This page is my personal notebook for what I’ve found, either first-hand or second-hand, regarding Taiwan. Any period of time spent there is going to be a merger between the bustling culture in Taipei and the scenic nature found outside of Taipei. Expect a great street food culture.
Before we go further, one very helpful thing to know is that Taiwan offers free WiFi across the whole country to tourists. Just show up to a Taiwanese Tourism counter and have them set you up with an iTaiwan WiFi account and you are good to go.
Taiwan is an island located a hop, skip and a jump away from mainland China and the southern Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Taiwan has been passed between China and Japan in its history and its status—namely whether it is part of China or not—is contested.
The main city in Taiwan is Taipei, and invariably if you are flying into Taiwan, as most are apt to do, you will be flying into Taipei.
This is a random assortment of places that you might be interested in if you are visiting Taiwan. The obvious tourist draws might or might not be included—this is really more of a random listing that is or was of interest to me:
- Jiufen: a quaint seaside town in northern Taiwan. While it is a known place for tourism, it offers a glimpse into Taiwan of yesteryear as it was a gold mining town many years ago and wasn’t altered much. It is well-endowed with street food offerings, such as fish balls
- Yinyang Sea and the nearby Golden Waterfall offer interesting color contrasts between green, blue and yellows. The yellows/golds is a result of various minerals in the area
- Shifen: an area off the old (touristy) Pingxi railway line. Check out Pingxi for traditional, historical buildings and Shifen. Off the Shifen stop, check out the photogenic scene of houses and townlife abutting directly up against the railway tracks, and the Shifen Waterfall. If you are up for another waterfall, head west of the Shifen Waterfall for the Eyeglass Waterfall.
- The Baiyang Waterfall Trail and other sights in the Taroko National Park
- Alishan Forest in the Alishan National Scenic Area: Moss, fog & old trees in this popular national “park”
- Kaohsiung: the second largest city in Taiwan. Located in southern Taiwan, it generally has been more of a commercial/industrial/port city than one for tourism
- Kinmen: a peaceful, relaxing island off the coast of Taiwan (ferry & air service) that has war remnants and some interesting industry (knives, alcohol, etc.). In fact, the knifes are said to be made from the steel from Chinese bombs that were dropped. Quality is said by some to have declined over the decades. A good change of pace place from Taipei
Best Time to Visit Taiwan
Pretty much anytime except the hot & humid June to August/Sept period. Visiting Taiwan between October and May is generally a good choice. Southern Taiwan experiences less precipitation than the north, and the east coast is more impacted by typhoons than the west. Generally, wear layers and expect clouds. Also, be cognizant of Chinese New Year as a major holiday in the February timeframe.
Is Taiwan Expensive?
Street food is cheap. Lodging seems slightly elevated. Shopping is affordable.
Tipping in Taiwan
Generally no tipping. If a restaurants expects a tip, many times they will include it as a service charge on the bill. Spa and hair could garner a 10% tip.
Do I need a Visa before visiting Taiwan?
No, generally not. US passport holders, as well as most European passport holders are visa-exempt. Click here for a list of countries that do not need a visa to visit Taiwan.
Do I need vaccines to visit Taiwan? Medical concerns?
Is the water safe to drink in Taiwan?
The Taipei Water Department declares “the water supplied by TWD is definitely safe for drinking.” Whether it goes through toxic pipes, is full of silt or whatever else is another matter. Best practice is post-filtered water or bottled water from reputable sources (as some bottled water is just tap water).
Transportation into and around Taiwan
If you aren’t coming to Taiwan by sea, then you are coming by plane. There are three international airports servicing Taiwan, Taipei Songshan (TSA), Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) and Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH). Sometimes Songshan (TSA) is called Taipei International Airport and sometimes TPE is called Taipei International Airport. Yes, it is slightly confusing so make sure you have the right one.
TSA is located in Taipei and is the lesser used of the two. The international flights using TSA are generally heading to/from China, Japan and Korea. For a listing of airlines using TSA including routes, check here.
TPE is located 40 miles outside of Taipei and is a major hub for EVA Airlines, the only international Taiwanese airline (although they also fly into TSA). This is going to be your arrival airport unless you are connecting through Korea, China or Japan (in which case there is a small possibility you are heading into TSA). For a listing of airlines using TPE including routes, check here.
KHH is located in southern Taiwan and is a magnet for low-cost carriers (in addition to legacy carriers).
Low Cost Carriers in Taiwan
Low cost carriers servicing Taiwan include Peach Air* (with service to Japan), VietJet (with service to Vietnam), Air Busan (with service to Korea), Tigerair Taiwan (which flies to Singapore and has plans for Vietnam, Japan and Korea), Vanilla Air (which flies to Japan) and Air Asia (which flies to Malaysia). These primarily are using TPE and KHH.
*Note that Peach Air is a terrible airline that will leave you stranded if they decide to cancel their only flight of the day which they do on occasion. They will not rebook you on another carrier and do nothing for you. When this happened to me, I was forced into buying a $300+ ticket to fly out. I also ended up losing out on a guaranteed hotel room that I could not get to due to the Peach Air cancellation. Awful airline. DO NOT FLY PEACH AIRLINES!
Transportation from TPE Airport to Taipei
Two primary methods not including the obvious taxi.
First, you can take the bus. This is the most direct method. Locate the bus counter at the airport and buy a ticket. Figure on fares in the 125-150TWD region.
Second, you can get a ticket on the UBus shuttle (30TWD) to the Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) station in Taoyuan. Then jump an HSR to Taipei (~175TWD).
Both methods will take somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes (unless you are going during high traffic times in which case the HSR is the better choice).
Note, in late-2015 or 2016, there should be a Taoyuan International Airport MRT stop that will connect to Taipei.
Transportation from TSA Airport to Taipei
Take the MRT (brown line) from the Songshan Airport Station to your destination in Taipei.
Transportation from KHH Airport to Taipei or Kaohsiung
There is a stop at the airport on the red line of the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). You can take that to the Zuoying Station stop (R16) and then jump a ride on the Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR). That should take approximately two hours. A more economical solution is often taking a bus.
If you are heading from KHH to Kaohsiung, then just jump the MRT to your pertinent stop. The airport is located approximately 20 minutes from Kaohsiung.
Getting Around Taiwan
The main methods of transport outside of renting a car would be the HSR and buses. It is possible to buy unlimited passes for the HSR. Based on the small size of the country and the speed of the trains, a lot can be covered.
Other Countries to Visit from Taiwan via Land
What to Buy & Try in Taiwan
Foods to Try when visiting Taiwan
Taiwan’s cuisine is alive and well, especially in the street food and nightmarket arenas. According to my limited experience with the Taiwanese food, I thought it was mediocre at best.
For dishes to try while visiting Taiwan:
- Lu Rou Fan: This is a signature dish of braised pork belly over steamed rice. The sauce is some combination of soy, five spice and happiness. The Michelin Guide noted it to be a Chinese dish, which drew ire in Taiwan
- Dan zai noodles (aka Slack Season Tan-tsu Noodle): a shrimp flavoured noodle soup that started in southern Taiwan
- Stinky Tofu (Chou Doufu): Fermented tofu, which in Taiwan, comes in a variety of ways including fried and grilled
- Beef Noodle Soup: Braised brisket, shank or tendon with Chinese noodles and vegetables
- Oyster anything: Popular choices are Oyster Omelets and Oyster Vermecelli. The latter sounds like Oh Wah Mee Sua and is a vermicelli noodle soup with oysters (or pig intestines). Add chili and vinegar to taste. Very popular
- Bubble Tea aka Pearl Milk Tea: Originated in Taiwan so if there is any place to try it, might as well do it here
- Chicken Cutlets & Popcorn Chicken: Self-explanatory but Taiwan does fried chicken well (and the chicken cutlets can come in various flavours)
Products to Buy in Taiwan
Some ideas are the Oolong tea from Alishan, rice wine (shaoxing) and sorghum wine (kaoliang), meat cleavers and glass handicrafts. The meat cleavers and kaoliang can both be found on Kinmen.
Simple Words and Phrases in Mandarin (the language in Taiwan)
If you want to brush up on some lingo before visiting Taiwan, WikiTravel, as usual, has a nice Phrase Book.
Hello is “Ni Hao”. Thank you is “Xièxiè” although pronouncing (zjayzjay) it might take some time
Quick Travel Facts About Taiwan
What Power Plugs are Used in Taiwan:
The American Plug (Type A) is the primary plug. Frequency is 60Hz and 110V as seen in this chart.
What currency is used in Taiwan?
New Taiwan Dollar (TWD or NT). See conversion.
To do a quick & dirty conversion on the fly between TWD (you see it as NT on signs) and USD (given the rates as of this writing of 31TWD = $1USD) – ignore the last two whole numbers and multiply by three. So 500 TWD is 5 * 3 = $15USD. To go the other way; add a zero and multiply times three. So if you have $100USD, it becomes 1,000 times 3 = 3000TWD.
Other tips about Taiwan
Tipping at restaurants is not necessary or expected
If you are trying to get someone’s attention with your hand, like a waiter, keep the palm down