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Taiwan, once called Ilha Formosa or "Beautiful Island" by the Portuguese, is a small collection of islands located in East Asia. It can be found to the east of China, southwest of the main island of Japan, and north-northwest of the Philippines. It's dominant culture is Chinese in origin, although it is also home to aboriginal peoples, who are of Malay and Polynesian ancestry.
Taiwan's capital, Tapiei, is a bustling metropolis with a uniquely eastern sensibility. Taipei is usually the first stop in any tourist's Taiwan itinerary, and this city has a lot to offer.
The night markets, for instance, are a unique experience in this city. A chaotic swarm of goods and food for sale block out entire streets when the night markets are in business. Cheap clothing, exotic snacks, and unique kitsch are all available in this maze of makeshift stalls and and tiny storefronts. For a little more order and fantastic views, a trip to the observation deck of Taipei 101, the world's current tallest building (soon to displaced by the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates) is the thing. Gaze down on Taipei from your perch on the 89th floor. And for a combination of art and history, stroll along the National Palace Museum and wonder at the amazing treasures collected for over 100 years.
After a fill of the city, head out to some of Taiwan's incredible natural landmarks. Nantou may be a six hour drive from Taipei, but its enchanting scenery is worth the effort. The awe-inspiring Sun Moon Lake, beautiful Sunglungyen Waterfalls, and the meditative Chung Tai Chan Monastery are all in the area.
And then there is Taiwan's amazing Taroko National Park. Catch a plane to pretty Hualien, spend a day at the beach, then drive out to marvel at the wonders of the Taroko Gorge. Not to be missed are the the Eternal Spring Shrine, the Swallows' Grottoes, the Tunnel of Nine Turns, the famous Paiyang Waterfall, and the Qingshui Precipice. The park is a haven for bird-watchers, eco-tourists, and nature enthusiasts, and is home to many species endemic to the region. Some species you might encounter are the unique Atrophaneura horishana butterfly, the Formosan whistling thrush, and the Formosan Reeve's muntjac.
Taiwan's official languages include Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. English and Japanese are sometimes used in business. A visa may be required to enter the country.
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