Between late September and early May, visitors to the southern third of Taiwan can expect long spells of dry, sunny weather. During the dry season, inclement conditions are not only surprising, but also make it hard to appreciate the history of Anping in Tainan or the grandeur of the Buddha Memorial Centre at Foguangshan.
Fortunately the south has a number of places where one can shelter indoors for a decent stretch of time without getting bored. First and foremost is the National Museum of Taiwan History. Sited on the outskirts of Tainan – a fitting location because that city has played a central role in the island’s history – the permanent exhibitions here are a must-see for anyone the slightest bit interested in the story of Taiwan and its people. You’ll learn about the various prehistoric communities that have left behind archaeological evidence of their lifestyles, the arrival of migrants from the Chinese mainland, and the Europeans who traded in Taiwan before it became a colony of Japan.
Very different is Chimei Museum, built to house a local tycoon’s eclectic collection of art and artefacts. Much of what’s displayed here didn’t originate from Taiwan, and at first glance there’s neither rhyme nor reason to what’s displayed. The logic soon becomes apparent and the museum is both educational and enjoyable. Expect to be surprised: You might come across a stuffed polar bear (the taxidermy section is much liked by children and birdwatchers) near medieval weapons of war, while oil paintings by the likes of Anthony van Dyck share the upper floor with jukeboxes.
For travellers based in Taiwan’s ‘maritime capital’, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts offers four floors of galleries with a worthwhile mix of local, national and international art, including paintings, sculpture, photography and calligraphy. Among other works, the museum owns 131 paintings by Kaohsiung-born Chang Chi-hua (1910–1987), who was heavily influenced by Cezanne and Claude Monet. Chang seldom painted humans or animals, preferring to depict local landmarks, some of which you may recognise.
Admission to the museum is free except for special exhibitions. The complex is surrounded by parkland, so if the sun does come out while you’re inside, you can stretch your legs amid lush greenery typical of Taiwan’s south.
Mention must be made of yet another museum. Life of Taiwan clients often request excursions to the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum, even though it’s located some distance from other tourist attractions. Many feel it more than justifies the driving time, even if it isn’t raining, on account of permanent exhibitions are superbly informative displays about Asian textiles, Buddhist Art, and tea culture.
Happy travels – and let’s hope there’s no need for an umbrella!