When one typically thinks of Taiwan, images of mass manufacturing and high-tech industry may immediately spring to mind. Indeed, if you head to the teeming aluminium boulevards of the country’s cutting-edge capital Taipei, which are laden with steely skyscrapers and gaudy neon lights, these initial assumptions may certainly ring true.
But scratch deeper than the surface and you will begin to discover an entirely different world that is completely unexpected; think natural landscapes replete with undulating greenery and glassy lakes that reflect like mirrors into the clear and cloudless tropical skies. Find placid oriental temples in remote villages as well as striking gorges and breath-taking national parks filled with cherry blossom trees and rare foliage.
Back to Nature
This tranquil image of Taiwan is one that is often overlooked, but not by those with a discerning eye for detail. Take Murad and Nataly Osmann for example, a stylish couple who have travelled the world looking for inspirational places with a flair for adventure and style. Their award-winning travel blog entitled ‘Follow Me To’ is where they document their beautiful trips, which focus not only on striking natural landscapes, but also on local styles, fashion tastes and bold creative trends. One such trip is their recent visit to Taiwan, which revealed a country of stunning natural beauty and spirituality. As Nataly eloquently explains:
‘Taiwan is an island in the Pacific Ocean and one of China's regions, but it's also an incredible socio-cultural phenomenon. The main sights of Taiwan are natural, as 1/5 of its territory is covered by natural reserves with rare plants and animals. Another notable feature of the island is its temples. There are as many temples as residential homes here, and every single one is different from the other, and a pleasure to explore.’
She recommends casting aside all of the initial assumptions that you may have about this nation, as they are likely to be wrong or, at least, misguided. Instead, she suggests embracing the peaceful nature of a country where Buddha statues and beautiful pagodas dot the landscape much more than the gritty industrial zones of the country’s mega-cities.
‘For the ultimate escape into an untouched environment that stands in complete contrast to buzzing Taipei, I would recommend a visit to Toroko National Park, and one of our favourite temples, Fo Guang, which is decorated by a huge statue of Buddha at its entrance. It’s a perfect destination to head to if you want to explore the other side of Taiwan, in all of its natural glory.’
Nataly’s partner Murad found the mountains and forests particularly captivating when the couple headed to the country last year to film their own fashion shoot:
‘We first came to Taiwan last year to film a shoot and organize a multimedia exhibition of #FollowMeTo photos. Taiwan, by the way, is the epicentre of the some of the biggest exhibitions and forums in Asia, which made it an instant attraction for us. But we were also quickly enchanted by the mountains and forests of the Alishan region, which truly looks like some sort of fairy-tale.’
‘You could film everything around you non-stop for days and you would still not be tired of the spectacular natural views! Even though we would sleep for about four hours due to our hectic shooting schedule, the surrounding beauty filled us with an endless energy that was instantly irresistible! Thanks to waking up early, we also found out that Taiwan has beautiful sunrises.’
Time for Tea
He also mentions how the locally produced tea adds to the enchanting atmosphere.
‘The gourmet foodies amongst you will almost undoubtedly appreciate the local tea blends, which surely must rank as one of the best in the world. We advise paying a visit to the emerald tea plantations which I’m sure would rival even the finest of those in India and Sri Lanka.’
‘Here you will feel the true spirit of Asia, as the tea culture in these places is akin to liquid gold. Besides the endless green terraces, there are also tea houses, where you can take part in traditional tea ceremonies. We especially liked the ulun variety which was fragrant and subtle with a slightly spicy taste. Needless to say, we took home a year-long supply with us so that we could recreate the magic at home and on the move.’
Nataly found the traditional Taiwanese costumes to be equally irresistible with their vibrant prints and romantic silhouettes:
‘A story in itself was my traditional Taiwanese costume, which used to be a princess's daily garment, as expressed in one of the shots from the photoshoot. It was made of dark velvet with beads, while the skirt was decorated with small bells, so that the princess's entrance would be apparent to everyone around.’
Such a decadent mood has been captured in the oriental-influenced collections of Gucci, Prada and Diane Von Furstenberg this season, which have looked to places like Taiwan for endless inspiration, along with stylish fashion bloggers like Nataly herself. Influencers and brands alike are starting to be seduced by the understated yet striking beauty that lies beneath Taiwan’s steely industrial façade. In these realms, the country has come to sum up modernity in all of its most beautiful yet contradictory terms; as an icon of development with its booming economy, as well as a place for peace, tranquility and refuge. Indeed this blend is what has attracted Nataly and Murad to the country in the first place – its vibrant art scene fostered the perfect environment for the pair’s photoshoot and creative exhibition, while the stunning natural environments offered the perfect backdrop to their expressive creative campaign.
With this in mind, now may be time to cast aside your initial expectations when you think of this Southeast Asian industrial powerhouse. As bloggers and fashion brands are consistently proving through their vivid visual creations and collections, the country offers so much more to those who are willing to peel back the layers to unearth the true beauty beneath. So forget what you think you know about Taiwan and book yourself a ticket; there is so much more to this nation than what you’ve been told before.
Just don’t forget to pack for the occasion with your designer clothes in one hand and your passport in the other. Bon voyage! Or as they say in these parts, sūn-hong!