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If you’ve spent any time on my website, you may have noticed that I’ve got a whole lot of content about Taiwan, where I’ve lived for over a decade.
I thought it would be fun to put together this list of fun facts about Taiwan. This is actually a modified and more fun version of this longer Taiwan facts list that I’ve compiled on another website I manage, which is totally devoted to facts about places around the world. So feel free to check out that article too!
So without further ado, here are some common as well as lesser known interesting facts about Taiwan!
Taiwan is often confused with Thailand.
Having lived in Taiwan for many years, I can confirm that countless people around the world think Taiwan is Thailand. When I mention that I live in Taiwan, the first sign that they have no idea is when they start asking about the white-sand beaches or ladyboys…
In fact, so many Taiwan-bound letters are incorrectly mailed to Thailand that Taiwan even has a stamp labelled “incorrectly mailed to Thailand”, which you’ll see once you eventually receive your mail. Even CNN has confused Taiwan with Thailand!
To clear up the confusion, I’ve written this detailed post comparing Taiwan and Thailand.
Many of Taiwan’s city names are very logical.
The name “Taiwan” most likely originated from the Taivoan aboriginal tribe that colonizers first encountered in the south around Tainan. The characters 臺灣 (tai and wan) were chosen because they are phonetically similar, not because they carry any special meaning.
Tainan literally means tai + south, because it is in the south of Taiwan. For similar reasons, we’ve got Taibei, also spelled Taipei (tai + north), Taizhong, also spelled Taichung (tai + middle), and Taidong, also spelled Taitung (tai + east). It’s less known, but there’s even a small township on the west coast called Taixi (tai + west).
Some counties in Taiwan follow a similar approach. For example, Xinzhu (Hsinchu) has a Zhunan, Zhubei, and so on.
There used to be a land bridge between Taiwan and China.
Although Taiwan is an island today, lower sea levels during the last ice age resulted in a land bridge across the (now) 180-km Taiwan Strait.
The first human to reach Taiwan likely crossed this land bridge some 20 to 30,000 years ago. The ancestors of today’s Taiwanese aboriginal people likely came later by boat, around 6500 years ago.
Taiwan is thus at the edge of the continental shelf, which drops steeply of its east coast. The Taiwan strait is shallow, with an average depth of only 60 m, and has several islands, including the Penghu archipelago.
Taiwan is the homeland of the Austronesian people.
Did you know that the indigenous people of Easter Island, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Madagascar can all be traced back to Taiwan?
Language and ethnographic studies show that the Austronesian people liked sailed out in canoes from Taiwan starting around 3500 years ago. Today, they constitute the world’s largest and most widely distributed language family.
There are currently 16 officially recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. They make up 2.38% of the country’s population. China, which considers Taiwan one of its provinces, classifies Taiwanese aboriginals collectively as Gaoshan (“high mountains”) and considers them one of its 56 ethnic minorities.
Taiwan is the most mountainous island in the world.
Taiwan is considered to have the highest concentration of high mountains of any island in the world. In fact, 2/3rd of the island is covered in mountains. Even though Taiwan is subtropical, the peaks of these mountains receive snow in winter.
A commonly cited fact about Taiwan is that it has 268 mountains above 3000 meters. For comparison’s sake, Hawaii only has 3, Honshu (the main island of Japan) has 19, whole Colorado state has 119.
Hikers in Taiwan have compiled a list of “100 Peaks of Taiwan” (The Baiyue or 臺灣百岳). It is considered a great feat to climb all 100 of them.
Yushan almost became one of the New7Wonders.
In 2001, there was a campaign to select the “New7Wonders” of the world, with over 600 million people voting. A year later, they also did the New7Wonders of the Natural World and New7Wonders Cities.
Yushan (玉山 or Jade Mountain), Taiwan’s tallest peak, was one of the 28 finalists for the New7Wonders of the Natural World. You can see its finalist page here. In the end, it lost out to places like Halong Bay in Vietnam and the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
Yushan is the tallest mountain in Northeast Asia. It is 176 meters taller than Mt. Fuji in Japan. Some academics even call Yushan National Park “the ark” due to its large number of rare species, including Formosan black bears and Formosan flying squirrels. It is without a doubt one of the most bucket list-worthy places to visit in Taiwan.
There’s an active volcano in Taipei City.
Taiwan is a geologically active island sitting on the Ring of Fire. In total it has four active volcanic regions.
One is the Datun volcanic group, which includes Yangmingshan National Park, famous for its many hikes, in Taipei and New Taipei City. Previously though to be dormant, in 2017 a magma chamber was discovered below it, 15 km from downtown Taipei. This means Yangminsghan is an active volcano right next to the city center! The other three are offshore: one on Guishan (Turtle) Island and two underwater off the northeast coast.
This explains why there are so many hot springs in Taiwan, one of the highest concentrations in the world, including mud hot springs and 1 of only 3 saltwater hot springs in the world, on Green Island.
It also explains all the earthquakes. Taiwan has earthquakes every year. The deadliest one killed over 3000 people in 1935, while the second worst took 2415 lives in 1999. The 921 Earthquake Museum in Taichung his housed in a destroyed school that sits right on the same fault line that the earthquake occurred on.
A district in Taiwan is one of the most crowded places on Earth.
Yonghe district of New Taipei City ranks as one of the most crowded urban centers in the world. It has a population density of around 38,000 people per square kilometer.
To put that in perspective, Manhattan (also considered one of the most crowded places) has 28,000 people per square kilometer, or 10,000 less than Yonghe!
The living descendent of Confucius lives in Taiwan.
Kung Yu-jen, born in Taipei in 2006, is the 80th generation descendent of Confucius. His father, Kung Tsui-chang, the 79th descendent, is an important figure in the country, serving as senior advisor to the president of the country.
To put that in perspective, Confucius was born around 550 years before Jesus Christ and over 1000 years before Mohammad! Confucius was from Qufu in China. Many of his descendants are buried in a cemetery there. But his later descendants were among the many Chinese to flee China and move to Taiwan after the Civil War.
The longest rainbow ever recorded was in Taiwan.
On November 30, 2018, scientists at Chinese Cultural University on recorded the longest rainbow ever, which lasted 8 hours and 58 minutes. The university sits on the slopes of Yangmingshan in Taipei City.
In total, it included 4 different rainbows appearing simultaneously. The park is known to have ideal conditions for rainbow formation.
Taiwanese kids go to school the longest in the world.
Like their neighbors in Japan and South Korea, Taiwanese are known to work a lot. In fact, they’ve ranked as the fourth hardest workers in the world – in terms of total hours worked, that is!
But the kids in Taiwan are working especially long. It has also been reported that Taiwanese students spend more hours at school than any others in the world, with an average of 9.5 hours at school. And this is not even counting the many additional hours they spend at cram schools, tutoring sessions, and other classes.
Taiwan is the freest county in Asia.
In 2022, the Human Freedom Index rated Taiwan as the freest country in Asia and 14th in the world, trailing just behind Canada.
Some similar ratings include: most democratic country in Asia as designated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, freest press in Asia, 6th in the world in terms of economic freedom, largest Pride Parade in Asia, and the first (and still only) country in Asia to legalize equal marriage rights.
TIME magazine has named Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s current president, one of the world’s most influential people, while Forbes has called her one of the most powerful women and the #2 female politician in the world.
Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years.
From 1895 to 1945, the Japanese occupied Taiwan. The Japanese kept busy during their time there. They built a railway line around the country, developed the country’s hot springs, and they built hospitals and universities, including Taihoku Imperial University (today’s NTU, the country’s top school).
Japanese influence can still be seen throughout Taiwan, from Shinto shrines and major buildings still in use (including the Presidential Palace!) to Japanese cuisine and words that have been incorporated into the Taiwanese language.
Taiwan has 4 official languages.
Taiwan’s four official languages are Taiwanese (also called Taiyu, Hokkien, Holo, or Minnan), Mandarin, Hakka, and the Formosan aboriginal languages collectively. Notably, English is not one of them. The country talks about becoming a “Chinese-English bilingual country” by 2030, but many people have doubts about this.
If you ride the Taipei MRT, you will hear announcements in 5 languages, which don’t exactly match the official languages. They are Taiwanese, Mandarin, Hakka, English, and Japanese.
Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan.
Pearl milk tea is now a global phenomenon. While there are some conflicting claims to its invention, no one disputes that it originated in Taiwan.
The most common story goes that in 1988, a worker in a dessert shop in Taichung dumped a jelly dessert into an iced tea during a meeting. The boss noticed and thought it was a great idea. You can still visit the place where it happened, Chun Shui Tang Siwei Original Store in Taichung.
Another claim comes from Tainan-based Hanlin Tearoom, who say they had done it two years earlier.
Whichever is true, pearl milk tea is sold from thousands of locations across the country today and a part of daily life in Taiwan.
Cat cafés also started in Taiwan.
We also have Taiwan to thank for this international trend. It all started in 1998 at Cats & Dog Café (still running, but now called Kitten Coffee Garden). It was so named because they kept several cats and just one dog in the café for guests to pet, feed, and photograph.
It took a while for the phenomenon to catch on, but when it did, it really took off. Japan got its first one in 2004 and is today known for having cafés dedicated to all kinds of animals.
Today, there are over a dozen cat cafés in Taipei alone, and upwards of 100 across the country. There’s also a dedicated cat village in Taiwan, called Houtong Cat Village.
Speaking of unusual cafés, Taiwan also has a poop and toilet-themed restaurant chain as well as capybara cafés!
Taiwan produces the best oolong tea in the world.
Oolong tea is tea that has been partially oxidized. Think of it as somewhere between green tea and black tea. It originated in China, which remains the other largest producer, but was found to grow particularly well in Taiwan, too. Most Taiwanese teas today are oolong.
Growers in Taiwan soon found that the higher they grew the tea, the more delicious it was, thus Taiwanese High Mountain Tea was born. It is believed that the thinner air causes the flavors in the tealeaves to become more concentrated.
These teas have relatively low production volume, but demand for them is enormous, which is why they tend to be quite a bit more expensive and prized than other teas in the world. The most famous is Alishan High Mountain tea from the Alishan region (also a popular mountain resort), while Lishan and Dayuling are two other notable ones. Much less common is black tea, which is mainly produced around Sun Moon Lake.
Several of Taiwan’s most famous foods originated in China.
Taiwan is famous for its night markets and street foods. Some signature Taiwanese street foods and stalls have obtained legendary, pilgrimage-worthy, Michelin-recommended status.
However, one interesting fact is that several of these foods originated in Fujian province (where most Taiwanese trace their ancestry to) and other parts of China – no major surprise, as the majority of Taiwan’s popular tracer their ancestry to those places.
These include stinky tofu (Beijing), beef noodles (Sichuan/Lanzhou) gua bao or Taiwanese hamburger (Fujian), mee sua or vermicelli soup (Fujian), green onion cakes (Northern China), oyster omelets (Fujian), hujiao bing or black pepper buns (Fujian), lurou fan or braised pork rice (there is debate whether it originated in Shandong or Taiwan), and xiaolongbao or soup dumplings (Shanghai).
To Taiwan’s credit, many of these dishes have been modified into their own thing in Taiwan, and Taiwan also has numerous dishes that were invented there.
Taiwan has the 2nd highest concentration of convenience stores.
Taiwan prides itself on being the “land of convenience”. A perfect example of this is its sheer number of convenience stores, especially 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and High Life. In terms of convenience stores per capita, Taiwan is second only to South Korea.
In Taiwan, it is not uncommon to find more than one major convenience store at the same intersection. You can also find 7-Elevens and Family Marts in the high mountains, on the offshore islands, in rural areas, in airport/train stations/bus terminals, in hospitals, in fishing ports, and right beside temples.
Besides the large number of them, these convenience stores are known for their surprising array of products and services, often in quite a compact space. Just a few things you can buy in them include draft beer, disposable underwear, baked sweet potatoes, bubble tea, soft serve ice cream, oden, laundry detergent, make-up, and alcoholic shooters.
Services you can do at them include sending or receiving parcels, paying bills or fines, buying tickets for events and transportation, dry cleaning laundry, recycling old batteries, printing and faxing services, withdrawing cash, and more.
Taiwan was one of the four “Asian Tigers”.
From the 1950s to 1990s, four small countries in Asia rapidly industrialized and gained the title “Asian Tigers”. These were Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Rapid development in Taiwan also led to huge amounts of trash and pollution. Things became so bad in the 1980s that Taiwan also acquired the title “Garbage Island”. Thankfully it has come a long way since then in terms of environmental protection.
Taiwan’s garbage trucks play Beethoven’s Für Elise.
While some countries have ice cream trucks that play songs, in Taiwan, the garbage trucks are the most vocal. Every day, 2-3 times per day (with only the occasional break), the trucks ply every neighborhood in the country.
Locals hear Für Elise playing from blocks away, which is their cue to run downstairs and take out the trash. This is purely routine in Taiwan, and most residents don’t think twice about it, but it is surely one of the many quirk traits that we love Taiwan for.
These trucks also collect compost in barrels, while a recycling truck usually follows closely behind. In fact, Taiwan has one of the highest rates of recycling in the world, at 55%. For comparison, the top spot goes to Germany, at 66%, while the US is below 30 and Japan is below 20.
We all rely on Taiwan for our digital devices.
Taiwan is the world’s top producer of semiconductors (65%) and advanced computer chips (95%). These are crucial items in smartphones, computers, cars, and various other digital devices.
One Taiwanese company alone, TSMC, handles a staggering 55% of global chip fabrication contracts. These chips are the most traded product in the world, ahead of oil. According to TIME, this makes Taiwan the center of the world.
This is a big change from the 1980s, when Taiwan was known around the world for the “Made in Taiwan” label on a wide range of small, cheap items that it produced.
Taiwan has 1 scooter for every 1.7 people.
There is said to be around 14 million scooters in Taiwan. With a total population of 23.9 million, that equates to one scooter for every 1.7 people!
It’s not hard to believe this fact when you walk around the streets of Taiwan. There are scooters parked and driving everywhere.
Luckily for our lungs, Taiwan has invented some electric scooters, and one in particular, Gogoro, is becoming extremely popular!
Taiwan is only officially recognized by 13 countries.
After the Republic of China lost in the Civil War to the Chinese Communist Party, its leaders (and millions of people) fled to Taiwan, from where they planned to take back China. That never happened, so Taiwan is still officially called the Republic of China today.
The UN stopped recognizing the ROC as the legitimate rulers of Taiwan in 1971, and the US followed in 1979. China now claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces, which most Taiwanese people disagree with. China blocks Taiwan from entering international organizations (but it still belongs to at 40 major ones!) and forces it to compete as “Chinese Taipei” in the Olympics.
Currently, Taiwan only has 13 official diplomatic applies. Of the 13, nine of them are small island nations.
From 2021, Taiwan’s passport finally says TAIWAN.
Until then, Taiwanese passports only said the official country name, which is still Republic of China. Taiwanese travelers faced a lot confusion when traveling abroad, because a lot of people don’t understand the complicated history between Taiwan and China, and mistook it for a Chinese passport.
New passports released from 2021 now say TAIWAN in large letters. “Republic of China” is still there, but in much smaller font.
Unfortunately, though, the submission to have a picture of bubble tea on the passport cover never made the final cut.
10% of the population is addicted to betel nut.
Betel nut is a fruit of the areca palm tree. It is chewed as a mild stimulant in many parts of Asia, including India, where it is crushed and mixed with other fragrant ingredients and called paan (fun fact: you can find Indian-style paan on Burma Street in New Taipei City!)
In Taiwan, the whole nut is wrapped in betel leaf with slaked lime from seashells, which helps the active substance to be absorbed. When chewed, it produces bright red saliva, which chewers spit out, as well as staining the teeth red. It is favored by taxi drivers and manual workers in Taiwan. In total, 2 million, or 10% of all Taiwanese people chew betel nut.
An interesting associated practice is the selling of baggies of betel nuts from glass roadside stalls, which are often staffed by scantily clad young women, called betel nut beauties (檳榔西施). The government has cracked down on their clothing choices (or rather, lack of clothing), and on betel nut chewing in general.
Taipei 101 is the world’s tallest “green” building.
Although Taipei 101 is no longer the world’s tallest building (2004 to 2009), it still claims the title to “world’s tallest green building”.
No, that doesn’t mean its color is green (but that would be cool, since it was modelled on a bamboo stalk, after all). Taipei 101 is considered environmentally friendly. This includes low CO2 output and electricity usage. Its status was designated by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the organization that labels buildings as “green” in the US.
Other titles held by Taipei 101 include the world’s 3rd fastest elevator (61 km/hr) and world’s heaviest damper (738 tons), a giant swinging ball of steel that prevents the building from toppling in earthquakes.
Taipei 101 used to also have the world’s tallest Starbucks, but alas, it was closed due to lack of visitors during COVID.
Here’s a list of 60+ other famous landmarks in Taiwan.
Taiwan has its own calendar – year zero is 1912.
The calendar most commonly used in Taiwan is the Republic of China calendar. According to this calendar, year 0 is 1912, the date of the founding of the Republic of China. So to find the current year, you need to subtract 1911. For example, 2023 is year 112.
Students and professionals really use this calendar for writing dates. It can lead to some confusion for visitors in Taiwan. For example, “the 70s” could refer to 1970s in the international calendar, or the 70s in the Taiwanese calendar.
Taiwan also uses the Lunar Calendar for the dates of some local festival, including the most important holiday (Lunar New Year), and some people celebrate their birthdays according to the Lunar Calendar.
The KMT is one of the richest political parties in the world.
The KMT, who occupied Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War and remain one of the country’s two major political parties, has been called the richest political party in the world. They have also been accused of obtaining many of their assets illegally during their oppressive, one-party rule of Taiwan. Some estimates have put their total assets at TWD 30-40 billion.
Around a decade ago, they were found to make just short of TWD 1 billion in interest alone in a single year. More recently, they’ve been facing some financial difficulties, so it’s not certain just how wealthy the party remains.
Taiwan has the world’s most dangerous festival.
Every year on the same day as the Lantern Festival, one of the most colorful festivals in Taiwan, a small village in Tainan erupts with fireworks and bottle rockets. But there’s one thing to note: these are not shot up into the sky, but rather directly into crowds of people.
It is called the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, as some rocket stands are shaped like beehives and shoot off in all directions at once. Participants must wear helmets and protective clothing, but injuries are still common.
When I attended this festival with my dad, he even caught on fire once. We also saw a foreigner who had taken his helmet off momentarily and was struck by a bottle rocket. He had blood squirting out of his forehead!
Taiwan has the world’s largest pilgrimage for a goddess.
Matsu, the goddess of fishermen and the sea, is revered across Taiwan and considered the country’s patron saint. Every year on her birthday, an enormous pilgrimage takes place in Central Taiwan.
A statue of her is carried on a palanquin for nine days, starting and ending at the Jenn Lan Temple in Dajia, Taichung. In total, as many as 4 million people are said to join or participate in the pilgrimage in some shape or form, whether they walk, feed or house the pilgrims, or lie on the street to let the palanquin pass over them.
Taiwan also has the world’s largest Matsu statue (48 meters). It was just unveiled in 2022 on the Penghu archipelago.
Taiwan has the world’s largest collection of Chinese art.
When the KMT army fled to Taiwan, they also carried hundreds of thousands of valuable pieces of art with them, mostly from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Today, over 700,000 artifacts and pieces of art are housed in the National Palace Museum, which has two branches in Taiwan. The original branch is in Taipei, while a new southern branch was opened in Chiayi in 2015.
Taiwan was one of the last countries to reopen to tourists.
In response to COVID, Taiwan totally closed its borders to all foreign tourists on March 19, 2020. It wasn’t until October 13, 2022 that most tourists were allowed to enter again without quarantine on arrival.
That’s a total of 938 days! The only countries with longer bans are China, Turkmenistan, Nauru, and North Korea (which didn’t allow tourists before COVID, anyways).
Considering a visit to Taiwan? Start with my Taiwan travel guide or join my Taiwan Travel Planning group on Facebook!
1 thought on “33 Surprising Facts about Taiwan”
Congratulation my friend, your writings on Taiwan as for me is a real eduction. I knew so little about Taiwan but now because of you I am less ignorent.