Taiwan is an island nation situated off the southeast coast of China, between Japan and the Philippines. Taiwan’s southern tip crosses fully into the Tropic of Capricorn, making it officially a tropical island with a mix of tropical and subtropical weather to match, and an average year round temperature being about 70 F (about 22 C). The most popular seasons for our Taiwan tours are usually Spring (about April to June) and Fall (about October to December). Taiwan is also ideal in the winter since the weather is temperate and cool with temperatures averaging around 50 F (10 C), while Summer is typical of tropical regions bringing with it heat, humidity, and monsoons lasting well into September (average temperatures 100 F, 38 C).
Taiwan is roughly one tenth the size of California (only a little larger than Belgium). Despite its small size, the island's mountainous terrain makes it quite challenging to get from one end to the other. The center of the island is dominated by beautiful, but rugged mountains, especially on the eastern side of the island, which can make overland travel quite difficult. The western coast is mostly gentle plains and because of this most of the country's biggest cities, including Tainan and Kaohsiung can be found on the west coast.
Most international travelers to Taiwan will be arriving by plane at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, which is about 30 miles (50km) outside of Taipei. When traveling on your own, the first transportation you will need will be from the airport into the city, and the easiest way to get from the airport into central Taipei is by taxi, with an average cost of between $25-40 USD, or about 800-1300 NT$ (New Taiwan Dollar). When traveling on one of our Taiwan tours, complimentary airport pickup is included.
Taxis are very convenient and prevalent throughout Taipei and most Taiwanese cities. Fares usually start around 70 NT$ (~$2 USD), and increase over time/distance in increments of 5 NT$. A typical ‘getting around town' fare will usually total about 100-200 NT$ ($3-6 USD).
Getting around Taipei is quick and convenient on the city's extensive subway network, called the Taipei Metro. Travelers can purchase individual rides, or purchase full-day or multi-day ride passes as station booths throughout the city. A multi-day pass makes riding the metro much simpler and more accessible for anyone planning to spend many consecutive days in Taipei.
Taiwan's rail system is split into two distinct types: the Taiwan Railway Adminstration (TRA), and the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR). As its name suggests, the Taiwan High Speed Rail system is designed for ‘high speed' trains, and as such uses different tracks and stations than those used by the TRA system.
A THSR train
Since 2007, Taiwan began operating its own bullet train service linking the north to the south. The Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) completely changed transportation on the island as it shortened what used to be a 5-6 hour bus ride to just 1.5 hours. THSR rails and stations serve the entire west coast of Taiwan, traveling down what is called the ‘western corridor’ of the island. Much like the high-speed trains in neighboring Japan, THSR trains travel at speeds up to 186 mph (300kmph), and can whisk passengers from one end of the island to the other in just under 90 minutes. An average THSR fare for a short inter-city trip will be around 40-80 NT$ (about $1-2 USD), while a full-distance trip from Taipei to Zuoying will start around 1800 NT$ ($55 USD). The cost-effectiveness and accessibility of travel using the high-speed rail system in Taiwan is excellent, and we highly recommend taking advantage of it while traveling throughout the island. While traveling on either the ‘Island’ or ‘East Coast’ Taiwan tour or with us, guests have the opportunity to travel across the entire island on THSR, experiencing its highest speeds.
A TRA train
Unlike the high speed rail system, TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration) operates light and heavy rail trains for both passenger and freight transit, along a network of rails that encircles the entire island. Trains on this system have a maximum speed of around 68 mpg (110 kmph), but TRA has plans in place to increase these speeds somewhat over the coming years to improve the throughput effectiveness of existing infrastructure. While the trains do not travel as rapidly as on THSR, there are many more stations and branches of the TRA system, allowing travelers to move between cities with an ease and economy that easily rivals, and often surpasses that of the island's automobile highways, especially in rural areas in the mountainous interior.
A metropolitan city to rival any other in Asia, Taipei offers eager travelers everything from some of the world's most incredible museums to otherworldly night markets to ornately-decorated temples and shrines dedicated to hundreds of ancient gods. Any city as large and diverse as Taipei is worthy of many (many) pages in any guidebook, but for the sake of brevity, here are a few of our favorite attractions inside downtown Taipei, none more than about a 5-10 minute walk from a metro station.
Taiwan is famous for its magical and sprawling night markets, where hundreds of vendors sell anything from fried foods to clothing and electronics. Taipei is a large city, and has dozens of night markets in operation on any given night, so there are always a variety to choose from. Some of the most popular markets in Taipei include the Tainan Flowers Night Market, famous for its historical sites, and Shilin Night Market, the largest and best known night market favored for its central location in Taipei. If you're interested in experiencing some night markets in Taipei, be aware that they all keep different schedules and may not be open every night, so do your research and plan ahead to ensure the best experience!
Din Tai Fung is a world-renowned Taiwanese restaurant chain, with locations across Taiwan as well as in Los Angeles and Seattle, famous for their special soup dumplings, called Xiao Long Bao. All of Din Tai Fung's locations offer excellent authentic Taiwanese fare, but the opportunity to experience the original location in the heart of Taipei is one that simply can't be missed!
This street is famous for its excellent variety of restaurants, food stalls, and other culinary diversions. At one end of the street is the famous aforementioned original Din Tai Fung location, and at the other is an immortal mango shaved ice stand-- though its name and owners have changed many times over the years it is still one of the best places in Taipei for travelers craving some Taiwanese shaved ice.
Since 2004, Taipei's skyline has been graced with a towering, gleaming, record-shattering monument to Taiwan's continuing evolution and growth. For a glorious moment in human history between 2004 and 2010, Taipei 101 held the title of the tallest human-made structure on earth, beating out the previous record holder (The Petronas Towers, 451.9 meters) by 57.3 meters, reaching a total height of 509.2 meters. Such a monument may be grand to behold from the outside, but its inside is a technical marvel unto itself. Taiwan is, after all, an island, situated in a highly geologically-active area of the world-- torrential rains, blasting winds, and earth-shattering earthquakes are simply a way of life in this part of the world. Taipei 101 was designed with all these considerations in mind-- with glass windows specially-designed to withstand the strongest typhoon winds and a massive (literally) spherical weight near its top, called the ‘tuned mass damper', intended to help the tower keep its composure when the world around it goes a bit wobbly.
Taipei 101's steel mass damper weighs 728 tons
This 64 acre plot of land in the center of Taipei is often called ‘Taipei's Lungs', as it was constructed during the rapid urbanization of the city to afford its residents an opportunity for some respite from the bustle of city like. Much like central park in New York City, Da'an Forest Park is home to miles of walking and biking paths, streams and ponds, and a large variety of wildlife. When the weather is suitable, this can be the perfect for a picnic or even just a bit of people-watching.
A so called ‘morning market', something like a cross between a supermarket and a traditional wet market-- a great spot to mingle with locals and try all kinds of delicious and affordable treats not normally available outside of Taiwan. There are lots of vendors inside, selling all different kinds of food items-- we recommend trying the wax apples, a Taiwanese speciality!
Officially opened in 1980, 5 years after the death of Chiang Kai-Shek, this national monument stands as a memorial to the revolutionary general in the center of a large park-like campus. As it is a memorial and a national monument, much of the architectural detail in this structure is symbolic of the general (such as the 89 steps on the front staircase, equal to his age at time of death), or the octagonal roof (the number 8 has traditional symbolism in many asian cultures as representing good fortune).
Built in 1738 by settlers from nearby Fujian province in China, Longshan Temple is the largest religious structure in Taipei. For hundreds of years, this temple has been used as a place of worship and spiritual activities related to traditional Chinese folk religious practices. The best times of day for interested travelers to stop at Longshan temple are in the early morning, about 6am to 8am, and in the early afternoon, about 5pm-- at these times it is possible to see groups of people joined in religious observances such as ritual chanting.
It may look a bit like shredded cheese but trust us, its a lot better
Taiwanese shaved ice is a frozen treat that is the ideal way to beat the heat of Taiwan's summer-- but equally worth enjoying at any time of year! Sometimes called shaved snow rather than shaved ice, this confection is composed of thinly-shaved pieces of a frozen mixture containing milk, sugar, water, and any manner of flavorings-- albeit in widely varying proportions! No two shaved ice shops do it the same way, which makes each of them a unique delight! The most popular shaved ice chain in Taiwan is undoubtedly Ice Monster. Due to its popularity, the Taipei location is often crowded with eager sweets enthusiasts but if your sweet tooth can manage some patience, it will be rewarded.
Jiufen is a historic mining town. Home to antique architecture, narrow alleyways, winding staircases, countless temples, and sprawling, magical night markets, Jiufen's nostalgic charm offers the perfect inspiration for artists. The city's night markets served as a model for scenes from the 2001 Academy Award-winning Studio Ghibli animated film, Spirited Away.
These red lanterns can be seen hanging all throughout the streets of Jiufen, and can be seen here in a still frame from the 2001 film 'Spirited Away'
One of Taiwan's largest and most incredible national parks, it's name is a Japanese transliteration of the original indigenous name; ‘Truku', meaning ‘human being' in the Truku indigenous language. Situated on the more rural east coast of the island, Taroko National Park comprises over 200,000 acres of breathtaking natural beauty. The park is enormous and has miles of beautiful hiking trails, with many sites that are worth a visit-- a few of our favorites are the eponymous Taroko Gorge, the Tunnel of Nine Turns, Swallow Grotto, and the Eternal Spring Shrine.
Initially established in 1624 by Dutch colonists, Tainan is one of Taiwan's oldest cities. Tainan was established by the Dutch East India Company to be the stronghold of their economic power in the region, constructing a fortress at its center called Fort Zeelandia. Over the subsequent centuries control of this city and its fortifications shifted between several different groups, being held at times by the Dutch, the Japanese, the Qing Chinese, and the Republic of China. Tainan's reputation for cyclical death and rebirth has earned it the nickname ‘The Phoenix City', and today the city's official logo is a stylized phoenix. Along with the ruins of the nearly 400-year-old Fort Zeelandia, Tainan is home to several world-class museums and universities.
Tainan was one of the first cities in Taiwan. The city was also the first capital, and the center of politics and economy for about 300 years. From this history, an ancient atmosphere has emerged with the most abundant collection of historical buildings & national treasures in all of Taiwan.
Hidden in the mountains, Sun Moon Lake is Taiwan's biggest freshwater lake and also a popular honeymoon destination. The lake surrounds Lalu island. The east side of the lake resembles the sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the lake's name: Sun Moon Lake. The area surrounding the lake has many trails for walking, hiking and biking.
The East Rift Valley is long and narrow with expansive greenery, and framed by the north-south Central Mountain Range and the Coastal Mountain Range. The area is traditionally home to many aboriginal people as well. The area was made famous by an EVA Airways commercial and the road that cuts through the valley is called Paradise Road. To help our Taiwan tour guests enjoy the area to its fullest, we include time for biking along the road, allowing full immersion in the area.
Taiwanese cuisine, like much of the rest of Taiwanese culture, has been greatly influenced by a wide variety of sources. Much of the foundation of Taiwanese cuisine comes from southern China, but also has its own traditional dishes as represented by the people of Hoklo ethnicity along with Hakka and native aborigines. Combined with strong Japanese influences from when Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the cuisine today is incredibly diverse and delicious!
The core of Taiwan's secret to good food is its native supply of high quality ingredients. Along with delicious produce, Taiwan is also known for its abundant supply of fruits such as wax apples, guava, mango, starfruit and papayas. Common ingredients of Taiwanese dishes are seafood, pork, chicken, soy and rice. Much like in Japan where grazing land to raise cattle is sparse, beef is a relatively expensive and uncommon ingredient in Taiwanese cuisine. In fact, many of the elderly generation in Taiwan refrain from eating beef altogether, due to Taiwanese Buddhist religious beliefs. Today, however, the Taiwanese beef noodle soup is one of the most popular dishes on the island, and one of the most famous Taiwanese dishes prepared abroad.
Some say snacks in Taiwan—especially ‘xiaochi' (literally “little eats”) which has a big international reputation—are more representative and more popular than local main dishes since they are a great way of sampling many different flavors. Dishes are often merged with Min, Yue and Hakka cooking styles which are full of local products and a light and fresh taste. As a result, individual cities have their own local specialties for which they are known, and it's common for locals to travel to another city just to taste the cuisine before returning home. The best known snacks of Taiwan are found in their night markets where street vendors sell a vast array of different foods and other products like clothing. Popular night market dishes include wheel cake, stinky tofu, Taiwanese sausages or meatball, popcorn chicken and sweet corn.
Taiwan's culinary tradition is also built upon that of the island's indigenous peoples. These dishes are generally distinguishable from other, more Chinese or Japanese-influenced dishes and are based on traditional hunter-gatherer cuisine. Many indigenous dishes make prominent use of native foods such as taro root, sweet potato, millet, wild greens, and game meats such as deer, boar, rat and squirrel.
Etiquette in Taiwan is based on formality. Greetings are formal and the oldest person in a group is always greeted first-- looking towards the ground as a sign of respect when greeting someone is a common practice. Shaking hands is a common greeting. May greetings also include the rhetorical question “Have you eaten?” Upon an initial introduction to someone someone, it is very important to address them by their academic, professional, or honorific title and then their surname.
When dining, Taiwanese prefer to entertain in public places such as teahouses or restaurants rather than in their homes, especially with foreigners. Invitations to someone's home would generally come only after one has developed a relationship, and it should be considered a great honor.
As in many places, the importance of interpersonal relationships is well-understood in Taiwan, where friendliness and courtesy are highly-valued traits. A widespread sentiment in Taiwanese culture is that one cannot accomplish anything alone, and therefore everyone requires the cooperation and help of others. Exchanging small gifts, business cards or cigarettes is a common easy and quick way to establish a personal connection. Friendship comes with the understanding that friends help each other in times of need, and exchanging favors is something of an expectation. While the overall culture is very friendly and welcoming, status and authority as based on age, education, occupation, and gender are still of great importance in Taiwan.
The Taiwanese people have been traders for a long time. In the pre-colonial era, indigenous people traded deer meat and hides with Japanese and Chinese merchants. During the Japanese occupation, the provisional Japanese government developed the island's economic infrastructure and agricultural capacity, as well as much of the foundation for its modern rail system, but this period of development was soon cut short by bombing campaigns that destroyed a great portion of the island's industry and transportation. During the 1960s, in an effort to find new sources of economic stimulus, the Taiwanese government used financial aid from the United States to refocus its economy on export production. Through the 1970's in what was later called the ‘Taiwan Miracle', the newly-developed industrial economy began to boom, especially in connection with the United States' desire to import Taiwanese goods, and Taiwan soon transformed from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. After the transition to a more liberal multi-party democratic political system in the 1990's, the proliferation of international business and industrial development brought a second era of economic prosperity. Today, Taiwan is a sophisticated modern metropolis that lists among the greatest in Asia, home to some of the largest and most successful consumer electronics companies in the world.
Accompanied by the Republic of China's then-President Chiang Kai-Shek, US President Dwight Eisenhower is driven through Taipei during his visit to Taiwan in 1960.
Taiwan and the Penghu Islands are administered together as the Province of Taiwan. The islands of Matsu, Kinmen and other smaller nearby islands are administered by the governments as counties of the Fujian Province. The provincial government seat is in central Taiwan and Taipei and Kaohsiung—the two largest cities—are administered as municipalities. The second National Assembly was elected in 1991. It amended the constitution allowing for direct election of the president and vice president. The president is the political leader and commander in chief of the armed forces. The position also presides over the five administrative branches, or Yuan: executive, legislative, control, judicial and examination.
The currency in Taiwan is called the New Taiwan dollar and has been since 1949 when it replaced the Old Taiwan dollar. The abbreviation is NT$ and the currency code is TWD. In informal or common usage, it is referred to as yuán. As of this writing, one U.S. dollar is equal to approximately 32 New Taiwan dollars.
Taiwan's constitution allows a great degree of religious freedom. A small portion of the population practices Christianity, but most Taiwanese are followers of one of China's three religious traditions: Buddhism, Taoism or Confucianism. They are referred to as the “three teachings” or sanjiao. Each religion has its own sacred texts, priests and temples. Many of the gods were historical figures who founded Fujian communities during the Song Dynasty and were then brought over to Taiwan by Han immigrants. Gods were a source of magical power, ‘ling', and were also the focal point of the community. They are honored on their birthdays, brought out from their temples and paraded down the streets. The procession visits each follower's household where they display an offering of food on a table outside the front gate. Priests of the three religions have the responsibility of carrying out prescribed rituals and observing the religious calendar. During the Qingming festival on April 5th and 6th, when family members gather together and visit the graves of their ancestors to honor them with offerings of incense and burning imitation paper money.
Taiwan's estimated population is 23.48 million-- 84 percent of whom are Taiwanese, 14 percent are mainland Chinese, and 2 percent are members of indigenous ethnic groups. The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese; however many people living in Taiwan are descended from the nearby Chinese province of Fujian, so the Chinese dialect called Southern Min-nan is also very widely spoken. Many of the elderly generation also speak some Japanese, as they were taught in school during the Japanese occupation.
Sports are a popular recreational activity in Taiwan. Among the most common are baseball, basketball, football, and softball. Additionally, martial arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan and taekwondo are cultural mainstays in Taiwan and are practiced by many. Since its introduction during Japanese occupations, baseballs has become one of the most popular spectator sports, and has even been referred to as the national sport of Taiwan, much as it is in Japan.
Taiwan is an island nation whose mountainous rural interior is encircled by miles of beautiful beaches. Because of these factors, many people in Taiwan enjoy outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, mountain-climbing, and camping, with surfing also gaining popularity. Known internationally as the “bicycle kingdom”, Taiwan produces over 90 percent of bicycles worldwide, and as such the island has been transformed into a bicycle paradise. The stunning sand beaches and rocky mountains make Taiwan a diverse and beautiful paradise for any outdoor enthusiast.
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