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I remember when I first traveled to Taipei. Having said goodbye to my family back in the Czech Republic, I had my entire world packed into a 20-kilogram suitcase. Stepping out of plane in Taipei, I had no idea whether I would enjoy or at least get used to living in Taiwan.
Taipei seemed hard in terms of orientation, with its monotonous urban landscape of grey buildings and busy streets. It also felt like everyone in Taiwan drives a scooter! Everything was new and exciting, and very different. Before I knew it, this place far away from my own country felt like home.
After spending two years in this incredible place, I have decided to write this post to give you an insider view of living in Taiwan. Blog should be more than a suitable place for this.
PS: Check my other post 10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Taiwan.
Moving to Taiwan
Moving to Taiwan is a big step, no matter whether you are doing it for travel, work or study. You should have a valid passport (which is not expiring in the next 6 months), visa and enough money for the beginning. Most foreigners wanted to move to Taiwan in order to find a teaching job, which of course never happens overnight. So be prepared.
You should get ready for a long international travel: most of the times, I had two or three stopovers before reaching Taipei. There are few world destinations such a London or Vienna which offer direct flights to Taipei, but the price is of course higher. I recommend you Kiwi.com, my favorite tools for searching for the cheapest flights.
Another thing you should arrange is accommodation for your first days in Taipei. You will probably arrive pretty tired and you might be affected by the heat and humidity in Taipei (especially in summer). It is a good idea to book a place to stay and recover from a Jetlag. I have written a post about the best hostels in Taipei, which should shave you covered.
Cost of living in Taiwan
One of the things that worried me before moving to Taiwan was, of course, the living cost in Taiwan. Of course, various people have various needs and so the standards of living in Taiwan can be very different. It is good to know that Taipei is much cheaper than other big cities in East Asia including Japan, Soul, Singapore and Hong Kong. I have spent one semester in Hong Kong before and it was a relief to find out that in Taipei the money goes a much longer way.
As a foreign student entitled the scholarship and not having had to pay for the university fees, I was dealing with a budget of 30 000 NTD for a month, which is about 980 USD. This money was more than enough to cover my living costs in Taiwan including the dorm, food and some smaller trips around Taiwan, too.
Most foreigners move to Taipei, but it is good to know that outside the capital the cost of living is much lower. By staying for example in Kaohsiung, one can save much money especially when it comes to accommodation.
The lifestyle in Taiwan is much likely very different to what you are used to. You will experience something new and you will be free to choose your personal Taiwan lifestyle. Sometimes it is much easier to start a new chapter, without the influences and expectations of your family.
Taiwanese people are very friendly, and in many aspects also pretty special:} After two years of living in Taiwan, I have a lot to say about the way people live here. Some of them are cool (food!), some interesting, and others just purely weird.
Let’s get this started:
01 | Pay first, eat later
Ordering food can be quite confusing when you’ve just started your Taiwan trip. The meals are usually listed in Chinese only, and guests are asked to pay first.
Once you get used to it, you learn two advantages of this system: First, you know how much the stuff costs from the very beginning. Second, you can leave anytime without the necessity of waiting for the bill to be issued. Quite convenient, huh?
02 | There are no public trash cans
In order to keep the streets clean and cockroach-free, there are few trash cans placed in the streets. If you decide to get rid of any trash, you will probably have to carry it to the nearest metro station, or even to your home.
One of my teachers told me that when she was younger, she remembers how the sidewalks were covered in rotting garbage. It was disgusting, and there were rats everywhere. So apparently, a lack of trash cans is actually a move to a cleaner city. It’s not practical, but it simply works!
03| Literally everyone rides a scooter
Taiwan is the land of scooters, with more motorbikes per capita than anywhere else in the world. Sometimes you can see a whole family on scooter (I’m talking about 4 to 5 members, including the dog!).
If you want to ride scooter in Taiwan, I recommend doing it in the countryside or on small offshore islands. In the cities, the fun is spoiled by heavy traffic. A driving license is easy to get and people don’t strictly follow road rules (some of them don’t even know what they are!). Living in Taipei, I witnessed accidents on nearly a daily basis.
04| Garbage trucks play Beethoven
Living in Taiwan, you have to accept that garbage is a big deal. The garbage from households should be disposed of in city-approved trash bags. Garbage trucks drive through every neighborhood five times a week and residents carry their bags of trash down and put them into the trucks themselves.
Waiting for the garbage truck is one of Taiwan’s liveliest communal rites. Many people go out earlier to have a chat with their neighbors until they hear the unmistakable song being played loudly by the truck: Beethoven’s Fur Elise. What a fancy song for this kind of situation!
05 | There are earthquakes all the time
Located at the junction of two tectonic plates, Taiwan is one of the most tectonically active regions in the world. The Central Weather Bureau reports as many as 1,047 earthquakes per year that are perceivable (and over 18,000 per year if we include ones that are not perceivable).
Many buildings are built to rock with the earth to withstand powerful typhoon winds and earthquake tremors, including Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building and once the tallest building in the world.
06| The best place to lose your wallet
Taiwan is one of the few places in the world where people actively search for an owner of an item they have found. Not only will they not keep it, but they will really take the initiative to return it to its original owner.
The very first week I was in Taiwan, I forgot my bag, which contained my wallet and mobile, at a public event. Soon after, a stranger started dialing numbers saved in my phone until he figured out who it belonged to. By the time I reached my flat, an email was in my inbox stating, “Please come to pick up your bag!” I couldn’t believe this!
07 | Karaoke is the Taiwanese way of clubbing
The Taiwanese are normally very shy, so it took me by surprise that this doesn’t apply to public singing. Karaoke is one of the most popular social activities; some of my local friends would go out for karaoke at least once per week (as often as my European friend would go clubbing)!
Karaoke bars look a bit like 5-star hotels, with a reception area and private rooms. Many people also have KTV at home, including some of the smallest villages in the south of Taiwan.
08| You may be surrounded by people with masks
It is impossible to overlook this: people in Taiwan often wear face masks in public. It feels really weird at first, but they actually do it out of courtesy.
The Taiwanese wear masks in public to let people now that they are sick or have a cold. Although the masks are unlikely so prevent any diseases, they function as a gentle sign of caution.
09| The Taiwanese never say no
This was always the most confusing thing to me about people in Taiwan: their disability to say a clear and direct “no”. If you call a friend, asking whether she would like to go to the cinema later, and she responds: Eh…Maybe? Then what she really means to say is “No“.
Taiwanese consider saying “No” directly as impolite. At times, they even say “Yes” when they actually mean “Yes, I understand” – and despite the fact that they understand you, they still mean “No”. Make sense?
10| 7-Eleven: your new office
These 24-hours convenience stores are everywhere, even in small villages and rural areas. For all who expect just a replica of the American chain store – you will be surprised! Taiwan’s 7-Elevens are far from just another junk food shop…
A Taiwanese 7-Eleven is one of the most convenient places on the planet; you can get train tickets, pay you school tuition, ship packages, print documents, call taxi, and so much more. Once I asked if I could leave my gigantic backpack there for a few hours, and it actually worked! Yay!
11| The best street food in Asia
Taiwan is a true food paradise. Even the smallest stall in the street, which has no proper seating besides a couple of plastic chairs, may serve you the most delicious meal. When you ask to have it taken away, you will get it in a neatly prepared disposable paper box without questions.
The best place to sample Taiwan’s famous street fare is one of the many famous night markets in Taipei or just about any city across the island. For a cheap price you get to try some of the best snacks and discover one of the biggest passions of Taiwanese people: their food.
12| You new home won’t have heating
Although Taiwan is quite hot, subtropical country, the winter months can be rather damp and chilly. With the high humidity, one can feel colder than what the temperature actually indicates (Taipei gets as cold as 8 °C, but may feel as uncomfortable as below zero). With local houses not having any indoor heating, you may find yourself shivering in your own home.
My place (luckily) had air conditioning that included a heater mode; some of my friends didn’t have this and often complained about the cold. It’s funny that when I mentioned this to local people they always replied: But you have freezing winters in Europe, you should be used to it!
13| There is a festival dedicated to ghosts
The Taiwanese are incredibly superstitious. It is fairly normal to believe in ghosts (!), and also to be afraid of them. In the seventh month of Taiwan’s lunar calendar (that is, around August) the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated. Creepy, isn’t it?
During this festival, it is believed that the gates of hell are opened and all of the hungry ghosts are released to the world in search of food, money, entertainment, and what not. The whole month, referred to as “ghost month”, is comes with various precautions and prohibitions. Taiwanese try to avoid travelling, starting a new business, or having a wedding.
14 | Toilet paper does not get flushed down the toilet
Let´s be honest: foreign visitors may find this to be one of the most disturbing habits in Taiwan. You will notice signs instructing you not to throw the paper into the toilet. You are supposed to put it into the trash can beside the toilet instead.
People generally say that the plumbing cannot handle the toilet paper because it will clog the pipes. I guess there is no need to mention the smell that remains when used tissues are left sitting in the bins all day. Oh, and don’t be surprised to find that many public toilets are “Squatty Potties”.
15| Everyone is so friendly!
Taiwanese people are the friendliest people I have ever met. They are really welcoming, and always offer you help when they see you lost and struggling with a map.
Sometimes, they will even personally guide you to where you want to go (even though they often don’t even know exactly where you want to go). You might still be lost, but in the best company!
Things to Do in Taiwan
There are two opposing faces of Taiwan: the urban one represented by the big cities, and the natural one featuring stunning mountains, wild springs, and untouched nature. These two faces are reflected on the map of Taiwan: the west coast is dotted with cities, while the east side is primarily natural.
With this combination, Taiwan is a place where you can taste amazing foods and visit lively temples one day, while the next day, you can take off hiking alone in the mountains.
There are some must-have experiences in Taiwan:
Visit one of the many night markets
There are world-famous night markets in Taipei, but you can find a night market in pretty much in every major city and town. There are always plenty of stalls to choose from, and the food is cheap, including seafood and fresh juices.
Taiwan is incredibly green, and the best way to experience it is to embark on one of many possible hiking trips. And no excuses! There are MANY easy to moderate hikes that you can easily do from Taipei. A big selection of hikes is, for example, possible at Yangmingshan National Park right in Taipei City, but if you are going to explore beyond the capital, I highly recommend the east coast and Taroko Gorge for some of the best hikes.
Eat traditional Taiwanese breakfast
There are countless breakfast shops in Taipei; just take a walk in any city (or even small town) in Taiwan in the morning and you’ll see them. I often got the impression that Taiwanese prefer not to eat at home. Why should they, if the food outside is so tasty and affordable? Some breakfast staples include green onion pancakes and soymilk, but you can also get breakfast sandwiches, burgers, and so much more.
Make Taiwanese friends
Taiwanese people are very friendly and love to chat with foreigners. I always loved how they offered to help when they had the feeling I was lost. If you get past their initial shyness, they are quite chatty. Make sure to make at least one Taiwanese friend as soon as possible; they can contribute many eye-opening moments that help you to understand this unique culture better.
Enjoy the view from Taipei 101
This bamboo-shaped tower is, without a doubt, the most fascinating building in Taiwan. No wonder Taiwanese are so proud of it! Although it’s no longer the highest skyscraper in the world, it still has some special architectural features. The building can even survive a massive earthquake, and can reach the observation deck in one of the world’s fastest elevators. A must-see when in Taipei!
The other place for you to visit and enjoy Taipei’s panorama is definitely the Elephant mountain, a hill in the city center that takes you from the urban city to the jungle within minutes. The entrance fee is free, so you can literally go there as many times as you want.
Have a dip in a hot spring
Similar to the Japanese, Taiwanese are obsessed with hot springs, and the island has loads of them. Many elderly people go to hot springs every week, but even for the younger generation, it is one of the favorite ways to relax. You will have a lot of choices in Taiwan – with Beitou being the most popular choice in Taipei. But if you can, you should make it to some wild springs (I loved Wenshan hot spring in Taroko gorge!)
Cycle along rivers
Believe it or not, Taipei is the best metropolis in Asia for cycling. Taiwan’s capital offers an extensive infrastructure for cyclists. I’m speaking of a network of hundreds of kilometers of cycling roads dedicated exclusively to cyclists and walkers.
Most popular cycling roads are located along rivers and surrounded by greenery, including nature parks and amazing mangrove forests. It is possible to cross the city from south to north in just two hours. The trip starts in Muzha and ends in Tamsui. Overall, this tiny country in East Asia offers more than 3000 roads dedicated to cyclists. And that is something!
For planning longer cycling trips around the island, make sure to check my detailed guide about cycling in Taiwan. I have done the full round around the island, with 900 kilometers in 9 days.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT LIVING IN TAIWAN?
I wonder what kinds of interesting experiences you had living in Taiwan. What surprised you? What did you consider the most interesting or the weirdest?
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Edited by Nick Kembel.
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