Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Travel The World

Hip Place to Visit: Taiwan

By WARREN WOODBERRY JR.
When you see the words ‘Made in Taiwan’ etched on the back of your television remote control, you probably conjure up visions of factory workers on an assembly line cranking out needless gizmos to flood the American market.
Taiwan’s pretty well-known for being the world’s number one producer of laptop computers, but few people are hip to the island - officially the Republic of China as being one of Asia’s most beautiful lands.
Slightly larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, Taiwan was named by Portuguese explorers as Ihla Formosa meaning, “beautiful island.” With its tropical climate, the temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year. The island is 36,000 square-miles and includes several off-shore islands.
The heart of Taiwan is Taipei, the capital city. The northern city is a bustling modern international metropolis with a thriving arts and cultural center, and vibrant economy. The people are humble, polite and dress conservatively. For a city of 2.7 million people, it is immaculately clean. One would have to wait till the end of the day to find garbage on the street.
Taipei is a big attraction with the Japanese, drawn by a nightlife with shoppers packing Sogo department store, wannabe stars screeching at the top of their lungs at the t 24-hour Partyworld Karaoke bar, and curb side vendors hocking knock-off designer bags along Fu Xing Rd.
But the city’s main attraction is Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building and Taiwan’s proudest accomplishment. The whole building is erected in the shape of a lotus flower to express the local culture. From the 89th floor, the indoor observatory presents spectacular views of the basin city and the Pacific Ocean.
The modern marvel was designed to protect against earthquakes and typhoons with a 660 metric ton giant steel ball damper in its center to dissipate wind and vibration. The building is as strong as a rock yet flexible as a bamboo. Taipei 101 holds some records such as having the world’s fastest elevators logged in the Guinness Book of Records.
Make a quick get-away from the big city with an hour flight to Hualien where you can set out on a scenic drive along the east coast. With the blue waters crashing on black sandy beaches and clouds covering lavish green mountain tops, Taiwan’s east coast highways of sharp twists and turns atop steep cliffs is just the kind of place where you’d want to put a sports car to the test.
The picturesque drive from Hualien to Hengch’un is a great way to experience the natural beauty that Taiwan has to offer. Along the way there are numerous national park sites to check out, such as Stone Stairs, rocks naturally shaped like steps by ocean erosion, or Bashian Cave, a Buddahist temple in the crack of a mountain side.
In the central mountain range is Taiwan’s version of the Grand Canyon, the famous and stunning marble canyon, Toroko Gorge. Ocean erosion forged the Gorge four million years ago, exposing the marble stone which is compact and resistant.
From the mountain tops to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, view aquatic life at the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium in Checheng. Watch sharks swim above your head as you walk through large Plexiglass tubes, or experience the bottom of the sea through the coral covered walls of a “ship wreck.” Visitors can explore the ecology of fish through interactive exhibits and audio-visual media.
For those who enjoy such exotic get-a-ways half-a-world away, yet can’t help running to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, don’t worry about leaving your Big Gulp at home. 7-Elevens dot the landscape in Taiwan like bodegas on New York City street corners.
Visitors to Taiwan’s biggest cities won’t frighten the novice tourist either. You’ll find that Taiwan is quite Western-friendly and that many service people speak English. Street signs also reflect the language.
A round-trip ticket to Taiwan on China Airline costs about $1,000 this season. A one-night stay at five star luxury hotel is just $200 U.S. dollars.
Transit visitors to Taiwan may receive a free half-day tour from the Taiwan Visitors Association when making a connecting flight in the country. Transfer passengers may register for a five-hour sightseeing tour of Taipei. Certain conditions apply.
For travel information on vacation trips to Taiwan visit the Taiwan Travel Association at www.taiwan.net.tw.


- Warren Woodberry Jr. is a staff writer at the New York Daily News.
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