TAIWAN, formerly known as Formosa, is considered as one of East Asia’s economic “tigers.” Shaped like a tobacco leaf, the island lies off the southeastern coast of mainland Asia. It was once ceded to Japan but reverted to Chinese control after World War II.

After the Communist takeover in mainland China, 2 million Nationalists fled to Taiwan and established a government using the 1946 constitution drawn up for all of China.

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The next decades saw a gradual democratization in the government structure. When political power shifted peacefully from the Nationalist to the Democratic Progressive party in the year 2000, Taiwan flourished even more.

The gateway to Taiwan is Taipei where our Philippine Airlines flight landed one chilly December day. We were a group of seasoned travelers (led by Nelson and Baby Dy of Grand Hope Travel) all set to explore this progressive neighboring island. Taiwan did not disappoint.

The county of Yilan in the northeastern part of the island was first on our list. Less than two hours drive away from Taipei, the place is home to the National Center for Traditional Arts, the DongShan River Waterpark, several hot spring resorts, and lovely parks.

Definitely worth a visit is the National Center for Traditional Arts (NCTA), a 24-hectare complex along the banks of the DongShan River. The place showcases the culture

and history of Taiwan.

The re-created old Chinese town in the main street brings back to life an earlier era. The buildings (whose facades show a mixture of traditional Southern Fujien and Baroque architectural styles) shelter the Folk Arts shops displaying beautiful handicrafts, dried and preserved fruits and veggies, and other souvenir items. What we found exquisite were the products of the “Blessing Flower” folk craft. They were flowers made of silk threads painstakingly fashioned by hand and turned into hair accessories, accent pieces, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, etc. It was an old Chinese custom to have brides wear Blessing Flowers in their hair. Oh yes, I bought a Blessing Flower souvenir, a dainty pair of earrings!

Other points of interest at the NCTA premises are the Wengchang Temple (dedicated to Wengchang, the Chinese muse of the academe), an exhibition hall showcasing the best of Taiwanese arts and crafts, a concert hall, a theater hall (which offers traditional dances, music and acrobatic perfomances daily), a library, and a crafts education center where master craftsmen give on-site demos (we had the chance to watch a carver sculpt a giant wooden figure of a Chinese warrior).

It was lovely walking around the area with that invigorating nip in the air. Across the picturesque inland waterway was the residence of the late revered scholar Huang.

Just like any typical Chinese home of the yesteryears, it had three main wings with a courtyard in its midst.

Another quaint structure in the place was the Forte Dong-shan Villa where we stayed for a night. Built along the lines of a Taiwanese farmhouse, it didin’t look or feel like a hotel. Very unique!

What else is there to do in Yilan?...We visited the Luodong Park and lingered at the nearby Rainbow Lake where we watched in fascination the peaceful co-existence between fishes and ducks....we visited a back-to-nature-no-frills resort where we tried our hand painting t-shirts using the different leaves in the garden for the design....we had a spell at the hot spring, soaking our tired feet...and yes, we shopped and ate at the night market and had the best chicken barbecue ever! Ask Nena Young!

*****

Another countryside tour brought us to Yeliu, a small peninsula in northern Taiwan. A little over an hour’s drive away from the capital city, the place is famous for the unusual rock formations in its shoreline. Said to be formed millions of years ago, the rocks consist of sandstones rich with silt deposits.

The different shapes (mushroom, ginger, candle, honeycomb) are the results of salt weathering, the cycles of wetting and drying, abrasion and erosion. We found the sight surreal!

*****

The wind was wintry cold when we reached Siaoyoukeng, the famous mountain with the sculptural form and volcanic features located in the outskirts of Taipei. At an altitude of 805 meters, it looked imposing. With the trails of mist floating around the peak and the mountainside, it seemed mysterious. Sulfur fumaroles, sulfur crystals and hot springs are very much part of the post-volcanic landscape in the area. Another “must-visit” place!

Our sorties into the outskirts of Taipei made us appreciate the beauty and bounty of the Taiwan countryside.