If you haven’t put a trip to Taiwan on your bucket list, what are you waiting for? Contributor Ginger Dingus offers Taiwan Travel Tips to make an enjoyable experience easier.
Known for centuries as Formosa, the “beautiful island,” Taiwan offers natural wonders in the form of gorgeous orchids galore and dozens of hot springs for soaking. The northeast coast is dotted with strangely shaped rock formations, and miles of biking trails make exploring at your own pace a snap. No doubt, you’ll land in the vibrant city of Taipei where you can’t miss the eye-popping skyscrapers, and shouldn’t miss the National Palace Museum’s renowned collection of Chinese art, from ancient to modern. To top it off, dining is awesome just about everywhere, especially if you’re a fan of veggies.
A Dozen Taiwan Travel Tips
To help make your Taiwan travels a breeze, here are a dozen Taiwan travel tips gathered during my adventures on the island that the tourism bureau dubs, “The Heart of Asia.”
1) Immerse yourself in warm waters
The island of Taiwan is dotted with natural hot springs. You can pamper yourself with a relaxing mineral water soak in many parts of the country. In Sun Moon Lake, for example, the Fleur de Chine Hotel features hot spring water in a deep soaking tub right in your guest room. The hotel also has public hot springs in a swimming pool-type setting. Unless you’re up for nude bathing, be sure to pack your swimsuit. And, you’re required to wear a bathing cap in the public pools. No worries if you don’t have one, the spa will sell you a swim cap for a few dollars.
2) Eat your greens early in the day
You’ll get plenty of veggies in traditional soups and shared dishes. If you crave salads, however, it’s best to eat them at breakfast. The included breakfast buffet at better hotels often has a salad bar, along with noodles, yummy dim sum dumplings, eggs and bacon.
3) Don’t drink the tap water
Nearly everyone in Taiwan drinks bottled water. Most hotels provide several bottles of complimentary water in your room. It’s generally OK to brush your teeth with tap water in better establishments and large chain hotels.
4) Experience a night market
Every city has one or more night markets. Note that these markets are not geared to tourists. They are local hang-outs, but if you’re game to taste stinky tofu or sample health-giving snake parts, night markets are the place to go. Bring small bills or coins in Taiwanese currency as prices for snacks and trinkets are super cheap, and many vendors don’t take credit cards.
5) Don’t feel obliged to tip
Tipping is not customary in Taiwan. It’s your call if you want to give a taxi driver or tour guide something extra. In hotels, you may give the bellman a note for 100 Taiwan dollars (about USD $3.25) if he brings your luggage to your room. Some restaurants add a service charge of 10%. It’s usually noted on the menu, but be aware this charge is not considered as a tip for the staff.
6) Expect on-time train departures
Taiwan’s high-speed rail (HSR) system runs on time and makes traveling around the country fast and hassle-free. There’s no need to rent a car when you can get from Taipei south to Kaohsiung (215 miles) in less than two hours.
7) Don’t get “lost in translation”
As in many other countries, young people are more likely to speak English than the older generation. Luckily, metro and train stations have signs in both Chinese and English. Hotels catering to tourists have at least a few clerks who speak English. Restaurants, on the other hand, may or may not have English-speaking waiters. In those cases, it’s best if you can dine with a guide or local friend-of-a-friend.
8) Observe temple etiquette
At some point in your travels, you’re bound to visit a traditional Chinese temple. Always enter from the right-hand side. If there is a dragon figure as a door, enter through its mouth and you will be blessed. Never enter a temple via the mouth of a tiger. It’s bad luck. White, by the way, is for funerals, not weddings.
9) Make safety a priority
Taiwan is generally safe. It’s a relatively small island after all. Take the usual precautions (don’t carry too much cash, don’t wear expensive jewelry) when in large crowds such as those at night markets and Chinese New Year lantern festivals.
10) Restrooms: Know the lay of the land
While there are adequate public restrooms in museums, major restaurants and hotels, there is a catch you need to know about. In addition to men’s and ladies’ rooms, there are two types of toilet facilities. One is the usual western type. The other is a squat toilet—actually a sort of hole in the ground. By the way, it does flush. Fortunately, there’s generally a drawing on the stall door of the toilet type, so you don’t need to open every door to find a familiar western-style loo. Note, the sink may be located outside the restrooms, to be shared by both men and women.
11) Become a rubber stamp collector
If you’re keeping a journal, be sure to look for the rubber stamps at museums, top attractions, shops, parks and restaurants. They are there for anyone to use and make fun additions to your notebook or postcards.
12) Pack for the trip
When it rains, it pours. Taiwanese carry umbrellas both for rain and bright sunny days. Be sure to pack one and bring a sweater or light jacket for air-conditioned buildings. Hand-painted paper umbrellas, on the other hand, can be purchased and packed in your luggage as souvenirs to remind you of your travels in Taiwan.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Taiwan is a relatively small island with excellent transportation. You can pack many cities into a short visit, if you wish.
- Signage in English is a major plus in finding your way.
- If you enjoy an evening cocktail or wine with dinner, be prepared for the high price of alcohol.
Disclosure: The writer’s travels were hosted by Taiwan Tourism.
All photo credits: Ginger Dingus
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