Location and Topography
Taiwan is situated in the Pacific Ocean about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the southeastern coast of the Chinese mainland. Located about midway between Korea and Japan to the north and Hong Kong and the Philippines to the south, Taiwan is a natural gateway for travelers to and within Asia.
Shaped roughly like a tobacco leaf, Taiwan is 394 kilometers (245 miles) long and 144 kilometers (89.5 miles) wide at its broadest point. The Central Mountain Range bisects Taiwan from north to south and about two-thirds of the island is covered with forested peaks. The rest of the island is made up of foothills, terraced flatlands, and coastal plains and basins. Taiwan includes the Penghu Archipelago--a group of 64 islands previously known as the Pescadores--and 21 other islands.
Taiwan's climate is subtropical, with average annual temperatures of 22°C (72°F) in the north and 24°C (75°F) in the south. Summers, which last from May through September, are usually hot and humid with average daytime highs from 27° to 35°C (81° to 95°F) Winters, from December through February, are short and mild, with average lows from 12° to 16°C (54° to 61°F.); snow falls only on the higher mountains.
At the end of 1995. (the latest year for which statistics are available), Taiwan's population exceeded 21 million, which makes the island one of the world's most densely populated places. Except for the approximately 325,000 aborigines, the people of Taiwan originate from the Chinese mainland.
The national language of the ROC is Mandarin Chinese, though other dialects are also spoken. Many people can speak some English (the most widely studied foreign language), but taxi drivers generally speak only Chinese.
Many Americans and Europeans come to Taiwan for a summer vacation or a year or two to study Mandarin. Taipei has a variety of language schools which offer Chinese, from inexpensive classes taught by the hour to college courses for credit.
The Republic of China's unit of currency is the New Taiwan dollar (NT$). The exchange rate, around NT$27 to US$1, has fluctuated greatly in recent years. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at government-designated banks and hotels. Receipts are given when currency is exchanged, and must be presented in order to exchange unused NT dollars before departure.
Major credit cards are accepted and traveler's checks may be cashed at some tourist-oriented businesses and by room guests at most international tourist hotels. American Express travelers checks can be cashed at the American Express office, 214 Tunhua N. Rd., Taipei, tel: (02) 7151581.
The standard tip is NT$30 per piece of luggage. A 10% service charge and a 5% value added tax (VAT) are automatically added to room rates and meals. All other tipping is optional.
Tourist visas for the Republic of China, or letters of recommendation which can be exchanged for visas, can be otained from ROC embassies, consulates, or designated representative offices in foreign countries. Letters or recommendation can be exchanged for visas upon arrival at Chiang Kai-shek international Airport in Taoyuan or at Hsiaokang International Airport in Kaohsiung, the only points of entry to Taiwan at which such letters may be exchanged.
14-day visa-free privileges are afforded to citizens of the United States, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg Australia, New Zealand, Spain,Sweden, and Portugal.
The New Taiwan Dollar is the island's official currency.
Foreign nationals may obtain a tourist visa if they bold foreign passports or travel documents valid for more than six months and wish to stay less than six months in the Republic of China for purposes of sightseeing, business, family visits, study or training, medical treatment, or other legitimate activities.
Visa requirements include one completed application form, incoming and outgoing travel tickets (or a letter of confirmation from a travel agency), three photos, documents verifying the purpose of the visit (except for transit or sightseeing), and a letter of guarantee (in some cases).
Tourist visas may be single- or multiple-entry, and allow stays in the ROC for two weeks to 60 days. Unless restricted to two weeks, tourist visa holders may apply for a maximum of two 60-day extensions, for a total of six months. I-lolders of a tourist visa are not permitted to assume employment in the ROC without authorization.
Complete information on ROC visas can be obtained from the Department of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2-2, Chinan Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC, tel: (02) 343-2888.
Because Taiwan is located at the crossroads of some of Asia's busiest air routes, travel to and from the island is easy and convenient. Taiwan is served by airlines from Asia, Europe, South Africa, and North America. The island has two international airports, at Kaohsiung in the south and at Taoyuan in the north. Chiang Kai-shek International Airport at Taoyuan is 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) southwest of Taipei. Each outbound passenger must pay an airport departure tax of NT$300.
Domestic travel is also easy and convenient. Inexpensive air-conditioned limousine buses depart the airport at Taoyuan every 15 minutes for both Taipei's Sungshan Domestic Airport and the main railway station. Major hotels provide transportation to and from the airport for their guests.
Seven domestic airlines currently provide daily flights between Taipei and other major cities, as well as to nearby Green and Orchid islands and the Penghu Archipelago.
Taiwan has modern freeway and railway systems which make travel between major cities easy and convenient. Reliable express buses connect Taipei with all major cities and most major scenic spots, and reserved-seat, air-conditioned express trains provide fast, comfortable service around the island. Fares for buses and trains are quite reasonable.
For railway information call: (02) 371-3558.
For bus information call: (02) 321-2000,(02) 381-0731.
Travel time from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south takes five to six hours by train, four hours by bus, and 40 to 50 minutes by air. Hualien, on the east coast, is 30 minutes by air from Taipei and three to four hours by train.
Taiwan has a number of international and domestic car rental companies. Credit cards or sizable deposits are required, as well as an international or Taiwan driver's license. Chauffeur-driven cars can also be rented, and international tourist hotels will generally make such arrangements for guests. The following Taipei companies offer rental cars:
CKS International Airport
Limousing Service Center
Tel: (03) 383-4530/1
Fax: (03) 3834540
Central Auto Rental
Tel: (02) 882-1000 Fax: (02) 881-6534
Payless Car Rental
Tel: (02) 567-2453 Fax: (02) 567-3744
Prestige Limousing Service Co.
Tel: (02) 783-6691 Fax: (02) 783-2167
VIP Car Rental Co.
Tel: (02) 713-1111 Fax: (02) 713-0000
Major cities have an abundance of taxis. Charges are NT$ 65 for the first 1.65 km and NT$ 5 for each additional 350 meters. An additional NT$5 is charged for every four minutes of waiting, and a 20% surcharge is added to fares between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., the price of radio cars, and carrying luggage in the boot adds NT$10. Most drivers do not speak English, so it is a good idea to have hotel personnel write both your destination and your hotel's name and address in Chinese, along with the projected cost of each one-way trip.
Personal belongings are duty-free, but stereo sets, TVs, and video recorders must be declared. Each person may bring into the ROC, duty free, one liter of Alcoholic beverages, 25 cigars, 200 cigarettes, or one pound of other tobacco products.
A written declaration is required when bringing dutiable articles into the ROC. Duty is charged on gold in excess of 62.5 grams in weight. No more than NT$40,000 in cash may be brought into the country by each passenger, and undeclared sums in excess of this amount will be confiscated. Incoming passengers who want to bring in more than NT$40,000 in cash should apply, prior to entry, for a permit from the Ministry of Finance.
The following articles are prohibited from entry; there are severe penalties for their importation, use, possession, or sale:
- Counterfeit currency or forging equipment;
- Gambling apparatus or foreign lottery tickets;
- Obscene or indecent materials;
- Publications propagating communism or originating in nations or areas under communist control;
- Firearms or weapons of any kind (including air guns) and ammunition;
- All drugs or narcotics of a non-prcscription and non-medical nature (including marijuana);
- Toy guns;
- Articles infringing on the patents, designs, trademarks, or copyrights of another person;
- Contraband articles as specified by other laws, e.g. fruit, and so on;
- Animals and pets.
Outbound Passengers Except in the following cases, completion of the Outbound Passenger's Declaration form is optional. Outbound passengers must declare to Customs in writing when:
- Carrying foreign currencies, New Taiwan Dollar notes, or gold or silver ornaments in excess of allowed amounts;
- Carrying gold and/or silver ornaments and, when leaving the country within six months of arrival, the unused portion of foreign currencies which were declared to Customs on entry;
- Carrying commercial samples and or dutiable items (camera, tape recorder, calculator, etc.) intended to be brought back duty-free in the future;
- Carrying computer media including magnetic tapes, magnetic disks, diskettes, punched cards, punched tapes, etc.
Passengers who do not make a declaration to Customs and are found, on their departure from the ROC, to be carrying gold, silver, New Taiwan Dollar notes, and/or foreign currencies in excess of the designated limits, shall have the excess amount confiscated and may be subject to punishment by law. The designated limits on gold and/or silver ornaments, and currency which a passenger is allowed to carry on his departure from the ROC are as follows:
Up to 62.5 grams (or two market taels) of gold ornaments or coins; up to 625 grams (or 20 market taels) of silver ornaments or coins; up to US$5,000 in notes or the equivalent in foreign currencies; up to NT$40,000 in notes and 20 coins (of the types in circulation) of New Taiwan dollar notes.
Articles that may not be taken out of the country include unauthorized reprints or copies of books, records, videotapes, and so on; genuine Chinese antiques, ancient coins, and paintings; and items prohibited from entry, such as firearms, drugs, counterfeit currency, and contraband.
For further information about Customs matters, contact the Inspectorate General of Customs, 13 Tacheng St., Taipei, tel: (02) 550-5500.
Taiwan has hotels to fit every budget, from opulent international-quality tourist hotels to bargain "bed-and-board" hostels. The better hotels compete to offer the best services, and to encourage this competition the Tourism Bureau regularly evaluates the facilities and services of all tourist hotels on the island. The best are awarded four or five plum blossoms (the ROC's national flower), which correspond to the stars awarded in the West.
The government has approved of 77 hotels in Taiwan as "international tourist" and "tourist" hotels. International tourist hotels (four and five plum blossoms) have larger bedrooms and better facilities; tourist hotels (two and three plum blossoms) have smaller bedrooms and facilities, and lower prices. Inexpensive hostels and youth activity centers (unrated) provide bed and board; many have private and dormitory-style rooms, and in some the staff speak very basic, if any, English.
Taiwan's quality hotels generally provide elegant shopping arcades (credit cards accepted), magazine or book stands, hair salons, fitness centers, cocktail lounges or nightclubs, Western movies on guest-room TVs, complete business services (including business centers), and meeting and banquet facilities (for groups of two to 2,000). Hotel tour services are informative and helpful; they will assist guests in arranging everything from bus or airline tickets to round-the-island tours.
Many of Taiwan's finest restaurants--though by no means all--are located in international tourist hotels, which generally offer several types of regional Chinese cuisines as well as Western food, coffee shops or lounges. Quality hotel restaurants usually have excellent service, an elegant atmosphere, and cuisine prepared by experienced chefs.
Travel agents and the ROC Tourism Bureau can provide specific information on each hotel's services and prices to make choosing one a bit easier.
If you know where to look, bargains can be found in Taipei and elsewhere around Taiwan.
Taiwan's department stores and hotel arcades generally have some clerks who speak English, major credit cards may be accepted, and product quality is guaranteed. Several of Taipei's department stores have been designated "government-approved shopping centers."
Boutiques, small stores, and night markets are usually less expensive than department stores. These generally accept cash only. Boutique clerks and vendors rarely speak foreign languages, but shoppers can use pen and paper to bargain. In the cities, the best selections and prices for souvenirs, gifts, and traditional handicrafts can be found in night markets.
Taiwan law forbids taking genuine antiques (over 100 years old) out of the country, but vendors and "antiques" dealers offer fine reproductions of porcelains, jade, and paintings.
In addition to its night markets, Taipei has several bargain shopping districts. Hsimenting, centered around Chunghua Rd., Sec. 1, has many boutiques with low-priced women's clothing, shoes, souvenirs, and electronics. A short drive away at the corner of Hsuchow and Chungshan S. roads is the Chinese Handicraft Mart, which offers good prices on an array of quality handicrafts. Deals on tailored suits, shirts, dresses, gifts, souvenirs, handicrafts, porcelain and painting reproductions, and English-language books can be found along Sections 1 and 2 of Chungshan N. Rd. The northern suburbs of Shihlin and Tienmu, along Chungshan N. Rd., Sections 5 and 6, have stores offering deals on bamboo and rattan furniture, pottery, and reproductions.
Dinghao, sprawling on Chunghsiao E. Rd., Sec. 4, between Fuhsing S. and Kuangfu S. roads, features international brand-name fashions and accessories (generally made in Taiwan under license), export garment shops, art galleries, and jewelry. Street vendors in the maze of alleys near Dinghao sell trinkets and costume jewelry. Established jewelry stores offer gold and other fine jewelry and can give certificates of guarantee. Vendors at the Weekend Jade Market, under the Chienkuo S. Rd. overpass at Jenai Rd., sell a variety of jade and curios.
Better bargains on specific types of products can be had with a little bit of traveling. Porcelain makers in Peitou (north of Taipei) and Yingko (to the southwest) allow factory tours and have good prices. In central Taiwan, the town of Sanyi is renowned for its wood carvings; the town of Chushan is known for its bamboo furniture, basket, and other decorative items; and Chiayi is noted for its Oolung tea and bamboo handicrafts. In southern Taiwan, the town of Kuanmiao, near Tainan, is Taiwan's rattan center. Brass handicrafts are Kaohsiung's specialty; the city also has boutiques, night markets, and department stores. Makung, in Penghu, is famous for its coral souvenirs, seashells, and agate jewelry. Hualien, on Taiwan's east coast, has bargains on souvenirs, jewelry, and handicrafts made of marble or jade, as well as aborigine souvenirs.
On private phones, the Overseas Operator may be reached by dialing "100," and direct dialing is available from some phones. Person-to-person and station-to-station calls are accepted. For information about which countries can be directly dialed or whether or not you can dial directly from your area, call the Chunghwa Telecom Co., Ltd. (CHT) at (02) 321-2535. Overseas calls may also be made on public facilities at CHT offices. International direct dialing rates are calculated every six seconds.
Domestic Long Distance
These may be made on private phones or blue-green pay phones either directly or through the telephone bureau.
City Pay Phones
The rate for public pay phones is NT$1 for three minutes. The connection will automatically be severed after three minutes and the caller must redial for local calls. The area code should not be dialed for calls within the same area.
Telex, & Facsimile
International and domestic, telexes, and faxes may be sent to North & South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South Pacific Island Nations, Australia. and New Zealand from the main CHT of fice at:
28 Hangchou S. Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei
Tel: (02) 344-3781 (24 hours)
Telegrams may also be sent from these CHT Branch Offices:
(1) CKS International Airport
Tel: (03) 383-2790 (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
(2) 23 Chungshan N. Rd., Sec. 2, Taipei
Tel: (02) 541-7434 (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
(3) 118 Chunghsiao W. Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei
Tel: (02) 344-3785 (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
(4) Sungshan Domestic Airport, Taipei
Tel: (02) 712-6112 (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Useful Phone Numbers
Board of Foreign Trade
Tel: (02) 351-0271
China External Trade Development Council (CETRA)
Tel: (02) 725-5200
CKS International Airport Tourist Service Center
Tel: (03) 383-4631/2
Directory Assistance in English
Tel: (02) 311-6796
Foreign Affairs Division, Taipei Police Headquarters
Tel: (02) 381-8341, 381-7475
Government Information Office
Tel: (02) 322-8888
Int'l Phone Assistance
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tel: (02) 311-9292
Taiwan Visitors Association
Tel: (02) 594-3261
Tel: (02) 349-1635/6
Tourist Information Hot Line
Tel: (02) 717-3737
Trader's Hot Line
Tel: (02) 725-5960
Travel Information Service Center, Sungshan Domestic Airport
Tel: (02) 349-1580