Taiwan is often mistakenly associated with Thailand due to their similar pronunciation. However, these are two distinct countries. Firstly, Taiwan is an island nation with Chinese as its official language. It is also one of the wealthiest countries globally, with a GDP per capita of 33,900 USD. Taiwan ranks as the 8th largest economy in Asia and the 20th largest in the world, largely due to its advanced computer and microchip industry. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) holds a remarkable 58.5 percent market share in the global semiconductor foundry market.
With a land area of 36,193 square kilometers, Taiwan is slightly smaller than the Netherlands. Its official name is the Republic of China. After the Chinese civil war (1927-1949), the Republic of China government, along with over 1 million people, relocated to Taiwan. Since then, the Republic of China has continued to govern Taiwan, along with several outlying islands such as Kinmen, Mazu, Penghu, Orchid, and Green Island. Today, Taiwan and China have separate governments and political systems.
From Portuguese Discovery to ‘Beautiful Island’
In 1542, Portuguese sailors discovered Taiwan and were captivated by its beautiful scenery, leading them to name it “Ilha Formosa,” which means “Beautiful Island” in Portuguese. Even today, some people still refer to Taiwan as Formosa. Taiwan is recognized as one of the safest places on Earth, boasting a low crime rate. According to the 2022 Democracy Index, Taiwan ranks first in Asia and tenth globally.
Strategically located between Japan and the Philippines, Taiwan holds a vital position. The Taiwan Strait lies to the west of Taiwan, just 120 kilometers away from China’s Fujian province. Despite being a small island, Taiwan has a population of over 23 million, surpassing three-quarters of the world’s nations. Its capital city, Taipei, is the most populous area with a population of 2.7 million. Taipei is also home to Taiwan’s most iconic structure, Taipei 101, which was once the tallest building in the world, standing at 508.2 meters.
A Hiker’s Paradise and Hidden Scenic Gems
One fascinating aspect of Taiwan is its mountains. Within such a small area, there are over 200 peaks exceeding 3,000 meters, including East Asia’s highest peak, Jade Mountain. If you enjoy hiking, Taiwan is one of the best places on Earth to explore. Climbing a few of Taiwan’s mountains will provide a remarkable experience of the country’s hidden landscapes. Snow Mountain, Alishan, and Taiping Mountain are among the most famous destinations, attracting thousands of tourists each year.
Taiwan’s location along the Pacific Rim of Fire makes it a seismically active region. The meeting point of the Eurasian and Philippine tectonic plates is vividly illustrated by the 180-kilometer-long East Rift Valley. The thinness of the Earth’s crust under the island results in volcanic activity, such as the Datun Mountains north of Taipei, and numerous untouched hot springs that offer pristine goals for avid hikers.
Taiwan boasts numerous stunning waterfalls and magnificent water-carved valleys. One of its natural wonders is the world-famous Taroko Gorge, known for its unique landscapes and deep canyons. Another gift of nature can be found in Kenting, located in the southernmost part of the island. This region features eroded coral formations and a rich undersea habitat. Taiwan is exceptionally rich in flora and fauna, renowned for its diverse bird and butterfly species, many of which are endemic. While mammals such as mountain pigs and the Formosan black bear are rarely seen, Taiwan’s endemic monkey species, the Formosan macaque, can be spotted in mountainous areas, especially in the Shoushan area of Kaohsiung city.
Taiwan’s climate encompasses a wide range of zones, from tropical to alpine, supporting an astonishingly diverse array of plant life. Among the most spectacular sights are the groves of red cypress trees, some of which are 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Many of these surviving groves are located in remote areas deep within the high mountains. For instance, the Lalashan area in Taoyuan city is famous for its groves and breathtaking natural scenery. Taiwan is home to nine national parks that offer a variety of landscapes, from coastal areas to high mountains.
Culturally, Taiwan possesses a rich Chinese heritage that includes numerous temple events and ancient traditions dating back thousands of years. One such tradition is the series of pilgrimages honoring Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, which predominantly takes place in March or April. Another notable event occurs on the evening of the Lantern Festival in the town of Yanshui, Tainan City, where crowds gather to witness the spectacle of fireworks filling the skies. In addition to its Chinese culture, Taiwan also embraces its Austronesian heritage that dates back 7,000 years. These are the ancestors of Taiwan’s indigenous people, who arrived in small groups and became the earliest known inhabitants of the island. Today, nearly 500,000 indigenous people reside in Taiwan, belonging to 16 different tribes, including Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Sediq, Kanakanavu, and Hla’alua.
From Japanese Colonial Rule to Democratic Triumph
When exploring Taiwan’s history, it is important to acknowledge the Japanese era, which lasted for 50 years from 1895 to 1945. At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan was liberated from colonial rule. Since then, the island has experienced an economic miracle and achieved significant milestones in political democracy, garnering international attention. If you are planning a visit to Asia, Taiwan is an excellent choice for a vibrant and welcoming experience. While Taipei is a must-visit, every city in Taiwan has its own unique story waiting to be discovered. Even a night market tour among the hundreds of different food stalls will easily make your day. With easy transportation, warm-hearted people, a highly educated society, one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and more, it’s no wonder people call Taiwan the heart of Asia.