The Cold War Frontier: Matsu & Kinmen Islands
Close enough to see China from, even on a hazy day, Matsu and Kinmen Islands were long the front lines in the propaganda wars between the nationalists and communists. These days, with the military presence scaling down, travellers are discovering islands whose rich history is not limited to recent times – Matsu and Kinmen are treasure troves of preserved old villages. Visitors will also find some fine cycling and birdwatching among the varied landscapes.
The Matsu Pilgrimage
This mother of all walks across Taiwan is, appropriately enough, dedicated to Matsu, the maternal patron deity of the island. For nine days and 350km, hundreds of thousands of the faithful follow a revered statue of Matsu across Taiwan, while several million more participate in local events. This is Taiwan’s folk culture at its most exuberant and festive, with crowds, wild displays of devotion, theatrical performances and a whole lot of fireworks.
Jungle Hikes & River Swims
Taiwan is 50% forested, and the urban jungle gives way to the real thing astonishingly quickly. In the mountainous Wulai township, 30 minutes from Taipei, old indigenous hunting trails cut through intensely green tropical forests. Monkeys chatter in the trees, lizards peek out from the underbrush and a host of native birds and butterflies flutter about. Take a break from your trek to enjoy crystal-clear streams and deep swimming pools. Paradise? You bet, and you can rinse and repeat this experience all over the island.
Though long suppressed, tribal culture and pride has made a remarkable turnaround in the past decade. Begin your understanding at the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines in Taipei, and then check into a homestay run by Yami islanders on Lanyu during the flying fish season. Or consider a visit to the communally run Smangus, a high-mountain centre of Atayal culture and language. In the summer, head to the east coast around Taitung for exuberant festivals celebrating harvests, coming of age and a deep love of live music.
Hot Springs Wild & Tamed
Formed by the collision of two major tectonic plates, Taiwan’s surface has plenty of fissures, and the abundance of spring sources is hard to match anywhere else in the world. The waters boil and bubble but cause no trouble; they are effective for everything from soothing muscles to conceiving male offspring. Nature lovers heading to hot springs in Beitou and Taian will find them a double happiness: stone, wood and marble are in these days, as are mountain views. If you’re willing to walk in, you’ll discover there are still quite a few pristine wild springs deep in the valleys.
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