I’m writing this on a train back to Taipei. By the time this post is published I will already be in Myanmar, but right now I still have a few more days in Taiwan. As I’m sitting on the train, I can’t help but appreciate the memories I have from this country. Taiwan ended up being a place I loved even more than I thought I would, and I’m truly sad to be leaving so soon.
I spent just over a month in Taiwan and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. I traveled the west coast, made it down to the southern tip, and back up the east coast. I noted the changes in local culture with each new area of the country, but how they also had a few common threads. Taiwan is a place I could see myself living in for awhile if the timing worked out in the future. For now, I’m grateful for what this country has given me.
These are the 38 reasons why life is simply better in Taiwan.
There are not enough good things I could say about the Taiwanese. They’re an incredibly friendly and helpful group of people. They’re not pushy in the least and they embrace the island life mentality in the best ways possible. I had many instances of Taiwanese friendliness. There were times I would be sitting in an eatery, and other customers would walk over to my table to help me translate the menu. People were curious to know where I was from and genuinely open minded.
Similar to other parts of Asia, scooters are everywhere. Unlike other parts of Asia, scooters follow road rules (for the most part) and there’s much more of a relaxed mindset. It doesn’t feel chaotic. Scooters are also one of the best ways to get around Taiwan, to national parks, or more off-the-beaten-path destinations. It’s also a glimpse into Taiwanese culture. You’ll see toddlers, barely able to reach the handle bars, riding with their parents. Babies will be strapped to their mothers and whole families will fit on one scooter, with all of their groceries for the week.
It’s not overly touristy
Taiwan is still very much an underrated destination. Most people pass over it completely to head to Southeast Asia instead, or China, South Korea, or Japan. Most of the westerners you’ll find here teach English and live in Taiwan, and there’s not many backpackers around the country. The tourists you will find are often in the more popular areas of Taiwan, and they tend to be large groups of mainland Chinese tourists. However, they can be easy to avoid with a little foresight and planning.
Believe it or not the garbage trucks in Taiwan sound like ice cream trucks. They play one song for recycling and another for trash. When you hear one coming down the street, you’ll see that everyone goes out with their trash and recycling for the day and throws it in the back of the truck as it drives past. Just another example of how endearing the little things in Taiwanese culture are.
High speed rail
Taiwan is an easy country to get around on public transport. Islands are not known to have great public transit, I mean, have you tried to take a public bus in Hawaii? Lucky for me, Taiwan takes their transportation seriously. The high speed rail let’s you transverse most of the country in just a few hours. Taiwan is already not a huge country, and the high speed rail make it even easier to see more of the country in a short amount of time.
I was told beforehand that I was going to be amazed by the night markets in Taiwan, and I was not disappointed. The night markets in Taiwan are LEGIT. They are huge, they have every imaginable fried food and street eats, carnival games, souvenirs, and clothing. I had a fun time exploring night markets all over the country because you can find them everywhere. The largest night market in Taiwan is Fengjia in Taichung, but the ones around Taipei, such as Shilin, are fun too!
Fruit is a welcome offer
Yes, you read that right! Fruit is a welcome offer in Taiwan. I’ve had more than enough experiences of locals giving me fruit as a welcome gift to count out coincidence. I had one woman who came up to help me translate a menu in Taichung, say goodbye, go out on her scooter, and come back with fresh fruit.
The woman running a guesthouse I was staying at in Chiayi randomly handed my partner a couple of Taiwanese oranges when he went down to ask about laundry. When I was on the east coast in Dulan and leaving an eatery, the woman working there busted out her secret stash of hibiscus fruit and offered it to me. If you go to Taiwan, be prepared to eat a lot of fresh fruit that’s given to you by locals.
Food is cheap
Although not everything is cheap in Taiwan, food is one of those things that will only cost you US$2-$5 for a filling and tasty local meal. I’ve had huge bowls of steaming wonton soup for US$2 that filled me up for half a day. You definitely won’t go hungry in Taiwan.
Speaking of food in Taiwan, pork dumplings are the shizz. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a few days without a pork dumpling fix since I arrived in the country, and I’m starting to worry that I’ll have intense cravings once I leave. I’ve always been a fan of pork dumplings, but in Taiwan they’re ridiculously good. If you come across a restaurant where there is a large group of Taiwanese people making dumplings around a table, you know you’re going to have a good meal.
Some of the best street food in Asia
With how much I’m talking about it, you may think that I enjoyed the food in Taiwan – and you would be correct! After Hong Kong, where I didn’t like the cuisine as much as I thought I would, Taiwan blew my socks right out of the water.
There haven’t been many meals that I’ve disliked in the country, and the street food has to be some of the best in Asia. The one exception? Stinky tofu. A popular dish that I couldn’t stomach but should be tried at least once for a local experience. Everything else has been fantastic!
You can do everything at 7/11
You may think that convenience stores are most common in places like America, but oh no, Taiwan wins in this area too. With close to 5,000 stores, Taiwan is a country that has one of the highest densities of 7/11s in the world. You’ll be able to find 7/11s on almost every corner, and even in the tiniest little towns along the coast. And it’s a good thing too, because it’s you’re one-stop shop for pretty much everything in life.
They have breakfast and full lunches you can make at the store. You can buy bus tickets, top up your EasyCard (transport card in Taiwan), and recharge your cell phone minutes. But it doesn’t stop there! You can also pay your electricity, water, insurance bills, speeding tickets, you can even get your dry cleaning done. Let’s see, you can also renew your driver’s license, send off packages, call a taxi, buy tickets to shows and games, redeem lottery winnings, have access to free Wi-Fi, and print, fax, and copy documents. And Honestly, I’m probably just scratching the surface. If you need to run an errand in Taiwan, you can probably do it at 7/11.
Local buses are fancy
The high speed rail is great, but when you want to go to other destinations that are less traveled or you simply want to get around a city, you use the local bus or the MRT. Many of the local city buses are super fancy. They are like tour buses that you’d find for cross-country journeys. They have good views, frilly curtains, and La-Z-Boy type seats that recline. Just be careful, you may fall asleep because you’re so comfy heading across town.
If you see signs in Taiwan, more often than not they will be in cartoon form. A warning about falling off an escalator and hurting yourself? It’ll be in a cartoon. How about falling to your death if you don’t mind the gap in the MRT station? Yeah that’s a cartoon too. Signs letting you know that there’s construction above you, have cartoon figures in hard hats.
And I’m not just talking about stick figures, but full blown color cartoons that you’d find on Saturday morning TV. It’s hard to take even the more drastic signs seriously when they’re cuddly and cute cartoons staring back at me. In Taiwan, you never have to give up your love of cartoons, and it’s just another reason why Taiwan is amazing.
Milk tea & bubble tea
Did you know that Taiwan is the birthplace of bubble tea? Taichung is said to be where the original bubble tea location opened up. Unfortunately, that original store has closed down, but it’s now a chain that you can find all over Taichung, called Chun Shui Tang. Regardless, if you get down to Taichung the bubble tea is fantastic. And if tapioca isn’t really your thing, there’s always milk tea which is even better in my opinion.
Taipei is the coffee capital of Asia
If you’re more of a coffee person, Taiwan is still the right place for you. Taipei, in particular, is considered the coffee capital of Asia. I can safely say that the coffee I tried there was on par with places like Australia and New Zealand, two of the best coffee cultures in the world. Asia is known to have pretty dismal coffee because it’s much more of a tea culture. Well, you can have the best of both worlds in Taiwan.
Abundance of free toiletries
At most hotels you get free toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and soap, and more if you ask at the front desk. In Taiwan, they go mental on the amount of toiletries they offer you at hotels, guesthouses, and even hostels sometimes.
I generally find anywhere from 2-5 toothbrushes with free toothpaste in a room I’m staying in. I could’ve had a brand new toothbrush every day for a month if I really wanted to. They also usually offer a free comb or brush, face wipes, slippers, tea & coffee, water, shower cap, razor, and more. Taiwan truly takes hospitality to the next level.
If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, I highly recommend reading up on the history of the country – it’s fascinating! Taiwan has changed hands many times through the centuries, from the Dutch, to the Chinese, to the Japanese, and back to Chinese. It’s hard to keep up sometimes, but it’s an interesting history that is fairly well preserved around the country. In certain areas, like Kaohsiung, you’ll find more Japanese influence. Where as places like Tainan, which used to be the old capital, have a lot of Dutch influence.
There’s Chinese influence throughout the country since Taiwan is part of the “One China” mentality. Of course, depending on if you’re asking a Taiwanese or a Chinese person, “One China” can mean very different things. By learning the history, it will give you a richer experience when you travel around the country, and may give you more insight into the Taiwanese culture as a whole.
The Taiwanese people have a great sense of humor and a love for the kitschy things in life that are endearing as much as they are hilarious. If you’re after a unique dining experience, Taiwan will have something for you.
Perhaps the most popular and well known themed restaurant is Modern Toilet in Taipei, which is, you guessed it, completely toilet themed. However, there are plenty of other themes around the country, including Rilakkuma Cafe (stuffed bears), Five Dime Driftwood Restaurant (driftwood art), See-Join Puppet Theater Restaurant (hand puppets), Hello Kitty Kitchen & Dining (Hello Kitty), Carton King (cardboard), and my personal favorite – Oia Cafe (ALPACA THEMED).
And the themed places don’t just stop at restaurants, there are many themed accommodations to choose from around Taiwan as well – and they won’t even break the bank. A few that I’ve stayed in have included space themed rooms, an indoor cabin/tent camping hostel, and so many sleeping capsules!
If you’d like to feel like you’re in a fairytale, there’s The Sato Castle Hotel. And if you’re looking for a little romance, stay in one of the Japanese style “love motels” that you can find all over the country. Think full karaoke sound systems, huge jacuzzis, high-tech privacy protection, all in themed rooms. The batman themed one at the Eden Hotel in Kaohsiung is on my list for next time I’m in Taiwan.
Old Taiwanese grandmothers
I’ve met so many awesome old Taiwanese grandmothers that I had to put them on the list. If there’s one thing you should take away about your time in Taiwan, it’s that grandmothers run the show. Some of my best memories come from restaurants I’ve eaten in or guesthouses I’ve stayed at that were run by Taiwanese grandmothers – they have all kinds of personality.
I haven’t come across as good of WiFi as what I’ve found in Taiwan in a very long time. The WiFi in this country is light years ahead of the US. You can find free WiFi pretty much everywhere around the country if you sign up for an account with one of the local phone/WiFi services ahead of time.
And if you’re going to be in the country for awhile, you can get a pre-paid sim card from 5 days to a month that gives you unlimited WiFi. UNLIMITED WIFI PEOPLE!! I thought those days were long gone until I came to Taiwan. I paid $30 for a month of unlimited Wi-Fi, and I was able to hotspot my phone anywhere I pleased to have access to WiFi throughout the country.
The active culture
The Taiwanese people love getting out in nature and exercising. There are plenty of national parks throughout the country, and there are beginner to strenuous hikes that you can always find a bus or scooter ride away. In addition to that, the cycling culture is HUGE here. They even have a cycling festival every year from October to November.
The national parks in Taiwan deserve to have their own mention because of how stunning they are. There are nine national parks in the country, and each one is more beautiful than the last. I managed to get to Kenting National Park (the oldest in the country), and Taroko National Park (one of the most popular), and I’m looking forward to seeing more on a return visit.
For most of the longer and high altitude hikes in these national parks you’ll need a permit. This is to make sure that no one is hiking past their fitness level, and also so that trails aren’t overrun by people. The Taiwanese take their time in nature seriously, and they know that too many tourists only ruin the landscape and the personal experience one has with nature.
If you think of high mountains, lush forests, and steaming hot pools when you think of Taiwan, you’re in luck! Hot pools, springs, and spas in Taiwan are in abundance and can be found all over the country for a nice place to relax outside. There are more than 150 hot springs and they’re a popular weekend activity for Taiwanese to enjoy. When in Taiwan, right? It’s all part of your cultural education.
Festivals and traditions
One of the most attractive aspects about Taiwan is the amount of festivals and traditions they have as a culture. Some notable festivals include Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, Dragon Boat Festival, The Moon Festival, Taiwan National Day, Ghost Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Double Ninth Day. If you’re lucky enough to be in Taiwan during one of their festivals, you’ll find a vibrant and unique experience that gives you a window into Taiwanese culture.
Drop-dead gorgeous scenery
Even if you don’t make it to the national parks, although I hope you get to at least one, there is still drop-dead gorgeous scenery throughout the country. The north is very different from the south, and the east very different from the west. If you have the time to travel in a loop around the whole country, there’s no better way to witness the natural scenery that will WOW you for days. Simply traveling by train around the country is enough to give you an idea of how beautiful this country really is. It wasn’t called Ilha Formosa (“the beautiful island” in Portuguese) for nothing.
Waterfalls are in abundance
I thought I had my fair share of waterfalls after I left the Pacific Northwest, but Taiwan has an abundance of waterfalls as well. There’s a guide solely dedicated to the waterfalls in Taiwan that you can find here, if you want to try and chase as many as possible. Waterfalls are another natural gem of Taiwan that you can find all of the country.
Taiwan is making me more of a tea person every day. Oolong tea specifically is fantastic in Taiwan, especially if it’s from Alishan. Alishan is considered the best producer in the world for Oolong tea. The growing conditions are optimal in the subtropical high mountains and cool humid conditions. Even if you’re not a tea person, trying oolong tea in Taiwan is a must. It is delicious!
It’s an incredibly safe country
Taiwan is the 2nd safest country in the world, after Iceland. With its low rates of crime and high amounts of economic freedom, education, health care, and human development, there’s a lot to love in this country. There hasn’t been a time once in the past month and a half that I’ve been traveling in Taiwan that I’ve felt unsafe. It truly is a welcoming and friendly country that lacks an obsession with violence.
People are respectful
I’ve found some of the most respectful people in Taiwan. Even when I came across large groups of Taiwanese partying in a public park on a weekend, their tipsiness stayed inside their circle. You don’t find loud music, kids screaming and crying, or mischievous drunken behavior. It simply isn’t seen here. And that goes for public transit as well. The only people you’ll hear having loud conversations on a bus or train are generally western and mainland Chinese tourists.
Scuba diving & the hammerhead shark migration
Taiwan is not often seen as a scuba diving destination, but there is some great scuba diving to be found in the southern parts of the island. Most notably is Kenting, and the outlying islands, such a Green Island. In fact, Green Island has a famous hammerhead shark migration that happens from January to March each year. It’s something I hope to experience yet in my scuba journey.
Affinity for games
You will find arcades and NTD$10 (about US$0.30) games all over Taiwan. There are the games you’ll find at night markets, and there are the colorful arcades you’ll find tucked away in any big city. The Taiwanese take their gaming seriously and the arcades you’ll find in Taiwan are almost akin to casinos – although you’ll find those too. People are usually smoking cigarettes, and there are looks of concentration on most faces glued to a screen.
The climate in Taiwan is borderline perfect. It can get stifling hot in the summer, but it doesn’t get too cold in the winter unless you’re up in the high mountains. The humidity can be heavy but it’s nowhere near as bad as some parts of Southeast Asia (ahem, Vietnam). A subtropical climate means you’ll rarely have to wear layers and you can just walk out your door without thinking much of being cold. It also means great climates for a lot of tropical fruit and other agricultural gems that you can enjoy while you’re in the country, like oolong tea!
Most people think of Taipei and other big city scenes when Taiwan comes to mind. However, the beaches are just as dazzling as what you’ll find in other parts of Asia. You’ll find everything from golden sand beaches, to black sand and white coral beaches. There are plenty of water activities on offer to enjoy as well if you want to get off the beach, including diving, surfing, rafting, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, and fishing.
English is not widely spoken in Taiwan, although most locals know at least a few words that will help you get by. However, locals are also very patient and willing to teach you Taiwanese and Chinese if you ask. We’ve picked up a few basics of how to say thank you, goodbye, hello, and how to count to ten, simply by spending 15 minutes with a patient local. The Taiwanese are very helpful when you’re struggling with the language, and it makes it so much easier when traveling around the country.
It’s a surfing paradise
Again, something that is not realized by many is the fact that Taiwan is actually a surfing mecca. You can find surf competitions on the east coast where the surf is most popular, and there are surf spots in other parts of the country year round too. No matter where you are, you’re probably not far from a good break or swell.
The best transport card I’ve ever come across is in Taiwan. The EasyCard is a country-wide card that can be used for all kinds of public transit, but also for your groceries, convenience store finds, restaurants, and many other places as well. Just load it up when it’s getting low and you’ll be able to use it most anywhere in the county. So simple! Plus, it’s really cute.
Indigenous Taiwanese culture
Lastly, the rich aboriginal culture that has been in Taiwan since the 17th century is another wonderful aspect about this country. There’s more indigenous culture to be found in the southern parts of Taiwan. If you have the chance to talk or meet with an indigenous tribe, do it. Get lost in the history and traditions of the indigenous people of Taiwan and try to get a glimpse at how layered and important their culture is.
Have you been to Taiwan? Is it a place that you’d like to visit some day? I couldn’t believe how amazing my short visit turned out to be. It’s definitely a country I’d recommend to anyone for a unique & authentic experience in Asia.
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