Taiwan, that funny little island that might be part of China
You have probably seen a little sticker on something that says “Made in Taiwan.” If that’s your main point of reference, you are missing something.
Taiwan is definitely one of the best Asian countries I’ve been to. Any culture that celebrates food is automatically going to be pretty high on my list, and Taiwan’s is definitely near the top of the food chain. It also has mountains, beautiful oceans, jungles, bamboo forests, crazy volcanic steam vents, huge gorges. Any country with that much geography is also going to be pretty high on the list. I’ve been meaning to write about our trip to Taiwan for months, but hey, better four months late than never.
We were only there for six weeks, not long enough to get more than a little glimpse. Just enough to leave us wanting more.
Right. We first have to deal with the infamous Taiwanese stinky tofu.
It smells bad. Not bad in the funky fermented but kind of appealing kind of way that kimchi or certain cheeses. Stinky tofu is bad smelling in a totally rotten and there’s no way I’m ever putting that in my mouth kind of way.
But once you get over the smell it actually tastes pretty good. Not my favorite, but good.
It’s hot as hell
At least is was during summer. Humid too. But most places do have good air conditioning.
Tea culture in Taiwan is awesome. Shops selling every imaginable flavor combination of delicious tea are literally everywhere, which is imperative with the heat. If you are into it, you can get iced tea with little gobs of tapioca gew, or bubble tea. Apparently they invented it, and it’s pretty good.
Better in my mind is ice cold green tea with bits of real fruit, or the salty dry plum ice tea with fresh kumquat, or maybe a nice oolong with just the hint of sugar and a splash of milk, served chilled but not totally cold.
Tea is serious there. Get ready to order exactly what you want, you have to specify the exact amount of sugar, milk, ice, whatever in your cup. But first you have to choose the size.
The density of restaurants is astounding
In Taiwan restaurants are everywhere. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to quantify this, but it’s a hard thing to count. Places to find good food are tucked in every alley. Wonder down any little street and I promise you’ll find something good. The number of restaurants in the country makes NYC, SF, or even places like Bangkok and Singapore seem pretty spartan in comparison.
You’ve never heard about Taiwan’s famous cabbage, and to be fair, everyone else who isn’t from the island or mainland China hasn’t heard of it either. But it’s apparently one the most famous things in the country.
So what is it? Well, it’s a small carved stone figurine of a cabbage. Gotta love a country that loves food enough to treasure that.
For the record, Taiwan is not part of China
The confusion basically stems from two different governments claiming the island. The Republic Of China controls Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China controls mainland China, and both claim all of the others territory as their own. Theoretically, they are at war, and have been since 1945, or 1927 depending on how you look at it.
There are some funny things with how the UN recognizes Taiwan, and most other countries do not officially recognize Taiwan as a country. In the olympics they compete as Chinese Taipei, whatever that is.
It is all ridiculous.
In reality Taiwan is very much it’s own country. It has its own government, a big fuck off military, a distinct and unique culture that differs greatly from the mainland, it even has a flag.
They speak a different language
Actually, a surprising number of people did speak English. Almost everyone under the age of 30 learn some in school, and only once or twice did we get stuck because of language barrier. It’s a relatively easy place travel as an English speaker, just look for a young person if you do get stuck, but it’s usually not a problem.
Taiwan is also one of the few places that still uses traditional Chinese characters. In the mainland, the character set was simplified – officially to promote literacy by making the language easier to learn. Opponents of this change argue that a lot of meaning was lost with the simplification. Either way, it’s another difference from the mainland.
Everyone in Taiwan is ridiculously nice
They have them, proper ones at that. We even climbed a few with some of those ridiculously nice people.
The downside is that most of the big mountains require obtaining a permit or two ahead of time, which is complicated and time consuming, although free. If you want to climb anything, try to figure this out before you even get to Taiwan unless you have a lot of time to kill waiting for bureaucracy. The upside to the permits is that the hikes are not crowded, they limit the total number of people in the mountains and as a bonus they have spaces reserved for tourists.
They have those too, and unlike climbing mountains you can easily figure out how to hop on a bike without too much planing. Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer rents touring bikes all over the island. You can basically rent a bike from any town with a Giant shop and return the bike to any other town with a Giant shop, which basically means you can rent a bake anywhere and return it anywhere.
Their rental bikes are not amazing, but they were good enough for touring. Everything worked, and the bikes were comfortable. They came with waterproof saddle bags, lights, a computer and basic tools. The cost to rent was somewhere around $10 a day.
Right, it’s a good place
Good food, good people, interesting cultural stuff, fun things to do outside. Taiwan is awesome. To me, it feels like the same quality of life as Singapore or Japan or South Korea, but at a much lower cost.
Taiwan’s PPP per capita, (that’s purchasing power parity, a better measurement of relative wealth of than GDP per capita) is $49,500. Compared to the US at $58,000, it’s actually pretty close.
What about the cost to travel there?
As usual, we’ve tracked expenses. We were in country 45 days and spent a grand total of $3,337 for both of us, not including airfare*. That works out to about $37 per person per day.
Food and accommodation each account for about a third of the budget. Transportation is the next biggest at about one eighth.
Then we get into the fun stuff: Tea, coffee and beer, which was also about one eighth. Most of that was tea. I almost forgot, Taiwan beer is the second best tasting Asian beer, second only to the impossible to find beer Lao.
We went shopping for new camping gear. We got a new pad to replace a broken one, a new raincoat to replace a very leaky one, a travel towel to replace one that disappeared into the ocean, and a few other things. It’s annoying, but inevitable.
Rounding out the list are a few gifts, entrance fees to things like museums, national parks, the Taipei 101.
Worth every cent, we’ll be back.
*As a reminder, I’ve decided to no longer include airfare for these individual country posts, but I do keep track of airfare and include it in any long term cost related posts. It doesn’t seem like an apples to apples comparison since my airfare is often just from the next country over, while someone else might have to travel halfway across the world to get to the same place.
Also worth mentioning your personal tolerance for dealing with credit card signup bonuses or other travel hacking will seriously impact your final transportation cost, and often I just can’t be bothered. Plus it’s really hard to effectively use a credit card in many countries. Excuses!