“To travel is to live” - Hans Christian Andersen
Whether you’re going to Taiwan to immerse yourself in the language or to visit Taipei, what are the must-see sights on the island? 2018 was the fourth time that Taiwan was visited by over 10 million tourists in a single year and an increasing number of westerners are starting to visit the island. Are you planning a trip to Taiwan? Here’s everything you need to know.
Taiwan at a Glance
As an insular state between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, to the north of the Philippines and south of Japan, Taiwan has is in a unique situation; the People's Republic of China claims ownership of the island but Taiwan has its own government that was established by the Kuomintang in 1949 and refers to itself the Republic of China. It’s independent in terms of its administrator and politics but at an international level, doesn’t hold international relations, doesn’t have a seat at the UN (where it’s represented by the People's Republic of China), and is only recognised by 18 countries in the world. Political tension between Taipei and Beijing has been running hot and the Chinese government has reiterated that it would use force against the independence movement. The island has been a liberal democracy since the Kuomintang lost the civil war against the communists in 1949. During the latter half of the 20th century, the island underwent rapid economic growth becoming one of Four Asian Dragons, countries that underwent impressive and sustained economic growth during the 1960s. As a result, the island became famous for its production, “Made in Taiwan”, and its clout in the global markets. With a population of 23.5 million (2017) across 13,974 mi², Taiwan is ethnically 98% Han Chinese and 2% Austronesian, the indigenous peoples. Visiting Taiwan is a way to enjoy traditional Chinese culture in a country that’s more progressive than its neighbour and frenemy, the People's Republic of China. In 2016, the separatist candidate Tsai Ing-wen became the first female head of state with 56% of the votes against the candidate from the Kuomintang; a score indicative of the country’s opinion of its relationship with the People's Republic of China. With Kenting National Park, Yangmingshan National Park, Yushan National Park, Taroko Gorge, Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Sun Moon Lake, a trip to Taiwan is a way to enjoy a mix of tradition and modernity at the same time. Only the west coast of Taiwan is urbanised; the centre of the island is home to mountains and the pacific coast all the way down to the southern tip at Kenting. Find out more about why you should visit Taiwan.
What Is the Climate Like in Taiwan?
Before you book your flights to Taipei, you need to think about what the weather’s going to be like. Taiwan in Southeast Asia is home to a humid subtropical climate that’s tempered by the mountains. The Tropic of Cancer intersects the island and there’s a subtropical climate in the north and a tropical climate in the south. There are two main seasons throughout the year, a dry season from October to March and a humid season from March to October. In summer, the island is subjected to typhoons and monsoons, with high temperatures (over 30°C between July and September, sometimes reaching 35-40°C, an average of 21°C) and heavy rains (over 2,500mm). The heat in the cities can be suffocating because the humidity makes it feel even hotter.
Temperatures of 37-38°C are unbearable when combined with the pollution and humidity. And that’s just in April!
Strong winds and cyclones from the north Pacific aren’t ideal, either. In winter, the island is still rainy but there’s less of it. The south is drier than the north but temperatures can drop under 10°C. Temperatures reach freezing and it snows every year on the mountains in the centre of the island. In Taipei, 20°C is the average but it can fluctuate between 25°C and 15°C and grey skies, from pollution, regularly blanket the city. The climate’s duality means that it’s almost always raining somewhere in Taiwan and the monsoons and typhoons are increasingly violent. Find out more about the best things to see in Taiwan.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Taiwan?
While you can visit Taiwan at any time of the year, winter is the best time to go. Typhoons are uncommon between October and March, the rains are less common, and the air’s more breathable. This is also the low season when prices drop but the services and infrastructure remain the same. As a result, there’s a lot of accommodation available. In the summer, it’s hot and you can enjoy the beaches and waters that are 29°C! If you’re visiting Taipei, March, April, May, August, and September are the best months to visit but there are a lot of rainy days. There are also several other Taiwanese cities where the weather is nice the majority of the year: Nantou, Hsinchu, Taichung, and Miaoli. It’s also a good time to hike in the mountains by Sun Moon Lake, Mount Yu-Shan, Kaohsiung with its Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, Shoushan (Monkey Mountain), or Tainan. You need to keep in mind that the climate varies by region:
- Dry and mild in the south in winter.
- Humid and fresh in the north in winter.
- Humid and hot everywhere in the summer.
- Cold in the mountains in winter.
- Risks of typhoons from July to October.
So the best time to visit Taiwan seems to be from the end of October to the beginning of March. Find out more about accommodation in Taiwan.
How Long Should You Spend Visiting Taiwan?
Would you like to visit Taiwan for a while and learn Chinese, enjoy the cuisine including xiaolongbao and noodle soup, visit the night markets, or visit historic monuments like the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall? To learn more about the history of Taiwan, its diplomatic relationships with Beijing and the Chinese government, the colonisation of the island by the Qing and Ming Dynasties, and the Buddhist and Taoist traditions, you really need to spend a few months there. However, you should keep in mind that you can only spend 90 days in Taiwan without a visa. Of course, it can be difficult visiting Taiwan if you don’t speak any Chinese, especially in places like restaurants where the whole menu will be written using Chinese characters. The Taiwanese tend to speak little English but the younger generations are starting to learn more English. Street signs are often translated into English or written in Chinese Pinyin, making them easier to understand. A week in Taiwan is enough to explore several essential sites but you won’t get to see them all. On a week-long trip, you could visit:
- Monuments and night markets in Taipei.
- Taroko Gorge and Hualien (by train, for example).
- Sun Moon Lake.
- Tainan, Taiwan’s most traditional city.
If you stay for 10 days, you could add Kenting National Park, Alishan National Scenic Area, and the tea plantations in Kaohsiung and Puli. If you’re going to learn the language, you’ll have plenty of time to visit all the attractions in Taipei and other Taiwanese towns and cities:
- Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
- Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
- Taiwanese night markets (Yongkang, Songshan, Shilin, Raohe, etc.)
- Taipei 101 Tower
- Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain) in Taipei
- The Tamsui neighbourhood
- Yangmingshan National Park
- Shi-men Ting neighbourhood
- Longshan Temple
- Yushan National Park
To visit Taiwan and not be rushing around, we recommend that you spend between 2 weeks and a month. You’ll also need a few days to get over your jet-lag. There are so many things to do, after all. Search for Mandarin lessons London here.
What Cultural Events Are there to Enjoy in Taiwan?
There are certain times of the year you might want to avoid because it’ll be busy and expensive. Here’s a list of traditional events and celebrations that take place each year in Taiwan:
- The Mid-Autumn Festival, 13 September 2019
- Taipei Film Festival, 27 June to 13 July 2019
- Taitung International Balloon Festival, 29 June to 12 August 2019
- Ghost Festival, 15 August 2019
- Confucius' Birthday, September 28 2019
- The Double Ninth Festival, 7 October 2019
- National Day of the Republic of China, 10 October 2019
- Chinese New Year, 25 January 2020
- Lantern Festival, usually around February and March
- Buddha's Birthday
- Dragon Boat Festival (Tuen Ng Festival)
Of course, westerners can attend any of these events but during bank holidays, museums, monuments, restaurants, and shops will all be closed as the Taiwanese tend to spend time with their families. You could definitely enjoy the Chinese New Year or the Lantern Festival, for example! If you'd like to learn a bit of the local language before you go, why not get some help from one of the talented tutors on Superprof?
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