Taiwan’s Festivals Promise Year-Round Joy

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In North America, Japan, and much of Europe, October is when the tourist season begins to wind down. Jackets and scarves come out of storage, crowds thin, and souvenir vendors begin to disappear.

If anything, the opposite is true in Taiwan. The island’s climate is a major reason; the final quarter of each year is an exceptionally comfortable time to visit. In Taipei, daytime temperatures average 24.5 degrees Celsius (76 degrees Fahrenheit) in October and 17.9 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) in December. In much of the country, November and December are the driest months of the year.

In recent years, Taiwan has succeeded in attracting every kind of leisure visitor, including gourmets, adventure-seeking backpackers, cycling fanatics, and eco-tourists drawn by the island’s rare birds.

Soon-to-be-married couples and honeymooners represent another growing demographic. Some fly in so they can benefit from the skills of Taiwan’s renowned wedding-album photographers. Others wish to tie the knot in an exotic locale – high in the mountains, perhaps, or in an indigenous community. Those considering any kind of wedding-related trip to Taiwan will find useful information at http://eng.taiwan-happywedding.com.

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The Taipei International Contemporary Art Fair (http://art-taipei.com) appeals to a quite different set. The fair will run October 30 to November 2 at Exhibition Hall One of the Taipei World Trade Center, and some influential figures from the world of art are expected to attend.

Organized by the Taiwan Art Gallery Association, the fair is the longest-standing event of its sort in Asia. Last year, more than 140 galleries from 15 different countries took part, and total sales exceeded NT$1 billion (approximately US$31.2 million).

Taiwan and its outlying islands have over 1,700 kilometers of coastline, and the sea has had a massive impact on the country’s history, culture, and economy.

Two events in the final quarter of the year celebrate very different aspects of Taiwanese people’s interaction with the ocean.

The first combines a traditional industry – the making of salt by evaporating seawater – with age-old respect for the wangye spirits (plague gods) many believe protect local communities from epidemics and other misfortunes. The wangye faith is especially strong along Taiwan’s sunny southwestern coast, which also happens to be where salt was produced in large quantities between the early 1600s and the first few years of the 21st century.

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In Taiwan as in other societies, salt has often served as a currency, facilitating trade between different ethnic groups. In addition to use in flavoring and preserving food, in the days of yore salt was scattered on the ground in what was thought to be a way to help repel evil.

The 2015 Kungshen Wangye’s Salt for Peace Festival will be celebrated on November 14 and 15 at Nankunshen Daitian Temple in Tainan City’s Beimen District, and include folk arts, dances and music, traditional games, as well as do-it-yourself salt-making activities. The temple, a center of wangye worship for almost 400 years, is worth visiting at any time of year.

A recent addition to the temple complex was built to hold a 405-kg solid-gold tablet representing the Jade Emperor, Taoism’s most important deity. The icon is as breathtaking as it is valuable, but visitors should also examine the annex’s fabulous beam and panel paintings. Rather than rehash the ancient Chinese myths and legends which inspire a great amount of temple decoration in Taiwan, the artists chose to depict rural lifestyles, the Alishan Forest Railway and other tourist attractions, and Taiwanese sporting heroes such as golfer Yani Tseng.

Several spots along Taiwan’s coast are suitable for surfing, kiteboarding, and other water sports. The Taiwan Open of Surfing, scheduled for November 26 to 29, will be held in Taitung. This event, part of the World Surf League’s Men’s Qualifying Series, is expected to attract several leading professionals.

Festivals being promoted by Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau under the banner “Time for Celebration” (www.eventaiwan.tw) are placed in six categories. For instance, “Time for Love” events will appeal to couples planning a romantic getaway.

One distinctly Taiwanese event falls under the “Time to Marvel” heading. The International Yunlin Puppet Theater Festival, which this year will be held from October 2 to October 11, celebrates the art form known as budaixi and related genres. Often seen during temple celebrations, budaixi (Chinese for “hand puppet theatre”) performances are colorful, comedic, and exuberant. In recent years, U.S., Dutch, Japanese, Israeli, Spanish, French, and Czech troupes have added an intercontinental dimension to the festival.

As in previous years, the event is centered on the Yunlin Hand Puppet Museum in Huwei, in the central Taiwan county of Yunlin. Huwei is where puppet maestro and innovator Huang Hai-tai (1901-2007) was born, and where in 1931 he founded the troupe now known as PiLi International Multimedia. As its name suggests PiLi – which produces TV shows as well as full-length movies – has a high-tech approach to the art form, enhancing dramas with dry ice, pyrotechnics, and sound effects.

“Time for Nature” includes events like the Purple Butterfly Valley Two-year Butterfly-viewing Event, which celebrates the remarkable annual migration of hundreds of thousands of purple-crow butterflies from Taiwan’s northwest to the south. In Kaohsiung City’s Maolin District, a mountainous area inhabited by members of the indigenous Rukai tribe, it is sometimes possible to see 1,000 butterflies on a single tree.

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“Time for Two Wheels” is an obvious reference to cycling, a sport that has caught on hugely in Taiwan in recent years. In November, the conditions are ideal for bike expeditions, so it is no surprise that the 2015 Taiwan Cycling Festival will kick off on October 30 and run until November 22. The multi-day festival comprises events ranging in difficulty from short rides suitable for families to challenges designed to satisfy hardcore cyclists.

Falling into the “Time to Eat” and “Time to Shop” categories, as well as “Time for Two Wheels,” is the Taiwan Hot Spring Fine-Cuisine Carnival. Running throughout the winter and celebrated at springs from Taipei in the north to Sichongxi in the far south, hotels participating in the carnival will offer special packages that include access to bathing facilities, a top-notch dinner, and one night’s accommodation with breakfast. Details will appear on the carnival’s official website (www.taiwanhotspring.net) and in pamphlets available at visitor information centers throughout Taiwan.

Additional travel information about Taiwan can be found on the Tourism Bureau’s main website (www.taiwan.net.tw). Alternatively, call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan).

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