“This place is fucking awesome”
was the initial thought that first struck my air-deprived brain upon arriving at Taoyuan Airport outside of Taipei.
This wasn’t a fair opinion, though.
Of course, everything was being compared to China and when you compare shit to China, anything and everything can seem exponentially better.
So I took a step back in my mind and tried to be objective about my newly formed opinion.
Taiwan is fucking great!
Ok, even objectively this place kicks China’s ass and now I want to tell you about it.
I recently just got back from 10 days in Taiwan and want to share some of my initial thoughts.
Over the last several months of living in China and getting progressively more frustrated with things, I needed a break.
Luckily, my good friend Ethan and his girlfriend, Kelsey—who have been backpacking Southeast Asia for the past 4 months—agreed to fly out and meet me in Taipei.
I had been hearing so many good things about the country from other travelers and I wanted to see if I could picture myself living there. It was the perfect excuse for me to get out of China for a little bit and catch up with an old friend.
Although I could sit here and probably write out about 20,000 words on every detail that went down in those 10 days, I figured for your sake and mine that I’d make this a bit easier on ourselves and condense this into 7 things that I loved MOST about Taiwan.
Of course, 10 days is not enough time to really get to know a place but I was sold and I’m gonna sell you too (I hope).
Soooo let’s begin:
1. The people are the best!
“Wow, people are waiting in line and standing on the correct side of the escalator.”
“Holy shit, that old Taiwanese guy just smiled at me and said ‘hello’.”
“WTF! This 7-11 lady is so goddamn helpful and speaks really good English.”
I felt like I was on another planet.
After several months of living in China, I had grown accustomed to the blank stares, the noisy and inconsiderate pushing and shoving on the subways, and the odd cultural norms like letting children shit and piss in the streets or scooping up sewage water to process in to cooking oil.
The kindness of the people was the first thing I noticed about Taiwan. This may not seem like a big deal but when you are deprived of a friendly smile or a simple “thank you” from the barista at the coffee shop, it starts to make you feel like a robot. A robot that wants to be a dick to everyone you see.
The Taiwanese brought back the smiles that I had long forgotten and they did it with force.
Many shop owners, food cart vendors, or hostel staff were super friendly and would even engage in conversation and show genuine interest.
This was easily one of my favorite things that I experienced while there. I caught myself several times leaving a restaurant or store with a big dumbass smile plastered on my face.
2. Cafe culture at its finest
You’re probably thinking, “who cares? There are cool cafes in every major city…”
Well you’re wrong.
As both a coffee lover and a cafe culture enthusiast (now if that doesn’t sound snobby/hipster as fuck I don’t know what does) I was quite bummed out when I got to China and learned that coffee just isn’t their cup of joe.
The coffee shops that China does have are all cookie cutter “Asian” style versions of Starbucks (well, they have Starbucks too). That means expensive ass coffee that isn’t very good.
In fact, leading up to my trip I had quit drinking coffee in China, altogether.
But, what a pleasant surprise it was to arrive and be able to hop down any street and find an Americano for $35-40NT. That’s a little over a buck. And it was GOOD too!
Taipei had a bunch of different shops ranging from indie cafes to the local chains. But one thing they all had in common was that the coffee was fresh and delicious. Some even roasted their beans right in house!
For a java junkie like myself. This was a huge bonus. Needless to say, I’m already having withdrawals back here in China.
3. Public transportation is legit
Once I arrived at Taoyuan Airport, I hopped on a bus that took me right into the city and dropped me off at a metro stop. It cost about $120NT or around $4USD.
From there I grabbed a one way metro ticket to my hostel’s stop. Couldn’t have been easier.
The Taipei metro is ranked as one of the best in the world and it’s easy to see why. Everything is spotless clean, the trains arrive quickly and the maps are well laid out and easy to understand. Plus, there aren’t 15 million people trying to rush in and suffocate you the moment the doors open (yeah, I’m looking at you Guangzhou).
On top of being very easy to navigate, the city itself is not that big so you can go from one end to the other in around 20-30 minutes.
This is pretty awesome when you feel like climbing Elephant Mountain on a whim and you know your a subway ride away from a nice hike and an incredible view.
4. Parks, trees, and green stuff
Oh, how I missed nature.
Finally a large Asian metropolitan area with trees, parks and fresh air. Taipei was covered in the green leafy stuff and it made me smile.
In the mornings we’d pull up the map to find something interesting to jog to and within a 1 mile radius we’d have two or three parks to choose from.
5. A bike share program worth riding
The country has got their shit together!
Once you get set up with an EasyCard (their version of a universal transportation card), you can really use it for anything, including the YouBike stations. They’ve got a bunch of these stations situated around the city in strategic locations—busy parks, metro stations, etc.
And let me tell you, these YouBikes are fucking awesome (geez Harrison, you say “fucking” a lot in your posts… I’m sorry, I just get too excited and my vocabulary to express enthusiasm is lacking…)! You can ride all over the city and they even have special lanes on the sidewalks for them!
The first 30 minute on the YouBike cost $5NT and then rates go up just a bit more with further use. You can get all the info here.
Using these bike stations was definitely in the top 3 of my favorite things about the city. I used to be a part of NYC’s CitiBike program and really enjoyed cruising around the city to relax or just explore different neighborhoods so I’m glad Taiwan has their own version.
It’s really the best way to get to know a city so this was a big plus.
It wasn’t until I went down to another city, Taichung, that I found out you can actually use the same EasyPay card all over the country. No need to get a new card for each city. So goddamn well thought out and reasonable. I LOVE IT.
6. Delicious food and street snacks EVERYWHERE
One of the best parts about this country. They have some crazy good food in all shapes and sizes.
Every little street I walked down was crowded with unique little food carts and small storefronts selling everything from scallion pancakes to oyster omelettes and freshly seasoned and battered fried chicken.
Everything we tried was fresh, delicious, and CHEAP!
If you wanted, you could eat to your heart’s desire for under $10USD. You’d end up regretting it about 30 minutes later after feeling like you’re giving birth to a food baby, but before those 30 minutes… Man it was so good.
You can enjoy Taiwanese cuisine on every block or hit up one of the many night markets that are all around the city. We went to Shilin and Raohe night markets, which we heard were more touristy but, still great in our opinions.
Wherever you end up you won’t be disappointed.
7. The Internet is fast
If I had a nickel for every time I slammed my fist down in anger over China’s shitty internet then I’d be fucking rich in nickels.
When you are trying to work online, upload video content, write blog posts, and access funny videos of cats, then there is nothing more frustrating than slow Internet or dealing with VPNs (to get around the GREAT FIREWALL OF CHINA!).
THANK YOU TAIWAN for not following China’s lead and taking the more progressive route on the Internet road.
Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, your crazy friend’s travel blog or anything else you can usually access in the free world—you can get it in Taiwan too!
And for this I am grateful.
My 10 days in Taiwan flew by but that’s OK!
Well, because I’m moving my ass out there this summer.
I constantly caught myself thinking, “this is nice. I like these bikes. I like these trees and these mountains. I like these people. I like this. I like that… I think I could end up here.”
So I followed those thoughts and the decision was easy.
It seems that Taiwan is a place where most expats go to enjoy a nice quality of life with access to beautiful scenery, beaches, and great people.
In other words, a place that is actually enjoyable to live in the long term.
Like anything in my life at this point, I can’t predict what I’ll be doing in one week, let alone six months.
But one thing I can see for sure is that Taiwan will be in my near future. Stay tuned for more Taiwan action coming your way!