Hiking the High Mountains
Don’t forget your boots because two-thirds of Taiwan’s terrain is mountainous – and what mountains they are. Hundreds soar above 3000m, and well-established hiking routes run everywhere. These are the real deal and on remote trails you might just find yourself alone for several days. Everyone wants to tackle Yushan, the highest peak in Northeast Asia, but the second highest, Snow Mountain, is a more scenic climb and leads to the aptly named Holy Ridge, a five-day walk on an exposed ridgeline that never drops below 3000m.
Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area
Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan and has a watercolour background, ever-changing with the season. Although the area is packed with tour groups these days, it’s still easy to get away from the crowds on the trails and cycling paths. For diverse fun, loop down to the old train depot at Checheng or visit the Chung Tai monastery in nearby Pul. No matter what, don’t miss the region’s high-mountain oolong tea: it’s some of the world’s finest.
The Teas of Taiwan
Endowed with good soil, humid conditions and sunny weather, Taiwan is a prime tea-growing area. High-mountain oolongs will blow your taste buds away with their creamy texture and honey flavour. The ruby colour and fruity aroma of Oriental Beauty might just convince you to make it your new morning ‘coffee’. Whether like your tea brewed old-man style or in Song dynasty bowls, you’ll find a teahouse to your tastes in scenic areas such as Taipei’s Maokong or the old gold-mining town of Jiufen.
The Magic Lights of the Lantern Festival
One of the oldest of the lunar events, the Lantern Festival celebrates the end of the New Year’s festivities. The focus of course is light, and everywhere streets and riversides are lined with glowing lanterns, while giant neon and laser displays fill public squares. Making the mundane surreal and the commonplace magical, the little mountain village of Pingxi takes simple paper lanterns and releases them en masse into the night sky. There are few sights more mesmerising.
The Birds & the Butterflies
Taiwan is a special place for the winged creatures of the world. More than 500 species of bird and an almost equal number of butterflies can be seen here, with a high percentage found nowhere else. Habitats are well preserved and you don’t need to trek days into the jungle for a fleeting glimpse. Indigenous species like the Blue Magpie can be spotted on the edge of Taipei; raptor migrations can be enjoyed from the edge of parking lots in Kenting National Park; and in this Kingdom of Butterflies, the lepidoptera will probably find you first.
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