Though only technically part of China, the island of Taiwan is forever linked with the mainland it used to be a part of. One hundred and twenty miles to the east of China, Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China (as opposed to the larger People's Republic of China, a small but vital difference in nomenclature, just ask any denizen of either country), and is a collection of islands surrounding and including the island of Taiwan. Since the communist takeover in 1949, Taiwan has existed as a self-governing nation, despite never receiving full independence from China.

Taiwan China
Taiwan China

But Taiwan is no mere footnote to China. Taiwan tourism is growing just as fast as that of the mainland. One reason Taiwan travel grows is that it encapsulates a lot of the same ground as China, without the overwhelming area and population found in the latter. Taiwan travel is a bit more laid-back, a bit more condensed, and a lot easier to see the main sights in a short period of time. Unfortunately, a lot of tourists still either ignore the island, or see very little of it as a part of a larger trip. This is, of course, a mistake.

A similar culture clash exists on Taiwan as in Beijing or Shanghai, primarily in the island capital of Taipei. The combination of rich Taiwan history with the trappings of the ultra-modern world give the island the same strange inconsistencies. Though Taiwan tourism is based on a capitalist's dream—the wide array of shopping options and exceedingly cheap prices well-known throughout the world—it also clings mightily to the past, with more temples and religious monuments than one ever thought possible in such a small space.

Another pillar of Taiwan tourism is the chance to explore the island's many towering peaks. Less imposing and arduous than many of the Himalaya offerings, even novice climbers can get into the action on Taiwan. For those inclined to stay in the lower areas, there are hundreds of beaches to entertain most tourists, as the tropical areas beneath the mountains draw just as many to the sand as Hainan or Hong Kong does. Travelers can find a plethora of both beach and mountain resorts to choose from, many within small distances of each other, meaning a visitor with a couple weeks to embrace the island can get a glimpse of both distinct sides of the Taiwanese climate.

Taiwan shopping is also a steady draw for the island. It's famed night markets offer deals on all kinds of goods, from bamboo to traditional jade pieces, from inexpensive designer clothing to all kinds of handmade materials that helps demonstrate Taiwan history and culture. Most of these markets are found in Taipei, or along the western coast of the island.

A real subject of debate is where the split between Chinese history and Taiwan history resides. In fact, the difference between each country's entire cultural identity is difficult to separate, even for noted scholars on the subject. And nowhere is this break less clear is at Taiwan's most famous tourist attraction, the Taipei National Palace Museum. On the outskirts of the capital city, the museum is modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing and incorporates elements of traditional Chinese royal design in feudal society. Not only that, but it holds the largest collection of Chinese artifacts and artwork in the world, much of it taken from the Forbidden City itself. So where do the cultures finally dissect? That's up to the viewer to decide.

Top image: lublud (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0

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