We were pretty worried about how we’d find travelling in Taiwan – it’s not exactly a renowned backpacker destination after all. After doing some research we decided trains were best for inter city travel but didn’t work out how to navigate the cities until arriving in them which was interesting at times! Having heard reports of people getting horribly lost and having real trouble finding any English speakers to help out with buying tickets etc we were expecting it to be a bit of a disaster.
Luckily it was the complete opposite and we were surprised by plentiful public transport and plenty of people speaking English who are more than happy to help. It’s an amazing country to visit, with everything from beautiful natural parks and stunning coastlines to buzzing cities and a brilliant food scene, so there’s really something for everyone. We did suffer a little with culture shock – standing in the street and being unable to read any signs, getting menus in Chinese with no translation and wandering past street food stands that sell nothing at all that we recognised was definitely an interesting experience but we were surprised by how much we loved it.
In our 10 days in Taiwan we met hardly any other travellers and saw very few backpackers, and I can understand why people perceive that it’s difficult to travel. If you do a bit of research and know what to expect travelling in Taiwan is no harder than anywhere else and actually even easier than some places.
1. The Logistics of Travel in Taiwan Are Easy
Getting around both in the cities and between them is straightforward and a lot more simple than we expected. Cities variously have metros, buses and taxis depending on how you prefer to get around and all are pretty intuitive and have signs etc in English. I think I’m going to write a more detailed post on this when I get a chance as we used various trains, buses, metros and taxis in the 5 cities we visited on our trip as well as on our travels between them and the actual logistics of travelling in Taiwan are easy.
2. English Isn’t Widely Spoken But You Can Get By
We’d heard that not many people spoke English and were surprised again, similar to our time in Myanmar, with how easy it was to communicate with people and what the levels of English were actually like. For example, when it comes to restaurants most will have a menu in English and if not we found normally at least one person will speak good enough English to help you order what you’re looking for. It’s pretty easy to travel in Taiwan with the language barrier compared with other countries where you might not have a common language, such as Japan for example which we’ve found more tricky.
3. It’s More Expensive Than You Might Expect
We weren’t expecting Cambodia levels of cheap but we did think it would be fairly inexpensive. Travel is fairly cheap, especially local trains and buses but taxis are extremely pricy. Whilst most tourist attractions have fairly low entry costs, it’s more expensive than we anticipated to eat out unless you’re after street food. A typical meal and drinks in a mid range restaurant will easily set you back £15 – £20
4. People Are So Friendly
I find myself saying this so much but the people in Taiwan are incredibly friendly. They will say hello and stop to chat in the street, include you in their holiday pictures, tell you how handsome / beautiful you are on a regular basis and are always ready to help if you’re having trouble with anything. All it takes is looking at a map with a degree of confusion and people will head over to ask if you’re lost and to see if they can help you out. It makes the whole experience of travelling in Taiwan a million times better, especially when you’re trying to navigate big cities like Taipei and Taichung.
5. Don’t Expect To See Many Fellow Travellers
This was a strange feeling and I’ve never felt so foreign as we did in Taiwan. With the exception of Taipei which was a little more touristy in the main spots we could count the number of white westerners we saw in the other cities we visited almost on one hand. 5 in Taichung, 6 in Tainan, 8 in Kaohsiung… literally! I don’t know why I was counting, it wasn’t intentional but I guess it was just such a huge culture shock to be the odd ones out by such a wide margin. It wasn’t a problem in any way and the people being so friendly made sure we felt completely welcome everywhere, it was just weird. We’ve been to places where it’s a surprise to hear an English accent or where we haven’t run into a lot of backpackers but this was completely different. Kind of cool in a way but a little strange!
6. The Food Can Be A Little Off The Wall
I loved this at first but struggled after a while. Most people eat street food as did we due to the cost of restaurants but there’s some very interesting food on offer! A lot of the food felt quite oily with much of it fried and I felt like I was having serious vegetable withdrawals after a week and had to seek out a veggie stir fry to sort me out, although this was drowning in oil as well! I was really craving some hearty Western food after a while.
7. There’s So Much To See
It’s a relatively small island and we met a lot of people who were just flying in to spend a couple of days in Taipei but there is loads to do outside the capital. We spent time in Tainan, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Hualien and our itinerary was packed out with things to see. You could easily spend far longer than the 12 days we had and not run out of things to see. If you ever get to visit try to see at least a couple of places outside of Taipei to get a better feel for the country. We loved Taichung particularly and the east coast is famed for its beautiful landscapes and coastlines, Taroko National Park is beautiful – even in the rain!
8. Internet Is Great And Cheap
This was a relief as we had a ton of work to do and was one of the things that made travelling in Taiwan so much easier! On our arrival at Taipei airport we discovered a SIM card for 10 days with unlimited data was just £13, and pretty much the entire place has high speed 4G – even the metros! All hotels and restaurants etc also have decent high speed wifi.
9. There’s Pollution & Poor Air Quality In The Cities
I was a little surprised by this but the smog was some of the worst we’ve seen, it was terrible in Kaohsiung while we were there and the other cities also have problems with air quality. A lot of people wear face masks understandably and getting out of the cities or even spending time in parks was a welcome relief from the thick smoggy air. I guess it’s because it’s a pretty industrial country, and whilst it didn’t spoil anything, it was unpleasant at times. This site is awesome for checking air quality if you have asthma for example.
10. But despite this it’s really clean
Even though there’s a lot of air pollution the cities themselves are so clean. It’s not somewhere you’ll see piles of rubbish lying around and the pavements are almost sparkling in places. It’s such a contrast to some of the other places we’ve travelled and makes it a really likeable country to explore. Also means trying out street food is a lot less nerve wracking – it’s the first country apart from Thailand that we’ve visited in Asia where I haven’t had food poisoning!