any other place in the world.

natural wonders In terms of Taiwan’s natural wonders, the list is virtually endless. But let’s start with the Taroko Gorge National Park, a place of beauty carved out by the gods, but enhanced by man’s energy and ingenuity. Starting in about 1950, Chiang Kai-shek—the former warlord run out of China by the newly formed communist regime and who eventually became president of Taiwan—ordered the gorge to be altered to accommodate a new east-west road to make hauling goods to and from the ports more efficient and timely. The work was hard and dangerous and more than 200 workers died during its 3-year construction.

The first look at this incredibly beautiful manmade phenomenon is a bit challenging. The road is narrow and twists and turns high above the river below, forcing motorists to give way to oncoming traffic, particularly the big tourist buses, which at times come alarmingly close to the edge, as the driver maneuvers his bus toward the section of the gorge called Swallow Grotto, so named because of the birds who nest in the rock crevices along the gorge wall.

Here’s where the buses let off their passengers for a brief walk along the gorge to get a good look and it’s an impressive look to be sure at an area called Tunnel of Nine Turns, where passengers are issued hard hats and then trekked under and along some disconcerting and very large piles of rock slide residue laying about, pretty much convincing one that about the only use the hard hats would provide should something happen, might be keeping bird droppings out of your hair.

As you walk along the trail under these huge rock walls jutting into the heavens, dressed in a lush coat of trees and shrubs with waterfall tears sliding down protruding rock formations into an abyss several hundred feet down, the immensity of it all overcomes you, not to mention the awareness that this was done not just by the hands of gods, but the backbreaking labor of human beings over a 5-year period.

During our tour, our guide led us resolutely, if not successfully, toward a temple called the Eternal Spring Shrine. He’d stride off at his ground-eating pace, while his charges lagged behind taking photos. He’d look behind, see he was alone again, fruitlessly waving his hat and shaking his head at the slowpoke gaijins. When we arrived at the area where we expected to see the Eternal Spring Shrine, we looked hopefully at the relatively short distance it was from the road and at a reasonable altitude not requiring more than a dozen steps. Unfortunately, that was the wrong shrine. Apparently, Taoists must think the higher they build their shrines and temples, the closer to heaven they’re going to be. Halfway up this stairway to heaven, we became an avowed optimistic Agnostic and left redemption to the rest of the group. However, the two other group members who had gone on with the guide, also failed in this religious quest once they realized they were only halfway up to heaven.