Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: Bradt Travel Guide, Taiwan

Bradt Travel Guide
by Steven Crook
344 pages

Steven sent me this book for review a few months ago, and I set it aside to use on my trip to Pingtung in March and April so that I could test it under genuine travel conditions. I am happy to report that it passed beautifully: it's useful, informative, beautiful, and comprehensive, an excellent companion for anywhere in Taiwan.

The book is well organized. It is divided into two major sections, one an overall guide to Taiwan's history, culture, food, religion, and similar. This section also provides basic travel information, and suggests itineraries and budgets. The discussion of Taiwan's history and culture is well-balanced and properly nuanced; the information provided in the travel section is comprehensive and useful. It is aimed at travelers in the brackets above the budget travel that the Lonely Planet guides are focused on. Thus, it seldom lists the myriad el cheapo flophouses available all over the island, but instead lists places to stay that have some unique feature to recommend them, such as a good view or interesting architecture. For example, in Kenting it lists the Chateau Beach Resort, Mykonos, Bossa Nova, and Moon Shy Boutique Lodge, among others.

The sections devoted to individual towns and regions do a good job of including anything an outsider might reasonably want to visit, mostly major tourist spots. For example, for Keelung it points visitors to the Miakow Night Market, the Qingan and Dianji Temples, the French cemetary, and Heping Island. Around Keelung it sends you to Jinguashi, the Gold Ecological Park, and Jiufen. It also gives a good rundown on Keelung's history, including its mini-civil war in the 19th century between rival immigrant groups and its long interaction with outsiders that make Keelung such an interesting place to hang out, hike, and photograph.

Similarly, the section on Tainan not only offers a rich view of history, but concise and informative descriptions of its many historical sites, divided by period: Han settlement, Koxinga, and Japanese. The guide gives information in English and pinyin (with tone marks which I have omitted) so the non-Chinese reader can at least take a stab at the placenames. A typical entry:
Wind God Temple (Fengshen Miao) (8 Lane, 143 Minquan Rd, Sec 3, 0700-2100 daily) This is the only temple devoted to the wind god in Taiwan, which is perhaps surprising given the frequency of typhoons. The Wind God is believed to have influence over all the give elements: earth, fire, metal, water and wood. Smaller icons depict the Thunder God, who holds a hammer in one hand and a nail in the other, and his wife the Lightning Mother, who carries a pair of circular mirrors. At the time of the temple's founding in 1739, the ocean was a stone's throw away (the walking maps posted on street corners show the old waterfront) and the Government Reception Archway (Jie Guanting) was where VIPs arriving from the mainland would disembark. Take a close look at this stone archway and you'll find carvings of dragons, lions, and sages.
Although all aspects of this book are outstanding, including its luscious color photography sections stuffed with gorgeous color imagery of Taiwan, but as a Taiwan history buff, I most enjoyed its rich and detailed presentation of local history. I highly recommend this useful and informative text; both first-time travelers and long-time expats will find this a rewarding addition to their library on Taiwan.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Steven Crook... said...

Michael - much obliged for the positive publicity!

les said...

Anything has to be better than the godawful Lonely Planet guide.

Kaminoge said...

As a long-time resident of Taiwan who has has been there and done that when it comes to most of Taiwan's "famous" sights, this book is a breath of fresh air. I especially appreciate the driving directions Crook gives for the places he writes about, as I stopped using public transportation to get around once I got married and "settled down", so to speak. I plan on making use of this guide on future travels.

However, if you have a friend or relative coming to Taiwan for the first time, I would recommend they buy either Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. These latter books cover more thoroughly the well-known places that your visitor(s) would probably like to see. Of the two, I like the Rough Guide to Taiwan, as the sights it recommends are often laid out along the lines of an easy-to-follow self-guided walking tour ("Upon exiting the temple, take a left on X Road, and look for a red..."). This can be very handy for those times when you are too busy to play tour guide for your old college roomie or your Aunt Marge from Fresno.

silver coast said...

I agree, Lonely Planet can be such a difficult experience, your blog has helped me a lot. Thanks.

Stephina Suzzane said...

I've always been a vocal supporter of the travel guides, for the reason that they provide you in advance the complete awareness of the conditions and demands of the destination about which they are written. Your travel guide too is complete in this regard. Flights to Lagos

iffatali said...

Foreign travel is like a tarantula bite--once beginning to dance, one must dance on. The exertion may be more painful than pleasurable, still we keep it up. The lookers-on--the quiet, phlegmatic, or selfish stayers at home--think us very foolish; perhaps we ourselves have our doubts whether we are not rather foolish too. Nevertheless we go dancing on, and dance until we die.