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Taiwan

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Asia : East Asia : Taiwan
Revision as of 22:24, 18 July 2008 by Hiwhispees (Talk | contribs)

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[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Taiwan]]
Flag
[[File:Tw-flag.PNG|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Taipei
Government Multiparty democratic republic with a popularly elected president and unicameral legislature
Currency New Taiwan dollar (TWD)
Area total: 35,980 km2
water: 3,720 km2
land: 32,260 km2
Population 22,858,872 (July 2007 est.)
Language Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese, Hakka
Religion Mixture of Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist 93%, Christian 4.5%, other 2.5%
Electricity 110V 60HZ (USA plug type)
Country code 886
Internet TLD .tw
Time Zone UTC+8
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Welcome
to my
Mother Fucking Page
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Taiwan (Traditional Chinese:台灣 or 臺灣, Simplified Chinese:台湾) [1] is an island nation of about 36,000 square kilometers located off the coast of southeastern China, southwest of Okinawa and north of the Philippines. The island is governed by the Republic of China (中華民國 Zhōnghuá Mínguó) or ROC. Shaped roughly like a sweet potato, the nation is home to more than 22 million people and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Besides its crowded cities and friendly people, Taiwan is also known for steep mountains and lush forests. In addition to the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China also governs the Pescadores (Penghu), Quemoy (Kinmen/Jinmen), and Matsu.

While the political status of Taiwan is a somewhat controversial and sensitive issue, from a traveller's point of view, Taiwan is under the de facto control of a different government from mainland China, and in practice operates as a seperate country. This is not a political endorsement of the claims of either side of the dispute.


Regions

Taiwan can be divided into five regions:

Cities

Taiwan has many large cities and towns. Below is a list of nine of the most notable. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.

Taipei - the capital of Taiwan
  • Taipei (臺北 or 台北) is the seat of government of the Republic of China and its center of commerce and culture. Taipei is home to the world's currently tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101.
  • Hsinchu (新竹) is a center of hi-tech industry, and one of the world's leading manufacturers of hi-tech components. Hsinchu Science Park is the home to many hi-tech companies.
  • Hualien (花蓮) is located near Taroko Gorge, and is considered one of the most pleasant of Taiwan's cities.
  • Jiufen (九份) - this former gold mining town located on the northeast coast is now a popular tourist destination.
  • Kaohsiung (高雄) is the second-largest city on the island. It has one of the busiest sea ports (the Port of Kaohsiung) in the world and it has the island's second-largest airport, Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH).
  • Keelung (基隆) is the a center of transshipment in the north, and is located about a thirty minute drive from downtown Taipei.
  • Puli (埔里) is located at the geographical center of the island, and it serves as a good base for exploring the central mountains and Sun Moon Lake.
  • Taichung (臺中) is the third largest city in Taiwan, and has an abundance of interesting cultural amenities and activities.
  • Tainan (臺南) is the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital during imperial times. It is famous for its historic buildings and snack food.

Other destinations

Mountain trail in Alishan
Entrance into Taroko National Park in Hualien County

People tend to think of Taiwan as a small, crowded island filled mostly with electronic factories, and if you stay in Taipei or along the west coast you might indeed maintain that illusion. However, the island is also home to high mountain ranges, great beaches and stunning national parks - many with hot springs.

  • Alishan (阿里山) - misty forests of giant cypresses and amazing sunrises at the center of the island, reached by a scenic narrow-gauge train
  • Kenting National Park (墾丁國家公園) - located at the extreme southern tip of the island, this park is famous for its beaches and lush vegetation.
  • Shei-pa National Park (雪霸國家公園) - a park spanning mountains and rivers located in Hsinchu County - great hiking trails
  • Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) - nestled at 2,500 feet in lofty mountains in Nantou County, this lake is famous for its clear sparkling blue water and picturesque mountain backdrop.
  • Taipingshan (太平山) - a historic logging area and one of Taiwan's most scenic spots. Located in Yilan County.
  • Taroko Gorge (太魯閣 Tàilǔgé)- an impressive gorge located off the east coast
  • Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園) - spanning a mountain range overlooking Taipei
  • Yushan (玉山) - at 3,996m the highest mountain in not just Taiwan, but all East Asia

Understand

Taiwan is not usually high on the list of destinations for Western tourists. Perhaps this is because the island's international reputation has been shaped more by its IT prowess and longstanding political disputes with mainland China than its culture or tourism, and so many assume that there is very little, if anything, of interest for the casual visitor. However, despite this general perception, Taiwan actually boasts some very impressive scenic sites, and Taipei is a vibrant center of culture and entertainment. The island is also a center of Chinese pop culture with a huge and vibrant entertainment industry. Taiwanese cuisine is also highly regarded among other Asians.

History

Map of Taiwan

Taiwan has been populated for thousands of years by more than a dozen aboriginal tribes. Written history begins with the partial colonization of Taiwan by the Dutch and then the Spaniards in the early 17th century. (The old name of Taiwan, Formosa, comes from the Portuguese Ilha Formosa for "beautiful island".) Han Chinese immigrants who had trickled in since the end of the Yuan dynasty (1300s) arrived in larger numbers during the domestic turmoil surrounding the decline of the Ming Dynasty. Although controlled by the Dutch, the Ming loyalist Koxinga defeated the Dutch garrisons and set up Taiwan as a rump Ming Empire with the hope of reconquering Qing China. His son surrendered to the Qing in the late 1600s. Although contact between China and Taiwan dates back thousands of years, it was not until larger numbers of Han residents arrived during the Ming and Qing dynasties that Taiwan was formally integrated into China as part of Fujian province. It became a separate province in 1885. Defeated by the Japanese, the Qing Empire ceded Taiwan to Japan under the terms of the treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Japan ruled the island until 1945, and exerted profound influences on its development. Much of the Japanese-built infrastructure can still be seen on the island today, and has been in fact continuously used up to the present day (e.g. rail-road crossing gates, administrative buildings, and the old port at Kaohsiung).

In the early 20th century, the Nationalists (Kuomintang, KMT) and Communists fought a major civil war in China. Although the two sides were briefly united against Japan during World War II, they quickly began fighting again after the war was over. Eventually, the Communists were victorious. The Nationalist government, the remnant of their army, and hundreds of thousands of supporters fled to Taiwan. From Taipei, they continued to assert their right as the sole legitimate government of all China. Initially repressive, the government began to loosen control under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo. Taiwan also experienced rapid economic growth and modernisation under the leadership of Chiang Ching-kuo, becoming one of the world's most modern economies and earning it a place as one of the East Asian Tigers. Democratization began in earnest through the 1980s and 1990s, culminating with the first direct presidential elections in 1996, and the first peaceful transition of power between two political parties in 2000.

Taiwanese politics remain dominated by the issue of relations between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, which still claims Taiwan as a "renegade province" and regularly threatens military action if Taiwan attempts to break away from the current awkward One China status quo, where both sides agree that there is only one Chinese nation, but disagree on whether that one nation is governed by the PRC or the ROC. To summarize a very complex situation, the Pan-Blue group spearheaded by the KMT supports eventual unification with the mainland, while the Pan-Green group led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supports eventual independence. The split extends down to trivial issues like Chinese romanization — the KMT prefers the mainland's hanyu pinyin, the DPP prefers a Taiwan-made variant called tongyong pinyin — and political demonstrations and rallies, always turbulent, on occasion turn violent.

People

Taiwan was originally populated by indigenous tribes that spoke various Austronesian languages, which are related to Malay, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia. Today these people form only about 2% of the population, with the other 98% being ethnic Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are further split into Taiwanese, forming about 84% of the population, whose families migrated during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, as well as mainlanders, forming about 14% of the population, whose families fled to Taiwan from mainland China after the communist takeover in 1949. Among the Taiwanese group, Minnan speakers form the majority, which is about 70% of the population while the remaining 14% are largely Hakka speakers. There is also a sizeable Japanese community, many of whom work in the entertainment industry.

Climate

Taiwan has a marine tropical climate, meaning cool winters (8°C at night) and sweltering, humid summers (above 30°C) from June to September. The best time of year to visit is thus from October to December, although occasional typhoons can spoil the fun. Spring is also nice, although it rains more than during autumn. During the typhoon season, the east coast bears the brunt of the damage as it is facing the Pacific Ocean.

However, you might encounter temperate conditions when you head into mountainous regions. In fact, it snows every year on Taiwan's highest mountains and occasionally on mountains like Alishan so be prepared if visiting Taiwan's mountainous regions.

Taiwanese calendar

The Minguo (民國) calendar, counting years from the establishment of the ROC (1912), is commonly used in Taiwan, so don't be too surprised to find dates like "96-05-03" on tickets or bags of chips — ROC 96 is 2007 AD. To convert a Minguo date to A.D., just add 11. Months and days are according to the standard Gregorian calendar.

Festivals

As Taiwan is dominated by ethnic Chinese, traditional Chinese festivals are celebrated by the Taiwanese. Among the most notable are:

  • Chinese New Year (春節)

This is the most important festival for the Taiwanese and many shops and restaurants close on the first three days so it is not an ideal time to visit. However, the days leading up to the festival as well as the fourth to fifteenth days are ideal for soaking up the atmosphere and listening to Chinese New Year songs.

  • Ching Ming Festival (清明節)

This is when many Taiwanese would pay respects at their ancestors' graves.

  • Dragon Boat Festival (端午節)

This festival honours Qu Yuan, a patriotic official from the state of Chu during the Warring States period of Chinese history who committed suicide by jumping into a river when Chu was conquered by Qin. To prevent the fishes from eating his body, villagers threw rice dumplings into the river to feed the fishes and rowed dragon boats with drums being beaten on them to scare away the fishes. Since then, dragon boat racing has been carried out on this day and rice dumplings are also eaten.

  • Hungry Ghost Festival (中元節)

This festival runs throughout the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell open during this period and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into our world. In order to appease the ghosts and prevent misfortune, many Taiwanese will offer food and burn joss paper for them. In addition, traditional Chinese performances such as Chinese opera and puppet shows are held to appease these wandering spirits.

  • Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節)

Legend has it that on this day, a woman known as Chang E swallowed some divine pills to prevent her power hungry husband from becoming immortal. Afraid of being killed by her husband, she fled to the moon and it is believed that the moon shines brightest on this day. This is when many lanterns will be put up for decoration in various parks and shops, which is quite a beautiful sight. Mooncakes are also eaten on this day so it would be an ideal time to try some.

Terrain

Cliffs meet the eastern coast of Taiwan, Hualien County

Taiwan is largely mountainous with a chain of mountains running from north to south at the centre of the island. The west coast is largely plains and unsurprisingly is where most of the population is concentrated, and is where all the larger cities like Taichung and Kaohsiung are located. The east coast also has some plains but are more sparsely populated due to the higher typhoon risk, but is also home to the cities of Hualien and Taitung with significant populations.

Get in

Visa Information

Citizens of 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, most other EU members and Switzerland, may enter Taiwan visa-free for up to 30 days (90 days for citizens of Japan) provided that their passports do not expire within six months. Residents of Hong Kong and Macau who hold valid SAR passports should apply for an entry permit, which can be done online if they were born in their repective territories or have been to Taiwan previously. From July 2008, holders of mainland Chinese passports may visit Taiwan for tourism if they join an approved guided tour. For further information consult the Bureau of Consular Affairs [2].

By plane

Taiwan's main international gateway is Taiwan Taoyuan near Taipei, with Kaohsiung a distant second and very limited international services to Taichung and Hualien.

  • Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (formerly Chiang-Kai Shek Airport) [3] (TPE) is Taiwan's main international airport. Located 40km to the southwest of Taipei, it has good connections to major Asian cities and North America. The airport has direct buses to Taipei, Taichung and other nearby cities. Alternatively, the U-Bus company operates shuttles to HSR Taoyuan (Jhongli) station for high-speed train connections, and to Jhongli Transit Station, for mainline TRA train and southbound bus connections to Tainan, Hsinchu etc.
  • Songshan Airport [4] (TSA) in downtown Taipei serves mostly domestic flights only, plus limited weekly charter flights to mainland China.
  • The Kaohsiung [5] (KHH) domestic and international airports are located in the same complex. International flights are only to other Asian cities, charter flights to the mainland.
  • Taichung Airport (RMQ) serves domestic flights as well as international flights to Hong Kong and Vietnam.
  • Hualien Airport [6] (HUN) serves domestic flights as well as some international charter flights to Japan, South Korea and Macau. It is also one of the airports designated to serve cross-strait direct flights from July 2008.

After a break of 60 years, regular cross-Strait flights between Taiwan and China started on July 4, 2008. There are initially 36 weekend charter flights across the Taiwan Strait from Friday to Monday beginning July 4, though these flights still have to be routed through Hong Kong airspace. The number will be increased to 96 every weekend after the Olympic games. Flights will initially service routes between the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Nanjing and and eight airports in Taiwan, including Taipei-Songshan, Taipei-Taoyuan, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Makung, Hualien, Kinmen and Taitung. These flights are open to all personnel carrying valid travel documents and visas regardless of nationality. Newly elected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou wants to gradually expand the charter schedule and supplement it with regularly scheduled flights by the summer of 2009. Previously, the usual practice was to fly via either Hong Kong or Macau, which have good connections both ways.

Alternate routes via South Korea or Japan or other Asian countries are also possible, but generally more expensive.

Major airlines

The main Taiwanese carriers are China Airlines [7] and EVA Air [8]. China Airlines has a dreadful safety record (12 major crashes in 30 years), and quite a few people opt to avoid it if possible. Cathay Pacific schedules many flights to Hong Kong as Taiwanese flights have to go to China via a third destination.

  • Cathay Pacific - 2715 2333
  • China Airlines - 2715 1212
  • EVA Airways - 2501 1999
  • KLM Asia - 2711 4055
  • Northwest - 2772 2188
  • Singapore Airlines - 2551 6655
  • Thai Airways - 2509 6800
  • United Airlines
  • Silkair
  • Jetstar Asia (LCC) from/to Singapore only.

For up-to-date information on cheap flights, check the advertisement pages of one of the three local daily English newspapers (see media below)

By boat

There are bi-weekly passenger ferry links between Okinawa Island, Ishigaki and Miyako in Okinawa, Japan and Keelung and Kaohsiung in Taiwan. Sometimes, the route goes via Ishigaki and Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, while the Taiwan port alternates between Keelung and Kaohsiung. Departure from Okinawa is on Friday for the ferry to Kaohsiung (34 hours) and on Monday to Keelung (28 hours); departure from Taiwan is usually on Sunday and Tuesday [9].

Star Cruises also operates cruise services from Keelung and Kaohsiung to Hong Kong and various Japanese islands. There are also services to Xiamen in mainland China via Ishigaki.

Get around

Domestic plane, Taiwan

By plane

Taiwan's main domestic carriers are Mandarin Airlines [10], a China Airlines subsidiary, UNI Air [11], controlled by EVA, and TransAsia Airways [12]. Flights are frequent, and it is usually unnecessary to book flights in advance. Taipei and Kaohsiung have regular services and links to most other domestic airports; however, it may not be possible to fly from one domestic airport to another. However, the popularity of the high-speed train has drastically cut flights on the once popular west coast sectors, with eg. Taipei-Kaohsiung flights only a shadow of what they once were.

Still, if you want to visit Taiwan's smaller islands, the plane is still the best option. Fares are not too expensive, and local planes are very good. The domestic airport in Taipei is Song Shan Airport, which is located in the north of the Taipei and easily reached by Taxi. Domestic destinations include Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chiayi, Taichung, Pingtung, Taitung, Hualien, Makung (Penghu / Pescadores), Kinmen, Hengchun, Nangan and Beigan. Travelers heading to Kenting can avail themselves of the direct and frequent bus service from Kaohsiung airport that connect with flights arriving from Taipei.

By train

Navigation
In mid-sized and smaller cities, your main reference point is going to be the train station. If you're having trouble finding English speaking people, try looking for college or high school students.


Taiwan High Speed train
Map of Taiwan High Speed Rail

Taiwan's train system is excellent, with stops in all major cities. Train stations are often located in the centers of most cities and towns and serve as a convenient hub for most types of transportation. In addition, the train system allows you to bypass the highways, which can become extremely crowded on weekends and national holidays.

The new train backbone is Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR, 高鐵 gāotiě) [13], a bullet train based on Japanese Shinkansen technology that covers the 345km route on the West Coast from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 minutes. Other stops on the route are Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi and Tainan, but note that many THSR stations have been built a fair distance from the cities they serve (e.g. a taxi from downtown Tainan costs up to NT$400). A one way ticket from Taipei to Kaohsiung costs NT$1490 in economy or NT$2440 in business class, but economy seats have plush seats and ample legroom, so there's little reason to pay extra. All signage and announcements are in English as well, making navigation a snap. Bookings are accepted online and via phone up to two weeks in advance at +886-2-6626-8000 (English spoken), with payment required only when you pick up the tickets. Credit cards are accepted.

Mainline trains are run by the separate Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA, 台鐵) [14], whose services are generally efficient and reliable. Reserving tickets well in advance is recommended when traveling with the train on weekends, especially for long distance travel. Slower (but more frequent) commuter trains without reserved seating are also available. Train timetables and online booking [15] (up to 2 weeks in advance) are available on the TRA website; however, the online services only work between 8am and 9pm or thereabouts and there is a small charge, NT$7, for online bookings. Note that booking online only establishes a reservation as there is no Internet payment option. You must pay for the tickets you reserved at your local train station or post office to actually receive it. Children under 115 cm height go free, and taller kids shorter than 145 cm and under 12 years of age get half-price tickets. If you get return tickets there is a small discount depending upon travel distance. There are also vending machines at the larger stations.

Round island tourist rail passes are also available which allow the holder to embark and disembark a set number of times for a fixed price are also available at most larger train stations. A foreign passport may be required for purchase.

Service

Aside from THSR, the fastest train is Tzu-Chiang, and the slowest is Pingkuai (Ordinary/Express). There is often little to choose between prices and destination times for adjacent train classes, but the gap can be quite large between the fastest and the slowest.

  • Tzu-Chiang (自強 ziqiang): The fastest (and most expensive). Assigned seating. Non-reserved (standing) tickets are also sold at full price.
  • Chu-Kuang (莒光 juguang): Second fastest. Assigned seating.
  • Fu-hsing (復興 fuxing): Third fastest. Assigned seating. Non-reserved tickets are sold at 80% of original price.
  • EMU (Electric multiple unit, 電車 dianche) and DRC (Diesel railcar / 柴客): Short to medium distance commuter train, stops at all stations. No assigned seating.
  • Express / Ordinary (普通 putong): Stops at all stations, no air conditioning, most inexpensive. No assigned seating. Some Express trains (the light blue ones running on West Trunk Line) are air-conditioned while others (dark blue ones) are not equipped with air conditioners.
  • Diesel Express: Only available on East Trunk Line and South Link Line. Mainly serve as commuter trains. No air conditioning. Tickets are the same price as Express and Ordinary.

For travel to nearby cities, you can travel on electric dianche (電車) commuter trains . These arrive very frequently (about once every ten to fifteen minutes). In addition, "standing tickets" may be purchased on trains with assigned seating that have no available seats. Standing tickets are 80% the original ticket price and may be useful for last minute travelers. The downside is, of course, that you will be required to stand during your entire trip.

Also, do try to get your destination station written in Chinese and try to do some "mix and match" with the system map as well as looking out for the matching Chinese characters written on the station. Unfortunately for foreigners, announcements are only made in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka so English would not be of much help in the train. Therefore, be alert and always be on the lookout for your destination station, or you risk missing it.

By bus

Intercity buses are called keyun, as opposed to gongche which run within the county and city. Buses run by private companies are generally more luxurious (often boasting wide, soft seats, foot-rests and individual video screens) than those run by government-owned companies. Still, even the government-owned buses are comfortable, punctual, and maintain clean facilities on board.

Bus stop in Taipei
In major cities, bus transportation is extensive. Route maps, however, are almost entirely in Chinese, though the destinations indicated on the front of buses are in English. If you're staying at a hotel, have the clerk suggest some routes for you, and circle your destination on the map. Show this to the bus driver, and he/she will hopefully remember to tell you when to get off. In smaller cities, there is often no local bus service, though the out-of-town buses will sometimes make stops in the suburbs. There are taxi ranks at all airports and bus terminals.

Occasionally a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb at a bus stop. Sometimes it is due to a vehicle illegally parked at a bus stop. (Taiwanese traffic law and regulation prohibit vehicles from stopping or parking within 10 meters of a bus stop.) However, a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb just because he or she does not want to wait for overtaking traffic while leaving a bus stop. Therefore, be much more careful when getting on or off a bus stopped away from a curb, as many motorcycles, motor scooters, and bicycles will definitely be tempted to overtake on the right side of the stopped bus where people get on and off! (As traffic drives on the right side of the road in Taiwan, buses have doors on the right side.)

In Taiwan you need to hail the bus you want as you see it coming - much like hailing a taxi. Both end points of the route are listed on the front of the bus in Chinese and sometimes English, so it is important to make sure the bus you get on is going the right direction. In Taipei, you sometimes pay getting on the bus and sometimes getting off (whether with cash or the ubiquitous Easy Card). As you get into the bus there will be an illuminated sign opposite you. If the first character is 上 pay as you get in, if it is 下 pay as you get out (or just watch the other people).

By metro

Taipei has an excellent, fairly comprehensive subway system called the MRT that makes traveling around the city a snap, and Kaohsiung's metro finally opened in March 2008. Prepaid travel cards such as the Easy Card in Taipei for bus and metro travel are available at metro stations.

By taxi

Betel nut beauties
The highways of Taiwan are lined with brightly lit booths staffed by attractive, skimpily dressed girls, but they're not plying the world's oldest trade: instead, they're betel nut beauties, who compete for the attention of customers to sell the mildly addictive stimulant betel nut (檳榔 bīnláng), not themselves. The trade has prompted much moral hand-wringing and sale by scantily clad girls is banned in Taipei and a handful of other counties - mostly out of fears of a negative international reputation or more practically the fear of traffic accidents and congestion from rubber-necking. Nonetheless, the practice is still going strong in much of the country, and Binlang is available everywhere from small roadside shops and stalls. Binlang itself is worth a try and there is a chance you will be offered it in the company of farmers or working-class Taiwanese. Be warned - it stains your teeth blood red. To consume it, bite and spit off the cap at the top of the nut, then chew the rest of the bundle. Spit frequently and enjoy the buzz. One sampling on your trip shouldn't be a problem, but do keep in mind that this little treat is habit-forming and cancer-causing for long-term "users."


Taxis are a dime a dozen in major Taiwanese cities. You don't need to look for a taxi - they'll be looking for you. The standard yellow cabs scour roads looking for potential riders such as lost foreigners. It is possible but generally unnecessary to phone for a taxi. To hail one, simply place your hand in front of you parallel to the ground. But they'll often stop for you even if you're just waiting to cross the street or for a bus. In less heavily trafficked areas further out from the transit hubs, taxis are always available by calling taxi dispatch centers.

Drivers generally cannot converse in English or read Westernized addresses (except for special Taoyuan airport taxis). Have the hotel desk or a Taiwanese friend write out your destination in Chinese, and also take a business card from the hotel. Show the driver the Chinese writing of where you are going.

Taxis are visibly metered, and cab drivers are strictly forbidden from taking tips. A maximum of four people can ride in one cab, and for the price of one. Relative to American taxicabs, Taiwanese cabs are inexpensive.

Although taxi drivers in Taiwan tend to be more honest than in many other countries, not all are trustworthy. An indirect trip might cost you half again as much. A cab driver using night-time rates during the daytime will cost you 30% more (make sure he presses the large button on the left on his meter before 11pm). Avoid the especially overzealous drivers who congregate at the exits of train stations. Also, stand your ground and insist on paying meter price only if any driving on mountain roads is involved - some drivers like to tack on surcharges or use night-time rates if driving to places like Wenshan or Wulai. Such attempts to cheat are against the law.

From Taoyuan Airport (TPE), buses are a much more economical option but if you want a direct route Taoyuan airport drivers are the best choice. They're quite comfortable and get you to your destination as quick as possible. All the TPE taxi drivers are interlinked by radio so they could be forwarned if there are police. Sometimes, if there are traffic jams and no police around, the driver will drive in the emergency lane. Taxis from TPE to destinations in Tao Yuan, parts of Taipei county and some other destinations are 'allowed' to add an additional 50% to the meter fare.

The badge and taxi driver identification are displayed inside and the license number marked on the outside. You must also be wary that the driver turns on his meter, otherwise he might rip you off - in such a case, you aren't obliged to pay; but make sure you can find a police officer to settle the matter. If there are stories of passengers boarding fake taxis and being attacked by the driver, it is best not to be paranoid about it. Drivers may be more worried about passengers attacking them!

If you do call a taxi dispatch center, you will be given a taxi number to identify the vehicle when it arrives. Generally, dispatch is extremely rapid and efficient, as the taxis are constantly monitoring dispatch calls from the headquarters using radio while they are on the move. This is also the safest way to take a taxi, especially for females.

Taxis are also a flexible although relatively expensive way to travel to nearby cities. They have the advantage over the electric trains in that they run very late at night. Drivers are required to provide a receipt if asked, though you might find them unwilling to do so.

Taxis, as elsewhere in Asia, are not keen on exchanging large bills. Try to keep some smaller denomination bills on hand to avoid the hassle of fighting with the driver for change.

Taxi drivers are known for their strong political opinions as many spend all day listening to Taiwanese talk radio. Be careful about your opinions on sensitive political subjects (including, but not necessarily limited to cross-strait relations). In addition, if you see what looks like blood spewing from the driver's mouth, or him spitting blood onto the street - not to fret, it's merely him chewing betel nut (see box). Keep in mind, however, that betel nuts are a stimulant.

Taxi drivers are generally friendly towards foreigners, and a few of them take the opportunity to try their limited English skills. They are most likely to ask you about yourself, and are a patient audience to your attempts at speaking Mandarin. If you are traveling with small children, don't be surprised if they are given candy when you disembark.

Women are sometimes warned not to take taxis alone at night. This is not an extreme risk, although there have been incidents where women have been attacked. To be more safe, women can have the hotel or restaurant phone a cab for them (ensuring a licensed driver), have a companion write down the license number of the driver (clearly displayed on the dashboard), or keep a cell phone handy. Do not get in if the driver doesn't have a license with picture clearly displayed in the cab.

By scooter or motorcycle

Scooters with an engine size of 50cc require a license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner's name. Until recently - 2003 - it wasn't even possible to get a scooter above 150cc in Taiwan. Many of the scooters within cities are only 50cc and incapable of going faster than 80 km/h. The more powerful versions known as zhongxing (heavy format) scooters are now quite common and can be rented for short-term use, or found for sale used at English In Taiwan if you're going to need it for a while. They are not allowed on freeways even if they are capable of going faster than 100 km/h unless used for certain police purposes, but that just means you have to take the scenic route.

If you're just learning to drive a scooter on the streets of Taiwan, it would be a good idea to practice a bit on a back road or alley until you have a feel for the scooter - attempting to do so in the busier cities could easily be fatal. Certainly, things can get pretty hairy on Taiwanese roads and Taipei in particular has narrower more congested roads than many other cities. However if you know what you're doing, it's the perfect way to get around in a city.

It should be possible to rent a scooter by the day or week, depending on the city in which you're staying. In Taipei, as of 2006, the only place legally renting scooters and motorbikes to foreigners is the Bikefarm, which is run by a very friendly and helpful English guy called Jeremy. In Taichung, Foreigner Assistance Services In Taiwan F.A.S.T [16] offers a rental service for foreign visitors. Otherwise, scooters are generally easy to rent in most major cities, with many such places being conveniently located near railway or bus stations. Most usually require some form of identification even if, in some cases, it consists of your expired Blockbuster video card! The average price you may expect is 400NT$ for 24hours, this include one or two helmets.

Another option is to rent a motorcycle. Many foreigners swear by their 125cc Wild Wolf motorcycles, and a trip around the island on a motorcycle can be a great way to see the island up close.

It is to be mentioned that since 2007, scooters and motorcycle over 450cc are allowed to go on expressway providing that they have a red license plate. They are however to be considered as cars, and as such cannot be parked in scooter parking spaces.

By car

An international driving license is required for driving in Taiwan and may be used for up to 30 days, after which you'll need to apply for a local permit. Some municipalities may impose additional restrictions, so check ahead with the rental shop. VIP Rentals [17] in Taipei is quite happy to rent cars to foreigners, and will even deliver the car to a given destination. A deposit is often required, and the last day of rental is not pro-rated, but calculated on a per-hour basis at a separate (higher) rate.

The numbered highway system is very good in Taiwan. Most traffic signs are in international symbols, but many signs show names of places and streets in Chinese only. Nevertheless, almost all official directional signs will be written in both Chinese and English. However, the unstandardized Romanization means that English names can vary between road signs, making it rather confusing. The highways are in excellent shape with toll stations around every 30 km. Currently a car driver pays NT$40 when passing each toll station on a highway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores, allowing faster passage and eliminating the need to count out exact change while driving.

While driving may be the best way to get around the countryside, in larger cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung, traffic jams are a problem, especially during the rush hour and traffic tends to get chaotic so you might be better off relying on public transport instead.

By thumb

While Taiwanese themselves don't generally hitchhike, foreigners who have done so say that it was very easy. However, in rural areas people may not recognize the thumb in the air symbol, and you may have to try other ways - flagging down a car might work on a country lane with little or no public transportation, but doing so on a major road might lead to confusion, with the driver assuming that you are in trouble. A sign, especially one in Chinese, would therefore be of great help. The East coast around Hualien and Taitung enjoys a reputation for being especially good for getting rides. Taiwanese people are very friendly and helpful, so striking up a conversation with someone at a transport cafe or freeway service station may well see you on your way. However, to avoid possible confusion later, ensure that the driver realizes that you want a free ride.

Talk

You say Zhongshan, I say Chungshan...
The Romanization of Chinese used in Taiwan is not standardized. Most older place names and personal names are derived from a bastardized version of Wade-Giles. Though the national government mandated the controversial and oft-maligned Tongyong Pinyin system in 2002, local governments are free to override the order. Some local governments, such as that of Taipei City, have converted their street signs to Hanyu Pinyin, which sometimes results in a street sign posted by the city government next to a street sign by the national government having different romanization conventions. For example, Zhongshan, Chungshan, Jungshan and Jhongshan can easily be the same.

This article attempts to use the Romanizations most commonly used in Taiwan (on street signs, buses, tourist maps, etc.). People know Romanisation as 'Roma-Pinyin'.


A mix of Taiwanese (Minnan), Mandarin, Hakka and other Asian languages are spoken on the island, as well as several aboriginal Austronesian languages. Mandarin is the lingua franca, but Taiwanese is spoken by some 70% of the population. In the North where there is a large concentration of so-called "mainlanders" (those whose families came to Taiwan from China in the mid 20th century), most people speak Mandarin as their primary language (although Taiwanese is spoken in abundance), but in the South of the island, Taiwanese is far more common.

The Mandarin in Taiwan is a bit different from the official Beijing Dialect; most notably, Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters, not the simplified versions used on the mainland. Taiwanese Mandarin also tends to not differentiate between the "S" and "Sh" sounds in Mandarin. All people schooled after 1945 are generally fluent in Mandarin, although it is sometimes not the first language of choice. Mandarin is fairly popular with young people. Some in the older generation are not fluent in Mandarin as they were schooled in Japanese or not at all. Universally the Taiwanese are very accepting of foreigners and react with curiosity and admiration for trying the local tongue. Generally, most people in Taiwan converse using a combination of Mandarin and Taiwanese by code-switching.

The Taiwanese dialect is a variant of Minnan which is similar to the dialect spoken across the Taiwan Strait in Xiamen. While both variants are largely mutually intelligible, they are not identical as Taiwanese has borrowed a substantial number of words from Japanese due to 50 years of Japanese rule, so Minnan speakers from mainland China may have some difficulty understanding certain words.

Especially in Taipei, people generally speak a little English. The children often understand more English than their parents, especially with the emphasis on English language education today, and English being a compulsory subject from mid elementary school onwards. However, attempts to speak Mandarin or Taiwanese will be met with beaming smiles and encouragement, by and large.

Quite a few people, especially in Taipei, are proficient in Japanese due to the high number of Japanese visitors. Staff for tourist attractions such as the Taipei 101, museums, hotels, popular restaurants and airport shops speak Japanese in addition to English, Mandarin and other local languages. In fact, if you are a visitor of East Asian descent who cannot understand Chinese, when a worker realizes this he or she may try speaking to you in Japanese before trying English. In addition to this, some older people still understand and speak Japanese having lived through the fifty year period of Japanese rule.

Do

  • Spring Scream - A three day outdoor rock concert in Kenting held on 5, 6 & 7 April 2007. Tickets NT$1,400 for all days, all venues. NT$650 for one day, one venue. Kenting's entire area gets swarmed by young people coming to party for 3 days, and Taiwanese TV heavily reports on the latest Bikini fashions seen on the spot.[18]
  • Buddha's Birthday - Colorful but simple ceremonies are held at Buddhist monasteries that generally consist of washing a statue of the Buddha and a vegetarian feast. It is appropriate to make offerings to the monks and nuns at this time, though it is not mandatory. 24 May 2008.
  • Dragon Boat Festival - A festival to commemorate the death of the Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan (born 340 BC), who drowned himself in a river out of despair that his beloved country, Chu, was being plundered by a neighboring country as a result of betrayal by his own people. The festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (19 June 2008), and is marked by races of colorful dragon boats at various locations throughout the island.
  • Cherry Blossom Season - Every spring, in Yangmingshan (陽明山).
  • Hot Springs - Taiwan's geographical location between an oceanic trench and volcanic system makes it an ideal hot springs vacation spot. There are several hot springs destinations throughout the country, including Wulai (烏來) and Yangmingshan (陽明山).

Buy

The currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD, but also referred to as TWD) (新臺幣 or just 臺幣), with one unit known locally as NT, yuan(元 or more formally 圓) when written in Chinese or colloquially in Mandarin as the kuai (塊). One unit is known colloquially as the kho(箍) in the Taiwanese dialect.

The exchange rate for US$1 is NT$30.357 (as of 30 May 2008). An easy rule of thumb is that NT$100 roughly equals US$3; NT$1000 roughly equals US$30. Coins come in demoniations of $0.50, $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50. The $0.50 coin is rare because of its small value and has very little practical use. Banknotes come in denominations of $100, $200, $500, $1000 and $2000. For reasons not clearly known, the $200 and $2000 banknotes are rarely seen.

One euro equals NT$47.222 (as of 30 May 2008). As a rule of thumb, NT$100 roughly equals €2.50; NT$1000 roughly equals €25.

Taiwanese currency is fully convertible and there are no restrictions on taking currency into or out of the island. Currency exchange is possible internationally, although you will get a much better rate if you wait until you arrive at the airport to exchange currency at the 24 hour window. Most banks in Taipei and Kaohsiung will also exchange money or offer cash advances on credit or debit cards. Should you bring American currency, please be sure to bring newer bills as the banks and exchange-centers (such as in department stores) will only accept the newer bills (bills from 1996 and 2003 are not accepted at most places, due to a high proportion of forgeries bearing these years). Bills which are torn or damaged will probably not be changed, and old-style small-bust bills are not accepted. Department stores will not exchange bills older than 1997. Don't forget to show your passport!

If you've forgotten to bring any money at all, but have your credit or debit card handy, there's no need to fret. Taiwan's banking system is light-years ahead of most other countries, with the ability to use any of the abundant 24-hour ATM Machines to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world using the Plus or Cirrus systems. Certain banks' ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$. There is a per transaction limit of NT$20,000 for ATM cash withdrawals (HSBC Global Access customers may withdraw NT$30,000 from HSBC ATMs). Visa debit cards are not accepted in many places, but can be used at ATMs in Chinatrust banks (but not those in 7-11s).

Most hotels and department stores accept credit cards, generally Visa and Master Card as well as JCB. Diners Club or American Express cards are seldom accepted. Most restaurants and small stores do not accept cards, and cash is the main form of payment. Because street crime is rare, it is common for people in Taiwan to carry large amounts of cash with them.

Prices in Taiwan are expensive by Asian standards, though still significantly cheaper than Japan. A meal at a street stall may cost NT$50 or less; a meal at a Western fast food restaurant will run you about NT$100; a hotel room at a swanky hotel might cost NT$5000 or more.

Shopping

A typical night market in Taiwan may sell anything from food to clothing to fortune telling services

As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating. Night markets are open-air markets, usually on a street or alleyway, with vendors selling all sorts of wares on every side. Many bargains can be had, and wherever prices are not displayed, haggling is expected. In the larger cities you will have a night market every night and in the same place. In smaller cities, they are only open certain nights of the week, and may move to different streets depending on the day of the week.

Every city has at least one night market; larger cities like Taipei may have a dozen or more. Night markets are crowded, so remember to watch out for your wallet! Shops selling the same items tend to congregate in the same part of the city. If you want to buy something, ask someone to take you to one shop and there will probably be shops selling similar things nearby.

For those who do not like the concept of haggling and fake goods, there are many shopping centres in Taipei where prices are usually fixed and goods are genuine. Otherwise, shopping streets in larger cities like Kaohsiung and Taichung can also easily get you what you want. And of course, there is the trendy Ximending in Taipei, where you can pretty much find anything associated with the youths, also at fixed prices.

Bargaining is OK and expected in night markets and small stores. Computer chain shops and department stores normally have fixed prices, but at least in department stores you may get a "registered member discount" if you're shopping a lot. Anyway it's always worth a try!

When bargaining at small stores, please note that the agreed prices are normally cash prices. If you like to use a credit card, the seller normally wants to add anything up to 8% to the price as a "card fee" etc. The fee consists actually of the credit company's commission and also the local sales tax/VAT. Even if you pay cash, you normally don't get an official receipt, as then the seller would have to report & pay their taxes in full. If you ask for a receipt or "fa piao", you will get it but you may need to pay 2-5% more.

What to buy

Popular things to buy include:

  • Jade. Although it can be hard to know for sure if the item you're buying is real jade or not, some beautiful objects are sold. Most cities have a specific jade market dealing in jade and other precious stones.
  • Computers. Taiwan is a center of computer design and manufacture, so some places sell original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) items at good rates. In particular Taiwanese companies produce laptop computers under license to international companies and then sell the same items under different brands locally, effectively giving the same quality for much lower prices. Desktop computers and components however tend to be the same price in Taiwan as in other areas of the world, though peripherals such as cables and adapters tend to be noticeably cheaper. If you're buying domestic it's best to go to tourist hangouts to buy your stuff as you might be saddled with Chinese documentation otherwise. Also, notebooks are typically only available with a Chinese or English keyboard.
  • Lingzhi (靈芝). A type of bracket fungus that is often used as a Chinese herb. It supposedly has many health benefits with an apparent absence of side effects, earning it a high repuation in East Asian countries and making it rather expensive. Taiwanese lingzhi is particularly famous for being of the highest quality.
  • Chinese Tea. Taiwan is particularly famous for its oolong tea(烏龍茶) and this is available in at many tea shops. Tea tasting in Chinese culture is akin to wine tasting in Western culture and you will find many grades of this same type of tea, with different methods of treating the tea leaves.

Note: In order to protect the environment, a government policy rules that plastic bags cannot be given freely at stores in Taiwan, but have to be bought (at a flat rate of NT$1) - bakeries being an exception as the items need to be hygienically wrapped. Re-useable canvas and nylon bags are sold at most supermarkets.

Eat

Stinky tofu
Undoubtedly the most infamous Taiwanese delicacy, stinky tofu (臭豆腐 chòudòufu) is fermented tofu with a strong odor often likened to rotting garbage. It's usually sold only by outdoor stalls, as the smell would overwhelm most restaurants, but if you can hold your nose long enough to eat it, the taste is quite mild — but with distinct earthy overtones that many visitors find offputting. It's most commonly eaten fried, but for extra Fear Factor points, find some mala hotpot with stinky tofu and duck blood.


Taiwanese beef noodle soup
Lemon aiyu jelly

Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines. It is possible to find Szechuan food, Hunan food, Beifang food, Cantonese food and almost every other Chinese cuisine on the island. Taiwanese renditions of these cuisines tend to be somewhat greasy, though, and completely authentic mainland cuisines are rare. This is especially true for the Cantonese cuisine, as demonstrated by the lack of Cantonese speakers on the island. The Taiwanese are also passionately in love with eggs and seafood, as you will discover during your stay on the island.

Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties. A few found islandwide include:

  • Beef noodles (牛肉麺 niúròu miàn), noodle soup with chunks of meltingly soft stewed beef and a dash of pickles
  • Oyster omelette (蚵仔煎 kézǎi jiān), made from eggs, oysters and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum, topped with sweet red sauce
  • Aiyu jelly (愛玉 àiyù), made from the seeds of a local fig and usually served on ice — sweet, cool and refreshing on a hot day
  • Taiwan Sausage (香腸 xiāngcháng), usually made from pork, it is a modified version of the Cantonese laap cheong (臘腸) which has been emulsified and is much sweeter in taste. Unlike laap cheong, which is almost always eaten with rice, Taiwanese xiangchang is usually eaten on its own with some garlic.
  • Taiwanese Orange (柳丁 liŭdīng) is a type of citrus fruit which is similar to the usual oranges, except that the skin and flesh tend to look more yellowish like lemon. Unlike lemon, it is usually quite sweet.
  • Taiwanese Porridge (粥 zhōu in Mandarin, 糜 beh in Taiwanese) is rice porridge cooked with sweet potato. It is usual eaten with several different dishes.

Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods, because of their passion for food and influences from many different countries. For example, Ilan is famous for its mochi, a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its soy milk and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes (太陽餅 tàiyáng bǐng), a kind of sweet stuffed pastry and the best place to buy some is arguably Taiyang Tang (太陽堂) along Freedom Road (自由路), where the pastry was supposedly invented. In Chiayi, it's square cookies, also called cubic pastry, crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds. Tainan is particularly famous among the Taiwanese for its abundance of good food and should be a stop for all gourmands, and the most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread (棺材板). Virtually every city has its famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will go visit other cities on the island only to try the local foods, then return home.

Taiwan also has remarkably good bakery items. Most specialize in sweet Chinese pastries or Western pastries adjusted to local tastes, but look out for We Care bakeries which also offer Western options such as whole wheat loaves, sour breads and ciabatta.

Places to eat

If you're on a budget, the cheapest food can be found in back-alley noodle shops and night market stalls, where you can get a filling bowl of noodles for around NT$35-70.

The Taiwanese love to snack and even many restaurants advertise xiaochi (小吃), literally "small eats", the Taiwanese equivalent of Cantonese dim sum. There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds (a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$115), KFC and MOS Burger. In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores (such as 7-11) that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches and drinks.

Night markets are also a good place to try some delicious local Taiwanese fare at attractive prices. Examples would be the Shilin Night Market in Taipei and the Liouho Night Market in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed.

Etiquette

As with Chinese cuisine elsewhere, food in Taiwan is generally eaten with chopsticks and served on large plates placed at the center of the table. Unlike in the West, however, a serving spoon might not accompany the dishes, and instead guests will use their own chopsticks to transfer food to their plates. Some people unaccustomed to this way of eating may consider this unhygienic, though it is usually quite safe. However, those who prefer to use a separate utensil for serving have the option of requesting communal chopsticks (公筷 gongkuai), and can gently encourage friends to use them if they do not automatically do so.

The usual traditional Chinese taboos when eating with chopsticks apply in Taiwan as well. For instance, do not stick your chopsticks straight up or into your bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of incense sticks at a temple, and has connotations of wishing death upon those around you. When putting down chopsticks, either place them on the provided porcelain chopstick rest (at fancier restaurants) or rest the chopsticks across the top of your bowl. Also, do not use your chopsticks to spear your food or move bowls and plates.

Dietary restrictions

All Mahayana Buddhists, which account for the majority of adherents in Taiwan, aspire to be pure vegetarian in deference to the Buddha's teaching of non-violence and compassion. So, vegetarian restaurants (called su-shi 素食 tsan-ting in Mandarin, and often identified with the 卍 symbol) can be found in abundance all over the island, and they run from cheap buffet style to gourmet and organic. Buffet styled restaurants (called 自助餐, which means "Serve Yourself Restaurant") are common in almost every neighborhood in large cities, and unlike the 'all-you-can-eat' buffets (which charge a set price, usually ranging from NT$250 - NT$350 including dessert and coffee/tea), the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice (there is usually a choice of brown or white) is charged separately, but soup or cold tea is free and you can refill as many times as you like. NT$90 - NT$120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal.

However, if you cannot find a veggie restaurant, don't fret. Taiwanese people are very flexible and most restaurants will be happy to cook you up something to suit your requirements. The following sentences in Mandarin might be helpful: Wo chi su - I'm vegetarian, Wo bu chi rou - I don't eat meat. However, as Mandarin is a tonal language, you might need to say both, plus practice your acting skills to get yourself understood. Good luck! NB: If a restaurant refuses your order, don't push the issue. The reason will not be an unwillingness to accommodate your request, but because the basic ingredients of their dishes may include chicken broth or pork fat.

Although vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan do not aspire to vegan principles, due to the fact that Taiwanese do not have a tradition of eating dairy products, almost all dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan.

Drink

Drinks vending machine in Taiwan

As Taiwan is a subtropical island with the south part in the tropics, it cannot hurt to drink a lot, especially during summertime. Drink vending machines can be found virtually everywhere and are filled with all kinds of juices, tea and coffee drinks, soy milk and mineral water.


Water

As a general rule, with the exception of Kaohsiung, tap water in Taiwan is safe for drinking after boiling. The locals do it, and so should you.

The good news is that finding safe water is rarely a problem. Any water or ice you are served in restaurants will already have been processed. Water fountains in Taiwan always incorporate filters, and they can be found in practically every lodge or hotel as well as (for example) larger museums and Taipei MRT stations. If you can't find one, then you should buy bottled water.

Note that in Kaohsiung, most people do not drink the tap water, even after filtering or boiling, since the water contains trace amounts of arsenic that is detrimental to ones health. Whether the trace amounts are dangerous or not is debatable, especially if you're just passing through, but the locals obtain potable water using pumps that look like gasoline pumps that are strewn throughout the residential areas. For tourists, most hotels would provide 2 bottles of mineral water in each room and you should use that as your drinking water. If that is not enough, there are many 24 hours convenience stores around so you can get additional bottled water from there.

Alcohol

Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong. Kaoliang (高粱酒) is the most famous alcoholic drink. A distilled grain liquor, it is extremely strong, usually 140 proof or more, and often drunk straight.

Taiwan also produces many types of Shaoxing (紹興酒), rice wine, which are considered by many as being some of the best in the world.

Taiwanese people enjoy beer on ice. A wide variety of imported beers are available, but the standard is Taiwan Beer (台灣啤酒), produced by a former government monopoly. It is brewed with fragrant penglai rice in addition to barley giving it a distinctive flavor.

Tea and coffee

Pearl milk tea and pudding milk tea, Chiayi

Taiwan's specialty teas are High Mountain Oolong (高山烏龍, Gao-shan wulong) - a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin (鐵觀音) - a dark, rich brew. Enjoying this tea drank in the traditional way using a very small teapot and tiny cups is a experience you should not miss. This way of taking tea is called lao ren cha - 'old people's tea', and the name is derived from the fact that only the elderly traditionally had the luxury of time to relax and enjoy tea in this way. Check the small print when visiting a traditional tea house though: in addition to the tea itself, you may be charged a "water fee" (茶水費) for the elaborate process of preparing it as well as for any nibbles served on the side.

Pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhū nǎichá), aka "bubble tea" or "boba tea", is milky tea with chewy balls of tapioca added, drunk through an over sized straw. Invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s and a huge Asia-wide craze in the 1990s, it's not quite as popular as it once was but can still be found at nearly every coffee/tea shop. Look for a shop where it is freshly made.

The cafe culture has hit Taiwan in a big way, and in addition to an abundance of privately owned cafes, all the major chains, such as Starbucks, have a multitude of branches throughout major towns and cities.

Soft drinks

Taiwan is a great place for fruit drinks. Small fruit-juice bars make them fresh on the spot and are experts at creating fruit-juice cocktails (non-alcoholic, of course). zong-he - mixed - is usually a sweet and sour combination and mu-gwa niou-nai is iced papaya milk. If you don't want ice (though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors) say, chu bing and no sugar - wu tang.

Soy milk, or doujiang (豆漿), is a great treat. Try it hot or cold. Savoury soy milk is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast dish. It is somewhat of an acquired taste as vinegar is added to curdle the milk. Both sweet and savory soy milk are often ordered with you-tiao, or deep fried dough crullers.

There are a lot of pseudo health drinks in Taiwanese supermarkets and convenience stores. Look out for asparagus juice and lavender milk tea for example.

Sleep

Taiwan doesn't sleep - just look at the number of 24-hour stores out there. But since you have to....

For the budget-minded, there are hostels in Taipei and most other sizeable cities. Camping is also available in many areas.

Motels (汽車旅館) can be easily found in suburbs of major cities. Many are intended for romantic trysts, and also offer "rests" (休息) of a few hours in addition to overnight stays (住宿). A single room with attached bathroom will cost you about US$40 to 50 each day.

Motels are an oddity in Taiwan. While motels around the world are considered low to medium quality accommodations, motels in Taiwan can be quite extravagent. Many feature enormous baths with massage jets, separate massage showers, marble tiles, and so forth. Suites come with flat screen TVs as well as centrally controlled sound systems. It's truly a rare sight. Taichung is considered the motel-capital of Taiwan. Check-in time for overnight stays are usually later at night. During the day, stays are charged hourly.

Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious. Due to the complexities of doing business with both mainland China and Taiwan, most Western hotel chains do not operate on Taiwan, the most notable exceptions being Sheraton, Westin and Hyatt. There are still plenty of five-star hotels around, and in fact these are often the only ones that show up on hotel booking sites. Keep in mind, however, that many of the international hotels tend to be outrageously expensive, while comparable and much cheaper accommodation is usually available in the same vicinity. For example, the airport hotel at CKS International charges about three or four times as much as a hotel in Taoyuan which is a half hour cab ride away. Taxi drivers and tourist offices are invaluable resources for finding cheaper hotels

The Grand Hotel, Taipei


Many hotels in Taiwan have both Chinese and Western names, which can differ radically. Find out and bring along the Chinese name (in Chinese characters), as locals will usually not be able to identify the English ones. Especially when you visit the regions less traveled by westerners (mostly because there is no business there), don't be shy to walk in on the more pricey hotels, especially off-season. The Ceasar, the Chateau and the Howard Beach Resort at Kenting, for example, located at one of the nicest beaches of tropical Taiwan, can be of exceptional value if you stay there during wintertime, as the rooms not yet let for the night are offered far below their normal price at last minute.

As in much of Asia, hotel beds in Taiwan are generally much harder than in the West. Only in the most upscale Western style hotels will you find beds any softer than a billiard table.

Learn

Mandarin Chinese

Some universities in Taiwan have Chinese Promoting Programs (華語文推廣中心) that offers Chinese lessons to foreigners who wish to live in Taiwan or to learn Mandarin Chinese as their second or foreign language. The romanisation system taught here nowadays is Hanyu Pinyin, whereas in the past they taught Zhuyin, or BoPoMoFo. The writing system taught is Traditional Chinese.

Martial arts

There are many styles of kung fu taught in Taiwan, largely by masters who came here with the Kuomintang in the late 1940's.

Styles include Ba Gua, Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, Shway Shiao and various weapons systems. Many of the students are westerners in these classes, which has led to the rise of several NHB Allegra schools, as well as Ju Jitsu and Aikido from Japan.

Some of the more famous teachers will provide you with the paperwork needed to extend a student visa twice.

Taekwondo is also extremely popular and is often a mandatory part of school children's physical education.

Work

The majority of travellers who work in Taiwan pick up temporary jobs teaching English. Jobs teaching other languages (mainly European or Japanese) do exist but have a much smaller proportion of the market.

Job requirements - in finding employment with a language school, experience, teaching qualifications and references are not required but obviously help. On paper, a big issue is also made about accents, with the North American English accent being heavily favored over British, Australian and South African accents in many language schools' sales marketing. However, in practice, many schools that advertise 'American English' and claim that their teachers are all from Canada or the USA, actually employ teachers from anywhere. Age is a factor, with applicants in their 20s seemingly being preferred. More than anything, appearance is probably the major factor in finding employment with most schools - Do you 'look Western'? - and reliability and turning up on time for work is then the major factor for keeping your job. Therefore, if you look the part, it is very easy to find a school willing to take you on for at least a few days.

This 'look Western' point has quite a bearing. Unfortunately, Taiwan is hardly a great promoter of equal opportunities. In many schools there is a prejudice towards teachers applying for jobs who are not of white Caucasian appearance, seen as the typical Western appearance in Asian countries. This is independent of whether or not the teacher has relevant teaching ability and citizenship of one of the permitted ARC countries. Many parents who send their children to schools to be taught English expect the teacher to look like they are from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and so on, and so the decision on the part of the school managers is mainly about economics. For those affected by this, it's a sad fact of Taiwan that is unlikely to change in the near future. Good employers without such prejudiced requirements do exist, but greater perseverance is needed when looking for them.

It is illegal to work without a work permit and an ARC (or Alien Residency Permit), and legal work officially requires a university degree and usually a long (two month+) application process. However, illegal employment is easy to find with many school managers being willing to pay under the table for short durations. Be aware that if caught or reported, you risk criminal charges and could be deported. The government tends to waver from being very lax on this issue under one administration to suddenly taking action under the next; but remember that it only takes one disgruntled student to report you and have you fined and deported. Consider your options carefully!

The rules for getting an ARC do change often and each administrative part of Taiwan has its own ways of handling them, so it is best to check the pages of the website Forumosa and find out what the experiences of others are in your area. Keep in mind, that you can only get an ARC for English teaching if you are a 'citizen of a native English speaking country'. Taiwan's government defines these countries to be only the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa. Almost all teachers apply for an ARC through their employers only after starting work and it is tied to their ongoing employment with that school. Therefore, if the teacher wishes to leave their employment, they will have to quickly find an alternative employer or lose their ARC and hence be required to leave Taiwan. Also, very few schools will arrange an ARC without at least a year-long contract being signed. Frankly, with all this inflexibility, it's no wonder so many teachers opt for the non-legal route. That and tax evasion.

A lot of the illegal teaching work that the majority of English teachers partake in is simply through private student tuition with payment being cash-in-hand. You can find a lot of private students around universities that have a Chinese-teaching department - look for the areas where all the foreign students will be and check the noticeboards. Because the majority of adult private students want to practise English conversation, you won't need to have any Chinese ability. However, it is definitely a selling point and, if you do have Chinese-speaking ability, it's worthwhile mentioning that in any advertising of your services. Also, once you have some regular students, remember that in Taiwan, as in most Asian countries, 'connections' or 'guanxi' are very important - if your students like you, they will in all likelihood recommend you to their family and friends.

Teaching English in Taiwan can be lucrative, as the salaries are very high compared to the cost of living, typically ranging between 500 and 650NT per hour before deductions in most language schools, with anything between 500-1000NT per hour being negotiable for private students. In the past few years, the flow of would-be teachers into Taiwan has increased dramatically, resulting in stiffer competition for jobs as well as a general drop in wages and this trend may continue. On top of this, the Taiwanese dollar has been sliding in value over the past five years, meaning you get less and less for your dollar in foreign currency at the end of the month.

Aside from English-teaching, other common kinds of employment available for mainly native English-speaking travellers include such tid-bits as small acting parts for TV and film, voice talent (video games, dubbing tracks, etc), editing and even writing educational materials. Many of these will be advertised on billboards in Chinese language-teaching institutes and universities, where there are likely to be many foreign students.

If after travelling and living there, you find you are serious about working in Taiwan, the most lucrative employment to be had is if you are employed by a multinational company, perhaps in a high-paying country like the UK, US or Australia, and you are sent across to their office in Taiwan. Many foreigners end up doing the same job as their colleagues who were employed in the Taiwan office, but for perhaps 3 or 4 times their pay.

  • Go2TeachEnglish - [19] - teaching English as a Second Language in Taiwan

Stay Safe

Crime

Taiwan is very safe for tourists, even for women at night. This is not to say, however, that there is no crime, and you should always exercise caution. In crowded areas such as night markets or festivals, for example, pickpockets are a known problem. However, it is fair to say that the streets of Taiwan are generally very safe and that violent crime and muggings are very rare.

In addition, it is also very unusual to see drunks on the street, day or night.

Like anywhere else in the world, women should be cautious when taking taxis alone late at night. Although they are generally safe, it's a good idea to arrange to have a friend call you when you get home and to be seen making the arrangements for this by the cab driver. It also helps if a friend sees you being picked up as taxis have visible license numbers. As an additional safety precaution, tell taxi drivers just the street name and section instead of your exact address.

Police departments in most jurisdictions have a Foreign Affairs Police unit staffed by English speaking officers. When reporting a major crime, it is advisable to contact the Foreign Affairs unit in addition to officers at the local precinct. Police stations are marked with a red light above the door and display a sign with the word "Police" clearly printed in English. For more information see the National Police Agency website.

Foreign victims of a major crime in Taiwan are also advised to report the matter to their government's representative office in Taipei.

Natural hazards

Taiwan often experiences typhoons during the summer months and early fall. Heavy monsoon rainfall also occurs during the summer. Hikers and mountaineers should be sure to consult weather reports before heading into the mountains. A major hazard following heavy rainfall in the mountains is falling rocks caused by the softening of the earth and there are occasional reports of people being killed or injured by these.

Taiwan is also located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means that earthquakes are a common occurrence. Most earthquakes are barely noticeable, though the effect may be slightly amplified for those in higher buildings. While the local building codes are extremely strict, general precautions should still be observed during an earthquake, including opening the door for preventing it being jammed, taking cover and checking for gas leaks afterwards.

Taiwan's wild areas are home to a variety of poisonous snakes, including the bamboo viper, Russel's viper, banded krait, coral snake, Chinese cobra, Taiwan habu, and the so-called "hundred pacer". Precautions against snake bites include making plenty of noise as you hike, wearing long trousers and avoiding overgrown trails. Most snakes are scared of humans, so if you make noise you will give them time to get away. The Russel's viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in Taiwan, is an exception...it generally prefers to take a stand against threats.

Traffic

Local drivers have a well-deserved reputation for being somewhat reckless. It is possible (even normal) to obtain a driving license in Taiwan without ever having driven on the roads, and this may be a reason (along with the overcrowded roads) why courteous or defensive driving is definitely not the norm. The guiding principles seem to be that the right of way belongs to the larger vehicle, i.e. trucks have the right-of-way over cars, cars over motorcycles, motorcycles over people, etc. Despite traffic's chaotic appearance, it is viscerally intuitive to yield the right-of-way to a much larger vehicle barreling towards you. Additionally, you're not responsible for anything you can't see - so try not to look around too much. Local drivers regularly cut in front of moving traffic into spaces that seem too small, try to change lanes regardless of the fact their destination is already full, etc. Be aware that during busy traffic (i.e. nearly always) two-lane roads will spontaneously become three-lane, an orange light will be interpreted as 'speed up', and the smallest moment's pause in oncoming traffic will result in everybody that's waiting trying to turn across it. Drivers routinely enter a junction when their exit is blocked, and are therefore frequently still there long after the lights change, blocking traffic travelling in other directions. Many motorcycle riders also have a tendency to zip through any space, no matter how tiny. Also be aware that motorcycles often travel through areas typically considered as pedestrian-only spaces, like the night-markets.

If you happen to drive a car or a motorcycle, the obvious rule is that if someone take a turn on your way in front of you, you should be the one to adapt. To avoid collisions, drivers need to be extremely vigilant for other vehicles creating hazards and always be willing to adjust speed or direction to accommodate. Do not expect drivers to yield way, or respect traffic lights in many areas, especially in central and southern Taiwan. Sounding the horn is the usual way a Taiwanese driver indicates that they do not intend to accommodate a driver trying to encroach on their lane, etc, and does not necessarily imply the anger or criticism, as it does in other countries. One bright side of Taiwan's chaotic traffic is that drivers tend to have an exceptional awareness of the spatial extents of their vehicle, so that even though it continuously looks like somebody is about to drive straight into you, it's relatively rare that they actually do so.

Be extra careful when crossing the road, even to the extent of looking both ways on a one-way street. When crossing at a pedestrian-crossing at a T-junction or crossroads, be aware that when the little green man lights up and you start crossing, motorists will still try to turn right, with or without a green feeder light. Even on roads where traffic is infrequent and the green light is in your favor, bike-riders are still strongly advised to check the opposite lane.

Emergency Phone Numbers

  • Police: 110
  • Fire/Ambulance: 119

For those who need assistance in English, the Taiwanese government[20] has a 24-hour toll-free foreigner service hotline at 0800-024-111, which you may call for assistance.

Stay Healthy

  • Westerners should be cautious of relatively undercooked food. Many Taiwanese restaurants offer plates of raw, sliced red meat and uncooked seafood that are brought to the table and either barbecued or simmered in a pot of stock. As this constitutes a staple of the Taiwanese diet, any bacteria that may remain doesn't affect the locals, but it can wreak havoc with foreigners. The best policy is to make sure you cook the food in a manner to which you are accustomed.
  • Don't drink tap water without boiling it, though it's safe for brushing your teeth.
  • Medicines are available for minor ailments at drug stores. You may also find common drugs requiring a prescription in the west (like asthma inhalers and birth control pills) cheaply available from drug stores without a prescription.
  • The quality of the hospitals in Taiwan is excellent and on par with those found in the West. Legal residents with a National Health Card can avail themselves of the very convenient and efficient national health service, which covers treatment and medication using both Western and traditional Chinese medicine. However, this service is not available to short term visitors on tourist visas; nor does it cover major hospitalization expenses. Still, hospital visits and medicine in Taiwan tends to be far less expensive than in the west. For minor ailments and problems (flu, broken bones, stitches, etc) visiting a hospital for treatment should be in the USD $100-$200 range at most.

Respect

Culture

Taiwan shares several cultural taboos with other East Asian nations.

  • Some Taiwanese are superstitious about anything connected with dying - unlucky things should never be mentioned.
  • Do not write people's names in red. This again has connotations of death. When writing someone's English name, this is not a problem, but avoid writing Chinese names in red.
  • Do not whistle or ring a bell at night. This is an "invitation to ghosts".
  • Do not point at cemeteries or graves. This is also an "invitation to ghosts".
  • There are numerous taboos dictating that certain objects shouldn't be given to others, often because the word for that object sounds like another unfortunate word:
    • Umbrellas, which in Mandarin sound the same as the word for "break up". Friends should therefore never give friends umbrellas. Instead, friends will euphemistically "rent" each other umbrellas for a tiny amount (NT$1, for example).
    • Clocks. The phrase "to give a clock" ("song zhong"), in Mandarin, has the same sound as the word "to perform last rites." If you do give someone a clock, the recipient may give you a coin in return to dispel the curse.
    • Shoes. Never ever offer shoes as a gift to old people, as it signifies sending them on their way to heaven. This is ok but the receiver should give back a small amount of money in return, usually $10NT.
    • Knives or sharp objects, as they are made for or could be used to hurt the person.
  • The Taiwanese are certainly not puritanical and enjoy a drink, especially the locally brewed Taiwan Beer and Kaoliang. However, Taiwan does not have a culture of heavy drinking and is rare to see anyone drunk on the streets. While over indulging in alcohol is not a social taboo as such (and some people do so at weddings), it is considered a sign of lack of self-confidence and immaturity, and doing so certainly won't gain you any respect among Taiwanese friends.
  • You are expected to remove your shoes before entering a house. You will find some slippers to be worn by visitors next to the entrance door. It is likely to be the same ritual for bathrooms and balconies where you will be expected to remove your slippers to wear a pair of plastic sandals (though it is less shocking not to use the sandals by then).
  • In public places, especially in Southern Taiwan, physical contacts of any sorts should be avoided.
  • As you will get along with Taiwanese people, you are very likely to receive small presents of any sorts. This will be drinks, food, little objects... These are a very convenient way to lubricate social relations for Taiwanese people, and are specially commons betweens friends in their 20s. You should reply to any such presents with something similar, but it does not need to be immediate, or specific to the person (i.e. keep it simple). As a teacher you are not expected to offer anything in return (i.e. in a classroom environment) as long as the relationships stays formal. However beware of the sometime overly generous parents who can go as far as offering presents running in the thousands of NT$ and who will then expect you to take special care of their child (understand that their expectations will be considered as fair in Taiwanese culture).
  • You are not expected to tip in hotels, restaurants and taxis, though bellhops may still expect NT$50 or so for carrying your luggage.
  • If you should need to use a temple's washroom, bow to any statues of deities you see on the way whether or not you believe in them. While most people will not mind you using the temple's washroom, they expect you to treat their place of worship with respect.

Politics

Taiwanese society is rather polarized by allegiance between supporters of the two major political blocks informally known as "Pan-Blue Coalition" and "Pan-Green Coalition", although there are large numbers of people who are either centrist or who don't care. To simplify a complex situation, pan-blue supporters tend to be more favorable toward the idea of (re)unification or maintaining a status-quo with China and pan-green supporters tend to be more favorable toward the idea of establishing a formally independent Republic of Taiwan, among other differences. There is even a small group of people who consider Taiwan a part of Japan, due to 50 years of Japanese occupation.

Although there are some correlations, it is highly unwise to assume anything about a particular persons political beliefs based on what you think you know about their background. Also, the very brief sketch of Taiwanese politics obscures a large amount of complexity.

Unless you know your listener well, it is unwise to say anything (either positive or negative) about the current government, about historical figures in Taiwanese history, about Taiwan's international relations, or about relations with mainland China. Some political figures such as Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Ching-kuo are generally seen positively, but others (Chiang Kai-shek, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian in particular) arouse very polarized feelings.

Some Taiwanese will get very offended if you imply that Taiwan is part of China. Others will get very offended if you imply that Taiwan is not part of China. Referring to the PRC as "mainland China" (中國大陸 zhōngguó dàlù) rather than simply China will tend not to offend anyone as the term is generally used to exclude Hong Kong and Macau as well, making it less subjective. Referring to the Republic of China as a whole as "Taiwan Province" will draw a negative reaction from most Taiwanese. "Greater China" may be used in certain business contexts. Keep in mind however, that there are so many subtleties and complexities here that if you are talking about these things, you've already wandered into a minefield.

However, simply referring to the island as 'Taiwan' is fine, as that is the name used by the locals, regardless of their political persuasion. Titles such as 'Republic of China' are reserved for official matters only.

Contact

Getting Online

Internet cafes are plentiful, although you may have to wander around before finding one. Rather, Internet cafes in Taiwan should be called gaming cafes. They will be located on the 2 story of a building, and equipped with very comfortable chairs and large screens. Although people do surf the Internet, most people primarly go there for a smooth experience of online gaming. Each hour of Internet access/game play is cheap, coming in at around NT$20. Some machines in the internet cafes are coin operated. For free internet access in big cities, try out the local libraries. In addition, a wireless internet accessing net covering all of Taipei City is available (it was free before May 2006 and is now payable at convenient stores in Taipei City) and Kaohsiung City is currently under construction; it already works in some huge MRT stations and on some special points. You will need some sort of login. There is also a common wifi network available at every McDonald's. The login is partly in English.

Telephone

Mobile phone coverage is relatively good in Taiwan. Among the major providers are Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信), Taiwan Mobile (台灣大哥大), Vibo (威寶電訊) and Far EasTone (遠傳電訊). Taiwan has both GSM 900/1800 and 3G networks and roaming might be possible for users of such mobile phones, subject to agreements between operators. Most payphones work with telephone cards (電話卡)which are available at all convenience stores.

Media

Taiwan has a very free and liberal press. There are three daily newspapers available in English:

Other news sources:

Free magazines:

  • Highway 11 Magazine [21] - A free east coast travel & lifestyle magazine in Hualien County - bilingual
  • Xpat [22] - a magazine dedicated to promoting Arts and Culture in Taiwan - English.
  • Lifestyle - info on Taiwan relating to what's on and current trends - bilingual.
  • Taiphoon [23] - a magazine dedicated to promoting peace and environmental awareness in Taiwan - bilingual.
  • Journey East [24] - a travel & lifestyle magazine for northern Taiwan - bilingual.

Cope

Foreign Missions

As the People's Republic of China (PRC) does not allow other nations to have official diplomatic relations with both itself and the ROC in Taiwan, many of the world's major nations do not have official embassies or consulates in Taiwan. However, as the PRC allows recognition of Taiwan as a separate economy, many nations maintain a "Trade Office", "Institute" or something of similar nature such as American Institute in Taiwan(AIT) or European Economic and Trade Office and these usually perform limited consular activities such as issuing visas. For more information, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [25] web-site.



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