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A Gap Year in Taiwan

Why go backpacking in Taiwan?

Taiwan is a small but delightful island nation sitting just off the east coast of China and north of the Philippines, easily reachable by flight or ferry from either.

Although it has yet to become a regular destination for young travellers, Taiwan undoubtedly has all the ingredients to become a backpacking favourite: a largely tropical climate, paradisiacal beaches, modern, vibrant cities, jaw-dropping natural landscapes, fascinating culture and history, and much more. Backpacking in Taiwan is bound to become a mainstay of any Asia adventure, so make sure you get ahead of the trend.

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What to see in Taiwan

Taiwan is renowned as one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and even the briefest of visits will make it clear why. Although relatively small, the diversity of landscapes here is astounding. You might spend the morning lying on a white-sand beach with cocktail in hand, before delving deep into a tropical forest or exploring a towering gorge in the afternoon, before returning to the city to party until the early hours.

Taroko Gorge Taiwan

Natural sights in Taiwan you shouldn’t miss include Taroko Gorge, a stunning 18km-long gorge laced with walking and hiking paths; Snow Mountain, the second-highest peak in Taiwan offering panoramic views and hiking trails of varying difficulty, and sprawling Kenting National Park, which encompasses the entire southern tip of the island.

If all of that sounds a little too much like hard work, you also have some of Asia’s best beaches at your fingertips. Baishawan Beach to the north promises white sand and clear water, while Green Bay is the best place for water activities like surfing, jet skiing, scuba diving, and more. Head east to Jici Beach for pitch black sand and perfect swimming conditions, and Kenting to the south for easy access to the aforementioned massive national park.

Taiwan also has a long and storied history, offering a wide range of fascinating historical and cultural spots to visit. The National Palace Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art, from paintings and calligraphy to ceramics and ancient books, spanning centuries. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a trip out to Matsu, an archipelago of 18 islands just off the coast of mainland China and a standing military outpost characterised by residents in uniform, winding tunnels, and sweeping ocean views from lookout posts.

Kaohsiung's famous tourist attractions

And we haven’t even mentioned capital city Taipei! Found at the northern tip of the island, this compact metropolis effortlessly blends the influences of Chinese, Japanese, and American culture into something wholly unique.

There are unmissable cultural sites like beautiful Bao’an Temple, famed for its rich traditional decoration and arts events staged throughout the year, alongside bucket list must-sees like Taipei 101, the towering, idiosyncratic skyscraper that was once the tallest in the world (and is now 10th). Taipei (and Taiwan more widely) also embraces the weird and wonderful, with surreal puppet museums, penis shrines, and strange food concoctions. Don’t worry, you can also play it safe with some of the tastiest, cheapest eats in the world, pulling together flavours from all over Asia and beyond to craft truly delicious dishes, whether you’re grabbing a snack at one of the many night markets or sitting down for a five-course meal in a fancy restaurant.

Whether you spend a day or two in Taiwan as part of a wider trip around Asia or South East Asia, or end up backpacking in Taiwan exclusively for a couple of weeks, you might find yourself never wanting to leave.

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