|Government||multiparty democratic republic with a popularly elected president and unicameral legislature|
|Currency||New Taiwan dollar (TWD)|
|Area||total: 35,980 sq km |
note: includes the Pescadores, Matsu, and Quemoy
water: 3,720 sq km
land: 32,260 sq km
|Population||22,548,009 (July 2002 est.)|
|Languages||Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min-nan), Hakka dialects|
|Religions||mixture of Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist 93%, Christian 4.5%, other 2.5%|
Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC), is an island of about 36,000 square kilometers located off mainland China. Shaped roughly like a tobacco leaf, the island is home to more than 22 million people and is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Besides its crowded cities and friendly people, Taiwan is also known for steep mountains and lush forests. In addition to Taiwan island, the Republic of China also governs the Pescadores (Penghu), Quemoy (Kinmen/Jinmen), and Matsu.
The Taiwan Area can be divided into six regions:
- The Tailuge Gorge (Taroko Gorge).
- The Yangming Mountains.
- The Matsu, Kinmen and Green Island.
Taiwan has many large cities and towns. Below is a list of the most well-known. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.
- Taipei is the seat of government of the Republic of China and its center of commerce and culture. Taipei is home to the world's currently tallest skycraper, Taipei 101.
- Hsinchu is a center of hi-tech industry, and one of the world's leading manufacturers of hi-tech componentry. Hsinchu Science Park (http://eweb.sipa.gov.tw/en/index.jsp) is the home to many hi-tech companies.
- Jioufen - this former gold mining town located on the northeast coast is now a popular tourist destination.
- Keelung is the a center of transshipment in the north, and is located about a thirty minute drive from downtown Taipei.
- Taipei County, an amalgamation of cities and towns. The county of Taipei surrounds Taipei city, and is part of the same metropolitan area.
- Taoyuan is the location of Taiwan's main airport, Puli is a mountain town located at the geographical center of the island.
- Taichung is the third largest city in Taiwan, and has an abundance of interesting cultural amenities and activities.
- Kaohsiung is the second-largest city on the island. It is the third-busiest sea port in the world and has the second-largest airport, Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH) (http://www.kia.gov.tw/english/e_index.asp).
- Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital during imperial times. It is famous for its temples and other historic buildings.
- Hualien is located near Taroko Gorge, and is considered one of the most pleasant of Taiwan's cities.
- Taitung is home to many aboriginal people, and is located in one of Taiwan's most unspoilt areas.
Taiwan has been populated for thousands of years by more than a dozen aboriginal tribes. Written history begins with the partial colonization of Taiwan by the Dutch and the Spaniards in the early 17th century. (The old name of Taiwan, Formosa, comes from the Portuguese for "beautiful".) Han Chinese immigrants arrived during this period and continued for the next few hundred years. The Qing Empire ceded Taiwan to Japan, which ruled the island between 1895 and 1945, and exerted profound influences on its development. Much of the Japanese-built infrastructure can still be seen on the island today, and has been in fact continuously used up to the present day (e.g. rail-road crossing gates, administrative buildings).
In the early 20th century, the Nationalists and Communists fought a major civil war in China. Although the two sides were briefly united against Japan during World War II, they quickly began fighting again after the war was over. Eventually, the Communists were victorious. The Nationalists and hundreds of thousands of their supporters fled to Taiwan. From Taipei, they continued to assert their right as the sole legitimate government of all China. There has been a movement, initially in exile, which seeks to build Taiwan as an entity separate from China, and the current government tends to be independence-leaning.
- Tourist Bureau (http://www.tbroc.gov.tw/lan/cht/index/)
Citizens of the following countries may enter Taiwan visa-free for thirty days provided that their passports do not expire within six months:
- Brunei Darussalam
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
For further information check the web site for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (http://www.boca.gov.tw/english/).
There are international flights into the Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) International Airport in Taoyuan, and to a lesser extent, to the Kaohsiung International Airport. The Songshan domestic airport is located in Taipei.
- CKS International Airport  (http://www1.cksairport.gov.tw/english/) (TPE) is Taiwan's main international airport. It is located 40km to the southwest of Taipei. Bus companies provide transport links to all major cities in Taiwan.
- Songshan Airport  (http://www.tsa.gov.tw/0069/index_e/index_e.shtm) (TSA) in downtown Taipei serves domestic flights only.
- The Kaohsiung  (http://www.kia.gov.tw/english/e_index.asp) (KHH) domestic and international airports are located in the same complex.
To and from the airport
There are three main ways to get between the the CKS International Airport and Taipei: bus and taxi, and pre-arranged sedan. A MRT line is planned, but it will be at least a decade before it opens.
- A one-way taxi fare between CKS and Taipei will cost at the minimum NT$900 (generally from the airport it is NT$1000). In Taipei, don't make the mistake of asking a taxi driver to take you to the Taipei airport if you actually mean CKS International. CKS International is actually about an hour's drive from Taipei, while Songshan is located in downtown Taipei.
- A one-way pre-arranged sedan fare between CKS and Taipei will cost at the minimum NT$3000. Generally these sedans are pre-arramged through your hotel and the sedan company or driver will meet you as soon as you exit baggage claim.
- An express airport bus costs between NT$110 and NT$150, depending on the bus company. The bus services are both abundant and comfortable. Each terminal at CKS has a bus-service room with several counters, from which you can select which bus company to take and where to go - all at a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi. In addition, there are some non-express buses available for less - these may take local routes through Taoyuan or Kueishan before arriving in Taipei. In Taipei there are airport bus stops in various areas of the city. Two of the major ones are the terminal directly to the west of the Taipei Main Railway Station and the terminal at the Songshan Domestic Airport. For people taking early morning flights, the earliest available buses to the airport leave around 4:00am outside the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel (201 Dunhua South Road Section 2). Otherwise, most buses start around 6:00am.
Bus connections between CKS Airport and other cities in Taiwan are also available.
Local carriers include China Airlines and EVA Air. Cathay Pacific schedules many flights to Hong Kong as Taiwanese flights have to go to mainland China via a third destination.
- Cathay Pacific - 2715 2333
- China Airlines - 2715 1212
- Eva Airways - 2501 1999
- KLM Asia - 2711 4055
- North West - 2772 2188
- Singapore Airlines - 2551 6655
- Thai Airways - 2509 6800
For up-to-date information on cheap flights, check the advertisement pages of one of the three local daily English newspapers (see media below)
There are four domestic plane companies, all of which have business-sized planes and get across Taiwan quite quickly. 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 high-speed rail, scheduled to start in 2006, is supposed to give the plane companies a run for their money, with stops located in all the major cities.
There are passenger ferry links between Okinawa in Japan and Keelung.
Not getting lost
In mid-sized and smaller cities, your main reference point is going to be the train station. Its not easy to find english speaking people. Try looking for college students. Sometimes it is also quite difficult to get around in cities, as not all street signs are in English. Also keep in mind that Taiwan has used four different standard methods to spell Chinese words in the Latin alphabet on its street signs, not to mention some that appear entirely made up. For example, Zhongshan, Chungshan, Jungshan and Jhongshan can be easily the same. So if you check your tourist map, make sure you know about this.
See also: Wikipedia:Taipei Rapid Transit System
Taipei Metro  (http://english.trtc.com.tw/), commonly known as the MRT, has three major lines and several new lines are near completion (route map (http://home.trtc.com.tw/EINFO/eroutehome.asp)). The Bannan (Blue) Line runs from East to West and Danshui-Xindian (Red/Green) Line runs from North to South. The Danshui line also branches off into Danshui-Nanshijiao (Red/Yellow). The Muzha (Brown) Line is a light-transit system running from North to South on the East side of the city. The Muzha line is very pleasant to take, as it is completely elevated above street-level. In addition, the Muzha line features driverless trains!
Trains generally run from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, with convenient bus connections outside the stations. You are entitled to a discounted bus connection when you use EasyCard (a smartcard that stores credit) to pay for the MRT fare. The EasyCard also gives you a 20% discount on all MRT rides; plus, if you take a bus within an hour before or after using the MRT, you save NT$8 on the bus ride. Purchase tickets from the ticket machines. Fares are calculated by distance. Most areas are accessible for around NT$20 to NT$30. The maximum ticket price is NT$65.
Buses that run between cities and are called ke-yun, as opposed to gong-che 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 screeens) than those run by government-owned companies. Still, even the government-owned buses are comfortable, punctual, and maintain clean facities onboard.
In major cities, bus transportation is extensive. Route maps, however, are almost entirely in Chinese, though the destinations indicated on the front of buses are in English. If you're staying at a hotel, have the clerk suggest some routes for you, and circle your destination on the map. Show this to the bus driver, and he/she will hopefully remember to tell you when to get off. In smaller cities, there is often no local bus service, though the out-of-town buses will sometimes make stops in the suburbs. There are taxi ranks at all airports and bus terminals.
Occasionally a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb at a bus stop. Sometimes it is due to a vehicle illegally parked at a bus stop. (Taiwanese traffic law and regulation prohibit vehicles from stopping or parking within 10 meters of a bus stop.) However, a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb just because he or she does not want to wait for overtaking traffic while leaving a bus stop. Therefore, be much more careful when getting on or off a bus stopped away from a curb, as many motorcycles, motor scooters, and bicycles will definitely be tempted to overtake on the right side of the stopped bus where people get on and off! (As traffic drives on the right side of the road in Taiwan, buses have doors on the right side.)
Taiwan's train system is excellent, with stops in all major cities. In addition, the train system allows you to bypass the highways, which can become extremely crowded on weekends and national holidays. A high speed rail system is currently under construction.
Taiwan Railway Administration
The TRA runs nearly all the conventional intercity railways in Taiwan. Service is generally efficient and reliable, and is often the most convenient way for visitors to access most cities and towns. Train stations are often located in the centers of most cities and towns and serve as a convenient hub for most types of transportation.
You can order up to 6 tickets online - in English - at http://railway.hinet.net 2 weeks in advance, or 1 week in advance if you go directly to a train station. Train schedules, pricing etc can be checked at http://www.railway.gov.tw/e_index.htm; however, the online services only work between 8am and 9pm or thereabouts. There is a small charge, NT$7, for online bookings. Note that booking online only establishes a reservation as there is no Internet payment option. You must pay for the tickets you reserved at your local train station or post office to actually receive it. Children under a certain height go free, and taller kids get half-price tickets. If you get return tickets there is a small discount. 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.
The fastest train is Tzu-Chiang, and the slowest is Pingkuai (Ordinary/Express). There is often little to choose between prices and destination times for adjacent train classes, but the gap can be quite large between the fastest and the slowest.
- Tzu-Chiang (Tsu-chiang / 自強): The fastest (and most expensive). Assigned seating. Non-reserved (standing) tickets are also sold at full price.
- Chu-Kuang (Chu-kwang / 莒光): Second fastest. Assigned seating.
- Fu-hsing (Fu-shing / 復興): Third fastest. Assigned seating. Non-reserved tickets are sold at 80% of original price.
- EMU (Electric multiple unit / 電車) and DRC (Diesel railcar / 柴客): Short to medium distance commuter train, stops at all stations. No assigned seating.
- Express / Ordinary (普通): Stops at all stations, no air conditioning, most inexpensive. No assigned seating. Some Express trains (the light blue ones running on West Trunk Line) are air-conditioned while others (dark blue ones) are not equipped with air conditioners.
- Diesel Express: Only available on East Trunk Line and South Link Line. Mainly serve as commuter trains. No air conditioning. Tickets are the same price as Express and Ordinary.
For travel to nearby cities, you can travel on the electric train "dian che" which is something like a subway car on the tracks. 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.
Taiwan High Speed Rail
Taiwan's new high speed rail system similar to the Shinkansen in Japan is currently under construction with completion scheduled for late 2006. The THSR will run along the western coast from Taipei to Kaohsiung.
Taxis are a dime a dozen in Taiwanese cities. The standard yellow cabs scour roads looking for potential riders such as lost foreigners. It is possible but generally unnecessary to phone for a taxi. To hail one, simply place your hand in front of you parallel to the ground.
Drivers generally cannot converse in English or read Westernized addresses (Except for special CKS airport taxis). Have the hotel desk or a Taiwanese friend write out your destination in Chinese, and also take a business card from the hotel. Show the driver the Chinese writing of where you are going.
Taxis are visibly metered, and cab drivers are strictly forbidden from taking tips. A maximum of four people can ride in one cab, and for the price of one. Relative to American taxicabs, Taiwanese cabs are inexpensive. Of course, not all drivers are trustworthy. An indirect trip might cost you half as much more. Avoid the especially overzealous drivers who congregate at the exits of train stations. From CKS Airport (TPE), buses are a much more economical option but if you want a direct route CKS airport drivers are the best choice. They're quite comfortable and get you to your destination as quick as possible. All the CKS taxi drivers are interlinked by radio so they could be forwarned if there are police. Sometimes, if there are traffic jams and no police around, the driver will drive in the emergency lane.
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.
Taxi drivers are known for their strong political opinions as they spend all day listening to talk radio. Be careful about your opinions on the cross-strait relations. In addition, if you see blood spewing from the driver's mouth, or him spitting blood onto the street - not to fret, it's merely him chewing Betel Nut (BinLang).
By scooter or motorcycle
Until recently - 2003 - it wasn't even possible to get a scooter above 150cc in Taiwan. Many of the scooters within cities are only 50cc and incapable of going faster than 60 km/h. The more powerful versions are known as junghsing (heavy format) scooters, are now quite common and can be rented for short-term use, or found for sale used at tealit (http://www.tealit.com) if you're going to need it for a while. They are not allowed on freeways even if they are capable of going faster than 100 km/h unless used for certain police purposes, but that just means you have to take the scenic route.
If you're just learning to drive a scooter on the streets of Taiwan, it would be a good idea to practice a bit on a back road or alley until you have a feel for the scooter - attempting to do so in the busier cities could easily be fatal. Certainly, things can get pretty hairy on Taiwanese roads and Taipei in particular has narrower more congested roads than many other cities. However if you know what you're doing, it's the perfect way to get around in a city.
It should be possible to rent a scooter by the day or week, depending on the city in which you're staying. In Taipei, as of 2005, the only place legally renting scooters and motorbikes to foreigners was the Bikefarm (http://bikefarm.j321.com/rental.htm), run by a very friendly English guy called Jeremy who will show you the ropes and answer all questions. Scooters are easy to rent in most other major cities and many are located near railway or bus stations and you will be approached by touts asking if you want to rent. Most usually require some form of identification even if, in some cases, it consists of your expired Blockbuster video card!
Another option is to rent a motorcycle. Many foreigners swear by their 125cc Wild Wolf motorcycles, and a trip around the island on a motorcycle can be a great way to see the island up close.
VIP Rentals in Taipei is quite happy to rent cars to foreigners, and will even deliver the car to a given destination. Be aware that you need an international driving licence, or a local driving licence (converted from the international) if you are going to drive in inner cities like Jiayi. 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.
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. The freeways are in excellent shape with toll stations around every 30 km. Currently a car pays NT$40 when passing each toll station on a freeway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores, allowing faster passage and eliminating the need to count out exact change while driving.
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 Taidung 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.
A mix of Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hakka and other varieties of Chinese are spoken on the island, as well as many aboriginal languages. Taiwanese is the mother tongue of 60% of the population. In the North where there is a large concentration of Mainlanders, most people speak Mandarin as their primary language (although Taiwanese is spoken in abundance), but in the South of the island, Taiwanese becomes more standard. The Mandarin in Taiwan is a bit different from the official Beijing Dialect. All people schooled after 1945 are generally fluent in Mandarin, although it is sometimes not the first language of choice. Mandarin is pretty 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.
Especially in Taipei, many people are bilingual, speaking at least a little English. The children often understand more English than their parents, especially with the emphasis on English language education today. However, attempts to speak Mandarin or Taiwanese will be met with beaming smiles and encouragement, by and large. Speakers of Mandarin or Taiwanese find English very difficult due to the fact that the Chinese language is totally different in history, structure and sound from European languages. For example, "bake," "toast," "roast," "barbecue," and "grill," are all translated into one word.
Note on Romanization:
The Romanization of Chinese used in Taiwan is not standardized. Most older place names and personal names are derived from a bastardized version of Wade-Giles. Though the government mandated Tongyong Pinyin in 2002, local governments are free to override the order. Some local governments, such as that of Taipei City, have converted their street signs to Hanyu Pinyin. This article attempts to use the Romanizations most commonly used in Taiwan (on street signs, buses, tourist maps, etc.). People know Romanisation as 'Roma-Pinyin'.
The currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar, known locally as NT or ? (yuan). The exchange rate for US$1 is NT$31.926 (as of 16 Jan 2006). Taiwan's smallest denomination, the single dollar coin, is worth about 3 US cents. The simplest method of calculating exchange on the run is to multiply by 3, then divide by 100 for US dollars.
Taiwanese currency is fully convertible and there are no restrictions on taking currency into or out of the island. Currency exchange is possible internationally, although you will get a much better rate if you wait until you arrive at the airport to exchange currency at the 24 hour window. Most banks in Taipei and Kaohsiung will also exchange money or offer cash advances on credit or debit cards. You should bring American currency, and additionally, please be sure to bring newer bills, as the banks and exchange-centers (such as in department stores) will only accept the newer bills. They will not at all accept the old-style small-bust bills, and the department stores will not exchange bills older than 1997. Don't forget to show your passport!
If you've forgotten to bring any money at all, but have your credit or debit card handy, there's no need to fret. Taiwan's banking system is light-years ahead of most other countries, with the ability to use any of the abundant 24-hour ATM Machines to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world. Additionally, there is no service charge! Certain banks' ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$.
Most hotels will accept credit cards. Most restaurants and stores will not, 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.
A meal at a streetside stall may cost NT$50 or less; a meal at a Western fast food restaurant will run you about NT$100; a hotel room at a swanky hotel might cost NT$5000 or more.
As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating. Every city has at least one night market; larger cities like Taipei may have a dozen or more. The most popular night market in Taipei is at Shilin (Jiantan MRT station, NOT Shilin MRT station!), though the most exotic is arguably the Huaxi Street Night Market (a.k.a. Snake Alley) where one can dine on snake meat and try many traditional desserts. Night markets are crowded, so remember to watch out for your wallet!
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 assumed. 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.
Although Taipei is much larger than Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung's largest night market, Liuhe Night Market is open everyday almost until the sun rises. This contrasts to Taipei's largest night market, Shilin Night Market, which wraps up after midnight every night.
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.
Popular things to buy include:
- Jade items. Although it can be hard to know for sure if the item you're buying is real jade or not, some beautiful objects are sold. Most cities have a specific jade market dealing in jade and other precious stones.
- Computers. Taiwan is a center of computer design and manufacture, so some places sell original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) items at good rates. In particular Taiwanese companies produce laptop computers under license to international companies and then sell the same items under different brands locally, effectively giving the same quality for much lower prices. Desktop computers and components however tend to be the same price in Taiwan as in other areas of the world. If you're buying domestic �t's best to go to tourist hangouts to buy your stuff as you might be saddled with Chinese documentation otherwise. Also, especially notebooks are only available with Chinese and English keyboard.
- NB: 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 - 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 food, Cantonese food and almost every other Chinese cuisine on the island. Taiwanese renditions of these cuisines tend to be somewhat greasy, though, and completely authentic mainland cuisines are rare. This is especially true for the Cantonese cuisine, as demonstrated by the lack of Cantonese speakers on the island. The Taiwanese are also passionately in-love with eggs, as you will discover during your stay on the island.
Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties. Perhaps because of its long isolation from mainland China and distance from other parts of the world, most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods. For example, Ilan is famous for its mochi, a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its soy milk and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes, a kind of sweet stuffed pastry. In Jiayi, it's square cookies, also called cubic pastry, crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds. Virtually every city has its famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will go visit other cities on the island only to try the local foods, then return home.
Taiwan also has remarkably good bakery items. Among the chain stores, the 'We Care' bakeries offer some of the better options, such as whole wheat loaves, sour breads and ciabatta.
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-shr ?? tsan-ting in Mandarin, and often identified with the ? 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 ???, which means "Serve Yourself Restaurant") are common in almost every neighborhood in large cities, and unlike the 'all-you-can-eat' buffets (which charge a set price, usually ranging from NT$250 - NT$350 including dessert and coffee/tea), the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice (there is usually a choice of brown or white) is charged separately, but soup or cold tea is free and you can refill as many times as you like. NT$90 - NT$120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal.
However, if you cannot find a veggie restaurant, don't fret. Taiwanese people are very flexible and most restaurants will be happy to cook you up something to suit your requirements. The following sentences in Mandarin might be helpful: Wo chr su - I'm vegetarian, Wo bu chr rou - I don't eat meat. However, as Mandarin is a tonal language, you might need to say both, plus practice your acting skills to get yourself understood. Good luck! NB: If a restaurant refuses your order, don't push the issue. The reason will not be an unwillingness to accommodate your request, but because the basic ingredients of their dishes may include chicken broth or pork fat.
Although vegetarian restaurants in Taiwan do not aspire to vegan principles, due to the fact that Taiwanese do not have a tradition of eating dairy products, almost all dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan.
There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds (a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$109), KFC and MOS Burger. In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores (such as 7-11) that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches and drinks.
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 general rule in Taiwan regarding drinking water is that it should only be drunk if it has been boiled (and preferably filtered). The locals do it, and so should you. If this is not possible, then you should buy bottled water.
- In Taipei, the water board officially declares the water they treat to be safe to drink. However, even if you rely on official guarantees, you can not rely on the piping in every building to be up to the same standard. Unless the building is very new, you should regard tap water as being safe to drink only once it has been boiled for at least 3 minutes. At most MRT stations (the Taipei Underground) you can usually find a drinking fountain to refill a water bottle. The water here is officially guaranteed as safe to drink and should have a recent chemical analysis posted above, for those with extreme interest in water quality.
- Outside of Taipei, bottled water is preferable since tap water should be filtered and boiled before drinking.
- When in Kaohsiung, DO NOT DRINK the tap water, even after filtering or boiling, since the water contains trace amounts of arsenic that is detrimental to ones health. The locals obtain potable water using pumps that look like gasoline pumps that are strewn throughout the residential areas.
Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong. Kaoliang is the most famous alcoholic drink. It is extremely strong, usually 140 proof or more, and often drunk straight.
Taiwan also produces many types of Shaoxing 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, produced by a government monopoly. It is brewed with fragrant penglai rice in addition to barley giving it a distinctive flavor.
Tea and coffee
Taiwan's speciality teas are High Mountain Oolong (????, Gau-shan wulong) - a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin (???) - a dark, rich brew.
Pearl milk tea (????, Zhen-Zhu Nai-Cha) is a drink, most foreigners like. Its no longer a fad in Taiwan, but can still be found at nearly every coffee/tea shop. Look for a shop where it is fresh made. Just don't expect to see everyone in the homeland of pearl milk tea drinking it.
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 is iced papaya milk. If you don't want ice (though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors) say, chu bing and no sugar - wu tang.
Soy milk, or doujiang, 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 savoury soy milk are often ordered with you-tiao, or deep fried dough crullers.
There are a lot of pseudo health drinks in Taiwanese supermarkets and convenience stores. Look out for asparagus juice and lavender milk tea for example.
Taiwan doesn't sleep - just look at the number of 24-hour stores out there. But since you have to....
Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious. Keep in mind however that hotels which cater specifically to Westerners tend to be outrageously expensive, while comparable and much cheaper hotels are usually available, and most taxi drivers can take you to one. In particular, 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.
Motels can be easily found in suburbs of major cities. A single room with attached bathroom will cost you about US$40 to 50 each day.
As in much of Asia, hotel beds in Taiwan are generally much harder than in the West. Only in the most upscale Western style hotels will you find beds any softer than a billard table.
For the budget-minded, there are hostels in Taipei and most other sizeable cities.
There are many styles of kung fu taught in Taiwan, largely by masters who came here with the Kuomintang in the late 1940's.
Styles include Ba Gua, Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, Shway Shiao and various weapons systems. Many of the students are westerners in these classes, which has led to the rise of several NHB schools, as well as Ju Jitsu and Akido 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 schoolchildren'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 towards teachers applying for jobs who are not of white Caucasian appearance, seen as the typical Western appearance in Asian countries. This is independent of whether or not the teacher has relevant teaching ability and citizenship of one of the permitted ARC countries. Many parents who send their children to schools to be taught English expect the teacher to look like they are from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and so on, and so the decision on the part of the school managers is mainly about economics. For those affected by this, it's a sad fact of Taiwan that is unlikely to change in the near future. Good employers without such prejudiced requirements do exist, but greater perseverence is needed when looking for them.
It is illegal to work without a work permit (called an ARC - Alien Residency Permit), and legal work officially requires a college 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.
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 (see later) and find out what the experiences of others are in your area. Keep in mind, that you can only get an ARC for English teaching if you are a 'citizen of a native English speaking country'. Taiwan's government defines these countries to be only the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa. Almost all teachers apply for an ARC through their employers only after starting work and it is tied to their ongoing employment with that school. Therefore, if the teacher wishes to leave their employment, they will have to quickly find an alternative employer or lose their ARC and hence be required to leave Taiwan. Also, very few schools will arrange an ARC without at least a year-long contract being signed. Frankly, with all this inflexibility, it's no wonder so many teachers opt for the non-legal route. That and tax evasion.
A lot of the illegal teaching work that the majority of English teachers partake in is simply through private student tuition with payment being cash-in-hand. You can find a lot of private students around universities that have a Chinese-teaching department - look for the areas where all the foreign students will be and check the noticeboards. Because the majority of adult private students want to practise English conversation, you won't need to have any Chinese ability. However, it is definitely a selling point and, if you do have Chinese-speaking ability, it's worthwhile mentioning that in any advertising of your services. Also, once you have some regular students, remember that in Taiwan, as in most Asian countries, 'connections' or 'guanxi' are very important - if your students like you, they will in all likelihood recommend you to their family and friends.
Teaching English in Taiwan can be lucrative, as the salaries are very high compared to the cost of living, typically ranging between 500 and 650NT per hour before deductions in most language schools, with anything between 500-1000NT per hour being negotiable for private students. In the past few years, the flow of would-be teachers into Taiwan has increased dramatically, resulting in stiffer competition for jobs as well as a general drop in wages and this trend may continue. On top of this, the Taiwanese dollar has been sliding in value over the past five years, meaning you get less and less for your dollar in foreign currency at the end of the month.
There are some excellent internet resources to help you find English-teaching work in Taiwan. http://www.buxiban.com has a list of schools that employ foreign teachers in Taiwan. A unique feature of the site is that present and past teachers can leave feedback ratings of their school. http://www.forumosa.com/taiwan is a community of mainly foreign residents of Taiwan and their comments and practical advice on working and living there will likely prove to be invaluable. http://www.tealit.com is another useful resource.
Aside from English-teaching, other common kinds of employment available for mainly native English-speaking travellers include such tid-bits as small acting parts for TV and film, voice talent (video games, dubbing tracks, etc), editing and even writing educational materials. Many of these will be advertised on billboards in Chinese language-teaching institutes and universities, where there are likely to be many foreign students.
If after travelling and living there, you find you are serious about working in Taiwan, the most lucrative employment to be had is if you are employed by a multinational company, perhaps in a high-paying country like the UK, US or Australia, and you are sent across to their office in Taiwan. Many foreigners end up doing the same job as their colleagues who were employed in the Taiwan office, but for perhaps 3 or 4 times their pay.
Taiwan is extremely safe, even for women late at night. This is not to say, however, that there is no crime, and you should always exercise caution. Unlike in many neighbouring countries, it is very rare to see drunks on the street, day or night.
Beggars are also very rare, except a few who congregate in the vicinity of Buddhist temples, with the hope that they will get donations from generous-hearted practitioners. Beggars are generally not aggressive, and one can safely give money to them without being worried about being swamped.
Like anywhere else in the world, women should be cautious when taking taxis alone late at night. Although they are generally safe, there was one noted case of a prominent female politician being assaulted and murdered by a taxi driver in Kaohsiung several years ago. If you do need to take a taxi alone, then 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. Don't tell taxi drivers your exact address but just the street name or section. Many of the Taiwanese taxi drivers are ex-cons and might be interested in what you have at home.
Police departments in most jurisdictions will have a Foreign Affairs Police unit staffed by English speaking officers. If reporting a major crime, it is advisible to contact the Foreign Affairs unit in addition to officers at your local precinct. Police stations are marked with a red light above the door. For more information see the National Police Agency website (http://www.npa.gov.tw/eng/npa_e.htm).
It is not to say that Taiwan is crime-free, and there will of course be incidences of theft etc, but it is fair to say that the island is generally considered a very safe environment and violent crime, in particular, is still relatively scarce.
Taiwan often experiences typhoons during the summer months and early fall. Heavy monsoon rainfall also occurs during the summer. Hikers and mountaineers should be sure to consult weather reports before heading into the mountains. A major hazard following heavy rainfall in the mountains is falling rocks caused by the softening of the earth and there are occasional reports of people being killed or injured by these.
Taiwan is also located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means that earthquakes are a common occurrence. Most earthquakes are barely noticible, 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 taking cover and checking for gas leaks afterwards.
Local drivers have a well-deserved reputation for being somewhat reckless. Many motorcycle riders also have a tendency of zipping through any space no matter how tiny. 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.
Emergency Phone Numbers
- Police: 110
- Fire/Ambulance: 119
- 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 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.
- Drugs are freely available for minor ailments at drug stores.
- The quality of the hospitals in Taiwan is excellent and on par with those found in the West. Long term residents with an 'alien registration 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 is not available to short term visitors on tourist visas.
Taiwan shares several cultural taboos with other East Asian nations.
- Do not stick your chopsticks straight up into your bowl of rice. This is reminiscent of incense sticks at a temple, and has connotations of wishing death upon those around you. If you want to put your chopsticks down, either put them on the provided porcelain chopstick rest (at fancier restaurants) or rest the chopsticks on the edge of your bowl.
- The Chinese are very superstitious about anything connected with dying - unlucky things should never be mentioned.
- Do not write people's names in red. This again has connotations of death. When writing someone's English name, this is not a problem, but avoid writing Chinese names in red.
- There are numerous taboos dictating that certain objects shouldn't be given to others, often because the word for that object sounds like another unfortunate word:
- Umbrellas, which in Mandarin sound the same as the word for "break up". Friends should therefore never give friends umbrellas. Instead, friends will euphemistically "rent" each other umbrellas for a tiny amount (NT$1, for example).
- Clocks. The phrase "to give a clock" ("song zhong"), in Mandarin, has the same sound as the word "to perform last rites." If you do give someone a clock, the recipient may give you a coin in return to dispel the curse.
- Shoes. Never ever offer shoes as a gift to old people, as it signifies sending them on their way to heaven.
- The Taiwanese are certainly not puritanical and enjoy a drink, especially the locally brewed Taiwan Beer and Kaoliang. However, Taiwan does not have a culture of binge drinking and is rare to see anyone drunk on the streets. While over indulging in alcohol is not a social taboo as such (and some people do so at weddings), it is considered a sign of lack of self-confidence and immaturity, and doing so certainly won't gain you any respect among Taiwanese friends.
Taiwanese society is rather polarized by allegiance between supporters of the two major political blocks informally known as "pan-blue coalition" and "pan-green coalition", although there are large numbers of people who are either centrist or who don't care. To simplify a complex situation, pan-blue supporters tend to be more favorable toward the idea of reunification with the mainland and pan-green supporters tend to be more favorable toward the idea of establishing an 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 figures such as Sun Yat-sen are generally seen positively, but others (Chiang Kai-shek and Lee Teng-hui in particular) arouse very polarized feelings.
Some people will get very offended if you imply that Taiwan is part of China. Other people will get very offended if you imply that Taiwan is not part of China. Referring to the PRC as 'Communist China' or 'Mainland China' rather than simply China will tend not to offend anyone. 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.
Internet cafes are plentiful, although you may have to wander around before finding one. Rather, Internet cafes in Taiwan should be called gaming cafes. Although people do surf the Internet, most people primarly go there for a smooth experience of online gaming. Each hour of Internet access/game play is cheap, coming in at around NT$20. Some machines in the internet cafes are coin operated. For free internet access in big cities, try out the local libraries. In addition, a wireless internet accessing net covering all of Taipei City 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.
Taiwan has a very free and liberal press. There are three daily newspapers available in English:
- the China Post (http://www.chinapost.com.tw/),
- the Taipei Times (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/),
- Taiwan News (http://www.etaiwannews.com/)