A festival of one kind or another is going on every day of the year in Taiwan.
Some are meticulously organized and heavily promoted. Others – for instance, the raucous rites accompanying the birthdays of minor deities – are entirely local and receive little publicity.
To spread the word about Taiwan’s rich and diverse festival culture, and help potential visitors plan itineraries around events that appeal to them, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau is highlighting some of these activities as part of its “2015 Time for Celebration” promotion. Whatever kind of traveler you are, you are sure to find something that engages your interest.
Taiwan contains both tropical and subtropical climates. The Tropic of Cancer, which cuts across the southern third of the island, lends its name to a series of events held between June 22 and September 30. The 2015 edition of “Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer” offers an enticing combination of refreshing local delicacies best enjoyed in the summertime – such as mango with shaved ice – and exciting outdoor activities, all underscored by a strong pro-environment message.
Venues include three spots right on the Tropic of Cancer: in Chiayi County’s Shuishang Township, in Hualien County’s Ruisui Township, and in Fengbin Township, also in Hualien.
Running from July 4 to August 23, the Yilan International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival is a family-friendly carnival bursting with creativity, international cultural exchanges, and sheer fun. Accredited by the UNESCO-affiliated International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF), the festival includes dynamic performances, static visual arts, cutting-edge multimedia presentations, plus lots of good old-fashioned games.
This year’s event features troupes from as far afield as Armenia, Bolivia, and Hungary. The festival aims to educate as well as entertain. One section, called The Museum of Flying Dreams, explores the human desire to fly, and how people have long endeavored to make this dream come true. For further details, see http://www.yicfff.tw/en/
The festival is held at Dongshan River Water Park in Yilan County, in a part of northeastern Taiwan just one hour’s drive from Taipei. Nearby attractions include the National Center for Traditional Arts and the Lanyang Museum.
Also of interest is the Sanyi International Woodcarving Art Festival, which this year is being held August 1 to 16. The event brings together renowned artists in Taiwan’s foremost woodworking-arts center, a small town called Sanyi that is equidistant between the high-tech hub of Hsinchu and the modern metropolis of Taichung.
Sanyi is set in gorgeous hill country, surrounded by forests from which generations of carvers and sculptors have sourced their raw materials. For visitors seeking quality souvenirs for home decoration, the town’s 100-plus woodcarving galleries are a very good place to explore.
There is no bad time to go birdwatching in Taiwan, but if you hope to spot one of the world’s rarest species, get yourself to the Matsu Islands before the end of August. This archipelago, off the Chinese coast 114 nautical miles from Taiwan, was the location of one of the most thrilling events in recent birdwatching history. In 2000, a tiny number of Chinese Crested Terns, which had long been believed to be extinct, was found breeding on some of Matsu’s uninhabited islets.
To make life easier for birders, the Matsu National Scenic Area Administration (www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw) has started organizing boat excursions to eight islets now designated the Matsu Islands Tern Refuge. Other species often seen during these tours include the Bridled Tern, the Roseate Tern, the Black-tailed Tern, and the Reef Egret.
Counting year-round residents, regular migrants, and occasional vagrant birds, around 600 avian species have been recorded in the ROC, an incredible number for a country its size. Twenty-nine are endemic, meaning they can be seen nowhere else on Earth.
Each summer, temples throughout Taiwan host rituals associated with what is often called “Ghost Month.” According to traditional belief, on the first day of the seventh month on the traditional lunar calendar (which in 2015 falls on August 14), the gates of Hell open to allow the spirits of the dead to return to the human world. These wandering ghosts are believed to cause mayhem if left unappeased, so ethnic Chinese communities throughout the world organize offerings of food, entertainment, and spirit money.
For reasons going back to the middle of the 19th century, Keelung – a port city that is now a popular stop for cruise ships – hosts Taiwan’s most exciting Ghost Month celebrations. In recent decades, the Keelung Mid-Summer Ghost Festival has become a joyous, boisterous festival that encompasses parades and folk-art performances, blending Halloween-style tomfoolery with somber Buddhist rites. Keelung is less than an hour from Taipei by bus or train, and the festival goes on until September 13.
Those interested in Taiwanese folk religion and history may also wish to attend the National Yimin Festival (August 29 to September 2). Yimin worship is central to the spiritual life of Taiwan’s Hakka minority, and it is a custom unique to the island.
The Yimin (which can be translated as “upholding faithfulness and honesty”) were volunteers who died fighting rebels in the 18th and 19th centuries, protecting their villages from plunder and restoring order. They are now regarded as all-purpose deities, and are honored with rites in several locations, most notably Fangliao Yimin Temple in Hsinchu County’s Xinpu Township..
Taiwan is full of hiking and cycling opportunities, but visitors more used to the milder temperatures of North America or Europe may find August and September too warm to enjoy these sports. If a dip in Taiwan’s best-known body of water sounds altogether more inviting, sign up for the Sun Moon Lake International Swimming Carnival.
The carnival is the only day each year when swimming in the lake is allowed, and the 2015 event is scheduled for September 20.
Those joining the carnival should be capable of swimming three kilometers, and must be between eight and 75 years old. The entrance fee of NT$1,500 (approximately US$50) includes insurance and lunch. Participation is capped at 27,000, so get your application in as soon as possible if you hope to take part. Rules can be found on the website of the Puli Four-Season Swimming Association (http://pulifourswim.com).
The splendor of Taiwanese culture can be experienced at any time of year. For a full rundown of forthcoming events, see the official “Time for Celebration” website (www.eventaiwan.tw). General travel information about Taiwan can be obtained from the website of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau (www.taiwan.net.tw), or by calling the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan).