Taiwan is rarely featured in travel recommendations and is one of the places I feel is grossly overlooked by travelers. The name Taiwan is derived from its old aboriginal name “Formosa” meaning beautiful island. From tip to tip, the length of the island is about 394km long and the entire island can be covered by train within a day thanks to its reliable high-speed railway （臺灣鐵路-Taiwan Railways).
When to visit?
I spent about 11 days touring Taiwan in Mid-July and it was HOT! We also faced the potential threat of a typhoon during our trip. In fact, we narrowly missed a typhoon which ended the day before we arrived and another which started the week after we left. I would recommend visiting sometime in Oct-Dec where the weather will be much cooler and nicer.
However, do note that as Summer break is one of the longest holidays for the Taiwanese students, there are many activities lined up during this period of time such as the annual Ho-Hai-Yan rock festival. Other festivals which I feel will be interesting for travellers that want to experience Taiwanese Culture are:
- New Years Eve Countdown at Taipei101
- Yanshuei Beehive Fireworks Festival (Mar)
- Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival (Mar)
- Taichung City Mazu International Festival (Apr) – Religious pilgrimage
- Lukang Dragon Boat Festival (Jun)
- Taiwan Hot-air balloon festival (Jul) – read about my experience here
- Keelung Mid-summer ghost festival (Aug-Sep)
- Ghost Pole Grappling Competition (Sep)
Of all the places I have visited in Taiwan, I find Taipei’s public transport system the most developed and reliable.Taipei’s main city is served by a wide network of metro trains and buses that can get you anywhere in and around the city. Both transport types can be paid using the EasyCard (悠遊卡) or you can purchase day passes, which I don’t find it worthwhile unless you plan to travel to the end of the metro and will be making stops along the way.
As for purchase of the EasyCard, don’t be in a hurry to get it at the Metro-station. I have noticed that at convenience stores (i.e. FamilyMart and 7-11) you can get limited edition ones featuring popular anime character or Taiwanese culture elements which can be a cheap and good souvenir to keep.
In Taipei, the government has implemented a free bike sharing system (YouBike) which can be utilised using your EasyCard. The idea is much like London’s Cycle Hire. You are able to borrow a bicycle for up to 30mins for free and just have to pay a small if you exceed the limit. Cycling in Taipei is not as appealing as in London because there are no bicycle lanes. Instead, I spotted many people cycling on pavements. I guess you just have to use your common sense a little. If there is a crowd, simply get off and push your bike.
In the other parts of Taiwan, especially in smaller towns, transportation is not as convenient as many locals drive motorbikes which are cheap in Taiwan. Good thing is that taxis are not really expensive (about SGD10 for a 20 mins ride). Renting motorbikes in Taiwan is a good alternative or if you do not have an international drivers license, you can consider getting bicycles. Just ask the train station master for direction to the nearest bike rental shop.
For fuss free traveling, you can look out for places served by the OK Bus (台灣好行). This company operates tourist shuttle bus service in most parts of Taiwan, even in small towns. You can refer to their website for a list of places that they go to. The stops for the bus are usually at points of interests and they have a set timetable available. This makes it easy to plan visiting routes.
In Taipei, I stayed at a Youth Hostel in the Ximen District (Here x There Hostel) right in the middle of Ximending. This is a popular area for backpacker hostels and is a convenient place to find food and shopping especially for the younger crowd.
I don’t feel that this area is particularly family friendly as it can get quite packed in the evenings and on weekends. However, as far as the crowd goes, i didn’t encounter any rowdy behavior and found the area generally safe even late at night.
When I visited Taipei with my family previously, we stayed a little further from the city center (Near the Taipei Arena in Songshan District) and didn’t find it to be inconvenient. So don’t be too worried about choosing a place a little further out as long as you are located near the Metro.
In anywhere else outside of Taipei, I highly recommended staying in Minsu-homestay (民宿). For the non-chinese crowd, it may be hard to find such accommodations as the listings are generally in Chinese and are quite messy. You can try Minsu.com and browse the pictures or Tripadvisor (many popular minsu have recommendations here). However, just do some research on the internet and you will be able to find many blog recommendations as well.
A foodie nation, the entire country is obsessed with street-culinary creativity. The locals survive on Nightmarkets （夜市-ye shi）which are an integral aspect of their culture. A visit to any of the many nightmarkets around Taiwan is sure to make you thrilled with food-choices both new and old.
Popular night-markets in Taiwan:
- Shilin Night Market (Taipei)
- KeeLung Miao Kou Night Market (Kee Lung)
- Liouhe Tourist Night Market (Kaohsiung)
- Tainan Flowers Night Market (Tainan)
- Ziqiang Night Market (Hualien)
- Pintung Tourist Night Market (Kending)
Must-try Taiwanese food:
- Sausage with Sticky Rice (Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang-大腸包小腸)
- Pan Fried Buns (Sheng Jian Bao-生煎包)
- Braised Pork Rice (Lu Rou Fan-滷肉飯)
- Oyster Omelet (Or Lua Jian-蚵仔煎)
- Braised Pork Bun (Gua Bao-)
- Scallion Pancake (Chong You Bing-蔥抓餅)
- Oyster Vermicelli (Or Lua Mee Sua-蚵仔麵線)
- Stinky Toufu (Chou Dou Fu-臭豆腐)
- Shaved Ice (Pao Bing Shan-)
- Aiyu Jelly (Ai Yu Bing-愛玉冰)