It took me sometime to comprehend that I was going to Taiwan (officially called Republic of China). May be because it was my first destination in East Asia. And it is a very different place from every other place I have been to. The only one feeling that came to my mind when I overviewed the country on my browser was ‘different’. And somehow that feeling stayed with me through my week’s visit there.

What was different about this island nation?

The Geography

The Leopard deposits at Yehliu Geopark.
The Leopard deposits at Yehliu Geopark.

Surrounded by water, this island is mountainous. No sooner I landed there, than my guide, Francis, opened a map of the country to explain the terrain and the orientation of the place better. I studied the map for a few minutes. Taiwan was like an onion of sorts—the blue waters were the first cover, followed by the warm green which made a cosy middle layer and finally the brown edges in the centre. That was where I focussed. The Chung Yang Shan range runs from north to south and dominated the geography of the country. And the scattered mountaintop (dormant) volcanoes, adds an extra layer of awe and curiousity.

But it wasn’t until I saw the brown textures and shapes of Yehliu Geopark, did I realise how smitten I was. With the strong winds and the disruptive rains blocking my vision, I was lost in the geological deposits of this park. Situated at the northernmost tip of the country and surrounded by the sea, here I saw mushroom-like earthy remains. A quick glance at the Queen’s Head II, the most famous rock here. And then I walked past the Leopard, which was a personal favourite.

Read: Eating out in Singapore

The Architecture

The cloud cover on Taipei 101.
The cloud cover on Taipei 101.

The apartment boxes were the first structures I noticed. Having visited Singapore, this didn’t come as a surprise to me. Honestly, I’ve always felt like it adds an unnecessary divide to any place. Taiwan apartments and commercial spaces are filled with such box-like buildings and structures. Sure, it makes every county more organised but they could do with a bit of variety.

Variety, I understood meant spectacular, modern architecture like the landmark and the awe-inspiring Taipei 101 or the impressive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Also the prominent and palatial Grand Hotel stands out. The bridges are worth gawking at. My favourite was Lover’s Bridge with its gentle slants, which worked as the centre of the bridge.

The Parks

A little green pocket.
The Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden.

Taiwanese share a fascination for gardens and parks. Every few hundred meters, I saw a different park—varying in sizes and design. Even many bungalows margined generous areas around to grow flowers and had flourishing gardens. I did visit the famous Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence Park, which is massive and a popular tourist spot. But the lesser known Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden was an absolute beauty! Landscaped with shaded corridors, quaint bridges and Chinese pavilions, this one is a must-see for everyone. What a way to bring a place alive while amping the green levels in the city.

The Language

The politics of language and communication.
The politics of language and communication.

Nothing ever prepares you for Mandarin or the different dialects of Chinese that the locals here speak. Everything is communicated (written and oral) in one of these complex languages. If there was a bit of English, it was probably in Taipei. I saw no signs of it in all other parts of northern Taiwan. It made me realise how difficult it is to travel within Taiwan without knowing the language. From road signages to food menus to recycling bins to major sights and buildings—all in Taiwanese Hokkien or Mandarin.

Read: My First Impressions of Singapore

Does East Asia fascinate you too?

Note: I was invited by Taiwan Tourism Bureau on this trip. And who wouldn’t go?!

See more photos from my travels on my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram.

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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20 thoughts on “What Makes Taiwan Different”

    1. Wow, Joe, that reads incredible. Such similar experiences. I had a week there and yet only scraped the surface of only northern Taiwan. I loved the mountain elements there, I think that really appealed to me the most.

  1. Indeed Taiwan looks different. I think I will like it for the gardens and the parks.
    How do travelers manage outside Taipei without knowing Mandarin?

    1. Manjulika,

      Unlike Mainland China, people know and speak English in Taiwan. All sign boards are in dual language.They consider Taiwan much ahead of China and at times get offended if you compare the both. :) For example, if you bargain while shopping in local markets, they’d reply “it’s made in Taiwan, not in China”. :)

      I have written a few posts on the country that’ll give you an idea. :) Don’t want to leave links here.

    2. There is something for everyone in Taiwan actually. The open spaces are simply beautiful.

      Nisha is right about the comparison but I found it increasingly difficult to get around without knowing the language everywhere from Taipei to Taichung to Shifen. If I were going back, I would definitely get a crash course in the language. Unless you’re in a 5* hotel, English isn’t compulsory. They’re definitely warmer and not as rigid as the Chinese but communication in small transactions (shopping, buying food) can be a detterant.

  2. Sometimes I feel, you go to all those places where I have been to … just to make me nostalgic. :(
    Spain, Switzerland and now Taiwan.

    The eastern part of the island is very popular for outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking etc…

    What all cities did you visit? Looking forward to visit the country again… thru your posts. :)

    1. May be I do visit these places so that we can see how time is shaping our experiences, which more or less is the same but only through different eyes :)

      I’d love to explore the mountains of Taiwan. They’ve left me curious and greedy :)

      I visited to Taipei, Taoyuan, Sun Moon Lake, Taichung, Xinbei and Shifen. Any favourites?

  3. Wow Taiwan:) Good to read about the landscape from a macro perspective.
    I have been to its capital Taipei, twice. And i have nothing but sheer admiration for the country, the people, the culture. I would love to travel outside Taipei someday. In Taipei i didnt face any language issues in terms of boards and signages, but yes not everyone knows English well.
    But the people there are so warm and helpful even if they cant speak your language.
    And the night markets of Taipei, ah what do i say about them. I can go on and on abojt Taipei. Guess ill write a post on that soon:)

    1. Write a post soon! Yup the people are warm and helpful and patient. But the language barrier seemed tremendous for me. Buying food was a big test of communication. I’d go back to Taipei any day. It is so city-like and yet not. You know what I mean? Write a post soon!

  4. Hi Amrita, did you know that there are 4 tones in the Chinese language? I’m of ethnic Chinese background and I can’t speak and write Chinese. Many years ago, I tried to learn the language – my teacher said I sounded like a Caucasian trying to speak Chinese :-) Glad that you had a great time – I saw your pics on Insta. Japan will be an interesting country to explore, what say you? ;-)

    1. Hahaha! That explains why I’ll never try learning Chinese! Let’s plan Japan?:D

    1. Glad you liked it :) And a warm welcome to Travelling Ides of March.

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