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?
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Does East Asia fascinate you too?
Note: I was invited by Taiwan Tourism Bureau on this trip. And who wouldn’t go?!