Though Taiwanese territory includes dozens of small islands in the Taiwan Strait and the Pacific, the main island known as Taiwan covers the vast majority of the land area under Taiwanese administration.
Almost two-thirds of Taiwan is covered by mountains, with 258 peaks over 3,000m (9,850ft), most of them heavily forested. The highest of these, Yushan (Jade Mountain), is northeast Asia’s tallest mountain at 3,952m (13,042ft). This mountainous terrain is the result of the island’s location – it sits on the fault line of two tectonic plates, and was formed after a dramatic geological upheaval between four and five million years ago. It also sits on the Tropic of Cancer, putting it on the same line of latitude as Hawaii in the North Pacific.
But while mountains dominate Taiwan’s centre and rugged east coast, the island’s western third is mostly alluvial plain and is host to most of the population. The two Pacific islands, Lyudao (Green Island) and Lanyu (Orchid Island), are popular holiday destinations, while the Taiwan Strait archipelagos of Penghu and Matzu hold historic and cultural appeal. And just a few kilometers off mainland China’s Fujian coast, the tiny islands of Kinmen and Lieyu remain under Taiwanese control.
The combination of climate, terrain and topography also makes the main island of Taiwan ripe for endemic flora and fauna, particularly in the diverse mountain forests. The Taiwan fir tree and Formosan black bear are two key examples. There’s also a rich bird life to enjoy, with various specialist tours available.
Indigenous tribes have been here for some 4000 years, with Chinese settlements springing up from the sixteenth century onwards. It subsequently drew the interest of European colonists, with the Dutch and Spanish both putting down roots. In 1684, Taiwan was then taken over by supporters of the deposed Ming Dynasty, before becoming completely controlled by the Qing Dynasty, turning into a province in its own right.
In the 1890s, Chinese defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War brought the first occupation of Chinese territory by the Japanese. Taiwan was ‘ceded in perpetuity’ to Japan by Article 2 of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Although it was fiercely resented and actively resisted by the population, Taiwan remained under Japanese rule from 1895 until its defeat at the end of World War II. The Chinese Civil War, which had already been in progress for some years, came to a head in 1948. The nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek were defeated by Mao’s Communists, and the nationalist leadership, along with thousands of supporters, fled to Taiwan. Here, their political vehicle, the Kuo Min-Tang (KMT) rapidly came to dominate Taiwanese politics.
Having ensured its own survival, the KMT set about developing the economy. In this, the KMT regime was spectacularly successful, helping Taiwan become one of the fast-developing ‘tiger economies’ of the Pacific Rim. Politically, Taiwan relied for a long time upon the support of the USA until the early 1970s, when a rapprochement between Washington and Beijing took place, the USA effectively shifting its allegiance from Taiwan to China.
The Chinese still consider Taiwan to be part of the national territory and continue to harbor the long-term objective of reunifying Taiwan with the mainland. International recognition of Taiwan (by the United Nations, for example) is therefore unacceptable to Beijing. But for all their political disagreements, extensive trade, travel and communications links have built up between Taiwan and China since the early 1970s. Annual bilateral trade is now worth well over US$50 billion and one million people travel between the two countries each year.
Taiwan has a population of 23 million. The larger part of the country’s inhabitants are the descendants of immigrants from the various provinces of mainland China, but in particular from the southeastern coastal provinces: Fujian and Guangdong. Because the different ethnic groups have fairly well integrated, differences that originally existed between people from different provinces have gradually disappeared.
Nearly 500,000 indigenous people, the original inhabitants of Taiwan, still live here; they are into 14 different tribes, namely Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, and Sediq.
Despite Taiwan’s complex ethnic and cultural mix, its way of life is predominantly Chinese, steeped in tradition and marked by superstition. As such, ancient customs and festivals are celebrated with fervor, and traditional holidays are closely observed. Taiwanese people are on the whole extremely friendly, and standards of hospitality are high. Entertainment is more commonly offered in restaurants than in private homes, and visitors are not usually expected to entertain. Handshaking is common, and casual wear is widely acceptable.
As is the case in mainland China, the official language of Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese, commonly referred to as guoyu (‘national language’). However, the native Taiwanese tongue, alternatively called taiyu or minnan hua, is still widely spoken as a first language by the island’s dominant ethnic group, which originally hails from China’s southern Fujian province. Hakka Chinese and various aboriginal dialects are still spoken too.
Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
Taiwan is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST)
Taiwan uses the 110-volt electricity, 60 Hz. The most common socket the island uses is the two flat parallel pin types.
Despite the island’s relatively small size, the fact that Taiwan is bisected by the Tropic of Cancer means weather conditions can vary considerably from the north to the south. There’s a subtropical climate with moderate temperatures in the north, where rain is common in the winter months. The southern areas, where temperatures are higher on average, are less prone to rain.
Summer can be uncomfortably hot across the island, making autumn and spring great times to come calling. The typhoon season usually comes into effect in late summer and makes itself felt most forcefully on the east coast, although in some years the phenomenon is far more active than in others.
It might sound tempting to visit during the Chinese New Year celebrations, but while you’re likely to experience some spectacular revelry, you should be aware that accommodation prices always sky-rocket and many businesses and service providers shut down for the period.
CLOTHES TO WEAR
Light- to medium weights, with rainwear advised. It’s a good idea not to wear overly skimpy clothing when visiting some of the stricter Buddhist temples, although light trousers and a t-shirt will always be considered perfectly acceptable for both sexes. It’s a wise idea to pack swimwear for the hot springs, although some single-sex bathing areas require no costume to be worn. Bring a pair of sturdy shoes too – even if you’re not intending to go trekking, there are some enjoyable short walks to be had at natural attractions like Taroko Gorge.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
U.S. citizens seeking entry as tourists or visitors are required to present a valid passport that will remain valid for the period of intended stay. You must also possess a confirmed return or onward air ticket. As a U.S. passport holder, you will be allowed to enter Taiwan without a visa for up to 90 days if your passport is valid for more than 90 days. If your passport has less than 90 days of validity remaining, you will be able to enter Taiwan for a time equal to the expiration date of your passport. No extensions or changes of status are permitted. Taiwan authorities can deny a visitor entry if they do not have the appropriate travel documents for their onward destination. You also have the option of applying for and receiving a Taiwan visa prior to arrival in Taiwan. The cost including the processing fee is US $164.00. Visit the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO)’s website for the most current visa information:
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO)
4201 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-2137
Telephone: (202) 895-1800 (Main Number)
Facsimile: (202) 363-0999 (Main Number)
Telephone: (202) 895-1814 (Consular Division)
Facsimile: (202) 895-0017 (Consular Division)
For Emergencies: (202) 669-0180
TECO (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) also has offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
HIV/AIDS restrictions: Taiwan generally does not ask short-term visitors about their HIV status. Those applying for resident visas – usually those who plan to work or join family – must obtain a health certificate that will indicate if the applicant is HIV positive. If the resident visa applicant is HIV positive, Taiwan authorities will likely deny the resident visa. Similarly, Taiwan authorities are likely to require people who test positive for HIV to leave Taiwan at their own expense, even though Taiwan law does not require authorities to deport people who are HIV positive.
U.S.A. Embassy in Taiwan
The American Institute in Taipei, Taiwan
2nd Floor, Consular Section
#7, Lane 134, Hsin Yi road, Section 3
Telephone: + (886) 2-2162-2000 or (02)2162-2000, ext. 2306
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: + (886) 2-2162-2000. Press “0” or “*”.
Fax: + (886) 2-2162-2239
Web link: http://acs.ait.org.tw/
Note: The U.S. maintains unofficial relations with the people on Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private nonprofit corporation, which performs U.S. citizen and consular services similar to those at embassies.
The American Institute in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
No. 2 Chung Cheng 3rd Road, 5th Floor
Telephone: + (886) 7-238-7744
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: Please contact the American Institute in Taiwan.
Fax: + (886) 7-238-5237
Web link: http://kaohsiung.ait.org.tw/
Canadian Embassy for Taiwan
Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT)
6F, Hua-Hsin Building, No. 1 SongZhi Road, Xinyi District, Taipei 11047, Taiwan
Tel: +886 (2) 8723-3000
Fax: +886 (2) 8723-3592
Office Hours: Monday to Thursday 8:15am to 12:00 pm 12:30pm to 5pm, Friday 8:15am to 12:45pm
The Consular Services Hours are from 9 am to 11:30 am, Monday to Friday (except Statutory Holidays).
Health facilities in Taiwan are adequate for routine and emergency medical treatment. Physicians are well trained and many have studied in the United States and speak English. State of the art medical equipment is available at many clinics and hospitals. Hospitals’ nursing services provide medication dispensing and wound care but generally not the daily patient maintenance functions found in U.S. hospitals. Taiwan regulations require ambulances to have emergency equipment and supplies and to be staffed by trained medical personnel (dial 119). For information on specific clinics and hospitals, please refer to AIT’s website.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
BANKS & CURRENCY
New Taiwan Dollar (TWD; symbol NT$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of NT$TWD 2000, 1000, 500, 200 and 100. Coins are in denominations of NT$50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
American Express, MasterCard, Visa and Diners Club are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops.
ATMs are found in all major towns, cities and airports and – with a few exceptions that only handle domestic accounts – are mostly compatible with international debit and credit cards. A lot of 7Eleven stores have cash points inside, which tend to be a safe bet for withdrawing with an international card.
Traveler’s cheques are cashed in most hotels, restaurants and shops. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveler’s cheques in US Dollars.
Banking hours: Monday-Friday from 9am till 3:30pm
Taiwan’s International Dialing Code is +886. There is an extensive telephone system across the island, including a large number of public card phones which can be used for overseas calls. Prepaid cards can also be bought.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
Much of Taiwan’s culinary heritage comes directly from China, which is good news for foodies. The Chinese, never at a loss for vivid description, refer to their cuisine as an ‘ancient art of ultimate harmony: pleasing to the eye, mouth-watering and a delight to the palate’. Culinary styles come from all over China including Canton, Hunan, Mongolia, Peking, Shanghai and Szechuan, with Taiwan itself contributing a considerable amount of signature dishes in its own right. Fujian, the mainland Chinese province closest to Taiwan, has had the broadest effect on the overall food culture.
The island’s repertoire has also been subject to significant Japanese influence, while seafood is unsurprisingly a specialty across the nation. Most hotels have restaurants offering both Western and Chinese cuisine and some of the larger hotels offer several styles of Chinese cooking (the Chinese word for hotel, fan-dien, means ‘eating place’).
- Taiwanese staples include spring rolls with peanut satay, sweet-and-sour spare ribs, bean curd in red sauce, oyster omelette, steamed pork dumplings and numerous excellent seafood. Some of these fall into the category of xiaochi(little eats), which in effect are a Taiwanese version of tapas. Buying various xiaochidishes to make up a larger meal is a particularly common way of eating at night markets – for visitors; it’s also a great way of sampling a wide range of what’s on offer.
- Cantonese food: Fried shrimp with cashews and deep-fried spring rolls and tarts.
- Pekinese food: Peking duck, steamed prawns, eels with pepper sauce and ham marrow sauce.
- Szechuan food: Mother Ma’s bean curd, aubergine with garlic sauce, fried prawns with pepper sauce, minced chicken with gingko nuts and fried breads.
- Shanghai food: Shark’s fin in chicken, mushroom with crab meat, ningpo (fried eel), shark’s fin soup and West Lake fish.
Restaurants almost always have table service, although some hotels have buffet/barbecue lunches. Most bars have counter service. There are no set licensing hours and alcohol is widely available.
Tea is a major component of Taiwanese culture, with the island producing many acclaimed varieties – oolong being the most famous. Teahouses are found in great numbers, ranging from the traditional to the contemporary. Many teashops embrace modern innovation – one result is the global popularity of bubble tea (a cooled tea-based drink containing small tapioca balls and drunk through a straw), which originated here.
Alcohol is easy to come by, although there’s not always a huge variety on offer. The most popular tipple is Taiwan Beer, while something stronger is the local firewater, gaoliang jiu, which is made from sorghum.
Taiwan has an abundance of nightlife, and Taipei in particular is lively at night. Western-style entertainment can be found in various international hotels, and in the many discos, clubs, restaurants and cinemas around the city. Popular amongst local people are KTVs, a type of sing-along club modeled on Japanese karaoke bars; and beer houses, which sell draught beer and snacks. The northern district of Tienmu contains a street of open-air beer houses.
Kaohsiung and Taichung are also renowned for their after-dark entertainment. In both these cities, as in Taipei, you’ll find a decent spectrum of late-night venues, from swish hotel lounges to unfussy beer joints. In smaller cities, however, drinking holes tend to be thinner on the ground, so it’s advisable to seek prior information rather than just wandering the streets in the expectation of chancing on a bar.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that all recreational drugs (including marijuana) are illegal, so dabbling is strongly unadvised. There have even been reports of police turning up at venues and subjecting clubbers to on-the-spot urine tests.
The visitor can also sample both traditional and modern tea houses open all day and in the evening. In the tea-growing countryside around Mucha, it is possible to visit all-night tea houses and sip locally produced teas such as ‘iron Buddha’ tiehkuanyin tea. High-quality meals and snacks are also provided. These tea houses are popular with local families, particularly on special occasions.
Back in Taipei, there are night markets selling a variety of items, both modern and traditional. These are bustling with browsers and bargain hunters, whose persistence can be spectacularly rewarded. It is advisable to take a pen and paper to assist in the bargaining process, as most vendors speak only Chinese. Taipei’s largest night market is probably the aforementioned Shilin, famous for its good-value clothing and food. Many shops are open at night.
One of the best ways to shop is to visit the island’s famous night markets, which you’ll find located everywhere from Taipei to Taitung. A lively atmosphere of steaming food carts, thumping music and strolling families make them hugely enjoyable places to spend time. What’s more, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll be able to hunt down some serious bargains. Purchases include: Formosan sea-grass mats, hats, handbags and slippers, bamboo items, Chinese musical instruments, various dolls in costume, hand-painted palace lanterns made from silk, lacquer ware, ceramics, teak furniture, coral, veinstone and jade items, ramie fiber rugs, brassware, handmade shoes, fabrics and chopsticks (decorated, personalized sticks of wood or marble).
Monday to Saturday from 10am till 10pm. Some convenience stores are open 24 hours per day.
Night markets often stay open later than regular shops, and the Shilin Night Market in Taipei stays packed well into the evening on Sundays. It’s worthwhile setting aside at least a couple of hours for a visit – find everything from dumpling stalls and reflexology parlors to knock-off watches and designer clothes, and it’s normally possible to pick up decent souvenirs at a reasonable price.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.
There is no public laundry on the streets. Laundry services are available in hotels and cruise ships, usually through the floor attendant or housekeeping. One-day dry cleaning and pressing services are offered at good hotels.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.