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Taiwan: Touching your heart
Bangkok (Thailand), October 12th 2009

Tourism dollars are more than welcome in most countries and Taiwan isn’t an exception. To lure tourists to come to Taiwan, the Taiwanese tourism agency has launched a publicity campaign titled “Taiwan: touching your heart”. It didn’t took long to convince us, so we went to this small island which is located close to the mainland of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwan is best known as an important producer of technological appliances and most people won’t think of Taiwan as a holiday destination. Personally, we don’t know anybody who has visited the country. Before we went to Taiwan, all we knew was limited to the things we had read in the guidebooks and on the tourisms board’s website. These sources focus on the sights of Taiwan. We regard the national parks of Taiwan as the most important sights of the country and Taroko National Park is certainly the jewel in the crown. The main highlight is the more than eighty kilometres Taroko Gorge that stretches over the complete east-west direction of the park. The Liwu River flows through the marble-walled canyon and travelling over the well maintained road that lines the river, is a breathtaking experience. The Taiwanese people are justly proud of this natural wonder and often ask whether you already visited this key-sight of Taiwan. This is certainly a must-visit spot when you go to this country.

A religious celebration in the streets in front of the temple

Also many other sights in Taiwan are easy reachable and visited when travelling independently. Public transport is well organised and paths in the national parks are mostly well marked. Whenever you don’t fancy organising things on our own, you can always join a tour with local tourists. On weekend days and public holidays are many Taiwanese people on the road to visit the beautiful spots of their island. These hardworking people with little spare time want to use their free time as efficiently as possible. This often means that they join a tour to visit as many places as possible in a short period of time. When you happen to be at the same place as the touring cars are, you won’t get the feeling that you are in a pristine natural environment but this doesn’t mean that you won’t have a good time. In the end, we feel that the sights of Taiwan aren’t the main highlight of this island but its people. The Taiwanese are very friendly and helpful, which is very convenient in a country where the main language is Chinese. English isn’t widely spoken, but there always seems somebody there that spontaneously comes to the rescue when you are struggling to ask something in Chinese. We were also surprised about the generosity of the Taiwanese. Several times, we were offered food and drinks by complete strangers. People like to see foreigners visiting their country and they like to introduce you to the local delicacies. Without the friendliness of the Taiwanese, we probably wouldn’t have sampled the herbal drink with jelly and “the slightly fried batter made of flour and meat juices squeezed out of intestines”.

During our stay, we have got to know Taiwan as a very “polite” country. When talking to other travellers about their impression of China, we often hear that the Chinese aren’t “well-behaved”. Spitting, burping and slurping are said to be very normal in China which isn’t conform the etiquettes that most westerners have learned from their mothers. Because Taiwan was part of China until 60 years ago, we expected a lot of so-called “Chinese behaviour”. We couldn’t be more wrong. Many Taiwanese would make western mums proud when eating out in restaurants. We are not only pleasantly surprised about the table manners, but also about the way people behave in general. When getting into a bus, everybody lines up neatly and nobody tries to jump the queue. When elderly, handicapped or others in need of help get inside of the bus many people offer their seat. The Taiwanese are as anxious to help their own people as they are ready to help a foreign visitor.

One of the activities going on in Tainan's Confucius temple
Taiwan is one of the richest countries that we visited so far in our journey through Asia and is therefore also one of the more expensive countries to visit. However, the prices outside the capital city of Taipei are still reasonable and the quality of food and accommodation is good. As a richer country, Taiwan has its public transport well organised. Trains and busses usually departing from the centre of the cities, which makes it easy to get around the expensive taxis. They have done a lot to make travelling around as easy as possible for the non-Chinese speaking tourists. At most train stations, there are information desks with at least one English speaking employee or volunteer. If there aren’t English speaking people available, they can always call the tourist helpline that will act as interpreter. When buying train tickets, you won’t need any help. Ticketing machines are bilingual and easy to operate.

Despite the economic prosperity of the country, Taiwan hasn’t lost its Asian charm. Signboards that flank the streets are 99% in Chinese characters and tea is without a doubt the national drink of choice. The elderly drink their tea hot, while the younger people drink iced tea in all colours and tastes. Knife and fork are also not always available, which is the perfect reason to learn how to eat with chopsticks. Luckily, the Taiwanese won’t laugh out loud when your noodles plunge back into your soup. Everybody has to learn. Some waitresses are even friendly enough to bring some simple wooden chopsticks instead of the trendy metal sticks of nowadays. The extra grip of some old fashioned wooden chopsticks can make life a bit easier for a beginner.

When leaving the country, we can certainly say that Taiwan has touched our heart. People who are planning to visit this island shouldn’t think longer and buy their ticket. Travelling around is pleasant, easy and comfortable and the Taiwanese people are very friendly. However, don’t go with very high expectations of the sights of Taiwan. The main sights of Taiwan are certainly worth visiting, but East Asia has other destinations with more spectacular sights. In Taiwan, you should regard the sights as a very good reason to travel around the country and while you see beautiful things you will get in touch with the best thing that Taiwan has to offer: its people.

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