THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELLING TO TAIWAN
There are certain types of people out there who would much prefer to throw themselves - with careless abandon - into a new adventure or experience, without so much as checking what shoes they should wear. You’ve all seen them – people mountain climbing in flip-flops, forgetting every vital travel document but the free-drink-at-the-bar-coupon, or packing a suitcase of winter clothes and arriving in summer.
While there’s a lot to be said for winging it while you travel, it pays to get a bit of a heads up before venturing forth. This is particularly true if you have no real knowledge of the place you’re going (which happens with alarming regularity).
So, considering she’s actually living there at the moment, Agness Walewinder from eTramping has decided to give us the low-down on what to expect when you visit Taiwan. And as its tourist industry is experiencing something of a boom – this is timely advice indeed.
TAIWAN VISA POLICY
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love countries with relaxed entry requirements. Until we get a world without borders it’s the next best thing. Many nationalities can enter Taiwan visa-free with stays from 30 to 90 days available. 15 countries also qualify for the working holiday visa scheme, so if you’re aged between 18-35 you can stay for a maximum of one year while you integrate and explore this beautiful land.
It’s all about the cash in Taiwan, as credit and debit cards aren’t as widely popular as they are in the west. The country uses the New Taiwan Dollar which is preferred everywhere. While there are restaurants and hotels that accept cards (particularly mid-range and above) when in any doubt it’s best to bring cash.
ATMs are just about everywhere – unless you’re in the sticks. And here’s a tip about tipping – it’s not customary like it is in the US, but 10% is recommended if you’ve enjoyed the service.
BRING AN UMBRELLA OR BUY ONE HERE
The climate in Taiwan is generally favourable all year round, but the weather can be particularly temperamental. If there's one thing you'll notice about Taiwanese people, it's that they never leave home without an umbrella. Pack yourself a travel umbrella and carry it with you, because you never know when you're going to get caught in a downpour. If you're there in typhoon season (June to October), you might consider staying indoors!
THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly and many do speak excellent English – particularly the younger crowd in bigger cities. However, they can be quite shy at first and even so, a language barrier still very much exists. Both Mandarin and Chinese are spoken and it’s worth learning a few basic phrases before you arrive.
For those without the ear for languages (or for anyone who travels regularly) consider bringing one of those symbol picture books to help if you’re really stuck. Pointing at a picture of a toilet is much better than trying to explain it with charades.
Public transport in Taiwan is exceptional, with an excellent, country-wide rail and bus network and a high-speed rail link on the west coast. In the cities, transport is extensive and affordable, and they’re particularly proud of their MRT metro in Taipei.
ou’ll be crazy not to invest in an Easycard to get around because this will make your life so much…easier. You'll breeze on and off public transport without the need for cash or coins, as well as benefiting from other uses too – like the “Youbike” bike-share program.
Taxis are readily available and bright yellow– but drivers will rarely be able to speak English. Although metred, try and negotiate a price before setting off. Kaohsiung and Taoyuan are the international airports, with Taoyuan located approximately 40 kilometres from Taipei.
I could write an entire article based on Taiwan toilet etiquette, suffice to say you should be prepared for it! You might find many WCs are of the “squatty potty” variety, which can throw many travellers and tourists off if they’re not used to such culture. In theory, it's meant to be much healthier than sitting down, but it can be alien to people who’ve never tried it. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of bathroom basics here – so be warned!
FOOD AND DRINKS
Unlike the west, where cooking for yourself is the norm and restaurants (for most of us) are a treat, the Taiwanese will dine out on a daily basis. And when you’ve got this standard of food at very affordable prices – why on earth wouldn’t you? The cuisine in Taiwan, especially vegetarian and vegan Taiwanese food, is one of the main reasons to visit in the first place and attending the night markets and street food stands is a must while you’re here.
Just don't drink the tap water. It isn't safe, but water filter machines are found everywhere so you can fill up your reusable bottle – because you're not buying more single-use plastics are you…?!
NIGHT OUT LIKE A LOCAL
Certain types of traveller are concerned with whether or not they can go out and enjoy themselves, let their hair down and have some fun. You’ll be ecstatic to hear that’s exactly what you can do in Taipei. The Taiwanese are a relaxed, liberal and open-minded people and you’ll find that the capital especially is a place that doesn’t sleep – contrary to neighbouring China.
So, for those who like a party or prefer the nocturnal side of life, you’ll find Taipei (and Taiwan in general) will be right up your street.
Taiwan is a religious and cultural melting pot with many faiths practiced, traditions observed and etiquette to be followed. Not to mention 16 recognised aboriginal tribes still existing to this day. While it might be impossible to understand everything, it’s important to be respectful at all times, and brush up on what’s expected of you should you enter a temple or be invited to someone’s home. Don’t take photographs of people without asking permission first – particularly the tribespeople. And never walk barefoot unless you’re on the beach.
7/11 is your friend! Much like Thailand and many other East Asian countries, what you can discover inside the famous 7/11 convenience stores will be a godsend. Bear it in mind when you’re freaking out about anything might have left at home. They sell EVERYTHING!
Apart from passports. Don’t leave your passports at home.
Have you experienced Taiwan? What advice would you give for someone travelling there for the first time or do you have some tips to add onthings to know before travelling to Taiwan?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Back in 2011, Agness formed one half of eTramping - an adventure travel blog dedicated to bringing you the best tips and advice for exciting experiences around the world. Together with her best friend Cez, the two intrepid nomads have been on the road for over seven years. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or their twitters - Agness & Cez.