Taiwan (Traditional Chinese: 台灣 or 臺灣, Simplified Chinese: 台湾 tái wān)  is an island nation of about 36,000 km² located off the coast of southeastern mainland China, southwest of Okinawa and north of the Philippines. The island is offically known as and 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 23 million people and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Besides its crowded cities, Taiwan is also known for steep mountains and lush forests. In addition to the island of Taiwan, the Republic of China also governs the tiny Pescadores (Penghu), Quemoy (Kinmen/Jinmen), and Matsu.
Taiwan 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. The Japanese enjoy taking short trips to come over and stay and enjoy its neighboring hospitalities. Lately with the relaxation of restrictions there is an increasing number of mainland Chinese visiting the Island nation.
Taiwan has been populated for thousands of years by more than a dozen non-east Asian aboriginal tribes. Written history begins with the partial colonization of Taiwan by the Dutch and then the Portuguese in the early 17th century. (The old name of Taiwan, Formosa, comes from the Portuguese Ilha Formosa for "beautiful island".) Han Chinese immigrants arrived in significant numbers with the onset of European trade. 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 Qing dynasty that Taiwan was formally integrated into the rest of China as part of Hokkien (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 all the way until the end of World War II in 1945, and exerted profound influences on its development. The island's entertainment and pop culture was and still is heavily influenced by that of Japan. 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 國民黨) and Communists fought a major bloody civil war in mainland 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 in 1949. The Nationalist government, the remnant of their army, and hundreds of thousands of supporters then fled to Taiwan. From Taipei, they continued to assert their right as the sole legitimate government of all China. Initially very repressive, the government began to loosen control in its fourth decade 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 richest and most modern economies and earning it a place as one of the East Asian Tigers. Taiwan still remains a leader in consumer electronics and is home to well-known computer brands such as Acer, Asus, Garmin, Gigabyte and HTC. 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 (泛藍) group spearheaded by the KMT supports eventual unification with the mainland when the political climate is right, while the Pan-Green (泛綠) group led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supports eventual independence under the name "Taiwan". 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 even turn violent.
Taiwan was originally populated by indigenous tribes that spoke various Austronesian languages, which are related to Malay, Tagalog and Indonesian. Today the remaining tribes make up only about 2% of the population, while the other 98% are considered ethnically Han Chinese. The ethnically Han Chinese are further split into Taiwanese, who make up about 84% of the population and whose culture is derived from people who migrated during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, as well as mainlanders, who make up about 14% of the population and whose families fled to Taiwan from the mainland after the communist takeover in China in 1949. Among the Taiwanese group, Hoklo (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, with many of its members working in the entertainment industry.
It should be noted that the Taiwanese (who make up 84% of the Taiwan's population and are culturally Chinese) are to a large extent the descendents of immigrants from the mainland in recent centuries who intermarried with indigenous people. As a result, the genetic makeup of the Taiwanese is noticeably different from that of the mainlanders. In recent years there are also Vietnamese, Indonesian and Filipino migrant workers living harmoniously with other Asian minorities as well as Mainland Chinese immigrants. As for the 14 millions post 1949 immigrants, they come from every province and consist of many non-Han residents.
Lowland Taiwan has a marine tropical climate during the summer, with sweltering, humid weather (above 30°C, 86°F) from Jun-Sep. In the winter the weather is influenced by the nearby continent, and in the northern areas the temperature can go as low as 8°C at night. The best time of year to visit is from Oct-Dec, although even then 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.
On the other hand, when you head into the mountainous regions you will encounter more moderate temperate conditions. Rapid weather change can endanger unprepared visitors, so advice on proper preparation should be obtained before visiting those areas. In fact, it snows every year on Taiwan's highest mountains and occasionally even on mountains like Alishan.
The Minguo (民國) calendar, counting years from the establishment of the ROC (1911), is commonly used in Taiwan. To convert a Minguo date to A.D., just add 1911. Months and days are according to the standard Gregorian calendar. 2012 is 101st Minguo. However, most locals also keep track of Lunar calendar for holidays.
As Taiwan is dominated by ethnic Chinese, traditional Chinese festivals are celebrated by the Taiwanese. Among the most notable are:
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.
Baseball was brought to Taiwan by the Japanese during the colonial period. Its popularity rose greatly when the Taiwanese baseball team finished second in the Japanese national championships. Today, baseball retains a strong following and remains by far the most popular team sport in Taiwan. Several Taiwanese players have also gone on to successful careers in the U.S and Japanese Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Taiwanese national baseball team is considered to be one of the strongest in the world.
Besides baseball, basketball also has a sizeable following in Taiwan and is quite popular among teenagers. When the class is over, the basketball courts inside schools are not only open to students but also the public.
Billiard is another popular sport in Taiwan. It's easy to find billiard rooms throughout the country and there are also many championship-winning players in Taiwan, most of whom started training when they were still teens.
Other sports which are popular include Taekwondo, table tennis and golf.
Taiwan has many large cities and towns. Below is a list of ten of the most notable. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.
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 impression. However, the island is also home to high mountain ranges, great beaches and stunning national parks - many with hot springs.
Foreign nationals of the following 41 countries can enter Taiwan visa-free as a visitor provided that their passports are valid for at least 6 months upon entry:
For up to 90 days: All 27 European Union member states, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the Vatican City
For up to 30 days: Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States
If citizens of the above countries present an emergency or temporary passport, they will be required to apply for a landing visa on arrival by supplying a passport photo and paying a fee of NT$2,400.
Citizens of Japan need only present a passport with at least 3 months' validity (rather than 6 months' validity) upon entry. Citizens of the United States can enter Taiwan on a passport with less than 6 months' validity on the date of arrival by supplying a passport photo and paying a fee of US$184 or NT$5,600.
Citizens of Canada and the United Kingdom can extend their stay for an extra 90 days (i.e. a total stay of up to 180 days) free of charge - more information is available on this Bureau of Consular Affairs information sheet.
Residents of Hong Kong and Macau in China who hold valid SAR passports should apply for an entry permit, which can be done on arrival or online before departure if they were born in their respective territories or have been to Taiwan previously after 1983. From July 2008, holders of mainland Chinese (which is different from Hong Kong and Macau) passports may visit Taiwan for tourism if they join an approved guided tour.
Citizens of India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam who have a valid entry visa or permanent resident card issued by a Schengen country, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States can obtain a 30-day Visa on Arrival after making an an online application. 
Detailed information about visas is available at the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs .
In addition, the airports at Makung (馬公), Taitung (台東) and Kinmen (金門) have also been designated for cross-strait flights to mainland China, though of these, only Makung currently has regular flights to mainland China.
Regular cross-Strait flights between Taiwan and mainland China resumed after civil war on 4 Jul 2008. From 15 Dec 2008, the frequency of these flights were increased to daily, and travel times on some popular routes have been reduced significantly as flights no longer have to be routed through Hong Kong airspace.
For up-to-date information on cheap flights, check the advertisement pages of one of the three local daily English newspapers (see media below).
As of 2008, all scheduled passenger ferry services between Taiwan and Japan have been suspended. Star Cruises  operates limited cruise services from Keelung (基隆) and Kaohsiung (高雄) to Hong Kong and various Japanese islands.
From Fuzhou (福州), China, there are two daily ferries to Matsu (馬祖). Take bus 69 from Fuzhou train station to Wuyilu, then bus 73 to the end station Mawei harbor (馬尾港). The ferry costs RMB350 from China and TWD1300 from Taiwan. The trip takes two hours. The old website [mit30.com.tw], appears to be down. From Matsu, there are two daily ferries to Keelung in Taiwan. TWD1050 includes a bed, as the trip takes 10 hours. Bookings can be made at +886 2 2424 6868.
At Mawei harbour in Fuzhou there is an opportunity to buy an inclusive ticket all the way to Taipei (臺北) that includes the Fuzhou to Matsu ferry above and a domestic flight from Matsu to Taipei (or Taichung). The price (RMB780) includes transfer between port and airport on Matsu, and a coupon for lunch at the airport while you wait for your connection. The ferry leaves Fuzhou at 9:30AM. Get to Mawei at 8AM to buy tickets.
There are also several ferry services between Xiamen and Quanzhou on the mainland and the island of Kinmen (金門). Now there also is one weekly ferry from Dongdu Harbor (東渡碼頭) in Xiamen to Keelung, that leaves on Thursdays at 6PM starting at less than RMB500, as well as one to Taichung leaving on Tuesdays. Call 0592-2393128 for information or 0592-6011758 for bookings from China. You can also check here for news .
Taiwan's main domestic carriers are Mandarin Airlines , a China Airlines subsidiary; UNI Air , controlled by EVA; and TransAsia Airways . 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. 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.
If you want to visit Taiwan's smaller islands, the plane is still the best option, and is the only practical option of travelling to Penghu, Kinmen or Matsu. Fares are not too expensive, and local planes are very good. The domestic airport in Taipei is Song Shan Airport , which is 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.
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) , a bullet train based on Japanese Shinkansen technology that covers the 345 km (215 mi) route on the West Coast from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 min. 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, but there's a free shuttle bus). A one way ticket from Taipei to Kaohsiung costs NT$1,490 in economy or NT$2,440 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. Bookings can be easily made by internet, and you can pay online or pay and pick up your tickets at almost every Familymart and 7-11. You can also avoid the cues for long distance tickets at major stations by buying your tickets from the automated ticket machines. The English prompts on the automated machines are hard to spot but they are present,usually in the top left corner of the screen. The stations and platforms are wheelchair-friendly and all trains include a wheelchair-accessible car (wider doors, ample space, accessible bathroom). Note that the official English guide for online reservations distinguishes between "senior or disabled tickets" and "handicap-friendly seats"; while it's possible to buy a ticket for the former online ("correct passenger ID" required), a ticket for the latter has to be reserved by calling the ticketing office on the phone.
Mainline trains are run by the separate Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA, 台鐵) , 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  (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, $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 (45 in) height go free, and taller kids shorter than 145 cm (57 in) 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.
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.
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.
Intercity buses are called keyun (客運), as opposed to gongche (公車) 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.
The Taiwan tourist shuttle connects with many of the major train stations and offers direct services to many of the tourist sites which might be confusing for foreigners to locate by public bus. The website is confusing to navigate but English timetables and route maps are available from most tourist information centers and bus stops. 
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 m (33 ft) 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).
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 EasyCard (悠遊卡) in Taipei for bus and metro travel are available at metro stations. In KaoHsiung, it's called 一卡通. They are read via proximity sensors so you do not need to remove the card from your wallet or purse. The MRT is very clean as there is no eating, drinking, or smoking inside of the stations or subway trains. There is also a special waiting area that is monitored by security camera for those who are concerned about security late at night. Stations and trains are wheelchair-friendly, but note that when there are multiple exits from a single station, usually only one of these is equipped with a lift.
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 (starting point priced at NT$70), 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 (圓山) or Wulai (烏來). 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 forewarned 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. Many are supporters of the pan-green coalition and Taiwanese independence, spending all day listening to Taiwanese political talk radio. Drivers also have negative connotations as being former prisoners. Be careful about your opinions on sensitive political subjects (including, but not necessarily limited to cross-strait relations); also be careful of describing your destination which may be perceived politically (such as the President's Office or Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall). Also watch out for drivers who discriminate against other cultures such as taping "No Korean passengers" on their cars. This is sometimes unavoidable as some drivers provoke such discussion.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. Foreign nationals with stay less than 30 days do not have a easy way to get a scooter license. Until 2003 it wasn't possible to get a scooter above 150cc. Many of the scooters within cities are only 50cc and incapable of going faster than 80 km/h (50 mph). The more powerful versions known as zhongxing (重型) (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 (62 mph) 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, week or month, depending on the city in which you're staying. In Taipei, as of September 2008, 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  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 $400 for 24 hours, this includes one or two helmets.
Another option is to rent a motorcycle. Many foreigners swear by their 125cc Wild Wolf (野狼) 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 550cc 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.
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  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 non-standardized 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 (19 mi). Currently a car driver pays $40 when passing each toll station on a highway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores and at the "cash" toll-boths themselves, 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 as well as the difficulty of finding a good parking space, especially during the rush hour and traffic tends to get chaotic so you might be better off relying on public transport instead.
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.
While known for being a major player in the bicycle industry (through companies such as Giant and Meridia), until fairly recently, bicycles in Taiwan were considered an unwanted reminder of less prosperous times. Thankfully, this has changed in recent years. Bicycling is again on the rise, both as a tool for commuting and recreation, and support infrastructure is slowly being put into place. Several bike paths have been built, and recreational cycling has become quite popular amongst locals, especially on weekends. However, you should also be aware that local drivers have a well deserved reputation for recklessness. As such, you should exercise extreme caution when cycling outside of designated bicycle lanes and trails.
In recent years, the government has been promoting bicycling as a method of clean recreation. Several designated bicycle paths have been built throughout Taiwan (especially along riverside parks). Additionally, long distance rides, including through the Central Mountain Range, and along the coastline around the main island have become popular . For long distance trips, bicycles can be shipped as is using standard freight service from the Taiwan Railway Administration between larger stations. A price table is available at:  (Chinese language only). Non-folding bicycles may also be transported aboard the Taipei and Kaohsiung rapid transit systems if loaded at specific stations, during off peak hours (usually 10AM-4PM on weekdays, check with your local station personnel to confirm).
Giant Bicycles Corporation operates a large network of bicycle retail stores that offer rentals for as little as NT $100 per day, if requested one week in advance . Public shared bicycles are also available for rent at automated kiosks in Taipei's Hsinyi District, and in Kaohsiung. Rental fees in Taipei may be paid using the rapid transit EasyCard system, but require a deposit paid via credit card.
Additionally, many local police stations provide basic support services for cyclists, such as air pumps, and as a rest stop.
Further cycling references:
Although standard Mandarin in Taiwan is nearly identical to standard Mandarin in mainland China (with differences mostly in technical and translated terms invented post-1949), most people in practice speak a distinctly accented version known as Taiwanese Mandarin. For example, Taiwanese Mandarin 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. Mandarin is spoken more commonly than Taiwanese within Taipei City, and less commonly outside of it. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters, the script also used in Hong Kong and Macau, and not the simplified versions used on the mainland.
The Taiwanese dialect is a variant of Minnan which is similar to the dialect spoken across the Taiwan Strait in Xiamen. Unlike Xiamen Minnan, Taiwanese Minnan has some loan words from Japanese as a result of 50 years of Japanese colonization. Taiwanese Minnan and Xiamen Minnan are both mixtures of the Zhangzhou and Quanzhou accents so as a result, Taiwanese Minnan sounds highly identical to Xiamen Minnan.
All public announcements in the transportation system will be made in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, with the exception of the Matsu islands, where announcements are made in Mandarin and the Mindong dialect.
Especially in Taipei, younger people generally speak a basic conversational level of 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 in Taiwanese schools. 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.
Many people think of Taiwan as a grimy, densely populated industrial island full of hard disk factories, and you may well maintain this perception if you only stick to the densely populated West Coast. However, for those who take time to venture to the more sparsely populated East Coast will quickly find that Taiwan is actually home to some stunning landscapes. The Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) near Hualien in particular is very impressive, and should not be missed. Most of Taiwan is covered with mountains which offer breathtaking views, so hiking opportunities are very diverse.
While gambling is technically illegal in Taiwan, mahjong (Mandarin: 麻将 má jiàng; Taiwanese: 麻雀 moâ-chhiok) remains popular. The Taiwanese version of the game differs significantly from the better known Cantonese and Japanese versions, most notably because a hand consists of 16 tiles instead of the 13 used in other version. However, it remains mostly a family and friends affair and there are no publicly advertised mahjong parlours.
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 kho͘ (箍) in the Taiwanese dialect. All $ prices in this guide are in New Taiwan Dollars.
As of March 2011, the exchange rate for US$1 is around $29, or €/$41. Easy rules of thumb are that $100 roughly equals US$3/€2.5; $1000 roughly equals US$30/€25. Coins come in denominations 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. Perhaps due to counterfeiting problems, the $200 and $2000 banknotes are rarely seen.
Taiwanese currency is fully convertible and there are no restrictions on taking currency into or out of the island. Currency exchange is possible internationally, although you will get a much better rate if you wait until you arrive at the airport to exchange currency at the 24 hour window. Most banks in Taipei and Kaohsiung will also exchange money or offer cash advances on credit or debit cards. Should you bring American currency, please be sure to bring newer bills as the banks and exchange-centers (such as in department stores) will only accept the newer bills (bills from 1996 and 2003 are not accepted at most places, due to a high proportion of forgeries bearing these years). Bills which are torn or damaged will probably not be changed, and old-style small-bust bills are not accepted. Taiwan National Bank will take older bank notes and bank notes that are wrinkled or torn for exchange. Department stores will not exchange bills older than 1997. Don't forget to show your passport!
If you've forgotten to bring any money at all, but have your credit or debit card handy, there's no need to fret. Taiwan's banking system is light-years ahead of most other countries, with the ability to use any of the abundant 24-hour ATMs to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world using the Plus or Cirrus systems. Certain banks' ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$. There is a per transaction limit of $20,000 for ATM cash withdrawals (HSBC Global Access customers may withdraw $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.
Taiwan is fairly expensive by Asian standards, though still significantly cheaper than Japan. For a budget traveller on a bare bones budget, NT$1000 will get you by for a day, but you'll probably want to double that for comfort. 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$150 and at the fanciest restaurants, you can expect a bill in excess NT$1000. On the high end of the spectrum, hotel rooms at a swanky hotel might cost NT$5000 or more.
Tipping is generally not practised in Taiwan, with the possible exception of bellhops in high end hotels. Full service restaurants typically impose a service charge and that is usually considered to be sufficient. Tipping is also not expected in taxis and drivers would usually return your change to the last dollar.
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 (西門町) 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" (發票), you will get it but you may need to pay 3-5% more.
What to buy
Popular things to buy include:
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.
Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines. It is possible to find Szechuan (四川) food, Hunan (湖南) food, Beifang (北方) food, Cantonese (廣東) food and almost every other Chinese cuisine on the island. The Taiwanese are also passionately in love with eggs and seafood, as you will discover during your stay on the island. Fruits are another famous part of Taiwanese food. A wide range of fruits can be found at local fruit shops and stations. The subtropical climate allows different fruits to grow nicely. Actually you can find almost every kind of fruits you can think of in Taiwan.
Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties. A few found island wide include:
Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many different countries. For example, Ilan (宜蘭) is famous for its mochi (麻吉), a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe (永和), a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly made soy milk (豆漿) 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 (方塊酥), 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. The most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread (棺材板). Virtually every city has its own famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will visit other cities on the island simply to try the local foods and 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.
Vegetarians are better catered for in restaurants and variety than in most other countries.
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, bento boxes (便當盒) 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 (士林夜市) in Taipei and the Liouho Night Market (六合夜市) in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed.
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. Often times, a serving spoon or pair of chopsticks (公筷 gongkuai) is usually accompanied with the dishes and guests do not use their own chopsticks to transfer food to their plates.
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.
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 餐廳 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 $250-350 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. $90-$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: 我吃素 (Wo chi su) - I'm vegetarian, 我不吃肉 (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.
Taiwanese vegetarianism 素食 isn't simply vegetariansism, for there is a notion of "plainness" to it. In most cases it excludes items such onion, ginger, and garlic. Buddhists and Taoists consider these items "un-plain" because they potentially cause physical excitement, which could hinder the meditative process. Thus, when offering food to a strict vegetarian, be aware that they may not eat food containing onion, ginger, and garlic.
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 non-dessert dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan. Ensure that your dish does not contain eggs, however.
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.
As a general rule, with the exception of Kaohsiung, tap water in Taiwan is safe for drinking after boiling. 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. You can refill and reuse your bottles at these fountains as well. 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 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.
In most other places in Taiwan it is advised to not drink tap water. In fact, warnings about this can be found in most hotels, particularly the international tourist hotels. Although some Taiwanese do so, even the majority of them prefer to drink boiled water. In some parts of the country (Yunlin County (雲林縣), etc.) the water is often filtered to remove sediment and minerals from the ground water prior to boiling.
Another reason for drinking previously boiled or bottled water in Taiwan is that Taiwan is a seismic active zone. Because of the large number of earthquakes, the water delivery system (pipes) are easily damaged allowing contaminants to enter the water prior to it reaching the tap. Therefore drinking previously boiled or bottled water is probably a wise choice.
Taiwan's legal age to consume alcohol is 18 years of age. Minors caught drinking can face fines ranging from $10000 to $50000. 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. The beer is served cold and recognized as an especially suitable complement to Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine, especially seafood dishes such as sushi and sashimi. Taiwan Beer has won international awards, including the International Monde Selection in 1977 and the Brewing Industry International Awards in 2002.
Beer on tap is uncommon in Taiwan, and most places serve beer in bottles. For a special and rare treat, ask for the Taiwan Draft Beer (台灣生啤酒), which comes in a plain green bottle. This has a 2-week expiration, so it can only be found at the breweries (there are a few scattered around Taiwan) or at select stores and restaurants in the vicinity.
Tea and coffee
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, served in the traditional way using a very small teapot and tiny cups, is an experience you should not miss. This way of taking tea is called lao ren cha (老人茶) - '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 cover (茶水費, literally "tea-water fee") for the elaborate process of preparing it as well as for any nibbles served on the side.
One should also try Lei cha (擂茶; léi chá) a tasty and nourishing Hakka Chinese tea-based beverage consisting of a mix ground tea leaves and grain. Some stores specialize in this product and allows one to grind their own lei cha.
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.
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 (木瓜牛奶) is iced papaya milk. If you don't want ice (though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors) say, chu bing (去冰) and no sugar - wu tang (無糖).
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 (油條), 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.
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 sizable cities. Camping is also available in many areas.
Motels (汽車旅館) can be easily found in suburbs of major cities. Despite the name, these have little if anything to do with the cheap functional hotels that use the name elsewhere; in Taiwan, motels are intended for romantic trysts and can be quite extravagant in decor and facilities. 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. During the daytime, most offer "rests" (休息) of a few hours, and indeed check-in times for overnight stays (住宿) can be as late at 10 PM. Taichung is considered the motel-capital of Taiwan.
Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious. Despite the complexities of doing business with both mainland China and Taiwan, most Western hotel chains operate in Taiwan such as Sheraton, Westin and Hyatt. Also, there are plenty of five-star hotels around. 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.
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 (凱撒大飯店), the Chateau (夏都沙灘酒店) and the Howard Beach Resort (福華大飯店) 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.
Hotel beds in Taiwan are generally much harder than in the West because of the old Asian tradition to sleep on a wood board. Modern mattresses can be found in most hotels, but only in the most upscale Western style hotels will you find beds in a real western style.
Taiwan is home to several good universities, many of which have exchange agreements with various foreign universities, and these are a good way to experience life in Taiwan. The most prestigious university in Taiwan is the National Taiwan University.
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 (漢語) Pinyin (拼音), whereas in the past they taught Zhuyin (注音), or BoPoMoFo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ). The writing system taught is Traditional Chinese.
There are many styles of kung fu (功夫) taught in Taiwan, largely by masters who came here with the Kuomintang in the late 1940's.
Styles include Ba Gua (八卦), Tai Chi (太極), Wing Chun (詠春), Praying Mantis (螳螂), Shway (水) 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.
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 against 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 U.S., 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 U.S., 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.
British and German citizens aged 18-30 can apply for a working holiday visa. For more information, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
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 $500-650 per hour before deductions in most language schools, with anything between $500-1000 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, U.S. 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.
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.
Also, remember that you call 110 for police in Taiwan, and 119 for Fire Dept. or Medical Help. Most of the public telephone booths will allow you to call 110 or 119 for free. See "Emergency Phone Numbers" section below.
Emergency Phone Numbers
For those who need assistance in English, the Taiwanese government has a 24-hour toll-free foreigner service hotline at 0800-024-111, which you may call for assistance.
Taiwan often experiences typhoons (颱風) during the summer months and early fall, especially on the East Coast. 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 (土石流) 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" (百步蛇). 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. Walking quietly means that you may suddenly startle them around a corner when you appear, and trigger an attack. The Russel's viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in Taiwan, is an exception...it generally prefers to take a stand against threats.
Local drivers have a well-deserved reputation for being extremely reckless and downright immoral. 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. It is advisable to use slow and smooth movements over quick or sudden ones. 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 traveling 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 turns 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.
Eating and Drinking
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.
Taiwan has both Chinese physicians and Western doctors, both of which are taken equally seriously. However, as a foreigner, the assumption would generally be to direct you to a Western doctor. The quality of the hospitals in Taiwan is excellent and on par, if not better, with those found in the West. Taiwan's health care program is considered as one of the best health care in the world. 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). Note that outside the major cities, it might be difficult to find a doctor who speaks English, so try to learn some basic Mandarin before heading off the beaten track.
Watch out for mosquito bites when hiking in the mountains. Especially in the summer, the humid and hot weather makes mosquitos very active. Most mosquito bites only cause skin irritation and itching, but in some areas of Taiwan it's possible to contract Dengue Fever or Japanese Encephalitis (though they are both on the rare side in Taiwan). Mosquito/insect repellent spray can be found at convenience stores (such as 7-11 and Family Mart) and local pharmacies. If you are bitten by mosquitos, apply a small amount of ointment for irritation relief.
Taiwan shares several cultural taboos with other East Asian nations.
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 very 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.
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.
Gay and lesbian travelers
Taiwan is quite liberal when it comes to homosexuality compared to its neighbours. Taiwan does not have laws against homosexuality, though same-sex marriages and unions are currently not recognised. Violence against gays and lesbians rarely occurs. That being said, Taiwan still has some fairly strong male machismo streaks in its society and homosexuality is not quite as open and accepted as in the West or even some other Asian countries like Thailand, and openly displaying your sexuality in public might draw some stares and whispers, especially outside Taipei. But the trend seems to be to be more accepting of it as exampled by gay oriented bars/pubs as well as the many entertainers who are known to be gay as well as a transsexual with her own TV show.
Gays and lesbians may wish to attend the annual Taiwan Pride parade event (which started around 2003). This event takes place sometime between September and November, and has become the biggest Pride Parade in Asia throughout the years.
Internet cafes are plentiful, although you may have to wander around before finding one. Rather, Internet cafes in Taiwan should be called gaming cafes. These are often found on the first or second floor 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 $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.
If you want an internet connection to your smart-phones, you can purchase a prepaid 3G data sim card from Chunghwa Telecom at a cost of TWD250 for 3 days, or TWD450 for 7 days. Just walk in to any official Chunghwa Telecom office counters to apply. They need your passport and identification documents of your country of origin. (Driving license or identification card)
The standard prefix for international calls from Taiwan is 002, though some other companies may use alternative prefixes at lower rates. Check with your telecom operator for more details. Calls to mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau require international dialling. For calls to Taiwan, the country code for Taiwan is 886.
Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent in Taiwan, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. 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 (UMTS/W-CDMA) 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.
Taiwan has a very free and liberal press. There are three daily newspapers available in English:
Other news sources:
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  web-site.