Today while out with a Taiwanese friend a woman asked if she was my translator, my friend told her no– that I was just a friend who was visiting. The woman seemed surprised, “Why are you visiting Taiwan?”
Taipei isn’t one of the major vacation hot spots for westerners. When I told people I was going to Taiwan, half of them squinted and asked, “Thailand?” Taiwan is a strange little island that is still tied with China, but isn’t exactly a part of it any more. They are politically separate, though historically tied to the mainland. Coastal areas have been occupied by the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, and the Japanese at various times.
A key spot for eastern trade routes to Europe, it is still a thriving place of commerce today. Most westerners who turn up on these shores are not here for pleasure; it’s strictly business. The city is extremely modern for the most part. They have free public wifi in most major area to cater to a tech savvy populous, their metro is incredibly clean and convenient, and yes– before you get all worried– nearly everywhere there are western style toilets (though using the squat toilets isn’t actually that hard). English is accommodated nearly everywhere. Metro and bus stops are always announced in 3-4 languages, English included.
So why haven’t westerners descended on this gem of a city? Perhaps because no one ever really hears much about it. Perhaps also because there seems to be a misconception that it is still developing. My friend said that the last time she was with American visitors, some thought that it would be mainly unpaved roads, no internet, very old fashioned. And when you get out of the cities into the mountains and farm country, such modern amenities may be spotty, but the same is true in many countries.
For those from a more temperate climate (me), the heat in the summer can be a little intense. My brother informed me that according to the weather the temperature with humidity factored in was around 105 yesterday. Today humidity was at 120% meaning, he told me, technically it was raining, but it’s so hot that it never comes down, it evaporates in the sun before it has a chance and hangs like a mist, mixing with air pollution around the mountains that surround Taipei.
So give Taipei a chance, but maybe come in the winter. It gets down to a brisk 70 degrees or so in winter.