Things no one will tell you about Taiwan (Traveler’s guide)

For many sheltered travelers in the United States, traveling to a country in Asia can either seem quite daunting or exciting, as cultures are quite different from us than if we were to travel to Europe or Canada.

I went to Taiwan this past August for vacation and since I had a certain idea on what Taiwan is like, I had no hesitation about going. However, despite enjoying my trip, there were quite a few things about Taiwan that I was not at all prepared for. For the benefit of future travelers in Taiwan, here are some things most won’t really say about Taiwan; either they skip over their minds or they aren’t the prettiest details.

  1. The aesthetically-displeasing cities

To start off with the most striking observation I’ve made, for such a developed nation, the cities do not necessarily reflect that. Many would imagine buildings in thriving cities to be very pristine and shiny, with light bouncing off the sparkly windows and the vibrant walls. With the exception of few buildings, most buildings in Taiwanese metropolises will not resemble anything like that. Many of the buildings are still made with brick, a relatively antiquated building material; covered in grime, with rusty and moldy roofs to top it off, no pun intended.

Taipei looks magnificent from above, right?
But up close, looks can be a bit deceiving

These buildings didn’t just exist in the outskirts, but in the city center too. The Taipei Financial Center would be a pristine glass and metal building, but many other buildings surrounding them would be rather shabby. While it does help that the Taipei Financial Center was only constructed in 2004, doesn’t really explain why the other buildings are filthy and moldy.

Apparently the main explanation is that most of the buildings were construction barely after the 1940s when the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalists, fled to Taiwan. In a way, they were squatters. They envisioned moving back to mainland China to take it back from the communists, which obviously didn’t work out. It didn’t take long to realize that, so Taiwan began to build rapidly, placing appearances and building codes on lower priority.

This became cultural as well as the local Taiwanese residents do not care about how the buildings look, but rather the interiors and as long they are standing perfectly fine. When I walked inside some of these buildings, they are pristine with beautiful decorations. However, this mindset of not considering exterior building aesthetics is becoming more irrelevant as the nation becomes more globalized. Venture into Kaohsiung, a very young major city, there are far less of these shabby buildings compared to Taipei, a rather old city. However, Taiwan is quite a wonderful city, so once you are able to look past all that, you’ll enjoy the country for what it really is.

2. Scooters are everywhere

It’s quite true that Taiwan has excellent public transportation with the MRT in Taipei and Kaohsiung, and their buses. However, many in Taiwan don’t want to be bothered with having to wait for their train to come, or have to worry about possibly getting on the wrong one; basically similar reasons as to why many in the US do not want to take the buses or trains, with the exception for New York.

For seasoned travelers who have been to Asia, they would know that scooters are more of a common sight in the poorer Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, due to their low cost and ease of getting around. Taiwan is quite an anomaly due to its geographic location. Most of Taiwan has a tropical climate, where it’s too hot to be riding bicycles, and perfect to be swiftly riding on a motorcycle.

As a result, many tend to ride scooters on their commutes. They are often the cheapest way to get around as Taiwan is a compact country with about the same percentage of people living in cities as the United States. What can be quite funny is watching just how many people can be crammed onto one scooter. It can be quite fascinating. And yes, they do get away with it because when an accident happens, a car is usually involved and the latter are the ones legally at fault regardless if the scooter was driving like crap.

3. Pushy sales vendors

Just from basic research of Taiwan, the streets are often filled with food vendors who are willing to sell food to customers. However, this can be quite daunting for those who aren’t willing to buy anything but too damn shy. I’m used to vendors in the US to advertise their products but will leave you alone eventually as soon as you show you’re not interested. However the vendors in Taiwan will keep bugging you until you are about three subsequent vending stalls away, especially if it isn’t that busy at the moment. Here’s how it can go down

Vendor: “Hello sir, one box of sweet potatoes (which are bomb) for $50 NTD (barely over $1.50 USD)!”

Me (shaking head): “Um no thanks” (walks on)

Vender (shouting): “THERE ARE A LOT IN A BOX, 5 OF THEM!”

Me: (shaking head at the vendor)

Vender (still shouting): “IT’S A GREAT DEAL!”

Me (thinking): I am like 2 stalls away from you, I don’t want to buy anysweet potatoes right now. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”

Just try your best to ignore and hope for the best. On a side note, buy the candied sweet potatoes since they taste amazing.

That is everything I have for the unexpected in Taiwan. Yes these are the quirks about Taiwan but don’t let them ruin the experience for you as it initially did for me. I eventually got over them as I began to see the beauty of the country. Enjoy your trip and try for new experiences!

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