It is not uncommon for travel articles pertaining to Asia to recount the potential horrors of scams and shady encounters. Thailand and Vietnam often get the critique that many tourist areas are filled with groups of individuals looking to pickpocket valuables or take advantage of unsuspecting visitors. China is known for its crowded cities and lack of concern for organization, such as queuing in line or keeping a steady flow onto public transportation. For new travelers, this can be a bit intimidating. For more experienced travelers, the thought of what is to come is already exhausting. Taiwan manages to overcome both of these concerns, especially in its capital Taipei.
1. Taiwan is incredibly safe. Very safe. Many buildings and public places in Taipei have functioning cameras. Thus, there is a considerably low rate of crime. So low in fact that you can leave your purse on a table while you run to the restroom at Starbucks and no one will touch your stuff. (Although, I would not purposefully leave your belongings unattended just in case.) Even during a particularly stormy day, I have left my umbrella outside 7 Eleven all day and have come back the following morning to find it in the exact same position in which I left it. When living or traveling abroad, I find it relieving to put aside some of the anxieties that develop over pick-pocketing.
2. Locals are friendly and helpful, without being aggressive. Asian culture is depicted as a “cold” culture. Everyone minds to their own business and most strangers passing on the sidewalk will not openly offer a smile or acknowledgement. Through my travels in Asia, however, I have found Taiwan to be the friendliest Asian culture. Not only are the people willing to help me out even in times of communication barriers, but they also do not rush me along. I have never truly felt like I am an inconvenience to someone or taking too much time in trying to complete a task. Further, the Taiwanese avoid the aggressive behavior found in the tourist areas in other Asian destinations.
3. There are rules and organizational measures in place, and they are followed. Whether it is on the MRT (public metro system) or in line at the bank, Taiwan abides by rules and maintains order. For instance, the MRT prohibits eating, drinking, or chewing gum within the station or the train. Passengers also line up to get onto the train. This is a welcomed change to the pushy and self-serving nature of locals in other Asian countries.
4. Taxis are easy to find and will not scam you for money. If you have been to Thailand, then you are aware on how tuk tuks and taxis can be a nightmare to find. Actually, they are readily available, but most will not take you to your location directly or refuse to go to certain areas in town. In Taiwan, taxis are easy to find and flag down. They run by a meter which starts at NT $70, and you will find that the fare is relatively reasonable. After 11 pm, there is a small fee that gets added into the cost of the taxi for a night convenience charge. (As a note, know relatively where you are going and the length of travel time. You do not want to be left oblivious in the event that your taxi driver does decide to go around the block several times to run up the meter. Hotels and other tourist spots can help answer travel time questions.)
5. Prices are locked in and bookings are not likely to be dropped unexpectedly. Thanks to the work of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, prices in the tourist sector do not waver too much and it is very rare to find your scheduled bookings dropped at the last minute. With visitor centers and update-to-date websites, Taiwan makes it comfortable for visitors and expats to learn more about top spots to see and important traveling information.
Going to any Asian city for the first time from a Western background can be a rather rough transition. Beyond the obvious culture shock and communication barriers, many foreigners feel overwhelmed with the new experience of having to be overly aware of their surroundings. Taiwan is a great stepping stone for first-timers to become accustom to Asian destinations. For more experienced travelers, Taiwan offers a chance to adventure without the burden of tourist traps.
To see other posts in this mini series, click on the links in the right sidebar or on the “Mini Series” category. You can also click on the “Taiwan” tag in the tag cloud in the right sidebar.