The Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout Asia between late January and early February, but few places do it as spectacularly as Taiwan, which is famous for a dazzling sky lantern festival and a crazy firework display that have spawned the commonly heard phrase “fireworks in the south and sky lanterns in the north.”
The fireworks in the south refer to the beehive fireworks festival in Yenshui, an insane event where rockets are fired at spectators, and the sky lanterns in the north are part of an Instagram-favourite display seen every year in Pingxi, near the capital city of Taipei.
There is also a national lantern festival that is of more recent vintage that moves from city to city each year that could expand the phrase cited above to include “lanterns somewhere in between.”
The conundrum for visitors is that all three of these events take place on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar, and since it’s impossible to be in each place at once, you have to pick one or come back a few more times to experience them all, which doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
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I was lucky enough to be invited back to Taiwan for a press trip in February and what made it special was that it was during the country’s Lunar New Year celebrations. Highlights included the Taiwan Lantern Festival and the Yenshui Beehive Fireworks Festival. Disappointed that I missed the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, but I was able to get to the mountain town to launch a sky lantern of my own. Here are a few photos from my time there:
We had only five kilometres left to cycle that day, but it was hot, our muscles were complaining and the long road ahead of us sloped upwards, reminding us that we’d have to work that much harder to get to our final destination.
As we approached the hill in the Taiwanese countryside, we came to a small community of homes. By the roadside, in the merciful shade of a towering tree, was a small Taoist shrine, one of many similar structures found throughout the country.
The small red building, no bigger than a garden shed, was adorned with colourful sculptures of Chinese gods and monsters. Inside was a golden statue of a deity with offerings left behind by worshippers from nearby farms. We didn’t have anything to offer, but we thirstily drank our remaining water and silently beseeched any gods that were listening to provide us with the energy needed to climb that final hill.
Our prayers were answered because, in what seemed like no time, we powered up the slope ahead and coasted the rest of the way to the hotel where the others in our group were waiting. We were able to luxuriate in the pool where our aching muscles could recover for the next day’s ride.
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Taiwan might be famous for making cheap electronics, but it also happens to be home to Giant, the world’s largest bicycle company.
It exports millions of bicycles to every corner of the world each year, but also supplies a thriving local market in a land that is in love with the two-wheel ride.
Thus, visitors to Taiwan can easily explore the country on bike by riding a sprawling network of dedicated paths that caters to cyclists of all abilities. Numerous local operators offer tours that include bike rentals and support vans as well as restaurant and accommodation options that allow tourists to go at their own pace.
Here are some popular cycling itineraries, rated by difficulty, for people interested in discovering this green and pleasant sub-tropical island.
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It might sound like the music from an ice-cream truck, but if you’re in Taiwan, chances are that’s the garbage truck. By law, you can’t leave your trash on the curb in Taiwan, but have to hand it directly to the garbageman which is why trash trucks play music to alert you that they’re on the way.