6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went to Taiwan 

I’ve never been outside the country until last month. I’ve always had this irrational fear of traveling by plane, which has kept me from visiting many places (that, and time and money haha). This year, I wanted to change that, so I tagged along with my friends’ trip to the heart of Asia.

What’s in Taiwan, anyway? Many Filipinos think that there are only two things in this country: factories and beef noodles. Although I knew that there’s a lot more to Taiwan than Meteor Garden and tea, I admit that I didn’t know enough. I could have had more fun if I prepared for my trip properly. Here are six important things I wish someone had told me before I went:

1. It’s very helpful to learn basic Mandarin, but not really necessary.

Actually, it just felt like it’s impolite not to learn the language. It’s also a mighty inconvenience not being able to communicate when you need to transfer trains, order food, buy something from the store, or look for the right bus station.

In our experience, however, getting around was not as difficult as I imagined it would be. The Taiwanese are very friendly and kind; we’ve never met any person, even in the countryside, who wasn’t willing to help us. I’m not even exaggerating.

Fenqihu Station

2. Keep a good offline map with names of places in English and Mandarin.

Mostly for your peace of mind. It’s overwhelming to hear the public announcements while onboard a train and not understand a thing. So if you’re a worrier like me, do get a map so you don’t have to feel anxious while commuting. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Almost everything’s in Mandarin, so it’s important to be assertive and ask questions if you need help. Given the language barrier, I recommend that you print out a list of basic phrases in Mandarin and English as a guide to help you speak with the locals.

Alishan trail

4. Have enough travel funds.

You’ll never know when you’ll need extra money. And in a city like Taipei, that could mean all the time. It’s not as expensive as most modern cities, but there are just too many shops selling delicious food and trendy dresses at bargain prices that you’ll wish you’d brought more cash. More importantly, if you plan to visit during the typhoon season, there’s always a possibility that flights will be cancelled due to bad weather, so it’s best to be ready with extra cash.

5. Do your research.

I can’t stress this enough. How else will you know where to get the best peanut ice cream or taro balls in Taipei? If I had done my research, I’m sure I would have saved a lot of time and effort. I didn’t even know where to get pasalubong.

Taroko Pebble Beach

6. Prepare to fall in love with the beauty of Taiwan.

I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin, never cared enough about Chinese history (except in high school), but I’ve read enough articles and academic publications from students and professionals from my previous editing job. These studies aroused my curiosity in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Mainland China. (Weird, I know.) Nevertheless, it was only when I got to travel to the country that I was finally convinced of the beauty of this nation.

Next week, I’ll post more about my experience in the different Taiwanese cities that I’ve visited. Stay tuned!

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