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Taiwan - it's a country that gets discussed ad nauseam on this here forum - third only after the Philippines and China. The classic "Winston Wu vs. Rock" debate. Winston says Taiwan is an oppressed hell hole full of toxic women and culture, no different than the United States. Rock says Taiwan is a well-balanced place where decent guys can score high quality gals and live a decent standard of life. So who's right? Let me foreshadow this trip report by saying I completely agree with either Winston or Rock. But who do you think I'll agree with? Well, read along and you'll soon find out!
(Note: All of the following pictures were taken by me using my Pentax K-01 camera.)
This was my first trip ever to Taiwan, and I spent the entire ten days and eleven nights in Taipei, the capital city of the island country. I've been in Asia almost six years now, and I finally drug my ass to Taiwan. Don't get me wrong - I badly wanted to go to Taipei, but the prices of plane tickets from where I live were never as attractive as other nearer destinations. One night I was randomly searching plane tickets to destinations around Asia from Bangkok, and I saw Tiger Air was having a promotion for buy one plane ticket get another for free. That was my sign - my sign that it was time to finally travel to Taiwan.
This trip to Taiwan was also my first time to use the apartment hosting website Airbnb.com, which allows people to rent out their homes hotel-style to customers. I stayed at two different districts while in Taipei - the first one was about a fifteen minute walk from MRT Wende station (in Neihu district). The second one was located on an alley in Tonghua street (in Da'an district). I'd say the first apartment was in more of a peaceful residential area, while the second was located in more of a business area with lots of stuff going on. While I certainly like a lot about both of the locations, I'd have to say I liked the first location better. I like to have peace and quiet, but still have access to plenty of amenities and only be a short MRT ride away from all the action in downtown. Both of my Airbnb experiences were positive, so I'll definitely be using the website on future travels.
The food in Taipei was quite nice. Taiwanese food is unsurprisingly very similar to mainland Chinese food. The only difference is Taiwanese food tends to do away with all the dodgy crap that goes into a typical mainland dish. For example, Taiwanese food uses nearly all the same ingredients as mainland food, however, the Taiwanese don't drown every dish in cooking oil, salt, MSG, and/or sugar. Portions are also almost perfect - not the child-size portions that are common in Thailand, nor the gigantic portions that are common in the United States and China. The serving size is usually just right - just enough to fill me up. I also found food prices to be very reasonable. I don't think I ever paid more than NT$150 (about US$5) for a single meal of Taiwanese food. And I almost always left every meal without a hint of guilt from eating shitty unhealthy food, and I always thought the food was tasty and satisfying. My absolute favorite food that's available practically anywhere in Taipei is the roasted sweet potato. They're cheap, healthy, filling, and convenient to eat on-the-go. An all-around perfect snack! It also felt like food is very "available" and convenient in Taipei. This is very similar to mainland China. I don't know how to explain it, but food just doesn't feel that convenient in Bangkok. Sure it's there, but it feels troublesome, lacking in variety, and too prone to double pricing. All in all, Taiwanese food wasn't spectacular like Indian, Mexican, or Italian cuisine, but it was certainly good enough to eat for at least one meal a day.
Another good way to judge how comfortable a city will be to live in is based on the city's availability of foreign cuisine. So how does Taipei fare? Honestly, I had a bit of trouble finding decent foreign restaurants serving authentic dishes. By far the best place I stumbled across was Hooters, which was pretty much 100% the same as its American counterpart. Sure, the food was pretty unhealthy, but it was fun to eat for a meal or two. It was also interesting checking out the ladies at the Taipei Hooters. I've never been to a Hooters in Asia, so I was wondering how "bosomy" the ladies would be at an Asian Hooters. Well, they weren't very "bosomy" at all, but in typical Asian fashion, they well made up for that by having fantastic legs, haha. Aside from just Hooters, the only other decent foreign cuisine I found in Taipei was a little Mexican restaurant called Macho Tacos. They have a Tuesday special where tacos are only NT$39 (assuming you also buy a drink for NT$60). The tacos were very authentic Mexican style, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was great. Definitely a recommended place for those craving Mexican while in Taipei. Unfortunately, other than Hooters and Macho Tacos, I didn't have much luck in my quest for decent foreign food. There was plenty of Thai restaurants to go around, but I've been living in Bangkok for the last three years, so Thai food is the last thing I want to eat. There were also quite a bit of Vietnamese and Indonesian restaurants scattered all about, and the food served was quite authentic. But as for Western cuisine, I simply didn't know where else to go. My Google searches didn't yield much luck. But I admit I was a new visitor to Taipei, so I didn't exactly know where to look. Veterans like Rock could probably recommend a good place or two.
As for things to do in Taipei, I kept myself quite occupied. Unlike Singapore, I didn't feel boredom start to kick in until around the eight or ninth day of my trip. In Singapore, boredom kicked in around the fourth or fifth day. And of all the places I went, I barely even spent a dime. Similar to Vientiane, Laos, practically every tourist attraction I went in Taipei to was either free or cost next to nothing. Here's the top five things I did that I enjoyed the most.
1. Took a ride on the Maokong gondola in the southern part of the city. The hilly area used to be used primarily for growing tea, but it's been converted into a place for people to go and chill, relax, and enjoy the view. I spent about 2-3 hours riding the gondola and chilling out on top of the hill. My round-trip ticket only cost me NT$100 (about US$3). That's shockingly cheap!
2.Visited both the Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen Memorial Halls. Hey I'm in Taiwan, and these two guys are two of the biggest historic figures of modern Taiwan. I enjoy learning about modern Asian history, so going to both of these places was worth a trip. Both places also both have an elaborate process of changing the guards who stand in front of the respective statues. This happens on the hour every hour. It's kind of neat, so check it out. Expects lots of mainlanders at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, but they're mostly absent from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Gee, I wonder why? Oh, and both places were 100% free!
3. Took pictures and rode a bike around the big Taipei Bridge. This huge bridge connects Old Taipei with New Taipei, and pedestrians can walk and/or ride bicycles along the bridge. Pretty cool place for a peaceful afternoon of recreation. And of course it's free. Also make sure to walk around the streets surrounding the big bridge. I saw lots of ethnic Asian enclaves in the area.
4. Went and gawked at the Taipei 101 skyscraper. It's an icon of the city, and you can see it from practically anywhere in the city. This is the place to get your "I've been to Taipei" photo. This building used to be the tallest in the world, but it lost that title quite some time ago. Be warned that the entire area is swarmed with tourist Chinese mainlanders. You can also go up to the top of the building for NT$500 (about US$16), but I elected not too. Might be worth it once though.
5. Walked around the alleys of Tonghua Street. I did stay there for a week after all, so I guess I kind of had no choice. Nonetheless, the alleys are filled with little cheap restaurants, people selling produce and meat, churches, Chinese temples, a night market, hair salons, massage parlors, and so on. The alleys are like a grid, so you could spend an hour or two just checking out the local culture. I got tons and tons of good street photos in this area. And of course you don't need to pay to walk around the streets. The area is definitely worth checking out once if you're a newcomer to Taipei like me.
One thing I absolutely loved about Taipei was how easy it was to get around. This is in stark contrast to cities like Bangkok, Jakarta, and Ho Chi Minh City. Pedestrian and bicycle lanes are everywhere. Cars stop for you once you cross the street. Bicycles can be rented hourly at almost any MRT station for next to nothing. No matter where you are in the city, it feels like you're never more than a twenty minute walk from an MRT station. The city's layout is not too poorly designed nor mind-boggling. And last but not least, you can use just ONE card to travel along the MRT, rent bikes from the rental stations, or even pay for your goods at select convenience stores or vending machines. In Bangkok I have to carry four cards to do the exact same thing - a BTS card, an MRT card, a Pun Pun bicycle card, and a 7-Eleven convenience card. In Taipei one card can do all four of those things. Now that's what I call efficient! Are you listening, Bangkok?
Another awesome thing about Taipei was how comfortable it felt. Practically every convenience store had tables and chairs for customers to sit. At least half of them also had public restrooms. There are benches and places to sit all over the city. There's plenty of space to go around. You don't see homeless people/beggars anywhere and everywhere like in Bangkok, Manila, and Phnom Penh. Trees, greenery, and nature are all over and surrounding the city (similar to Singapore). The city certainly has noice as any city does, but it's mostly reasonable. None of the earth-shattering noises that constantly crush your eardrums like in Bangkok, Manila, and Chinese cities. The city is clean and largely litter-free (at least the parts I saw). The children are also mostly well-behaved, calm, and cute as a button, haha. I couldn't help but notice so many parents dress their kids in blue or pink - blue for boys and pink for girls of course. Are parents even allowed to do that in modern day America? Or would that be deemed gender insensitive, gender biasing, or some horse shit like that? Anyways, just like Singapore, Taipei is very very comfortable. I explored the city from corner to corner, and besides a few notable exceptions, the majority of the city felt very livable. I'd say less than 20% of Bangkok is livable, and maybe only 50% of Dalian is livable (the city I previously lived in).
Now let's get to the women, the part you've all been waiting for. As almost always, I was traveling with my Chinese girlfriend, so my interactions with the local gals was quite limited. But I still talked to plenty of them, saw hundreds of thousands of them, and got an overall first impression. While not too many women stared at me like sometimes happens in China, I definitely noticed a lot of women giving me that slightly prolonged "look of approval" - definitely reassuring for a man's ego. In a nutshell, Taiwanese women are probably the best I've ever seen in Asia. (Go ahead and crucify me now, Winston.) I'm a big big fan of ethnic Chinese women, so this came as no surprise, but let me explain why. Taiwanese women are essentially mainland Chinese women minus all the bullshit. They're ultra-feminine, mild and well-mannered, mostly well-educated, and carry themselves with class and grace. They got the elegance of mainland Chinese women, plus the interesting sophistication of Japanese women. They're basically what you'd get if you mixed a mainland Chinese girl with a Japanese girl. Sounds perfect to me! I also noticed very very few good-looking women had that arrogant bitch face I so often see in Bangkok, nor did many women (or people in general) have that sour face you can see practically everywhere in China. Regardless, I think mainland Chinese women are well-worth the trouble they can throw at you (as well as what they're mother country can throw at you), but if you don't wanna put up with all that, then I totally recommend Taiwanese chicks. I'm looking at you, Xiongmao. If I were ever a single dude again (though I'm confident I won't be), I know exactly where I'd go if pursuing a long-term relationship. I'm confident I have what it takes to crack the code of Taiwanese women. Simply put, Taiwanese women seem nearly perfect to me.
As for Taiwanese people in general, or at least the Taipeinese, they seemed pretty cool to me. They definitely left a largely positive in impression. Although I can speak conversational Mandarin, I noticed a lot of people in Taipei spoke passable English - this in stark contrast to Thailand and China. If people talked to me in English first, then I would continue the conversation in English. If Mandarin, then Mandarin. If I talked first, then I would always use Mandarin. And unlike China, where all these goofy middle-aged and older people seem to have trouble understanding a Caucasian speaking Mandarin, no matter their level of Mandarin, 99% of the people in Taipei fully understood everything I said to them. The 1% who didn't was some really old guy at a local betel nut shop. He didn't understand me at all, and I have no idea why. He fully understood my Heilongjiang Chinese girlfriend though. Other than that one time, I had zero trouble communicating. Just like the women, Taiwanese in general are basically like mainland Chinese minus all the bullshit. Taiwanese are basically what mainlanders would be if they were polite, well-educated, patient, and internationalized. Don't get me wrong, I often enjoy the wackiness that mainlanders tend to exhibit, but Taiwnese are infinitely more easy to deal with, at least on a day-to-day basis. None of the mega loud talking, spitting, obnoxious staring, or any of the other piss poor manners that plague mainland China. Good job, Taiwan.
Another cool thing about Taipei is since the overwhelming majority of people are middle-class, you don't see all these silly little "competitions" among the locals to see who can best prove they're from the upper class. None of the hyper-sensitivity to social class nonsense you see in so many developing Asian countries (e.g. driving BMWs, only buying luxury brands like Gucci or Prada, constantly looking down one's nose at those perceived to be below them, etc). For example, I saw countless attractive and classy women riding bicycles all over Taipei. Seeing a classy woman riding a bike in urban Bangkok or China? Not a chance in Hell! One goofy knack about the Taiwanese is their obsession with dogs. I won't go into details, but let's just say dogs are treatly like royalty in Taiwan. I admit I was only in Taipei for ten days, so I'm sure if I stayed in Taiwan longer, my frustrations with the locals would likely become more evident. But I have to admit, the Taiwanese left a very positive first impression on me. It's crazy how two peoples can be the same at their core (Chinese and Taiwanese), yet so different on all of their exterior superficial behavior.
Finally, let's talk about the general day-to-day cost of Taipei. I already mentioned above that food prices are very reasonable. NT$100 is definitely enough to get you a satisfying plate of clean and moderately healthily-cooked food. I also mentioned that tourist attractions are very cheap. So what else? Using the MRT was also extremely cheap - I never paid more than NT$25 for my ride, regardless of where I went in the city. That's roughly half of what I pay in Bangkok. However, using the subway in Beijing and Shanghai is only two yuan per trip for most rides. Bus rides in Taipei are NT$15. No matter where I went on the bus, it was still just NT$15. A shuttle bus to and from the airport cost me about NT$150 per way. I only took one taxi, which was at like 3 AM, and it cost me about NT$280. I probably went about 3-5 miles on that taxi ride. Riding on the city-provided rental bikes (YouBike) was free for the first half hour, then NT$10 for each subsequent half hour. After it's all said and done, getting around Taipei is very cheap, reasonable, and simple. There are plenty of options for modes of transport, and all of them are desirable. As for my Airbnb accommodations, I paid NT$567 per night (two guests) for the shared apartment in Neihu district, and then NT$780 (also two guests) for the private apartment in central Da'an district. When I was browsing hotels on Expedia and Agoda, I noticed decent two and three star hotels were asking for about NT$1500 - 2500 per night. So my Airbnb arrangements were definitely a good deal! All in all, considering how developed, clean, and modern Taipei, the cost of traveling was medium cheap. Roughly the same (if not cheaper) than you'd pay to travel to Bangkok, a much less developed and less comfortable city in comparison. Taipei also seemed a bit cheaper than both Beijing and Shanghai. As for local rent prices and average local salaries, I have no idea.
I think after reading this review, it's pretty clear who's side I'm on in the Winston Wu vs. Rock debate. But if I have to spell it out for you, I definitely agree with Rock. Taipei is comfortable, reasonable cost-wise, the local women are feminine, classy, and sophisticated, the local people are polite and reasonable towards foreigners, the city is modern, clean, and filled with nature, the food is decent and reasonably healthy, and getting around is simple and efficient. Yet on the downside (I have very few Complaints), the weather is mediocre - it rained non-stop three of the days I was there, but the other seven days were moderate and nice. Taipei is an island, so it's somewhat isolated from surrounding countries. It also seems like you'd get bored of seeing the country after a couple of years or so. Hotels are medium-high priced (for Asian standards). And finally, breaking into social circles could probably be time-consuming and somewhat confusing to a newcomer in Asia. Nonetheless, the pros far outweigh the cons, and I definitely know I'll be back in Taiwan in the future. Hell, I might even live there some day! I'll probably revisit Taipei again next time, but also spend a decent amount of time in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest city/metropolis. In my almost six years of living and traveling in Asia - my current favorite places are: Dalian, China (like a second home to me), Penang Island in Malaysia, and Taipei. I just noticed all three of my favorite places are in the Sinosphere...interesting. Is Taipei worth the trip if you're in a surrounding Asia country? Definitely. Would I travel from across the world (such as from the United States) just to see Taipei? Yes. Taipei in a nutshell: Shanghai minus all the mess of mainland China. That's a pretty epic combo!
My previous trip reports:
P.S. - I'll be in mainland China from March 30 to April 26. I'll be stopping at Changsha, Chongqing, Leshan, Chengdu, and Kunming. I'll continue my previous trip report whenever the trip is finished. If anyone on this forum is located in any of these cities, get in contact with me so we can possibly meet up. Also, I'll be in Chicago, Little Rock (my hometown), and Memphis from May to July. Once again get in contact with me if you're in one of these cities and you want to meet up. I'll also make a trip report for my United States trip. After that it's back to China for one month (the Northeast), and then I'll be moving to South Korea. Bye Bye, Bangkok!