Those who think of Taiwan as a grimy, densely populated industrial island haven't seen the mountains which occupy two-thirds of main island, nor the unspoiled east coast, nor its beguiling minor islands. Taiwan is home to some stunning landscapes, most famously Taroko Gorge near Hualien and Yushan National Park. Both are very impressive and not to be missed. Low-, mid- and high-altitude hiking opportunities abound, and there are some excellent spots for scuba diving and birdwatching.
The Cultural Revolution and Communist campaigns against old ways didn't affect Taiwan. Until the 1970s, the KMT regime worked hard to promote their version of Chinese culture, as a response to Communism on the mainland, and also in an effort to dilute Japanese-influenced Taiwanese culture. As a result, Taiwan has a rich and diverse society that retains many elements of traditional Chinese culture nowadays seldom seen in China proper; these are especially apparent in folk rituals. The aboriginal minority adds another layer to the mix, as does the growing number of residents of Vietnamese and Thai origin.
People tend to think of Taiwan as a crowded island filled mostly with factories, and if you stay along the west coast you might indeed maintain that illusion. However, the island is also home to high mountain ranges, great beaches, hot springs, and stunning national parks.
- Alishan - misty forests of giant cypresses and amazing sunrises at the center of the island; the narrow-gauge train has been out of service since 2009.
- Kenting National Park - located at the extreme southern tip of the island, this park is famous for its beaches and lush vegetation.
- Shei-pa National Park - a park spanning mountains and rivers located in the northwest, with superb hiking trails
- Sun Moon Lake - nestled at 762m (2,500ft) above sea level, this lake in the dead center of Taiwan is famous for its clear sparkling blue water and picturesque mountain backdrop.
- Taipingshan - a historic logging area and one of Taiwan's most scenic spots; located in Yilan County in the northeast.
- Taroko Gorge - a fabulously impressive gorge next to the east coast.
- Yangmingshan National Park - spanning a mountain range which overlooks Taipei.
- Yushan (Jade Mountain) - at 3,952m (12,966ft), the highest mountain not just in Taiwan, but in all of East Asia.
- Lalashan - one of Taiwan's nature's reserves, with divine trees 500 to 2,800 years old; the No. 5 divine tree is older even than Confucius. Visiting Lalashan during the peach season (July-August) is fun but you'll have crowds to contend with. Located in the interior of Taoyuan County, in the north.