The Republic of China Yearbook 2008

Contents / CHAPTER 19 Tourism

CHAPTER 19 Tourism

At a Glance

  • Health tourism
  • International recognition

Two young men personifying a local folk deity are blasted with firecrackers as they are carried on a palanquin during the “Bombing of Han Dan” ceremony, held in Taitung County during the Lantern Festival. (Yan Ming-bang)

With its unique fusion of cultures, colorful history, breathtaking scenery, exciting city life, and warm weather during much of the year, Taiwan is the ideal travel destination for various types of traveler. Efforts made by the government in recent years to develop the domestic tourism industry and promote Taiwan as a travel destination to international travelers have started to pay off. Taiwan’s tourism revenues amounted to NT$391 billion (US$11.9 billion) in 2007, accounting for 3.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and 2007 saw the highest-ever number of foreign visitors and tourists to Taiwan. Tourism revenues in 2008 are expected to climb above NT$402 billion (US$12.2 billion). This chapter introduces Taiwan’s main tourist attractions and travel services.

Nature

National Parks

Though planning and lobbying for national parks began during the Japanese colonial era, subsequent military, political, and economic distractions delayed the establishment of Taiwan’s first national park until 1984, when Kenting was designated as such. There are now seven national parks in Taiwan, which account for almost 10 percent of the nation’s total land area and cover a diverse range of terrain. While the parks are prime tourist destinations, their principal role lies in the protection of natural and cultural resources deemed to be of significant value at the national or global level.

Dongsha Marine National Park is the ROC’s newest national park. Established in January 2007, the park aims to protect the coral reef ecosystem of the Dongsha (Pratas) Islands (see Chapter 1, “Geography”), located 240 nautical miles south of Kaohsiung. Historical records suggest that a number of ancient sunken ships lie beneath the area’s waters and so the park also has archaeological significance. However, tourists will not be allowed into the area for at least five years, so that the area may be better conserved.

Kenting National Park wraps around Taiwan’s southernmost tip, encompassing a dramatic and tropical coastline primed by millions of years of rock activity. Migratory birds, whales, and dolphins gather in the area during the winter months. Safe, clean waters and white beaches mean that water sports are popular and the park’s coral reefs and exotic marine life are favorites among divers.

Kinmen National Park covers roughly one-quarter of the Kinmen (Quemoy) Islands, which are located 2.3 kilometers from the coast of the Chinese mainland. The park acts as a war memorial in addition to its role as a nature reserve, as the main island of Kinmen was subject to fierce attacks by mainland China during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Kinmen boasts well-preserved architecture in the traditional Fukienese style and hybrid Western and Chinese styles. The island’s renowned pottery and fiery sorghum liquor gaoliang are popular souvenirs.

Mountainous Shei-pa National Park forms the main watershed for north and central Taiwan and is frequented by both local and foreign mountaineers. Taiwan’s largest wildlife refuge, which was established to protect the endangered Formosan landlocked salmon, is situated in the park at the Qijiawan River. The area’s indigenous cultural heritage is still visible in mountain trails and place names, and roughly 18,000 members of the indigenous Atayal and Saisiyat groups live near the park today.

Taroko Gorge, a spectacular marble-walled canyon that runs for 19 kilometers through mountains near Taiwan’s east coast, lies as a gem at the center of Taroko National Park. The park is traversed by the Central Cross-Island Highway, which winds through green and rugged mountains from the west and then along the rim of the gorge, offering magnificent bird’s-eye views of the park’s natural beauty. The park is also home to waterfalls, hot springs, and indigenous culture.

Yangmingshan National Park to the north of Taipei is noted for its unusual volcanic terrain, and live volcanic activity can still be seen in the form of sulfur fumaroles and hot springs. Lush grass plains, mountain peaks, crater lakes, and waterfalls are connected by roads, walkways, and hiking trails. Located nearer to a metropolitan center than any other national park in the world, Yangmingshan is a perfect weekend getaway or day trip from Taipei.

Located at the heart of Taiwan’s central mountain range, Yushan National Park includes 30 of the 100 highest mountain peaks in Taiwan and centers on Yushan (Jade Mountain), Northeast Asia’s highest peak at 3,952 meters. As the mountain’s base is just 300 meters above sea level, the huge variation in altitude up its slopes is reflected by changes in plant and animal life from subtropical, through temperate, to alpine.

National Scenic Areas

There are currently 13 national scenic areas in Taiwan, which have been selected on the basis of outstanding natural beauty or ecological and cultural importance. The areas are geared primarily to tourists, but also act to conserve natural resources.

Forest Recreation Areas

The diverse recreational potential offered by Taiwan’s forests, which comprise around 53 percent of the country’s total land area, has not gone unnoticed. A total of 17 national forest recreation areas have been designated since 1989, some of which are located within national parks or national scenic areas. The areas vary significantly throughout the island and different seasons. Xitou Forest Recreational Area, belonging to National Taiwan University, is also a popular forested destination.

Ecotourism

With increased interest in environmental conservation in recent years, Taiwan has seen significant growth in the field of ecotourism. In addition to the various areas mentioned above, recreational activities are now offered at several places in the form of dolphin, whale, butterfly, and bird watching. However, concerns have also being raised as to how the overly rapid development of ecotourism may, in some areas, be adversely affecting precious and fragile ecosystems.

Culture

Museums

Ten Most Frequently Visited Destinations by Foreign Tourists (2007)

  1. Night markets
  2. National Palace Museum
  3. Taipei 101 (the tallest building in Taiwan at 508 meters)
  4. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
  5. Martyrs’ Shrine (vast war memorial in Taipei City)
  6. Ximending (lively pedestrian shopping district in Taipei City)
  7. Jiufen (old gold mining town in Taipei County)
  8. Longshan Temple
  9. Danshui
  10. Taroko Gorge

Source: Tourism Bureau, Ministry of Transportation and Communications

Taiwan has more than 400 museums. The most famous of these is the National Palace Museum, which holds the world’s largest collection of Chinese art treasures. The collection was transported in bulk to Taiwan by the Kuomintang on its retreat from the Chinese mainland and is so immense that exhibits must be rotated regularly. The completion of an extensive three-year renovation project of the museum was marked with a “once in a lifetime” exhibition of Sung dynasty artifacts from December 2006 to March 2007.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a raised marble edifice in the center of Taipei. The hall is fronted by a massive Ming-style arch and the square before the hall is flanked by two identical and equally massive golden-tiled buildings—the National Theater and the National Concert Hall.

Recent additions to Taiwan’s museums include Gold Ecological Park (opened in 2004), an “eco-museum” at the site of former gold-mines in Taipei County, which promotes sustainable development by preserving the park’s natural surroundings and working with the local metal craft industry; the Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology (opened in 2003), an archaeological museum in Taipei County constructed on an excavation site inhabited by indigenous groups during the Iron Age; and the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature (opened in 2003), located in the Japanese-era Tainan City Hall building, which is dedicated to preserving Taiwan’s multiethnic and multilingual literary heritage.

Temples

Taiwan’s temples, of which there are more than 5,000, lie at the core of the island’s religious life as active places of worship. Most temples are in a Taoist (Daoist), Buddhist, or less ornate Confucian style.

Tainan, the island’s former capital and oldest city, and the old fishing town of Lugang are particularly well-known for their temples, at which are held colorful ceremonies and parades. Dalongdong Baoan Temple, a large, vibrant house of worship in Taipei and host of an annual two-month-long cultural festival, received Honorable Mention in the 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.

Historic Sites

Historic sites in Taiwan are a testament to a checkered history of four centuries of colonial rule and several millennia of habitation by indigenous peoples.

The Japanese constructed numerous administrative and public buildings during their half-century occupation of Taiwan, often in grand colonial style. Many of these buildings are still in good condition, such as the Office of the President, which was originally built as the Office of the Taiwan Governor-General, and the Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, and Tainan railway stations.

The Lin Family Mansion and Garden in Banqiao is Taiwan’s best example of Ching dynasty architecture. Fort San Domingo (also known as the “Fort of the Red-haired”) in Danshui was built by the Spanish in 1629; and Tainan is home to Fort Zeelandia and Fort Provintia, both built under Dutch rule.

There are prehistoric sites and relics all over Taiwan. The extensive Beinan excavation site, which now comprises part of the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung, has yielded a bounty of valuable archaeological finds dating back to the Stone Age.

Cuisine

Whatever visitors might wish to sample, Taiwan’s melting pot of cultures and cuisines is a great place to find a wide selection of delicacies. Moreover, due to the variety of climates and short distances between mountains, plains, and sea, ingredients tend to come from local areas and be very fresh. Many gourmets agree that the original taste of fresh, high-quality ingredients gives Taiwanese food its distinct flavor.

Tourists can find restaurants that serve Taiwanese, Hakka, and indigenous cuisines throughout Taiwan. Taiwanese cuisine, influenced by the Dutch, Japanese, and southern Chinese, is light, simple, and easy to prepare. It is only natural, given Taiwan’s historical connections with the Chinese mainland, that cuisines from all over the mainland can be found in Taiwan and many dishes originating there have developed more sophisticated versions in Taiwan. Naturally, plenty of seafood is featured. Dishes of the Hakka people, Taiwan’s second-largest ethnic group, tend to be oily, salty, and aromatic, reflecting their hard lifestyles on marginal hill land in the past.

For a change of pace from formal restaurant dinners, snacks in Taiwan’s many night markets come highly recommended. Favorites include oyster omelets and oysters with noodles, uann-kue (steamed rice flour with egg, pork, and mushrooms), ba-uan (sweet potato flour dumpling filled with meat), rice with chicken, jun-piann (wrap filled with meat, vegetables, bean sprouts, and peanut powder), and desserts like tau-hue (blancmange-like soybean dessert) and pearl milk tea (milk tea with chewy tapioca balls).

Taiwan is also an excellent place to find vegetarian food because of the predominance of Buddhism, Taoism, and I-Kuan Tao, all of which promote a vegetarian diet. A wide variety of Asian cuisines are available, including Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, Japanese, Korean, and Indian, while a good selection of North American and European cuisines can be found in big cities.

Delicious local snacks and desserts are popular with tourists and locals alike. Clockwise, from top left: deep fried bread stick with soybean milk; xiaolongbao dumplings; stinky tofu; and shaved ice with mango and ice cream. (Courtesy of the Tourism Bureau)

According to the Tourism Bureau, food was one of the major reasons more than half of all foreign tourists visited Taiwan in 2007, especially Japanese tourists, who usually account for about one-third of international visitors. The Tourism Bureau noted the Taiwan Food Festival in Taipei, the Blue Fin Tuna Cultural Festival in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung County, and trips to night markets in Taipei and Taichung among the country’s must-do attractions.

The annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition at the Taipei World Trade Center saw more than 100,000 visitors in 2007, presenting both Chinese-style cuisines and Taiwan’s specialties. A focus of the 2007 exhibition was creative dishes made of two staples—taro root and sweet potatoes.

Since 2005, the Taipei City Government has held the annual International Taipei Beef Noodle Festival to promote a local favorite that originated in “mainlander” communities and gradually become popular all around Taiwan. The 2007 event invited foreign chefs to compete with local makers of beef noodle soup for titles in the categories of best noodles in brown broth, best noodles in clear broth, and most creative beef noodles.

In a major effort to develop local expertise in cocktail mixing and add vigor to the beverage sector of Taiwan’s hospitality industry, the Bartenders Association of Taiwan organized the 2007 International Bartenders Association Congress and its World Cocktail and Flairtending Competitions, which were held in Kaohsiung. It was the first time that Taiwan had hosted such prestigious world cocktail events. Taiwanese contestant Syu Bo-sheng won third-place for flairtending. Another young Taiwanese bartender, Kung Hui-chun, was crowned the 2006 world cocktail champion at competitions in Greece.

Developing the Industry

Foreign arrivals reached 3.71 million in 2007, a 5.58-percent rise over the previous year. Tourists accounted for 44.36 percent of these foreign visits and saw a 9.16-percent rise from the previous year.

Perhaps accounting for this rise has been the Tourism Bureau’s three-year Tourism Flagship Plan, in which specific attractions and scenic areas were selected for intensified marketing campaigns aimed at both domestic and international tourists. The Tourism Bureau is also working on the Tour Taiwan Years 2008-2009 project, for which a number of programs have been launched to encourage more young travelers to visit Taiwan.

The Tourism Bureau has continued to implement various ongoing schemes aimed at attracting more tourists from abroad. These include arranging new package tour routes; developing new sites of interest for tourists; improving the Taiwan Tour Bus service; offering free full-day and half-day tours to transit passengers and individuals coming to Taiwan to participate in conferences; increasing international advertising and promotional campaigns; participating in travel fairs in various countries; and cultivating the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) industry.

Other Attractions

For those fond of the great outdoors, Taiwan has developed a network of regional hiking and bicycle trails, which continues to be expanded. Railway tours offer leisurely journeys through the countryside, and include Hsinchu County’s Neiwan Line, which takes tourists to experience Hakka culture and cuisine; the Jiji Line in Nantou County; and the 72-kilometer Alishan mountain railway. Adventure sports such as surfing, scuba diving, sailboarding, paragliding, and bungee jumping are gaining popularity throughout the island. Taiwan also has one of the highest concentrations of hot springs in the world. These include one of the world’s three seawater hot springs, Zhaori Hot Spring on Green Island, and a type of muddy hot spring at Guanziling of which also only three are known to exist globally.

For those who enjoy shopping, bustling night markets bedeck the streets in many of Taiwan’s cities and towns, at which snacks, local specialties, clothes, and novelty items are on offer.

Health Tourism

Taiwan offers extremely high standards of medical services at reasonable prices. The relatively new field of medical tourism has therefore seen steady growth in recent years, with many private clinics securing a stream of foreign patients for non-invasive treatments. Money earned from foreign tourist-patients is expected to contribute to the quality of medical services for local residents.

In 2006, a government task force launched a three-year plan for developing medical tourism in Taiwan, the initial stage of which will promote cosmetic laser treatment, laser eye surgery, and dental services to Japanese tourists. In January 2006, National Taiwan University Hospital launched a set of services tailored specifically to foreign patients, and Taiwan’s first government-backed medical tourism clinic was opened in November 2006 at Howard Beach Resort in Kenting. In April 2007, Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital in Taipei established a team responsible for introducing its services abroad. Toward the end of 2007, an international healthcare center devoted to foreign patients was set up at Taipei’s Wan Fang Hospital, which in 2006 was accredited by Joint Commission International. Endorsement by this US nonprofit organization shows that an institution meets tough standards for quality of service.

The government approved an International Medical Services Project in 2007 and announced the launch of its management center in November of that year, focusing on Taiwan’s five globally competitive areas—liver transplants, joint replacement, assisted reproduction, and craniofacial and cardiovascular surgeries.

In May 2007, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to issue visitor visas for medical reasons. Since August of that year, visitors from mainland China seeking treatment in the five above-mentioned areas have also been able to come to Taiwan more easily.

Festivals

Major festivals celebrated in Taiwan are greatly influenced by Han culture and local customs.

Lunar New Year

Also known as the Spring Festival, Lunar New Year is the most important traditional festival in Taiwan and is marked with a national holiday of several days. While New Year’s Day itself falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice each year (in either January or February of the Gregorian calendar), celebrations are a 15-day affair and preparations often start with people cleaning their houses and pasting strips of red paper adorned with words of blessings on the doorframes of their homes and businesses.

New Year’s Eve marks the beginning of festivities and is a time for family reunions where children are given hongbao (gifts of money in red envelopes) by elder family members, and New Year’s Day is ushered in with fireworks and firecrackers. On New Year’s Day, candles, incense, and mock paper money are burnt and people visit temples to pay respect to various deities before calling on relatives and friends. It is customary for married women to return to their parents’ home on the second day of the lunar new year.

Lantern Festival

Intricately designed traditional lanterns decorate Da Jia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung County during the Lantern Festival.

Lunar New Year celebrations culminate with the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Temples are illuminated by colorful lanterns and yuanxiao (sweet dumplings made from glutinous rice flour) are eaten. Celebrations include the launching of thousands of sky lanterns in Pingxi Township, Taipei County; the setting off of beehive rockets in Yanshui Township, Tainan County; and bombing Han Dan, a wealth deity, with fireworks in Taitung County.

Tomb-Sweeping Day

On April 4 or 5, families clean and touch up the graves of their ancestors, and also make offerings of meats, fruits, and wine.

Dragon Boat Festival

It is customary to pay tribute to Qu Yuan, a famous scholar-statesman who lived during the Warring States Period, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the anniversary of his death. When Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into a river after the capture of his nation’s capital, fishermen rowed frantically to save him and later threw zongzi (a snack of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) into the water to prevent fish from eating his corpse. Today, dragon boat races are held and zongzi are eaten in his memory.

Ghost Festival

It is believed that the gates of hell are opened on the first day of the seventh lunar month, known as Ghost Month, to allow spirits a month of feasting and revelry in the land of the living. The month reaches a climax on the 15th day, when sacrificial feasts are laid out at temples and in front of homes to appease wandering souls.

A pole-climbing event known as qianggu (grappling with ghosts that do not have descendents making regular offerings to them) is held in Yilan County’s Toucheng Township prior to the closing of hell’s gates. Whoever is first to seize the gold plate and flag at the top of a greased pole is said to be blessed with safety and prosperity for the coming year.

Mid-Autumn Festival

On the evening of the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, families gather to eat moon cakes under the full moon. Since the 1980s, it has also been popular to hold a barbecue on this day. This holiday celebrates the legend of the moon goddess, Chang E, who is said to have floated up to the moon after swallowing an elixir stolen from her husband.

Other Festivals

Traditional religion in Taiwan consists of deep-rooted folk beliefs that combine aspects of pantheism, polytheism, ancestor worship, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism (see also Chapter 21, “Religion”). These find practical expression in the numerous activities held on special occasions, such as celebrations and parades for the birthdays of different deities or the two-month-long Baosheng Cultural Festival at Taipei’s Dalongdong Baoan Temple.

Religious celebrations popular among tourists include burning Wang Ye’s Boat; the colorful 300-mile Ma Zu pilgrimage from Taichung County’s Dajia Township to Chiayi County’s Xingang Township and back; temple activities in Tainan on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month when Qixi (Taiwanese Lovers’ Day) and a coming-of-age celebration for 16-year-olds are marked; and the Fish-calling Festival held between March and July on Orchid Island that remembers a flying fish deity who taught the island’s indigenous Yami (Tao) people how to cook fish.

National Holidays and Memorial Days
Founding Day of the Republic of China*January 1
Lunar New Year’s Day*February 7, 2008 / January 26, 2009
Peace Memorial Day*February 28
Youth DayMarch 29
Children’s DayApril 4
Tomb-Sweeping Day*April 4 or 5
Dragon Boat Festival*June 8, 2008 / May 28, 2009
Teacher’s Day (Confucius’s Birthday)September 28
Mid-Autumn Festival*September 14, 2008 / October 3, 2009
Double Tenth National Day*October 10
Taiwan’s Retrocession DayOctober 25
Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s BirthdayNovember 12
Constitution DayDecember 25

*Denotes a national holiday when government offices are closed.

International Recognition

A survey of British tourists conducted by Virgin Travel Insurance placed eastern Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge fifth on a list of the top ten must-see sights around the world.

In February 2008, Marc Pingry Productions, Inc., which makes the television series Fantastic Festivals of the World for the Discovery Channel, sent a team to Taiwan to shoot celebrations of the Lantern Festival. “This festival is a modern take on a traditional holiday,” notes the television show.

On March 2, 2008, the New York Times published an article titled “36 hours in Taipei, Taiwan.” “Taipei, the vibrant capital of Taiwan,” the story says, “distills the best of what Asian cities have to offer—great street food, crackling night life, arguably the world’s best collection of Chinese art, and hot springs and hiking trails reachable by public transport.” Recommended spots included the National Palace Museum, Taipei 101 building, Da-an Park, Longshan Temple, an art-house cinema at the site of the former official residence of the US ambassador, Yangmingshan National Park, a hot-spring resort, as well as eateries offering Taiwanese food and drinks such as deep-fried oysters, rolls stuffed with taro and shrimp, tea, and shaved ice.

The New York Times story called Taiwan’s capital city “one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Asia.”

Tourist Travel Services

The Tourism Bureau provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on Taiwan for domestic and international tourists on its website and at the Travel Service Center in Taipei. There are also travel centers in Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. The Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Tourist Service Center maintains two travel service counters (one in each of the main lobbies at Terminal 1 and Terminal 2), which offer a variety of services in several languages. The Kaohsiung International Airport Tourist Service Center provides travel information to international travelers arriving in southern Taiwan.

Accommodation

It is easy to find accommodation in Taiwan, whether in large cities or far-flung mountain villages. The Tourism Bureau categorizes accommodation as international-tourist class, tourist class, general class, and homestay, and all approved accommodations display a sign denoting certification by the Tourism Bureau. Some hotels and homestays offer package tours and tour plan services.

Taiwan’s international-tourist-class hotels offer shopping arcades, swimming and exercise facilities, entertainment systems, business centers, and fine dining.

For budget travelers, Taiwan offers many inexpensive hostels and youth activity centers. Homestays are the latest addition to Taiwan’s range of accommodation options, and allow travelers the chance to experience local customs and practices firsthand.

Transportation

Surface travel in Taiwan is both convenient and reasonably priced. Trains and express buses link all cities, towns, and scenic spots. The island’s high-speed rail system opened in January 2007 and provides service between all major cities along Taiwan’s west coast (see Chapter 13, “Transportation and Telecommunications”). Rental cars are widely available, although major international car rental agencies are not yet widely established. An international or local driver’s license, plus a major credit card or a sizable deposit, is required in order to rent a car.

Major cities have comprehensive and convenient public bus services. Taxis are plentiful, but only a few drivers speak non-Chinese languages fluently. Taipei’s mass-rapid-transit (MRT) system currently operates eight lines, with more under construction. Similar MRT systems are planned for other large cities, with that in Kaohsiung having begun operating in March 2008. Local and international air services are provided by more than 40 domestic and international airlines.

Information for Foreign Visitors

Time Differential
UTC +8 hours

Language
Mandarin Chinese. Many people speak some English and Japanese. A “Yes, I speak English” sticker identifies a taxi whose driver has passed a local government English test.

Currency
New Taiwan Dollar (NT$ or NTD);
NT$32.84=US$1 (2007 average)

Credit Cards & Traveler’s Checks
Major credit cards are accepted; traveler’s checks can be cashed at hotels, department stores, or local branches of the issuing institutions.

Tipping
NT$50/piece of luggage at airports; 10-percent service charge is automatically added to room rates, meals at hotels, and most restaurants. Other tipping is optional.

Business Hours
Banks: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
Businesses: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
Government offices: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.
Shops: approx. 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

Electricity
110-volt, 60-cycle AC

Water
Distilled or boiled water is served at hotels and restaurants.

Vaccinations
Not normally required for entry

Visa Information
Bureau of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
http://www.boca.gov.tw

Customs Information
Directorate General of Customs, Ministry of Finance
http://web.customs.gov.tw