When Emil and Liliana Schmid, a Swiss couple who hold the world record for the longest journey by car -- they are in their 23rd year -- started planning their trip to Taiwan while in Sarawak, Malaysia, they were looking forward to having a close encounter with local culture in Taiwan.
They chose Taiwan rather than China as their next destination following Malaysia and Brunei because they did not see China as a tourist-friendly country.
"China is very difficult [for tourists]," Emil Schmid told the Taipei Times during an interview on Thursday.
China had required them to submit their itinerary at least three months prior to their arrival and was charging US$3,000 once the itinerary was approved, Emil said.
"Once it [the itinerary] is approved, you have to follow it. And for that, they assign you a guide at the border who follows you all the time until you leave the country," Emil said.
"I call it supervision," Emil said, adding that the Chinese government also charges a daily fee of between US$100 and US$500, which could add up to a total expense of US$10,000 for a one-month stay.
"As we cannot afford China, we decided that the next best thing [to experience Chinese culture] was Taiwan," Emil said.
"Taiwan is as good as China, its people are more or less the same, as are its culture and language. But in the end, Taiwan is better," Emil said.
On their Web site, where they post details of each of their visits, Taiwan is listed as the 157th country visited over their 23 years of traveling.
Among categories such as "sovereign countries," "dependencies of sovereign states," "territories claimed in Antarctica," "disputed territories" and "other territories" listed in alphabetical order on their Web site, Taiwan appears under the "sovereign state" category.
North/Central America (27)
South America (13)
The Web site says that two adjustments had been made to the list, but Emil Schmid told the Taipei Times that Taiwan was not one of them because it had been included in the "sovereign country" category from the very beginning.
"The question of Taiwan -- whether it is sovereign or not -- that's a matter of personal opinion," Emil said.
"I think it is an independent country because it once was. At least until 1971, everybody recognized Taiwan as the Republic of China and then somehow this was changed as the main power emerged over there [in China] and the world forgot about Taiwan," he said.
"I don't think that's right," he said. "So I look upon Taiwan as another country, even if it's not a member of the UN," Emil said.
The Schmids arrived in Taiwan on Oct. 2, first traveling down to Kaohsiung where they picked up their Toyota Land Cruiser and kicked off their two-month journey around Taiwan.
Before sitting down with the Taipei Times on Thursday, the Schmids had already been in Taiwan for one month, visiting Kaohsiung, Kenting (
Of all the new experiences they have had in Taiwan, it was nature that touched them most.
"Taiwan has the second-highest population density in the world. I was so surprised to find so much untouched nature here," Liliana said.
"All the butterflies in Kenting fly from blossom to blossom. You rarely see this type of butterfly," she said. "You see, the cities are very crowded, but as soon as you are outside, it is so different."