Common Local Knowledge You Need to Know as a Tourist

I was thinking of giving some top something tips or info, but then I realized those are stuff you can probably research on your own. So here I am, coming up with a personal list that I’ve eventually come to learn while here in Taiwan. I think they’re too common that even locals wouldn’t really think much of them nor talk about them. But as a tourist, these stuff may just be very helpful and help make your stay infinitely better and enjoyable. And of course, easier.

As they say, common sense is uncommon. So we better take the common out of wallflower status and into the limelight. Let’s go:

1. Taiwan > City/County > District/Township

When you’re trying to figure out places to visit outside Taipei, it helps to know some basic Taiwan geography.

Actually, it’s more technically correct to say that Taiwan’s biggest regions are called “special municipalities” as in “special municipality of Taipei” but for purposes of making life easier, calling it “city” will do. On the same level, only more rural, are what we call “counties” just as the popular “Nantou county” where you can find Sun Moon Lake.

Then, what makes up these cities and counties are smaller districts or townships.

Here’s an example:

Taipei 101 is in Xinyi district, which is located in Taipei city.
Sun Moon Lake is in Yuchi township, which is located in Nantou county.

This is Ruifang district. It may look like a township, but it’s a district. Point is, Ruifang is still within New Taipei City. And New Taipei City is a mix of urban, suburban, and rural townships and districts. You still follow? 😛

While it’s not necessary to memorize them all (there’s no exam before immigration grants you entrance, don’t worry) I think knowing this will help you arrange the way you’d ask locals for info if you’re lost.

2. The MRT is the only public transport with color-coded lines.

The MRT’s colors made life easier for me. It made it easier to lump certain stations together and remember where to find them. I’ve also observed that each colored line has its own distinct characteristic:

Brown line – This uses the smallest type of MRT which is also the only one that runs on wheels and is driven by no one. Yep, it’s on auto-pilot mode. This is also where you’d find a really nice view of the Songshan Airport runway.

Red line – Aside from the Brown line, this is the only other line that has a scenic view of Taipei. My favorite is between the Beitou and Fuxinggang stations, where you can see an amazing landscape of Northern Taipei against the backdrop of Datun mountain. This is also the only scenic line that uses the normal MRTs with actual drivers and are bigger-sized too.

Orange line – Interestingly, this is the first line that made use of sliding doors that close off the railway from the platform. If you look at the entire line, you’ll notice it has lots of school stations–junior high and elementary schools. However, navigating the Orange line for me is the trickiest and I got lost plenty of times here. Why? Coz both sides of the platform look so much alike! You always have to double-check if you’re facing the right way.

Blue line – This is the line that runs through much of downtown Taipei. Back when there’s no Taipei 101 station yet, this line gets so much traffic because you can reach the said landmark via this line’s Taipei City Hall station. Now, it’s not as crowded as before but it’s still popular because of the shopping districts and hip places in Taipei that it runs through.

Purple line – This is the newest line so far on the Taipei MRT and is built mainly for the purpose of the Airport MRT.

3. Buses, trains, and MRTs are Cinderellas

Okay, so they don’t exactly close or terminate their services at 12 AM sharp, but I’d say you can expect them to run until 12:30 AM or 1 AM only. Then they’d start again at around 6AM. So if you plan to take them back to where you were staying, it would be safe to do so a little before 12 AM.

But don’t worry, if you fail to catch any of them you can just take the taxi as they run 24/7.

4. You can eat/drink all you can at TRAs and HSRs but you might need to starve a little when on the MRT

I’ve no idea why this is so, but I’m guessing it’s because TRAs (Taiwan Rail Administration a.k.a. local trains) and HSRs (High Speed Rail) have longer distances that’s why eating and drinking are allowed onboard. Meanwhile, the longest travel you can have in an MRT is just around 1 hour–provided you didn’t get lost.

Even chewing gum is a definite no-no in the MRT.

5. Most food places only have chopsticks and duck spoon as utensils

If you want to eat in as many local food places as possible, be prepared for chopsticks and duck spoons. Here’s the YouTube video where I learned my chopsticks skills from, the rest just took practice and encouragement from fascinated locals:

As for the duck spoon, they’re a godsend with rice and just about anything slippery on your plate. And they’re also very important when eating soupy dumplings. You get a little soy sauce, put soupy dumpling on them, bite hot soupy dumpling, and sip the rest from the duck spoon. Oh my god Din Tai Fung images just flooded my brain. Lol.

As for spoon and fork, they exist in Western and Thai restaurants.

5. Free tea is served, but water? Hardly.

But I gotta say, restos also serve the best Oolong teas ever!

And sometimes, water won’t even be for sale in a local restaurant. So it would be best to just buy one from a convenience store beforehand. But when it comes to tea, you’d have no problems getting this at any food place. They usually serve real red tea in those steel jugs and you can papercup them tea, unlimited, to wash down your meal.

6. When the lights go green at corner pedestrian lanes, everything else passes through

Why? Because every other vehicle and scooter that would pass by the same road or street will join you. Vehicles are more patient with pedestrians, stopping for a bit, but scooters are a different story. So look first to your left or right before crossing the street, even if the light’s already green. Once it does, everybody feels like it’s their goddamn right to start moving, never mind if they’re behind the wheel and all you have are your legs.

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There ya have it! Couple this list with this article I wrote for Knok and you’re good to go.

Next stop, braving the local trains of Taiwan. 🙂

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