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TAIWAN

Taiwan is an island located off the coast of southeastern mainland China, southwest of Okinawa and north of the Philippines. Taiwan boasts some very impressive scenic sites, and Taipei is a vibrant culture and entertainment hub.

Many people think of Taiwan as a grimy, densely populated industrial island full of hard disk factories and you may well maintain this perception if you only stick to the densely populated West Coast. However, for those who take time to venture to the more sparsely populated East Coast will quickly find that Taiwan is actually home to some stunning landscapes. The Taroko Gorge near Hualien in particular is very impressive and should not be missed. Most of Taiwan is covered with mountains which offer breathtaking views, so hiking opportunities are very diverse.

As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating. Night markets are open-air markets, usually on a street or alleyway with vendors selling all sorts of wares on every side. Many bargains can be had and wherever prices are not displayed, haggling is expected. In the larger cities you will have a night market every night and in the same place. In smaller cities, they are only open certain nights of the week and may move to different streets depending on the day of the week.

For those who do not like the concept of haggling and replica goods, there are many shopping centres in Taipei where prices are usually fixed and goods are genuine. Otherwise, shopping streets in larger cities like Kaohsiung and Taichung can also easily get you what you want. Of course, there is the trendy Ximending in Taipei where you can pretty much find anything associated with the youths, also at fixed prices. Computer chain shops and department stores normally have fixed prices but at least in department stores you may get a registered member discount if you're shopping a lot.

Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines. The Taiwanese are passionately in love with eggs and seafood, as you will discover during your stay on the island. Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many different countries. For example, Ilan is famous for its mochi, a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly made soy milk and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes, a kind of sweet stuffed pastry and the best place to buy some is arguably Taiyang Tang along Freedom Road where the pastry was supposedly invented. In Chiayi, it's square cookies, also called cubic pastry, crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds. Tainan is particularly famous among the Taiwanese for its abundance of good food and should be a stop for all gourmands. The most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread.

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