What are some things I should know before I visit Taipei, Taiwan?
Here are seven things that totally surprised me before I came to Taiwan, and keep me living here ten years later.
1. Taiwan is full of food you've never heard of
Especially in the night markets. For example "little sausage in a big sausage (大腸包小腸)" is a famous Taiwanese night market snack that is actually a rice sausage wrapped around a pork sausage. Yes you heard that right. A rice sausage.
Taiwanese night markets are SO competitive that vendors are always coming up with new, wacky recipes to get more customers dollars. Also try the fish balls, stinky tofu, pig blood cake (I'm not making this up), and the pork buns, or "gua bao" -- essentially a Taiwanese hamburger.
2. Taiwan has the best coffee culture in Asia
There are so many cozy coffee shops in Taipei, part of the joy is turning off your smartphone and getting lost in the winding alleyways only to discover some amazing little coffee joints. Taiwanese people take their coffee very seriously.If you ask for sugar, you'll get a snarky look from the barista. They feel that patrons who add sugar to their coffee just don't get it and are disgusting perverts. And hey, growing up on Dunkin Donuts coffee, maybe they're right!
So bring a book, order a large cappuccino, and tune out during a winter Taipei afternoon staring out the window watching the rain fall. That's how you take in Taipei's coffee culture.
3. Taiwanese cocktail culture is even better
Something's been happening to the cocktail scene in Taipei as of late -- it's been exploding, and with it, the speakeasy scene. You can order some of the most interesting drinks around that will take you into different dimensions of tipsiness. Cocktail bars like R&D and Ounce are running the show with their menu-less drink ordering system.
Just tell the bartender your favorite fruit, or flavor. What you can expect is something genuine and otherworldly on the form of a cocktail, like the Ma La Moscow Mule at R&D, a mule that infuses Chinese hot pot spices and somehow gets away with it. A couple of those and you'll be floating six inches off the ground.
Take the time to ask the locals about the speakeasy's around Taipei. Most of them are on Google maps if you search, but only the locals can tell you the hottest spots-- R&D and Ounce for starters.
4. YouBikes in Taipei mean the city is yours
With a simple metro card called a YoYo card, you can sign up to use the city's Youbike rental bicycles. They are so cheap that it's not even worth mentioning the price (ok since you asked, 5NTD for 30 min, and you can get anywhere within 30 min). Riding a Youbike is the best way to explore Taipei because you're on the street level where all of the action is happening -- not underground on the MRT (subway), or in an Uber.
Just hop on and hop off by docking it in any of the numerous Youbike docks conveniently located just when you need them. The basket in the front means you can put a couple of beers or a small dog, and with a few friends, you can start your own Youbike gang and begin terrorizing the city.
5. Taipei breakfast shops are heaven on earth
There are two types of breakfast shops in Taiwan. There's the traditional kind that sell egg crepes, steamed buns, and soy milk, and there's the newer style breakfast shops who focus on every kind of breakfast sandwich on toast you can imagine. I never imagined Taiwanese people wanted to eat eggs on toast for breakfast just like I've been eating since grade school. But that's just how special this place is. I recommend the traditional breakfast spots when you can find them. Dip your egg crepe in syrupy soy sauce and you'll never miss breakfast back home again.
6. Taiwanese elections are madness
With Taiwan being the only "Chinese democracy" in the world, that comes with some creativity in their approach to campaigning. Weeks and days before elections you'll be treated to trucks and vans with loudspeakers telling you to vote for a candidate, usually with music blasting or Japanese drums.
It makes for a much more lively event than the presidential debates in the US.
7. A nature getaway is a short MRT ride away
Getting out of the city is a 20 minute subway ride to Elephant Mountain. Here you'll find hiking trails that take you straight up into the mountains, if you have the endurance. Some of the trails can be pretty steep, but amazingly they have paved staircases with stunning views of Taipei city and the Taipei 101 building.
Taipei is a wonderfull place, and it is awesome that you are thinking about visiting.
The first thing you should know before you visit is that the weather here is awesome it's pretty warm year round.
Spring is from March to May.
What to expect: Warm average temperatures between 18ºC (64ºF) and 24ºC (75ºF).
Average lows hover between 15ºC (59ºF) and 21ºC (70ºF) while average highs are between 20ºC (68ºF) and 26ºC (79ºF).
Coming out of winter, rainfall picks up as spring trots along. By the end of May, wet season is officially upon you.
What to wear: Towards the beginning of spring, a light jacket or light sweater should be enough to keep you comfortable.
Wearing layers is a good idea as is having a good travel umbrella and a lightweight rain jacket handy.
Summer is from June to August
What to expect: During summer Taipei gets extremely hot and humid. Average temperatures are between 27ºC (81ºF) to 30ºC (86ºF), the hottest month being July.
Average summertime lows move between 24ºC (75ºF) and 26ºC (79ºF) while highs peak between 30ºC (86ºF) and 33ºC (91ºF).
Getting drenched is a real possibility as 160-230mm rainfall. Even with the humidity, June to August is one of Taipei’s high seasons. Finding a good place to stay in Taipei can be a challenge without advance bookings.
What to wear: Definitely add an umbrella and waterproof clothing to your Taiwan packing list including a lightweight waterproof jacket that breathes. You’ll probably be most comfortable walking around the city in shorts and a T-shirt because of the extreme heat.
Autumn is from September to November
What to expect in autumn in Taipei: In autumn, you’ll finally begin to get respite from the heat and humidity of Taipei.
Average temperatures fall between 21ºC (70ºF) and 27ºC (81ºF). The average lows hover between 19ºC (66ºF) and 23ºC (75ºF) and the average highs between 23ºC (73ºF) to 30ºC (86ºF). Other than in September, the rainiest month in Taipei, expect to much less rain during autumn in Taipei.
Autumn is firmly outside of Taipei’s high tourist season.
Finding accommodations in Taipei is usually easier in fall than at other times of the year.
What to wear: With warm temperatures, light clothing still works best in autumn. You may need a light sweater or coat. As always in Taiwan, carry a small umbrella and a light waterproof jacket, just in case.
A break from the humidity means that autumn is a great time to hit up the hiking trails in and around Taipei. Bring along a sturdy pair of hiking shoes.
Winter lasts from December to February
What to expect: Winter is the driest, but coolest season in Taipei.
Averages temperatures dip to 16ºC (61ºF) and 18ºC (64ºF) with average lows of 14ºC (57ºF) to 15ºC (59ºF) and average highs of only 18ºC (64ºF) to 20ºC (68ºF). December is the driest month in Taipei with only 60mm of rain.
Chinese New Year falls between late January and early February.
Make sure to plan your Taipei accommodations well ahead of time if you plan to travel during this time.
What to wear: The cooler temperatures mean you should pack some warmer clothing in your travel rucksack including a nice all-season coat.
Daytime will still be relatively mild, but the evenings will get chillier. Dressing in layers is recommended.
You should also be aware that many tourist come here, and decide to stay a bit longer than they intended, and who could blame them Taipei is a great place for expats. According to an arcticle written at CNBC Taipei is ranked number one in the list of the top ten cities in the world for expats to live and work abroad.