By Caroline Hasselle
The differences between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are striking. I have visited mainland China three times over an 18-year period, but this was my first trip to Taiwan. Of course both are Mandarin-speaking and Chinese in culture, Taiwan is without doubt a much easier place to be in for a westerner. Here are 10 advantages of Taipei and Taiwan as a travel destination:
1. You don’t need a visa to visit Taiwan.
For many countries, no special application process is required to visit Taiwan for trips of 30 (or even 90) days as a tourist. The visa to travel to the Chinese mainland is about $200 and a real pain to get.
2. There is no Great Firewall of China in Taiwan.
This is huge for the residents, but for the traveler, this means you can access anything on the Internet, which is really fast, as it is not filtered. Many things such as Facebook are totally blocked in China. You can also see CNN, BBC, and other programs on TV — all foreign networks are blocked in China. For a news junkie, this is important.
3. Religion is an integral component of life in Taiwan.
Christianity has an obvious presence — my granddaughter goes to a Christian school. Buddhist temples in China are largely filled with tourists. It was the crowds of real worshipers in the temples of Taiwan that struck me. The temples I saw in mainland China were more like sterile artifacts. In Taiwan I could observe the religion in action and began to gain a greater understanding of it. It is a shame that such a rich part of the Asian culture has been wiped away in modern China.
4. Taipei is so much cleaner.
Restrooms are very clean, having toilet paper and soap. (This is not necessarily the case on the mainland). Streets are clean- no one spits on the street and babies are not pooping and peeing (open crotch pants) everywhere. In fact the Taiwanese may even seem a little OCD-you see lots of people wearing surgical masks to keep from catching diseases.
5. The pollution is not any worse than any US city.
In Beijing the pollution is horrific. I have asthma, so I am like a canary in a coal mine. Each time I visited the mainland I got bronchitis. I brought antibiotics to Taipei anticipating the same, but was pleased that after two weeks I left without ever getting sick or even having to use my emergency inhalers.
6. More people seem to speak English here, and they are warmer to foreigners.
It is a highly educated population- parents expect their children to have advanced degrees. (China is catching up).
7. They are very used to foreigners. I am not an “exhibit” here.
On the mainland China, people always wanted a picture with me and my husband or granddaughter, and after a while this gets a bit bizarre. This is not an issue in Taiwan.
8. You can get a cab instantly.
Beijing cab drivers are often really mean. Many won’t take children or bags, and itt was not unusual for us to wait 30 minutes with scores of empty cabs passing us by. We got the first cab we hailed every time in Taipei. That was a huge relief.
9. People in Taipei obey traffic rules and seem to have a sense of order.
Cars actually stop at red lights. As a pedestrian, you feel like you can cross the street without having to bunch in a group to keep from being mowed down at any second.
10. I saw more ancient Chinese artifacts in Taiwan than in the Chinese mainland.
The Forbidden City and Summer Place were somehow disappointing – nothing but buildings — beautiful, but merely shells. All the good stuff appears to be in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Apparently this was because the KMT took it all, after China’s Communist Party (CCP) took over. Perhaps it was a good thing, considering the destruction of the many relics that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. It is a well worth a trip to see. You get a much stronger sense of the culture and history from seeing these relics.
This is not to say that China is not worth visiting; it truly is. Some advantages of the Chinese mainland:
1. There are not nearly as many foreigners in Taiwan-Everyone is going to China. Generally, I was the only blond anywhere we went. It did not bother me, but it might be a problem over time.
2. For young people, I have been told that there is not a vibrant expat scene (clubs) like in Beijing.
3. There are more job opportunities in China as it a growing so much.
4. You don’t see as much of the dramatic display of wealth in Taiwan as you do in China. Beijing and Shanghai are filled with expensive cars and upscale stores. I am not sure this is an advantage—more of an observation.
5. Food is wonderful both places but there are more varieties of Chinese regional foods in China. I love northwestern Chinese food and have not seen it in Taiwan.
6. Prices for food and goods appear to be about the same. But there are many more tourist-type things in China, such as the Silk Market in Beijing, which I love for gifts for those back home.
7. There are many sights in China, such as the Great Wall, which you cannot see anywhere else in the world. It is a spectacular country.
All-in-all, I would have to say people are wonderful in both places and the culture is fascinating. Both are well worth the trip!
Tapei 101 image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CCTV building courtesy of Garrett Ziegler on Flickr.
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