Taiwan

Travel Guide Asia Taiwan

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Introduction

the top of Taiwan

the top of Taiwan

© facha

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 travellers 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

© 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)

© 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 up close 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 buildings 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 night markets 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

© lucid

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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.

Buddha Bathing Festival

The Buddha bathing festival takes place on April 8 and is a Buddhist religious ceremony celebrating the birth of the Lord Buddha. The faithful bow three times to the Lord Buddha and then pour water and flowers of a statue of the baby Buddha.

Tomb Sweeping Day

Tomb Sweeping Day usually falls in early April and is a public holiday in Taiwan. Taiwanese people pray and tend to the graves of their departed relatives. Willow branches are used to decorate graves and doors in some areas and the flying of kites, carrying of flowers, and burning of incense, paper and joss sticks is common.

Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is a June public holiday originating from China that is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The day is celebrated in Taiwan with dragon boat races, eating glutinous rice dumplings, drinking wine and writing spells.

Autumn Moon Festival

The Moon Festival talks place in late September or early October, on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The festival celebrates harvest time and is characterized by giving and eating moon cakes. Dragon dances, floating lanterns, fireworks and burning incense are also common.

Ghost Festival

September is Ghost Month in Taiwan with the gates of the underworld opening on the first day and closing on the last. Throughout the month, both Buddhist and Taoist religious rituals take place that include to offerings of food, drink and burnt paper money appease the dead. Many Taiwanese avoid moving house or getting married during this month. Keelung sees one of the more spectacular events with a Ghost festival that includes a ceremonial procession on the 13th day, water lanterns being released into the sea on the 14th day, and Taoist priests performing the ceremonial dance of the Ghost God on the 15th day.

Double Ten Day

Double Ten Day falls on the tenth of October and is the Republic of China National Day, celebrating the start of the Wuching uprising in 1911 that resulted in the defeat of the Qing Dynasty. Proceedings begin with the raising of the Republic of China flag and singing of the Republic of China national anthem. There is a Taiwanese presidential speech and celebrations include lion dances, drumming, and fireworks.

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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 Taoyuan International Airport (Taipei) (台灣桃園國際機場, formerly Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport 中正國際機場) (TPE IATA) is the primary international airport of Taiwan. Located 40 km to the southwest of Taipei, it has good connections to neighbouring countries and North America, and decent connections to Europe and Oceania. The airport has a MRT (metro/subway) connection to Taipei, and direct buses to Taipei, Taichung and other nearby cities. Alternatively, the MRT train and U-Bus company shuttles reach HSR Taoyuan station (台灣高鐵桃園站) for high-speed train connections to other cities; and to Zhongli (中壢) Station for mainline TRA (Taiwan Railways Administration 台灣鐵路管理局) train and southbound bus connections to Tainan, Hsinchu (新竹) etc.
Kaohsiung International Airport (高雄國際機場) (KHH IATA) is the largest airport in southern Taiwan, with decent connections to neighbouring countries and domestic destinations.
Songshan Airport (松山機場) (TSA IATA) is a smaller airport in downtown Taipei which serves mostly domestic flights with some flights to China, Tokyo Haneda Airport, and Seoul Gimpo Airport.
Taichung Airport (台中機場) (RMQ IATA) serves domestic and international flights to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and China.
Tainan Airport (臺南機場) (TNN IATA) serves domestic routes, as well as international routes to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Japan.
Hualien Airport (花蓮機場) (HUN IATA) located on the eastern coast of Taiwan, the airport serves domestic routes, as well as international flights to South Korea as well as charter flights to Cambodia.

After a break of almost 60 years, regular cross-Strait flights between Taiwan and mainland China resumed in 2008, and travel times on some popular routes have been reduced significantly as flights no longer have to be routed through Hong Kong airspace.

The main Taiwanese carriers are EVA Air (長榮航空) and flag carrier China Airlines (中華航空).

By Boat

All scheduled passenger ferry services between Taiwan and Japan have been suspended. Star Cruises operates limited cruise services from Keelung (基隆) and Kaohsiung (高雄) to Hong Kong and various Japanese islands, but these are not intended for one-way journeys.

China to Taiwan via Matsu

From Fuzhou (福州), China, there are two daily ferries to the Taiwan-controlled Matsu (馬祖) islands. Take bus 69 from Fuzhou train station to Wuyilu, then bus 73 to the end station Mawei harbor (馬尾港). The ferry costs RMB350 from China and NT$1,300 from Matsu. The trip takes two hours. You can check the Matsu tourism website for updates on the schedule.

There is a cheaper (NT$650) ferry between Matsu's northern island and the nearest point of mainland China, on the Huangqi peninsula, but because of limitations to immigration facilities, it apparently only accepts Taiwan/ROC citizens as passengers at this time (schedules and fares).

From Matsu, there the Taima Star ferry runs daily to Keelung in Taiwan (Official website / English information). NT$1,050 includes a bed, as the trip takes 10 hours. Regular seats are available for NT$630 only when the sleeping cabins are full (official fare table). Schedules can be found at this link. Bookings can be made at +886 2 2424 6868 or online.

At Mawei harbor in Fuzhou there is an opportunity to buy an inclusive ticket all the way to Taipei (臺北) that includes the Fuzhou to Matsu ferry above and a domestic flight from Matsu to Taipei (or Taichung). The price (RMB780) includes transfer between port and airport on Matsu, and a coupon for lunch at the airport while you wait for your connection. The ferry leaves Fuzhou at 09:30. Get to Mawei at 08:00 to buy tickets.

China to Kinmen

There are also several ferry services between Xiamen and Quanzhou on the mainland and the Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen (金門). While foreigners may use the former the latter is only open to Chinese and Taiwanese citizens. Now there also is one weekly ferry from Dongdu Harbor (東渡碼頭) in Xiamen to Keelung, that leaves on Thursdays at 18:00 starting at less than RMB500, and one to Taichung leaving on Tuesdays. Call 0592-2393128 for information or 0592-6011758 for bookings from China. You can also check here for news. There is apparently no ferry from Kinmen to the main island of Taiwan at this time, though flights may be reasonably priced.

China to Taiwan direct

The Cosco Star runs overnight between Keelung in northern Taiwan and Xiamen on the mainland, between Keelung and Daimaiyu Port near Taizhou on the mainland, and between Taichung in west-central Taiwan and Xiamen. Each leg of each route only runs on one day of the week (see here for departure times of each route and here for the latest calendar of operations). "Standard" one-way fares start at NT$3,500, but "basic" fares may be available for NT$2,490 (fare table). On top of the fare there is an additional NT$300-550 in fuel and port surcharges, which varies depending on the route. There are substantial discounts for seniors (65+) and children (12 and under). The service's Taiwan-facing website is here.

CSF operates fast feries (about 3 hours) from Pingtan in mainland China to Taipei and Taichung in Taiwan. As of February 2019, the Taipei-Pingtan-Taipei route runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and the Pingtan-Taichung-Pingtan route runs on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays (full schedule). Adult fares for non-Taiwan citizens start at NT$3,000 one-way, $5,300 round-trip if purchased in advance (fare table), a couple hundred more if purchased at the pier (fare table). Fares are cheaper for Taiwan/ROC citizens (advance/pier.

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Getting Around

IC Cards

Taipei's EasyCard (悠遊卡) and Kaohsiung's iPass (一卡通) are the main public transportation smart and electronic payment cards, and replace the need to buy separate tickets for most national, regional and city buses, metro (MRT), as well as train services (TRA) all over Taiwan, and they can be used at retail establishments that display the respective sign, like convenient stores (7eleven, Family Mart), parking lots and some restaurants and shops. Though originally accepted only in their respective cities, the two cards can now be used interchangeably at most (but not all) locations.

Besides saving you the hassle of having proper change ready for your ticket, it mostly always gives discount on the chosen journeys. For instance, the price for any train (TRA) is calculated based on the price of a local train and a 10% discount. Thus, you can even take the faster trains with it (but not THSR) like the Tzu-Chiang limited express. The only disadvantage is that you will not have a reserved seat, which however is not an issue except on Saturday morning/noon and Sunday afternoon. The EasyCard also provides discounts on Taipei's public transportation network, and likewise with the iPass on Kaohsiung's network.

The EasyCard can be bought at the airport, in any of stations of Taipei MRT and most convenient stores. As of Nov 2017 the price was NT$500, consisting of an unrefundable deposit of NT$100 and NT$400 in electronic cash. If you want to add money onto the card, you can do so in MRT stations (but not Kaohsiung MRT), TRA stations, and the common convenient stores. The card can hold amounts up to NT$5,000. Student IC cards with even deeper discounts are also available for purchase, but only upon request at a desk and a recognised student ID like ISIC.

Whether the card needs to be tapped only once or twice on city buses (on entry or on exit, see below) depends on which city you are in and sometimes how far you travel. Do not forget to tap twice (on entry and exit) where it is necessary, especially on regional and national buses outside of cities (and some unstaffed railway stations). Otherwise, your card will be blocked with "incomplete journey" (for all bus companies), and you will have to settle this issue with the responsible bus company. This can be a problem, because bus companies only serve certain regions. When leaving that region, e.g. by train, which is still possible with a (bus) locked card, no one will be willing to unlock your card, even though also other bus companies are able to do so. Be insistent and with the help of the tourist information centre tell them that you cannot go back to fix the problem, or that you tried and they did not solve the issue even though they told you so. Make sure that it is really unlocked (with a different bus company) and do not just trust them – it seems some cannot operate their machines properly. If you forget to tap the second time, you will only be charged a small initial fee instead of the whole journey, but unless you are at the end of your vacation to Taiwan or possess a second card, you should avoid situations where your card is blocked. That said, most bus drivers and railway staff will pay close attention to the tapping. So, it is hard to miss.

It costs NT$14 to get in and out of the same railway station within an hour, in case you instead decide to take the bus. At the end of your travel, do not put too much money onto your card, because it can only be given back and cashed-out at certain locations, like some THSR stations. In addition to the NT$100 purchase fee, there is a NT$20 fee for returning the card within 3 months.

By Plane

Domestic air travel in Taiwan is primarily for outlying islands, as Taiwan is fairly compact with a modern and efficient rail network. There are also routes that connect the east and west coasts, since there is a geographical barrier between the two. As of January 2018, there are no west coast only routes as high speed rail has made them redundant.

The main carriers are Mandarin Airlines, a subsidiary of China Airlines; and UNI Air, owned by EVA. There is also Daily Air and Far Eastern Air Transport. Flights are frequent, and it is usually unnecessary to book flights in advance, except during holidays.

Fares for domestic flights are not too expensive, and local planes are very good. The domestic airport in Taipei is Songshan Airport, which is in the north of the Taipei and easily reached by MRT or taxi. Other domestic airports include those in Taitung, Hualien, Makung (Penghu/Pescadores), Kinmen, Taichung, Nangan and Beigan. Travellers heading to Kenting can use the direct and frequent bus service from Kaohsiung airport that connect with flights arriving from Taipei.

If you want to visit Taiwan's smaller islands, the plane is still the best option, and is the only practical option for travelling to Kinmen and the easiest method of reaching Penghu and Matsu. For travel to Green Island and Orchid Island, the plane from Taitung saves several hours over taking the ferry which is notorious among Taiwanese for its rough ride.

By Train

Taiwan's train system is excellent, with stops in all major cities. Train stations are often in the centers of most cities and towns and serve as a convenient hub for most types of transportation. In addition, the train system allows you to bypass the highways, which can become extremely crowded on weekends and national holidays.

THSR
The new train backbone is Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR, 高鐵 gāotiě) , a high speed train based on Japanese Shinkansen technology that covers the 345 km (214 mi) route on the West Coast from Taipei to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in 90 min. Other stops on the route are Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi and Tainan, but many THSR stations have been built a fair distance from the cities they serve (e.g. a taxi from downtown Tainan costs up to NT$400, but there's a free shuttle bus). Taipei, Banciao, Taoyuan, and Kaohsiung (Zuoying) stations are connected with metro. Taichung station is built next to a railway staiton, convenient to transfer to the city center. Hsinchu and Tainan stations are connected to the city center with branch railway lines. Other stations can only be reached by bus. A one way ticket from Taipei to Kaohsiung costs NT$1,630 in economy or NT$2,140 in business class, but economy seats have plush seats and ample legroom, so there's little reason to pay extra. All signage and announcements are in English as well, making navigation a snap. Bookings are accepted online and via phone up to two weeks in advance at +886-2-6626-8000 (English spoken), with payment required only when you pick up the tickets. Credit cards are accepted.

Bookings can be easily made by internet, and you can pay online or pay and pick up your tickets at almost every FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. You can also avoid the queues for long distance tickets at major stations by buying your tickets from the automated ticket machines. The English prompts on the automated machines are hard to spot but they are present,usually in the top left corner of the screen. The stations and platforms are wheelchair-friendly and all trains include a wheelchair-accessible car (wider doors, ample space, accessible bathroom). The Official English guide for online reservations distinguishes between "senior or disabled tickets" and "handicap-friendly seats"; while it's possible to buy a ticket for the former online ("correct passenger ID" required), a ticket for the latter has to be reserved by calling the ticketing office on the phone. Early Bird tickets are sold from 28 days before the day, and the discount to is up to 35% off.

Passes
The Taiwan High Speed Rail issues a THSR Pass for use on the high speed rail trains. These cost NT$2,400 for a regular 3-day pass, or NT$3,200 for a flexible 3-day pass. While a regular 3-day pass must be used in 3 consecutive days, the 3 days in a flexible 3-day pass may be spread out over any 7-day period. The 5-day joint passes allow for unlimited rides on the high speed rail for 2 days within a 5 day period, and unlimited rides on TRA lines within the same 5-day period. These cost NT$2,800 for a standard pass, which does not allow you to ride on Tzu-Chiang trains, and NT$3,600 for an express pass, which allows you to ride on all TRA lines. The THSR passes may only be used by foreigners who are in Taiwan on tourist visas (or visa exemptions), and must be purchased from travel agents overseas before you arrive in Taiwan.

TRA
Mainline trains are run by the separate Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA, 台鐵) , whose services are generally efficient and reliable. Reserving tickets well in advance is recommended when traveling with the train on weekends, especially for long distance travel. Slower (but more frequent) commuter trains without reserved seating are also available. Train timetables and online booking (up to 2 weeks in advance) are available on the TRA website for 24 hours. Booking online only establishes a reservation as there is no Internet payment option. You must pay for the tickets you reserved at your local train station or post office to actually receive it. You can also buy the tickets of TRA in convenient stores now (you can reserve first and take tickets in convenient stores). The way to buy tickets is same to high speed rail's. Children under 115 cm (45 in) height go free, and taller kids shorter than 150 cm (59 in) and under 12 years of age get half-price tickets. If you get return tickets there is a small discount depending upon travel distance. There are also vending machines at the larger stations.

The fastest train is Tzu-Chiang (limited express), and the slowest is Pingkuai (Ordinary/Express). There is often little to choose between prices and destination times for adjacent train classes, but the gap can be quite large between the fastest and the slowest.
Tze-Chiang (自強 ziqiang): The fastest (and most expensive). Assigned seating. Non-reserved (standing) tickets are supposedly sold at full price, but the bording is possible with an Easycard for local train prices. There are Taroko and Puyuma for Hualien, which only sell reserved tickets.
Chu-Kuang (莒光 juguang): Second fastest. Assigned seating. In western Taiwan, it is as slow as local train; in eastern Taiwan, it is still a fast, convenient train.
local train (區間 qujian) : Short to medium distance commuter train, stops at all stations. No assigned seating. There is few local-fast train, which doesn't stop at every station.
Express / Ordinary (普通 putong): Stops at all stations, no air conditioning, most inexpensive. No assigned seating. Some Express trains (the light blue ones running on West Trunk Line) are air-conditioned while others (dark blue ones) are not equipped with air conditioners.

Only on Saturday morning/noon and Sunday afternoon faster trains are packed, and it might make sense to buy a more expensive reserve-seat ticket, if you do not want to stand for 3 hr, depending on your destination. Otherwise, you can freely use the EasyCard for fast connections without worrying (except for THSR).

For travel to nearby cities, you can travel on local commuter trains. These arrive very frequently (about once every ten to fifteen minutes). In addition, "standing tickets" may be purchased on trains with assigned seating that have no available seats. Standing tickets are 80% the original ticket price and may be useful for last minute travellers. The downside is, of course, that you will be required to stand during your entire trip.

Also, try to get your destination station written in Chinese and try to do some "mix and match" with the system map. Look out for the matching Chinese characters written on the station. Announcements are only made in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, so English would not be of much help in the train. Therefore, be alert and always be on the lookout for your destination station, or you risk missing it. Alternatively, you can ask a fellow passenger to alert you when you are arriving.

Passes
Similar to Japan and South Korea, Taiwan also offers several rail passes to foreign tourists for unlimited train travel within a stipulated period. The TR Pass can be used by foreigners for unlimited travel on TRA lines for a stipulated period of time. The TR Pass can be bought at railway stations in Taiwan. The TR pass also allows you to reserve seats for free on trains that have assigned seating.

By Car

An international driving license is required for driving in Taiwan and may be used for up to 30 days, after which you'll need to apply for a local permit. Some municipalities may impose additional restrictions, so check ahead with the rental shop. VIP Rentals in Taipei is quite happy to rent cars to foreigners, and will even deliver the car to a given destination. A deposit is often required, and the last day of rental is not pro-rated, but calculated on a per-hour basis at a separate (higher) rate.

The numbered highway system is very good in Taiwan. Most traffic signs are in international symbols, but many signs show names of places and streets in Chinese only. All road directional signs are written in both Chinese and English, though the non-standardized Romanization means that English names can vary between road signs, making it rather confusing. The highways are in excellent shape with toll stations around every 30 km (19 mi). A car driver pays NT$40 when passing each toll station on a highway. Prepaid tickets may be purchased at most convenience stores and at the "cash" toll-boths themselves, allowing faster passage and eliminating the need to count out exact change while driving. Traffic moves on the right in Taiwan.

While driving may be the best way to get around the countryside, in larger cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung, traffic jams are a problem as is the difficulty of finding a good parking space, especially during the rush hour and traffic tends to get chaotic so you might be better off relying on public transport instead.

By Taxi

Taxis are very common in major Taiwanese cities. You don't need to look for a taxi - they'll be looking for you. The standard yellow taxis scour roads looking for potential riders such as lost foreigners. It is possible but generally unnecessary to phone for a taxi. To hail one, simply place your hand in front of you parallel to the ground. But they'll often stop for you even if you're just waiting to cross the street or for a bus. In less heavily trafficked areas further out from the transit hubs, taxis are always available by calling taxi dispatch centers or using mobile apps.

Drivers generally cannot converse in English or read Westernized addresses (except for special Taoyuan airport taxis). Get the hotel staff or a Taiwanese friend write out your destination in Chinese, and also take a business card from the hotel. Show the driver the Chinese writing of where you are going.

Taxis are visibly metered (starting point priced at NT$70), and taxi drivers are strictly forbidden from taking tips. A maximum of four people can ride in one cab, and for the price of one. Compared to European or American taxis, those in Taiwan are inexpensive.

Although taxi drivers in Taiwan tend to be more honest than in many other countries, not all are trustworthy. An indirect trip might cost you half again as much. A cab driver using night-time rates during the daytime will cost you 30% more (make sure he presses the large button on the left on his meter before 23:00). Avoid the especially overzealous drivers who congregate at the exits of train stations. Also, stand your ground and insist on paying meter price only if any driving on mountain roads is involved - some drivers like to tack on surcharges or use night-time rates if driving to places like Wenshan (文山) or Wulai (烏來). Such attempts to cheat are against the law.

From Taoyuan Airport (TPE), buses are a much more economical option but if you want a direct route Taoyuan airport drivers are the best choice. They're quite comfortable and get you to your destination as quick as possible. All the TPE taxi drivers are interlinked by radio so they could be forewarned if there are police. Sometimes, if there are traffic jams and no police around, the driver will drive in the emergency lane. Taxis from TPE to destinations in Tao Yuan, parts of Taipei county and some other destinations are 'allowed' to add an additional 50% to the meter fare.

The badge and taxi driver identification are displayed inside and the license number marked on the outside. You must also be wary that the driver turns on his meter, otherwise he might rip you off - in such a case, you aren't obliged to pay; but make sure you can find a police officer to settle the matter. If there are stories of passengers boarding fake taxis and being attacked by the driver, it is best not to be paranoid about it. Drivers may be more worried about passengers attacking them!

If you do call a taxi dispatch center, you will be given a taxi number to identify the vehicle when it arrives. Generally, dispatch is extremely rapid and efficient, as the taxis are constantly monitoring dispatch calls from the headquarters using radio while they are on the move. This is also the safest way to take a taxi, especially for women.

Taxis are also a flexible although relatively expensive way to travel to nearby cities. They have the advantage over the electric trains in that they run very late at night. Drivers are required to provide a receipt if asked, though you might find them unwilling to do so.

Taxi drivers, as elsewhere in Asia, are not keen on exchanging large notes. Try to keep some smaller denomination notes on hand to avoid the hassle of fighting with the driver for change.

Taxi drivers are known for their strong political opinions. Many are supporters of the pan-green coalition and Taiwanese independence, spending all day listening to Taiwanese political talk radio. Drivers also have negative connotations as being former prisoners. Be careful about your opinions on sensitive political subjects (including, but not necessarily limited to cross-strait relations); also be careful of describing your destination which may be perceived politically (such as the President's Office or Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall). Also watch out for drivers who discriminate against other cultures such as taping "No Korean passengers" on their cars. This is sometimes unavoidable as some drivers provoke such discussion.In addition, if you see what looks like blood spewing from the driver's mouth, or him spitting blood onto the street - not to fret, it's merely him chewing betel nut (see box). Keep in mind, however, that betel nuts are a stimulant.

Taxi drivers are generally friendly towards foreigners, and a few of them take the opportunity to try their limited English skills. They are most likely to ask you about yourself, and are a patient audience to your attempts at speaking Mandarin. If you are traveling with small children, don't be surprised if they are given candy when you disembark.

Women are sometimes warned not to take taxis alone at night. This is not an extreme risk, although there have been incidents where women have been attacked. To be more safe, women can have the hotel or restaurant phone a cab for them (ensuring a licensed driver), have a companion write down the license number of the driver (clearly displayed on the dashboard), or keep a cell phone handy. Do not get in if the driver doesn't have a license with picture clearly displayed in the cab.

By Scooter/Motorcycle

Scooters with an engine size of 50cc require a license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner's name. Foreign nationals with stay less than 30 days do not have an easy way to get a scooter license. Until 2003 it wasn't possible to get a scooter above 150cc. Many of the scooters within cities are only 50cc and incapable of going faster than 80 km/h (50 mph). The more powerful versions known as zhongxing (重型, heavy format) scooters are now quite common and can be rented for short-term use, or found for sale used at English In Taiwan if you're going to need it for a while. They are not allowed on freeways even if they are capable of going faster than 100 km/h (62 mph) unless used for certain police purposes, but that just means you have to take the scenic route.

If you're just learning to drive a scooter on the streets of Taiwan, it would be a good idea to practice a bit on a back road or alley until you have a feel for the scooter - attempting to do so in the busier cities could easily be fatal. Certainly, things can get pretty hairy on Taiwanese roads and Taipei in particular has narrower more congested roads than many other cities. However if you know what you're doing, it's the perfect way to get around in a city.

It should be possible to rent a scooter by the day, week or month, depending on the city in which you're staying. One Taipei motorcycle and scooter rental service with English language service is Bikefarm, which is run by a very friendly and helpful English guy called Jeremy. In Taichung, Foreigner Assistance Services In Taiwan F.A.S.T offers a rental service for foreign visitors. Otherwise, scooters are generally easy to rent in most major cities, with many such places being near railway or bus stations. Most usually require some form of identification even if, in some cases, it consists of your expired Blockbuster video card! The average price you may expect is NT$400 for 24 hours, this includes one or two helmets.

Another option is to rent a motorcycle. Many foreigners swear by their 125cc Wild Wolf (野狼) motorcycles, and a trip around the island on a motorcycle can be a great way to see the island up close.

It is to be mentioned that since 2007, scooters and motorcycle over 550cc are allowed to go on expressway providing that they have a red license plate. They are however to be considered as cars, and as such cannot be parked in scooter parking spaces.

By Bus

Taiwan has an extensive bus network, run mostly by private bus companies. Travelling by bus is generally cheaper than by train, especially for long-distance trips. However, on holidays, travel time may be much longer and tickets are more likely to be sold out. There are two categories: intercity buses (客運) and local buses (公車).

Taiwan Tourist Shuttle is a set of distinctly branded bus routes (some intercity, some local) that serve tourist sites, and are generally easier to use than regular routes. The official website offers route maps, timetables and recommended itineraries, but is somewhat confusing to navigate. There is, however, a toll-free number for inquiries. There are also information desks at major transport hubs.

Many cities have local buses. They are managed by local governments, therefore information can generally be found on the websites of the respective transportation bureaus. Drivers are usually happy to help, but may not speak English. Route maps at bus stops are mostly in Chinese. For visitors, it may be helpful to have your hotel or accommodation host suggest some routes for you and circle your destination on a map, then show it to the bus driver to make sure you're on the right bus. Announcements are in English, but hopefully the driver will remember to tell you when to get off in case you miss it. Most buses accept either cash (no change) or IC cards (like the EasyCard). Minor cities and towns do not have local buses, but have intercity routes that make frequent stops. These can be found using the method in the previous paragraph.

Occasionally a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb at a bus stop. Sometimes it is due to a vehicle illegally parked at a bus stop. (Taiwanese traffic law and regulation prohibit vehicles from stopping or parking within 10 m (33 ft) of a bus stop.) However, a bus driver might stop a bus away from the curb just because he or she does not want to wait for overtaking traffic while leaving a bus stop. Therefore, be much more careful when getting on or off a bus stopped away from a curb, as many motorcycles, motor scooters, and bicycles will definitely be tempted to overtake on the right side of the stopped bus where people get on and off! (As traffic drives on the right side of the road in Taiwan, buses have doors on the right side.) In Taiwan you need to hail the bus you are taking as you see it coming - much like hailing a taxi. The terminal stop of the route is listed on the front of the bus in Chinese and sometimes English, so it is important to make sure the bus you get on is going the right direction.

For city buses, sometimes you pay when boarding, sometimes when alighting, sometimes both (whether with cash or an IC card). As you get on the bus there will be an LED sign indicating that, opposite the entrance. Sometimes it's only in Chinese: 上 means on boarding, 下 means on alighting (or just watch other people). In some cities such as Kaohsiung and Taichung, failing to swipe your card correctly will result in a locked card.

By Boat

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

By Bicyle

While known for being a major player in the bicycle industry (through companies such as Giant and Merida), until fairly recently, bicycles in Taiwan were considered an unwanted reminder of less prosperous times. This has changed, and bicycling is again on the rise, both as a tool for commuting and recreation, and support infrastructure is slowly being put into place. Several bike paths have been built, and recreational cycling has become quite popular amongst locals, especially on weekends. However, you should also be aware that local drivers have a well deserved reputation for recklessness. As such, you should exercise extreme caution when cycling outside of designated bicycle lanes and trails.

The government has been promoting bicycling as a method of clean recreation. Several designated bicycle paths have been built throughout Taiwan (especially along riverside parks). Additionally, long distance rides, including through the Central Mountain Range, and along the coastline around the main island have become popular. For long distance trips, bicycles can be shipped as is using standard freight service from the Taiwan Railway Administration between larger stations. A price table is available here (Chinese language only). Non-folding bicycles may also be transported aboard the Taipei and Kaohsiung rapid transit systems if loaded at specific stations, during off peak hours (usually 10:00-16:00 on weekdays, check with your local station personnel to confirm).

Giant Bicycles Corporation operates a large network of bicycle retail stores that offer rentals for as little as NT$100 per day, if requested one week in advance [1]. Generally, the day rate is around NT$300 for a modern bicycle. Also, rented bicycles can be picked up at one station and given back another station. This can be convenient if you want to go down the quiet east coast with a bicycle and back up the busy west coast with the train/bus. A one week finesse bike including bags costs as little as €100.

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Red Tape

Foreign nationals of the following 44 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 28 European Union member states, Australia (until 31 December 2019), Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Macedonia (until 31 March 2019), Norway, Paraguay, San Marino, Switzerland, Tuvalu, the United States, Vatican City

For up to 30 days: Belize, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Nauru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore

For up to 14 days: Brunei, Philippines, Thailand (until 31 July 2019 for all three), Russian Federation

If citizens of the above countries present an emergency or temporary passport, they will be required to apply for a landing visa on arrival by supplying a passport photo and paying a fee of NT$2,400.

Citizens of Japan need only present a passport with at least 3 months' validity (rather than 6 months' validity) upon entry. Citizens of the United States can enter Taiwan on a passport with less than 6 months' validity on the date of arrival by supplying a passport photo and paying a fee of NT$5,600.

Citizens of Canada and the United Kingdom can extend their stay for an extra 90 days (i.e. a total stay of up to 180 days) free of charge - more information is available on this Bureau of Consular Affairs information sheet.

Holders of valid passports from Hong Kong and Macau should apply for an entry permit, which can be done on arrival or online before departure if they were born in their respective territories or have been to Taiwan previously after 1983.

Residents of Mainland China (Chinese passport holders) may visit Taiwan for tourism if they join an approved guided tour. Residents in 13 cities of Mainland China have been permitted to travel to Taiwan individually since 2011.

Citizens of India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam who have a valid entry visa or permanent resident card issued by a Schengen country, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States can obtain a 30-day Visa on Arrival after making an online application.

All foreigners (except those on government business and certain permanent residents) age 14 and older are electronically fingerprinted and photographed as part of immigration entry procedures. Entry will be denied if these procedures are refused.

Detailed information about visas is available at the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Taiwan does not have formal embassies in most of the world's countries (due to the 'One China' policy of mainland China preventing formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan). Instead Taiwan operates a "Taipei Representative Office" or something of a similar name in most major countries, and these act as de facto embassies and consulates that can issue Taiwanese visas.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan dollar, denoted by the symbol "NT$" (新臺幣 or 臺幣, ISO code: NTD, but also referred to as TWD). The NT dollar is known locally as NT, yuán (元 or more formally 圓) when written in Chinese or colloquially in Mandarin as the kuài (塊). One unit is known colloquially as the kho͘ (箍) in the Taiwanese dialect. One dollar is divided into 100 cents, known as a 分 (fēn) in Chinese. 10 cents is formally known as a 角 (jiǎo), and colloquially as a 毛 (máo) in Chinese. Any $ sign you see in Taiwan or this travel guide for Taiwan generally refers to NTD unless it includes other initials (e.g. US$ for U.S. dollars).

Banknotes come in denominations of NT$100, NT$200, NT$500, NT$1,000 and NT$2,000, while coins come in denominations of NT$½, NT$1, NT$5, NT$10, NT$20 and NT$50. The NT$½ coin is rarely seen or accepted because of its low value, and the price of raw materials used to make the coin is more than the face value of the coin.

Taiwanese currency is fully convertible and there are no restrictions on taking currency into or out of the island. Currency exchange is possible internationally, although you will get a much better rate if you wait until you arrive at the airport to exchange currency at the 24-hour window. Most banks in Taipei and Kaohsiung will also exchange money or offer cash advances on credit or debit cards. Should you bring American currency, bring newer bills as the banks and exchange-centers (such as in department stores) will only accept the newer notes (notes from 1996 and 2003 are not accepted at most places, due to a high proportion of forgeries bearing these years). Notes which are torn or damaged will probably not be changed, and old-style small-bust notes are not accepted, including the US$2 bill no matter when it was printed. Taiwan National Bank will take older bank notes and bank notes that are wrinkled or torn for exchange. Department stores will not exchange notes older than 1997. Don't forget to show your passport!

Taiwan has abundant ATMs to withdraw cash from using the Plus or Cirrus systems. Certain banks' ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$. There is a per transaction limit of NT$20,000 for ATM cash withdrawals (HSBC Global Access customers may withdraw NT$30,000 from HSBC ATMs). Post office ATMs will not accept cards without an EMV chip.

However, ATMs are sometimes out of cash, especially in remote (mountain) regions. So, make sure you stock up on cash early enough. 7-Eleven ATMs charge NT$100 per transaction, whilst those in Family Marts do not charge a fee.

Most hotels and department stores accept credit cards, generally Visa, MasterCard, and JCB. Diners Club, Discover and American Express cards are seldom accepted. Most restaurants and small stores do not accept cards, and cash is the main form of payment. Because street crime is rare, it is common for people in Taiwan to carry large amounts of cash with them.

Tipping is generally not practiced in Taiwan. Bellhops in high end hotels and porters at airports are an exception and should be given NT$50 per bag. Also, tipping to show appreciation for exceptional service is not uncommon. Tipping is also not expected in taxis and drivers would usually return your change to the last dollar.

In place of tips is a 10% service charge when dining at most full-service restaurants which is automatically added to the bill.

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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.

Job requirements - in finding employment with a language school, experience, teaching qualifications and references are not required but obviously help. On paper, a big issue is also made about accents, with the North American English accent being heavily favored over British, Australian and South African accents in many language schools' sales marketing. However, in practice, many schools that advertise 'American English' and claim that their teachers are all from Canada or the USA, actually employ teachers from anywhere. Age is a factor, with applicants in their 20s seemingly being preferred. More than anything, appearance is probably the major factor in finding employment with most schools - Do you 'look Western'? - and reliability and turning up on time for work is then the major factor for keeping your job. Therefore, if you look the part, it is very easy to find a school willing to take you on for at least a few days.

This 'look Western' point has quite a bearing. Unfortunately, Taiwan is hardly a great promoter of equal opportunities. In many schools there is a prejudice against teachers applying for jobs who are not of white appearance, seen as the typical Western appearance in Asian countries. This is independent of whether or not the teacher has relevant teaching ability and citizenship of one of the permitted ARC countries. Many parents who send their children to schools to be taught English expect the teacher to look like they are from the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, and so on, and so the decision on the part of the school managers is mainly about economics. For those affected by this, it's a sad fact of Taiwan that is unlikely to change in the near future. Good employers without such prejudiced requirements do exist, but greater perseverance is needed when looking for them.

It is illegal to work without a work permit and an ARC (or Alien Residency Permit), and legal work requires a university degree and usually a long (over two month) application process. Alternatively, if you have a lot of money, you can obtain an investor visa by investing a large sum of money in a local business, which allows you to work for that company in a management capacity. However, illegal employment is easy to find with many school managers being willing to pay under the table for short durations. If caught or reported, you risk criminal charges and could be deported. The government tends to waver from being very lax on this issue under one administration to suddenly taking action under the next; but it only takes one disgruntled student to report you and have you fined and deported. Consider your options carefully!

The rules for getting an ARC do change often and each administrative part of Taiwan has its own ways of handling them, so it is best to check the pages of the website Forumosa and find out what the experiences of others are in your area. Keep in mind, that you can only get an ARC for English teaching if you are a 'citizen of a native English speaking country'. Taiwan's government defines these countries to be only the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa. Almost all teachers apply for an ARC through their employers only after starting work and it is tied to their ongoing employment with that school. Therefore, if the teacher wishes to leave their employment, they will have to quickly find an alternative employer or lose their ARC and hence be required to leave Taiwan. Also, very few schools will arrange an ARC without at least a year-long contract being signed. Frankly, with all this inflexibility, it's no wonder so many teachers opt for the non-legal route. That and tax evasion.

Citizens of Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland and Canada aged 18–30 can apply for a working holiday visa. For more information, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

After living in Taiwan continuously for 5 years, you may apply for permanent residency, which if granted, allows you to live and work in Taiwan indefinitely without restrictions.

A lot of the illegal teaching work that the majority of English teachers partake in is simply through private student tuition with payment being cash-in-hand. You can find a lot of private students around universities that have a Chinese-teaching department - look for the areas where all the foreign students will be and check the noticeboards. Because the majority of adult private students want to practice English conversation, you won't need to have any Chinese ability. However, it is definitely a selling point and, if you do have Chinese-speaking ability, it's worthwhile mentioning that in any advertising of your services. Also, once you have some regular students, remember that in Taiwan, as in most Asian countries, 'connections' or 'guanxi' are very important - if your students like you, they will in all likelihood recommend you to their family and friends.

Teaching English in Taiwan can be lucrative, as the salaries are very high compared to the cost of living, typically ranging NT$500-650 per hour before deductions in most language schools, with anything between NT$500-1,000 per hour being negotiable for private students. In the past few years, the flow of would-be teachers into Taiwan has increased dramatically, resulting in stiffer competition for jobs and a general drop in wages and this trend may continue. Employers of English teachers are notorious for racial discrimination. White people are much more likely to get better offers than other races regardless of ability.

Aside from English-teaching, other common kinds of employment available for mainly native English-speaking travellers include such tid-bits as small acting parts for TV and film, voice talent (video games, dubbing tracks, etc.), editing and even writing educational materials. Many of these will be advertised on billboards in Chinese language-teaching institutes and universities, where there are likely to be many foreign students.

If after travelling and living there, you find you are serious about working in Taiwan, the most lucrative employment to be had is if you are employed by a multinational company, perhaps in a high-paying country like the UK, U.S. or Australia, and you are sent across to their office in Taiwan. Many foreigners end up doing the same job as their colleagues who were employed in the Taiwan office, but for perhaps 3 or 4 times their pay.

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Study

Taiwan is home to several good universities, many of which have exchange agreements with various foreign universities, and these are a good way to experience life in Taiwan. The most prestigious university in Taiwan is the National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學).

Some universities in Taiwan have Chinese Promoting Programs (華語文推廣中心) that offers Chinese lessons to foreigners who wish to live in Taiwan or to learn Mandarin Chinese as their second or foreign language. The romanisation system taught here nowadays is Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音), whereas in the past they taught Zhuyin (注音), or BoPoMoFo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ). The writing system taught is Traditional Chinese and the form of Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect but the Taiwanese accent is quite noticeable.

There are many styles of kung fu (功夫) taught in Taiwan, largely by masters who came here with the Kuomintang in the late 1940s.

Styles include Ba Gua (八卦), Tai Chi (太極), Wing Chun (詠春), Praying Mantis (螳螂), Shway (水) Shiao and various weapons systems. Many of the students are westerners in these classes, which has led to the rise of several NHB Allegra schools, and Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Russian Sambo, Japanese Aikido.

Some of the more famous teachers will provide you with the paperwork needed to extend a student visa twice.

Taekwondo is also extremely popular and is often a mandatory part of school children's physical education.

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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 (a dialect of Minnan), Mandarin, Hakka and other Asian languages are spoken on the island, as are several aboriginal Austronesian languages. Mandarin is the lingua franca, but Taiwanese is spoken as the primary language by some 70% of the population. In the North where there is a large concentration of so-called "mainlanders" (those whose families came to Taiwan from mainland China in the 1940s as refugees of the Chinese Civil War), most people speak Mandarin as their primary language (although Taiwanese is spoken in abundance), but in the South of the island, Taiwanese is far more common. Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka are all tonal languages, which make them difficult for most foreigners to master. On the Matsu islands, the dominant Chinese dialect is a form of Mindong or Eastern Min (specifically Hokchiu or Foochow), which is also spoken in the area around Fuzhou and the coastal areas of northern Fujian.

Although standard Mandarin in Taiwan is nearly identical to standard Mandarin in mainland China (with differences mostly in technical and translated terms invented post-1949), most people in practice speak a distinctly accented version known as Taiwanese Mandarin. For example, Taiwanese Mandarin tends to not differentiate between the "S" and "Sh" sounds in Mandarin. All people schooled after 1945 are generally fluent in Mandarin, although it is sometimes not the first language of choice. Mandarin is fairly popular with young people. Some elderly people do not speak Mandarin as they were schooled in Japanese or not at all. Universally the Taiwanese are very accepting of foreigners and react with curiosity and admiration for trying the local tongue. Generally, most people in Taiwan converse using a combination of Mandarin and Taiwanese by code-switching. Mandarin is spoken more commonly than Taiwanese within Taipei City, and less commonly outside of it. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters, the script also used in Hong Kong and Macau, and not the simplified versions used on the mainland.

The Taiwanese dialect is a variant of Minnan which is similar to the dialect spoken across the Taiwan Strait in Xiamen. Unlike Xiamen Minnan, Taiwanese Minnan has some loan words from Japanese as a result of 50 years of Japanese colonization. Taiwanese Minnan and Xiamen Minnan are both mixtures of the Zhangzhou and Quanzhou accents, so as a result, Taiwanese Minnan sounds nearly identical to Xiamen Minnan.

All public announcements in the transportation system will be made in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, with the exception of the Matsu islands, where announcements are made in Mandarin and the Mindong dialect.

Especially in Taipei, younger people generally speak a basic conversational level of English. The children often understand more English than their parents, especially with the emphasis on English language education today, and English being a compulsory subject in Taiwanese schools. However, attempts to speak Mandarin or Taiwanese will be met with beaming smiles and encouragement, by and large.

Quite a few people, especially in Taipei, are proficient in Japanese due to the high number of Japanese visitors. Staff for tourist attractions such as the Taipei 101, museums, hotels, popular restaurants and airport shops speak Japanese in addition to English, Mandarin and other local languages. In fact, if you are a visitor of East Asian descent who cannot understand Chinese, when a worker realizes this he or she may try speaking to you in Japanese before trying English. In addition to this, some older people still understand and speak Japanese, having been educated during the fifty-year period of Japanese rule.

There has been an increasing usage of Korean by tourism boards due to the high number of Korean people visiting Taiwan thus there will be many signs across Taiwan written in Korean. An enthusiasm for Korean language education due to the influence of Korean pop culture is also gaining momentum.

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Eat

Tamsui 267

Tamsui 267

© CrackerjackHobo

Taiwan's cuisine is very well regarded by other East Asians and the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia, and for many of them, the food is the primary (and sometimes only) reason to visit Taiwan. While not as highly regarded as the food from Hong Kong due to the traditionally high status Cantonese cuisine holds in Chinese culture, Taiwanese food has become more respected in recent years.

Generally speaking, the foods of Taiwan are derived from mainland Chinese cuisines. Because most Taiwanese trace their ancestry to Fujian, it comes as no surprise that much of Taiwanese cuisine was derived from the cuisine of Fujian. It is also possible to find Szechuan (四川) food, Hunan (湖南) food, Dongbei (東北) food, Cantonese (廣東) food and almost every other Chinese cuisine on the island, because many famous chefs from the mainland fled to Taiwan after the communist victory in 1949. That being said, Taiwanese cuisine has absorbed substantial local influences, and significant Japanese influences because of 50 years of Japanese colonial rule, giving it a unique character that distinguishes it from its mainland Chinese counterparts. The Taiwanese are also passionately in love with eggs and seafood. Fruits are another famous part of Taiwanese food. A wide range of fruits can be found at local fruit shops and stations. The subtropical climate allows different fruits to grow nicely.

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.

Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many different countries. For example, Ilan (宜蘭) is famous for its mochi (麻吉), a sticky rice snack often flavored with sesame, peanuts or other flavorings. Yonghe (永和), a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly made soy milk (豆漿) and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes (太陽餅 tàiyáng bǐng), a kind of sweet stuffed pastry. In Chiayi, it's square cookies, also called cubic pastry (方塊酥), crispy layered cookies cut into squares and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds. Tainan is particularly famous among the Taiwanese for its abundance of good food and should be a stop for all gourmands. The most famous dish is arguably the coffin bread (棺材板). Virtually every city has its own famous specialties; many Taiwanese tourists will visit other cities on the island simply to try the local foods and then return home.

Taiwan also has remarkably good bakery items. Most specialize in sweet Chinese pastries or Western pastries adjusted to local tastes, but look out for We Care bakeries which also offer Western options such as whole wheat loaves, sour breads and ciabatta.

Vegetarians are better catered for in restaurants and variety than in most other countries.

Michelin publishes a guide to restaurants in Taipei. That said, it does not cover the whole of Taiwan, and most locals only take the Michelin guide with a pinch of salt. Instead, most Taiwanese rely on iPeen, which serves as Taiwan's equivalent of Yelp, for restaurant reviews. Unfortunately, it is only available in Chinese.

If you're on a budget, the cheapest food can be found in back-alley noodle shops and night market stalls, where you can get a filling bowl of noodles for around NT$35-70.

The Taiwanese love to snack and even many restaurants advertise xiaochi (小吃), literally "small eats", the Taiwanese equivalent of Cantonese dim sum. There are also the standard fast food places such as McDonalds (a standard Big Mac Meal costs NT$115), KFC and MOS Burger. In addition there are large numbers of convenience stores (such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart) that sell things like tea eggs, sandwiches, bento boxes (便當盒) and drinks.

Night markets are also a good place to try some delicious local Taiwanese fare at attractive prices. Examples would be the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) in Taipei and the Ruifeng Night Market (瑞豐夜市) in Kaohsiung, each of which has its own special dishes not to be missed.

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. Some hostels are under table which mean they don't have valid license.
Motels (汽車旅館) 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. Many feature enormous baths with massage jets, separate massage showers, marble tiles, and so forth. Suites come with flat screen TVs and centrally controlled sound systems. During the daytime, most offer "rests" (休息) of a few hours, and indeed check-in times for overnight stays (住宿) can be as late at 22:00. Taichung is considered the motel-capital of Taiwan.
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. For example, the airport hotel at CKS International charges about three or four times as much as a hotel in Taoyuan which is a half hour cab ride away. Taxi drivers and tourist offices are invaluable resources for finding cheaper hotels.
A uniquely Taiwanese form of accommodation is known as the minsu (民宿), which is similar to Bed and Breakfast accommodation that you usually find in the UK. Although typically cheaper than hotels, the facilities can often be as good as those of some higher end hotels, and many are designed around a specific theme (like fairy tale castle, nature lodge) Accommodation at a minsu typically includes breakfast the next morning, and higher end ones sometimes also give you the option of having a home-cooked style dinner. The downside is that most minsu are either in residential suburbs or in the countryside, meaning that transportation is typically less convenient that at centrally located hotels, and the availability of wi-fi can be a hit or miss. In addition, most minsu advertise in Chinese only.
Camping does not seem to be an issue in Taiwan and is available in many areas, even in national parks like Kenting National Park. Although, in Taroko Gorge (National Park) you will have to pay for the camp ground. In general, a small fees may apply at official camp grounds. Inquire with the local tourist information centre where it is possible to camp and where not. Also, be aware there are "poisonous snakes and wasps" signs all over the country. So, make sure you know where you are camping, and how to keep out "unwanted guests". Consult a map like OpenStreetMap, which many mobile Apps like OsmAnd, and MAPS.ME, use, to find existing camp grounds or good locations.

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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.

Alcohol

Taiwan's legal age to consume alcohol is 18 years of age. Minors caught drinking can face fines ranging from NT$10,000-50,000. Traditional alcoholic drinks in Taiwan are very strong. Kaoliang (高粱酒) 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 (紹興酒), 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 (台灣啤酒), 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 Beer has won international awards, including the International Monde Selection in 1977 and the Brewing Industry International Awards in 2002.

Beer on tap is uncommon in Taiwan, and most places serve beer in bottles. For a special and rare treat, ask for the Taiwan Draft Beer (台灣生啤酒), which comes in a plain green bottle. This has a 2-week expiration, so it can only be found at the breweries (there are a few scattered around Taiwan) or at select stores and restaurants in the vicinity.

Tea and Coffee

Taiwan's specialty teas are High Mountain Oolong (高山烏龍, Gao-shan wulong) - a fragrant, light tea, and Tie Guan-yin (鐵觀音) - a dark, rich brew. Enjoying this tea, served in the traditional way using a very small teapot and tiny cups, is an experience you should not miss. This way of taking tea is called lao ren cha (老人茶) - 'old people's tea', and the name is derived from the fact that only the elderly traditionally had the luxury of time to relax and enjoy tea in this way. Check the small print when visiting a traditional tea house though: in addition to the tea itself, you may be charged a cover (茶水費, literally "tea-water fee") for the elaborate process of preparing it and for any nibbles served on the side.

One should also try Lei cha (擂茶; léi chá) a tasty and nourishing Hakka Chinese tea-based dish consisting of a mix ground tea leaves and rice. Some stores specialize in this product and allows one to grind their own lei cha.

As with Chinese teas elsewhere, Chinese teas in Taiwan are always drunk neat, with the use of milk or sugar unknown. However, Taiwan is also the birthplace of pearl milk tea, which uses sugar and milk.

Pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhū nǎichá), aka "bubble tea" or "boba tea", is milky tea with chewy balls of tapioca added, drunk through an over-sized straw. Invented in Taiwan in the early 1980s and a huge Asia-wide craze in the 1990s, it's not quite as popular as it once was but can still be found at nearly every coffee or tea shop. Look for a shop where it is freshly made.

The cafe culture has hit Taiwan in a big way, and in addition to an abundance of privately owned cafes, all the major chains, such as Starbucks, have a multitude of branches throughout major towns and cities.

Soft Drinks

Taiwan is a great place for fruit drinks. Small fruit-juice bars make them fresh on the spot and are experts at creating fruit-juice cocktails (non-alcoholic, of course). zong-he (mixed) is usually a sweet and sour combination and mu-gwa niou-nai (木瓜牛奶) is iced papaya milk. If you don't want ice (though it is safe in Taiwan, even at road side vendors) say, chu bing (去冰) and no sugar - wu tang (無糖).

Soy milk, or doujiang (豆漿), is a great treat. Try it hot or cold. Savory soy milk is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast dish. It is somewhat of an acquired taste as vinegar is added to curdle the milk. Both sweet and savory soy milk are often ordered with you-tiao (油條), or deep fried dough crullers.

There are a lot of pseudo health drinks in Taiwanese supermarkets and convenience stores. Look out for asparagus juice and lavender milk tea for example.

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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 very safe for tourists, even for women at night. This is not to say, however, that there is no crime, and you should always exercise caution. In crowded areas such as night markets or festivals, for example, pickpockets are a known problem. However, it is fair to say that the streets of Taiwan are generally very safe and that violent crime and muggings are very rare.

In addition, it is also very unusual to see drunks on the street, day or night.

Like anywhere else in the world, women should be cautious when taking taxis alone late at night. Although they are generally safe, it's a good idea to arrange to have a friend call you when you get home and to be seen making the arrangements for this by the cab driver. It also helps if a friend sees you being picked up as taxis have visible license numbers. As an additional safety precaution, tell taxi drivers just the street name and section instead of your exact address.

Police departments in most jurisdictions have a Foreign Affairs Police unit staffed by English-speaking officers. When reporting a major crime, it is advisable to contact the Foreign Affairs unit in addition to officers at the local precinct. Police stations are marked with a red light above the door and display a sign with the word "Police" clearly printed in English. For more information see the National Police Agency website .

Foreign victims of a major crime in Taiwan are also advised to report the matter to their government's representative office in Taipei.

Also, remember that you call 110 for police in Taiwan, and 119 for fire department or medical help. Most of the public telephone booths will allow you to call 110 or 119 for free. See "Emergency Phone Numbers" section below.

Taiwan is home to many triads (Chinese organized crime syndicates), although they almost never target the average person in the street, and most tourists will not encounter them. Many operate human trafficking rings involving the sale of poor women from Southeast Asia into sex slavery that the government has struggled to tackle. They are also often in illegal betting and loansharking, so it is best to be prudent and avoid these.

Natural Hazards

Taiwan often experiences typhoons (颱風) during the summer months and early fall, especially on the East Coast. Heavy monsoon rainfall also occurs during the summer. Hikers and mountaineers should be sure to consult weather reports before heading into the mountains. A major hazard following heavy rainfall in the mountains is falling rocks (土石流) caused by the softening of the earth and there are occasional reports of people being killed or injured by these.

Taiwan is also on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means that earthquakes are a common occurrence. Most earthquakes are barely noticeable, though the effect may be slightly amplified for those in higher buildings. While the local building codes are extremely strict, general precautions should still be observed during an earthquake, including opening the door to prevent it from being jammed, taking cover and checking for gas leaks afterwards. While most newer buildings have been built according to strict codes that enable them to withstand major earthquakes, some of the older buildings are were not constructed to such high standards and so are vulnerable to serious damage or collapse in the case of a strong tremor.

Taiwan's wild areas are home to a variety of poisonous snakes, including the bamboo viper, Russel's viper, banded krait, coral snake, Chinese cobra, Taiwan habu, and the so-called "hundred pacer" (百步蛇). Precautions against snake bites include making plenty of noise as you hike, wearing long trousers and avoiding overgrown trails. Most snakes are scared of humans, so if you make noise you will give them time to get away. Walking quietly means that you may suddenly startle them around a corner when you appear, and trigger an attack. The Russel's viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in Taiwan, is an exception...it generally prefers to take a stand against threats.

Traffic

Local drivers have a well-deserved reputation for seeming reckless and downright immoral. It is possible (even normal) to obtain a driving license in Taiwan without ever having driven on the roads, and this may be a reason (along with the overcrowded roads) why courteous or defensive driving is definitely not the norm. The guiding principles seem to be that the right of way belongs to the larger vehicle, i.e. trucks have the right-of-way over cars, cars over motorcycles, motorcycles over people, etc. Despite traffic's chaotic appearance, it is viscerally intuitive to yield the right-of-way to a much larger vehicle barreling towards you. It is advisable to use slow and smooth movements over quick or sudden ones. Local drivers regularly cut in front of moving traffic into spaces that seem too small, try to change lanes regardless of the fact their destination is already full, etc. Be aware that during busy traffic (i.e. nearly always) two-lane roads will spontaneously become three-lane, an orange light will be interpreted as 'speed up', and the smallest moment's pause in oncoming traffic will result in everybody that's waiting trying to turn across it. Drivers routinely enter a junction when their exit is blocked, and are therefore frequently still there long after the lights change, blocking traffic traveling in other directions. Many motorcycle riders also have a tendency to zip through any space, no matter how tiny. Also be aware that motorcycles often travel through areas typically considered as pedestrian-only spaces, like the night-markets.

If you drive a car or a motorcycle, the obvious rule is that if someone turns in front of you, you should be the one to adapt. To avoid collisions, drivers need to be extremely vigilant for other vehicles creating hazards and always be willing to adjust speed or direction to accommodate. Do not expect drivers to yield way, or respect traffic lights in many areas, especially in central and southern Taiwan. Sounding the horn is the usual way a Taiwanese driver indicates that they do not intend to accommodate a driver trying to encroach on their lane, etc., and does not necessarily imply the anger or criticism, as it does in other countries. One bright side of Taiwan's chaotic traffic is that drivers tend to have an exceptional awareness of the spatial extents of their vehicle and maneuver well, so that even though it continuously looks like somebody is about to drive straight into you, it's relatively rare that they actually do so.

Be extra careful when crossing the road, even to the extent of looking both ways on a one-way street. When crossing at a pedestrian-crossing at a T-junction or crossroads, be aware that when the little green man lights up and you start crossing, motorists will still try to turn right, with or without a green feeder light. Even on roads where traffic is infrequent and the green light is in your favor, bike-riders are still strongly advised to check the opposite lane.

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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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