New Hotspot for Solo Female Travelers: Undiscovered Taiwan

Photo credit shuishalien-by-mark-khao

The rising independency of women is contributing to the growing number of solo female travelers around the globe. Yes! We are everywhere! Solo traveling is actually a great way to rediscover yourself and enrich your life experience at the same time. Safety may be a concern if you are a solo female traveler, but you don’t have to be put off if you know the right place to go. 😉

There are quite a couple of popular solo female travel destinations in Southeast Asia.  In our previous blog post ‘’6 Best Destinations in Asia For a Solo Female Traveler’’, we introduced you to some of the top choices, including Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In this blog post, I will introduce you to my own country, Taiwan. It is an island that has long been underrated but is slowly becoming a new hotspot for solo female travelers. The country looks like a miniature of a sweet-potato on the map. It’s a beautiful island, Formosa as the Portuguese called it, with rich nature, friendly people, finger-licking gourmets, distinctive culture and more. Here are my 6 reasons why Taiwan should be your next solo travel destination!

hualien-by-mark-khao

Hualien – photo credit Mark Khao

Safety

According to a Skift Report, Taiwan ranked 3rd place among ’The 10 safest Asian countries for female travelers’’. It has a low crime rate, and 75% citizens feel safe walking home at night. There are waiting zones and carriages designed specifically for female passengers traveling by train or MRT (Massive Rapid Transit) at night. The MRT stations are clean and well-maintained. Also, you are not allowed to consume any food or drinks in the carriages. MRT starts operating from 6:00 am until 24:00. There is always someone at the customer service center during opening hours so don’t be shy and always ask for help if you are uncertain about where to go. Speaking from my personal experience, I have traveled several times at night using public transportation service without any trouble. The stations are always bright with lights and monitored by security cameras. Generally speaking, as long as you keep those basic safety rules in mind, you’ll be just fine.

Hospitality

Taiwanese hospitalityA lovely encounter with local people is always part of a memorable travel experience. Taiwanese people are constantly being praised for their generosity and hospitality towards foreigners. I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation before: You stand on the sidewalk with a map in your hand, turning your head uneasily and wondering whether to go left or right. And it might seem scarier when you are a solo female traveler. But don’t worry, the island people are more than happy to come to your rescue (dramatic but true!).

Most Taiwanese do speak English, especially when you are traveling in bigger cities like Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung. Even with the language barriers, the locals will try their best to make themselves understood, including taking you to your destination themselves!

Traditional Chinese culture values greatly the importance of showing kindness and hospitality to our guests. Typically speaking, the further south you travel, the more passionate and lovely people you will find. Wherever you travel, one thing that you will remember from a trip to Taiwan is the hearty smile and jovial help you received from the locals. Some may even turn out to be your lifelong friends.

Convenient and Cheap Public Transportation

taipei-mrt-station

Taiwan MRT

Taiwan offers various types of transportation that can take you to most cities, towns, and touristic attractions. If you plan to spend most of your days in the capital Taipei, MRT, buses, and You-Bikes are probably the best way to get around. MRT covers roughly the whole Taipei City, New Taipei City and even the outskirts like Beitou. Some metro stations are also integrated with major train stations (Eg. Taipei, Songshan) so you actually have a variety of transport options to choose from, depending on your preference, time, and budget.

You-Bikes are public bicycles that you can rent and return at any bike points outside the metro stations. What’s very convenient is that you can travel on all three transportations using just one card ’Easy Card’’. Literally, it allows you to travel easily without any hassle and ticketing problem. You may even top-up your credit anytime and use them for your purchase in shops and departments stores. How convenient is that!

If you plan to travel to Eastern Taiwan, cities like Ilan, Hualien, and Taitung are great places to embrace the nature. Outdoor activities such as rafting, river-tracing, and hiking are among my most favorite activities in this region. To go there, train and bus (coaches) tickets can be bought online or on the spot. There are two coach companies to consider when traveling from Taipei to YiLan: Capital Star & Kamalan. If you are boarding at Taipei Main Station, your final destination is usually Luodong, Jiaoxi, or YiLan. However, if you would like to board at a different station, it’s better to look up the route in advance to avoid the hassle. Alternatively, if you are into cycling, you may rent a bike and cycle along the coast, taking in all the fantastic views. Annual Taiwan Cycling Festival is held every year on the east coast. Take a look at this year’s activity and start planning yours!

 

Hualien Taiwan by Mark Khao

Hualien by Mark Khao

Sensational Street Food Culture

local-food-by-bryanTaipei street food by Bryan….

If you’re an adventurous foodie, you will fall in love with Taiwan’s distinctive street food culture. The island is praised as the ‘’Home to the Best Street Food Market in the World’’ by The Guardians. Your trip to Taiwan won’t be complete without a visit to a ‘’Night Market’’. Night markets are generally street markets that operate from 5 or 6pm till midnight. It’s a perfect place to immerse yourself in the local atmosphere and enjoy cheep eating and buying. There are more than 15 night markets in Taipei (See The 5 Best Night Markets for Midnight Snacking in Taipei). Other larger scale night markets can also be found outside the capital, like Taichung Fengjia Night Market, Tainan Garden Night Market, Kaohsiung Liuhe Night Market, Yilan Luodong Night market. Additionally, Kaohsiung Ruifeng Night Market is where most locals go for snacking and it’s also much bigger than Liuhe. Overall, you will definitely find something satisfying for your tastes buds in these vigorous and varied food stalls.

taiwanese-food-by-m-louis

Taiwanese food by m-louis

I have to be honest that it is quite difficult for me to pick my top favorite night markets in Taiwan because of these two reasons: First, I haven’t been to all the night markets yet. Second, each night market is distinctive with mixture of foods and goods. Nevertheless, here are my Top 3 favorite night market and local street foods:

YiLan LuoDong Night Market: Ice cream & peanut roll (Taiwanese-style burrito with ice cream, crushed peanut candy, and coriander), Scallion rolls (Swirl-shaped dough mixed with chopped scallion with spattered black pepper on top), Red bean in Tapioca (Chewy and sweet dessert that is usually served with crushed ice or flavoured puddings)tapioca

Bade Xinren Garden Night Market (the largest in Northern Taiwan): Egg pancakes (pancakes that come with different animals/cartoon character shapes), Braised snacks (A great variety of ingredients boiled and seasoned with spiced soy sauce), BBQ/Deep-fried king squid (Squid the size of your face barbecued/fried and served with different sauces/spices)

 

Taipei Raohe Night Market: Black pepper buns (juicy meat buns seasoned with black pepper and then baked in big charcoal pots), Guabao (Taiwanese-style burger with pork belly slice, pickles, crushed peanuts, and sometimes cilantros as fillings), Oyster omelet (Oyster pancake made from sweet potato starch, oysters, eggs and lettuce, best served with sweet red chili sauce)guabaoGuabao

 

Taipei street food

Photo credit Toomore Chiang

Check out more: 40 Taiwanese Food We Can’t Live Without featured by BBC

Cultural and Historic Spots Perfect for Solo Traveling

Who says traveling alone has to be tedious? Getting to know more about yourself is one of the exciting benefits of traveling solo. And what’s better than embarking on an educational and inspirational trip to Taiwan? Below are some great spots for solo female travelers in Taiwan:

Taipei Xia Hai City God Temple, Da-Dao Cheng: Da-Dao Cheng used to be a port city and had prospered outrageously from importing & exporting business during the 18th The city god along with other deities are said to help protect the people and bring fortune to the people. Now people come here to pray for happy love life and careers.

JiuFen: This is one of my favorite spots in Taiwan and it’s perfect for a day trip if you are only spending a few days on this island. This small town was once a blooming gold mining town. Now it’s a popular destination for both locals and foreigners to relive the glamourous past. Featured tea restaurants where you learn to brew tea from scratch, traditional snacks freshly made in front of you, and old wooden structures telling the stories of old times, are just some of the highlights. The town also served as an award-winning moving setting for ‘’A City of Sadness’’, and ‘’Spirited Away’’. You can also hike around the area and take in the Pacific Ocean coastline.jiufen-old-street

Jiufen Old Street – photo credit E.C.

Tamsuitamsui-lovers-bridge

Lover’s Bridge

This is a sea-side district named after Tamsui River. The city is very popular among the locals and is known to be a great location for viewing the sunset. The easiest way to reach Tamsui is to hop on the MRT Red Line and travel all the way to the final destination. The ride takes about 40 minutes from Taipei Main Station. Once arriving there, the best way to explore the city is on foot. You can stroll along the streets packed with local food, souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and entertainment playgrounds. Make sure to try the famous ‘’Iron Eggs’’, ‘’A-Gei’’, and ‘’Tamsui Fishball Soups’’. Baffling as these names may sound, it’s the authentic experience that counts! Alternatively, you can take the ferry to the Fisherman’s Wharf situated further down of the city. You will find chic cafes, street artists, and food stalls. The most significant landmark there is the ‘’Lover’s Bridge’’, which is illuminated by different colored lights at night and attracts couples, families, and friends.tamsui-fishermans-wharf

Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf

NeiWan

  • If you are planning to learn more about the diversified ethnic culture in Taiwan, NeiWan is the right place to go. Though surrounded by hills and waters, Neiwan is accessible through the NeiWan Train Line that runs every half an hour from Hsinchu City. Large group of Hakka people live here. The Hakkas are Chinese whose ancestors are originally from the Hakka-speaking areas of Southeast China.neiwan-old-street

Nei Wan Old street – photo credit E.C

  • NeiWan Old Street presents traditional wooden architectures and red-bricked houses that were built 20 years ago. It’s one of the places where one can still sense the reminiscent glory of the town. Some must-try gourmets include ginger lily-flavored glutinous rice, Hakka tea, and Hakka rica cakes (Mochi). One of the most popular sites is the Neiwan Theater, which is now transformed into a restaurant where visitors can enjoy a decent Hakka Meal and a movie at the same time. There are also some suspension bridges and hiking trails that you can visit. It’s a great place to just wander about your way and be surprised!

All of these attractions can be reached using public transportations and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The locals are always glad to meet someone who’s interested in learning more about their beautiful country. Being a Taiwanese, I have to admit that there are still a lot of places I haven’t visited and when I do, I am always mesmerized by the beauty of it.

Shoppers’ Paradise

One reason that Taiwan is receiving more foreign tourists is because of the comparatively cheaper budget for all travel activities. That includes SHOPPING!

If your itinerary doesn’t leave you much time to shop, night markets are efficient places to resolute your inner foodie & shopping soul. Taipei ShiDa Night Market is my ideal place to go. This night market is just nearby National ShiDa University and therefore is most popular for young adults. In contrast with other night markets introduced earlier, this one is specifically known for its trendy and inexpensive clothing choices.

Another pilgrimage for fashion lovers is at MRT Zhonxgiao Fuxing Station (MRT blue line). While large department stores like SOGO are hard to miss, it’s the ones hidden in narrow alleys and streets behind the buildings you should be looking out for. The majority of these stores are independent clothing shops that bring you the latest fashion trend from Japan or Korea. Some stores design their own products as well.

Taipei Ximending is another shoppers’ paradise. Ximending is most crowded on Fridays and weekends. Plenty of food stalls are a guarantee, as well as movie theaters and shops selling from clothes to phone accessories. (basically everything!)

Here are some recommendations for Taiwanese souvenirs:

  • Mini sky lantern with blessings for different purposes (Eg. Health, career, studies)
  • Pineapple cakes (The most famous savory snack in Taiwan)
  • Cosmetic products, especially face masks (Taiwanese face masks have been one of the favorite souvenirs among female travelers due to low price and high quality)
  • Stone ornaments and wood carvings (jades, emeralds, and wood carvings are very typical Chinese style gifts. Wood carvings comes with various design from your name to furniture)
  • Fine tea leaves (We take our tea seriously, even greater than the British! Alishan is known to produce the finest tea in Taiwan. However, you can easily find a lot of tea shops that also offer quality tea with a wide range of flavors)

For all the adventurous female travelers out there, pack your bags and make Taiwan your next destination. Seneca, a Roman philosopher once said “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” You will discover that the little island has much more to offer than you expected!

For more tips on solo female traveling in Asia have a look at our previous blog ’6 Best Destinations in Asia For a Solo Female Traveler’’.

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