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Holidays in Taiwan

Understanding Taiwan

Taiwan is not usually high on the list of destinations for Western tourists Perhaps this is because the island's international reputation has been shaped more by its IT prowess and longstanding political disputes with mainland China than its culture or tourism, and so many assume that there is very little, if anything, of interest for the casual visitor However, despite this general perception, Taiwan actually boasts some very impressive scenic sites, and Taipei is a vibrant center of culture and entertainment The island is also a center of Chinese pop culture with a huge and vibrant entertainment industry Taiwanese cuisine is also highly regarded among other Asians

History

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 then the Spaniards in the early 17th century The old name of Taiwan, Formosa, comes from the Portuguese Ilha Formosa for "beautiful island" Han Chinese immigrants who had trickled in since the end of the Yuan dynasty 1300s arrived in larger numbers during the domestic turmoil surrounding the decline of the Ming Dynasty Although controlled by the Dutch, the Ming loyalist Koxinga defeated the Dutch garrisons and set up Taiwan as a rump Ming Empire with the hope of reconquering Qing China His son surrendered to the Qing in the late 1600s Although contact between China and Taiwan dates back thousands of years, it was not until larger numbers of Han residents arrived during the Ming and Qing dynasties that Taiwan was formally integrated into China as part of Fujian province It became a separate province in 1885 Defeated by the Japanese, the Qing Empire ceded Taiwan to Japan under the terms of the treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 Japan ruled the island until 1945, and exerted profound influences on its development The island's entertainment and pop culture was and still is heavily influenced by that of Japan 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 eg rail-road crossing gates, administrative buildings, and the old port at Kaohsiung

In the early 20th century, the Nationalists Kuomintang, KMT 國民黨 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 Nationalist government, the remnant of their army, and hundreds of thousands of supporters fled to Taiwan From Taipei, they continued to assert their right as the sole legitimate government of all China Initially repressive, the government began to loosen control under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo Taiwan also experienced rapid economic growth and modernisation under the leadership of Chiang Ching-kuo, becoming one of the world's richest and most modern economies and earning it a place as one of the East Asian Tigers Taiwan still remains a leader in consumer electronics and is home to well-known computer brands such as Acer, Asus and HTC Democratization began in earnest through the 1980s and 1990s, culminating with the first direct presidential elections in 1996, and the first peaceful transition of power between two political parties in 2000

Taiwanese politics remain dominated by the issue of relations between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, which still claims Taiwan as a "renegade province" and regularly threatens military action if Taiwan attempts to break away from the current awkward One China status quo, where both sides agree that there is only one Chinese nation, but disagree on whether that one nation is governed by the PRC or the ROC To summarize a very complex situation, the Pan-Blue 泛藍 group spearheaded by the KMT supports eventual unification with the mainland, while the Pan-Green 泛綠group led by the Democratic Progressive Party DPP supports eventual independence The split extends down to trivial issues like Chinese romanization — the KMT prefers the mainland's Hanyu pinyin, the DPP prefers a Taiwan-made variant called Tongyong pinyin — and political demonstrations and rallies, always turbulent, on occasion turn violent

People

Taiwan was originally populated by indigenous tribes that spoke various Austronesian languages, which are related to Malay, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia Today these people form only about 2% of the population, with the other 98% being from China mainland The Chinese are further split into Taiwanese forming about 84% of the population, whose families migrated during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, as well as mainlanders, forming about 14% of the population, whose families fled to Taiwan from mainland China after the communist takeover in 1949 Among the Taiwanese group, Hoklo Minnan speakers form the majority, which is about 70% of the population while the remaining 14% are largely Hakka speakers There is also a sizeable Japanese community, many of whom work in the entertainment industry The previous Japanese population that was largely centered on the East Coast while Taiwan was under Japanese rule left after WWII

Climate

Taiwan has a marine tropical climate, meaning cool winters 8°C at night and sweltering, humid summers above 30°C, 86°F from Jun-Sep The best time of year to visit is thus from Oct-Dec, although occasional typhoons can spoil the fun Spring is also nice, although it rains more than during autumn During the typhoon season, the east coast bears the brunt of the damage as it is facing the Pacific Ocean

However, you might encounter temperate conditions when you head into mountainous regions In fact, it snows every year on Taiwan's highest mountains and occasionally on mountains like Alishan so be prepared if visiting Taiwan's mountainous regions

Taiwanese calendar

The Minguo 民國 calendar, counting years from the establishment of the ROC 1911, is commonly used in Taiwan, so don't be too surprised to find dates like "99-05-03" on tickets or bags of chips — ROC 99 is 2010 AD To convert a Minguo date to AD, just add 1911 Months and days are according to the standard Gregorian calendar

Festivals

As Taiwan is dominated by ethnic Chinese, traditional Chinese festivals are celebrated by the Taiwanese Among the most notable are:

  • Chinese New Year 春節

This is the most important festival for the Taiwanese and many shops and restaurants close on the first three days so it is not an ideal time to visit However, the days leading up to the festival as well as the fourth to fifteenth days are ideal for soaking up the atmosphere and listening to Chinese New Year songs

  • Ching Ming Festival 清明節

This is when many Taiwanese would pay respects at their ancestors' graves

  • Dragon Boat Festival 端午節

This festival honours Qu Yuan, a patriotic official from the state of Chu during the Warring States period of Chinese history who committed suicide by jumping into a river when Chu was conquered by Qin To prevent the fishes from eating his body, villagers threw rice dumplings into the river to feed the fishes and rowed dragon boats with drums being beaten on them to scare away the fishes Since then, dragon boat racing has been carried out on this day and rice dumplings are also eaten

  • Hungry Ghost Festival 中元節

This festival runs throughout the seventh month of the Chinese calendar It is believed that the gates of hell open during this period and hungry ghosts are allowed to roam freely into our world In order to appease the ghosts and prevent misfortune, many Taiwanese will offer food and burn joss paper for them In addition, traditional Chinese performances such as Chinese opera and puppet shows are held to appease these wandering spirits

  • Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節

Legend has it that on this day, a woman known as Chang E swallowed some divine pills to prevent her power hungry husband from becoming immortal Afraid of being killed by her husband, she fled to the moon and it is believed that the moon shines brightest on this day This is when many lanterns will be put up for decoration in various parks and shops, which is quite a beautiful sight Mooncakes are also eaten on this day so it would be an ideal time to try some

Terrain

Taiwan is largely mountainous with a chain of mountains running from north to south at the centre of the island The west coast is largely plains and unsurprisingly is where most of the population is concentrated, and is where all the larger cities like Taichung and Kaohsiung are located The east coast also has some plains but are more sparsely populated due to the higher typhoon risk, but is also home to the cities of Hualien and Taitung with significant populations

Sports

Baseball was brought to Taiwan by the Japanese during the colonial period Its popularity rose greatly when the Taiwanese baseball team finished second in the Japanese national championships Today, baseball retains a strong following and remains by far the most popular team sport in Taiwan Several Taiwanese players have also gone on to successful careers in the US and Japanese Major League Baseball MLB and the Taiwanese national baseball team is considered to be one of the strongest in the world

Besides baseball, basketball also has a sizeable following in Taiwan Other sports which are popular include Taekwondo, table tennis and golf

Talking in Taiwan

You say Zhongshan, I say Chungshan

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 national government mandated the controversial and oft-maligned Tongyong Pinyin system 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 officially, the national government mandates it after another change in policy in 2009, which sometimes results in a street sign posted by the city government next to a street sign by the national government having different romanization conventions For example, Zhongshan, Chungshan, Jungshan and Jhongshan can easily be the same

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'

A mix of Taiwanese Minnan, Mandarin, Hakka and other Asian languages are spoken on the island, as well as several aboriginal Austronesian languages Mandarin is the lingua franca, but Taiwanese is spoken by some 70% of the population In the North where there is a large concentration of so-called "mainlanders" those whose families came to Taiwan from China in the mid 20th century, most people speak Mandarin as their primary language although Taiwanese is spoken in abundance, but in the South of the island, Taiwanese is far more common Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka are all tonal languages, which make them difficult for Westerners to master On the Matsu islands, the dominant Chinese dialect is Mindong or Eastern Min also known as Hokchiu or Foochowese, which is also spoken in the area around Fuzhou and the coastal areas of northern Fujian

The Mandarin in Taiwan is a bit different from the official Beijing Dialect; most notably, Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters, not the simplified versions used on the mainland Taiwanese Mandarin also tends to not differentiate between the "S" and "Sh" sounds in Mandarin All people schooled after 1945 are generally fluent in Mandarin, although it is sometimes not the first language of choice Mandarin is fairly 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

The Taiwanese dialect is a variant of Minnan which is similar to the dialect spoken across the Taiwan Strait in Xiamen Unlike Xiamen Minnan, Taiwanese Minnan has some loan words from Japanese as a result of 50 years of Japanese colonization Taiwanese Minnan and Xiamen Minnan are both mixtures of the Zhangzhou and Quanzhou accents so as a result, Taiwanese Minnan sounds highly identical to Xiamen Minnan

All public announcements in the transportation system will be made in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, with the exception of the Matsu islands, where announcements are made in Mandarin and the Mindong dialect

Especially in Taipei, younger people generally speak a little English The children often understand more English than their parents, especially with the emphasis on English language education today, and English being a compulsory subject from mid elementary school onwards However, attempts to speak Mandarin or Taiwanese will be met with beaming smiles and encouragement, by and large

Quite a few people, especially in Taipei, are proficient in Japanese due to the high number of Japanese visitors Staff for tourist attractions such as the Taipei 101, museums, hotels, popular restaurants and airport shops speak Japanese in addition to English, Mandarin and other local languages In fact, if you are a visitor of East Asian descent who cannot understand Chinese, when a worker realizes this he or she may try speaking to you in Japanese before trying English In addition to this, some older people still understand and speak Japanese having lived through the fifty year period of Japanese rule

What to see in Taiwan

Nature

Many people think of Taiwan as a grimy, densely populated industrial island, and you may well maintain this perception if you only stick to the densely populated West Coast However, for those who take time to venture to the more sparesely populated East Coast will quickly find that Taiwan is actually home to some stunning landscapes The Taroko Gorge31 太魯閣 near Hualien in particular is very impressive, and should not be missed by any tourists Most of Taiwan is covered with mountains which offer breathtaking views, so hiking opportunities are very diverse

What to do in Taiwan

  • Spring Scream 春天吶喊 - A three day outdoor rock concert in Kenting held on 5-7 Apr 2007 Tickets $1,400 for all days, all venues $650 for one day, one venue Kenting's entire area gets swarmed by young people coming to party for 3 days, and Taiwanese TV heavily reports on the latest Bikini fashions seen on the spot32
  • Buddha's Birthday 佛祖誕辰 - Colorful but simple ceremonies are held at Buddhist monasteries that generally consist of washing a statue of the Buddha and a vegetarian feast It is appropriate to make offerings to the monks and nuns at this time, though it is not mandatory Lunar Calender 8th day of 4th month
  • Dragon Boat Festival 龍舟賽 - A festival to commemorate the death of the Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan born 340 BC, who drowned himself in a river out of despair that his beloved country, Chu, was being plundered by a neighboring country as a result of betrayal by his own people The festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month 19 June 2008, and is marked by races of colorful dragon boats at various locations throughout the island
  • Cherry Blossom Season 櫻花季 - Every spring, in Yangmingshan 陽明山
  • Hot Springs 溫泉 - Taiwan's geographical location between an oceanic trench and volcanic system makes it an ideal hot springs vacation spot There are several hot springs destinations throughout the country, including Wulai 烏來 and Yangmingshan 陽明山

Gambling

While gambling is technically illegal in Taiwan, mahjong Mandarin: 麻将 má jiàng; Taiwanese: 麻雀 moâ-chhiok remains popular The Taiwanese version of the game differs significantly from the better known Cantonese and Japanese versions, most notably because a hand consists of 16 tiles instead of the 13 used in other version However, it remains mostly a family and friends affair and there are no publicly advertised mahjong parlours

Buying stuff in Taiwan

The currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar NTD, but also referred to as TWD 新臺幣 or just 臺幣, with one unit known locally as NT, yuan 元 or more formally 圓 when written in Chinese or colloquially in Mandarin as the kuai 塊 One unit is known colloquially as the kho͘ 箍 in the Taiwanese dialect All $ prices in this guide are in New Taiwan Dollars

As of May 2009, the exchange rate for US$1 is around $33, or €/$45 Easy rules of thumb are that $100 roughly equals US$3/€25; $1000 roughly equals US$30/€25 Coins come in denominations of $050, $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50 The $050 coin is rare because of its small value and has very little practical use Banknotes come in denominations of $100, $200, $500, $1000 and $2000 Perhaps due to counterfeiting problems, the $200 and $2000 banknotes are rarely seen

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 Should you bring American currency, please be sure to bring newer bills as the banks and exchange-centers such as in department stores will only accept the newer bills bills from 1996 and 2003 are not accepted at most places, due to a high proportion of forgeries bearing these years Bills which are torn or damaged will probably not be changed, and old-style small-bust bills are not accepted Taiwan National Bank will take older bank notes and bank notes that are wrinkled or torn for exchange 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 ATMs to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world using the Plus or Cirrus systems Certain banks' ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$ There is a per transaction limit of $20,000 for ATM cash withdrawals HSBC Global Access customers may withdraw $30,000 from HSBC ATMs Visa debit cards are not accepted in many places, but can be used at ATMs in Chinatrust banks but not those in 7-11s

Most hotels and department stores accept credit cards, generally Visa and Master Card as well as JCB Diners Club or American Express cards are seldom accepted Most restaurants and small stores do not accept cards, 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

Costs

Taiwan is fairly expensive by Asian standards, though still significantly cheaper than Japan For a budget traveller on a bare bones budget, NT$1000 will get you by for a day, but you'll probably want to double that for comfort A meal at a street stall may cost NT$50 or less, a meal at a Western fast food restaurant will run you about NT$150 and at the fanciest restaurants, you can expect a bill in excess NT$1000 On the high end of the spectrum, hotel rooms at a swanky hotel might cost NT$5000 or more

Tipping

Tipping is generally not practised in Taiwan, with the possible exception of bellhops in high end hotels Full service restaurants typically impose a service charge and that is usually considered to be sufficient Tipping is also not expected in taxis and drivers would usually return your change to the last dollar

Shopping

As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating 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 expected 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

Every city has at least one night market; larger cities like Taipei may have a dozen or more Night markets are crowded, so remember to watch out for your wallet! 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

For those who do not like the concept of haggling and fake goods, there are many shopping centres in Taipei where prices are usually fixed and goods are genuine Otherwise, shopping streets in larger cities like Kaohsiung and Taichung can also easily get you what you want And of course, there is the trendy Ximending 西門町 in Taipei, where you can pretty much find anything associated with the youths, also at fixed prices

Bargaining is OK and expected in night markets and small stores Computer chain shops and department stores normally have fixed prices, but at least in department stores you may get a "registered member discount" if you're shopping a lot Anyway it's always worth a try!

When bargaining at small stores, please note that the agreed prices are normally cash prices If you like to use a credit card, the seller normally wants to add anything up to 8% to the price as a "card fee" etc The fee consists actually of the credit company's commission and also the local sales tax/VAT Even if you pay cash, you normally don't get an official receipt, as then the seller would have to report & pay their taxes in full If you ask for a receipt or "fa piao" 發票, you will get it but you may need to pay 3-5% more

What to buy

Popular things to buy include:

  • Jade 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 design and produce a lot of desktop PC, laptop notebook and PC peripheral, etc So the tourist may visit the major Information Technology market at Taiwan for the best buy item Desktop computers and components however tend to be the same price in Taiwan as in other areas of the world, though peripherals such as cables and adapters tend to be noticeably cheaper If you're buying domestic it's best to go to tourist hangouts to buy your stuff as you might be saddled with Chinese documentation otherwise Also, notebooks are typically only available with a Chinese and English keyboard
  • Lingzhi 靈芝 A type of bracket fungus that is often used as a Chinese herb It supposedly has many health benefits with an apparent absence of side effects, earning it a high reputation in East Asian countries and making it rather expensive Taiwanese lingzhi is particularly famous for being of the highest quality
  • Tea Taiwan is particularly famous for its oolong tea烏龍茶 and this is available in at many tea shops Tea tasting in Chinese culture is akin to wine tasting in Western culture and you will find many grades of this same type of tea, with different methods of treating the tea leaves

Note: 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 at a flat rate of NT$1 - bakeries being an exception as the items need to be hygienically wrapped Re-useable canvas and nylon bags are sold at most supermarkets

Food and eating in Taiwan

Stinky tofu

Undoubtedly the most infamous Taiwanese delicacy, stinky tofu 臭豆腐 chòudòufu is fermented tofu with a strong odor often likened to rotting garbage It's usually sold only by outdoor stalls, as the smell would overwhelm most restaurants, but if you can hold your nose long enough to eat it, the taste is quite mild — but with distinct earthy overtones that many visitors find off-putting It's most commonly eaten fried, but for extra Fear Factor points, find some mala hotpot 麻辣鍋 with stinky tofu and gelatinized duck blood



Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines It is possible to find Szechuan 四川 food, Hunan 湖南 food, Beifang 北方 food, Cantonese 廣東 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 Cantonese cuisine, as demonstrated by the lack of Cantonese speakers on the island The Taiwanese are also passionately in love with eggs and seafood, as you will discover during your stay on the island Fruits are another famous part of Taiwanese food A wide range of fruits can be found at local fruit shops and stations The subtropical climate allows different fruits to grow nicely Actually you can find almost every kind of fruits you can think of in Taiwan

Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties A few found island wide include:

  • Beef noodles 牛肉麵 niúròu miàn, noodle soup with chunks of meltingly soft stewed beef and a dash of pickles
  • Oyster omelet 蚵仔煎 kézǎi jiān, made from eggs, oysters and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum, topped with sweet red sauce
  • Aiyu jelly 愛玉 àiyù, made from the seeds of a local fig and usually served on ice — sweet, cool and refreshing on a hot day
  • Taiwan Sausage 香腸 xiāngcháng, usually made from pork, it is a modified version of the Cantonese laap cheong 臘腸 which has been emulsified and is much sweeter in taste Unlike laap cheong, which is almost always eaten with rice, Taiwanese xiangchang is usually eaten on its own with some garlic
  • Taiwanese Orange 柳丁 liŭdīng is a type of citrus fruit which is similar to usual oranges, except that the skin and flesh tend to look more yellowish like lemon Unlike lemon, it is usually quite sweet
  • Taiwanese Porridgezhōu in Mandarin, 糜 beh in Taiwanese is rice porridge cooked with sweet potato It is usually eaten with several different dishes

Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many different countries For example, Ilan 宜蘭 is famous for its mochi 麻吉, a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings Yonghe 永和, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly made soy milk 豆漿 and breakfast foods Taichung is famous for its sun cakes 太陽餅 tàiyáng bǐng, a kind of sweet stuffed pastry and the best place to buy some is arguably Taiyang Tang 太陽堂 along Freedom Road 自由路, where the pastry was supposedly invented In Chiayi, it's square cookies, also called cubic pastry 方塊酥, crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds Tainan is particularly famous among the Taiwanese for its abundance of good food and should be a stop for all gourmands The most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread 棺材板 Virtually every city has its own famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will visit other cities on the island simply to try the local foods and then return home

Taiwan also has remarkably good bakery items Most specialize in sweet Chinese pastries or Western pastries adjusted to local tastes, but look out for We Care bakeries which also offer Western options such as whole wheat loaves, sour breads and ciabatta

Vegetarians are better catered for in restaurants and variety than in most other countries

Places to eat

If you're on a budget, 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 $35-70

The Taiwanese love to snack and even many restaurants advertise xiaochi 小吃, literally "small eats", the Taiwanese equivalent of Cantonese dim sum There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$115, KFC and MOS Burger In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores such as 7-11 that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches, bento boxes 便當盒 and drinks

Night markets are also a good place to try some delicious local Taiwanese fare at attractive prices Examples would be the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 in Taipei and the Liouho Night Market 六合夜市 in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed

Etiquette

As with Chinese cuisine elsewhere, food in Taiwan is generally eaten with chopsticks and served on large plates placed at the center of the table Unlike in the West, however, a serving spoon might not accompany the dishes, and instead guests will use their own chopsticks to transfer food to their plates Some people unaccustomed to this way of eating may consider this unhygienic, though it is usually quite safe However, those who prefer to use a separate utensil for serving have the option of requesting communal chopsticks 公筷 gongkuai, and can gently encourage friends to use them if they do not automatically do so

The usual traditional Chinese taboos when eating with chopsticks apply in Taiwan as well For instance, do not stick your chopsticks straight up or into your bowl of rice This is reminiscent of incense sticks at a temple, and has connotations of wishing death upon those around you When putting down chopsticks, either place them on the provided porcelain chopstick rest at fancier restaurants or rest the chopsticks across the top of your bowl Also, do not use your chopsticks to spear your food or move bowls and plates

Dietary restrictions

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-shi 素食 tsan-ting 餐廳 in Mandarin, and often identified with the 卍 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 自助餐, 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 $250-350 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 $90-$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: 我吃素 Wo chi su - I'm vegetarian, 我不吃肉 Wo bu chi 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 non-dessert dishes at Chinese style veggie restaurants will actually be vegan Ensure that your dish does not contain eggs, however

Drinking in Taiwan

As Taiwan is a subtropical island with the south part in the tropics, it cannot hurt to drink a lot, especially during summertime Drink vending machines can be found virtually everywhere and are filled with all kinds of juices, tea and coffee drinks, soy milk and mineral water


Water

As a general rule, with the exception of Kaohsiung, tap water in Taiwan is safe for drinking after boiling Any water or ice you are served in restaurants will already have been processed Water fountains in Taiwan always incorporate filters, and they can be found in practically every lodge or hotel as well as for example larger museums and Taipei MRT stations You can refill and reuse your bottles at these fountains as well If you can't find one, then you should buy bottled water

Note that in Kaohsiung, most people do not drink the tap water, even after filtering or boiling, since the water contains trace amounts of arsenic that is detrimental to health Whether the trace amounts are dangerous or not is debatable, especially if you're just passing through, but the locals obtain potable water using pumps that look like gasoline pumps that are strewn throughout the residential areas For tourists, most hotels would provide 2 bottles of mineral water in each room and you should use that as your drinking water If that is not enough, there are many 24 hours convenience stores around so you can get additional bottled water from there

In most other places in Taiwan it is advised to not drink tap water In fact, warnings about this can be found in most hotels, particularly the international tourist hotels Although some Taiwanese do so, even the majority of them prefer to drink boiled water In some parts of the country Yunlin County 雲林縣, etc the water is often filtered to remove sediment and minerals from the ground water prior to boiling

Another reason for drinking previously boiled or bottled water in Taiwan is that Taiwan is a seismic active zone Because of the large number of earthquakes, the water delivery system pipes are easily damaged allowing contaminants to enter the water prior to it reaching the tap Therefore drinking previously boiled or bottled water is probably a wise choice

Alcohol

Taiwan's legal age to consume alcohol is 18 years of age Minors caught drinking can face fines ranging from $10000 to $50000 Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong Kaoliang 高粱酒 is the most famous alcoholic drink A distilled grain liquor, it is extremely strong, usually 140 proof or more, and often drunk straight

Taiwan also produces many types of Shaoxing 紹興酒, 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 台灣啤酒, produced by a former government monopoly It is brewed with fragrant penglai rice in addition to barley giving it a distinctive flavor

Tea and coffee

Taiwan's specialty teas are High Mountain Oolong 高山烏龍, Gao-shan wulong - a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin 鐵觀音 - a dark, rich brew Enjoying this tea drank in the traditional way using a very small teapot and tiny cups is a experience you should not miss This way of taking tea is called lao ren cha 老人茶 - 'old people's tea', and the name is derived from the fact that only the elderly traditionally had the luxury of time to relax and enjoy tea in this way Check the small print when visiting a traditional tea house though: in addition to the tea itself, you may be charged a cover 茶水費, literally "tea-water fee" for the elaborate process of preparing it as well as for any nibbles served on the side

One should also try Lei cha 擂茶; léi chá a tasty and nourishing Hakka Chinese tea-based beverage consisting of a mix ground tea leaves and grain Some stores specialize in this product and allows one to grind their own lei cha

Pearl milk tea 珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhū nǎichá, aka "bubble tea" or "boba tea", is milky tea with chewy balls of tapioca added, drunk through an over sized straw Invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s and a huge Asia-wide craze in the 1990s, it's not quite as popular as it once was but can still be found at nearly every coffee/tea shop Look for a shop where it is freshly made

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

Soft drinks

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 木瓜牛奶 is iced papaya milk If you don't want ice though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors say, chu bing 去冰 and no sugar - wu tang 無糖

Soy milk, or doujiang 豆漿, 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 savory soy milk are often ordered with you-tiao 油條, 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

Accommodation in Taiwan

Taiwan doesn't sleep - just look at the number of 24-hour stores out there But since you have to

For the budget-minded, there are hostels in Taipei and most other sizeable cities Camping is also available in many areas

Motels 汽車旅館 can be easily found in suburbs of major cities Despite the name, these have little if anything to do with the cheap functional hotels that use the name elsewhere; in Taiwan, motels are intended for romantic trysts and can be quite extravagant in decor and facitilies Many feature enormous baths with massage jets, separate massage showers, marble tiles, and so forth Suites come with flat screen TVs as well as centrally controlled sound systems During the daytime, most offer "rests" 休息 of a few hours, and indeed check-in times for overnight stays 住宿 can be as late at 10 PM Taichung is considered the motel-capital of Taiwan

Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious Desipite the complexities of doing business with both mainland China and Taiwan, most Western hotel chains operate in Taiwan such as Sheraton, Westin and Hyatt Also, there are plenty of five-star hotels around Keep in mind, however, that many of the international hotels tend to be outrageously expensive, while comparable and much cheaper accommodation is usually available in the same vicinity For example, 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 away Taxi drivers and tourist offices are invaluable resources for finding cheaper hotels

Many hotels in Taiwan have both Chinese and Western names, which can differ radically Find out and bring along the Chinese name in Chinese characters, as locals will usually not be able to identify the English ones Especially when you visit the regions less traveled by westerners mostly because there is no business there, don't be shy to walk in on the more pricey hotels, especially off-season The Ceasar 凱撒大飯店, the Chateau 夏都沙灘酒店 and the Howard Beach Resort 福華大飯店 at Kenting, for example, located at one of the nicest beaches of tropical Taiwan, can be of exceptional value if you stay there during wintertime, as the rooms not yet let for the night are offered far below their normal price at last minute

Hotel beds in Taiwan are generally much harder than in the West because of the old Asian tradition to sleep on a wood board Modern mattresses can be found in most hotels, but only in the most upscale Western style hotels will you find beds in a real western style

Working in Taiwan

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 against 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 perseverance is needed when looking for them

It is illegal to work without a work permit and an ARC or Alien Residency Permit, and legal work officially requires a university 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; but remember that it only takes one disgruntled student to report you and have you fined and deported Consider your options carefully!

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 34 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 US, 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 $500-650 per hour before deductions in most language schools, with anything between $500-1000 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

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

  • Go2TeachEnglish - 35 - teaching English as a Second Language in Taiwan
  • English in Taiwan 36 - Mainly focused on English teachers In Taiwan wanting jobs in Taiwan Rich in resources for teachers and Expats living in visiting Taiwan Daily updates
  • Taiwan Deal - Jobs resource for teachers and expats living in Taiwan

Cities in Taiwan

chaochou  chengkung  chiali  chichi  chihu  chingshui  chishan  cholan  chunan  chungho  chupei  chushan  chutung  erhlin  fengshan  homei  houlung  hsichih  hsilo  hsinchu  hsinhua  hsinpu  hsintien  hsinying  huwei  ilan  juifang  kangshan  kaohsiung  kaohsiung  keelung  kuanhsi  kuanshan  lotung  luchou  lukang  makung  matou  meinung  miaoli  nantou  paiho  panchiao  pate  peikang  peitou  pingchen  pingtung  potzu  puli  putai  sanchung  sanhsia  shalu  shulin  suao  tachia  tachi  taichung  tainan  taipao  taipei  taitung  talin  tali  tanshui  taoyuan  tienchung  toucheng  toufen  touliu  tounan  tsaotun  tucheng  tuku  tunghsiao  tungkang  wuchi  yangmei  yingko  yuanlin  yuanli  yuli  yungho  yungkang  

What do you think about Taiwan?

How expensive is Taiwan?
(1 TWD = 0.03 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant88.73 TWD
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)635.38 TWD
McDonalds meal109.2 TWD
Local beer (0.5 draft)51.7 TWD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 88.24 TWD
Cappuccino66.61 TWD
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)25.33 TWD
Water (0.33 bottle)17 TWD
Milk (1l)88.36 TWD
Fresh bread (500g)50.61 TWD
White Rice (1kg)63.05 TWD
Eggs (12) 58.61 TWD
Local Cheese (1kg) 455.54 TWD
Chicken Breast (1kg) 192.48 TWD
Apples (1kg) 83.89 TWD
Oranges (1kg) 61.84 TWD
Tomato (1kg) 68.56 TWD
Potato (1kg) 47.94 TWD
Lettuce (1 head) 35.77 TWD
Water (1.5l)29.7 TWD
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 331.8 TWD
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)48.61 TWD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 64.34 TWD
Cigarettes88.72 TWD
One way local bus ticket19.4 TWD
Monthly pass for bus0.98 TWD
Taxi start88.32 TWD
Taxi 1km22.16 TWD
Taxi 1hour waiting145.5 TWD
Gasoline (1 liter) 31.27 TWD
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 225.01 TWD
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 10.01 TWD
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 26.04 TWD
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 15.52 TWD
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