Taiwan is an escape into a stunning natural landscape and bustling urban scene with an intimate view of Chinese tradition and religion. This small island is known as the “Beautiful Isle”, which will provide you with endless adventures as you travel between the colossal cliffs, tropical forests, and profound marble gorges.
But you’ll also experience the blend and tolerance of multiple religions like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, which have all left their mark on Chinese culture. With a unique political stance, Taiwan is an enigma that you’ll have to unlock for yourself.
歡迎光臨 – Welcome to Taiwan
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and it is an odd mish mash of Chinese, Japanese, and American culture. There are many places where you can step back in time and look at history in the eyes. Many historical places have been preserved, which only adds to the odd architecture of the city as you’ll also see modernity slipping through the cracks in the form of skyscrapers, shopping districts, and busy traffic lanes. Food lovers will also take great delight, as the city is known for eating out. With inexpensive restaurants and savory dishes, you can get to know Taipei better and entertain your taste buds.
Culture and Language
Taiwan’s history began 6,000 years ago when settlers, likely from mainland China, moved to and began settling the area. This was just the start of Taiwan’s relationship with China, which has only become more complicated and confusing throughout the years.
Many travelers today are often confused by the two names, People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China. China’s official name is the People’s Republic of China and they believe that there is only one China in the world. However, Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China. There has been a struggle as to who actually governs Taiwan, but a large majority would say that Taiwan is a territory of mainland China due to their “One China Principle”.
In 1971, Taiwan lost their seat at the United Nations and were instead represented and replaced by the People’s Republic of China. This means that mainland China became the representative of all of China and that forced Taiwan to lose an independent identity.
But ultimately, mainland China does not control Taiwan, though they do like to say that the island is their territory. Taiwan does have its own government with 5 branches, which seek to operate independently from China. But Taiwan’s close identity with mainland China still keeps the countries closely tied. You will often find that in the media or even by governments, Taiwan will be named as Taiwan, China.
But while the political identity of Taiwan is still somewhat unstable, the culture and customs are closely linked to China and showcase many long-forgotten traditions. Unlike mainland China, Taiwan has not fallen to Communism and has maintained many traditional religious practices that were once performed in mainland China. This makes Taiwan unique, as they have preserved an ancient part of Chinese culture, while also accepting the influence of outside cultures.
Taiwanese culture is known for their big celebrations and festivals. There are multiple festivals throughout the year and there are many events held around important holidays. One of the world’s biggest festivals and the most important for Taiwan is Mazu’s birthday, which is celebrated with a 218-mile trek across the island. Tourists may also experience a unique blend of the indigenous culture with Chinese culture. Many of the original Austronesian tribes have their own festivals that show what life was like in Taiwan 6,000 years ago.
Language is another important part of the culture and one that brings back the bumpy relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan, which is what is also spoken in mainland China. However, many people in Taiwan will speak multiple languages. Taiwanese is also very popular, and it is a variation of Mandarin Chinese. You may also hear it referred to as Taiwanese Mandarin. Other languages spoken are Taiwanese Hokkien, which is the dominant native language, as well as local indigenous dialects.
But Taiwan is also interested at opening up to the world more and are beginning to make English a top priority. While most English-speaking Taiwanese people will live in Taipei, the country is hoping to expand their education so that English is more widely spoken.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Taiwan, you do not need to obtain a tourist visa prior to your arrival to the country. However, you may not extend or change the status of the visa once you have been granted entry into Taiwan. The visa for tourists allows you to stay up to 90 days in Taiwan. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days, you will need to consulate an Embassy of Taiwan and apply for the appropriate visa.
Other requirements to gain entry into Taiwan include a US passport that must stay valid throughout the duration of your stay. You will need 2 blank pages in your passport; one for your entry stamp and one for your exit stamp. While Taiwan only requires a valid passport for the duration of your stay, you should be aware that many airlines and other countries (if you continue to travel internationally after Taiwan) will only allow you entry if your passport has a validity of at least 6 months past the date of arrival to the country.
There are no vaccine requirements, but Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention does suggest that you have and are up to date on your Hepatitis A vaccine. You will also be required to declare any amount of currency over $10,000 US dollars upon entry and exit into Taiwan.
While you don’t have to pay for a tourist visa, you should take the time to consider the budget for the rest of your trip so that you can be prepared. Taiwan can be travelled on a budget, but it doesn’t mean that it is the most affordable country to travel either. The most important considerations of your budget will be airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
A plane ticket will be a large portion of your budget with most tickets costing $700-$1,000 US dollars or more. Sometimes airlines will have deals that drastically lower the price of a ticket, but most times it will come down to when you travel to Taiwan and how far in advance you book your ticket.
Tourist season in Taiwan is at the highest in the fall and winter, but there is also a peak in tourism during the months of May to July too. Due to Taiwan’s more temperate climate, many people are happy to visit throughout the year. However, it is during these peak months that plane tickets will be the most expensive. But you can also save money by not waiting and booking your plane ticket in advance.
Once you have booked a plane ticket, you should look into book your accommodation for the duration of your stay. Dorm beds will be the most affordable accommodation option with most prices being between $9-$15 US dollars per night. Guest houses and private rooms will cost a lot more with most travelers spending about $50 US dollars per night.
If a hotel is more your style, you should expect to pay a high price. An affordable hotel in Taiwan would cost about $110 US dollars, whereas luxury hotels will start at $200 US dollars per night. Really nice resorts or luxury accommodation options would start at a price of $300 US dollars and elevate from there. You could easily spend up to $1,000 US dollars for a private resort in Taiwan.
You should also be wary of using Airbnb because it is technically illegal within the country, but that doesn’t stop people from listing their places for rent. The danger with Airbnb is that you could get in trouble with local law enforcement or have issues with an unreliable host.
While getting some rest and relaxation is always important, you’ll also need to eat, and many people are eager to try Taiwanese food. The cuisine in Taiwan has a few different variations with the majority being called Hoklo. But Taiwan is also diverse, and they have a few different cultural influences on their various dishes.
Beef noodle soup is one of the most popular dishes, which has slow braised beef and noodles. Hot pot is also widely popular and is almost a savory version of fondue. A pot will sit in the middle with a strong broth and you can then dip anything in to make for a tasty meal. Taiwanese fried chicken is a big hit in the street markets and is a flavorful version of a classic meal. Finally, scallion pancakes are famous and loved for their flaky texture and delicious taste.
Most food is affordable, if you know where to look. Taiwanese street food, like many Asian countries is the most affordable with dishes usually costing less than $4 US dollars. Restaurants can also be affordable if you stick to local places with prices normally $10 US dollars or under for a dish. Any Western style establishment or touristy restaurant will be more expensive, and you should expect to pay something similar to US prices for a meal.
If you want to drink in Taiwan, you can also do so affordably by drinking local beverages. Local alcoholic drinks will usually cost less than $3 US dollars per drink. However, the more touristy areas could have drinks that range in prices from $5-$10 US dollars. Other popular drinks include bubble tea and coffee, which are also affordable because they are local. These non-alcoholic beverages should also be able to be purchased for less than $3 US dollars.
Overall, Taiwan can be traveled on a backpacker’s budget, if you know where to stay and eat. Some backpackers can live off of $25 US dollars per day, while a more moderate budget would be $50 US dollars per day. However, some people will always spend more. A more comfortable budget would be to spend around or over $100 US dollars per day, while you could spend thousands per day on a luxury vacation.
How to Get Around
How you choose to travel around Taiwan can also affect your overall budget. Most people will look for affordable transportation options, which means using local methods. Taiwan has a high-speed railway, which is a great way to travel and affordable. The tickets for the high-speed train are usually $50 US dollars for a two-hour ride. There is also a normal train, which costs $20-$30 US dollars for a ticket.
Buses are another option to travel around Taiwan and they will be the most affordable way to travel. Most bus tickets will be $16-$26 US dollars and are a reliable way to see more of the country. Within the city, there may also be a local metro or bus available. Localized transportation is more affordable with most tickets costing less than $2 US dollars per ride.
You can also fly, but you should be aware that domestic flights in Taiwan are not as safe as other countries and there have been numerous accidents. While flights are the fastest way to travel, they can be expensive with tickets costing $50-$100 US dollars per flight.
Taxis are another way to travel that can be a better choice than renting a car. Roadways can be a little hectic in Taiwan and most tourists will want to avoid car rentals. But when you’ve got a lot of luggage and need to get to your hotel, a taxi is the best option. Most taxi rides from the airport to your hotel will be about $30 US dollars. Shorter taxi rides have a base fare of $3 US dollars, which then increases by $0.17 US cents. Most short rides will be less than $7 US dollars.
Finally, walking is a great way to explore concentrated parts of Taiwan and its free. Tourists are safe to walk around, and you can experience more local life. However, you should still always be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking alone at night for your safety.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Taiwan has a lot of cities that tourists can visit, but here we will give an overview of which ones are the most popular amongst foreign travelers.
Most famous for the Taipai 101 tower that stands out against the skyline, the capital of Taipai is an energetic city that has endless entertainment for its visitors. While it is the central hub for all of Taiwan, Taipai is also popular with the arts and culture. The streets are a mix of old and new, where you can experience fine dining, shopping, and top attractions. The Hsing Tian Kong temple is a big hit amongst tourists and the zoo is also famous. The National Palace Museum is also a great place to learn more about Taiwan.
Once the capital of Imperial Taiwan, Tainan is now famous for the Anping District, which regularly draws in tourists and locals. The district is the heart of Tainan and has a lot of historic sites like temples and Fort Zeelandia. The city is also close by to Taijian National Park, which is a big hit with the nature lovers.
Lukang is filled with amazing architecture with well-preserved temples that are over 200 years old. The bright colors of the temples draw in tourists, while the local cuisine stops them from leaving. The area is also famous for its local cuisine and you can try dishes like ox tongue cakes.
The hot springs of Wulai are famous for being the place to go to relax and bask in a stunning landscape. The local Atayal people are also very welcoming and are happy to offer their indigenous art and crafts for sale. The nearby mountains also make the perfect setting for plenty of thrilling outdoor activities.
The large statue of Buddha is what makes Kaohsiung famous, but it is also an important hub for the countries maritime and industrial businesses. The local area is also diverse with a mix of cultures coming together to form a community. The city also has a more temperate climate, which means that you really can’t find a bad time to stop by for a visit.
Hualien is the town closest to the Taroko Gorge, which is Taiwan’s gem. The gorge is abosutely stunning and has a vibrant blue river running through its core. With amazing marble walls and lush greenery, you’ll be eager to snap a few photos. But the town of Hualien is also popular for the Dong Da Men market with plenty of local dishes.
Taiwan’s famous Rainbow Military Dependent’s Village is located in Taichung, as well as the original Chun Shui Teahouse, who made bubble tea. Other popular places in the area incude the Miyaharu and pinapple tart store. With a picturesque scenery, Taichung is also just a beautiful place to visit.
Points of Interest
While cities are filled with points of interest, there are also many places that stand out on their own as popular tourist attractions in Taiwan.
These islands are located between mainland China and Taiwan and they were once the battleground between Nationalists and Communists. Now, the area has turned into a peaceful place to visit with beautiful temples and the Kinmen National Park.
Kenting National Park
Often called Taiwan’s oldest national park, the Kenting National Park has idyllic views, clean beaches, and a warm climate. There’s a lot to explore in the park from the wildlife to the Eluanbi Lighthouse. The Spring Scream Festival is also a popular music attraction that draws in thousands of tourists each year.
Alishan National Scenic Area
With 25 mountains, it’s safe to say that the Alishan National Scenic Area will make you audibly gasp. The trails will lead you to the best viewpoints, where you can watch the fog roll in over the landscape. The Alishan Forest Railway is a popular activity that is also an easy way to explore more of the area.
Sun Moon Lake
Now a resort destination, the Sun Moon Lake is Taiwan’s largest body of water. The area has become increasingly popular with local and foreign tourists who flock to the hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops that sit on the shore. There are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained and you can also get out on a lake with a calm boat ride.
Yushan National Park
The unique rock formations of Yushan National Park make it one of the most beautiful in Taiwan. The tall peaks of bare rock are covered in lush green fauna, which only adds to the mysterious beauty.
Get Out and Go
While Taiwan may find itself trapped between identities with China, the island can safely say that they are one of the most beautiful in all of China. The breathtaking landscape is enough to draw people in, but history buffs will also be interested to see an ancient world preserved by culture, architecture, and tradition. In Taiwan, you can experience pure Chinese culture.