People travel to a place for different reasons; some travel for business, some for pleasure, others want to immerse in the local culture, a few want to volunteer. Whatever your reason is, there is a country in Asia you should consider, Taiwan. Formerly known as Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Isle), this country is one of the best tourist destinations in Asia, though often overlooked in favor of its neighboring nations perceived by westerners as "more exotic." But Taiwan can offer you just the perfect experience for its rich history and culture, great tasting food, beautiful landscapes, and incredible people.
Interested in visiting the country dubbed as the "beautiful island" by the Portuguese explorers? Here are eight travel tips when visiting Taiwan.
1. Drink Bubble Milk Tea
Where else to try this refreshing drink but in the country that started the trend? Tea drinking is deeply embedded in the Taiwanese culture that it was no surprise they found another way to appreciate this aromatic beverage. The bubble milk tea was invented in 1983 by Liu Han-Chieh, owner of Tang Teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. Han-Chieh was inspired by the cold coffee of the Japanese and had the brilliant idea of adopting the same concept to tea by serving it cold and adding tapioca pearls. The name bubble tea came from his wife, referring to the foam that forms on top of the drink.
To this day, bubble milk tea is still widely enjoyed in the whole of Taiwan and is often recommended by the locals to tourists. Among the most famous milk tea places to visit are Chun Shui Tang, 50 Lan, and Tea Patea. If you want to be on the safe side, you may order the pearl milk tea or wintermelon tea flavors. If you are feeling a little adventurous, try matcha red bean milk tea or the brown rice green milk tea.
2. Master the Art of Riding the MRT
The primary mode of transportation in Taiwan is using the train via the Taipei Metro or MRT. It operates in over 108 stations with five main routes, servicing over 2.10 million passengers every day. It is the first metro system in Taiwan.
Taking the MRT is the fastest and cheapest way to get to destinations as the system efficiently interconnects Taipei's cities and districts. One of the easiest ways to gain a better understanding of the city and its people is to master the art of riding the MRT. First, get an Easy Card from any of the MRT stations; it can be topped up at the train station and any 7 Eleven stores. The Easy Card can also be used when taking a bus or renting a YouBike. To learn how to use the MRT including how to transfer lines, get an MRT map. It should take you no more than a day to understand how the system works; it's easy, and it doesn't require you to study Chinese as the signs in the MRT stations are also provided in English. Once you master how to use it, getting to point A to point B will be a breeze. It will save you time getting around Taipei city without hurting your budget as the train fare is very cheap.
3. Join a Walking Tour
A few groups are offering free walking tours in Taipei, mostly conducted by young Taiwanese people who want to practice their English. The guides are very friendly and quite knowledgeable about Taiwan's history and culture.
To join a tour, go to their website(s), book an appointment, then come to the meeting place on the day of your tour. Ensure that you go there ahead of time as the tour starts on the dot.
Not only will you be able to enjoy exploring the city on foot and learn fascinating facts about this country, but you are also bound to make new friends with your fellow tourists availing the same tour. Note that even though the tour is free of charge, the tour guides accept donation/tips. Anywhere between 100 to 500 TWD is the recommended amount.
4. Shop and Eat in the Night Market
Probably the most famous activity that tourists can do in Taiwan is visiting any of Taiwan's night markets. The night market usually opens at 5:00 P.M. and closes at midnight. Taiwan's street food is one of the best in the world, and you can easily sample them via a food trip in any of the night markets. Among the most famous night markets are the Tainan Flowers Night Market in Tainan City, Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung City, and Shilin Market in Taipei City.
For food recommendation, try beef noodles, oolong tea boiled egg, calamari, oyster omelet, torched beef, pepper pork bun, peanut brittle ice cream, and stinky tofu.
5. Get Around Taipei with a YouBike
To reduce traffic congestion, the government encourages its people to use the MRT and the bus over driving personal vehicles. To add to this initiative, YouBike was introduced, a sub-system of the MRT service. It's a bike rental service/bike sharing system that can take users from one station to another. You can see several YouBike stations in Taipei city that can be rented with the use of an Easy Card. Not only is it highly convenient, but it's also a perfect companion for sightseeing and in getting around the city.
6. Visit the Memorial Halls
While some countries are big on temples and shrines, Taiwan is big on memorial halls, built to honor some of the greatest Taiwanese leaders. Two of the well-known memorial halls commonly visited by locals and tourists alike are Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Xinyi District and Chiang Kai-shek in Zhongzheng District; both are in Taipei. These memorial halls serve as national monuments of the two leaders in which these buildings were named after.
7. Relax in the Hot Springs
For the ultimate relaxation, the Taiwanese people prefer to go to the hot springs. The country's penchant for hot springs dated back in 1893 when a German businessman opened a local spa in Beitou. But if there is anyone who promoted the art of hot spring bathing it's the Japanese, who brought their onsen culture in Taiwan during their occupation. It wasn't until the establishment of Tenguan in 1896 though that the hot spring culture began to take off in Taiwan.
Just as the Japanese, the Taiwanese people believe that bathing in hot springs has several therapeutic benefits. Today, Taiwan is called the Hot Spring Kingdom and is included as one of the best hot spring destinations in the world.
Beitou Hot Springs, Wulai Hot Spring, and Guguan Hot Spring are some of the famous hot springs that you may visit in Taiwan.
8. Travel to Jiufen
Formerly a gold mining town, this small, whimsical village has inspired the animated movie, Spirited Away. Its Chinese and Japanese style infrastructures, old tea houses, souvenir shops, and a breathtaking view of the ocean have charmed many people, making it as one of the must-see destinations in Taiwan. Jiufen can be found in New Taipei City, about 2 hours away from Taipei via train.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marjorie Gavan is a writer by profession and by passion. She has a degree in B.S. Journalism and now has 15 years of writing and editing experience under her belt. She currently works as a knowledge specialist in an IT company in Quezon City, Philippines. She chronicles her travel adventures in her blog, Coffeehan.