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Taiwan | 20 August '17
Plus the best places to rent a scooter
Taiwan is a beautiful intersection of Chinese culture, breathtaking mountain peaks and welcoming locals. It's also fairly easy to travel to, as the Taiwanese government grants visa free travel or visa on arrival for over 130 countries. Travel information is widely available online, but read this must-read guide for updated tips you won't find elsewhere.
Taiwan is easy to enter from 134 countries. If you fly in direct, you'll most likely land at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (FYI: there are three major airports on the island, but this is the only one with international flights). Americans visiting less than 90 days can enter without a visa. If you may stay longer than 90 days and potentially work, U.S. passport requirements state that you need a Taiwan visa prior to traveling. However, you can enter with no proof of your next destination. If part of your agreement, your employer will sponsor and process your resident Alien Registration Card (ARC) (usually received within 2-3 months) to make the decision final.
Taiwan's coasts and countryside are virtually pollution free. The air looks clean and free from the characteristic haze that accompanies pollutants in the air. But move inward, and the air quality significantly changes. According to a 2015 report from The News Lens, air quality in western Taiwan is low due to lack of atmospheric diffusion. Fine particle levels are high or from northern to southern Taiwan, and central-southern parts of the island are the most polluted. The majority of the pollution is attributed to vehicles, factory operation and thermal power generators. Combined with Taiwan's high humidity levels from the sub-tropical and tropical climate, visitors can feel less than 100 percent. To protect yourself from inhalation that could cause headaches or asthma or breathing complications, wear a medical mask and decrease the amount of time spent outdoors. Check this map during your visit for daily air quality checks.
Taiwan uses the New Taiwan Dollar or kwai, in it's cash-driven country. Though card is slowly gaining in popularity and accepted at medium level restaurants, hotels and shopping centers, when in doubt, cash is always accepted. Most (but not all) ATMs in Taiwan support international transactions, and ATMs can be found everywhere--including at every 7-11. To make sure it can support international transactions check the machine for the VISAPLUS ,or CIRRUS logo. When in doubt, bring enough cash to exchange at the airport, or any bank.
In Taipei, public transport is cheap and easy. Cabs start at $50NT (about $1.70US), and the subway MRT map is efficient, always on time and clean. Outside of Taipei, cabs will start at $100NT (about $3.30US) and buses run too, but because cities outside of the capital are less compact, plan to spend more money on transportation.
Outside of Taipei driving a scooter is the way to go. They're fast, efficient and a great way to enjoy the surroundings. You can rent a scooter outside most train stations in Taiwan, however they usually ask for an ARC (Alien Resident Certificate) or Taiwanese driver's license. Your hotel or accommodation may be able to call one to help you or rent one for you. Very rarely will they ask for an international driver's license and passport. The following places are very laid back for scooter rental and may only ask for a copy of your passport and the money: Kenting, Hengchun, Sun Moon Lake, and all the outlying islands: Penghu, Matsu, Kinmen, Green and Orchid Island.
Cash is king in Taiwan, but if you want convenience when traveling, buy an Easy Card (purchase deposit price is $100NT/ $10US). The Easy Card is a 'touch-and-go' card that scans to pay, eliminating the hassles of finding correct change. It can be used at all Taipei MRT stations, island-wide buses, U-Bike rentals and to make purchases at any 7-11, Hi-Life or Family Mart stores. Value can also be added at these locations.
Taiwan claims to be wifi friendly, but most registration sites are hard to navigate for those who don't understand Chinese, and only offer registration to paying customers. A couple of stress free and readily available options are to sign up for iTaiwan--free Taiwan government sponsored wifi in all public areas and TPE-Free, which is available in all Taipei MRT stations, metro malls, main streets, main commercial/ residential areas, and populated public area. If you plan on visiting for three weeks or longer it's easy to purchase a local sim card (they run about $300NT/ $10US) and add as little as $3.25US for 1GB of data to use your own secure data or hot spot. Check out Chungwa Telecom's prepaid sim card service for fast wifi speeds and easy service.
Thought eating out was an expensive habit you had to cut back on? Think again. Taiwanese kitchens also come traditionally small, if there is one offered in the apartment at all. If you enjoy cooking, get used to working with hot plates, convection ovens and microwaves to cook your meal. Not in the mood to cook? No problem--in Taiwan, food is everywhere and locals eat out, a lot. Work takes a top priority, and many people just aren't up to cooking at 7 or 8 PM. Food prices are conveniently cheap, so be prepared to see decent lunch and dinner crowds at food stands, restaurants, night markets, 7-11's, traditional markets and fruit stands and other eateries. Get used to following your cravings and picking a place to dine, unless the idea of cooking on a couple of hot plates without an oven excites you. Chopsticks or spoons are also used everywhere and depending on your personal preferences you can buy a chopstick cleaning spray at a local grocer to clean them when dining in public.
The tap water is not safe to drink in Taiwan, as it has trace chemicals and may be silty (though it's safe enough to wash and brush your teeth in). Bring a reusable bottle to be kind to the environment. You'll find water filter machines everywhere at almost every public area including hotels, restaurants, and train stops. When in doubt, purchase bottled water from a convenience or grocery store.
Mandarin and Taiwanese are the official languages in Taiwan. To help ease the language barrier, learn a few important phrases in Chinese and carry a copy of your accommodation address in Chinese. If you plan on taking a cab, try to get your destination name and address in Chinese (TripAdvisor is excellent for this) for the driver as well. Here are a few helpful words and phrases: XieXie means thank you, Wo yao… means I want, Shui means water, Kafei means coffee, Lu, means road and Ganbei, means cheers (and literally, empty your glass). It also helps to learn numbers 1-10 as well when paying for things or giving addresses.
Be prepared: You will, at one point or another, have to use a squat toilet. For a thorough breakdown of how to use them, click here. There is also no guarantee that public bathrooms will have tissue or soap available, so make sure to bring your own.
Leah Shaw is an AfroLatina writer who reads adventure novels, drinks good coffee and plays rugby in her spare time. She has been reporting, writing and editing since 2014 and loves travel because it gives her the opportunity to do one thing a day that scares her. She makes it a point to wake up for at least one sunrise and sunset in every country she visits. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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