Taiwan Travel Guide

Taiwan travel guide offers glimpse of road less traveled

“Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide” by Steven Crook, 2011. Published by Bradt Travel Guides, Buckinghamshire, U.K., 352 pages. ISBN-10: 184162330X. (Courtesy of Bradt Travel Guides)
  • Publication Date:01/28/2011
  • Source: Taiwan Today
  • By  Gavin Phipps

Out-of-the ordinary tales and enough wry comments to provoke occasional laughter make “Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide,” published Jan. 25, a useful resource for those looking to experience something a little different while journeying around the island.

Penned by Steven Crook and an assortment of contributors, the 352-page book cashes in on the Tainan-based author’s 20 years in the country and represents his first foray into the world of travel guides. A prolific writer on all things Taiwan, Crook has an intrinsic feel for what tickles the average reader’s fancy.

The book’s easygoing yet informative writing style makes it accessible to all. Prospective visitors to Taiwan will have no problems putting the guide down after a few pages and diving straight back in when the mood suits.

But for the more seasoned traveler, the contents are practical and instructive, with the layout simple to follow. There is also a plethora of revealing observations sprinkled throughout that are sure to amuse and enlighten those already in Taiwan and wanting to learn

Following what has become the standardized format for stuff-in-your-backpack travel guides, the book opens with brief sections about the geography and history of the country and moves on to a section dedicated to practical information for the traveler to Taiwan.

The actual guide is broken down into eight sections, with brief basic hotel and restaurant information and more in-depth explanations of places of interest in different regions.

The lists of hotels and restaurants in Taiwan’s major cities are pretty thin, but then the book is aimed at travelers who are not averse to finding their own way, rather than at those looking for a handheld tour of the country.

Crook does not cover all facets of the country himself, instead including sidebars penned by specialists in certain fields.

A sidebar about the environment and conservation is written by a well-known environmental lawyer, another about the Buddhist practice of freeing captured animals by a consultant for a Washington-based humane society and one concerning the island’s feathered inhabitants by the head of an international bird watching association.

Other sidebars written by Crook cover a wide range of topics. Here the author veers away from the standard “this is how you get here” travel-style mode and instead offers up some real gems of insight into Taiwan and its people.

He adds humor to the 2007 renaming of Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and its subsequent 2008 re-renaming; introduces the reader to a poet who rails against pollution in Kaohsiung; tells of the plight of Taiwan’s landlocked salmon; and explains how to make that perfect cup of tea, albeit in Hakka style.

The guide’s maps are simple and only focus on major traffic arteries. The newcomer to Taiwan’s cities should find it easy to locate any of the sightseeing spots, restaurants or hotels.

Romanization has been the bane of many a Taiwan guidebook writer, as each city, town and even mountain village employs a different system. But to help the first time Taiwan-bound traveler, Crook has opted to use Hanyu Pinyin for both street and place names, as well as in the brief section on useful phrases and words.

While the written content is concise, entertaining and original, sadly some of the photographs let the publication down. It is not that the 20 pages of images are bad; there is simply nothing new, which proves rather a disappointment.

The guide has the seemingly obligatory photographs of a man doing tai chi in a temple and the hot springs on Green Island, languid shots of several of Taipei’s more traditional tourist attractions and unexciting photographs of the country’s indigenous wildlife.

Pictures of the people mentioned in the text and some of the eclectic subject matter featured in the sidebars would have made the publication more personal and given fresh ideas to the reader looking for something a bit different. But despite falling short, the photographs do not relegate the book to the lower reaches of the travel guide genre.

“Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide” is an insightful and useful addition to the ever-expanding library of publications on the island. The easygoing prose and engaging content will ensure this title retains its common-touch charm for many years to come.

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