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Tips to traveling in Taipei
Try to learn some Mandarin
In Taiwan the official language is Mandarin Chinese. In Taiwan traditional characters are used for writing. Usually at most business there at least two or three employees who can speak some English or Japanese. However, many times at restaurants, convenience stores, shops, or in the metro the employees will not speak that much English. I have the advantage that my purpose for study abroad in Taipei was to study Mandarin. If you do not have a very long stay or have a long stay but are in a situation where you don't have to know Mandarin it nice is to try and learn some words and characters.
Even if you know just a small amount of Mandarin, the locals appreciate it. You will get more attention from employees. If you are at a level of Mandarin where you are able to carry a conversation but feel the need to switch back to English, locals will be more forgiving. It is easier to get things done faster. Above all else, learning some Mandarin when you travel to Taiwan shows that you put in some effort to communicate.
Convenience stores everywhere
One of the nicest things about Taipei is that there are convenience stores all over. The two most popular are "7-ELEVEN" and "Family Mart." These stores can be found all over Taipei. They sell everything from snack, drinks, alcohol, cigarettes to surgical masks, batteries, and frozen food to microwave. Another great feature of these convenience stores are ATMs which can accept foreign cards. This was great for me because a lot of bank's ATMs will no accept American debit cards. Best of all, these stores are open close to, and many times 24 hours.
Learn the Metro system
In Taipei there is a great metro system called the MRT. The MRT goes all over Taipei and it is helpful to learn the routes. The lines are color coded, numbered, and have names. Remember that the direction you need to go is based off the last stop on the line. There are maps in the station to help travelers. There are ticket machines in all stations. The normal tickets are coins which you place on a sensor to enter the platform. Make sure to keep the coin because you have to use it to leave the platform. The trains start at 6am and stop at midnight to 1 am.
The trains come around every 2-5min. Sometimes if it is very late the wait could go up to 8 minutes. The seats that are darker navy colored are for the elderly, pregnant women, people with children, and the disabled.
Get an easy card
For any longer stays in Taiwan, I would highly recommend getting an Easy card. These are cards which can be reloaded with money at anytime that can be used to enter and exit MRT platforms. These cards can be used in convenience stores, major stores, and some restaurants. There are places that will take an Easy card but not a normal credit or debit card. Easy cards are very useful and can speed up getting in and out of the MRT. The minimum to get one is 100 Taiwanese dollars, which is equal to 3 US dollars.
Carry some cash
In Taipei, it is good to always carry a little cash. Many places in Taipei will not accept credit or debit card so it can be a pain with no cash. Taiwanese taxis accept only cash payment. Many ticket machines for things like trains only take cash.
In Taiwan, scooters and other types of motorbikes are a popular way to get around. It is important to be careful. Scooter drivers will often drive more aggressively down side roads. Scooter drivers will sometimes run red lights. The one thing that scooter drivers are allowed to do that is strange to tourists is drive on sidewalks. The reason is so the scooter drivers can find parking along the sidewalks and leave when there are two rows of scooters parked along a sidewalk. Just like with drivers in general, be carful.
In Taiwan, it is usually not a good idea to drink the tap water. There are machines in many buildings that dispense purified water. Water bottles can be bought from almost any store. These water purification machines are important because they give clean water, and can save any traveler a lot of money on buying water bottles every week.
Taiwanese people are generally friendly, and courteous. Make sure to return the favor by being nice and respectful when traveling in Taiwan. Kindness is always appreciated.
© 2015 William Thomas C