For foreigners hoping to get a taste of life in Taiwan, previous visitors may well warn them about insufficient information in rural areas or about the scooters that come from out of nowhere on the streets.
It is becoming increasingly urgent for the central and local governments to fix these problems as the nation welcomes a rising number of tourists and other visitors.
A record 7.3 million people visited the nation last year.
While traveling in cities is often easier because of the availability of information, venturing into the countryside can be more difficult.
Although the Tourism Bureau has provided information about tourist sites in the countryside, including travel advice, a number of foreigners found this information difficult to understand.
“Speaking of travel information, tourist guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet would still be our first choice,” said Eric Canzano, a 25-year-old American.
Canzano said that he hoped English-language maps with basic rail transfer information could be found more easily in rural areas so that travelers like himself could stay informed during trips.
Nikhil Sonnad, who has lived in Taiwan for four years, concurred.
The lack of English-language services and inconsistent road and traffic signs have topped his list of travel inconveniences, he said.
When traveling in the countryside by rail, the American said he faced difficulties in differentiating between Ziqiang (自強) or Fuxing (復興) trains, which denote express or local services.
“I usually had to spend NT$300 on some service for which I had no idea [what they were], which was frustrating,” the 26-year-old said, adding that he often could not communicate well with railway staff, especially in less populated areas.
In response, the Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Railway Administration said they are giving their staff more language training to meet the needs of foreign travelers.
Both authorities said they are coordinating with local governments to integrate the two major spelling systems used in the nation, Hanyu pinyin and Tongyong pinyin, to avoid confusion.
Traffic is also a cause of concern for many foreigners.
Liz Wiest, a Californian who teaches English in Taipei, said life in Taiwan is convenient, but added that traffic is a problem for her, as she cycles to work.
It is quite scary, she said.
Although the government has urged motorists to cede the right of way to pedestrians, drivers will often “squeeze” pedestrians when turning right, she added.
American Institute in Taiwan spokesman Mark Zimmer touted the friendliness of Taiwanese, adding that his family have enjoyed their time in Taiwan.
However, he said that driving in Taiwan “mystifies” him at times.
“Between the scooters weaving in and out of traffic and the other drivers creating lanes whenever they find it convenient, one has to stay alert on the road,” he said.
Another problem foreigners face in Taiwan is communicating with taxi drivers, many of whom do not understand English.
To address this, Bernies Co chairman Paul Wyss, who has lived in Taiwan for nearly 20 years, suggested taxi drivers carry an English-language list of popular destinations for tourists so they can easily communicate where they want to go.
Wyss, from Switzerland, also suggested that taxis display English-language notices listing basic fares, additional costs based on distance traveled and surcharges for luggage. Such information could help prevent tourists from feeling they are being taken advantage of.
These opinions resonated with a report released by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham) in January, which listed the benefits and least appreciated aspects of life in Taiwan.
In the report, “Taiwan provides an ‘English-friendly’ environment for me and my family” was ranked, for the second consecutive year, at the top of the list of 10 least favorable aspects of living in Taiwan.
On the issue of driving in Taiwan, “Street surfaces are drivable and safe” was ranked No. 8 on the list of 10 least favorable aspects, compared with No. 7 last year, according to the report that surveyed 269 business leaders.
The AmCham report also described Taiwanese as “extremely nice” and ranked this as No. 1 in the top 10 benefits of living in Taiwan.
Many foreign tourists concurred on the hospitality of Taiwanese.
Alizee Stalens, a 26-year-old French woman, said she was impressed by the friendliness of Taiwanese.
On a trip with her father to Ken
ting (墾丁), Stalens said they became lost, but were soon approached by a family who offered assistance.
“The problem we had was solved in literally two minutes,” she said, adding that she felt Taiwan is a safe place to travel.