I expected to love Taiwan.
Everyone I spoke to told me about the friendly locals, the excellent public transport and THE FOOD.
Yet somehow Taiwan managed to surpass my heightened expectations – here’s how:
1: The people
‘The locals are so friendly’. People say this about a lot of places. So I expected people would be nice but I didn’t expect to be welcomed like family by people I had never met.
I stayed with an awesome local woman, her sister, her sister’s husband, their baby and three cats. From the second I got there it was like having a – somewhat chaotic but incredibly warm and friendly – Taiwanese family.
Since I stayed in a very residential area I saw maybe three other westerners in the neighbourhood the entire five weeks I was there. After less than two weeks I already had at least three people (a security guard, a street vendor and a random woman that I seemed to run into everywhere I went) who would say hello to me when they saw me.
2. The food
‘OMG THE FOOD!!!” This was pretty much the reaction of every person I spoke to about Taiwan.
So, I expected to be impressed.
What I didn’t expect was to discover that even if I ate something different for every meal every day for a month I probably still wouldn’t run out of things to try.
I didn’t expect a VEGETARIAN BUFFET to be one of the most interesting things I have ever eaten.
I didn’t expect that boba tea would even come with pudding – you can literally eat your cake and drink it too (wait, what?)
3. The transport (the subway/metro + bicycle sharing NOT the buses!)
So, I am pretty lost when it comes to navigating. I struggle to follow directions or read maps. I expected to get lost. A lot. But the metro/subway system in Taipei is so simple (with maps in both Chinese and English at every station and clear signage and announcements in both Chinese and English) that even I failed to get lost.
Thanks to the power of Google maps I walked a lot and, apart from the swarms of speeding scooters, I found walking around to be incredibly easy and enjoyable.
There’s a bike sharing system (you need an easy card and either a local phone number or a credit card but once set up it’s incredibly cheap and easy to use). I wouldn’t recommend riding on the roads (and very few people seem to) but there are excellent bike paths – particularly along the river.
Note on buses: The buses were a lot more difficult to navigate than the subway/metro (there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of info available – route maps etc but if anyone has any suggestions pls leave them in the comment section). With the help of the people I stayed with I managed to find one that went between my home and the school I studied at (pretty much door to door) so they can be good if you can figure them out.
Whenever I left Taipei by either bus or ordinary train (unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try the fast trains) I felt like I was in a different country – getting to Yangmingshan National Park (less than 30km from the centre of Taipei) took me three hours on several different buses. Again, other people may have figured out better ways so please leave them in the comment section.
Bonus cat on a rice cooker for reading to the end!