Lonely Planet Taiwan by Lonely Planet, Piera Chen, and Dinah Gardner - Read Online
Lonely Planet Taiwan
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Summary

#1 best-selling guide to Taiwan*

Lonely Planet Taiwan is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Hike and swim in Wulai's lush jungle setting, check out the magical Lantern Festival in Pingxi, or cycle the green Rift Valley; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Taiwan and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Taiwan Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - festivals, cuisine, history, temples, religion, wildlife, environment, visual arts, music, indigenous arts, performance arts, cinema, literature Over 60 maps Covers Taipei, New Taipei City, Tamsui (Danshui), Taroko National Park, Hualien, Wulu, Yushan National Park, Tainan City, Sun Moon Lake, Jiji (Chichi), East Coast, and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience Seamlessly flip between pages Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash Embedded links to recommendations' websites Zoom-in maps and images Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Taiwan , our most comprehensive guide to Taiwan, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Heading to China? Check out Lonely Planet China guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves. The world awaits!

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*Best-selling guide to Taiwan. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

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Taiwan

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Taiwan

Taiwan's Top 15

Need to Know

If You Like

Month by Month

Itineraries

Taiwan Outdoors

Eat & Drink Like a Local

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

Taipei

Sights

Activities

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Tamsui

Sights

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking

Bali

Sights

Eating

Drinking

Beitou

Sights

Activities

Sleeping

Eating

Yangmingshan National Park

Sights

Activities

Sleeping

Maokong

Sights

Drinking

Xindian

Sights

Activities

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking

Northern Taiwan

Pinglin

Yingge

Sansia

Wulai

Cihu

Fusing

Baling

Fuguei Cape

18 Lords Temple

New 18 Lords Temple

Yeliu Geopark

Keelung

Jiufen & Jinguashi

Pingxi District

Houtong

Bitou Cape

Fulong Beach

Wai'ao

Daxi

Caoling Historic Trail

Jiaoxi

Hsinchu

Beipu

Nanzhuang

Shitoushan

Qingquan

Smangus

Sanyi

Shei-pa National Park

Wuling Forest Recreation Area

Tai'an Hot Springs

Taroko National Park & the East Coast

Taroko National Park & the East Coast Highlights

Hualien

Niushan Huting

Shihtiping

Taroko National Park

East Rift Valley

Hualien Sugar Factory

Fuyuan Forest Recreational Area

Matai'an

Liyu Lake

Rueisui

Yuli

Walami Trail

Loshan Scenic Area

Taitung County

Dulan

Luye

Taitung

Guanshan

Chihpen

Wulu

Siangyang Forest Recreation Area

Yushan National Park & Western Taiwan

Yushan National Park & Western Taiwan Highlights

Yushan National Park

Dongpu

Taichung

Dasyueshan Forest Recreation Area

Alishan National Scenic Area

Alishan Forest Recreation Area

Fenqihu

Rueili

Chiayi

Changhua

Lukang

Nantou County

Checheng

Cingjing

Hehuanshan Forest Recreation Area

Jiji

Ershui

Puli

Sitou & Shanlinhsi

Sun Moon Lake

Southern Taiwan

Kaohsiung

Foguangshan

Meinong

Maolin Recreation Area

Tainan

Houbi

Guanziling

Jinshui Ying Old Trail

Donggang

Kenting National Park

Little Liuchiu Island

Sandimen

Taiwan's Islands

Taiwan's Islands Highlights

Kinmen

Kincheng

Around Kincheng

Little Kinmen

Matsu

Beigan

Nangan

Penghu Islands

Makung

Around Penghu Islands

Outer Islands

Lanyu

Green Island

Understand

Understand Taiwan

Taiwan Today

History

The People of Taiwan

Religion in Taiwan

The Temples of Taiwan

The Arts of Taiwan

The Landscape of Taiwan

Wildlife Guide

Survive

Directory AZ

Accommodation

Activities

Children

Convenience Stores

Customs Regulations

Discount Cards

Electricity

GLBTI Travellers

Health

Insurance

Internet Access

Language Courses

Legal Matters

Maps

Money

Opening Hours

Photography

Post

Public Holidays

Safe Travel

Telephone

Time

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities

Visas

Volunteering

Work

Transport

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to Taiwan

With legacies as varied as its adventure landscape and spirited traditions thriving alongside the cream of Asian sophistication, Taiwan is a continent on one green island.

The Beautiful Isle

Famed for centuries as Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Isle; 美麗島; Měilìdǎo), this is a land with more sides than the 11-headed Guanyin. Towering sea cliffs, marble-walled gorges and tropical forests are just the start of your journey, which could take you as far as Yushan, Taiwan's 3952m alpine roof.

In Taiwan you can criss-cross mountains on colonial-era hiking trails or cycle a lone highway with the blue Pacific on one side and green volcanic arcs on the other. And if you simply want a classic landscape to enjoy, you'll find them around every corner.

Have You Eaten?

'Have you eaten?' The words are used as a greeting here, and the answer is always 'yes', as there's just too much nibbling to do. Taiwan offers the gamut of Chinese cuisines, some of the best Japanese outside Japan, and a full house of local specialities from Tainan milkfish and Taipei beef noodles to indigenous barbecued wild boar. Night markets around the island serve endless feasts of snacks including stinky tofu, steamed dumplings, oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls and shaved ice. And when you're thirsty you can look forward to juices from the freshest local fruits, local craft beer, aromatic teas and, in a surprising twist, Asia's best gourmet coffee.

Asian Values on Their Terms

Defying those who said it wasn't in their DNA, the Taiwanese have created Asia's most vibrant democracy and liberal society, with a raucous free press, gender equality, and respect for human rights and, increasingly, animal rights as well. The ancestors are still worshipped, and mum and dad still get their dues, but woe betide the politician who thinks it's the people who must pander, and not him – or her. If you want to catch a glimpse of the people's passion for protest, check out Taipei Main Station on most weekends, or just follow the local news.

The Tao of Today

Taiwan is heir to the entire Chinese tradition of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and that amorphous collection of deities and demons worshipped as folk faith. Over the centuries the people have blended their way into a unique and tolerant religious culture that's often as ritual heavy as Catholicism and as wild as Santeria.

Taiwanese temples (all 15,000) combine worship hall, festival venue and art house under one roof. Watch a plague boat burn at Donglong Temple, go on a pilgrimage with the Empress of Heaven, study a rooftop three-dimensional mosaic, and learn why a flag and ball have come to represent prayer.

A performer dressed for a religious ceremony | CRAIG FERGUSON/GETTY IMAGES ©

Why I Love Taiwan

By Piera Chen, Writer

When I visited Taiwan as a child, the wondrous rocks of Yeliu made an impression. Years later, a fan of director Hou Hsiao-hsien, I went to Jiufen and Fengkuei to see the settings that gave rise to the films I enjoyed, and was bewitched. Now Penghu's windswept islands mesmerise me, as does the taste of musk melons. Taiwan is full of surprises if you know where to look, like the night I waited for a meteor shower in Kenting. I'd expected a crowd to show up, but there wasn't even a hint of a shadow. I was completely alone. Then I looked up – the whole sky was moving.

Taiwan's Top 15

Cycling the East Coast

Cycling fever has taken over the island, and the unspoiled and sparsely populated east coast has emerged as the top destination for multiday trips. Like the sea? Then ride Highway 11, with its stunning coastline, beaches, fishing harbours and funky art villages. Love the mountains? Try the Rift Valley, bounded on each side by lush green ranges. On both routes there are enough roadside cafes, campgrounds, homestays and hot springs to ensure your cycling trip won't be an exercise in logistics.

Highway 11 | ROETTING/POLLEX/LOOK-FOTO/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Temple Treasures

There are 15,000 official temples in Taiwan, three times as many as there were 30 years ago. Still the focus of local culture, temples play the role of community centre as much as house of worship. Both Tainan and Lukang boast a wealth of old buildings, from understated Confucius temples to Matsu temples rich in examples of southern folk decorative arts. But if you can only visit one temple in Taiwan, head to Bao'an Temple in Taipei, a showcase of traditional design, rites and festivities.

Bao’an Temple | SU_PEI/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

National Palace Museum

Taiwan houses the greatest collection of Chinese art in the world. With ancient pottery, bronzes and jade, Ming vases, Song landscape paintings and calligraphy even those who are not art lovers can appreciate, Taipei's National Palace Museum isn't merely a must-visit, it's a must-repeat-visit. Why? Out of the nearly 700,000 pieces in the museum's collection – spanning every Chinese dynasty – only a tiny fraction is ever on display at the one time.

National Palace Museum | JACK HONG/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Taroko Gorge

Taiwan's top tourist draw is a walk-in Chinese painting. Rising above the froth of the blue-green Liwu River, the marble walls (yes, marble!) of Taroko Gorge swirl with the colours of a master's palette. Add grey mist, lush vegetation and waterfalls seemingly tumbling down from heaven, and you have a truly classic landscape. Walk along the Swallow Grotto to see the gorge at its most sublime or brave the Jhuilu Old Trail, a vertigo-inducing path 500m above the canyon floor.

Jhuilu Old Trail | ROGER WESSON/500PX ©

Top Experiences

A Stationary Feast: Night Markets

Taiwan's night markets are as numerous as they are varied. Fulfilling the need for both food and entertainment (to say nothing of socialising), the markets bring happy crowds almost every night of the week to gorge on a bewildering array of snacks and dishes. Check out the Miaokou Night Market in Keelung, in many ways the grandaddy of them all, for the quintessential experience of eating and people-watching. The night market snacks in Tainan are copied everywhere, but are still best enjoyed on their home turf.

Miaokou Night Market | YEVGEN BELICH/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

The Cold War Frontier: Matsu & Kinmen Islands

Close enough to see China from, even on a hazy day, Matsu and Kinmen Islands were long the front lines in the propaganda (and occasionally real) wars between the nationalists and communists. These days, with the military presence scaling down, travellers are discovering islands whose rich history is not limited to recent times – Matsu and Kinmen are treasure troves of preserved old villages. Visitors will also find some fine cycling and birdwatching among the varied landscapes.

Traditional architecture, Kinmen | SEAN HSU/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

The Matsu Pilgrimage

This mother of all walks across Taiwan is, appropriately enough, dedicated to Matsu (old granny), the maternal patron deity of the island. For nine days and 350km, hundreds of thousands of the faithful follow a revered statue of Matsu across Taiwan, while several million more participate in local events. This is Taiwan's folk culture at its most exuberant and festive, with crowds, wild displays of devotion, theatrical performances and a whole lot of fireworks. (click here)

Matsu Pilgrimage celebrations in Tainan | TWOSPEEDS/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Jungle Hikes & River Swims

Taiwan is 50% forested, and the urban jungle gives way to the real thing astonishingly quickly. In the mountainous Wulai township, 30 minutes from Taipei, old indigenous hunting trails cut through intensely green tropical forests. Monkeys chatter in the trees, lizards peek out from the underbrush and a host of native birds and butterflies flutter about. Take a break from your trek to enjoy crystal-clear streams and deep swimming pools. Paradise? You bet, and you can rinse (don't lather, you'll spoil the water) and repeat this experience all over the island.

LEREN LU/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Indigenous Taiwan

Though long suppressed, tribal culture and pride has made a remarkable turnaround in the past decade. Begin your understanding at the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines in Taipei, and then check into a homestay run by Yami islanders on Lanyu during the flying fish season. Or consider a visit to the communally run Smangus, a high-mountain centre of Atayal culture and language. In the summer, head to the east coast around Taitung for exuberant festivals celebrating harvests, coming of age and a deep love of live music.

Tao canoes, Lanyu | ALEX_LEE_PHOTOGRAPHER/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Hot Springs Wild & Tamed

Formed by the collision of two major tectonic plates, Taiwan's surface has plenty of fissures, and the abundance of spring sources is hard to match anywhere else in the world. The waters boil and bubble but cause no trouble; they are effective for everything from soothing muscles to conceiving male offspring (we can only vouch for the former). Nature lovers heading to hot springs in Beitou and Taian will find them a double happiness: stone, wood and marble are in these days, as are mountain views. If you're willing to walk in, you'll discover there are still quite a few pristine wild springs deep in the valleys.

Beitou | MIREK NOWACZYK/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Hiking the High Mountains

Don't forget your boots because two-thirds of Taiwan's terrain is mountainous – and what mountains they are. Hundreds soar above 3000m, and well-established hiking routes run everywhere. These are the real deal (no shops, no restaurants) and on remote trails you might just find yourself alone for several days. Everyone wants to tackle Yushan, the highest peak in Northeast Asia, but the second highest, Snow Mountain, is a more scenic climb and leads to the aptly named Holy Ridge, a five-day walk on an exposed ridgeline that never drops below 3000m.

Yushan | WENILIOU/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan and has a watercolour background, ever-changing with the season. Although the area is packed with tour groups these days, it's still easy to get away from the crowds on the trails and cycling paths. For diverse fun, loop down to the old train depot at Checheng or visit the Chung Tai monastery in nearby Pul. No matter what, don't miss the region's high-mountain oolong tea: it's some of the world's finest.

LITABIT/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

The Teas of Taiwan

Endowed with good soil, humid conditions and sunny weather, Taiwan is a prime tea-growing area. High-mountain oolongs will blow your taste buds away with their creamy texture and honey flavour (and that's without milk or sugar, of course). The ruby colour and fruity aroma of Oriental Beauty might just convince you to make it your new morning 'coffee'. Whether like your tea brewed old-man style or in Song dynasty bowls, you'll find a teahouse to your tastes in scenic areas such as Taipei's Maokong or the old gold-mining town of Jiufen.

LOTTIE DAVIES/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

The Magic Lights of the Lantern Festival

One of the oldest of the lunar events, the Lantern Festival celebrates the end of the New Year's festivities. The focus of course is light, and everywhere streets and riversides are lined with glowing lanterns, while giant neon and laser displays fill public squares. Making the mundane surreal and the commonplace magical, the little mountain village of Pingxi takes simple paper lanterns and releases them en masse into the night sky. There are few sights more mesmerising.

KECL/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

The Birds & the Butterflies

Taiwan is a special place for the winged creatures of the world. More than 500 species of bird and an almost equal number of butterflies can be seen here, with a high percentage found nowhere else. Habitats are well preserved and you don't need to trek days into the jungle for a fleeting glimpse. Indigenous species like the Blue Magpie can be spotted on the edge of Taipei; raptor migrations can be enjoyed from the edge of parking lots in Kenting National Park; and in this Kingdom of Butterflies, the lepidoptera will probably find you first.

ELFRED TSENG/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Need to Know

Currency

New Taiwanese dollar (NT$).

Language

Mandarin, Taiwanese

Visas

Tourists from most European countries, Canada, the US, Australia (until December 2017; see Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for updates), New Zealand, South Korea and Japan are given visa-free entry for stays of up to 90 days.

Money

ATMs are widely available (except in villages), while credit cards are accepted at most midrange and top-end hotels and at top-end restaurants.

Mobile Phones

Most foreign mobile phones can use local SIM cards with prepaid plans, which you can purchase at airport arrival terminals and top up at telecom outlets or convenience stores.

Time

National Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus eight hours)

When to Go

High Season (Jul & Aug)

A Accommodation costs increase 30% to 50% in tourist areas.

A Saturday nights (year-round) and Chinese New Year also see increases.

A Typhoon season from June could mean disruptions to traffic and access to remote areas.

Shoulder (Sep & Oct, Apr–Jun)

A Good discounts on accommodation midweek.

A Crowds at major sights on weekends.

A Best time to visit outer islands.

A Peak time for Chinese tour groups is from March to May.

A Typhoon season until October can disrupt flights and sailings.

Low Season (Nov–Mar)

A Few crowds except during January and Chinese New Year.

A Best discounts on accommodation at major tourist sights (up to 50%).

A Saturday night rates may still be high-season prices.

A High season for hot-spring hotels.

Useful Websites

Forumosa (www.forumosa.com) Expat community site.

Information For Foreigners (iff.immigration.gov.tw) Visa regulations and daily life matters.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Taiwanease (www.taiwanease.com) Expat community site covering family-related matters, restaurants and nightlife.

The View From Taiwan (michaelturton.blogspot.com) Local political and cultural coverage, plus weekly bike trips.

English in Taiwan (www.englishintaiwan.com) Site for expat teachers in Taiwan, covering daily life, travel and jobs (mostly teaching).

Important Numbers

When calling local long-distance numbers, the '0' in the area codes is used. When dialling from overseas, it's dropped.

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Daily Costs

Budget: NT$1800–2500

A Dorm bed: NT$550–800

A MRT: NT$30

A Noodles and side dish: NT$80–120

A Convenience store beer: NT$40

A Temple admission: free

Midrange: NT$2500–5000

A Double room in a hotel: NT$1400–2600

A Lunch or dinner at a decent restaurant: NT$250–500

A Car rental per day: NT$1800–2400

A Gourmet coffee: NT$120–260

A Soak in a private hot-spring room: NT$1000–1400

Top End: More than NT$5000

A Double room at a four-star hotel: NT$4000–6000

A Meal at a top restaurant: NT$800–1200

A Ecotour guide per day: NT$4000–6000

A Well-made tea pot: NT$3000–8000

A Cocktail at a good bar: NT$280–350

Opening Hours

The usual day of rest for many restaurants, cafes and museums is Monday.

Banks 9am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday

Cafes Noon to 8pm

Convenience stores Open 24 hours

Department stores 11am to 9.30pm

Government offices 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday

Museums 9am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday

Night markets 6pm to midnight

Offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday

Post offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants 11.30am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm

Shops 10am to 9pm

Supermarkets To at least 8pm, sometimes 24 hours

Arriving in Taiwan

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Buses run every 15 minutes to the city centre (NT$115 to NT$150) from 4.30am to 12.20am. A taxi (40 to 60 minutes) to the city costs NT$1200 to NT$1400. When the MRT (rapid transit) line running between the airport and Taipei opens (scheduled for late 2016), it will make travel between the two faster and more convenient.

Kaohsiung International Airport (www.kia.gov.tw) KMRT trains leave every six minutes from 6am to midnight (NT$35). A taxi costs NT$350 to downtown.

Getting Around

Cities and most tourist sites in Taiwan are connected by efficient and cheap transport. Because of the central spine of mountains down the island, there are far fewer options to go across the island, than up or down.

Train Fast, reliable and cheap, Taiwan has both a High Speed Rail (HSR) and a regular rail link.

Bus Slower but cheaper than trains, buses also connect passengers to more destinations than the trains.

Bicycle Cycling around the island is now a popular tourist activity.

Car or scooter A fun option, but you will need an International Driver's Permit.

Air Only really useful for getting to the outlying islands.

If You Like…

Traditional Festivals

Rising living standards and economic prosperity haven’t killed folk culture in Taiwan: it just means there is more money than ever to fund extravagant and sometimes outlandish festivals.

Matsu Pilgrimage Taiwan’s largest religious festival is a nine-day, 350km walk around the island for Matsu believers – which is almost everyone.

Burning of the Wang Yeh Boats A sublime week-long religious festival that concludes with the torching of a ‘plague ship’ on a beach.

Lantern Festival High-tech lantern shows in every city, the most riveting being Pingxi’s sky lantern release and Taitung's Bombing Master Handan.

Yenshui Fireworks Festival Like Spain’s Running of the Bulls, only they let fireworks loose here and you’re not supposed to run from them.

Keelung Ghost Festival A mesmerising month-long Taoist and Buddhist spectacle bookended by the symbolic opening and closing of the Gates of Hell.

Flying Fish Festival A virile coming-of-age ceremony celebrated in Lanyu during spring, with costumed young men engaging in a fishing contest.

Outdoor Activities

Hiking is outstanding and scenic cycling routes are endless. As for water sports, there’s scuba diving, river tracing, surfing and one gusty archipelago for world-class windsurfing.

Wulai Just a short ride from Taipei, this expanse of subtropical forest and wild rivers is one of the north’s top spots for hiking, cycling and river tracing.

Yushan National Park Hiking trails cross 1050 sq km of high mountains and deep valleys.

Highway 11 This coastal highway backed by steep, green mountains is Taiwan’s premier biking destination.

Penghu One of the windiest places in the world in autumn, Penghu offers Asia’s finest windsurfing.

Lanyu Unspoiled reefs, an abundance of fish life and a unique island culture make this a mecca for scuba and snorkelling fans.

Houfeng Bicycle Path A breezy ride through history that passes an old train station, courtyard houses, a Japanese-era train tunnel and suspension bridge, even a horse farm.

Food

Whether it’s Taiwanese, indigenous, Japanese or Chinese, you’ll be able to graze all day in Taiwan without tasting the same thing twice. And everywhere you’ll notice pride in local produce and an effort to put it to good use.

Wang's Fish Soup You'll find unique local eats all over Taiwan, but don't miss Tainan for its milkfish, beef soup and eel noodles, and Chiayi for its fowl and sticky rice with braised pork.

Ban Jiushi Modern Taiwanese cuisine combines a passion for local produce with modern culinary techniques; enjoy it in Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung.

RAW Restaurants have sprouted in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung serving haute Taiwan-inspired European cuisine, some of it by chefs who are among Asia's very best.

Shops in Guomao Community You'll find mainland Chinese-style dumplings, noodles and spices in Taichung, Kaohsiung's Zuoying area, even Cingjing (for Yunnan), besides the northern cities.

Yuelu Fine Taiwanese food can be enjoyed in poetic settings in cities like Taipei and Hualien.

Jowu Explore excellent 'private kitchens', whose names are whispered among foodies.

Temples

With 15,000 and counting, there is a temple for every god and occasion. Storehouses of history, display rooms for decorative arts and, of course, vibrant houses of worship, temples are a quintessential part of Taiwan’s living folk culture.

Bao'an Temple This Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site is a top example of southern temple art and architecture.

Tzushr Temple The temple’s post-WWII reconstruction was overseen by an art professor – and it shows.

Wind God Temple An historically important temple among the very few dedicated to nature worship in Taiwan.

Longshan Temple This graceful walled temple is a treasure house of woodcarving and design.

Tainan Confucius Temple Taiwan’s first Confucius temple and a model of graceful design and dignified atmosphere.

City God Temple Your moral character will be scrutinised at the home of Taiwan's most famous temple plaque: 'You're here at last'.

Chung Tai Chan Temple The rocket ship-meets-mosque exterior belies an interior filled with tradition-inspired decorative arts.

Longshan Temple, Taipei | LMSPENCER/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Mountain Retreats

With over two-thirds of Taiwan being mountainous, there’s a lot of space to get away from the crowds and the heat in summer. Small villages dot the foothills of mountain ranges, forest reserves and national parks. A few even offer hot-spring facilities.

Taipingshan This mist-shrouded­ reserve features a small village with views over the Snow Mountains and hot springs nearby.

Nanzhuang In the stunning foothills of the Snow Mountains, the villages here are a mix of Hakka, Taiwanese and indigenous.

Dasyueshan In the heart of Taiwan’s pine-and-hemlock belt, this high-mountain reserve is a prime birding venue.

Mingchih On the remote North Cross-Island Hwy, Mingchih lies near wild hot springs and two forests of ancient cedars.

Alishan National Scenic Area Lures travellers with its indigenous culture, rare alpine railway, ancient cedars and phenomenal sea of clouds.

Alishan National Scenic Area | FRANK CHEN/GETTY IMAGES ©

Night Markets

Taiwan’s reputation as a culinary hotspot is spreading; even street-food-obsessed Singaporeans and Malaysians are beating a path here to sample the nightly goodies.

Tainan It seems half the city and every temple square is a night market with uniquely local fare.

Wenhua Road Think braised goose, sticky rice, and all the goodness that make Chiayi one of Taiwan's most delicious cities.

Raohe Street The cognoscenti’s night market, Raohe is Taipei’s oldest, and unrivalled in snacking opportunities.

Miaokou Nightly offerings from the bounty of the sea at Taiwan's most famous snacking destination.

Liuhe Every night 100 stalls line the market road, offering everything from squid-on-a-stick to chicken wraps.

Fengjia Make a pilgrimage to this frenetic market, the birthplace of many quirky yet popular snacks in Taiwan.

Tea

Taiwan has ideal conditions for growing tea and, not surprisingly, it has the goods to satisfy the novice looking for a flavourful brew as well as the connoisseur willing to pay thousands of dollars for a few ounces of dry leaves – if they are of high-enough quality.

High mountain oolongs Grown above 1000m in moist but sunny conditions, these teas have a creamy texture and a lovely bouquet.

Bao Chung A national favourite with a slightly floral fragrance; a good tea to start your explorations.

Oriental Beauty Unique to Taiwan, this sweet reddish-coloured tea has a fruity aroma and lacks all astringency.

Lei cha A field-worker’s drink; rich and hearty with added puffed rice and pounded nuts.

Antique Assam Tea Farm Sun Moon Lake black-tea growers spent a decade reviving their industry. Drink straight without sugar or milk.

Hot Springs

Taiwan has over 100 hot springs ranging from common sulphur springs to rare seawater springs on an offshore volcanic isle. There’s even a cold spring or two for the summer heat. Facilities are equally diverse: some feature Japanese and Western designs, many have been left as nature intended.

Taian A favourite destination for Japanese police on R & R in the 1920s; new stylish modern spas overlook rugged wilderness.

Beitou In the wooded mountains surrounding Taipei, these springs are reachable by a quick MRT ride.

Guguan Think outdoor pools with a mist-shrouded mountain backdrop.

Green Island Indulge yourself in an exceptional seawater hot spring by the ocean.

Lisong This wild spring, deep in a remote river valley, sprays down on you from a multi­coloured cliff face.

Dongpu Bask in 50°C luxury in a Tsou village just over the northern tip of Yushan National Park.

Month by Month

Top Events

Matsu Pilgrimage April

Lantern Festival January or February

Spring Scream April

Indigenous Festivals July and August

Kaohsiung Lion Dance Competition December

January

Generally wet and cool in the north, dry and sunny in the south. Apart from students, there are few people travelling, unless the week of Lunar New Year falls in this month.

2 Southern Beaches

If you want to swim in the winter months, head south to Kenting National Park. Beaches in the north, the east and on Penghu will be closed and the waters choppy and chilly.

z Lunar New Year

Held in January or February, Lunar New Year (LNY) is mostly a family affair until the very end, when spectacular Lantern Festival activities are held. There are LNY bazaars in cities like Kaohsiung, lasting from around the 28th night of the old year to the 3rd of the new.

February

Generally very wet and cool in the north, dry and sunny in the south. Possibility of cold fronts and sandstorms. Travel during the week of the LNY is difficult but usually easy before and after.

z Lantern Festival

One of the most popular traditional festivals, with concerts and light shows across Taiwan. However, the simplest of all, the Pingxi sky lantern release, is the most spectacular. On the same day, Yenshui holds a massive fireworks festival, and Taitung has its Bombing Master Handan.

z Miyasvi

The dramatic Tsou indigenous festival of Mayasvi thanks gods and ancestral spirits for their protection. It's held on 15 February in Tsou villages in Alishan.

April

It's usually very wet and warm in the north, wet and hot in the south. Generally, low season for individual travel but peak time for Chinese tour groups.

z Matsu Pilgrimage

This annual religious pilgrimage is Taiwan's premier folk event. Hundreds of thousands of believers follow a revered Matsu statue on a nine-day, 350km journey, with a million more participating in local events (www.dajiamazu.org.tw).

1 Blue Tears

The start of the 'Blue Tears' season in Matsu; the warmer months are best for viewing the legendary glowing algae, but you can spot them in April and May too.

3 Spring Scream

Taiwan's largest and longest-running outdoor music event is held in the bright sunshine of Kenting National Park.

z Baoan Folk Arts Festival

Bao'an Temple won a Unesco heritage award for reviving traditional temple fare, and this is your chance to see lion dancing, god parades, folk opera, fire walking and god birthday celebrations. The festival runs from early April to early June.

z Penghu Fireworks Festival

The two-month airline-sponsored Penghu Fireworks Festival kicks off in April. It features fireworks, food and music two or three times a week over the coastal stretch of Makung and, occasionally, a couple of beaches further out.

1 Youtong Flowers

The tall branching youtong tree is found all over the north. In spring its large white flowers make entire mountainsides look as if they are dusted with snow. Check them out at Sansia, Sanyi, Taian Hot Springs and Sun Moon Lake.

Costumed performer at a religious festival | TWOSPEEDS/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

May

It's the start of plum rain; expect heavy afternoon showers. Travel picks up across the island and on outer islands.

z Welcoming the City God

A smaller-scale pilgrimage than the Matsu, Welcoming the City God brings unique and colourful parades across the charming landscape of Kinmen.

June

It's getting warmer everywhere – already low 30s in the south. Heavy showers are possible. Major destinations are crowded on weekends.

z Dragon Boat Festival

Honouring the sacrifice of the poet-official Qu Yuan, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated all over Taiwan with flashy boat races on the local rivers and tasty sticky-rice dumplings.

3 Taipei Film Festival

One of the highest-profile international cultural events in Taipei, with 160 film showings from 40 countries. Venues include Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Zhongshan Hall. Held in June and July (http://eng.taipeiff.org.tw).

z Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta

Held in Taitung County's stunning Gaotai plateau (Luye), this recently established, two-month balloon festival is becoming one of the summer's biggest draws. In 2013 free flights were added to the roster.

July

Hot and humid across the island. Heavy afternoon showers in the north but not in the south or east. Possibility of typhoons which can disrupt travel. Many student groups are travelling. Major destinations are very busy, especially on weekends.

z Indigenous Festivals

Every July and August a number of traditional indigenous festivals are held along the east coast. Themes include coming of age, ancestor worship, courting, harvest and good old-fashioned displays of martial and hunting skills.

August

Hot and humid but generally dryer than July. High possibility of typhoons. Many student and family groups are travelling. Major destinations are very busy, especially on weekends.

1 Day Lily Season

Orange day lilies are grown for food in the mountains of the east coast, and their blooming in late August and early September in places such as Sixty Stone Mountain is an enchanting sight that attracts flower lovers and photographers from all over the island.

z Ghost Month

Ghost Month is one of the most important traditional festivals in Taiwan. Events include the opening of the gates of hell, massive offerings to wandering spirits, and a water-lantern release. Biggest celebrations are held in Keelung.

September

The weather is cooling but it's still hot during the day. High possibility of typhoons but conditions generally dry and windy. Local travel is dropping. Autumn is a great time to cycle.

z Taipei Arts Festival

A month-long extravaganza of theatre and performance art by Taiwan and international artists, the Taipei Arts Festival (http://eng.taipeifestival.org.tw) runs from August to September or from September to October.

2 Windsurfing in Penghu

There's world-class windsurfing from September to March across the Penghu archipelago. Wind speeds can reach 40 to 50 knots, and windsurfers from all over the world can be found here.

z Confucius Birthday

Held on 28 September with elaborate early-morning celebrations at Confucius Temples across Taiwan. Those at Taipei's Confucius Temple are the most impressive.

October

The most stable weather across the island if there's no typhoon – dry, warm and windy. Best time of year in the north. There are few travellers except for tour groups.

2 Penghu Triathlon

An annual Ironman race and a short-course triathlon held in Makung.

z Boat Burning Festival

Held for one week every three years (autumn 2018, 2021 etc), this spectacular display of folk faith concludes with a 14m-long wooden boat being burned to the ground on the beach. Attended by tens of thousands, it's both a celebration and a solemn ritual.

3 Taichung Jazz Festival

Taichung Jazz Festival is a nine-day jazz fest featuring local and international musicians.

Burning of the Wang Yeh Boats, Donggang | 123NELSON/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

December

Cooling in the north but still warm to hot during the day; possibility of cold fronts and wet, humid weather. In the south it's usually dry with temperatures in the high 20s. Travel generally low except for tour groups to major destinations.

z Kaohsiung Lion Dance Competition

Teams from Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Singapore and around the world compete in various traditional temple dance routines. This lively and colourful contest is held in Kaohsiung Arena and sells out fast.

z Art Kaohsiung

Southern Taiwan's only international art fair, Art Kaohsiung, lasts approximately three days.

Itineraries

Taipei & the North

1 Week

Start with four days in Taipei being awestruck by the National Palace Museum collection and sensorially overloaded at Longshan and Bao'an Temples, as well as shopping and snacking at night markets and local shops.

Activities around Taipei abound. If you like tea, take the gondola to mountainous Maokong and experience a traditional teahouse. For hot springs, historic Beitou is just an MRT ride away. Or spend an afternoon on a stinky tofu tour along the restored old street of Shenkeng. Then rent a bike and ride along the river paths in Taipei or hike the trails in Yangmingshan National Park or Wulai, a mountainous district with natural swimming pools.

On day five, bus further afield to the old mining towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi. The next day head to nearby Ruifang and catch the Pingxi Branch Rail Line down an 18km wooded gorge to photograph the old frontier villages and hike paths cut into steep crags.

On day seven round off the trip: head back up the coast, stopping at the bizarre rocks of Yeliu and renowned sculptures at Juming Museum. From Tamsui, a seaside town with beautiful colonial houses, the MRT takes you back to Taipei.

View of Taipei from Elephant Mountain | NISHU KUMAR/500PX ©

Itineraries

Ultimate Taiwan

3 Weeks

Start with a few days in Taipei to see the sights and catch the groove of this dynamic Asian capital. It has the best Chinese art collection in the world, a thriving street-food and coffee scene, a living folk-art heritage, and some world-class cycling and hiking in Wulai and other on-the-doorstep locations.

Then hop on a train to Hualien and spend two days wandering the bedazzling marble-walled Taroko Gorge. More scenic delights await down Hwy 9, which runs through the lush Rift Valley. Take a train to Yuli and hike the nearby Walami Trail, an old patrol route running deep into subtropical rainforest, then recuperate at Antong Hot Springs. Next, head to Taitung and catch a flight or ferry to Lanyu, an enchanting tropical island with pristine coral reefs and a unique indigenous culture.

Back on the mainland, another train ride – across Taiwan's fertile southern tip – takes you to Kaohsiung, Taiwan's buzzing second-largest city, where the best of urban Taiwan mingles with southern hospitality. Check out the museums, spend half a day at the uplifting Pier-2 Art District, enjoy modern Taiwanese cooking at Do Right or Ban Jiushi, then follow up with a night of jazz at Marsalis Jazz Bar or the funky one-of-a-kind Beng Mi Pang.

Then for beaches or scootering along beautiful coastline, head down to Kenting National Park.

Continue by train up the coast to the old capital of Tainan for a couple of days of temple touring and snacking on local delicacies. If you like literature, don't miss the laudable Museum of Taiwanese Literature. Rent a vehicle for the drive up the winding Dongshan Coffee Road then spend the evening in rare mud hot springs in Guanziling. The following day continue up into the wild expanse of mountain ranges in the Alishan National Scenic Area. Hike around Tatajia in the shadow of Yushan, Taiwan's highest mountain.

The drive from Yushan to Sun Moon Lake the following morning passes some sublime high-mountain scenery and should be taken slowly. At the lake, stop to sample oolong tea and maybe catch a boat tour. Heading north, fans of traditional arts and crafts will enjoy the following day's stops in Lukang, home to master lantern, fan and tin craftspeople; Sanyi, Taiwan's woodcarving capital; and Yingge, a town devoted to ceramics.

Wulai Waterfall | SILENCE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES ©

Itineraries

A Cross-Island Tour

2 Weeks

Start your tour in Taichung, checking out the nation's top Museum of Fine Arts, then taking a walk in the beautiful and historic Taichung Park and the atmospheric Zhongxin Market nearby. After Taichung, your next stop is Chung Tai Chan Temple in Puli, an awe-inspiring centre of Buddhist art and research. After Puli the highway rises into the Central Mountains, where one gorgeous landscape after another begs to be photographed. For a side trip head to Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area, a top birdwatching venue, and spend a night in a little cabin among cherry and plum trees.

Returning to Hwy 14, continue to the end to find the Nenggao Cross-Island Trail. You can walk the whole thing or just hike in and spend a night in a cabin before heading north up Hwy 14甲. Prepare for an endless windy road and numerous washouts – and a stunning landscape of receding blue-tinged mountain ranges.

After Wuling Pass (3275m), the highest bit of road in Northeast Asia, stop in Hehuanshan Forest Recreation Area to photograph (and maybe stroll over) the treeless hills of Yushan cane. Then head up Hwy 8 to Hwy 7甲 and follow this north to Wuling Forest Recreation Area, an area of thick forests, high waterfalls and cool mountain streams, some of which are home to the endangered Formosan landlocked salmon. If you have a few days to spare, climb Snow Mountain, Taiwan's second-highest mountain.

Past Wuling the road winds down the mountains past indigenous villages, with their trademark churches and steeples, to the Lanyang River plains and one very large cabbage patch. From here it's a seamless connection with the North Cross-Island Hwy. First stop: Mingchih Forest Recreation Area and its nearby forest of ancient trees. More ancient trees can be found a couple of hours later at Lalashan, or you can continue on to enjoy stunning views of high forested mountains and rugged canyons. Stop for lunch at Fusing and then explore Chiang Kai-shek's legacy at nearby Cihu. At Daxi head north towards Sansia and stop to look at the masterful Tzushr Temple before connecting with National Fwy 3 to Taipei.

Itineraries

The East Coast Loop

2 Weeks

From Hualien, a low-key coastal town with good eating and seaside parks, it's a quick hop to Taroko Gorge, Taiwan's premier natural attraction. After a couple of days hiking, biking and marvelling at the marble walls, head up Hwy 11 to the Qingshui Cliffs, among the world's highest.

Return to Hualien and take Hwy 11 to Taitung. It's three days on a bike alongside some of Taiwan's best coastal scenery; otherwise, rent a car or scooter. Plan to stop often, but in particular at Shihtiping for seafood and jaw-dropping views, and Dulan, Taiwan's funkiest town, for an art scene centred on a reclaimed sugar factory, or for surfing when the waves are up. From Taitung, catch a ferry or flight to Green Island and/or Lanyu for a few days of snorkelling, hot springs and exploring the island culture of the indigenous Tao.

To head back north, take Hwy 11乙 west and connect with 東45 and later County Rd 197 for a scenic drive up the Beinan River valley, with the crumbling Liji Badlands on one side and the jagged cliffs of Little Huangshan on the other.

The 197 drops you off on Hwy 9, near Luye, a bucolic pineapple- and tea-growing region with a stunning plateau. Just north, connect with the South Cross-Island Hwy for some yodel-inducing high-mountain scenery, and the chance to hike to Lisong, a wild hot spring that cascades down a multicoloured cliff face.

For more scenic eye candy, stop at the organic rice fields of Loshan and the flower fields of Sixty Stone Mountain. Spend the night at Antong Hot Springs so you are fully rested for a cycle the next day out to historic Walami Trail, a Japanese-era patrol route.

Opportunities to indulge in local foods are numerous along this route – don't miss the indigenous Matai'an, a wetland area with some unique dishes. You'll be well fed for the final stretch back to Hualien, which you should do along quiet County Rd 193. For one last adventure, veer off before Hualien and ride up the wild Mugua River Gorge for a dip in a marble-walled natural swimming hole.

Plan Your Trip

Taiwan Outdoors

With its rugged mountainous spine, dense forest cover over half the island, vast backcountry road network, which includes the highest pass in Northeast Asia, and 1566km of shoreline, Taiwan abounds with venues for hiking, cycling and water sports. Get to know Ilha Formosa at the pace it deserves.

Taiwan's Best

Hiking

There are hundreds of well-maintained natural trails in Taiwan. Some of the best low-altitude trails are within an hour of Taipei. The best high-mountain trails are in Yushan and Shei-pa National Parks. In most cases, you don't need a guide.

Cycling

Taiwan has good roads with wide shoulders in popular biking areas. There are also hundreds of kilometres of bike-only routes around cities. Bikes are allowed on the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), trains and some buses, and day and multiday rental programs are widely available.

Hot Springs

Springs are located all over the island. The most accessible are in Beitou, reachable by Taipei MRT. Don't miss Taian Hot Springs in Miaoli County.

Water Sports

The offshore islands are top spots for diving. Hundreds of clean mountain streams make the island an ideal river-tracing destination. There is beginner-to-advanced surfing around northern Taiwan, the east coast and Kenting National Park. In winter, head to Penghu for world-class windsurfing.

Hiking

Why Hike Taiwan?

Taiwan's landscape is striking, and with multiple biogeographical zones ranging from tropical to alpine, the flora and fauna is ever-changing. It's possible to hike year-round on a well-developed trail network from sea level to 3952m. You don't need a guide for most hikes, and it's possible to go for days without seeing others. National-park trails feature inexpensive cabins with water and bedding (but usually no food).

National Parks & Other Hiking Venues

Over 50% of Taiwan is mountainous and heavily forested, and about 20% is protected land divided between national parks, forest recreation areas, reserves and various state forests.

National parks and forest recreation areas (FRAs) have excellent quality trails. Within the boundaries of each you'll find a visitor information centre and often a small village with basic accommodation and food. Paved trails lead to scenic spots, while unspoiled areas with natural paths may be further into the park. Forestry reserves may have good trails but usually offer few facilities for hikers.

Many trails are also maintained at the regional level and offer excellent day and sometimes overnight hikes. Both national and regional trails are usually signposted in English and Chinese.

Planning Your Hike

You can hike year-round, but the best weather is from September to December and March to May. Midweek is best for popular trails but many are never busy. Winter hiking above the snowline is possible, though Yushan National Park requires that a team leader be certified for winter hiking. Shei-pa National Park simply asks to see that hikers are adequately prepared (such as having crampons and an ice pick).

Weather

Afternoon fogs are common year-round, as are thunderstorms in summer. Typhoons affect the island from early summer to late autumn, while monsoon rains batter the island in May and June. Obviously you should not go out hiking during storms or typhoons, but also avoid going to the mountains in the few days after as landslides, swollen rivers and streams can wash out roads and trails.

Always be prepared for a change of weather and for the weather in the mountains to be different from the weather in the city.

Natural Disasters

Earthquakes are common all over the island and are especially strong along the east coast – don't hike for a few days after a big earthquake. Taiwan is also prone to massive landslides (it has been called the landslide capital of the world) and huge sections of trail are often washed out after earthquakes and typhoons. Trails can be closed for months or even years (sometimes forever) – don't attempt trails that have been closed.

Plants & Animals

Māo yào rén (貓咬人; cat bite people) Taiwan's version of poison ivy. Grows at midelevations.

Snakes Most are harmless but Taiwan has its share of deadly venomous snakes, which often have triangular-shaped heads, very distinctive patterns, thin necks and tapered tails. Large, fat pythonlike snakes are usually harmless rodent eaters. You won't find snakes at higher elevations. For more, check out www.snakesoftaiwan.com.

Ticks A possible problem at lower altitudes, even around cities. Be careful in summer and always check yourself after hiking.

Wasps Most active in autumn, these dangerous insects kill and hospitalise people every year. In danger areas you will often see warning signs. Avoid wearing perfumes and bright clothing.

Rabies In 2013 Taiwan had its first rabies outbreak in 50 years. At the time of writing, the disease was limited to ferret-badgers and house shrews.

Getting Lost

It's easy to get lost hiking in Taiwan if you are not on a well-made trail. The forest is extremely thick in places, and trails are sometimes little more than foot-wide cuts across a steep mountainside with many unmarked branches. Trails also quickly become overgrown (some need teams to come in every year with machetes just to make them passable). Never leave a trail, or attempt to make your own. If you plan to hike alone, let someone know.

PRACTICAL TIPS

A Don't be tempted to head to the summit of a mountain in light clothing and with limited supplies simply because the weather looks good. Always be prepared with wet- and cold-weather gear and plenty of food and water. Deaths are not uncommon on Taiwan's high mountains and they are often related to hikers being unprepared for fast-changing conditions.

A When it comes to a good night's sleep in a cabin, snoring can be a terrible nuisance, as can Taiwanese hikers' habit of getting up at 3am so they can catch the sunrise on the peak. Bring earplugs!

A Ribbons are placed on trails by hiking clubs to indicate the correct path to take on a complicated or easily overgrown system. If you aren't sure where to go, following the ribbons is usually sound advice.

Lower-Altitude Trails (Under 3000m)

There are low-altitude trails all over Taiwan. Trails run through subtropical and tropical jungles, broadleaved forests, temperate woodlands and along coastal bluffs. Some are just a few hours' long while others go on for days. All three major cities – Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung – have mountains and trails either within the city limits or just outside.

Permits are not needed for most low-altitude hikes, except for areas that restrict the number of hikers who can enter per day. For these areas you may need to register at a police checkpoint on the way into the area – this is a simple process but you'll need a passport.

Some great places to hike include Wulai, Maokong, the Pingxi Branch Rail Line and Yangmingshan National Park in the north; and Taroko National Park in the east.

What to Pack

A Clothes made of lightweight moisture-wicking material are best. Gortex is not much use at lower altitudes because of the humidity and heat (a small umbrella is more useful if it rains).

A Running shoes are better on jungle trails and ridge walks because of their superior grip.

A Plenty of water (at least 3L to 4L per day if hiking in the warmer months).

A Torch (flashlight); trails are notorious for taking longer than you think.

A Walking stick. Useful for pushing back brush, climbing steep sections of trail and possible snake protection.

Trail Conditions

Trail conditions vary greatly, from a foot-wide slice through dense jungle to a 2m-wide path with suspension bridges over streams that was once used as a transport route. Most trails have signposts and map boards, but if you encounter overgrown sections it's best to turn back. Few lower-altitude trails are flat for any distance: many, in fact, are so steep that ropes or ladders (always preexisting) are needed to climb certain sections.

While it is common in most parts of the world to hike 3km to 4km an hour, on Taiwan's trails 1km an hour progress is not unusual because of the extremely steep conditions.

Water

On some trails you can use small streams and springs as a water source (treat before drinking), but it is advisable to bring what you need for the day.

Sleeping

Camping on the trail is mostly a DIY thing (there are few established sites on trails). Some forest recreation areas and national parks forbid it at lower elevations. Water sources are usually available, but should be treated first.

Transport

Public transport (usually bus) is available to the majority of lower-altitude trails.

High-Mountain Trails (Above 3000m)

Taiwan has some genuinely world-class high-mountain hikes and anyone in decent shape can conquer them. Few demand any technical skills (in part because rougher sections already have ropes and ladders in place), but many routes are closed in the winter months or require a certified leader. You need to apply in advance for permits for most high-mountain trails.

Trails are generally clear of overgrowth, have good bridges over streams and have frequent distance and direction markers. However, landslides and washouts of sections are very common so always be prepared for a bit of scrambling. For sleeping, there are usually sturdy unstaffed cabins and campgrounds.

Paths generally begin in a dense mixed forest that turns coniferous higher up. The treeline ends around 3300m to 3600m. After this, short Yushan cane spreads across the highlands until the very highest elevations. Alpine lakes are surprisingly rare. High-altitude terrain tends to be strikingly rugged with deep V-shaped valleys and steeply sloped mountain ranges. Long exposed ridgelines are common obstacles to cross.

Some excellent hikes include the Yushan Peaks, Snow Mountain, the Holy Ridge, the Batongguan historic trail, Jiaming Lake, Hehuanshan, Dabajianshan and Beidawushan.

What to Pack

A Wet- and cold-weather gear is essential even in summer. Because of altitude gains of 2000m to 3000m, most hikes take you through a range of climatic conditions. Temperatures can get down close to 0°C even in summer, and in autumn and winter to -10°C at night.

A All the food and snacks you will need and cooking gear.

A Walking stick. Trails are steep and these help with balance and to spread the weight of a pack.

Trail Conditions

In general, high-mountain trails are well made and clear to follow. Solid metal or wood bridges will be in place where needed. Almost all trails require a great deal of steep uphill climbing, often more than 1000m of elevation gain a day. Many trails require at least some rope or chain climbs (these will be fixed in place and are generally not especially demanding).

Water

Most high-altitude trails will have water sources, such as streams or rainwater-collecting tanks at cabins. Maps show water sources, but always ask at the national park headquarters for the latest; sources do sometimes dry up in winter. Water should be filtered or chemically treated before drinking.

Sleeping

Cabins and campgrounds are available on most trails. Cabins can range from boxy cement structures to stylish wood A-frames offering bunk beds with thick foam mattreses, solar lighting and ecotoilets. Water sources are usually available at the cabin or nearby. With the exception of Paiyun Cabin on Yushan, cabins are usually unstaffed and do not provide sleeping bags, meals or snacks.

Campgrounds are flat clearings in the forest (sometimes the sites of former police outposts). Water sources are sometimes available.

Transport

There are public buses to Shei-pa, Yushan, and Taroko National Parks, as well as Hehuanshan. For most other hiking areas you will need your own vehicle or to arrange transport.

HIGH-MOUNTAIN PERMITS

Permits are largely a holdover from martial-law days, but they do prevent overcrowding on the trails and let authorities know who is in the mountains in case of an emergency (such as an approaching typhoon). Restrictions have eased in recent years (for example, you no longer need a guide and solo hikers can apply), but if you are caught without a permit you will be fined. If a rescue is required you will have to pay the full costs. Note that everything mentioned here is subject to change.

First off, permits are required to hike the high mountains. Anyone can apply (foreigners, locals, groups or individuals) but the process is complicated and many people pay to have the permits done for them. Permits are nontransferable and valid only for the date for which you apply. If a typhoon cancels your hike, permits cannot be changed to another date (you have to reapply). Note that Taroko National Park only allows Taiwanese to apply for permits (though foreigners can join a local hiking group).

There are two kinds of permits which may be required, depending on where you hike: national park permits (入園; rù yuán) for entering restricted areas in a national park and police permits (入山; rù shān) for entering a restricted high-mountain area. Hiking in national parks requires both kinds of permits. Non-national-park hikes usually require only a police permit.

National park permits must be applied for at least seven days in advance (for the Yushan main route, at least a month in advance). It is best to apply online, although the process is tedious. National parks will usually also process police permits for you. The Shei-pa National Park website (www.spnp.gov.tw) has a sample of a completed form in English. The bilingual website npm.cpami.gov.tw/en has details on the requirements of all the trails as well as instructions on how to apply for a national park permit.

Police permits can be applied for at the Ministry of the Interior (www.moi.gov.tw/english), at a police station in the same county as the hike, or at the police squad within the national park. You'll need triplicate copies of your itinerary written out, the trail map, a name list of group members (including their dates of birth and emergency contacts) and a national park permit (you must have this before applying for a police permit). Make sure you have ID and/or your passport. Free printable English sample police permits are available online from Barking Deer Adventures (www.barking-deer.com) for almost all major hike itineraries.

Emergency Numbers

Even in high mountains it's often possible to get mobile-phone reception, but remember that phones lose power quickly in the cold and in areas with low signals. Hiking maps highlight good reception areas. If you can't communicate by voice, try texting.

A Basic emergency numbers 119 or 112

A Dial 112 to connect to available signals, even if your mobile phone doesn't have a SIM card

A National Rescue Command Centre 0800-077 795

A Ministry of Defence Rescue Centre 02-2737 3395

A Emergency radio frequencies: 145MHz, 149.25MHz, 148.74MHz or 148.77MHz

Books

Good titles to whet your appetite for the north's great hikes include Taipei Escapes 1 and 2 and Yangmingshan, the Guide, all by Richard Saunders. Taiwan Forest Vacation Guide, published by the Forestry Bureau, covers 21 forest recreation areas around Taiwan.

Maps

For northern Taiwan maps, Taiwan Jiaotong Press (台北縣市近郊山圖) publishes a series of 14 maps at a scale of 1:25,000, covering the north from Sansia/Wulai. These are available at mountain-equipment shops around the Taipei Main Station. These shops will also carry variously scaled topographic maps of most of the Top 100 peaks and other popular hiking trails. Itineraries are included in Chinese.

National park maps are available at park visitor centres or mountain-equipment shops. Most national park websites have basic maps (in English) of the climbing routes. Topographic maps may be