A little knowledge goes a long way. If you are considering Taiwan for your next holiday, reading the following is a must. -editor-

Taiwan is a convenient gateway to Asia positioned midway between Japan (3 hours) and Korea (2 ½ hours) to the north and Hong Kong (1 ½ hours) and the Philippines (2 hours) to the south. The island nation is in the western Pacific about 100 miles off the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland.

Taiwan covers an area of approximately 14,000 square miles. Forested mountains, with about 300 peaks higher than 9,800 ft., cover two-thirds of the island, with the remaining area consisting of highlands, coastal plains and basins. The Central Mountain Range stretches along the center spine of the island from north to south. To the west lies the Yushan (Jade Mountain) National Park, with its highest peak at 12,966 ft., making it the tallest in northeastern Asia. Along the coasts, mangroves and sand bars attract large numbers of migratory birds.

Taiwan has been inhabited for 10,000 years, although there is some debate as to where the earliest aboriginal tribes originated from "“ Central Asia, the Philippines or the South Pacific. Anthropological evidence suggests the indigenous peoples are from proto-Malayan ancestry and the language belongs to the Austronesian family. For centuries Taiwan was on the periphery of the great Chinese Empire. In the 15th century the first immigrants arrived from Fujian in eastern China and were followed later by migrations of Hakka from northern China. When Portuguese sailors landed in 1517 they named the island "Ilha Formosa," or beautiful island. The Spanish followed and later the Dutch invaded in 1624 and kept a colony until they were expelled by the armies of Ming general Cheng Chengkung in 1661. The island then became a Manchu territory in 1683, then a province of Fujian called "Taiwan" and a Chinese province in 1887. Following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese, who ruled with an iron fist for 50 years until their defeat in the Second World War in 1945. Taiwan was returned to Chinese control at the end of the War and was re-occupied by the Kuomintang (KMT), the United Ruling Party of China. In 1949 the rise of communism created a split between the KMT under Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong and the leaders of the new People's Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT moved to the island creating the modern nation of Taiwan.

National language is Mandarin Chinese and many Taiwanese speak Fujianese and Hakka. Various aboriginal groups have preserved their languages. English is the most popular foreign language and is widely spoken among hospitality personnel in Taipei

Getting There
More than 34 international carriers serve Taiwan. Taiwan's two national carriers: China Airlines (www.china-airlines.com) and EVA Air (www.evaairlines.com) offer nonstop flights from several US gateways. American, Continental, and Delta offer direct flights from many U.S. gateways. United, Northwest, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Singapore, Garuda, Thai and Philippine Airlines and other international carriers all fly to Taipei from various Asian gateways. There are two international airports: Taipei Chiang Kai Shek (TPE) in Taoyuan (about 40 km from Taipei), where most international flights arrive, and Hsiao-Kang Airport in Kaohsiung where some Hong Kong flights usually land.

With its subtropical climate, Taiwan enjoys mild and temperate weather year round. Temperatures range from a high of 75°F (25°C) in June to September to about 59°F (15°C) from November to March. The mountains get some snow in winter.

Many of the world's luxury 5-star hotel brands have properties in Taiwan including Caesar Park, Grand Hyatt, Four Seasons/Regent, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Sherwood and Westin. Luxury resorts can be found in Sun Moon Lake, in Kenting, Taroko Gorge and the North Coast. There are a number of excellent 4-star hotels that appeal to business travelers with rates starting at less than $100. Small inns are located in various hot springs areas. Alternative accommodations are offered in monasteries.

The country has more than 10,000 Buddhist, Confucius and Taoist temples, hot springs in about 100 locations, 6 national parks, 16 forest recreation areas and 12 national scenic areas; 18,800 species of wild animals including 500 bird species.
Taipei "“ The National Palace Museum, one of the world's top five museums, Longshan Temple, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Shunyi Aboriginal Museum and Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The world's tallest building, Taipei 101 has an observation deck, restaurants and a mall (opened 1/2005). Yangmingshan Park, the closest national park to Taipei has hiking trails through forests, volcanic formations and hot springs.
Sun Moon Lake "“ The country's largest fresh water lake sits in a stunning landscape at 2500 ft. surrounded by towering, forested mountains.
Taroko Gorge "“ The country's top tourist destination has marble-walled canyons, steep cliffs, lush vegetation, hiking trails, and a variety of animal and plant life.
Kenting "“ A tropical resort on the southern tip with palm trees and long beaches.
Lugang "“ This picturesque town, with curved streets and quaint shops, houses some of the most magnificent temples in the country.

Major Cities and Islands
Taipei "“ The capital, one of Asia's most vibrant cities is the business hub and the cultural heart of the nation.
Tainan "“ The oldest city in Taiwan is home to a quarter of Taiwan's nationally listed cultural sites including 200 temples, as well as shrines and forts.
Kaohsiung "“ Taiwan's second largest city, its largest port and one of the top five in the world, contains a number of the island's finest temples.
Taichung "“ A cosmopolitan city and the country's third largest, is home to the National Museum of Natural Science.
Penghu Archipelago "“ An archipelago of 64 islands (combined coastline of 300 km) between mainland China and Taiwan includes Penghu, Paisha and Hsi Islands.
Green Island "“ Snorkelers and divers are drawn to its pristine coral reefs and marine life. Others come for its saltwater hot springs, camping areas and beaches.
Orchid Island "“ Resembling a South Pacific island paradise, it has high volcanic mountains, lush tropical rainforests and beaches.

Culture and the Arts
A fusion of Chinese, Fujianese, Hakka, Cantonese and various aboriginal cultures, Taiwan has an array of annual celebrations like the Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mazu Culture Festival and Ghost Festival. Twelve aboriginal tribes remain: the Saisiyat, Atayal, Amis, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Paiwan, Tao, Sao, Taroko, Kemalan and the Zou. They celebrate the Ami Harvest Festival, Bunun Ear-shooting Festival, Puyuma Monkey Festival and Saisiat Sacrifice to the Short Spirits. Taipei has a vibrant arts scene with regular performances of traditional and contemporary dance, Taiwanese opera and glove puppet theatre. Renowned artists and traditional craftsmen produce ceramics, stone and wood sculptures, contemporary paintings and bamboo and glass art works.

Besides Taiwanese cuisine, the island nation offers exceptional regional Chinese cooking: Beijing, Cantonese, Fujianese Hakka, Hunan, Jiangjhe, Shanghainese and Sichuan cuisines. At Taiwan's renowned night markets, street vendors offer up delicious Taiwanese street food at incredibly low prices.

Outdoor Activities
A wide selection of outdoor activities include: swimming, diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, surfing, sailing, fishing, boating, canoeing, rock and mountain climbing, hiking, mountain biking, white-water rafting, golf, hang gliding, paragliding, bungee jumping, birdwatching and whale watching. The island has 6 national parks: Taroko, Yushan, Shei-Pa, Yangmingshan, Kenting and Kinmen. There are also a number of hot springs in Beitou in Taipei County, Zhiben, Wulu and Green Island in Taitung County and in Antung, Ruisui, Hongye and Wenshan in Hualien County.

Options range from designer fashions to antiques, jade jewelry, hand-painted Chinese scrolls, pottery, ceramics, tea and tea sets and children's toys. Traditional handicrafts, include: ceramics from Yingge, Shueili and Kinmen; woodcarvings from Sanyi, stone sculptures from Hualien and Meinong's hand-crafted oil-paper umbrellas. Taipei has a number of shopping centers including one of the world's largest, the Core Pacific Living Mall. Some of the most famous night markets are: Huasi, Raohe and Shihlin Night Markets in Taipei; Keelung's Miaokou Night Market, the Siaobei Night Market in Tainan, Liouhe Night Market in Kaohsiung and Luodong Night Market in Yilan.

Ground Transportation
The Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT), buses or taxis are the best way to get around Taipei. The MRT has five major lines that cover most of inner and Greater Taipei. Taxis are easy to hail, with cab fares reasonably priced. Outside the capital, buses, trains or cars are the best options. Buses are a reliable way to travel around Taiwan or to connect to other major cities and scenic spots using the modern highway network. The railway system between major cities is easy and convenient and tickets can be booked through the website www.railway.gov.tw. When it debuts in early 2006, the Taiwan High Speed Railway, $16 billion project will carry 300,000 people a day to travel from Taipei in the north approximately 326 km to Kaohsiung in the south at a speed of up to 300km/h.

Time Difference
Taiwan is 12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard time, 13 hours ahead of Central Standard, 14 hours ahead of Mountain Time and 15 hours ahead of Pacific Time.
Population Taiwan has a population of almost 23 million. Taipei is home to 2.9 million, Kaohsiung – 1.4 million, Taichung – 860,000 and Tainan – 708,000. Per capita GNP $13,157 (2003).

Taiwan is a democratic republic headed by a president. Its constitution was adopted in December 1946. The central government consists of the Office of the President, the National Assembly and five branches, or yuan: Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Examination and Control.

The official currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT$). Notes come in values of NT$ 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 and coins are in NT$ 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50. Current exchange rate is NT $31.83 = US $1 (7/12/05).

Customs and Passports
U.S. and Canadian citizens holding passports valid for at least six months and onward or return tickets are allowed visa-free entry to Taiwan at any of its major international airports and harbors for a period of 30 days. The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is authorized to perform services for American citizens. Americans are encouraged to register with AIT through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov. For further information go to www.taipei.org.

Web sites

Lonely Planet Taiwan (Lonely Planet Taiwan)