Planning a trip to Taiwan? Great decision – it’s a beautiful country filled with stunning scenery (don’t skip Taroko Gorge) and the friendliest locals, not to mention that it’s the home of bubble milk tea! As with travelling to any new country, there are some things you need to know before you visit Taiwan.
Currency – New Taiwan Dollar ($NT) $1US = $30NT
Capital – Taipei in the North of Taiwan
Plugs – Type B (flat two-prong, the same as the USA).
Language – Chinese Mandarin is the primary language, and Taiwanese Hokkien is also commonly spoken.
Climate – Taiwan has a warm temperate climate, meaning they get 4 distinct seasons. We went in December and it was BRISK so pack accordingly.
Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Taiwan
English is NOT widely spoken
I’ve realised I’m so spoiled living in Vietnam: most people in the cities have some grasp of English. So it was a bit of a shock to land in Taiwan and have to instantly start practicing mandarin (but yay for excuses to learn something new). Psst: This blog is really handy for the basics. That said, there is only so far our hello’s and thank you’s were going to take us. ESPECIALLY when it came to ordering food.
We spent a lot of time starting at Chinese characters willing them to start making sense only to remember that GoogleTranslate offers an amazing feature. If you download a language to your phone, you can do automatic translation using your phone camera – and its actually pretty accurate. This saved our ass many times trying to order food from the menu!
People are incredibly kind
Everywhere we went in Taiwan we were greeted with kindness. Taiwanese people have big hearts and from our experience will go out of their way to help you out and make sure you love their country. Cue embarrassing yet heartwarming story of proof:
We were on day 5 of our week long tour through Taiwan and by now the early mornings were starting to catch up to us and, well, we both fell asleep on the train from Hualien to Jiufen. We were woken by a guy letting us know we were in his seat. Being a bit disoriented we were instantly like, “no no, look we have the right seat numbers” only for the penny to drop that we’d slept straight through our stop. Shit. We frantically grabbed our things and vacated our seats, sitting in the corridor trying to figure out how to get back. Maryam popped back into the carriage and the guy who has woken us was sitting on his phone trying to find new directions to give us #hero. This guy didn’t owe us anything, but without asking he tried to help us. PLUS, the ticket lady didn’t charge us for the extra train journey we needed to get to Jiufen. Super kind.
Taiwan is extremely safe and would be a very easy country to travel to solo.
Being Vegetarian is not as easy as it should be
Kidding aside, prepare to have dinner in 7-eleven as a legitimate option. Vegetarian food was so hard to come-by, despite what so many blogs claimed (like this one…and this one, oh wait and this one..) A lot of restaurants close early and/or close on some weekdays. Maybe we just had bad timing but every-time we found a recommendation for somewhere with good vegetarian options they were closed. The silver lining is that minimarts exceed expectations in Taiwan, and have lots of hot and cold food options!
Street food markets are also a very popular place to eat in Taiwan, which is great for sampling lots of different dishes and trying some local foods. However the 4 different markets we ate at during the week were super thin on veggie options (mostly corn and potatoes).
You will climb a LOT of stairs
Taiwan is a very walkable country and we hit around 15k steps each day from wandering around the cities and hiking trails. That said there are also a lot of stairs, especially in Jiufen! The city is built on the side of the hill and is famous for its narrow alleys, but what you don’t realise is that these alleys are all actually staircases. Yay for toning your butt, but maybe don’t wear heels and get mentally prepared for the workout.
Hostels only offer tiny face towels
- Be prepared to pay for towel rental at hostels.
- The towels are TINY.
Most of the hostels we stayed in only offered little face towels, which aren’t exactly convenient for drying your whole body. In hindsight I wish we had brought our microfibre towels which are compact enough to pack in carry-on. If you’re travelling with hold-luggage then I recommend bringing a full size towel with you – especially if you’re going in winter so you can dry off properly after a chilly and potentially wet day out exploring!
You NEED an international drivers license
Taiwan is very by-the-book, and the law states you need an international drivers license to rent a car here (which is what we hoped to do for exploring the East Coast). Unfortunately we didn’t realise this in advance, and despite my friend having her US license we were unable to rent one. Prepare in advance and order an international license before you leave home to avoid disappointment.
We were however able to rent a scooter without an international license in Hualien (this is a popular way to explore the nearby Taroko National Park).
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Taiwan loves stamps
This sounds so so random, but if you’ve been to Taiwan then you know what I’m talking about. In places of interest they have stamps and ink pads, so you can add a memory to your scrap book instantly. I actually grabbed a mini notebook so I could stamp some of them.
You NEED to try bubble tea
Taiwan is famous for a few things, one of the biggest being bubble, or boba, tea. And oh my word – it is heavenly. It became a near-daily staple during our trip around Taiwan, to sample different bubble teas. My favourite was the simple but delicious “brown sugar bubble milk tea”.
Blogs worth snooping to planning the perfect trip to Taiwan
- Sam from There She Goes Again has so many killer Taiwan blogs – from visiting Taroko Gorge, Jiufien and Taipei – her guides will have you covered for visiting Taiwan!
- Jaimie from Ink and Adventure is an essential resource for travelling to Taiwan! As an expat in Taipei, she has so many useful blogs about what to pack, where to go and plus she shares a bunch of other blogs that are great for Taiwan tips at the bottom of this post.
Taiwan is such an underrated country and surprisingly easy to travel through! I hope these tips help you prepare for your trip to Taiwan!
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For more on Taiwan:
- Exploring the temples of Lotus Lake
- Packing Guide: December in Taiwan (coming soon)