I learned a lot while traveling around Taiwan, but I was especially surprised by how little I knew about this island nation before first arriving. Of all the sites and places that impressed me, these are a few I think deserve special attention because I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of them before.
I was in Taiwan on an assignment with AFAR Magazine and the guest of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau but all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
1. Longshan Temple—Located in the heart of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, this 18th-century temple is just as active today as it was 200 years ago. Walking through the temple doors, I was hit immediately by a cloud of incense coming from the many burners placed around the complex. Worshipers were everywhere in various stages of prayer, from those fully prostrated to others throwing moon-shaped divination blocks to determine their fortunes. The buildings themselves are, of course, beautiful, but the best part about visiting Longshan is the people watching: quietly observing the penitent as they wind their own path through the Temple.
2. Paper Dome—On September 21, 1999, a devastating earthquake shook Taiwan, destroying communities around the island, including Taomi Village in the Puli township of Taiwan. Seventy percent of this small village was destroyed, but instead of giving up and moving on, the residents decided to use this disaster as an opportunity to transform their community into something special. The result was the creation of an eco-village as a way to showcase their valley, unusual in the degree of biodiversity found there. The centerpiece of this burgeoning tourist site is the Paper Dome. Constructed out of cardboard tubes, the unusual building was first built in Japan as a temporary church for earthquake survivors. A gift of the building was made to Taomi Village as a symbolic message of hope between the two ailing communities. Today it is the heart of the eco-village and a testimony to the perseverance of the human spirit.
3. Chihkan Towers—For a brief time in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company used Taiwan as a strategic outpost for their ever-expanding empire. While their presence on the island wasn’t long-lived, remnants of this colonization can still be seen in the country’s original capital city, Tainan. In the heart of modern Tainan is the Chihkan Towers complex, built on the foundations of the Dutch Fort Provintia. While little of the site’s original features can be seen today, a visit to the temple complex is well worth an afternoon of discovery. A classic Chinese-style garden welcomes visitors with koi ponds, well-maintained landscaping and beautiful statuary. But the real draw are the temples devoted to the gods of the sea and literature. At the top of the temples, visitors are rewarded with views of the surrounding neighborhoods.