|POPULATION 23 MILLION |
FOREIGN VISITORS PER YEAR 5 MILLION
LANGUAGES MANDARIN, TAIWANESE
MAJOR INDUSTRIES ELECTRONICS, MACHINERY, PETROCHEMICALS UNIT OF CURRENCY NEW TAIWAN DOLLAR (NTS)
BIKING HITS THE BIG TIME
Taiwan has always had a jaw-dropping landscape - oversized sea cliffs and densely forested mountains barely start to describe its majesty. And then there's the museums, which are simply bursting with treasures (including the best of imperial China, spirited across the strait after WWII), plus a thriving folk culture that includes some wild displays of Taoist and Buddhist worship. In terms of cuisine, Taiwan is a fusion and slow-food showcase, with influences from across the island and greater Asia, all whipped up using the freshest of locally sourced ingredients.
Strangely enough, it was only in 2002 - after the first change in ruling parties for 50 years - that anyone thought about building a tourism industry around this heritage, and the world quickly took notice. Tourism numbers have more than doubled in the past 10 years, and even during the Asian economic crisis they grew by 18% a year.
So why is 2012 the time to visit? Because Taiwan is best seen on two wheels and in recent years the authorities have embraced the biking market with surprising enthusiasm, vision and (most importantly) funding. This year sees the linking of thousands of kilometers of paths, including two round-the-island routes, and a host of other cycling- friendly infrastructure projects. More than 40 countries also now enjoy visa-free entry, and while you won't find English widely spoken outside the cities, gestures such as big smiles and little acts of helpfulness will demonstrate just how welcome you really are.