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Taiwan

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Travel Guide Asia Taiwan

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Introduction

Footprints

Footprints

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Taiwan is a small island nation located in Asia. It is surrounded by China, Japan and the Philippines. The country is not a part of China, contrary to what many people have been told or mistakenly believe. Taiwan was and always will be, its own independent nation.

Chinese cuisine, music and practice of Chinese medicine reveal just how closely Taiwan's culture is tied to that of China's. Taipei, the megalopolis at the island's northern tip, has that distinctive mixture of tradition and economic boom that characterizes so many of the Far East's big cities. However, there also are a number of other cultural influences, including from Japan, the West, and, of course, from Taiwan's own indigenous population. Smart travelers get away from Taipei and venture into the eastern reaches of Taiwan, where the mountainous landscape has rendered it an impossible area for development. Here, there are some beautiful, unadulterated wildlife areas offering up a striking contrast to the toxic air of Taipei.

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Brief History

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei

© All Rights Reserved bobrk607

Evidence of human settlement in Taiwan dates back 30,000 years, although the first inhabitants of Taiwan may have been genetically distinct from any groups currently on the island. Records from ancient China indicate that the Han Chinese might have known of the existence of the main island of Taiwan since the Three Kingdoms period (third century, 230 A.D.). In 1544, a Portuguese ship sighted the main island of Taiwan and named it Ilha Formosa, which means "Beautiful Island." In 1624, the Dutch established a commercial base on Taiwan and began to import workers from Fujian and Penghu (Pescadores) as laborers, many of whom settled. In 1626, the Spanish landed on and occupied northern Taiwan (Keelong and Tanshui) as a base to extend its commercial trading. The colonial period lasted 16 years until 1642. Chinese naval and troop forces of Southern Fujian defeated the Dutch in 1662, subsequently expelling the Dutch government and military from the island.

In 1885, the Qing upgraded Taiwan's status from prefecture of Fujian to full province, the twentieth in the country, with its capital at Taipei. This was accompanied by a modernization drive that included building Taiwan's first railroad and starting a postal service. Great Qing was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) and Taiwan and Penghu were ceded in full sovereignty to Japan. Inhabitants wishing to remain Qing subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and move to mainland China. Very few Taiwanese saw this as feasible. On May 25, 1895, a group of pro-Qing high officials proclaimed the Republic of Formosa to resist impending Japanese rule. Japanese forces entered the capital at Tainan and quelled this resistance on October 21, 1895. Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to bind the island more firmly to the Japanese Empire and people were taught to see themselves as Japanese. During WWII, tens of thousands of Taiwanese served in the Japanese military. Japan's rule of Taiwan ended after it lost World War II and signed the Instrument of Surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945.

In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, retreated from mainland China and the ROC (Republic of China) government fled from Nanjing to Taipei, Taiwan's largest city, while continuing to claim sovereignty over all China, which the ROC defines to include mainland China, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia and other areas. In mainland China, the victorious Communists established the PRC, claiming to be the sole representative of China (which it claimed included Taiwan) and portraying the ROC government as an illegitimate entity. From this period through the 1980s, Taiwan was governed by a party-state dictatorship, with the KMT as the ruling party.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the ROC began to develop into a prosperous, industrialized developed country with a strong and dynamic economy, becoming one of the Four Asian Tigers while maintaining the authoritarian, single-party government. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China until the 1970s, when most nations began switching recognition to the PRC.

In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed and inaugurated as the first opposition party in Taiwan to counter the KMT. In the 1990s, the ROC continued its democratic reforms, as President Lee Teng-hui was elected by the first popular vote held in Taiwan during the 1996 Presidential election. On September 30, 2007, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party approved a resolution asserting separate identity from China and called for the enactment of a new constitution for a "normal country". It also called for general use of "Taiwan" as the island's name, without abolishing its formal name, the Republic of China.

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Geography

The island of Taiwan lies some 180 kilometres off the southeastern coast of mainland China, which lies across the Taiwan Strait, and has an area of 35,883 km2. The East China Sea lies to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Luzon Strait directly to the south and the South China Sea to the southwest. The shape of the main island of Taiwan is similar to a sweet potato seen in a south-to-north direction, and therefore, Taiwanese, especially the Min-nan division, often call themselves "children of the Sweet Potato." The island is characterized by the contrast between the eastern two-thirds, consisting mostly of rugged mountains running in five ranges from the northern to the southern tip of the island, and the flat to gently rolling Chianan Plains in the west that are also home to most of Taiwan's population. Taiwan's highest point is Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) at 3,952 metres, and there are five other peaks over 3,500 metres. This makes it the world's fourth-highest island. The Penghu Islands, 50 kilometres west of the main island, have an area of 126.9 km2. More distant islands controlled by the Republic of China are the Kinmen, Wuchiu and Matsu Islands off the coast of Fujian, with a total area of 180.5 km2, and the Pratas Islands and Taiping Island in the South China Sea, with a total area of 2.9 km2 and no permanent inhabitants.

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Regions

  • Central Taiwan includes the Central Mountains, Sun Moon Lake and Taichung city.
  • Eastern Taiwan is separated from the rest of the island by mountains and is home to the famous Taroko Gorge.
  • Northern Taiwan includes the capital Taipei and the Yangmingshan National Park
  • Southern Taiwan is a more tropical, beachy area including the second largest city, Kaohsiung and the old city of Tainan.
  • The Outlying Islands include Green Island, Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu, Orchid Island and Penghu.

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Cities

  • Kaohsiung - the second-largest city on the island. It has one of the busiest sea ports (the Port of Kaohsiung) in the world and it has the island's second-largest airport
  • Keelung - port city in the northeast
  • New Taipei - the largest city, in the northeast of Taiwan
  • Taichung - the third largest city in Taiwan, and has an abundance of interesting cultural amenities and activities.
  • Tainan - the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital during imperial times. It is famous for its historic buildings.
  • Taipei - the capital, in the northeast of Taiwan
  • Pingdong
  • Puli - located at the geographical center of the island, and it serves as a good base for exploring the central mountains and Sun Moon Lake.
  • Changhua
  • Hualian - located near Taroko Gorge, and is considered one of the most pleasant of Taiwan's cities.
  • Hsinchu - a center of hi-tech industry, and one of the world's leading manufacturers of hi-tech components. Hsinchu Science Park is the home to many hi-tech companies.
  • Jiufen - this former gold mining town located on the northeast coast is now a popular tourist destination.
  • Taidong

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Sights and Activities

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 Building (2)

Taipei 101 Building (2)

© All Rights Reserved bobrk607

Taipei 101, officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center is one of the tallest building in the world at 508 metres above the ground level. The high skyscraper is located in the Xinyi District of Taipei and is rich in symbolism. For example, it was designed to resemble bamboo rising from the earth and bamboo happens to be a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility. These are ideal characteristics for a financial building. On top of that, the building is also made up of eight sections and eight happens to be a number associated with prosperity in Chinese culture.

The observatory in Taipei 101 consists of three sections. On the 88th floor, visitors get to see upclose the tower's wind damper that sways to offset movements in the building caused by strong gusts. The 89th floor is an indoor viewing area, while the 91st floor is an outdoor viewing area, but only open on certain occasions and weather permitting.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall recently renamed as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall is more or less in the middle of Taipei. The grounds in front of the hall are flanked by both the Taiwan National Theatre and The National Opera House. The hall itself has a museum on the first floor and the second floor used to be the home of a large statue of Chiang Kai Shek. There is also a frequent changing of the guard that is well worth watching. If you are in Taipei visiting the hall is a must. The hall has its own subway stop so getting there is easy.

Tainan

Taiwan has several large cities with high rise modern buildings and although Tainan has some of these modern buildigns as well, it is the closest thing to being an old in Taiwan. It used to be the capital during imperial times and is famous and visited because of its temples and other fine historic buildings. The eternal golden fortress is a 19th century coastal fortress and particularly interesting. Other buildings include Anping Fort and the Chikan Towers. Other highlights include the nightmarkets and nearby mangrove forests. Still, all the modern amenities can be found here as well and the city is currently the fourth largest city on the island with a population over 760 000 inhabitants. A good place to base yourself and explore things in several days.

Kenting National Park

Taiwan is not all about large cities and development. Much of the island is covered with mountains and dense forests. One of the highlights is Kenting National Park, located in the southern tip of the island. The main features in this fantastic park include beautiful beaches and lush vegetation and there are some great walks or multiple day hikes in the park. Of course, swimming and other aquatic sports can be arranged as well.

Other sights and activities

Boats

Boats

© All Rights Reserved lucid

  • Sun Moon Lake - clear waters in the mountains.
  • Alishan - forests in the central parts of the country.
  • Taroko Gorge - near the east coast.
  • Yushan - the highest peak at almost 4000 meters above sea level.

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Events and Festivals

Yilan Hot Spring Festival

Yilan Hot Spring Festival is an important festival in the winter for the Yilan county sightseeing activity. By performing various creative activities, Jiaosi hot spring resources, distinguishing feature of scenic spots, local culture, delicacies food and creative activities can all be presented. A fun and lively atmosphere at the scenic spots is then created which gives you tons of excellent touring experience. Let the irresistible fascination of Winter Hot Spring Season be with you while you visit Jiaosi Township and Yilan County. Also, you will find yourself spending a warming and fantastic time together with local residents in Yilan County.

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Weather

Taiwan has a tropical monsoon climate with rainfall almost everywhere over 2,000 mm a year at low levels. In the mountains though, these figures can easily double. Most of the rain falls in the period May to September than in the rest of the year. Some of the heaviest rain falls from July to September and are brought by the typhoons of the South China Sea. The typhoons move northwards towards Japan and bring strong winds and heavy rain to most of Taiwan during this period. Rain, high humidity and high temperatures makes this time the least pleasant for a visit. Average daytime temperatures are well above 30 °C , but can reach highs of 38 °C degrees! Nights are around 24 °C. In winter, lowland areas have mild weather but occasionally temperatures can drop below zero at night, especially in the northern parts of the country. Of course, this applies to the mountains as well, where snowfall is usual in winter. Still, temperatures are normally around 20 °C during the day from December to February and around 12 °C at night. The north and east during this time has much more cloud and rain than the south. The south is warmer as well in winter, with average daytime temperatures close to 25 °C and lows of 10 °C are rare. Mostly it's warmer. In most of the country, the period from October to April is a better time for a visit, compared to the hot and muggy conditions in summer.

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Getting there

By Plane

Taiwan has three international airports, of which Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) near the capital Taipei is the busiest one and therefore receives most international flights. The other two airports with regular international flights in Taiwan are Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH) and Taichung International Airport (RMQ).

The national airline is China Airlines which has international flights to many destinations in Asia, North America, Europe and Oceania. Another major international airline in Taiwan is EVA Air, serving slightly less destinations to the same continents mentioned.

By Boat

  • Taiwan - Japan vv

The weekly ferries between Keelung and Kaohsiung in Taiwan and Ishigaki and Miyako in the Okinawa Prefecture have been suspended since 2008. The trip took about 18 hours and boats left Taiwan on Mondays and Okinawa on Thursdays or Fridays. There is talk of new ferries between Japan (either Okinawa or 'mainland' Japan) and Taiwan, but up until now (October 2009) there is no ferry.

  • Taiwan - China vv

From Fuzhou, China, there are two daily ferries to Matsu, Taiwan. The trip takes two hours. From Matsu, there are two daily ferries to Keelung in Taiwan. This trip takes 10 hours. Bookings can be made at +886 2 2424 6868.

There are also several ferry services between Xiamen and Quanzhou on the mainland and the island of Kinmen, Taiwan. Now there also is one weekly ferry from Dongdu Harbor in Xiamen to Keelung, that leaves on Thursdays at 6:00pm, as well as one to Taichung leaving on Tuesdays. Call 0592-2393128 for information or 0592-6011758 for bookings from China.

The Cosco Star leaves Xiamen every Thursday at 6:00pm and arrives in the north end of Taiwan (Keelung) at 08:30am the next morning. The ship also leaves Xiamen every Monday evening to arrive at the south end of Taiwan (Kaohsiung) the next morning and then central Taiwan (Taichung) the day after that. From Taiwan back to the mainland, the ship leaves Keelung every Sunday at 7:00pm, arriving Xiamen the next morning at 09:00am. The ship also leaves Taichung every Wednesday at 9:00pm for an overnight sailing to Xiamen.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are a number of airlines flying between Taipei and several other airports in Taiwan. The carriers offering domestic services include Far Eastern Transport, Mandarin Airlines, Transasia Airways and Uni Air.

By Train

THSR has frequent high speed trains along the west coast of Taiwan between Taipei and Zuoying. The Taiwan Railway Administration has more trains across the whole country. The main lines are:

  • Taipei-Taichung-Chiayi-Tainan-Kaohsiung (at least hourly)
  • Taipei-Taichung-Sun Moon Lake (last leg of the journey is by bus)
  • Chiayi-Alishan (spectacular mountain scenery)
  • Taipei-New Hualian-Taitung (scenic coastal route)

By Car

You can rent a car from many local and international companies at airports, bigger cities and main hotels. Although you can rent one yourself, a car with a driver is recommended. Roads are well maintained and Taipei and Kaohsiung are connected by a highway. Congestion can be a bit of problem and not all signs are in English as well. An international driver's permit and additional insurance are needed.

By Bus

Long-distant buses are provided by Guo-Guang Bus Corporation, Union Bus, Dragon Bus, Free Go Bus Corporation and Aloha Bus and Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung are the main places where buses originate or terminate. There are also a number of more regional and local buses, providing services to somewhat smaller and relatively remote places and mountains.

By Boat

There are a few ferry services between the main island and several of the smaller island around Taiwan.

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Red Tape

Foreign nationals of the following 41 countries can enter Taiwan visa-free as a visitor provided that their passports are valid for at least 6 months upon entry. For up to 90 days: All 27 European Union member states, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United States, and the Vatican City. For up to 30 days: Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea.

All other countries require a visa and it's advised to go to your nearest Taiwanese embassy or consulate. Also, people who wish to stay longer to work, study or visit friends and relatives, need to apply for 60 or 90-day visa, which under circumstances can even be extended.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD, but also referred to as TWD).

Coins come in denominations of $0.5, $1, $5, $10, $20 and $50. Banknotes come in denominations of NT$100, NT$200, NT$500, NT$1,000, and NT$2,000.

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Work

The majority of travelers who work in Taiwan pick up temporary jobs teaching English. Jobs teaching other languages (mainly European or Japanese) do exist but have a much smaller proportion of the market.

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Study

Studying abroad in Taiwan can be a great opportunity. There are several great universities with a very open atmosphere. The cities are much cleaner compared to those in China, which can be nice on the lungs. The major downsides are that Taiwan has become much more expensive in the last few years. If planning to study mandarin Taiwan might not be the best place because the Taiwan accent can be hard to understand by people from the mainland and in Taiwan they still teach complex characters. If looking to study Buddhism or the sciences Taiwan is also an excellent choice.

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Language

While Mandarin Chinese is the official language and is spoken fluently by nearly all younger Taiwanese, English-speakers can usually be found when assistance is needed, although frequently the level of English means that conversations may be difficult and time-consuming.

A mix of Taiwanese (Minnan), Mandarin, Hakka and other Asian languages are spoken on the island, as well as several aboriginal Austronesian languages. Mandarin is the lingua franca, but Taiwanese is spoken as the primary language by some 70% of the population.

On the Matsu islands, the dominant Chinese dialect is Mindong or Eastern Min (also known as Hokchiu or Foochowese), which is also spoken in the area around Fuzhou and the coastal areas of northern Fujian.

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Eat

Tamsui 267

Tamsui 267

© All Rights Reserved CrackerjackHobo

Taiwan has an eclectic choice of food ranging from the dirt cheap to the outrageously overpriced. In the big cities international chains such as Friday's and Swensens provide some of the tastes from home. However, the true delight of eating in Taiwan is the night markets where an abundant choice of food (and other items) can be purchased. Of course the staple diet in Taiwan is rice and noodles and this is readily available from many of the street vendors that stand on the side of the road. To be honest, Taiwan is a culinary delight and any tourist that comes to Taiwan should at the very least be able to say they ate well. There is no excuse.

Taiwan also has many of its own local specialties. A few found island wide include:

  • Beef noodles - noodle soup with chunks of meltingly soft stewed beef and a dash of pickles
  • Oyster omelet - made from eggs, oysters and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum, topped with sweet red sauce.
  • Aiyu jelly - made from the seeds of a local fig and usually served on ice - sweet, cool and refreshing on a hot day.
  • Taiwan Sausage - usually made from pork, it is a modified version of the Cantonese laap cheong which has been emulsified and is much sweeter in taste. Unlike laap cheong, which is almost always eaten with rice, Taiwanese xiangchang is usually eaten on its own with some garlic.
  • Taiwanese Orange - a type of citrus fruit which is similar to usual oranges, except that the skin and flesh tend to look more yellowish like lemon. Unlike lemon, it is usually quite sweet.
  • Taiwanese Porridge - rice porridge cooked with sweet potato. It is usually eaten with several different dishes.

Food Courts

Every major department store and shopping center has a food court. Food courts are typically easy places to by food even if you don't speak Chinese since the menus typically have pictures (if not English) of the food on offer. The variety of food selections in the food courts vary widely with traditional Taiwanese and Chinese foods being intermingled with Korean, Japanese, Cantonese and Western foods. Food courts can become crowded during lunch hours and during the weekends but they are great places to sit down and have a bite (especially if you are in a hurry).

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Sleep

For the budget-minded, there are hostels in Taipei and most other sizable cities. Camping is also available in many areas.

Motels can be easily found in suburbs of major cities. Despite the name, these have little if anything to do with the cheap functional hotels that use the name elsewhere; in Taiwan, motels are intended for romantic trysts and can be quite extravagant in decor and facilities.

Taiwanese hotels range in quality from seedy to very luxurious. Despite the complexities of doing business with both mainland China and Taiwan, most Western hotel chains operate in Taiwan such as Sheraton, Westin and Hyatt. Also, there are plenty of five-star hotels around. Keep in mind, however, that many of the international hotels tend to be outrageously expensive, while comparable and much cheaper accommodation is usually available in the same vicinity.

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Drink

As Taiwan is a subtropical island with the south part in the tropics, it cannot hurt to drink a lot, especially during summertime. Drink vending machines can be found virtually everywhere and are filled with all kinds of juices, tea and coffee drinks, soy milk and mineral water.

Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong. Kaoliang is the most famous alcoholic drink. A distilled grain liquor, it is extremely strong, usually 140 proof or more, and often drunk straight. Taiwan also produces many types of Shaoxing, rice wine, which are considered by many as being some of the best in the world. Taiwanese people enjoy beer on ice. A wide variety of imported beers are available, but the standard is Taiwan Beer, produced by a former government monopoly. It is brewed with fragrant penglai rice in addition to barley giving it a distinctive flavor. The beer is served cold and recognized as an especially suitable complement to Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine, especially seafood dishes such as sushi and sashimi.

Taiwan's specialty teas are High Mountain Oolong, a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin, a dark, rich brew. One should also try Lei cha, a tasty and nourishing Hakka Chinese tea-based beverage consisting of a mix ground tea leaves and grain.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

Taiwan has an amazing health care system. Some of the best doctors in the world come from Taiwan. Even though the World Health Organization refuses to use Taiwan doctors under pressure from China, any traveller sound feel perfectly safe in a Taiwan hospital.

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Taiwan. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to South Korea. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.

Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. Only in rare cases is vaccination against Japanese Encephalitis recommended.

There is no malaria, but sometimes dengue does occur. Just use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeves if you can when it is dark.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Taiwan is an extremely safe country regarding crime. All towns and cities are completely safe to walk around at anytime during night or day. Starting in the spring and going to early fall is the typhoon season (June - October). A typhoon is a large tropical storm which exactly like a hurricane. These storms can be very dangerous and can cause extreme amounts of damage. If caught in a typhoon find a safe place to wait out the storm. There are sometimes extremely heavy rains accompanying the typhoons, so be aware of floodings. Taiwan has the occasional large earthquake which can cause massive damage. These earthquakes can cause landslides and tsunamis so remember to move to higher ground and keep up to date on developments.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are plentiful, although you may have to wander around before finding one. Rather, Internet cafes in Taiwan should be called gaming cafes. These are often found on the first or second floor of a building, and equipped with very comfortable chairs and large screens. Each hour of Internet access/game play is cheap, coming in at around $20. For free internet access in big cities, try out the local libraries. In addition, a wireless internet accessing net covering all of Taipei City is available and Kaohsiung City is currently under construction. There is also a common wifi network available at every McDonald's.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The international calling code for Taiwan is 886. The emergency numbers include 110 (police) 119 (medical, fire) and the standard GSM emergency number 112 is supported in mobile networks. Numbers starting with 0800 are commercial toll-free numbers. Mobile phone coverage is generally excellent in Taiwan, with the exception of some remote mountainous areas. Among the major providers are Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, Far EasTone and Vibo. Taiwan has both GSM 900/1800 and 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA 2100) networks and roaming might be possible for users of such mobile phones, subject to agreements between operators. If you bring your own cellphone, buy a local SIM-card for the lowest prices and be sure your phone is unlocked.

Post

Chungwa Post is the national postal service of Taiwan. It offers fast and reliable postal services, both domestic and internationally. Post offices are generally open from 8:00am to 5:00pm during weekdays, though some keep longer hours or are open on Saturday (morning). Prices for sending postcards or letters (up to 20 grams) start at NT$5 within the country, while postcards by airmail to other countries start at around NT$10-12 per item, and letters are slightly more expensive. There is a wide range in prices regarding international parcel sending, and other companies like DHL, TNT, FedEx and UPS offer similar services.

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Quick Facts

Taiwan flag

Map of Taiwan

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Capital
Taipei
Population
22,603,000
Government
Multiparty Democratic Regime
Religions
Mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, Christianity
Languages
Mandarin
Calling Code
+886
Nationality
Taiwanese
Local name
Táiwān
Time Zone
UTC +8

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Taiwan Travel Helpers

  • sujatang

    Mobile reside at Taiwan from Jan 2012 ~ Oct 2014.

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    been to taiwan twice recently and going again in a few weeks, can help with visa questions procedures for travelling with multi airlines to get there, places to go and see, and general information

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  • 1111kim

    Me and my wife went to Taipei for holidays around a week ago, and I found out this free day tour service which is provided by the city government. One of the tour guides told me that the service will run until April next year when the flora expo finished.
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Accommodation in Taiwan

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