Taiwan is officially an island province of China near the southeast of its coast, but the Taiwanese have an independent government and are isolated from China both geographically and culturally.
Bring cash to exchange at the airport. For some reason, none of the ATMs anywhere in Taiwan would accept any of our cards, even though they worked perfectly fine everywhere else. A few friends who visited shortly after us experienced the same problem and even had an ATM eat her credit card. Most of the places we went to required cash instead of card, as well.
Full Photography Gallery
Lin Family Mansion & Garden
Fuzhong Temple & Road
Nanya Night Market
Taipei 101 Tower
Panoramic Red MRT Line To Tamsui
Beitou Hot Springs
Longnaitang Nude Hot Springs
Shilin Night Market
Tamsui Sea Port
Dihua Street Market
Raohe Street Night Market
Red House Bar Street
I didn’t do my research for Taiwan very well, which is why I ignorantly missed one of the top spots in Taiwan. Jiufen is about an hour outside of Taipei and is known for its plethora of lanterns and beautiful mountainous views. This area is where the movie “Spirited Away” is based on, which makes the area feel a little more special.
Dihua Street Market is a very traditional market and was an absolute bust for us. It seemed like a place that the locals go to buy bulk goods for shops or restaurants. It would be like a foreigner coming to a Costco to sightsee in the US. It was also quite far away from the nearest MRT, which made the journey even less worth it.
Nude hot springs
There are plenty of public hot springs in the Beitou area, but Longnaitang is the only public one that is nude. Men and women are separated in the facility. When we got in, we quickly realized that they don't get a lot of tourists, and it was a legitimate past-time for locals. We didn't know exactly what to do, but the elderly women were quick to jump in and show us how to wash ourselves (our bodies, butts and private parts... LOL) before getting in the hot springs. Quite an experience!
Going to the markets is the best way to try the foods of Taiwan and shop for all kinds of souvenirs. Options are plentiful for day and night markets around Taipei. Shilin was huge my favorite because it was the largest, spanning many blocks around. You could spend multiple nights there and still not do and eat everything. There is even a carnival-like set-up and open temple to add on to the list of things to do. Some night markets do close quite early, so don't wait too late to go.
What's pictured above is stinky tofu, a specialty in Taiwan. It's actually the worst-tasting thing I've tried in a long time, and the smell makes the whole experience even worse. However, everything else I ate in Taiwan was polar opposite. We joked that they must be putting some kind of drugs into everything; it was that good. I don't like seafood, and I didn't like the octopus that I tried in Korea and Japan, but I actually really enjoyed the octopus that pretty much every stand offers in Tamsui!
We stayed in the Banqiao area in New Taipei City, which turned out to be an ideal location. Without intending to, we were able to spend our entire first day in the area without even needing to use the MRT. The Fuzhong stop on the MRT is only a few stops away from the airport and central to the rest of the city, which was extremely convenient. Our AirBNB host, Jessica, was the most helpful, friendly host that I've ever had, as well! You can see Jessica's AirBNB listing here.
Culture: People & Food
I was shocked by how amazing literally everything I ate was. I wouldn't have been able to try as much as I did without the help of the locals, though. A lot of the menus weren't in English, but people around us were quick to jump in and help us order. Everywhere we went, people would notice us as foreigners and urge to help us in any way they could. Even better, their English was impressive compared to many other Asian countries, including Korea, that I've traveled to.
Taiwan is warm all-year-round, and it's especially humid in the summer. We went in May, and the heat was already almost unbearable. Air-conditioning is a deal-breaker for accommodations. Bug spray is also a necessity. Beyond the weather, the lush green mountains and sandy beaches that you can see in both directions make for great views. The MRT line towards Tamsui had some of the prettiest scenery, and it was a great way to see the area surrounding the central city.