Taiwan is an amazing country stooped in history and natural beauty. In 2014, 9.91 million visitors traveled to this small 13,974 square mile island and it continues to increase as a popular destination for tourists.
Our World Progress Now team ventured off to Taiwan to explore what they were doing to support responsible tourism. First of all, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was ranked fourth in the World by a recent poll. I can see why! Besides the airport library, workout facility, showers, and sleeping areas, we were instantly met with freestanding hydration stations at the arrival gate. Score! And to make it even better, these hydration stations had the option of cold or hot water on demand. You were free to make yourself a cup of tea, heat your cup-o-noodles soup, or just fill your canteen with filtered drinking water for the road.
From the airport, our team took the local bus to a locally owned hotel we found online. The staff at the hotel was more than willing to refill our canteens every morning at the breakfast bar, which supplied plenty of water throughout the day. We were amazed at how many other patrons of the hotel were carrying canteens and asking for them to be filled. It was a normal occurrence and rarely did we see bottled water during our stay. Most restaurants we came across also had self-refilling water stations; so being on the move was easy in terms of staying hydrated and finding access to clean water.
Taiwan also scores high marks on the preservation of cultural identity. We traveled out of Taipei for the day into the river town of Wu Lai, known mostly for its natural hot springs and home to the Atayal, a native group. On the main road into town, we found a museum dedicated to the history of the Atayal people. It was a well-curated museum that educated visitors of the Atayal, preserving their cultural identity while also paying respect to the original natives.
As you continue to walk through this serene little town, with the rush of waterfalls all around, you will meet some of the native Atayal that still live there. They are selling locally made textiles and garments in small shops along the river. For many, this is now their livelihood. They have preserved their traditional way of weaving these fabrics and are very proud of their artistry. This place was just magical and we often wondered in disbelief, where are we?
Culturally, Taiwan was more than we ever expected. The hot springs reminded me that life on the road could be warm and comforting. The stinky tofu on the streets of Taipei took me back to my childhood on the pig farm and in those moments my olfactory system transported me through time. Street food abounded and jumped out as something to try. The museums, statues and the tributes to the local native groups were something every country could learn from.
Taiwan is a must visit if you are interested in a responsible tourist destination. It was clear that priorities of cultural identity and the ability to travel without plastic were natural to the people of Taiwan. Was there plastic pollution? Yes. We saw plenty caught up in the river. Are tourists to blame? Possibly. Is there more to be done? Yes, but the ability to move responsibly and embrace authentic cultural experiences is there now, for you to visit. Just remember to bring and use your canteen.