A mountainous island roughly the size of Vermont, Taiwan lies just 50 miles off the southeast coast of mainland China, but is politically worlds apart. Many Western visitors will arrive for business reasons, but the densely forested country outside of Taipei, with its sulphur springs and roving bands of monkeys, is well worth an excursion. Taipei could be charitably described as not the most pedestrian-friendly city in the world, but it's full of surprises -- try a stroll down Snake Alley for starters.
If you only have a day to spare, be sure to visit the National Palace Museum, which houses the world's finest collection of classical Chinese art. Many of its holdings were carried out of the Forbidden City during Chiang Kai-shek's flight from the mainland in 1949.
WHEN TO GO: Taiwan has a subtropical monsoon climate. Rainfall is heavy from May-October, and the summer heat and humidity can be oppressive. Winter and spring are very pleasant, especially in the north around Taipei.
CURRENCY: Taiwan dollar (TWD). Fluctuating rate valued at TWD$30 = US$1.00 as of January 2012.
U.S. EMBASSY: None. The American Institute in Taipei acts in an unofficial capacity. Tel. 2-2162-2000.
DIRECT DIAL CODES: To phone hotels in Taiwan, dial 011 (international access) + 886 (Taiwan code) + city code and local numbers in listings.