I’ve had the chance to stay in Taiwan for four months when I was a university undergraduate. During my time there, I had the luxury to travel most of Taiwan with both Singaporean and local Taiwanese friends. Because of that, I experienced Taiwan from a local point of view and read on for my take on some of my favorite local experiences in Taiwan!
1. Homestay in Yun Lin 雲林烤肉
Yunlin is a county not far off from the south of Taichung. I had the opportunity to do a homestay there with a friend although it is not a popular tourist spot. It was the Mid-Autumn Festival then and Taiwan has an extended holiday of four days just for this festive season. It seems like a Taiwanese tradition to celebrate this period with a barbecue party. Hence, it came as no surprise to me when I was welcomed to a 4-day long BBQ party here with my friend and her extended family. We literally spent every night sitting over the burning charcoal on little green stools and barbecued food non-stop.
Hanging out like family
For the next few nights, I checked so many local experiences for the first time like a local family would in Taiwan.
We sang karaoke out in the open air with everyone just humming or singing along in the cold night. Those mosquitoes we fed throughout the night made the homestay experience more memorable too! The uncles and cousins also worked together then to build this little shed from scratch beside their grandparents’ house. It was done by the second night and we happily spent our last night watching movies there till dawn.
One other adrenaline pumping activity I did then was to steer a stunt kite on an empty field. I did not even know what a stunt kite was at that point in time so all goes nothing! The amount of power that kite had was so tremendous it pulled me at least two metres forward. Three other guys immediately ran after me to ground me lest I flew away with the kite. Things were just chaotic yet so full of fun.
All in all, what may be deemed as normal to them turned out to be such a memorable and precious experience for me because of their hospitality!
I had a really pleasant culture shock then when it came to our sleeping time. I realised I was going to be sleeping in the same room as everyone else I’ve just met for the first time! The entire extended family plus myself slept together shoulder to shoulder in an elongated room. This really caught me by surprise initially. However, almost at the next instant, I felt that warm fuzzy feeling because this simple gesture from them made me feel immediately like a part of their family. It only showed me how welcoming and passionate Taiwanese are with people! That’s really iconic of Taiwan and I really hope all of you get to experience it at least one way or another.
If you’re keen to experience a authentic local experience yourself too, do check out the homestays in Taiwan. You might find yourself an amazing local homestay experience to add on to the flavour of travelling in Taiwan!
2. Xiao Liu Qiu 冲绳小琉球
Xiao Liu Qiu (Lambai Island) is another one of my recommended places to gain local experiences in Taiwan. It is a small protected island in the Pingtung County, and accesible via ferry slightly down south of Kaohsiung. I absolutely adore this little island and I can’t emphasize how much you should go if your itinerary allows. If you haven’t already been there, it’s definitely time to add it to your list. When we first got on the ferry, the guide already started boasting of the island’s beauty. Do you know that Okinawa is so popular as a beach destination in Japan that it earned the name of “Hawaii of Japan”? This, as the guide mentioned, is equivalent to the Okinawa of Taiwan.
Well, that has to give you some space for imagination of its beaches, right? I had to give it to him because of how clear and blue the beaches were! When our guide brought us on a marine creature discovery tour, we saw starfishes, sea urchins and many others too with our naked eyes. I don’t know how I did that entire tour jumping from stone to stone wearing only slippers. One wrong step could lead you to stepping on a sea urchin right beneath your feet. So do take care to only go on such tours if you’re up for that thrill!
Finally, check out your accommodation options here in Xiao Liu Qiu, for which one of my favorites is the Shan Ban Bay Inn. Also, check out the Xiao Liu Qiu Guide written by Mariza, a South African expat who has been living in Taiwan for nearly a decade for some really comprehensive tips.
3. Watching a movie in Kaohsiung 高雄二輪
You’ll probably be thinking why am I recommending you to watch a movie in Taiwan. Have you ever watched a movie in a theater so full of local flavor? I spent the most of my school life in Kaohsiung when I was in Taiwan. One of my biggest discoveries here then was the Er Lun Pian 二輪片, which is one of the other local experiences that I’m going to share about in Taiwan. This can be literally translated to the “Second Round Screenings”, and here’s why.
Second Round Screenings
The Er Lun is a cinema where any popular movies that are taken off the movie premiere might be screened here again. The price of tickets are here are much cheaper compared to the main cinemas in malls. Best thing is you get to watch two movies in a row! How’s that?
However, one thing to note is that the condition of the place is not as great as those major cinema in the malls though. However, it’s still acceptable if you’re not too picky ,especially when you get to bring in any food you like to. Say goodbye to all the cinema food restrictions and say hello to that Taiwanese fried chicken and pickled guava from the night market. Just be sure that you join in the crowd because if you do not, the fusion of smells will be bound to annoy you.
Never buy directly from the cinema counters
Another little thing I’ve learnt from my friends there is if you’re looking to watch a movie at the cinema in major malls, don’t ever buy tickets over the counter. There are certain places walkable from the mall that sells movie ticket vouchers for half the price! All you need to do is to exchange those vouchers for a movie ticket at the ticketing counter back at the mall. I was SO pleasantly surprised when I knew of this. Like why would they do that? Anyway, it was a really unique experience for me so do try that out the next time you head to Kaohsiung or Tainan! (I’m just not sure if this is available at other cities or not.)
4. Peng Hu 澎湖海鮮
Penghu is an island near Chiayi, in the middle of the Taiwan Strait. It is an island that is accessible from the Magong Airport that has flights coming in from the major cities of Taiwan. One reason why I would recommend this place is because this may be the place where you can experience local Taiwan at its rawest state. The other more obvious reason would be because of the fresh and affordable seafood they’re known for. You can be rest assured that their seafood is definitely one of the freshest given how reliant they are on sea produce for their daily living.
I’ve been wanting to visit this island since seven years ago but never had the chance to till now. So I’m hoping maybe one of you can realise this trip for me and share your experience with me then!
5. Hotsprings in Taipei 台北温泉
If you’ve been to Taipei, you should be really familiar with the Hot Springs in Beitou 北投. It’s the go-to for anyone who wants a Hot Spring experience. However, one of my favorite local experiences in Taiwan for the Hot Springs would be at Xing Yi Road near Shipai (石牌行義路溫泉). It’s also located on the red line but closer to the city centre than Beitou.
Although it’s not as convenient as Beitou since you need to take a public bus into the hot spring area from the train station, it still scored higher on my list because of the serenity in the area and how much closer it is to a localised experience. You can also order takeaways from the food places around to enjoy while at the Hot Spring. Check out what others feel about this too on TripAdvisor and book your accommodations nearby for that unforgettable localised Hot Spring experience!
What’s your take?
Hope you enjoyed what I’ve shared in this article! As I’ve always wanted to experience living in different countries independently, this exchange opportunity felt like a dream come true. This was also one of the reasons why I embarked on my New Zealand working holiday too. Also, because of this exchange, I’ve gained many unique experiences then as a university undergraduate. To date, Taiwan still holds that special place in my heart and will always feel like my second home.
Now’s your turn. What’s your take on Taiwan?