Oh, it is difficult not to fall head over heels in love with Taiwan. With a rich cultural heritage, plenty of street food delights and a very humble population - this place is just darn liveable!
Here are some of the things I made notes on and appreciated a little bit extra during my 10 days on the green isle:
The lush greenery! This one gets the top place of the list as it is one of the first things you will notice about the country - from the very first MRT ride into Taipei city. The Taiwanese know the importance of having a green to concrete ratio. Or so it seems, because despite motorways and skyscrapers, there is never that feel on a concrete jungle as is often the case in larger cities. Wherever you look you will find something green; hanging from the balcony, a wee park or the mountainscapes just a gaze away.
Taiwan is green in double sense! There are numerous ways you are encouraged to recycle and it is made ridiculously easy with seperating bins around most corners. You do the sorting; someone will come pick up the rubbish!
(Fun thing relating to this is that when the rubbish collector approaches in their car, they will start playing Beethoven's Für Elise so people know to get their bags ready...) My hostel offered free filtered water as a way to eliminate plastic bottle-purchases. Oh, and they even charge for plastic bags at (some) 7-elevens! This just ticks so many boxes for me.
On a side note, there is of course more to be wished for regarding the copious amounts of single use-plastic used for the bubble teas and at the street food stalls (where it is like plastic bag in plastic bag!)... but you do notice plenty of folks carrying reusable bottles with them.
Order & Cleanliness
Much like Japan, if a train is due to depart at 13:07 it will leave at that minute and not an instant later. You will also find people forming neat queues at the platforms; making it an ease for everyone to both enter/disembark from the trains. Something that never ceases to amaze me, a little thing that goes so far.
Another thing that adds to the order and cleanliness is the prohibition to eat or drink on the MRT and buses. Not even on the platform may you nibble on a steamed bun.
Okay, so you will still see the moto packed with an entire family on one vehicle - BUT something differs from the regular SEA image. You can't quite put your finger on it until you realise... hey, is that SAFETY HELMETS they are wearing? Indeed it is! In like 99% of the cases, these law-abiding citizens will wear helmets.
I am also thrilled to find that there are actual seat belts on the buses. What! As we enter the highway en route to Jiufen we are even urged by the driver to put them on (something I would have never realised had Alice not been there to translate for me.)
For one, public transport is ridiculously easy to maneuvre with several MRT lines interchanging (so if you DO manage to get lost, it is easily corrected!). Also, getting around is cheap as chips. Standard MRT fare is like TWD16 which is just under 40 pence!
Secondly, and this might be an odd one, but while I find a lot of Asian countries to be sort of "hiding" a family member with special needs at home; Taipei seems (of course I can only tell by a glance) rather disability friendly. Accessible toilets, platform ramps and even lifts being built to enjoy certain tourist attractions are sights I react at. It is reassuring to see how society is doing its part for people to be able to enjoy freedom of movement like anyone.
The People and their humbleness
Something I read before going was along the lines of "Taiwan has the food of China, and the mannerisms of the Japanese". While there is a whole lot more to Taiwan than a mere comparison based on their cultural makeup, it rings pretty true. I find the Taiwanese extremely friendly and humble. Wherever I went there were curious questions of where I am from, how come I am in Taiwan, how do I like it... And despite how the elder generation might not be the most fluent of English speakers, they still have the confidence to try.
Above all, at no point did I feel unsafe travelling solo as a female traveller. (Which should be the mainstream everywhere but as y'all know... that is not the case sadly.)
All in all, Taiwan is a country of wonderful quirks that sadly seems to get overlooked as a tourist destination by its neighbouring counties. Yet it has a laid-back, modern feel with plenty going for it. Alas, I am looking forward to start sharing my little day trips and city excursions with you all on this wee internet space.