Taiwan – no, it's not just Taipei, Taiwan is more than just one city. Much more.
End of 2012 I decided to move to Taiwan, to start to learn Chinese. I also needed to get out of my comfort zone, it was time to move on, and I had been curious about mandarin Chinese for a long time, so it became the natural choice – mandarin is official language here in Taiwan. Taiwanese is also widely spoken along with other languages spoken by the minorities, but mandarin is an official language; Mandarin written with the traditional characters.
What surprised me when I started to tell friends and family that I was going to move to Taichung was the number of people who thought Taiwan was just a city. It seems to be relatively common; Many people have heard about Taiwan, knows that a lot of electronics that reaches at least European soil is made in Taiwan, and even so many people seem to believe Taiwan equals Taipei, the capital. That's not true. Taiwan is so much more.
Taiwan, the beautiful island in the middle of the Chinese sea, the mountain in the ocean, may not be enormous, but it still takes a few hours to travel from top to bottom even if you use the excellent high speed train, 高鐵 (gaotie), and with bus and/or normal train you will travelling for a day. You also have distinct differences between the north and the south, the east and the west, there are even fascinating high mountains where you often even find snow in the winter.
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, an international big city – although far more orderly than many other big cities I have visited – with bright lights, an interesting night life, bustling markets, western style shops and food chains, an absolutely great underground system that makes travelling very easily, and a city with many museums and tourist attractions. Taipei is definitely a city not to be missed. But when in Taiwan, take the opportunity to see the rest of the country: Big cities, small cities, big towns and small villages, country side, wilderness, cities; All has it's own charm. Every part of the country offers something different and every part of the country has something to see, something special for that area.
Taiwan has also done something clever and something I admire them for, the internationally interesting museums are spread out over the island, and the different cities have gotten different national museums; The Museum of Fine Arts is for example located down in central Taichung City, 臺中市 （台中市）, while Taipei has the National Palace Museum, the museum with probably the biggest collection of Chinese artefacts in the world, as many of the artefacts in Mainland China were destroyed during the 1970-ies. In Tainan you will find the National Museum of Literature, a fascinating museum that I visited in the end of 2012. The National Science and Technology museum is on the other hand located in Kaosiung. It is a very clever way of doing it. There is some travelling required to see it all, but I see no reason why it should all be in the capital?
If you are in Taiwan there are at least 4 cities I would recommend that you visit; Taipei (臺北）, the capital, Taichung, which has better weather than Taipei, and is more traditional. Tainan (臺南）, some sources say the oldest city in Taiwan, this was where many of the people that came from mainland China landed when they first arrived in Taiwan, and Kaohsiung (高雄）, simply to allow you to understand the differences. In northern Taiwan you will hear a lot of Mandarin, which is an official language, while you hear more Taiwanese when you get further south.
Taiwan is simply a fascinating melting pot of different cultures and different histories, different people meeting, and migrating. Taiwan, located where it is, has seen many cultures come and go over the years and centuries, and everyone has left its marks. Every time I read about Taiwan or meet with older Taiwanese people I learn something new. It was from people I met that I learnt that Tainan is (one of) the oldest cities in Taiwan, in an area that has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years there are traces of many cultures. Even the Western world left its marks here, the Dutch settled here and the old harbour in Tainan, Anping Harbour, still reminds us of the Dutch influence over 300 years ago. Did you know that Tainan is also said to be the city in Taiwan with the most buddhist temples? No, me neither – but all the old and new temples I saw in Tainan when I was there were gorgeous.
In short; Taiwan is so much more than just Taipei, Taiwan has a lot to offer.
You should definitely plan a trip here if you have the opportunity, what you can experience here is something unique. Taiwan is easy to travel in, the Taiwanese people are very friendly and very helpful, it is easy to feel welcome here, it's very beautiful – and you know what, for most of the countries in at least the Western world it's very easy to come here too. We don't even need to get a visa, we only need a return ticket or a ticket to the next destination and a passport that is valid for more than six months and we can come here as tourists and be allowed to stay in the country for up to 3 months, as tourists – check with the Taiwanese authorities what the rules are for people coming from your country.
Just don't miss out on one of the more fascinating locations in South East Asia – Taiwan is on top of being beautiful a very good option for first time travellers to the region, Taiwan is well organised and structured and east to travel around in.