Taiwan

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Flag of Taiwan Taiwan
Information
Language: Chinese
Capital: Taipei
Population: 22,830,000
Currency: New Taiwan Dollar
Hitchability: <rating country='tw' />
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<map lat='24' lng='121' zoom='6' view='0' float='right' />

Taiwan is an island off the coast of China, and an excellent place to hitchhike.

The UN considers Taiwan part of China, but its government is completely separate from the Mainland, and almost all Taiwanese people proudly consider it an independent country. The culture has Chinese roots but with heavy Japanese and American influences.

People are fond of calling Taiwan a "small island", but don't be fooled into thinking distances are shorter than they are. It takes about 8 hours to drive from one end to the other.

Attitudes Toward Hitchhiking

Taiwan is a very easy place to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is not a common way for locals to travel except when returning to town from the mountains, but there's almost zero fear of hitchhikers, and many locals are happy to help. There is a common perception that hitchhiking is only easy for women and "foreigners" (White people), but it appears not to be true.

Taiwanese people are very friendly and usually very honest. Waiting times to hitch are short and people often don't mind driving a bit further than the place where they needed to be. Very often, the drivers will also offer you a drink or even food. No matter how deep into the countryside you are, hitching is possible absolutely everywhere! You might find Taiwan to be the easiest place to hitch in the world.

Taiwanese people sometimes don't believe hitchhiking will work for longer distances (or they are maybe not familiar with the concept), so they might try to drive you to a train- or bus-station.

It might be useful to have a motorcycle helmet with you, when hitchhiking, as it is possible get lifts from motorcyclists.

Language

Taiwan's official language is Mandarin Chinese, and everyone under about 70 speaks it fluently (Taiwanese, a related language, is widespread but declining in use among young people, especially in the north and major cities). English is mandatory in schools, and most Taiwanese people under 40 will know some, but only a minority of them speak it confidently and well.

If you are an English speaker you will find that many people are eager to practice while they drive you around. On the other hand, many others are unable or reluctant to try speaking it , so knowing some Mandarin helps a lot.

Very often people will make an effort to communicate with the few English words they know, or even call an English-speaking friend to talk with you on the phone. Nonetheless, it's a good idea learn some basic Chinese or ask a Chinese-speaking friend to create a hitchhiking letter for you. This is a tremendously good method.

The next best thing is to have a smartphone on you to translate whatever you search into chinese characters and for the use of google maps. You can buy a SIM card (fareastone e.g.) for NT$350 giving you a credit of 150 for calling plus 1GB of mobile internet. The whole country offers excellent wifi services (restaurants, 7-11, Metro and bus stations). Free registration is often required. Search help for that.

Sleeping

Informal camping is very easy and safe in Taiwan. Occasionally you can be scolded for choosing a bad spot, but threatening or violent behaviour is unheard of. It is generally okay to pitch a tent on the grounds of public schools, even in some larger towns. Just make sure to be gone before children arrive in the morning, and if there's a night guard posted, ask for permission first. Temple custodians may be willing to let you camp on their grounds or terraces as well, and you're unlikely to have any trouble camping next to an unstaffed shrine (certain ones may be considered undesirable because of evil spirits, but any objections will stem from concern for your well-being, not anger). Empty lots are of course fair game as well.

In national parks, there may be a rule against pitching tents outside of designated camping areas (which may or may not be present, and sometimes have a fee). However, it is considered normal to camp in parking areas or lawns anyway once the staff have gone home for the night. But do note that starting fires outside of designated fire pits is generally not considered appropriate in Taiwan (except on some beaches), and you should respect this. Taiwanese mountaineers cook and boil water using tiny portable gas stoves, which you can buy at outdoor sporting supply stores in major cities.

Couchsurfing also comes recommended. You will find possibilities in most counties, and major cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung have weekly meetups and other events that you can show up to and ask around.

Major cities have backpacker hostels for around NT$400 to $600 per bed, and a double at a low-end hotel runs up toward NT$1000. In areas frequented by domestic tourists, there are also many "minsu" (sometimes translated as "homestays" but really more like B&Bs or mini hotels). Rates vary, but expect it to cost more than a hostel.

Health and Safety

Taiwan has amazingly little street crime, and you can live there for years without ever hearing even a second-hand story of a mugging, pickpocketing, or robbery. Political and religious terrorism are completely unheard of. Sexual assault by strangers is almost never heard of either, though many women in the cities eventually experience a scary incident of some creepy guy following them down a dark street. Locals may tell you about mob-on-mob violence and a recent series of recent random knife attacks in public places, but these are so astoundingly rare as to not be worth worrying about. Gun ownership is forbidden with very few exceptions, and property owners rarely guard against trespassing, much less enforce it threateningly.

The biggest causes of accidental death in Taiwan are motor scooter accidents and drowning (most locals are not strong swimmers, but also watch out for rip currents and submerged rocks at beaches, which kill both locals and visitors every year). When camping in wild or brushy areas, be aware of venomous snakes (mainly the green tree viper and banded krait), which are common but rarely cause any problems. Snakebites can be treated at most medical facilities, and deaths are very rare. Barking and aggressive dogs can be a major annoyance, but just avoid them as best you can. They don't usually bite.

The emergency phone number in Taiwan is 119. Don't hesitate to call it if you or someone else's life is in danger. Even if you're lost in the mountains and need to be airlifted out, it's likely that you will be rescued free of charge.

Taiwan has a highly-developed healthcare system, and prices are low enough that it's often worthwhile going to the doctor or emergency room even without insurance. Mosquito-borne dengue fever is rare, but a possibility in certain areas during the summer. A bigger health hazard is air pollution, which reaches moderate to high levels especially during winter months in the south (and year-round on busy streetsides island-wide, due to heavy traffic and unfiltered exhaust from motor scooters). Taiwan can be very hot and humid in the summer months, so make sure to stay hydrated. However, you're unlikely to find yourself out of range of a place to buy water except in serious wilderness areas.

Cities

Public transport

For e.g., Taipei to Taichung the lowest bus fares are about NT$250, and about NT$450 to Kaohsiung depending on the time of week. The Highspeed train (HSR) finishes its 350km track from Taipei to Kaohsiung in only 2 hours. Fare is about NT$1600. Slow trains are sometimes cheaper than buses but don't travel long distances. In the East, trains may be the only form of intercity public transportation.

Taipei offers a 30-minute for free bike at almost every station (get the app!). Every 30 minutes after the first 30 minutes cost you NT$10. Get the smart card for the metro and bikes to save money. You will pay a hundred for it, but get 80 back when handing in again.

General costs

Taiwan is quite a developed country, as you will see when first entering Taipei. The cost of living is generally much less than in Western Europe, North America, Japan, or Korea, but can be a bit expensive compared to Southeast Asia and other "low-cost travel" parts of the world. From one author's experience you can stay in Taiwan for a month for about 300€ and see almost everything. Food is generally cheap everywhere (NT$40 to NT$100), hostels cost 400 to 600 NT$, transportation is mentioned above. Save some money in Taipei by oftenly using the Ubikes.

Experiences