I'm off to Taiwan. Any advice, tips, etc.

Apparently I’m off to Taiwan for a couple of months. I say apparently because it’s all very short notice. The person who was supposed to go has been called back to India at short notice so it. It’s basically a training internship and a chance to get some of our samples analysed for free so we’ve got to send someone. I was offered it at the beginning of the year and said I didn’t want to go, but now I’m back at the top of the list. So I’m off as pretty much as soon as the paperwork is processed, which coudl be next week and certainly by the end of the month…

So having never been to Taiwan and with limited time to do the research, anyone have any advice, tips, amusing stories?

Things to do? I’m going to be working mostly, but I’ll have time off so is there anything that I should do? Any worthwhile markets? Touristy places, non touristy places?

Things not to do? I speak one language (poorly:D), but I’ll have the benefits of co-workers showing me around. Accomodation and meals are provided but heck, if I’m going to be missing Christmas I want to look around a bit. How safe/easy is it for tourists to travel alone? How about money? Is cash required or can I get by of my Visa. I usually get the local equivalent of ~$50 in cash when travelling and do everything on Visa where possible. Possible? Sensible?

What’s the weather like over the New Years period? I’m currently back in Oz and the temperature seems to be comparable ATM, but how low can I expect things to get? I’m a tropical animal with low cold tolerance. Do I take my tropical winter clothes or my temperate winter clothes?

Anything else I should know?

Give me the benefit of your wisdom. Regale me with tails of your travels. Entertain me with your exploits. Dispel my ignorance.

I lived there for almost two decades, but I don’t remember much of it. I’ll start the discussion, but please feel free to correct me whenever I’m wrong :slight_smile:

First, where in Taiwan are you going? The big cities, like Taipei, are going to give you a vastly different experience from the countryside. My post mainly concerns city life.

Credit cards: You definitely want to carry some cash… I’d say the equivalent of $30-$50 every time you head out just for food and transportation. There are a lot of smaller, independent shops there that typically don’t take cards at all. On the other hand, if you’re only going to be hanging around big retail stores, malls, and other highly-corporate areas, Visa should be fine.

I don’t know if taxis take plastic. Most bars will.

Weather: It’s a tropical country. I got along fine with jeans and t-shirt most of the time, with the addition of a light jacket on rare occasions. Aside from the rain, the non-summer seasons are actually somewhat cool and comfortable. You can check weather.com for a month-long forecast if you want more precise numbers.

Language: Many people will have a very rudimentary grasp of English – and I mean very – consisting of isolated words here and there. A lot of street signs will be bilingual (Chinese/English), but due to the complicated translation system, few locals will be able to help you if you only give them the English name. If you’re walking on foot and reading the signs for yourself, however, they may prove helpful… though be warned that they’re not always consistent. It’s probably safer to memorize landmarks or public transportation routes (the bus and metro system are great ways to get around).

What to do: Now this is the hard (and fun!) part. What are your interests? The typical touristy things in Taipei are a bunch of recently-developed retail areas consisting of big shopping malls surrounded by movie theaters and miscellaneous stores; a variety of “night markets” (basically street markets selling food and odds and ends, mainly at night); a few museums ranging from art to science to history; a few outdoor areas if you like jungle/tropical forest terrain; rivers and beaches; public monuments/parks dedicated to the country’s past leaders; stuff like that.

Safety: Are you a guy? You should be fine. I’ve traveled alone at night many, many times with nary a problem. Streets are typically well-lit and violent crime is generally not an issue.

Misc: One word of advice: If you are going to Taipei, ditch the car. Rent a bike or just walk and use the public transportation. It’s a very tightly-packed metropolitan place and most things can be done on-foot (indeed, parking is a real b*tch in most places).

Hmm… that’s all for now.

At this stage all I know about where I’m going is “Shanhua, Tainan”. Mean anything to you?

I’m male, 30s, good shape, so it sound like safety shouldn’t be a major issue.

As for my interests, that depends. I’m an ecologist by profession, so I’m interested in the natury type stuff, but my interest are pretty broad and I like to see some of the local human wildlife when I travel.

Hey, does Taiwan have the Hong Kong type markets where you can pick up bad knock offs as souvenirs for the folks back home?

Lovely place to visit. Here’s an old thread with some good posts on on this topic.

If you find yourself in Taipei, the street markets are loads of fun.

I’ve been a couple of times and really enjoyed it.

Yes, there are plenty of markets with cheap goods. They’re trying to cut down on copyright infringement, but you can still find knock-offs.

The food in upper scale restaurants and hotels is superb. I don’t recommend eating anything from the road-side vendors. There doesn’t appear to be any health regulations on what they serve or how they prepare it. For example, you can pick out your own live snake and have it fried up before your eyes. I’m the type of person who will try just about anything, but the snakes were off my list, as was stinky tofu. This is perhaps the worst smelling substance I have ever encountered. In the cities, the sewer system is not exactly what you would consider Western. You can smell sewage quite often, but stinky tofu to me, actually smelled worse than the open sewers!

The people are very friendly. The climate is fantastic. I’ve been there in early and late fall and shorts and a t-shirt were all I needed, during non-business hours of course. Business dress is casual, pretty much what you’d expect in North America.

The National Museum in Taipei is a must see. Museums here might have artifacts dating back a few centuries. The National museum has items dating back a few millennium!

If I was single I would love to live there for a period. It has a very familiar western feel to it, with 7/11 stores and pretty much everything else you’d expect. BTW the 7/11 stores have this delicacy in a crock pot on the front counter.

The middle class is doing OK, but there are a lot of poor families living and sleeping in single room shacks. I had no problem walking around at night or going to night clubs, bars, pubs, etc. If you need to get a taxi then have the hotel clerk write your destination on a card. The taxi drivers do not speak English.

You’ll love it.

My experience with Taiwan is based on one business trip 13 years ago that lasted for 3 days, so take it for what it’s worth.

Another vote for the National Palace Museum – it’s the most astonishing museum I’ve ever ever seen. The museum café also has the most delicious food, practically worth a visit in itself, if the 5,000 year old carved jade figures don’t pull you in.

I recall the people as friendly, the traffic as dangerous, and the air as polluted (in Taipei). It was the most foreign-feeling place I had ever been, mostly because I couldn’t read anything around me.

I was actually in Tainan, but just for the day, so I don’t think I can add anything helpful about it.

Have fun!

The things in the crock pot at the front counter are tea eggs, i.e., hard boiled eggs steeped in tea. In 20 years going back and forth to Taiwan, I’ve never seen the abomination you linked to, nor do I want to.

Have to agree with what someone said about the stinky tofu, however. First time I smelled it I would have sworn someone was frying dog shit.

I’ll revisit this thread soon to share some ideas, but in the meantime you might want to check out this board: Forumosa.com. A lot of long-time expatriates there, and you can learn a lot by lurking. You could try asking denizens some questions yourself, but be warned, they’re a bunch of cheeky monkeys for the most part.

I’ve been to Taipei on looong layovers a few times (thanks, China Airlines!) so am intimately familiar with the airport. I did take the free bus tour of the city once, which was nice. Sadly, I learned too late that Taipei Zoo has pangolins, aka the coolest animals ever - so if/when I’m back there, I know exactly my first destination.

I hear the Chinese food there is quite good.

My wife’s Taiwanese so I’ve visited a few times, the last time for nearly a month last December. I’ve mainly been in Taipei but have been down the west coast a couple times and the east coast once. Tainan is about 3/4 of the way down the west coast. I’ve only been there a couple times and can’t remember the specifics. A couple notes:

  • I concur with the comments on stinky tofu, my wife loves it but it’s the one food I can’t even venture to get near and I’m quite adventurous food-wise.

  • Check out both morning and night markets, every city has them. You can try some interesting foods there and get the souvenir type stuff. Also make sure you check out some fish markets.

  • Taipei actually isn’t too far away, a few hour drive and they also opened up a high speed rail less than 2 years ago that will take you there in about an hour or so and then take the metro around Taipei. I wouldn’t try driving around yourself even on scooters unless you’re an extreme risk-taker.

  • I really enjoyed the Taipei zoo and its worth going to Taipei 101. As mentioned the National Palace Museum is a must. I also really enjoy the architecture of any of the Tao or Buddhist temples.

  • Go buy some betel nuts from one of the highway stands not the ones in the city.

Is the interior of interest-is there any virgin rainforest left/

Well, sure, but over there they just call it – food.

Oh, hey. Learn to use chopsticks. It really isn’t that difficult and you will endear yourself to the locals if you can manage without western cutlery.

True story: I was there on business with a colleague. We went to lunch with a couple of business suppliers from Taiwan. They ordered a spicy baby octopus dish as an appetizer - and to this day I think they did it on purpose to test our mettle - and not only did we freakin’ love it, we were able to eat it with chopsticks. Huge brownie points.

If you’re staying for any length of time the interior is an absolute must! It’s really a gorgeous island, and sadly most travellers only come away with an impression of Taipei.

At the higher elevations, though, its not really tropical at all. A lot of mountains and pine trees; I always figured the Pacific Northwest must look something like that.