To be honest, before I went to Taiwan, I couldn’t even pin it on a map. The only thing that I associated Taiwan with was China (whoops) and bubble tea (my favourite). When I left last year for my Asia trip, I told myself to go somewhere unexpected. But I have to say, it even surprised me that I booked a trip to Taiwan. I had a 2 week gap before I had to be in Vietnam to meet my father, and I couldn’t stay longer than 1 month in Indonesia, so I looked at my options. Either I go earlier to Vietnam and travel a bit to the north, or I fly to Singapore. But then all of a sudden I thought of how much I love bubble tea and thought “Why the heck not” and booked it.
I landed in Taipei without any expectations, didn’t do any research on what to do and see, just booked an expensive hostel for one night in Taipei and took it from there. What happened after was probably 2 of the most unexpected fun weeks I had during my entire trip. Everything about Taiwan mesmerised and surprised me. I was in love. Taiwan might not be a “backpackers paradise” but it’s still one of my favourite countries in Asia. Here’s why:
Let’s get this one out of the way first. The food here is INCREDIBLE and I was a bit surprised by how much vegetarian and vegan food I could find here. After Japan, which is terrible for vegetarians, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to eat good food. But no no, Taiwan proved me wrong. My favourite is still Vietnamese food, but Taiwanese comes damn close. I don’t even know what half of the things I stuffed my stomach with is called, but who cares! Everyday I woke up feeling excited because it meant I could continue eating. Why sleep when you can eat.
This is probably one of the main reasons why I went to Taiwan to be honest. Am I embarrassed about it? No. Should I be? Maybe. If you guys didn’t know this, bubble tea was invented in Taiwan and you can get the absolute best bubble tea here. Not one day passed by without me buying at least one bubble tea. Sometimes I had it for dinner. Sometimes I had it for snack. The most important thing was that I could get my hands on some tapioca.
My favourite city in Taiwan. Maybe it was because I spent most of my time here, but it was also where I got to meet expats who was working as English teachers. It was here I got the opportunity to go to a weird country music festival with my newfound friends, and I walked to the festival with my Birkenstocks and thick socks (NOT KIDDING, it was so damn cold in Taipei and my sneakers were wet after the rain). I had no shame basically. Taipei is also a beautiful city with lots of night markets, good nightlife, museums, shopping and although it’s a big city, it never felt overwhelming. I can even imagine myself living here for a while.
Taiwanese people are extremely friendly. I had heard a rumour that they weren’t as rude as the Chinese (sorry y’all) and it was true – they were beyond helpful and welcoming. And their English is incredible! But it was mostly the expats there that made me feel at home. I got to crash in people’s couches, they wrote to their friends in other Taiwanese cities I was going to so I could sleep at their place, they helped me find anything and showed me around. I always say it’s the people that makes a place special, and I think Taiwan is a good example of it.
I love how much you can do here, even though it’s one of Asia’s smaller countries. You can lay on the beach in the south, visit temples, go to national parks, hike, see incredible landscapes, walk around in big metropolitan cities, party with both locals and internationals in Taipei, go shopping in the markets, eat until you can’t fit in your old jeans, and stroll around smaller, traditional towns. And you can also…
Maybe I’m stupid (probably) but I had no idea Taiwan was famous because of its hot springs before I got invited by two German guys and an American to go hike with them to a hot spring. It was also winter in Taiwan when I went there so I wasn’t about to say no to that. Most locals know how to find the more “hidden” hot springs, but there’s plenty of public ones. Me and Ashur also went to one where male and females were separated too, and it was just me, naked, with 5 Taiwanese ladies. It felt a bit weird at first but then I was like – this is AMAZING! Not all hot springs are separated though, so I’d recommend to dress a bit modestly when you go to a public hot spring (like a bathing suit instead of a bikini) because I got some looks. Taiwan is still quite traditional and the people are too nice to say something. But next time out of respect, I’ll put something less revealing on.
It’s Still a Hidden Gem
Taiwan still feels like a very unexplored place and I could tell by the 3 times I stayed in hostels – most were quite empty. I know I’m selfish, but I loved having Taiwan all to myself. Of course you’ll meet a ton of expats here, so it’s not like you’ll be the only foreigner walking around, but when it comes to tourism, the country hasn’t really picked up yet. Which to me is really strange since this tiny country has so much potential. It’s safe, clean, beautiful, adventurous, exotic and fun. I was never bored in Taiwan.
I really think Taiwan is Asia’s most underrated countries because you never hear people traveling there. People were always surprised when I told them I’ was going there. They always asked me “but why? what is there in Taiwan?” – if they only knew. I’m sure that tourism will boom here one day, as it has in many parts in Asia. Although I wouldn’t mind keeping this little country all to myself.