We’ve been wondering recently, what was Telluride like before it was Telluride? Jackson Hole? Moab? What was the Camino de Santiago like in the 70’s? What was Ibiza like before it became Ibiza? Bali before it was overrun? We have been wondering about places before they became destinations. What was the vibe and culture? Was there a sense of impending destiny? A sense of something “only Shalimar knew?” Did the people who lived there and made up these communities know that they had something special?
We ask these questions, because we feel a certain way about Taiwan. Specifically, the east coast with its lofty verdant hillsides that run straight down to the wild old Pacific. One of the things that we have realized during our time on this Island is that Taiwan could become a mecca for outdoor sports enthusiasts, and, in some ways, it is already being discovered.
Build it and they will come. Describe it and you may yet come to shape the culture of a place.
Taiwan has ocean, mountains, high speed transport, great food, and multiple international airports all within a geographical area the size of Maryland and half the size of Scotland. You can get from sea level tropics to 3000 meters in mountain ranges that look like the Alps or North Cascades in the span of a few hours. Yet, to attempt to walk from the southern to northern tip… well, it would be easier to walk through all of Scotland or the Rockies of Colorado.
For those thinking in terms of Instagram and film, look no further than night market food stands, some of the more ornate temples this side of the Himalayas, Tai Chi, a robust indigenous culture, high mountain tea terraces, dragon dances, crazy religious processions, hot springs, bizarre art and architecture culture, large population centers, cool expats, a high level of English proficiency, monkeys, rice paddies, fishing communities, rice fields, hot air balloons, paragliders, mountain bikers, surfers, skate boarders, scooter traffic, garbage trucks, elevated high speed trains, etc.
While we have no interest in seeing Taiwan become the next Iceland, Yucatan Peninsula, or Phuket, we are hoping that by writing this blog post we can begin to start a larger conversation about what sustainable, long-term development and tourism infrastructure on the Island could and should look like.
Ultimately, with all that Taiwan seems to get right (healthcare, transport, convenience store, open container laws, bubble tea, etc.) we remain hopeful that the Island will be able to promote and cultivate a culture of outdoor sports.
In recent decades, Cycling has taken off across Taiwan and the rest of Asia. On any given weekend you can expect hordes of cycling groups on the shoulders of the roads chalking up some incredible milage. There are multiple cycling routes around the Island and even a few races for the competitively inclined. One of the more impressive ones is the Taiwan KOM Challenge. Its participants race up Taroko Gorge, gaining 3275 m in the span of 105 km. Japan and Korea are already capitalizing on cycling tourism and we suspect that in a few years Taiwan will do the same. It would not take much to add a bike lane to the East Coast Highway which is already a semi-famous biking route.
It may yet prove to be a typo, but a National Geographic article recently reported that Taiwan has over 300 free diving instructors and 90,000 free divers on the Island. In fact Taiwan was cited as one of the fastest growing free diving hotspots in the world. Although we have never been to Xiaoliuqiu, the popular diving spot, we would love a chance to explore beneath the sapphire waves off the Island.
Ou rock climbing friends assure us that Long Dong, or Dragon’s Cave, is one of the many incredible spots that Taiwan has to offer for those looking for a challenge. While Long Dong is fairly easily accessible and along the coast, we also suspect that the interior of Taiwan may have some spectacular and largely unexplored routes.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the interior mountain ranges of Taiwan are magnificent, inspiring, and almost Shangri-la-esque in their allure. In these regions we could easily see Taiwan developing an Inca Trail or Tour du Mont Blanc style hike with huts, food, and incredible views. The Island already has it to some degree with the Parks in Yu Shan, Ali Shan, Taroko, and other places. This Smithsonian Article gives us backpacking fever almost every time. A current hiking bucket list for most hikers on the Island is to climb the 100 peaks above 3,000 meters.
The East Cost of Taiwan is famous, from the black sands of Wai’ao to the expat oasis of Dulan, for its warm water and nice waves. It is admittedly not a huge wave location, but water sports have been gaining in popularity in recent decades. We have been wondering about the possibility of long distance rowing or sea kayaking tours.
We recently watched a mountain film festival video about two skiers taking on previously un-skied mountains in the north of Norway. This got us wondering whether anyone had made it up to Yu Shan or other parts of central Taiwan with a pair of skis? As far as we can tell, no one ( or at least not many) has done it. We find this curious and almost like an open invitation because there is certainly snow up there.
There’s paragliding in Taiwan, the beginnings or a mountain biking culture, hot air ballooning, and even a few zip lining parks. Similar to its iterations in Japan and elsewhere, river tracing, or canyoning, is also becoming a must do tourist activity. And in truth, this off-beat style is where our hopes lie. You see we are massive fans of the obscure, odd-ball sports that attract a sort of cult culture following. See, Squirt Boating in Appalachia, Bus Surfing in Brazil, Bog Snorkeling in Wales, Running with the Bulls in Spain, Broom ball in Canada, Parkour, Ice boating, pickleball, etc. In our view, Taiwan has the potential to create, or has already created, a new cultural phenom and activity that not only will shape the Island but the world. We just want to be here to see it.