Taiwan is a solitary island on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, lying off the southeastern coast of mainland Asia, across the Taiwan Strait from China. Taiwan known, especially in the past, as Formosa (Ilha Formosa) meaning “Beautiful Island” from Portuguese, is also reputable for its towering mountains and beautiful coastal scenes. Taiwan now has established 8 national parks and 13 national scenic areas to preserve its best natural ecological environment and cultural sites. The blending of Hakka, Taiwanese, indigenous people and Chinese cultures has produced a rich plethora of cultural and social color. Most importantly, National Palace Museum, located in outskirt of Taipei City, is home to essence of the five-thousand-year Chinese history. It has the finest collections of Chinese Arts, providing an eye-opening experience of Chinese culture.
The island of Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer, separated from China by the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is shaped like a tobacco leaf, with its tip pointing toward Japan. It stretches 390 km in length and is about 140 km wide at its broadest point. Its total area of nearly 36,000 square km makes Taiwan about the size of the Netherland.
Taiwan has a humid subtropical climate, with long hot summers and moderate winters. In the north and east of the island and in the mountains, the months from December to March are often damp and chilly, with strong winds and frequent rains. Winter temperatures usually do not fall below 10 degrees Celsius (45 Fahrenheit), but the dampness can chill the bones. The Taipei area is notorious for this. Further south and west, winters are noticeably sunnier and warmer. Temperatures begin to rise in March, and by early May everywhere is hot and humid. During the summer months, the average daytime temperatures rise to 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). The heat lasts until October. Most of Taiwan’s rain falls from July to September, especially during annual typhoon season. The most pleasant times of the year to visit are the brief spells of spring and fall, during April and May, and October and November. Skies are generally clear, nights are cool and days moderate.
Taiwan has a fully integrated transportation network of high-speed railways, railways, harbors and shipping lanes, civil aviation, freeways and highways, and rapid transits. Most people live in the western portion of Taiwan where the greatest concentration of roads, railway and High-Speed Railway (HSR) systems are located and well-developed. Taiwan currently has two international airports: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in the north and Kaohsiung International Airport in the south. As the biggest two cities in Taiwan, Taipei and Kaohsiung both have clean, reliable and safe Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) systems.
Taipei and all Taiwan is +8 hours from Greenwich Mean Tim (GMT). It is + 13 from Eastern Standard Time (EST) in the eastern US and Canada, +12 during EST daylight saving time.
Standard Chinese (Mandarin) is the only official language in Taiwan. However, Taiwanese is spoken by about 70% of the population of Taiwan. Taiwanese, a variant of Hokkien spoken in Taiwan, is often seen as a dialect within a larger Chinese language. In addition, members of the Hakka Chinese subgroup often speak the Hakka language. The Formosan languages are the ethnic languages of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, comprising about 2% of the island's population. English is a common foreign language of Taiwan. English is compulsory in students' curriculum once they enter elementary school.
Taiwan is highly diversified in terms of religious faith, with the practices of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Mormonism, the Unification Church, Islam, and Hinduism, as well as native sects such as Yiguandao and others. The country not only respects traditional faiths but also opens its arms to other types of religious thought from the outside.For the most part, the traditional religions practiced in Taiwan are Buddhism, Taoism, and folk religions; except for a small number of purely Buddhist temples, however, most of the island's traditional places of worship combine all three traditions.
Taiwan uses electric current of 110 volts at 60 cycles, appliances from Europe, Australia or South-East Asia will need an adaptor or transformer. Many buildings have sockets with 220 volts especially for the use of air conditioners.
The Taiwanese currency is the New Taiwan Dollar, written as NT$. Now the exchange rate is about NT$30 to US$1. Major foreign currencies can be easily exchanged for NT$ at major local and foreign banks, international tourist hotels and the international airports. Traveler’s checks are widely accepted at most hotels, foreign tourist-oriented restaurants and souvenir shops, major department stores, and local branches of the issuing banks. Major credit cards such as American Express, Visa, MasterCard are accepted at almost all urban establishment.
VAT Refunds for Foreign Travelers
Foreign travelers who make purchases of at least NT$3,000 on the same day from the same Tax Refund Shopping (TRS)-posted store, are eligible for a refund of the 5% VAT paid on those purchased goods. To claim the refund, they must apply at "Foreign Passenger VAT Refund Service Counter" in the port of their departure from the R.O.C. within 30 days following the date of purchase, and they must take the purchased goods out of the country with them.
Except for bellhops and service personnel in International Hotels, tipping in Taiwan is generally not expected. For restaurants, if there is a tip to be taken, they will just add 10-15% “service fee” to your check. It is not necessary to tip Cabbies. But it is appreciated if the balance is not too much and you tell tem to keep the change.