Taiwan Travel Guide
Taiwan is a really special country, with a lot of amazing places to discover. Taiwanese people are proud and don’t like being confused with China. The country has a lot to offer with incredible nature in the east and center, and big cities almost everywhere. The culture is rich with a blend of Chinese heritage and aboriginal cultures. Around 90% of Taiwanese people are of Chinese descent, the 10% remaining are aboriginal from different local tribes. Now they are mostly assimilated and you’ll be able to witness their culture only in museums or during traditional festivals.
Here is everything you need to know before your trip to Taiwan:
Planning your itinerary: where to go in Taiwan
Even if Taiwan is a small country, there are plenty of places to visit in Taiwan. If you’re more into cities, Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, and Tainan are for you. There, you’ll be able to visit many temples and museums to immerse in the local culture, shop ’til you drop in luxurious malls, and enjoy good restaurants and sparkling nightlife.
If you’re more into nature, Taiwan is full of national parks, among the most famous are Taroko and Kenting. The east coast is less developed, and the cities of Taitung and Hualien make good base-camps to explore the surroundings. In the center, Sun Moon Lake is a must-see and Alishan is a haven of peace.
If you want to fully explore Taiwan you’ll need at least a month. In one week you can explore Taipei and the north, with one more week add the east coast if you prefer nature or the west if you prefer cities.
Getting out-of-the-beaten-path in Taiwan
Taiwan is a small country with a high population density. The island is also extremely developed. So going out-of-the-beaten-path is not that easy, but there are still some destinations where you can get away from it all. First off, you can visit some of the smaller Taiwanese islands, such as Ludao, less developed and more authentic. The east and center also offer some gorgeous destinations in the mountains, there you’ll find many smaller villages where you will be welcomed with open arms.
What to eat in Taiwan
Taiwanese food is similar to Chinese food with a few local twists. My favorite is the dumplings, rice flour pasta stuffed with tasty meat or fish. Another unique dish you’ll find in Taiwan is egg tea, it’s a really popular snack. The eggs are hard-boiled in tea, giving the egg a blackish color. It’s pretty good.
Another Taiwan classic is the bento box: rice and a selection of 3 to 5 other dishes.
Taiwan is also great for street food, and you’ll find night markets everywhere. The night markets are usually a blend of different types of East Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, most sellers don’t speak English so you can never be really sure of what your order. I advise trying to go with a local so you can really experience it fully (use the hang-out tab in the Couchsurfing app). One thing you must try is the stinky tofu, only available in the streets, you’ll know you’ve found it when it starts smelling like sewers. It truly smells like manure, but it’s supposed to be really tasty.
The fruits are also amazing, try the pineapples, the taste is totally different. They have plenty of exotic fruits such as litchis, dragon fruits, star-fruits, kumquat… Taiwan is the perfect place if you love fruits, you’ll always find some in the street.
Getting around in Taiwan
Taiwan being a well-developed country, the transportation infrastructures are excellent. Cities have good public transportations and you can either travel by train or bus in between cities.
A thing you’ll need is the easy card, you can buy it almost anywhere, it’s NTD 100, and you can credit it at nay 7 eleven, family mart or in the subway and train station. You can use it for any public transportation. Note that if you use it for the train, you’ll have no guaranteed seat.
To get around within the city, use Google Maps to get the schedules and itineraries for public transportations. Otherwise, you can use Uber, but note that they don’t allow cash payment. If you want to explore around, the best way is to rent a car or a scooter for the day. You’ll need the corresponding international license.
To travel in between cities, you can take the train or use the bus, the train station, and bus station are usually close to each other. Depending on the routes one can be cheaper than another. The train is slightly faster than the bus but not much unless you’re going a long way.
There’s usually no need to book in advance, but during holidays or weekends, it’s better to book a couple of days before just to make sure you have a seat, otherwise you’ll have to stand.
For the buses, be careful some companies will sell you a ticket without time or bus number, in this case, you’ll have to take a number at another counter and wait for your number to be called to board the bus. Sometimes there are already 200 people waiting, so it might take a while.
Another great way to travel in Taiwan is by hitchhiking, it’s really common among backpackers and really safe. People are used to it now and are usually really friendly and helpful.