Taiwan travel guide
These girls are not prostitutes, as you might think, but betel nut beauties who only sell betel nuts, cold drinks and cigarettes. Positioned in neon lighted glass booths along the major provincial roads, these skimpily dressed girls try to attract passing drivers' attention (probably mostly men) with their cuteness and lack of outfit. In the good old nineties, the girls were hardly wearing anything, but today no breasts or buttocks are exposed. Betel nut is a mild stimulant and is big business in Taiwan, where the girls are considered as a unique culture feature. They certainly make entering a Taiwanese town a bit more exciting. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road while driving.
Buddhist monasteres don't necessarily have to be a thousand years old and the Chung Tai Chan is an example of that. Build in 2001, rising 43 floors to the sky, it is designed with slick lines that should resemble a devotee in meditating lotus position. It's an interesting piece of architecture trying to embrace both modern technology and Buddhist philosophy. It belongs to a special Buddhist order that practices Chinese Zen, if that means something to you, and visitors are welcome to have a sightseeing tour.
Oh boy, another sunrise. Normally will such beautiful moments be sought after in solitude or with loved ones, but in Taiwan it's a group thing. Pretty much everyone who's coming to Alishan will do the sunrise pilgrimage to Chushan viewpoint to catch the first golden rays of the day. Joining the Forest Train bounded for the mountain top in pitch darkness and walking in lines up to the viewing area, where a crowd controller on a ladder entertains through a megaphone, is a great opportunity to meet the friendly Taiwanese.
Taipei 101 is sticking more than half a kilometre into the sky (509.2 m) and has 101 floors above ground and 5 under. It was once the tallest building in the world, but is today overtaken by Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It's an impressive construction shaped like bamboo with a size that is hard to grasp no matter where you stand in Taipei. It's possible to visit the observatory decks on the 89th (inside) and 91st (outside) floors for a fee. The lower levels are, of course, shopping malls and office spaces.
Lanyu is a little volcanic island with two mountains and covered in forest. The people are of the Tao tribe (sometimes called Yami), which have more in common with the people of the Batan islands of the Philippines than Taiwan and mainland China, but nevertheless are a part of Taiwan. Today, the people are modern, but their cultural heritage is still very strong. It's possible to stay with a Tao family while visiting the island and a rented scooter is the way to explore the 50 km or so of roads the island has to offer. This is really off the beaten tracks.
Taroko National Park with Taroko Gorge is one of Taiwan's major sites, especially for nature lovers. Though most visitors come by car or bus and just enjoy the winding roads carved into the steep walls of rock, there are plenty of trails for the more active. Some trails venture off into the lush mountains, crossing high suspension bridges and passing through small hidden villagers that have been there since the original inhabitants, the Atayal people, inhabited the mountains. The place is best explored with your own vehicle (rent a scooter at Hualien train station), but can be done by public bus and a bit of hitchhiking.