Michael A. Turton
I want to come. What should I do? Crime and Safety
What to Bring Health
Finding, Renting, Housing Money
Water Posts and Telecommunications
Transportation Personal Services
Recreation and Travel Learning Chinese
The Social Side Food in Taiwan
Driving in Taiwan Bringing Kids?
Keeping a Pet Living in Taiwan, Returning to America
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My wife, son and self in Lukang in the winter of 1996.  Lukang is a former port city on the west coast just south of Taichung.  In the 19th century it was one of the island's most important ports, but is now known mostly for its collection of extremely well-preserved temples and streets.  It is frequently used as a backdrop for movies and TV shows. Despite its reputation and moments of loveliness, most of the town is still done in the crammed, dingy, dirty, noisy style common to smaller Taiwanese towns. Note our jackets and sweatshirts: winter can be surprisingly cool in Taiwan.  Though the overall trend is warming, twice in the last decade it has snowed in the 3,000-foot peaks north of Taipei.  By contrast, the denizens of Kaohsiung will break out the jackets for a week or two each year.
Recreation and Foreign Travel
Yes! We're hittin' the beach! This page is not meant to be a guide for things to do in Taiwan. For that, be sure to bring along a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Taiwan. Rather, this page is here just to suggest possibilities and sketch just meander on with me...
Jurassic Park? No, just an exhibition. Taiwan offers many things to do on those rare days off. The downside is that since everyone has the same days off, every place interesting is packed on holidays. Additionally, most of the things in Taiwan are the kind of things you can only do once. 
Kenting Road, lined with flophouses, eateries, bars, and vendors, on a Saturday in the summer: a total madhouse. Rooms may triple in price. Kenting National Park, a popular outing for locals, is basically a gigantic night market with a beach attached. The island has many excellent public and national parks in scenic areas. I actually think Yangmingshan National Park on the northern end of the island is more beautiful than Kenting National Park on the south, but most would disagree. Taroko Gorge and the cross-island highway which runs through it is nothing short of spectactular. 
The dining area of a local night market. A popular outing, night markets are great fun for adults, kids and couples.  The East Coast, still undeveloped as of this writing (though plans are in the works to destroy it through the creation of industrial districts), is a great place to swim, hike, or just drive. Equipment may be rented or purchased in the major cities. Taimali, an impoverished little fishing port on the East coast, is where we like to vacation. The Su-Hua Highway between I-lan and Hualien, cut into towering cliffs above the ocean, is also a wonderful drive. 
Boating at Kenting. Camping, surfing, scuba diving, sport fishing, hiking, canoeing, mountain climbing and many other outdoor sports are a possibility. I have friends who go bungee-jumping, hang-gliding, paragliding, and so on. 
Saturday in the park. I personally consider these sports a form of Russian Roulette here on Taiwan, where people care little about both safety and regulations. 
A view from the staggering Su-Hua Highway on the east coast.  Cut into cliffs above the sea (the road is barely visible as a thin gray line about halfway up the cliffs), the highway can be quite dangerous.  Not only is it easy to miss a curve in the dark, but Taiwanese love to pass on blind curves.
A local park in Taichung. Such parks are common in urban areas, but are invariably the same everywhere. With the exception of I-lan, community planning is an utter disaster, producing unlivable, inhuman environments without light, air, or space. Despite what you may have heard, it is old ideas, not old things, that are revered in Chinese culture. Much of the island's past has been destroyed, either by development or by systematic destruction at the hands of the occupying Nationalists, who had a fixed policy of stamping out Taiwanese culture (the 9/21 earthquake also dealt a major blow to the island's cultural relics). 


Mountains loom above a riverbed in southern Taiwan. Fortunately there is still plenty of interesting stuff lying around, especially temples. The resort town of Chiu Fen in northern Taiwan, popular with day-trippers from the capital, is next to an interesting Japanese WWII POW camp and the island's gold and gem mines (now pretty much worked out).
This ornate temple in Sanhsia outside of Taipei is one of the best preserved of its style on the island. With open spaces, a high tolerance for kids and lots of food vendors, temples make great outings for couples with small children. Ta Shi, in Taoyuan, still has many old buildings, as does Tamshui, though in both cases these are rapidly vanishing.

A cannon in the historic city of Tainan.
Even Taipei and Keelung still have streets full of older buildings. Tihua Street in Taipei, the spice and textile merchants' street, has been protected by law, partly because of its old-time flavor, partly because it was a major execution ground during the 2-28 revolt and subsequent terror.
Taiwanese at the beach in Kenting. Note that nobody is in the water. Despite living on a small island, most Taiwanese can't swim (drowning is the #2 cause of death among Taiwanese exchange students abroad). The result is that they sit for hours on buses so that they can stand on the beach for hours. Thus, you can leave the crowd behind simply by getting in the water and swimming out a little.  Old temples can be found in every locality. Major settlement from China began only in the seventeenth century and thus there are no really ancient buildings on the island (although there are some monoliths erected by local aborigines still standing along the SE coast). 
Haggling over camera parts in a market. Although the markets give the illusion of individualism and free enterprise, the reality is that in at least some cases the stands are owned by shops, who may scatter three or four tables around the market as if each were independent.
On the southeast coast, the mountains roll gently down to the sea. A few remains of forts exist from this period, but little else. Taiwan's prehistory is complex, interesting, rich and well-preserved in local museums and site parks around the island.
A primary school student inspects the puppets at a local display of hand-carved traditional puppets. My personal favorite town in Taiwan is Lukang, now a sleepy port city in central Taiwan. Many of the older streets have been deliberately preserved to create a 19th century feel, when Lukang was a large, thriving port, the second largest city on the island. The town is stuffed with old temples. 
Yinhualin Garden, a restaurant in Hsinshe, in the mountains outside of Taichung. Such "gardens"  have proliferated. The locals drive out here and sit for hours sipping tea and talking. One of the great downsides of the island is that most of the tourist stuff involves passivity like this rather than activity like surfing, rafting, skiing, or climbing. We also love Tainan, the former Dutch and Ching administrative capital, with many old buildings, temples, and even the remains of a fort or two. Although preservation has been OK, especially since Tainan is a major center of Taiwanese nationalism, presentation in English is often hit-or-miss. 
The remains of a traditional Chinese farmhouse in southern Taiwan. Thousands of traditional Taiwanese red brick farmhouses still dot the countryside. Sadly, most are crumbling, since Taiwanese rarely spend money to make their homes look nice.

Fish markets make great outings.
An upscale American-style restaurant in Taichung. The cities offer many modern cultural attractions, from pubs to art museums. There is a thriving alternative culture in Taiwan's major cities, embracing all the arts. However, a broad selection of good western restaurants is really available only in Taipei. 
Two views of Flying Cow Ranch, a "leisure farm" in Miaoli County. 
The tree-shaded paths of Flying Cow Ranch. Tourist traps of all kinds have sprung up in mountainous areas all over the island. Recreational farms like Flying Cow Ranch offer various activities, including ice cream making, and large green spaces. For Taiwanese used to living in cramped, gray and dirty urban environments, places like Flying Cow offer a rare glimpse of green and clean.
A small guest house in Hualien. Guest houses, small inns, and bed-and-breakfasts are springing up all over the island, especially on the east coast, where tourism is the major industry. They are usually quite comfortable and cost between $500-$2,500 a night.

Robin Gibb works the crowd at a concert in Taipei.
Gathering to eat at a local "Japanese" restaurant. Such meals are common get-togethers for staff at local businesses. Food is the great recreation of the Taiwanese, and they will frequently travel miles out of their way just to eat a famous local treat. The vast array of local foods is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Taiwan. See my page on Food for more highly enjoyable details.
A vendor cooks up Mongolian barbecue in a night market. Night markets, a tradition dating back centuries, are one of the island's most popular hang-outs. See my page on night markets for more on this great Taiwan tradition. Great fun can also be had at the island's morning markets or fish markets.
At Tamshui in 1998. This historic town, now instantly accessible on the metro, makes an interesting day trip from Taipei. Taipei boasts the formidable National Palace Museum, one of the world's major cultural institutions, which houses millions of artifacts brought over from the mainland by the Nationalists after their defeat. 
Is there any better recreation than this?
My kids at play on a beach along the east coast.  Taiwan has a small number of good beaches, but most beaches are extremely dirty. The cities have gay and lesbian communities, but I know nothing about them. 
Spices displayed outside a spice shop on colorful Tihua Street in Taipei. Other sorts of amusements, from pinball to swimming pools to go-karts to bookstores, can be found on every corner. And there's always getting together with friends for a round of Axis and Allies over beer.
My son tries his hand at a shooting range at Leofoo Village. Taiwan also boasts a theme park and zoo combination, Leofoo Village. It's tame, but the kids will enjoy it. Our visit to Leofoo is immortalized here. Our trip to Window on China, another theme park, is on the web here.
Jewelry on display in a night market. As the display suggests, crosses have become popular adornments, though few Taiwanese are Chrstians. Shopping is always fun, whether in night markets or department stores.
Exploring the 921 Earthquake Museum in Wufeng.  There are many quite good smaller museums around the island maintained by local governments. Here is the 921 Earthquake Museum in Wufeng
A local video rental place advertises its wares. Such stores are found on every block in the cities.

Theatres show western movies and movie rental places are everywhere (Blockbuster has appeared in Taiwan). 

Kids movies come both dubbed in Chinese and in the original English. Be sure to rent or buy the right one! 

Sadly, few older movies, unless they are relatively famous, will be available in Taiwan. Most films will be from the near present. Thus, all of the great Oscar winners are available, but few of any other golden age films. Movies from the 60s, 70s and 80s of high quality or interest, such as Dr. Strangelove or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, will be difficult to find. 

Movies are cheap in Taiwan, even legal movies, with Chinese subtitles.  Classics can be had for six for $500 in the retail outlet near our house (God forgive me -- I have everything Charlton Heston did in the 1950s).  DVDs are also cheap. 

Taiwan's many waterways offer excellent fishing possibilities...
Bars and pubs are popular with foreigners, but the bar scene gets old fast, and given the level of stress foreigners are undergoing in Taiwan, drinking is a dangerous habit to get into.  And after you are done hiking, you can stuff your face with junk food. 
As for drugs, don't be stupid.  Either drop your habit or don't come.  The police here just love to bust foreigners, and even a pinch of something illegal will get you a zillion years (a recent foreigner drug bust)(and further discussion at Forumosa)(and still more).
Near Sun Moon Lake in 1999. The mountains offer relief from the island's polluted, teeming cities, but most of the infrastructure was destroyed in the September, 1999 quake. Many of the mountain roads were blocked. Lacking the will and the funds, the government has not re-opened them.
In addition to the recreational farms, which offer clear air and outdoor activities along with rooms and campsites, there is also an increasing number of bed-and-breakfast places located in the mountains. Hiking in the mountains is always fun, as even low altitude hikes around the margins of Taiwan's cities offer great views and good exercise. The East Coast also offers plenty of hiking opportunities. Freshtreks offers hiking tours and treks in the mountains. Struggling through the mud on a hike outside of Keelung.
The government has been slow to grasp the island's limited but important tourist potential, but it is finally bestirring itself.  My daughter, aware of the dangers of garlic-sniffing buffalo at the Taipei Zoo. The excellent Zoo is much better than the quality of the signage would suggest.
Much of the new tourist development has been concentrated on the still unspoiled east coast. Taiwan's east coast is a fabulous playground of parks, lakes, hiking trails, sea cliffs, and rock formations. Here's a quick peek. A freighter leaves an east coast port.
Even the trip to the market for dinner can be fun. 
My wife at Sun Moon Lake in 1999. The dam that forms the lake was built by the Japanese before WWII.  It cracked, but held, in the 1999 quake. Many people spend time on the Net and with their computers. Taiwan is a computer paradise and hardware and software can be obtained cheaply. The latest game software is anywhere from 25-75% cheaper than in the US (never mind illegal software) and comparable savings are obtainable on applications software.
Don't forget! Lots of local private health and swimming complexes offer attractive destinations for boring afternoons. This well-maintained swimming center, with five pools, is located in the tiny town of Beitou in central Taiwan. Pirate software is available, though no longer so openly in Taipei. In Taichung and Kaohsiung the computer store districts are rife with pirate dealers. Pirate CDs may also be obtained in night markets. Additionally, many night market stalls sell legal software at dirt cheap prices, obtained when stores went under.
In an open area at the former provincial capital, Chunghsinghsintsun. The new capital was built to house the provincial government and its employees after the current government fled to Taiwan in 1949. Taipei is merely the temporary national capital. In reality, the provincial government, now frozen and no longer functional, was a way to provide jobs for the ruling party faithful. The real Taiwan miracle is that the economy grew so well under such parasitic, inefficient and hopeless misgovernment. Taiwan is close to everywhere. There are a million travel agents and shopping around is always possible. Package tours are very common, since Taiwanese rarely get large amounts of time off from work (long working hours serve authoritarian political purposes and it is difficult to get them cut. It is no coincidence that a reduction in working hours is occurring as Taiwan democratizes.). 
Success! Another satisfied vacationer in Kenting. Your major problem is getting visas for places which have no diplomatic representation in Taiwan, but most countries have representative offices and if not, your travel agent will get you a visa in Hong Kong or elsewhere. Courier services often offer cheap tickets to overseas destinations if you carry a package.
The jewel of Taiwan.... Taiwan can be great family fun! Check out our weekend at Kenting National Park!
At Sigiriya fortress in Sri Lanka. Taiwan is also an excellent base for exploring Asia, just a few hours from any destination. Here is our website on our trip to Sri Lanka in 2004.
I want to come. What should I do? Crime and Safety Recreation and Travel Bringing Kids?
What to Bring Health Learning Chinese Keeping a Pet
Finding, Renting, Housing Money The Social Side Living in Taiwan, Returning to America
Water Posts and Telecommunications Food in Taiwan
Transportation Personal Services Driving in Taiwan Back to Teaching English in Taiwan home page