Introduction to Taiwan’s Culture and Customs
“Formosa” is the name that was given to the island of Taiwan when Portuguese sailors sighted it during a voyage in 1542. The name “Formosa” means “beautiful island,” and, although the name is not in common use today, you will find the beauty that it described throughout Taiwan’s nature and culture.
It is likely that during your time living and working in Taiwan, you will have free time, during which you might like to explore the country. What follows here is a list of festivals, customs, and scenic places to guide you as you explore.
Festivals in Taiwan
There are five great festivals celebrated in Taiwan during the year:
1. Spring Festival (Jan 1〜Jan 15 of lunar year)
Spring festival is the largest festival in Taiwan. Every house will stick festival couplets and whole family will gather on New Year’s Eve for a family reunion dinner, exchange red envelopes and say good blessings for good fortune in the coming year.
Symbolic foods: Radish represents “good luck;” Fish represents abundant food every year; Leafy mustard represents longevity; Glutinous cake represents steady annual progress
2. Lantern Festival (Jan 15 of lunar year)
During the night of the lantern festival, you will see everybody holding lanterns everywhere and walking around. The temples will display special decorative lanterns, and every region will also hold exciting “lantern show” activity.
Symbolic foods: Yuanshiau are sweet glutinous dumplings
3. Dragon Boat Festival (May 5 of lunar calendar)
People will hang calamus and Chinese mugwort on their entrance door, and carry perfume sachet on their body to bring peace and protection. There is also a custom of setting the egg upright at 12 noon. Every region will hold a “dragon boat” racing competition, which is extremely exciting.
Symbolic food: Steamed rice dumplings
4. Festival of the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month (July 15 of lunar calendar)
Every temple will hold grand traditional memorial ceremonies. Every family will prepare sumptuous meal for offering to the ghosts and the gods, and pray for peace and safety.
5. Mid-Fall Festival (August 15 of lunar calendar)
At night, the whole family will get together and enjoy watching the moon, while eating moon cakes and pomelos. Eating moon cakes symbolizes a family’s happy reunion and eating pomelos symbolizes blessings from the moon.
Symbolic foods: Moon cakes, Pomelos
Taiwan’s Scenic Places
The following are some of Taiwan’s most beautiful scenic places:
There is nothing more Taiwanese than the simple and plain old streets of Tamshui, filled with delivious food vendors and adorned with a beautiful coastal sunset view. The “Fisherman Wharf”is the best place to watch the setting sun, and the “Fort San Domingo”is famous for its unique western-style bungalow. All these are places you cannot afford to miss.
Food specialties: Fish balls, Akei, sour plum drink, fish crisp, Mother-In-Law Hard Preserved Eggs Transportation: Take the MRT Tamshui line to Tamshui station
2. Mount Yangming in Taipei
Mount Yangming is a worth-seeing throughout the year. Among the famous sightseeing places are Yangming National Park, Tatunshan, Chintienkang and the Bamboo Lake. Tourists like the spring’s “flower season” and the winter’s “hot spring” the most.
Foods specialties: Edible wild herbs, farm chickens, mountain harvested products
Transportation: (a) Take the 260 bus at Taipei bus station; (b) Take the red 5 bus at Jiantan MRT station
3. Taipei 101
Taipei 101 is Taipei’s landmark skyscraper. The exterior resembles a stalk of bamboo as a symbol for constant learning and growth and exhibits the rhythm of the Asian pagoda. The skyscraper provides world-class place for boutique shopping, gourmet cuisine, and entertainment. Visitors may also visit the Observatory at the 101 for a magnificent view of Taipei and beyond.
Features: Festival Fireworks, the world’s fastest elevator and the world’s largest tuned mass damper, are aimed at withstanding typhoon winds and earthquake tremors.
Transportation: Take the Taipei MRT Xinyi Line to Taipei 101 / World Trade Center Station.
4. Sun Moon Lake
The Sun Moon Lake, located in the middle of Taiwan, is the biggest fresh-water lake as well as the most beautiful alpine lake in Taiwan. Demarcated by the Lalu Island, the Sun Moon Lake got its name from the unique terrains that look like the sun on one side and crescent moon on the other. Its romantic and inspiring scenery has been one of the best known spots in Taiwan.
Features: Sun Moon Lake features the only full-range 3D tours (lake, land and sky) in Taiwan. The Shueis he Wharf where you can take boat tour to enjoy the lake view. Various hot spots on land such as Weneu Temple, Ci En Pagoda, Ita Thao (Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village) and the 14 lake trails allow you to discover the beauty and the ecology. The gondola takes you high above for the magnificent views.
Food specialties: President’s fish (Aruzay Fish), chili fish, Lake Shrimp, Ailanthus Prickly-ash, Assam Tea, Mushroom, Water Bamboo.
Transportation: Take Sun Moon Lake Line of “Taiwan Tour Bus Route” at Taichung Kancheng Station, Taiwan Railway Taichung Station or Taiwan High Speed Rail Taichung Station, or Nantou Bus to Sun Moon Lake, or take “Kuo Kuang Bus” (Taipei Sun Moon Lake) at Taipei Train Station West wing – B block.
5. Alishan, Chiayi
If you time your visit to Alishan just right, then you may be fortunate enough to experience the Alishan Sunrise. Other attractions here include Tashan strange rocks, 28, giant trees, Ogasawara Hill, the water giant trees, Xianglin Arch Bridge, Ciyun View, the Shen Yi flow, the beautiful scenery of the sea, waterfalls, and Alishan Shenmu relics. This destination is well known, near and far, and visitors line up to see Alishan’s beauty in season during Marsh and April.
Food specialties: Fenqi Lake Railway lunch, love jade
Transportation: Take the “Taiwan Good Line” Alishan Line-A Line or the Taitai Chiayi Station; Alternately, take the “Taiwan good line” Alishan line-B line
6. Tainan Perfectural City
Tainan Perfectural City is a Taiwan’s ancient capital and has many ancient historic sites. Among them, the Confucian Temple, Fort Zeelandia, Eternal Fortress, and Fort Provintia are the most well known. Besides historical sites, Tainan’s snacks are specially worth trying!
Food specialties: Dan-Tsu noodles, yee mien, shrimp rolls, rice bowl glutinous cake, coffin bread, tofu pudding, ding bian cuo
Transportation: (a) Take the bus from Tainan Railway Station to various destinations; (b) Take 88-Anping Line of “Taiwan Tour Bus Route” at Taiwan Railway Tainan Station.
7. Pingtung Kenting
Pingtung Kenting is full of passion, having the south island’s characteristic and style. It is the best place to engage in aquatic activities. Many tourists come here for summer visits. You could venture here for warm sun and a cooling in the fresh waters.
Food specialties: Carrageen, yulai mushroom, harbor tea, taro glutinous cake, green bean noodle with duck
Transportation: (a) Take the Pingtung public bus from Pingtung bus station; (b) Take Kenting Fast Line of “Taiwan Tour Bus Route” at Taiwan High Speed Rail Tsuoying Station
8. Taitong Chihben
Located in eastern Taiwan, Chihben is famous for its world-class hot springs. Besides enjoying the bathing, you can also watch the natural views of mountain range or go hiking along canyons and waterfalls.
Food specialties: Tiger lily, custard apple, roselle, chrysanthemum tea
Transportation: (a) Take South Circle Railway to Chihben station; (b) From Taitong City, take the Dintung public bus (mountain line) to Chihben
9. Hualien Taroko Gorge
Taroko Gorge is famous for its breathtaking natural sights. It is located along the road of Central Horizontal Highway with graceful scenes. Among the renowned tourist spots are Yanzihkou, Jiucyudong Trail, Tiansiang, Cingshui Cliff, Chang-chun Shine, and Bai-yang Trail. This is one of Taiwan’s premiere locations for hiking, cycling, and nature viewing.
Food specialties: Edible wild herbs, glutinous dumplings, mountain harvested products, Sunsue tea, sweet potato with taro filling
Transportation: (a) From Hualien Railway Station, take Huelien public bus to Tiansiang; (b) Take Tarogo Line of “Taiwan Tour Bus Route” to Tiansiang at Taiwan High Speed Rail Hualien Station