The image of bustling, modern cities is what usually comes to mind when most people think of Taiwan. For some, it also conjures the majestic imagery of gushing rivers and snow-capped mountains. And for still others, it is the magnificence of Taiwanese art and culture that leaves a deep impression.
Taking its heritage from a long legacy of Chinese civilization and evolved through the centuries, Taiwan's art and cultural artefacts can be as old as 5,000 years and as avant garde as the public art installations scattered across the island.
In this article, find out where to go to trace the history of Chinese art and culture in Taiwan, and where to catch an eyeful of some of the finest contemporary art produced in recent years.
At first glance, Taiwan appears to have a homogenous population when, in fact, it is a melting pot of Hakka Chinese, other mainland Chinese and indigenous aborigines. You get a sense of this as you travel around the different localities and witness how the local people celebrate their unique heritage. The Lanyang Museum in Toucheng Township, Yilan County is one such attraction. As you approach the museum, perhaps the first thing that strikes you is how much the building blends in with the environment. It looks as if it's a rocky outcrop rising out of the earth, a natural part of a landscape of cuestas (geological rock formations that are characteristic of this area).
The artistic genius of the exterior is complemented by the insightful journeys you take inside the museum. Through Mountains, Plains and the Ocean – the themed sections within the museum – you learn about how the natural lay of the land contributes to the formation of Yilan's culture.
Marking out the watery causeway between Great Kinmen and a smaller island are four 20ft (6m) metal statues, sculpted in the likeness of the oystermen of this region. But the installation isn't purely artistic. Known as the Oystermen of Kinmen, these sculptures also provide a thriving environment for oysters and barnacles, giving the real oystermen of Kinmen a source of income come harvest time.
Ten Drum Cultural Village began life in an abandoned sugar refinery as the home of the grammy-nominated Drum Art Percussion Group in 2007. Since taking it over, the percussion troupe has transformed it into the first drum-themed international art village in Asia.
The percussion group regularly hosts performances and workshops at the cultural village. But that's not all. Through the Ten Drum Artist-in-Residence Project, artists from all around the world are invited to join the group for a one-month residency, where they complete their art pieces in the village. The experience of both music and art is accomplished in one visit to this village.
This is the only village of its kind, where every house is covered with quirky portraits of birds, animals and famous people – the work of a single 94-year-old military veteran who's determined to keep living in the village he's called home for the last 38 years.
Slated for redevelopment about six years ago, this Tainan village was abandoned by everyone except for the 94-year-old Yung-fu Huang. To combat the boredom of being alone, he picked up a paintbrush and began to decorate every one of the 11 homes in his village.
Every day he paints a little more, meaning that no two visits to his village are ever truly alike. Come back a few months later and the landscape has changed. At first glance the village is a riot of colours, but look closer and the scenes are remarkably detailed. Little did Huang know that his art would eventually be recognized by the authorities and his village designated a cultural area.
Today, Huang is known as the Rainbow Grandpa and his home as Rainbow Village. The village is now a popular destination with Taiwanese and foreign tourists alike, and forever safe from the threat of demolition.
All of Taiwan is filled with art and culture, and even if you don't have time to leave Taipei, you can get a good introduction to these treasures in some of the city's many museums.
Start with the National Palace Museum, which opened its doors in 1925. It hosts a rich collection of Chinese artefacts from eras that span the course of Chinese civilization. One of the most popular exhibits is the Jadeite Cabbage, a jadeite sculpture that looks so realistic, it's almost good enough to eat.
For an insight into the modern side of Taiwan, why not stop by the Fine Arts Museum. The exhibits change on a regular basis so it's best to check what's on before you visit, but expect photography, performances and art by local and international artists.