If China and Japan had a baby, it would be Taiwan. At least that was my first impression. Luckily for visitors there is more to it than that, although it would be wrong to deny the huge influence of the aforementioned cultures.

Taiwan is famous for its beautiful scenery. In fact, when the Portuguese first visited Taiwan in the sixteenth century they called it Ilha Formosa, or ‘beautiful island’. That moniker probably wouldn’t be given to many parts of highly industrialised Taiwan today, but the natural beauty in a few areas of the island cannot be denied.

Officially called the Republic of China, Taiwan exists in a precarious diplomatic limbo. Despite Taiwan’s de facto independence, the Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. In general, the Taiwanese government tries to walk a careful line between emphasising their self-governance and trying not to antagonise their huge neighbour. When visiting Taiwan you may see signs of this tension in the form of flags, protests or other symbols.


Taiwan travel infographic


A few facts about Taiwan

  • Capital: Taipei
  • Population: About 23.5 million
  • Currency: New Taiwan Dollar
  • Official Language: Mandarin
  • Official Script: Traditional Chinese
  • Time Zone: UTC+8
  • Calling Code: +886
  • Drives On: Right
  • Drinking Age: 18
  • Can Drink In Public: Yes
  • Can Drink Tap Water: No
  • Plugs/Sockets: A & B (Same as USA, Canada, Mexico & Japan) more info

Getting there

Getting to Taiwan from Australia was relatively cheap with low-cost flights with Air Asia connecting through Kuala Lumpur.

If direct flights are prohibitively expensive from places further away such as Europe or the USA it may be worth flying to one of the major travel hubs in the region and getting a cheap connecting flight from there. Options include Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Visa information

Visas are not required for citizens of EU member countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many others. For a full list click here.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

How much does it cost?

Visiting Taiwan cost me about A$65/day (US$50/day or €45/day at the time) including accommodation and everything else except flights.

During the trip I was careful not to overspend where possible but I did visit some touristy places such as Taipei 101 (A$24) and also hired a taxi for the day to see Taroko Gorge and the Qingshui Cliffs (A$145 for the day for two people sharing, but well worth it). We also travelled a lot by train and bus, and wanted to sample as much of the food as possible.

Accomodation cost about A$15/night each for two people sharing a private room. Food prices vary from the night markets and street stalls which can be quite cheap to a massive range of restaurants with a corresponding range of prices.

As an example of travel costs, the train from Taipei to Hualien (near the Taroko Gorge) cost about A$20 one way.

Taipei 101

SIM cards

It is easy and inexpensive to buy a SIM card from one of the four main carriers in Taiwan at Taoyuan International Airport, where they all have kiosks. They all have similar deals, offering tourist SIMs with unlimited data and no restrictions on tethering or hotspot use. This can save even more money because if you are with a partner and plan to be together most of the time it is possible to just purchase one SIM card and tether the other phone.

Language barrier

I was lucky enough to travel to Taiwan with a fluent Mandarin speaker, but I realised I could have easily gotten by with just English. Despite the fact that most tourists come from mainland China, there are plenty of signs and menus in English and a lot of people speak at least some English.

For a relatively small country, Taiwan has an interesting and diverse range of languages. Mandarin is the offical language and is spoken by almost everyone. This is despite the fact that about 70% of the population speak Taiwanese Hokkien (also called Taiwanese in Taiwan) as their first language. There are also 5 different Hakka dialects spoken, as well as a range of aboriginal Formosan languages. Some elderly people also speak Japanese as it was the offical language during Japanese rule.

Influences on Taiwanese culture

Various influences can be seen on Taiwanese culture, most notably from China (95% of the population are ethnically Han Chinese), Japan (Taiwan was ruled by imperial Japan for 50 years from 1895 to 1945) and the indigenous Taiwanese aborigines (made up of 16 different recognised groups).


Taiwan Railways adThis image shows part of an ad featuring 2 characters based on versions of aboriginal Taiwanese and traditional Japanese dress respectively.

Like Japan, Taiwan seems to love cute cartoonish characters and they can be seen everywhere. Nearly every company has one, even if it only a local launderette or mechanic. Their level of appropriateness from an advertising perspective varies a lot, but they are an interesting and sometimes funny feature of a visit to Taiwan.

Food & drink

Taiwanese food is a feast made up of local Taiwanese dishes, various Chinese cuisines from all over China as well as a lot of Japanese food. You can also get top quality food from all over the world in the major cities, especially Taipei. Probably my favourite place to eat in Taiwan was in the night markets where it’s possible to sample a wide variety of food in smaller portions. The night markets are great places to experience the culture, colours and culinary delights of Taiwan, and no trip to Taiwan would be complete without them. It is worth exploring night markets in different cities and towns around the country as they tend to have a bit of local flavour (and flavours). The Taiwanese fried chicken varies a lot but when it is good it is amazingly good.


Beer Cargo, a craft beer cart bar in TaipeiIf, like me, you like to sample some of the local craft beers when visiting a country, then one of the best places in Taipei is a bar called The 58 (located here). They have a massive range of Taiwanese craft beers from all over the island.

Another interesting and unique bar is called Beer Cargo (pictured) where beers are served from a small cart. It can be found down a cool little alleyway behind Xining South Road and between Chengdu Road and Emei Street. The nearest MRT station is Ximen.

Beers are also available in the ubiquitous branches of 7-11 and Family Mart for much lower prices and you can drink alcohol pretty much anywhere. The range is not great though, unless you’re a fan of the major Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese brands which are all quite similar and somewhat bland.

Where I went


Ice cream in TaichungThe third largest city in Taiwan is an industrial and manufacturing powerhouse but not the most interesting place to explore. Even walking around it can be difficult as the centre has relatively narrow but busy roads filled with scooters rushing in every direction. Taichung does, however, have some good night markets (such as Feng Jia, the biggest night market in Taiwan) with lots of interesting food to try. There is also an extremely popular ice cream place called Miyahara Ophthalmology Department which is housed in an old eye hospital (hence the name). The queues for this place can be very long but the bowls filled with ice cream and small cakes are worth the wait.

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake, TaiwanAnother good thing about Taichung is its location relative to Sun Moon Lake. It is the perfect place to start a day trip to the famous lake. At Sun Moon Lake your options include a bus around the lake, boats across the lake or walking around and near the lake. Bikes and scooters can also be hired. It is definitely worth taking the cable car. The views and photo opportunities are great! It goes to the Aboriginal Culture Village, which we didn’t really have time to go into, but apparently is a mix between an amusement park and a culture museum.

Hualien, Taroko Gorge & the Qingshui Cliffs

Qingshui CliffsHualien is the best place to stay and to travel to if you want to see the Taroko Gorge and the Qingshui Cliffs. This area is by far the most scenic part of the country that I saw. The town itself is reasonably interesting if a bit quiet. We visited its night market, which is new and combines a few of the previous night markets into one location. It is on the opposite side of the town to the train station. Most of it was closed because it was the low season and the middle of the week but I can imagine it being much more lively at other times. To get to the various locations within the Taroko Gorge as well as the Qingshui Cliffs we rented a taxi for the full day. The driver spoke English and it cost us A$145 but was really worth the price, especially if you want to see the best of what the area has to offer in a single day.


Taipei Metro

Taipei is the capital and largest city. Like most large cities, it varies massively in its different areas. Some areas were very run-down, dirty and traffic-filled while others are full of life and intriguing. One such area was where we stayed in Ximending. I would recommend the area as somewhere to stay. Otherwise, probably the best advice for your visit is to make sure you are staying relatively close to an MRT (Taipei Metro/Subway) station. The metro is very clean, convenient and modern. The buses are also good but slightly harder to figure out. You can read more about my visit to Taipei here, where I explain what is worth seeing within the city and nearby.

Yehliu Geopark

Yehliu Geopark

An extremely interesting and easy day trip from Taipei is a place called Yehliu Geopark. As soon as I saw some pictures of this place I knew I had to go there. A bus journey from Taipei and then a short walk through a small fishing village is all that it takes to get there, yet it feels much further from the city.