The island country of Taiwan is populated by 23 million people and is about 14,000 square miles, or about 1/6th the size of California. Most of the people live in the massive cities that dot the country side of the west and in just a few hours you can travel from the far north metropolis of Taipei ( former record holder for the Worlds tallest building, turns out it’s now the 12th, thanks mainly to Dubai, China, Hong Kong and even the US) all the way down to the southern tip and Kenting National Park. Although they can no longer boast about Taipei 101 being numero uno, the Taiwanese certainly do many other things right!
For starters, public transportation: Taipei, Khaosuing and Taichung all have great metro rail systems, as well as an organized bus system, and rental bike stations to help you navigate the cities. Any first time visitor can grab a token at the MRT station and easily navigate to whatever temple, memorial, night market or mall with just a quick look at the map. They even offer 3,5, and 7 day unlimited use MRT passes (at least in Taipei, I'm not positive about the others) to avoid having to keep buying tokens at the machine.
Cleanliness: I’m not sure I can detail exactly how clean this country is. As soon as I set foot in the Taoyuan Airport I was in awe. You could eat off the floor in any corner. They even had an electronic “rate my cleanliness” questionnaire in the bathroom when you exited. In the cities there were people employed to sweep the streets, and not just a couple, but a small army! Oh, and back to the public transportation, it too is spotless. No graffiti, no trash, I swear there were barely footprints in it, even though people flowed in and out like a well disciplined herd of cattle.
Friendliness: Let me start by saying, everyone stares there is just no avoiding it. Being 6 foot 2 inches tall with a red beard and blonde hair in an asian country is the equivalent of a whale flopping is way through a safari ground in Africa. That being said, they all smile and every young kid who spoke english tried to engage in conversation with me. When I was walking alone people would come and walk with me and start asking me questions and if I minded that they practice their english with me. Even in restaurants or smaller towns where english wasn't as prevalent, people did their best to accommodate and we always parted with a smile, laugh and the universal “peace sign”.
Safety: I dropped a coin and 4 people came up and pointed it out, what else can you say? This is the first place where I knew I was completely safe walking around with my backpack on and camera around my neck (hey, I am a tourist after all). Not only that, but I could go out at night, and yes you single ladies could have done the same completely safe, and set up a time-lapse ora long exposure and not have to look over my shoulder (I still did, simply because I am well trained, and because I know my mom is reading this).
Last but not least, the cuisine is to die for. Whether you're grabbing beef noodle soup from a street cart or Dumplings from Din Tai Fung (regarded as the best dumplings…ever) you cant go wrong. They also have some great coffee shops, even better tea houses and the night markets offer you variety that is hard to beat. Night markets are the equivalent of county fairs, loads of fried goods (fried milk, chicken bites, squid balls) but also sprinkle in bubble (or boba) tea, sausages of many different kinds (I tried cuttlefish) and even some street pizza which, to be fair isn't necessarily their strongest point.
Taiwan is truly a magical place. Beautiful cities, nature, people and food all crammed into one amazing island. If you get the chance for a stop over, or just a vacation I highly recommend. The one downfall is that it is one of the more expensive countries in Asia (behind Japan and South Korea). I was there for 10 days and I spent $500. To some that sounds cheap as chips, but with hostels being $20-25 a night compared to $6-7 dollars in Philippines, it adds up. Defiantly a 40-50 dollar a day location instead of the $10-20 in many other south east Asia locations. Hey, forego that iPhone 7 and you’ll be on your way to great experiences in Taiwan! If you are interested in other information about Taiwan or what to expect or plan for fun your travels feel free to reach out!
Much love and Stay Wild