Westerners are often surprised by the evocative, even flowery names given to many places in Taiwan. The island's main international airport is in a city called "Peach Orchard" (Taoyuan, 桃園), and if translated literally, mainland Taiwan's two smallest counties are "Splendid Transformation" (Changhua, 彰化) and "Misty Forest" (Yunlin, 雲林).
Take a trip to Jiji (集集) in Taiwan's central county of Nantou and three things quickly become apparent: Jiji is an extremely popular spot, especially with young couples and young families; its surrounding scenery is breathtaking; and it probably has the highest density of tandem bicycles in Taiwan, if not the world.
Taiwan has no shortage of unusual attractions for those willing to search them out, and the Xian Feng Ling Sun Moon Cave (仙峰嶺日月洞), cut into the face of a hillside in the southwest corner of Nantou County in central Taiwan, certainly fits into this category – yet this unique oddity is also an impressive testament to the imagination and amazing determination of one man.
An enterprising team of urban planners in the southwestern Taiwan city of Chiayi (嘉義) recently took over an unused and abandoned railroad running through the middle of the city and transformed it into a scenic "pedestrian paradise" and bicycle path with views of the distant Central Mountain Range.
If you're heading up to Alishan (阿里山) this weekend, and you're not riding the train, chances are you'll be taking the No. 18 Road from Chiayi (嘉義). Indeed, you might not even be aware that you have any alternative. In the No. 159, however, an alternative does exist.
Just below the picturesque town of Rueili (瑞里) in Taiwan's southwest county of Chiayi (嘉義) lie the Yuntan (雲潭, "cloud pool") and Shuangxi (雙溪, "twin river") waterfalls. Nestled in the Alishan National Scenic Area, their beauty and easy access (just a few hundred meters' walk from the main road) have made them a favorite with tour groups and families alike.
From the dark and brooding to the bright and lurid, green in a hundred shades and tones lies in swathes across the Dinghu (頂湖) landscape. Trees, ferns, tea plants, bamboo, bushes, there is a such a wealth of plant-life here that whether you look up, down, right, or left you cannot escape it. Nature surrounds you at every turn.
The three-sided, single-story courtyard house is a symbol of rural Taiwan, as timeless as rice paddies and water buffalo. From the beginning of mass Han Chinese settlement in the 1700s until as recently as the 1940s, courtyard houses accounted for the majority of human residences built in Taiwan's villages and small towns.
Given the rate at which Taiwan is changing these days, it's hardly surprising that a new arrival stepping off the plane at Chiang Kai-shek, er, Taoyuan Airport tomorrow could travel around the whole island and still have no idea of the horrific damage inflicted by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the island just a few years ago.
One of the highlights of a visit to the little village of Shibi, one of Yunlin (雲林) County's most scenic spots, is the journey there.