Taiwan: Closer than everLast Dec. 1, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines began the first direct flights between South Korea and Taiwan in 12 years. Starting March 1, China Airlines and EVA Airways will begin offering regular direct flights as well. Tourism officials in both countries hope this will mean a renewal of the exchanges between them.
When South Korea established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1992, it cut off official ties with Taiwan and ceased direct flights between the two countries, which had been taken by more than 450,000 passengers per year.
But despite the diplomatic sensitivities, Korea and Taiwan maintained social, economic and cultural links throughout the decade. Koreans continued to visit Taiwan, largely for its golf courses and its famous hot springs. And the hanryu (“Korean wave”), the term for the recent popularity in Asia of Korean TV and movie stars, was in evidence in Taiwan too.
Chartered flights between South Korea and Taiwan began again in 2002, and in Sept. 2004, both governments agreed to reopen regular flights. To celebrate this, the Taiwan Visitors Association in Seoul held a reception Monday at the Westin Chosun hotel, hosted by the director-general of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, Cheng-tyan Su. It included performances by an indigenous musical troupe, Amis Kakeng, who played traditional instruments and sang the Korean folk song “Arirang.”
“Our goal is to have more than 200,000 South Korean visitors come to Taiwan this year,” Mr. Su said. He said his organization plans to stress the country’s natural attractions, and to introduce hiking and ecology-related trips for Korean visitors. “I want you to also remember the wonderful food we have in Taiwan,” he added.
Shaped like an oval, Taiwan (formerly known in the West as Formosa) is off the southeastern tip of mainland China. About 23 million people live in its 36,000 square kilometers (14,000 square miles). The flight from Incheon is about two and a half hours; Koreans don’t need a visa to visit.
Lying along the “Pacific rim of fire,” the ring of volcanoes and tectonic volatiliy around the Pacific Ocean, Taiwan has a geography that’s known for its majestic mountains and rolling hills, as well as its hot springs. Volcanic activity can be detected on some mountains. The weather is tropical in the summer; in the winter, the coldest it gets is around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). The country is home to more than 18,400 wildlife species, 20 percent of which are categorized as rare or endangered. Taiwan’s historic relics and cultural sites, such as ancient temples, are mostly in the north.
In its long history, Taiwan has been occupied by the Dutch, the Spanish, the Japanese and the Chinese; this has led to a diverse culture. Taiwanese speak mostly Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, an indigenous language.
Taiwanese cuisine is a blend of Chinese food ― Hunan, Cantonese, Mandarin, Szechwan ―and its own indigenous fare. As an island nation, it’s particularly known for its seafood.
THINGS TO SEE
1. The National Palace Museum
When fleeing mainland China in 1949 at the end of the civil war, the Nationalist general Chiang Kai-shek, who went on to rule Taiwan for decades, reportedly ordered the best artifacts from the imperial palaces brought to Taipei. Because of this, the National Palace Museum is home to historic relics from 5,000 years of Chinese history, and is regarded as one of the world’s major museums. Its collection boasts more than 750,000 pieces, from the prehistoric to the Song Dynasty eras. See www.npm.gov.tw.
2. Taipei 101 Tower
Standing more than 508 meters tall, the Taipei 101 Tower is currently the world’s tallest building; it houses offices, shops, restaurants and cultural and entertainment facilities. The elevator takes just 37 seconds to get from the fifth floor, where the ticket office is located, to the observation deck on the 89th floor. See www.taipei101tower.com.
3. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Built in the late 1970s and opened in 1980 to commemorate the late general and president, the Memorial Hall, which houses clothes, documents, cars and other Chiang memorabilia, combines traditional and modern architecture. Its 25-hectare (62-acre) grounds also include gardens, the National Opera House and the National Concert Hall. See www.cksmh.gov.tw.
4. Lungshan (“Dragon Mountain”) Temple
Built in 1740, Lungshan Temple is the oldest temple in Taipei, and has been a place of worship for local Buddhists for centuries. The temple is surrounded by traditional and folk art stores, antique shops, Buddhism shops, and Oriental medicine shops.
5. Yangmingshan National Park
Named in honor of Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529), a Ming Dynasty philosopher, this 28,400-hectare national park is home to a plethora of flora, fauna, waterfalls, scenic lakes, volcanic mountains, hot springs, crater lakes and rice paddies. Its major attractions include Mount Huangzuei, Lengshuikeng Stream and Meihua Pond. There are hot springs and fumaroles where geothermal steam gushes forth. See www.ymsnp.gov.tw.
A cape of about 1,700 meters along Mount Datun, Yehliu has peculiar-looking limestone rocks that are the result of sea erosion, weather and tectonic movement. Yehliu’s rocks have been described as looking like candles and pots; one is said to resemble the head of Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti. There is a marine theme park in Yehliu with an underwater sightseeing tunnel from which more than 200 rare species can be seen.
7. Beitou Hot Springs
Considering its volcanic activity, it’s little wonder that Taiwan has numerous hot springs. The best-known is Beitou Hot Springs and Spa, often referred to as a “hot spring village.” Located between Mount Shamau and Mount Datun, the place is abundant with minerals; the spring water temperature ranges from 55 to 58 degrees Celsius. The hot springs in this region are said to alleviate dermatitis and arthritis. There is also a hot springs museum in Beitou.
8. Taroko National Park
Situated in northeastern Taiwan and bordering the ocean, 92,000-hectare Taroko National Park has tall mountains and spectacularly steep gorges; there are many waterfalls and a rich variety of plant and animal life.
For more information, visit www.tourtaiwan.or.kr, or call Taiwan Visitors Association Office in Seoul at 02-732-2357.
by Choi Jie-ho