Although small in size, Taiwan doesn’t fail to deliver a unique cultural experience within Asia. From the scenery to the food to the night markets: Taiwan is a bustling hive of experiences. This week, we gain insight from Kai Su, a student completing the Bachelor of Commerce at UNSW hailing from Pin Tung, Taiwan, for an authentic walkthrough of this beautiful country.

Disclaimer: These are personal opinions and perspectives of the interviewees and are not a perfect representation of the whole country/experience.

Edited by Megan Chen

Taiwan is home to the famous ‘bubble tea’ or ‘milk tea’ but this isn’t their only specialty when it comes to food. You’ll find yourself stuffed beyond belief rather than hungry! Taipei is the capital city but there are many surrounding counties, each known for a part of Taiwanese culture.

What is your country best known for? How is the culture different to Australia?

Taiwan is best known for its generous and kind people. We’re quite open-minded as well. Taiwan is known for its unique array of Asian-style multicultural food and a rich and diverse culture. We’re conservative in the way we interact in society. We tend to cover up more with clothes and are polite and respectful to elders. Seniority is important in society. At the same time, we’re also very family-oriented with our welcoming aura being noticeable to foreigners.

What are some of the most famous places to visit?

  • 101 Taipei – this was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010
Taipei 101
Source: Alix Lee
  • National Palace Museum – a great place to see Taiwanese artwork and history
  • Sun Moon Lake – the largest body of water in Taiwan
  • Shilin Night Market in Taipei
A small part of Shilin Night Market
Source: Daniel M Shih (2008) Flickr.

What are some famous experiences to try?

The Dihua Lunar New Year Market is a great place to check out if you’re in the country for the new year. Like all markets, it’s lively and imbued with Taiwanese culture. It’s great to pick up some new year necessities. Kenting beaches are a popular destination in summer.

The Pinxi Sky Lantern festival is a beautiful sight to see where unspoken dreams and wishes are scribed onto the lantern before watching them float into the sky.

Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival in 2014
Source: Jirka Matousek (2014) Flickr, www.jirkamatousek.eu

In winter, the warmth and relaxation of a hot spring is amazing in Jiaoxi, Yilan County. Most hot springs in Taiwan are worth experiencing. Another special experience is visiting the place that inspired the set of Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ – Jiufen in Ruifang district.

Jiufen Teahouse
Source: Zairon (2016) Wikimedia.
Jiufen Streets
Source: Morgan Calliope (2017) Flickr.

What are some must-try foods that are special to your country?

  • Bubble tea (of course). There are many franchises but 50嵐 (Wushiland) is a well-known store. Insider tip: ask for less sugar than you want as it is usually quite sweet. Also, ask for less ice to get more value as they will give you more milk.
  • Taiwanese Fried Chicken. I have never been to a restaurant with bad fried chicken in Taiwan.
  • Oyster Omelette
  • Stinky Tofu
  • Shaved Ice (similar to Korean Bingsu)

What are some local travel destination that tourists might not typically go?

  • Elephant Mountain
  • Sandimen Township – this is a mountain indigenous township, home to the Paiwan people. There is a lot of indigenous-style foods to try such as Zhu Tong Fan (Bamboo Rice, 竹筒飯) or Shiban Kao Rou (BBQ, 石板烤肉)

What are some travel tips?

Transportation is quite convenient. Metros, high speed rails, buses taxis and share bikes are common throughout. If in Taipei, get an Easy Card (悠遊卡) which works like an Opal card. Have access to Google Translate if Mandarin isn’t your strength. Taipei people have a basic understanding of English so simple words are fine. Most people speak Mandarin (Pu Tong Hua) but in the countryside, some speak the Taiwanese dialect only. There are typhoons in the summer so be mindful when scheduling your agenda. It’s generally very humid and warm so don’t bring too many thick clothes.

Guguan Hot Spring, Taichung
Source: Prince Roy (2007) Flickr.

What are the most well-known universities in your country and what are they usually known for?

National Taiwan University (台灣大學): well-known for Medicine.

Tsing Hua University (國立清華大學): well-known for Engineering.

UNSW Exchange Partner Universities: National Taiwan University, Tamkang University

How is studying (in general, or in University) in your country different to studying in Australia?

In Taiwan, every degree is four year regardless of the degree. Normally, you only get lectures and there’s no tutorials. The connection between students and professors are stronger – more interactive and helpful connections.

University life is typically filled with karaoke and night markets after class, board game restaurants and most importantly, having fun. I would say students are not really stressed at all. Taiwanese universities are famous for being not as stressful as you stressed a lot from Middle and High School.

If you’d like to read about a university exchange experience in Taiwan, take a look at the National Taiwan University post.

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