What to Expect Traveling to Taiwan

Taiwan Travel Expectations

Taiwan is an amazing place.  It boasts rich traditions, a complex history, and a friendly local culture.  Just like traveling to any other new country, there will be things that seem familiar and things that seem very different and strange, but that is all part of the fun and the adventure!  The key to enjoying these new experiences is having an open mind.  Greet new experiences with reverence, respect, and open curiosity.  If you go with the flow and try to have fun at all times, you will have a great trip! Here is more about what to expect for your trip to Taiwan:


Taiwan is a relatively laid back country, but its culture is fairly conservative.  Taiwanese people are extremely friendly.  They are often excited to see foreigners and, most of the time, they are happy to help you with whatever you need.  This makes travel in Taiwan relatively easy, however, being prepared, knowing a little bit about the history, and being respectful of the culture can go a long way.  Remember that we are guests in this country, at these businesses, and in these peoples homes.  It is important for us to be respectful tea travelers so that we can keep coming back.  Have fun and enjoy yourself, but remember that you are representing your country and culture as well.

Greeting – A simple “Ni Hao” (“You good”) is all you need for greeting people in Taiwan.  Handshakes are common when greeting westerners, but they are not required.  Often, Taiwanese people will follow a greeting with the question, “Have you eaten?”  This is a formality and unless you are meeting them for a meal, you can just say yes and move on with the conversation.

Money – Taiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan Dollar or NT.  The best way to get spending money while in Taiwan is to use local ATMs.  Banks and convenience stores are abundant in Taiwan, and both will likely have ATMs that work with foreign bank cards.  Many businesses will accept credit cards, but many will not, so it is good to have cash just in case.

Shoes – At some homes, hotels, and businesses, it is considered polite to remove your shoes before entering.  You will often see a shoe rack near the door to leave your shoes on.  Sometimes there might be slippers that you can use while inside.

Tipping – There is no tipping in Taiwan.  If someone goes above and beyond, it is okay to tip a little, but generally, it is not necessary.

Massage – On our tour of Taiwan, you will see lots of massage parlors and sidewalk stalls.  These are often offering traditional Chinese pressure point massages.  One of the most popular types is a foot massage.  These can be incredibly relaxing, but they can also be quite intense.  If you are up for a little bit of pain, this is right for you.  If not, you can still enjoy a nice massage, just let them know when it starts to become uncomfortable.

Try not to stand out – This is hard because, as foreigners, we will stand out regardless of what we do, but as guests we can try not to be too outrageous with our individuality.  Be aware of your surroundings when in public and especially on public transportation.  If you are using a phone or talking to your travel companions, try to do it quietly so that you don’t disturb others around you.  When in doubt, look around and see what everyone else is doing and try to follow their lead.

Language – The official language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese.  There are several other dialects and languages spoken in Taiwan as well, but you will find that almost everyone is able to speak Mandarin.  Many Taiwanese people will speak some English; however, they may claim to know less than they really do or are often shy about using it.  When speaking to someone in English, speak slowly, be patient, and don’t get frustrated if they don’t understand you.  If you are interested, learning a few words in Mandarin Chinese will go a long way in helping you communicate with locals.


Tea is a very important part of Taiwanese culture and society.  You will see lots of tea being served, sold, and consumed all over Taiwan.  During our tour, we will be trying many different types of tea and learning about their varied production.  Most tea in Taiwan is oolong tea, meaning that the tea leaves are semi-oxidized.  In other words, they are processed to a point somewhere between green and black tea.  The exact processing will be explained in detail (and you will get to see it for yourself) on our trip.

The most popular way to drink loose leaf utea in Taiwan is the Gong Fu Tea Service.  Gong Fu is used to describe anything that takes time to master, and with regards to tea, Gong Fu refers to a brewing method that uses small tea vessels, lots of leaves, and many, short infusions.  This is the best way to enjoy high quality oolong tea.  You will see this method used all over Taiwan in traditional tea houses, private homes, restaurants, offices, and public parks.

Here are some of the major types of tea you will encounter on our tea tour.

Dong Ding -Possibly the most famous Taiwanese oolong tea, Dong Ding was first developed on Dong Ding Mountain in Lugu Township in 1855.  Literally translated as “Frozen Summit”, this is a classic Taiwanese rolled oolong tea.  It has a floral character and is often roasted to bring out a rich flavor.  The roasting is left to the discretion of the tea maker and can be light, medium, or heavy.

Jin Xuan -Jin Xuan is a popular hybrid variety oolong tea often referred to as “milk tea” because of its rich, creamy aroma.  Literally translated as “Golden Daylily”, Jin Xuan is a high yielding variety most often grown at low to mid-level elevation.

Shan Lin Xi -Shan Lin Xi is a high mountain region near Lugu Township.  Literally translated as Evergreen Creek, Shan Lin Xi produces very sought after high elevation oolong tea.  Often with clean and crisp aromas and flavors, Shan Lin Xi Oolong is fragrant and powerful with a clean finish.

Ali Shan -Ali Shan is a high mountain region in Chaiyi County.  It is probably the most famous high mountain oolong tea in Taiwan, and possibly the world.  Ali Shan Oolong is characterized by its rich, creamy flavor and lingering after taste.

Sun Moon Lake Ruby Red Number 18 – Sun Moon Lake as a tea producing region is unique because it specializes in black tea rather than oolong tea.  The Ruby Red Number 18 variety is a special hybrid created in Taiwan.  It is especially suited to the growing conditions of Nantuo County and has a unique flavor with rich black tea body and flavors of mint and licorice.

Tie Guan Yin – Literally translated as “Iron Goddess of Mercy”, Tie Guan Yin is a famous Chinese oolong variety that was first brought to Taiwan in the late 1800s.  Although it can be found cultivated throughout Taiwan, the main growing areas for this variety are Muzha and Pinglin in Northern Taiwan.  Although the Chinese version of this oolong tea has evolved to be less oxidized and less roasted to showcase its bright, green character, the Taiwanese tend to process this tea in the traditional fashion – heavy oxidation and moderate to heavy roasting.

Bao Zhong – Bao Zhong is a lightly oxidized, non-rolled oolong tea from the northern tea producing regions of Taiwan.  Literally “Packaged Variety”, this tea has a unique character among Taiwanese Oolongs, in that the leaves are left long and twisted, but not rolled, and the light oxidation makes for a light and refreshing tea.

Dong Feng Mei Ren – Dong Feng Mei Ren refers to a general category of oolong tea that is produced with the help of leaf hopper aphids.  These special insects bite the tea plant initiating a chain reaction within the plant causing the leaf to begin to wither and resulting in a unique and special flavor.  Often characterized by a sweet, honey like flavor, this type of tea can be produced anywhere in Taiwan.  The most famous varieties are Bai Hao from the north and Gui Fei Cha from central Taiwan.



We will be eating 3 meals a day during our tour.  We will be eating almost exclusively Taiwanese food.  Taiwan is famous for its traditional Chinese food, modern Asian fusion, and creative street food.  Most meals are served family style meaning many dishes are served to a group and individuals can pick and choose what, and how much, they would like to eat.  It is important to have an open mind and a flexible diet.  If you have specific dietary needs, we will try our best to meet them.  We will try to provide a diverse array of popular and traditional Taiwanese foods.  Eating is an important part of any culture and it’s a great way to really experience a place.  Here are a few tips on dining in Taiwan and a few examples of restaurants we might visit.

The wash cloth – At some restaurants, you will be served a wet towel before the meal.  This is for cleaning your hands before the meal.  After wiping your hands, simply fold the towel and place it back down.  It may be seen as rude to use this towel to wipe your face or clean food off your hands during the meal.

Drinking – When dining in Taiwan, it is important to wait for a toast before taking a drink.  Also, when someone does make a toast, it is polite to drink with them.  This usually only applies to alcohol.  Tea can be drank at any time without formalities or toasts.

Slurping – You will notice that it is okay to slurp your noodles or your soup.  This is the polite way to eat noodles and is actually considered to be a compliment to the chef.  Also, don’t be afraid to pick up your bowl or plate from the table and bring it closer to your mouth, especially if you are eating with chopsticks.

Chopsticks – You will most definitely encounter chop sticks.  If you are comfortable using them, great!  If not, well, try your best.  You are welcome to ask for a knife and fork, but in some situations, they may not be available.  If you are concerned about your chopstick skills, you may want to pack your own fork or spoon.  Most Taiwanese don’t expect Westerners to be competent with chopsticks so don’t worry of you are not an expert. It also won’t hurt to practice before you get to Taiwan.  Also, remember that chopsticks are not toys.  Don’t use them to stab your food and don’t stand them up in your rice (this is a ritual associated with funerals, so it may make some Taiwanese uncomfortable).  When you are not using your chopsticks, place them on the special holder provided.

Hot Pot -Hot Pot is a unique dinning experience in which raw ingredients are added to a shared simmering broth.  Similar to fondu, individuals can choose and cook ingredients to their liking.  At the end of the meal, there is a hearty soup broth fortified with all the delicious things you just cooked!

Stinky Tofu – Stinky tofu just might be Taiwan’s national dish.  It is fermented tofu (not too unlike blue cheese) that is often fried and served with kimchi or another spicy sauce.  Like its name suggests, stinky tofu is, well, stinky.  It is most definitely an acquired taste.  If you are adventurous, you should certainly try this unique specialty.


We will be staying at both western style hotels and simple Taiwanese guesthouses.  The western style hotels will seem familiar to most travelers.  They will always have ensuite bathrooms and will most likely provide wifi, air-conditioning, televisions, and a telephone.  The guesthouses will not be too different, but they may have fewer amenities.  Some hotels may have limited non-smoking rooms.  If you need a non-smoking room, please let us know at the time of your booking and we will do our best to accommodate you.


For almost our whole time in Taiwan, we will be traveling in a private van or bus with a professional driver.  During your free time, however, you may want to take public transportation.  Taiwan’s transportation infrastructure is efficient and modern.  Taipei has an extensive subway system and a large part of the country is accessible by high speed and regular trains.  Taiwanese taxis are cheap and abundant.  Public transport can sometimes be a bit crowded.  If you are caught trying to board a train or bus during rush hour, consider waiting for the next train.  Also note, that most Taiwanese are very quiet while riding public transportation.  Try to follow their lead and keep your conversation to yourself.  Everyone else will appreciate your courtesy.


What to bring

Taiwan is a modern country, so if you forget something, chances are you will be able to find it there.  That being said, here are a few things to remember.

Passport – You will need a valid passport to travel to Taiwan.  Remember that your passport must have at least 6 months of validity beyond your departure date.  If not, you will be turned away at the airport, so double check!

Clothes – For our tour, you will want to bring casual and comfortable clothes.  Since Taiwan is a humid place, lightweight breathable layers are highly recommended. It will be winter harvest during our tour, but it will still be quite warm.  You will not need heavy winter clothes; however, when traveling to some of the mountain tea gardens, the temperature might be a bit cooler, so additional layers and a light jacket might be helpful.  You will not need any formal attire, but after a long day in the tea fields, you may want a change of clothes for dinner.

Shoes – We will be doing a lot of walking, so bring comfortable shoes.  Hiking boots or trail shoes are recommended for tea garden tours and hiking.

Sunscreen – Taiwan can be hot and sunny, so it is a good idea to have sunscreen.  Although you may be able to find sunscreen in Taiwan, many brands have “whitening” agents added, so unless you want to lighten your skin tone, it is best to bring sunscreen from home.

Rain coat and/or umbrella – Weather is always unpredictable, so it is recommended that you bring a raincoat or an umbrella.

Camera – Taiwan is a beautiful place. We highly recommend that you bring a camera.

Positive attitude – This tour is a great opportunity to learn about a new culture and have some once in a lifetime experiences.  We will be traveling to some rural areas that do not get a lot of tourists, so flexibility and a positive attitude are essential.  You will have a great time if you let yourself!