With its central location within the Asia Pacific, Taiwan is a convenient place from which to take some memorable holidays around the region.
One of the advantages of life in Taiwan is that the island provides an excellent base from which to travel to other countries in the Asia Pacific for either business or vacations. With its convenient location mid-way along the island chain that rims the Asian mainland, Taiwan is only a few hours' flying time from most of the major commercial cities and resort areas in the region. (And of course it will be close to even more when the day finally comes for cross-Strait direct flights to be inaugurated).
For expatriates residing in Taiwan, the relaxing of red tape in recent years has made it much easier to move in and out of the country. For decades, the government required foreign residents to obtain an exit permit each time they wished to leave the island. That process involved going first to the tax office to clear up tax payments to the date of departure or provide a form signed by a guarantor willing to bear responsibility for any tax obligations. In the 1980s the exit permits were made valid for six months at a time, then one year, and in the 1990s the system was dismantled altogether.
For Taiwanese citizens, overseas travel is a both a vital part of doing business in this trade-oriented economy and a cherished form of recreation. Last year the 23 million people of Taiwan made a total of 7.5 million trips abroad -- one-third of them to Hong Kong (or to China via Hong Kong). While most pleasure travel is still done through group tours, individual travel is a much faster growing segment of the market. "People are now more sophisticated and have more experience in traveling," explains Eddie Lo, chairman of Wonderful Tours & Travel, a leading travel agency in the outbound market. But the language barrier remains a problem, so the individual travelers tend to head for destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, where communication is not a problem.
Vacations at beach resorts in the Southeast Asian region are also becoming more popular. "Before, the primary purpose of traveling was to learn about other countries," says Lo. "But now, instead of being informative or educational, it's mainly for leisure, just to take a good rest" -- so spas and resorts are attracting more Taiwanese customers. A related trend is that Taiwanese tourists are traveling more frequently but for shorter durations each time. "Previously, retired people might make one big trip every two years, going to several different countries," says Lo. "Now they're more likely to go abroad two or three times a year. Their friends may tell them about a special promotional fare they saw advertised and they say 'let's go.'"
For those still in the work force, the introduction of the two-day weekend in Taiwan a few years ago has made it easier to get away to nearby destinations on short holidays. And convenient financing from the credit-card companies makes it possible to travel first and pay later in installments. "Recently some 80 to 90% of our customers have been paying by credit card because they want insurance coverage and also the convenience of installment payment," notes Lo. Although the travel agents have to pay out a few-percent commission to the credit-card companies, they welcome this form of payment as a major saver of time and effort. These days most of the pleasure travel business comes through the internet, and the travel agency rarely has face-to-face contact with its clients. "We get their order from the internet, and then fax them the forms to sign," says Lo. "Then we fax the hotel voucher and tell them to pick up the electronic tickets at the airport. The nature of customer relations in this business has changed completely."
A sampling of a few of the outbound travel opportunities available in neighboring countries is introduced below. GUAM
"Boonie Stomps" Bring Hikers Close to Nature
Guam's Department of Parks and Recreation has created a program of organized hikes to help visitors appreciate the natural beauty of the island beyond the beaches. Dubbed "Boonie Stomps," these events are being held every Saturday to bring groups to different areas of natural scenery.
Interested hikers gather at 9 a.m. in the courtyard of the Recreation Building at Paseo in Hagatina behind the Chamorro Village, and listen to a briefing given by an experienced guide. The program is open to both local residents and foreign visitors with payment of a registration fee of US$2 for each person over 12 years old. These public hikes go to many destinations, including snorkeling sites, waterfalls, mountains, and World War II battle areas. They are ranked Easy, Medium, or Difficult according to level of difficulty, with distances ranging from one to eight miles and duration from one to six hours. Children under 12 must be accompanied by a responsible adult, and hikers are advised to carry extra pants and socks, gloves, a cap, swimsuit, and canteens filled with plenty of water. Participants who complete ten Boonie Stomps are eligible to receive a souvenir Boonie Stomps T-shirt for free.
The September 20 (Medium) hike is a three-hour (1.4-mile) trek to a cooling series of waterfalls, ending with Tarzan Falls. On September 27, the three-hour, one-mile Medium hike will go through Waterfall Valley.
There are a total of five flights per week (3.5 hours in length) from Taipei on Continental or China Airlines. Taiwan citizens do not require a visa. For more information about Guam, log on to http://www.visitguam.org or telephone the Guam Visitors Bureau Taiwan Marketing Representative Office at 02-2718-7836.
50th Anniversary Grand Prix is Coming Up
Since its inception in 1954, the annual Macau Grand Prix has been known as one of the world's major car races. It is is the world's only street-circuit event that includes races for both cars and motorcycles, and the Motorcycle Grand Prix has often been described as one of the most breathtaking motorcycle events staged anywhere. The challenging street raceway attracts many famous racers to participate in the game, and also attracts thousands of people to observe the event.
The 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Macau Grand Prix has extended the race program to two weeks, from November 8 to 16. As always, one of the highlights of the program will be the Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, which sees a field of 30 national championship drivers competing to take the checkered flag. For these young super stars of tomorrow, a win at Macau can guarantee the driver a place in a top Formula 3000 team or, in the case of exceptional talent, an immediate invitation to move in to the pinnacle of motor racing, Formula 1.
Besides an exciting race program, an International Fireworks Display Contest and Macau Food Festival will also be held in November to give tourists the opportunity to experience Macau culture. Service to Macau from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport is provided by EVA and Air Macau, both with multiple daily flights, and TransAsia Airways with one daily flight.
For more information, please contact the Macau Government Tourist Office Marketing Representative at (02) 2546-6086 ext. 38/24/31.
A Wide Variety of Outstanding Delicacies The multi-cultural nature of Malaysian society has led to the creation of a unique cuisine that includes Malay, Chinese, and Indian cooking styles. There are also cross-cultural fusion cuisines such as Mamak Indian-Muslim) and Nyonya (Malay-Chinese).
Malaysians tend to be food buffs who are adaptable when it comes to their eating habits. It is common to see a Chinese having nasi lemak while sipping teh tarik (a frothy, sweetened tea with milk prepared by pouring it between two large mugs) at a Mamak stall. Many dishes of the same name can be prepared quite differently in Malaysia's different states. For example, the laksa in Penang, Johor, Kedah, and Sarawak each has its own characteristic flavor.
Chili, lemon grass, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and curry leaf are some of the spices commonly used in Malay dishes. Among the popular dishes are nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk and served with fried anchovies in hot chili paste, boiled egg, and sliced cucumber) and nasi goreng (fried rice). There is also the delicious nasi ulam (rice eaten with a variety of herbs), nasi dagang (glutinous rice served with chicken or tuna curries and vegetable pickle), and nasi kerabu (rice eaten with salted fish, fresh long beans, some herbs, and a fish-based sauce).
The satay (marinated beef or chicken pieces in skewers barbecued over charcoal) is a favorite among most Malaysians and tourists. It is eaten with a peanut sauce and served with ketupat (rice cubes cooked in coconut leaf sachets), sliced onions, and cucumbers.
The Chinese food represents the cuisines of various provinces of China -- the places of origin of the early immigrants from that country who settled in Malaysia. Sichuanese and Cantonese restaurants are common.
Local Indian cuisine also has a great deal of variety. Northern Indian dishes are mostly meat-based and rich in cream and ghee. Southern Indian dishes contain a huge dose of coconut milk, tamarind juice, yogurt, and curry leaves, while Indian-Muslim cuisine mostly consists of rice and vegetables with rich, thick curries.
Air service between Taipei and Kuala Lumpur is provided by China Airlines (daily), EVA (four times a week), and Malaysian Airlines (four times a week). More information about Malaysia may be obtained from Tourism Malaysia, tel. (02) 25149734.
Boracay Island is a Sunbathing Haven
The island of Boracay at the northwestern tip of Panay is known for its crystal-clear waters and pristine white, powdery sand. A sunbathing haven, it is a perfect hideaway and is rapidly becoming the country's number one tourist destination.
The island, roughly shaped like a dumbbell, is seven kilometers long and less than one kilomater wide at the narrowest spot. It contains three communities -- Yapak in the north, Balabag at the center, and Manoc-Manoc in the south.
The four-kilometer-long White Beach on the west coast is probably the most famous stretch of beach in the country. Acclaimed as one of the finest beaches in Asia, White Beach features bright, fine sand and clear, shallow waters.
Other attractions include:
* The bat caves of Yapak (go together with an experienced guide). You can even take photos of these night creatures.
* Puka Shell Beach. Blissfully deserted, the beach boasts fine white sand and millions of puka shells.
* Kar-Tir Seashell Museum, featuring an interesting collection of seashells, wood carvings, pottery, hand-woven articles, and traditional costumes from all over the Philippines.
Boracay has around 200 hotels and other accommodations (including quiet cottages trimmed with greenery and flowers), with something for every taste and budget. The island's numerous white sand beaches, freshwater lagoons, coconut plantations, and fishponds can be easily explored on foot -- or get around by horseback or low-powered motorcycles.
To get to Boracay, take a 50-minute flight from Manila to Kalibo, travel by bus or jeepney for two hours to Caticlan, and then cross to Boracay via outrigger boats. The Taipei-Manila route is served by China Airlines (daily) and EVA (six times a week).
For more information, contact the Manila Economic and Cultural/Tourism Office at (02)27786511.
Diving Amid the Coral of Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest and most complex reef, is a World Heritage listed area that spans more than 2,000 kilometers of Queensland's coastline. Most of the reef's 345,000 square kilometers -- an area equivalent to more than half the size of Texas -- is protected through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Diving and snorkeling provide some of the best opportunities to appreciate the Great Barrier Reef's many wonders. There are around 400 different types of hard and soft coral in Queensland, including fan-like plates, delicate vase-like formations, delicate branching corals, and large brain corals. Queensland's professional tourism industry offers accredited learn-to-dive courses and introductory reef dives for beginners, while experienced divers can arrange for charters, including night dives or guided ecology dives. Visitors are cautioned to take care to avoid damaging corals, which grow only one centimeter a year.
For non-divers, there are semi-submersible vessels and glass-bottom boats to view the reefs. The Great Barrier Reef is home to myriad sea life -- brilliantly colored tropical fish, turtles, sea anemones, starfish, and clams. Between June and September, giant whales migrate up the coastline.
Vacationers in Queensland may also wish to take advantage of the beaches and wineries of the Gold Coast, the scenic rainforests and pleasant seaside towns of Tropical North Queensland, the sailing and other water sports around the 74 tropical islands known as the Whitsundays, and shopping and dining in Brisbane.
For more information, surf http://www.queensland-holidays.com/au or telephone tourism Queensland at 02-2723-0656. EVA flies to Brisbane on Wednesdays and Sundays. China Airlines began to serve the route on September 15 with flights on Mondays and Thursdays.
The Wonders of Koh Chang Marine National Park
Koh Chang Marine National Park -- the second largest island in Thailand, behind Phuket -- is newly opened to tourism and not yet widely known. Some have even called it "the last paradise islands in Southeast Asia. Koh Chang is the largest of the 52 islands in the Marine National Park, all of them untouched by modernization so as to keep their natural beauty unspoiled. Yet Koh Chang is only 330 kilometers east of Bangkok or approximately four hours by road plus another 30 to 45 minutes by boat or ferry.
Nearly 75% of the Marine Park is protected by law, under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Department of Thailand. As a result, it has remained a virtual virgin wonderland -- tranquil and romantic -- shielded from the devastation of vigorous development.
The coastlines feature spectacular beaches, coves and bays, and colorful coral reefs, while inland are fertile virgin rainforests, untrekked jungles, high peaks, breathtaking waterfalls, and fascinating wildlife.
Plans are being carefully mapped out to make Koh Chang Marine National Park a new holiday destination, opening more possibilities for environmentally conscious visitors to appreciate this forgotten paradise.
Besides the numerous beautiful beaches, some of the other attractions of Koh Chang include photogenic villages (including several built out over the bay on stilts) with excellent seafood restaurants, diving and snorkeling (as well as sailing, windsurfing, and water skiing), boat trips around the islands, and hiking (professional guides are available) or elephant-trekking through the mountainous jungle terrain. The rain-forest ecosystem is home to numerous types of wildlife, including the stump-tailed macaque, barking deer, wild pig, Javan mongoose, silvered langur, and more than 70 species of birds.
For more information, surf http://www.koh-chang.com or telephone the Thailand Tourism Division at (02)25021600. China Airlines, EVA, and Thai Airways all have daily flights between Taipei and Bangkok. KLM flies the route every day except for Thursdays.