Exploring Taiwan and the National Palace Museum

When Taiwan was discovered by Portuguese sailors, they gave it the name, ‘Ihla Formosa’ meaning ‘beautiful island.’ It’s an apt name for a place that, even in November, is still about 30 degrees and is host to some beautiful landscapes and fantastic flora and fauna. I love how you see orchids absolutely everywhere too and I really miss the delicious pineapple that is just as ubiquitous and also makes its way into cakes and sweets.

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Walking around it would be easy to be oblivious to the immensely complex political situation that is still very much in existence today and the fraught history behind it. Within just a few generations, the national language has changed so many times that there are many people who don’t actually share a language with their own grandparents, who were generally born under the Japanese occupation.

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As I wanted to take in as much of Taiwan as I could, I went on the Ultimate Taipei Day tour with My Taiwan Tours, which is probably better described as ‘a breakneck hurtle around things so mind bogglingly amazing you won’t quite know what was going on.’ However, despite being utterly exhausting, it was an amazing way to catch just a fleeting glimpse of the magnificence and history of Taiwan.

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There was no way I would have got through the mammoth task of trying to visit the ten main sights in Taipei without the help of our excellent guide and transportation. Having someone to tell you about the history and significance of the sites you see as well definitely makes for a more memorable experience, particularly as much of the history of Taiwan is reflected in the shifting architecture styles across the city.

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Maybe it’s an ingrained habit from having spent so much time in Kyoto, home to around two thousand temples, but I absolutely love visiting temples. They are often home to the finest examples of craftsmanship and if you keep your eyes peeled, some beautiful textiles too. Certainly in England, ecclesiastical embroidery has played a key role in hand embroidery traditions and the continued existence of the craft and it is a similar story all over the world. Plus, who doesn’t love the opportunity to work with the most opulent of materials and threads?

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While Kyoto maintains a charming, old-world grubbiness throughout the city, Taipei slips seamlessly from wooden structures to steel, the old to the ultra-modern. While it might not be the tallest building in the world anymore, Taipei 101 is still an absolute marvel of engineering and construction. Especially as skyscrapers tend to be ugly, soulless buildings, Taipei 101 is oddly aesthetically pleasing, just don’t hurt your neck trying to look up at the rest of it!

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The rest of the day involved seeing some of the natural hot springs, a national park and Lin An Tai historical house. Amusingly enough, this house was physically relocated in 1978 when its original site happened to obstruct the planned route for a new road. However, the highlight of the day was without a doubt the National Palace Museum.

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Now I love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but the National Palace Museum in Taipei is without a doubt one of the best museums I have ever been to. You could maybe cover it in a studious eight-hour day but it’s probably best to plan for a few shorter trips because you will just hit amazement saturation very quickly.

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Rotating Vase, Qing Dynasty

What makes the National Palace Museum so amazing is not just the sheer scale and volume of the collections, but it’s also the quality. This is because most of the contents were originally the treasures of the Imperial family in Beijing but, fearing that the treasures would fall into the hands of the Imperial Japanese army, the contents began a long journey to various locations until Chiang Kai-shek’s army eventually made its way to Taiwan.

It’s an expansive collection covering books, calligraphy, ceramics, ancient to still a few hundred years old… The curation is also very good; although there are audio guides on offer, every item is clearly labelled with each exhibit having some general background history on the section.

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Sancai figure of a Lokapala, Guardian King, Tang Dynasty

If you get the chance to go, the National Palace Museum is definitely somewhere to see and I very much hope I’ll have another chance in the future to explore more of Taiwan’s charms.

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