Asia’s Invisible Nation: A First Look at Taiwan


There’s a small island nation in Asia that never gets enough attention from travellers, expats, and the world at large. Maybe because it’s not technically a nation at all. Taiwan has a lot to offer, and anyone making a trek around Asia ought to give it a second look.

First glimpses of the iconic Taipei 101. Photo by Michael Johnstone

First glimpses of the iconic Taipei 101.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

It’s Christmas day, and a small group of Canadian expats head to Seoul’s Incheon airport. Destination: Taipei. The three of us are looking forward to escaping Korea’s dry, frigid winter air and spending the remainder of Christmas day in new surroundings. We check ourselves into a budget hotel, which turns out to be much better than had been expected for its modest price. It’s a good start to a trip that I had hesitations about. After all, you don’t run into too many people in Seoul who’ve been to this small island off the coast of China.

Taiwan is a nation that was conquered by the Chinese back in the seventeenth century. Since then it’s had a bit of an identity crisis. Like many nations in Asia, it was conquered by the Japanese during the second world war, and was then returned to China following the surrender of Japan. And then it gets really complicated. Taiwan is also known as the Republic of China, a democratic capitalist nation, distinguishing it from the People’s Republic of China, a communist state. And yet it officially remains under the control of mainland China, and is not universally recognized as a nation in its own right.

Photo by Michael Johnstone Hand by Katie Fumerton

Photo by Michael Johnstone
Hand by Katie Fumerton

After a night spent munching on vast quantities of convenience store food (which turns out to be generally better than that in Korea), we wake up and begin to explore the city. Taipei 101 tower is easily the city’s most recognizable landmark, and not a bad place to start. For a brief time, it was the world’s tallest building until the Burj Khalifa overtook it in 2010.

Walking around the city it becomes apparent that Taiwan is being unfairly ignored by the international community. Politics aside, Taipei is a delightfully pleasant city.

Photo by Michael Johnstone

Photo by Michael Johnstone

It’s startlingly clean, modern, energetic, and not overcrowded. Even though it’s late December, the temperature is hovering at around 20 degrees celsius. People are polite, friendly, and relaxed.

With luscious palm trees and gorgeous architecture, Taipei is a nice break from Seoul’s clone apartment complexes.

Until now, I’ve unfairly ignored a unique and wonderful part of Asia. No longer. As we begin to explore the city, we can’t stop our excited chatter about how surprisingly pleasant Taipei is. And we’re going to soak up every last bit.

A group of salarymen gaze up at Taipei 101 at lunch hour. Photo by Michael Johnstone

A group of salarymen gaze up at Taipei 101 at lunch hour.
Photo by Michael Johnstone

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