Taiwan is a whole continent on an island - one seriously green island! Underrated by Western travellers, but as we discovered, those that make it here are in for a real treat. Towering sea cliffs, marble-walled gorges, and tropical forests are just the start of your journey with the blue Pacific on one side and green volcanic arcs on the other. It is no secret why the old name of Taiwan, Formosa, comes from the Portuguese Ilha Formosa for "beautiful island" was chosen. From the bustling metropolitan city of Taipei to the incredible beauty of nature at Yangmingshan National Park and Taroko National Park and even surfing at the beaches of Kenting National Park, you are sure to enjoy your visit to Taiwan. Top it off with sensational food, traditional festivals, and exuberant temples and you might just think this is the best of all of Asia on one tiny island.
We spent just over a month exploring the north and northeast regions of Taiwan during April and May 2019. As the rainy season was approaching early, we postponed venturing south, but will definitely be back to explore more of this wonderful country.
Asia - East
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TAIWAN QUICK FACTS
- Currency: New Taiwan Dollar (NT$) - Current conversion rate here.
- Electricity: 110V AC electricity. Power outlets are both flat two-prong sockets (type A) and flat three-prong sockets (type B) which will also accept type A plugs. Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets.
- Safety: Most parts of Taiwan are incredibly safe to travel in. Even petty crime rates are fairly low, but pick-pocketing and bag-snatching do occur, especially in locations frequented by tourists, so keep your belongings close. Taiwan does have a high risk of earthquakes. There are also risks of typhoons, especially between July to November, and tourists are recommended to refrain from visiting the mountains during these periods. Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: The official language of Taiwan is Taiwanese Mandarin, which is a variety of Mandarin Chinese. However, the native language of about 70% of the population is Taiwanese Hokkien. Very little English is understood or spoken, particularly outside of the main tourist areas, so it can be a bit of a challenge to get by in most of Taiwan. Be sure to have Google Translate at hand!
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TAIWAN PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
1 January, Republic Day/New Year’s Day
3 January, Bank Holiday*
28 February, Peace Memorial Day
4 April, Children’s Day
1 July, Bank Holiday*
10 October, National Day (Double Tenth Day)
Also, Chinese New Year, Tomb Sweeping Day (Qing Ming), Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. (* Check for actual date of observance.)
FESTIVALS IN TAIWAN
- Chinese New Year: This is the most important festival of the year and many shops and restaurants remain closed for three days. The best time for visiting and experiencing the atmosphere are the days leading up to the festival as well as the fourth to fifteenth days after when you can enjoy listening to Taiwanese New Year songs.
- Ching Ming Festival: Also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day (4 / 5 April), Taiwanese will pay respects at their ancestors' graves.
- Buddha's Birthday: Colorful but simple ceremonies are held at Buddhist monasteries that generally consist of washing a statue of the Buddha. Celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month of the lunar calendar (April / May).
- Dragon Boat Festival: 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. Dragon boat racing takes place and rice dumplings are traditionally eaten on this 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar (May / June).
- Hungry Ghost Festival: This festival runs throughout the 7th month of the Chinese calendar (August). It is believed that the gates of heaven and hell open during this period allowing hungry ghosts to roam freely in the living world. In order to appease the ghosts and prevent misfortune, many Taoists and Buddhists will offer food and burn joss paper. Traditional Chinese performances such as opera and puppet shows are also held to appease these wandering spirits.
- Mid-Autumn / Moon Festival: Legend has it that on this day, Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality, fled to the moon and it is believed that the moon shines brightest on this day. The festival is celebrated with many lanterns which are quite a beautiful sight. Mooncakes are also eaten on this day so be sure to try some. Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (Sept / Oct).
BEST TIME TO VISIT TAIWAN
The best time to visit Taiwan is during spring, from April to June, and during fall, from September to November. The weather is warm and pleasant during spring, and it is the shoulder season for tourism which means it’s not that busy.
Spring is a beautiful season in Taiwan as the colours bloom in full force. For those who love to hike, this is the best time to visit Taroko National Park, Yangmingshan National Park, the Alishan National Scenic Area, and the Elephant Mountain. The Dragon Boat Festival also happens in May / June. The fall season sees the entire country beginning to cool down and despite the occasional shower, there is much less rain during this period. The southern part of the country remains warm, while the north begins to cool down. This is a great time to visit south and east Taiwan, especially Taroko National Park, Sun Moon Lake, Alishan National Scenic Area, or the Yushan (Jade Mountain). September celebrates the Birthday of Confucius, and October the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Towards the end of May and June, the rainfall starts increasing in frequency.
Peak tourist season is considered to be from July to August but it can be incredibly hot and humid during these months, and hotel rates are also higher. Summer arrives towards the end of June and goes on till August. The temperatures go up quite a bit, and the rainfall also increases. The weather in Taiwan over these months will be hot and humid, with June being the rainiest month. The weather is slightly more bearable in the northern part of the country. Typhoons are also common during this season, so be sure you check the weather forecast before travelling.
While December to March is considered both winter and the low tourist season, this is when to visit Taiwan if you want to travel on a budget, as there will be great discounts all over the country. Depending on where you are, it may be rather wet though. December is the coldest month in Taiwan and it gets rather chilly in the north, but the temperature is still mild compared to European winters. The biggest attraction of this season is the hot springs, in particular, Beitou. There are also amazing mountain retreats at Yangmingshan National Park. The southern beaches will be significantly warmer and drier than the north. The Chinese New Year (December - January) is a wonderful celebration to experience all across the country.
TAIWAN WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Tropical; Marine; Rainy Season During Southwest Monsoon (June To August); Persistent And Extensive Cloudiness All Year
TAIWAN TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN TAIWAN
HIKING & CYCLING IN TAIWAN
Taiwan has some of the most spectacular outdoor activities in the world, varing from stunning coastal walks to high mountain peaks. The best time for hiking is March to May and October to December when the weather is mild and it's not too wet. But always be prepared for some rain!
BEACH OPTIONS IN TAIWAN
Taiwan may not have the best known beaches of the Asia, but there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and warm sea water. Taiwan's beaches are varied, with powdery white sand, black sand and even coral and stone beaches. Just note that swimming is not allowed at all beaches due to strong currents.
SURFING IN TAIWAN
Although not a world class surf destination, Taiwan has all year round surf, with two distinct surf seasons: Winter (October to March) along the east coast and Summer (April to September) along the south coast.
KITESURF IN TAIWAN
Taiwan has some great strong and consistent winds which blow from September all the way through to May. Check out the local conditions and be aware of any typhoon warnings though!
For more details on kite surfing in Taiwan expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN TAIWAN
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
TAIWAN TRAVEL COSTS
Travel in Taiwan is pretty affordable. Somewhat pricier than some areas in Southeast Asia, but still far less than most western countries or nearby Japan. If you’re happy sleeping in a hostel or budget hotel and eating street food, you can easily get by on $30 a day. If you want to splurge on a nicer hotel or a few nice meals, you might want to budget up to $40 or $50 (or more if you’re used to a more western style of travel).
TAIWAN TRAVEL TIPS
Transport from one place to the next is very easy in Taiwan and is quite efficient. There are well established public transport systems across the entire country. We recommend using BookAway or 12Go website to view bus, boat, and train schedules ahead of time. Skyscanner.com or Kiwi.com are handy tools for finding great flight deals
If you want to get an idea of how much we spend travelling see our Budget Report section.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF TAIWAN
Admire the Taipei 101
This beautiful building is synonymous with the city of Taipei. Having held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010 and with its unique form, shaped like a stalk of bamboo emerging from the city, one can clearly understand why Taipei is so proud of this building.
Insider Travel Tip: The lines to the Taipei 101 can get busy which is why we recommend booking your tickets online. Collect your ticket at the self-service ticket machine for convenience.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Free to visit, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is situated within Liberty Square, which also houses the classical-Chinese style National Theatre and National Concert Hall. If you are inside the Memorial Hall on the hour, you can see the changing of the guards.
Visit Taroko Gorge in Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park and Gorge can easily be visited from almost anywhere in Taiwan and are indeed very impressive and should not be missed. You can access the park either by arranged tour, private guide, by public bus or by your own transportation. See our Blog Post on How to See Taroko National Park. Each option has its pros and cons, however, we recommend renting a scooter if you are comfortable doing so. If you’re short on time but want to see the best of Taroko, we recommend this day tour from Taipei.
Visit Hualien & Qixingtan Scenic Area
If you want to escape the big cities and enjoy the beauty of the nature of Taiwan, the relaxed town of Hualien and the incredibly beautiful coastline of the Qixingtan Scenic Area are a must-see.
Sun Moon Lake
At the foothills of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, Sun Moon Lake is surrounded by forested peaks. East of the lake, the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is a theme park with a section devoted to re-created indigenous villages. The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway cable car offers views of the mountains and water.
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at Lotus Lake
Located in a scenic area, on the edge of Lotus Lake, these two pagodas are possibly the most popular attractions in the port city of Kaohsiung. Visitors enter the temple through the dragon’s mouth and exit through the tiger’s mouth and can enjoy a view of the lake from the top of each tower.
Taste The Local Cuisine At A Night Market
A typical night market in Taiwan may sell anything from food to clothing to fortune-telling services. The variety of food on offer can be staggering and you're sure to be surprised by the interesting and unique combinations. We have made a bunch of videos of our experiences at night markets all across Taiwan (see here) - and NEVER left hungry! If you're on the hunt for anything besides food many a bargain can be had, and wherever prices are not displayed, haggling is expected. Discover the best of Taiwan night market food with the help of a local guide
WHAT TO PACK FOR TAIWAN
The biggest thing to remember when packing for Taiwan is that it is going to be hot, humid, and often wet. Bring lightweight, comfortable walking shoes, breathable clothes, and pack a travel umbrella! Not only will you use it for when it rains but it comes in handy to shield yourself from the sun.
Do not forget to pack your mosquito repellent! The humidity of Taiwan brings with it many, many mosquitoes! Although rare, in some areas of Taiwan, it's possible to contract Dengue Fever or Japanese Encephalitis. If you do get bitten, the local “Tiger Balm” (available in all convenience stores) helps to soothe the itch.
While the main cities are used to foreigners and western tourism, if you’ll be travelling in more rural areas you’ll need some form of language translation assistance. We found Google Translate and Samsung Bixby Vision to be very helpful.
The Taiwanese dress fairly conservatively and only more fashionably in the modern cities. A lightweight jacket or sweater is always a good idea, especially when the freezing cold air-conditioning in restaurants and shops feels like winter compared to the heat outside!
If you are not entirely comfortable with chopsticks, you may want to consider packing a travel foldable knife and fork to help you enjoy those large chicken chops!
WHAT TO EAT IN TAIWAN
Taiwanese cuisine is, in essence, Taiwanese but is also greatly influenced by Japanese and Chinese. What makes the cuisine so special is the Taiwanese passion for food, influences from many different countries, and the fact that most cities and towns are famous for a special dish of their own. Taiwan is synonymous with night-market food culture and you will be hard-pressed to not find an amazing meal on every street corner and at attractive prices. All you have to do is find the nearest night-market and you will be in heaven no matter what your preferences. Vegetarians are also better catered for than in most other countries.
Keep an eye out for the following must-try foods:
- Beef Noodles - Often regarded as Taiwan’s national dish and there are many different varieties and variations. Essentially it is a noodle soup with chunks of extremely tender stewed beef and a dash of pickles.
- Oyster Omelette - Made from eggs, oysters, and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum, topped with sweet red sauce. To be honest, we did not enjoy this!
- Taiwan Sausage - Usually made from emulsified pork, this sausage is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and quite sweet in taste. Usually served on a stick or with some garlic.
- Stinky Tofu - Possibly the most famous Taiwanese delicacy, stinky tofu is fermented tofu with a strong odour often likened to rotting garbage. It's usually sold only by outdoor stalls, as the smell would overwhelm most restaurants!
- Pepper Pork Buns - Crunchy, flaky outer dough shell topped with sesame seeds and containing a filling of peppery marinated pork with loads of scallions. It’s cooked in a cylindrical clay oven similar to an Indian tandoori oven and half of the joy of this dish is watching them being made.
- Iron Eggs - These eggs have been stewed repeatedly and then air-dried so that they’re even more flavourful. They are usually vacuum packed and available in most convenience stores.
- Scallion Pancake - This flaky pastry with chopped scallions makes for a delicious snack any time of the day. When served alone, it will often have a sprinkling of white pepper and cinnamon – a very unexpected combination that is absolutely delightful!
- Pineapple Cake - This is a very traditional sweet snack which many people take a box of these home as a gift from Taiwan. One reason why it’s so popular as a gift is because the pineapple is considered an auspicious symbol in Taiwanese, meaning “incoming fortune”. The candied pineapple is contained within a buttery shortbread crust that just melts in your mouth and is surprisingly not overly sweet.
- Peanut Ice Cream Roll - Vanilla ice-cream, fresh coriander, and crushed peanuts are rolled into a very thin pancake making for the most refreshing and delicious, albeit odd combination!
- High Mountain Oolong Tea - Taiwan's specialty High Mountain Oolong teas are fragrant and light.
- Pearl Milk Tea - Aka "bubble tea" or "boba tea", is a milky tea with chewy balls of tapioca added, drunk through an oversized straw. Invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s and a huge Asia-wide craze in the 1990s, it can still be found at nearly every coffee/tea shop.
LGBTQ IN TAIWAN
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Taiwan are regarded as the most progressive in Asia, although there are still some limitations for same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage in Taiwan became legal on 24 May 2019, making Taiwan the first nation in Asia to perform same-sex marriages.
Although there is still some opposition, the majority of Taiwanese are generally LGBTQ accepting. The first Taiwan Pride Parade was held in Taipei in 2003 and by 2019 it was the second-largest LGBT pride in Asia.
WHERE TO STAY IN TAIWAN
From $3 hostels to $100 hotels, Taiwan has a huge variety of accommodation options. Cities like Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung will have the best variety, but will also be more expensive. However, competition can be fierce so if your dates are flexible and you can stay for a longer period there are plenty of bargains. During April 2019 we spent 4 weeks in and around the North & North East of Taiwan and ended up spending an average of $30 per night.
In more rural areas you’re most likely to find simpler accommodations like basic guesthouses.
If you plan to visit Taiwan during peak season or holidays, we would recommend booking your accommodation well in advance. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com or Agoda. No matter where you stay, you’re almost certain to experience the wealth of Taiwan hospitality. It’s an amazing place to visit!
Airbnb Travel Tip: If you prefer to stay in apartments, we recommend Airbnb. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.
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