Hustle and Bustle
Taipei is generally a very noisy, busy and dirty city. The streets are very compact and Taipei has a high population density, be very careful when crossing the streets the drivers occasionally ignore the red lights and scooters are everywhere. Also some roads have little or no pavements/sidewalks.
Money changers/money exchange outlets are not abound in Taipei. Transactions are limited to intl. airport, dept. stores, banks (weekdays only) and hotels. Don't expect money changers in every street corner. If you splurged all your NT$ on your night market shopping spree, tough luck!
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Motorbikes and scooters everywhere
Motorbikes and scooters are a popular form of transportation with young Taiwanese. You will find them parked along the sidewalk in most roads. Do be careful when crossing the road especially at non traffic light controlled junctions. Motorbikes and scooters may emerge from a small lane nearby without you knowing.
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Beware of what you eat
Unfortunately getting food, or rather clean food can be hard. There are many street vendors and “charming” side street restaurants with cheap prices and tasty morsels, but there could be deadly consequences. I discovered in my research that Taiwan is a hot bed of Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, dysentery and host to many other delightful illnesses. All of these diseases (except Hepatitis B) can easily be passed from an infected person through contaminated food, especially when food is handled in an unsanitary way. Taiwan does this is spades! So, no street vendor foods and if the restaurant looked unclean I wouldn’t go in (I’d do the same in the states). No fruits. No cold vegetables, only steamed or thoroughly cooked. No cold meats and for that matter no cold meals or food that had been standing in the open air for a long period (like buffet style).
Yes, it is actually called stinky tofu, or so that is how it is written on the few English menus I saw. You might be wondering what kind of smell stinky tofu emits. Well I will tell you. As I was walking along I smelt dog s@%t. There are lots of dogs around in Taipei, some stray, others being sold at the night market . I saw a few dogs that were shaved and looked quite diseased. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, I looked around on the ground but I didn’t see any crap so I kept walking. The smell got stronger, so I stopped and checked the bottom of my shoes, thinking I must have stepped in a big pile of steaming poop, but they were clean. I walked a little farther and I swear to god I thought I was going to throw up. The smell of dog s@%t was now over powering. I was practically gagging. At this point I was informed that it was the delightful smell of tofu. At first I didn’t believe it. There is plenty of tofu in Japan and I have smelt it a plethora of times. In fact, I have eaten tofu and it didn’t smell like that. But sure enough we passed a food stand and the smell dissipated. Now, the only thing worse than the smell of stinky tofu is the realization that people actually eat stinky tofu. Yuck!
water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!
Be careful about what you drink in Taiwan. Tap is a big no no! As well, avoid ice and fountain drinks (like coca-cola at a restaurant, they just mix the syrup with tap water). Don’t even use tap water to wash your toothbrushes. I threw out my toothbrush every night after I used it (luckily the hotel provided us with free toothbrushes everyday). There were even warnings against drinking bottled water, but I found some that was made in Japan. Most milk and dairy is un-pasteurized, so also be careful about that.
Beware of motorcycle bikes
They are everywhere. People ride them everywhere from back alley to the walkway in ximending. I am also pretty amaze to see that people carrying ladders, gas tanks and even their dogs while riding. Watch out for the motorcycle coming from behind!
Be careful of the scooters
There are loads of scooters in Taipei, and so when you are crossing the road, you need to be extra careful - you'll need to look out for the cars and the scooters - as they have a tendency to zip right past only inches away from you on roads or pavements.
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Tip for your own safety
When you're about to cross a street and the walk signal just turns green, make sure there's no thru traffic coming from your left. People here normally catch the very last moment of yellow lights and some even run red, and they may not clear the intersection in time.
So, bear in mind that you'd better wait an extra one or two seconds after the "little green man" starts to walk(i.e., green signal) and look left (at least peripherally) before you can walk more safely.
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Tip for your own safety
When you're about to cross the street and the walk signal just turns green, make sure if there's any thru traffic coming from your left. People here normally catch the very last moment of yellow lights, and some even run red lights. They may not be able to clear the intersection in time.
So, bear in mind that you'd better wait an extra one or two seconds after the "little green man" starts to walk (i.e., green signal), and look left( at least peripherally) then you'll walk more safely.
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Just as the Atlantic is known for Hurricanes, the western Pacific is known for its frequent typhoons. Each year, between six and eight typhoons will barrel into and make landfall on the island of Taiwan. Typhoons are tropical storms with winds exceeding 74 mph (118 kilometers per hour) Originating near Guam, these tropical cyclones are named by a committee of many different nations. While I was in Taiwan (one month), four typhoons made landfall in Taiwan, two of which passed near Taipei. At one point, there were three typhoons on the Pacific at once (one hit Japan, two hit Taiwan and went on to hit mainland China).
Typhoons can cause you to be stranded in your hotel for a day or two, but generally don't cause too much damage; after typhoons pass, the air quality will generally become better so you get better views of the region.
Taipei has the craziest traffic in all of Taiwan, with the possible exception of Kaohsiung. Although many people in Taiwan now own and drive cars, cars are still rather expensive and unaffordable for many people; so a lot of people ride scooters and motorcycles. This means that pedestrians and drivers will be sharing roads and sidewalks with thousands of scooters. Scooters generally don't obey many traffic regulations (then again, neither do cars). Somehow, the Chinese are amazingly able at avoiding each other right before a crash; I've never seen a car accident in Taipei.
Understand that in Taipei, pedestrians NEVER have the right of way, whether the light is green, red, or otherwise. Drivers will expect you to stop for them, not vice versa; also realize that yellow lines mean nothing and sometimes drivers will drive on either side of the road (a rare case, but it happens).
Things to Know
To avoid exhaustion under the hot sun, feel free to use cabs. They are very cheap. However, make sure they understand where you want to go. Sometimes, they can bring you to a destination other than the desired one, perhaps on purpose to get a hire fare from you.
Alternatively, you can use the metro. But, don't eat, drink or even chew gum in the metro system, lest you get a fine!
Finally, you can simply walk about the city. However, if you do, watch out for the hardcore traffic. The scooters are especially problematic as they often zigzag in between cars and are easily missed until the very last moment. And they often go on the sidewalks.
Don't drink tap water and watch what you eat. Pay for a decent hotel if you don't like roaches.
Traffic: Bad in Four Dimensions!
There are many cities with bad traffic but no city has bad traffic the way Taipei has bad traffic: with scooters. Not only are the streets clogged with cars, but swarms of scooters buzz in and out of any nook and cranny left by the bigger vehicles. Add pedestrians to the mix and what you have is ery volitile. I have never been anywhere where I've seen so many accidents happen right in front of my eyes. I saw a scooter wipe out. I saw a scooter slam into a truck, spilling oranges all over Linsen St. I saw two cars collide. Most of these accidents I saw from a speeding taxi who spent much of his time onthe wrong side of the road. Traffic in Taipei is a unique if frustrating experience!
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Taipei is surrounded by mountains, shaping like a basin. The result is we ALWAYS have a sweating-hot summer. And also some air pollution remain on top of our city, at least it makes it easier to observe the signs of the zodiac. Generally speaking, the air is clean and breathable, except sometimes in spring, the sand comes with seasonal wind from northen China.
The weather in Taipei can be very dramatic. It can change hugely within a few days. Sometimes it may be as hot as 35"c ++ in autumn; it can also be as cold as 9"c-- in spring. Never expect stable weather during the seasonal interchange. The best way is to pay attention to weather report.
This year is one of the most strange years ever. In March, it was EVEN colder than winter, Taipei snowed in suburban; this autumn, we have 35 degree so far. Well, things change, nothing can be predicted as before.
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