Planning a trip to Taiwan? If you’ve never been here before, or have only been on the island for a quick weekend trip (from the South Asia mainland, etc.) and haven’t really had the chance to explore, then it’s good that you’re doing some homework regarding this unique topic. After all, in knowing what mistakes to avoid, you are able to better experience this wondrous place in all of its glory. Let’s take a look at some common missteps travelers make when visiting the region.
5 Common Blunders Travelers Make When Visiting Taiwan and How You Can Avoid Them
1. Doing Ghastly Things During Ghost Month
The Ghost Day Festival lands on the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, and the seventh month (mid-summer) in general is regarded as the Ghost Month. Throughout the period, ghosts of deceased ancestors and all sorts of spirits come out to roam the lower realm (earth). While there is some fun to be had during the Festival itself (August 15, 2019), you want to avoid taboo activities that may welcome mischievous behavior, or worse, from the spirits. Whether or not you believe in such a thing is beside the point, as you want to respect the people of the city, town or village that you’re staying in. Observance of taboo behavior can be disrespectful to their culture and some people take this very seriously. Below are common activities that can be considered taboo during Ghost Month in Taiwan:
- Drying clothes at night – Don’t hang your wet board shorts or socks on the hotel balcony or outside of your vacation rental. Ghosts may put them on an masquerade as a human, which can cause all sorts of trouble.
- Taking photos at night – Sorry late night Instagrammers, but save your pics and stories for the AM as you may catch evidence of a ghost in the background. Being photobombed by a spirit is a very bad thing.
- Don’t tap someone on the shoulder – You know how cats have nine lives? Well, Taiwanese culture states that we each have three torches on each side of our shoulders/head, with the flame keeping spirits at bay. When you tap someone on the shoulder, you extinguish a torch. Not cool.
- Stay out of the water – This may be a tough one for some, especially if you came to Taiwan for ocean, lake, river, or resort pool activities. While you won’t be looked down on for jumping in on a warm sunny day, it might be a good idea to skip the evening swims and post sundown skinny dips. Plus, with the Banded Krait (venomous snake) roaming the waters at night this taboo is best respected after hours.
- Don’t whistle at night – We know you’re feeling fine and dandy after a day of fun in Taiwan, but resist the urge to whistle your favorite tune at night during Ghost Month, as it will attract spirits.
- Don’t point at the moon – The Chinese Goddess of the moon may be beautiful, but she’s also considered quite shy, and if you point at her she may send ghosts to dole out her oddly specific punishment – cutting off your ear.
2. Not Packing A Wide Variety of Clothes
Taiwan is tropical to subtropical, and given that it’s an island the temperature can change with the swift arrival of a sea breeze. Plus, there are late spring to early autumn thunder showers and nearly half a dozen typhoons (various grades) running through the summer. Then there’s the winter, where in one moment you’re warm and toasty, cruising around the city in shorts and a t-shirt, only to head to a night market to find the temperature has dropped down as low as 8°C. Long story short, pack accordingly. Bring a healthy combination of shorts, t-shirts, summer dresses, sweaters, light jackets, jeans, flip flops, and shoes. View more on how to pack for trip to Taiwan.
3. Going to the Wrong Temples
Visiting temples is a right of passage for all visitors to Taiwan. However, with around 15,000 place of worship, not all are as they may have been cracked up to be. That is why you’ll hear some say “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all”. The good news, is that such as statement is not true. Those who mutter it, didn’t do the homework beforehand. If you’re looking for a spiritual awakening, or at least the opportunity to experience the diverse practices of Confucianism, Daoism or Buddhism, hit one or all of these top five temples to visit in Taiwan. You won’t be sorry.
4. Not Knowing More Than “Where is the Bathroom?” in Mandarin
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan. That said, with so many travelers flocking to this unique South Asia island gem, you’d be surprised to find out how many business owners and service people (especially those within the hospitality industry) and people in general can manage questions posed in English. Still, it’s hit or miss, so learning a few key phrases in Mandarin Chinese is a great idea. Before you come, make 20 questions your goal, focusing on phrases that can help you do the things you came to do in Taiwan, along with a few that can get you out of a jam (i.e. needing to find a public bathroom after eating some questionable street food).
You may think that language barriers get worse when you venture out of the major cities of Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, but in fact, when outside of major metropolises such as Taipei, you may encounter aboriginal Taiwanese people. These people are not Chinese, and thus they are more likely to speak to you in English over Mandarin.
Of course, the best way to get over the language barrier, is to connect to a local guide. More on this below.
5. Exploring Alone
Taiwan is pretty darn safe, including for solo female travelers. So when we say that exploring the state alone is a mistake, we’re not suggesting that you’ll be in any danger. Sure, it’s always a good idea to travel with a companion as things can happen anywhere in the world, but when we suggest that you have someone with you, we mean a local guide. A local guide will help you get the most out of your limited time, which is always in short supply in this amazing place. While roads and highways are well planned, it helps to have someone take on the driving for you, not just through the hectic city traffic, but through the rural roads that take you to Mother’s Nature’s best work in Taiwan. A guide can also show you how to bargain at night markets, and help plan your itinerary to avoid crowds, and anything else that can put you behind your schedule, even if it’s a spontaneous one. A guide can also help you find the best places to eat, drink, and mingle with locals, expats, and/or fellow travelers. Basically, they will take your input and craft the ultimate custom experience. This is not something you (and your party?) can accomplish on your own. Connect to a local guide in Taiwan today by downloading the Loci Amica app.