As full time travellers for the last 6 years, we’re often asked about our favorite spots. Though impossible to choose, we can usually name our current highlights, and Taiwan happens to be one of them. Having just returned for a short visit, the sweet little Asian island, with it’s ideal mixture of organized chaos and tranquility, is on our minds once again.
You’ll probably love Taiwan if…
*You’re a hipster type who loves atmospheric alleyways, cool cafes, tea shops and indie music
*You’re a creative person who appreciates the unique, artisan or handmade.
*You’re an active person whose looking to bike, hike and explore incredible landscapes
*You’re a foodie wanting to try Chinese cuisines from all regions of mainland China, plus unique Taiwanese food along with plenty of Korean and Japanese dishes.
It has some of the best of Asian culture in a small, approachable package.
Temples, vibrant Asian customs & traditions, rich history, and loads of cool museums all on one easily accessible island. Taiwan, at just shy of 36,000 square meters, is about 4 times smaller than Illinois, and 11 times smaller than California. With public transportation light years ahead of anything found in the USA, it’s an incredibly fun, cheap and easy place to explore. You can get from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the far south in just over 2 hours by high speed train.
In other words, if your time is limited, you can cover some major ground without wearing yourself out.
In addition to the inexpensive MRT (the countrywide metro/train system), you’ll find high speed rail, trains, cheap taxis, Uber and a widespread bike sharing program. Public transportation is simple to use even if you don’t speak the language. For longer stays you might opt to rent a scooter so you can explore the countryside deeper (we did).
For history and nostalgia check out Tainan. For the super modern and high tech, check out Kaohsiung. Visit Juifen to feel like you’ve been transported back in time to when Taiwan was ruled by the Japanese. Nature lovers will want to base themselves in Hualien. For those who enjoy rural scenic places a train trip through Eastern Taiwan is hard to beat. And everyone should budget some time in dynamic Taipei.
2. It has friendly locals
Visitors will find the Taiwanese people open, polite and welcoming. Many speak some English and most signs are written in Chinese and English. Google Translate makes reading untranslated Chinese signs or menus super easy. Download the simple Chinese translation from Google Translate so you can use the camera feature. Simply point the camera at the Chinese characters and see a fast translation. The absence of touts and aggressive salespeople made it a refreshing change of pace from some of the other destinations we’ve experienced.
3. It has a creative energy, with growth and innovation worth seeing
Every major city has at least one creative industrial park. These are former warehouses or factories that have been renovated and turned into creative spaces; housing galleries, unique cafes, artisan shops, art exhibits, indie cinemas and more. These are really fun spots to wander and get inspired.
Made in Taiwan:
The entire country seems to proudly embrace the “Made in Taiwan” label; tea houses, hipster coffee shops and craft beer halls; handmade local pastries and sweets, local honeys and jams, oils & vinegars, locally grown tea; and “T-beauty” products (compare to K-beauty). Personally, I enjoyed the craft markets that seem to pop up all over the island selling unique and beautiful handmade bags, jewelry, clothing. Honestly, this country is such a joy to shop in, or just to browse.
Cool, innovative architecture is popping up all over the island. Highlights include Taipei 101, The Kaohsuing & Beitou Public Libraries, The Dadong Culture Center, The World Games Stadium, and one of my favorites the eco-friendly Tao Zhu Yin Yuan Tower.
4. It has incredible nature
With lush green mountains, and rice paddies to epic cliffsides, winding rivers, islands and dramatic gorges–you get a lot of bang for your buck if you’re interested in exploring Taiwan’s natural wonders.
Hike in one of Taiwan’s 9 official national parks (I mean 9 National Parks in a space 11 times smaller than California–think about that!). Hardcore hikers should check out Yushan National Park which has 30 peaks over 3,000 meters. Snorkel or scuba the 47 different dive sites in Kenting National Park. Catch a stunning sunrise at famous Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan’s largest freshwater lake. And, our personal favorite, explore the gorges and valleys of epic Taroko National Park.
Never far from nature:
Taiwan is easily one of the most pedestrian friendly places we’ve been. Every city has extensive biking and walking paths, and sprawling city parks. Nature is never very far. We rented a scooter while living in Hualien and every off day we had we’d hop on and explore a new incredibly beautiful spot–mountain hiking trails, waterfalls, trips to Taroko Gorge. One of our favorite outdoor activities in Taiwan was river tracing, in which we were given special shoes so we could walk through mountain streams and climb up waterfalls. Incredible! Even in Taipei you can take the city MRT to natural hot springs, tea farms, or to mountain hiking trails.
Taiwan boasts a ridiculous number of hot springs throughout the island. The Hualien area alone has 20 different wild hot springs and hot spring resorts. The Beitou District near Taipei is famous for it’s hot springs and Japanese style resorts–catering to any budget.
Being an island, it’s not really surprising that there are some great beaches. Head south to Kenting for the best sandy beaches. We found some stunning rocky beaches near Hualien too; though the current can make it too rough to swim certain times of the year. Otherwise the islands around Taiwan, which we did not have time to explore, are said to also have great beaches. We prefered cooling off in the many crystal clear, spring fed mountain rivers and streams
(1) Taipei City trail in Bitan Scenic Area. (2) Swimming in a mountain stream near Hualien. (3) On one of the trails in Taroko National Park. (4) Resting while on a bike ride in Chishang Township. (5) Riding a bike down a pedestrian only road also in Chishang. (6) One of many well paved trails, this one was in the mountains near Kaohsiung.
5. It’s yummy…
One word: dumplings. Steamy, savory, mouthfuls of joy. We were regulars at our neighborhood dumpling restaurants. Even beyond dumplings, Taiwan has some incredible food. Taiwan is a country full of foodies and this makes it especially fun if you are too. I could easily write an entire post on this topic so I’ll try to keep this short. Taiwan is a great place to sample traditional Chinese food from all regions of mainland China, while also trying foods that are unique to only Taiwan. It’s not hard to find a good meal anywhere thanks to the Taiwanese love of food courts, and night markets; serving everything from fresh wholesome set meals and hearty noodles soups to fried snacks and desserts. I found the food hygiene to be better than in much of Southeast Asia.
Michelin made a stop in Taipei in 2018 and handed out some honors–one restaurant earned 3 stars, two earned 2 stars and 17 earned one star, while 36 landed on the Bib Gourmand list (10 of which can be found for dirt cheap in night markets).
Our obsessions: dumplings of all kinds, crispy pork buns, mochi treats and meals from the cafeteria style lunch stalls. If you’re vegetarian, you may consider planning a special trip to Taiwan just to eat–there are some incredible vegetarian buffets.
(1) Fried buns filled with mushrooms and glass noodles or pork and cabbage. (2) Aboriginal style sliced pork (3) Roadside fresh oysters with onions, garlic and chilli. (4) Economical lunch of grilled chicken, sauteed greens, mushrooms and tofu, served over rice-$3.
6. It’s affordable
If you’re coming from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, Taiwan will not seem super cheap. If you’re coming from anywhere else Taiwan will seem very reasonably priced. We feel Taiwan is adjustable to just about any budget.
$800 USD/month- Price of a decent quality one bedroom apartment. You can find small studios for much less.
$30-50/night - Price of a decent mid-range hotel
$3-$6/pp/meal - Lunch at a local restaurant
$.50-$ - Ave per ride on MRT or city bus; cheaper when you buy an EasyCard
$2-5 - taxi in Taipei
$100/months - Scooter rental was around $100/month.
$40 USD - High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung. IE problably the most you would spend on a train.
Free- Price to enter Taroko National Park
7. It’s safe.
Both violent crime and petty crime in Taiwan is quite low by world standards. The most dangerous thing about Taiwan by far is the earth itself–ie natural disasters. You’re more likely to encounter typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, etc., than you are to be involved in a violent crime. Mugging and pickpocketing is less common than elsewhere, though do mind your bags when in crowded touristy places like night markets. Apparently most of the seedy activity happens around places that are made to look like Barber Shops, so if you happen to need a cut, look for a busy place. It’s a great country to travel as a solo female, less risky than in the US or mainland Europe. (Source)