Taiwan is an island nation of about 36,000 km² located off the coast of southeastern China, southwest of Okinawa and north of the Philippines. The island's official name is the Republic of China or ROC. Shaped roughly like a sweet potato, the nation is home to more than 23 million people and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Besides its crowded yet engrossing cities, Taiwan is also known for steep mountains and lush forests. In addition to the island of Taiwan, the ROC also administers several outlying islands and archipelagoes, including Penghu (sometimes called the Pescadores Islands), Kinmen (Quemoy/Jinmen), and Mazu (Matsu).
Until just a few years ago, Taiwan wasn't high on the list of destinations for Western tourists, likely because its international reputation was shaped more by economics (a world-beating IT industry) and politics (its longstanding and ongoing dispute with China) than impressions of its culture or natural attractions. Many assumed, quite wrongly, that there is very little of interest for the casual visitor. However, this spectacularly mountainous island is now becoming known as an excellent destination for hikers, ecotourists, gourmands, shoppers and anyone curious to see its rich blend of authentic Chinese tradition and indigenous Austronesian culture. In addition to some very impressive scenic sites, the ROC boasts exciting cities, most notably Taipei. The island is also a center of Chinese pop culture with a huge and vibrant entertainment industry that influences Hong Kong, Singapore and the Chinese mainland. Taiwanese cuisine is also highly regarded by other Asians.