1. Friendly locals
Many would agree that Taiwan is one of the friendliest countries in Asia, if not in the world.
The people are extremely welcoming to foreigners and love to chat. From providing directions on the street to showing you around, a lot of the locals would go out of their way to help you for nothing in return.
When friends and I stayed at Laurel Villa (a minsu at Sun Moon Lake), the minsu owner insisted on driving us around and explaining some of the region's culture to us - all out of his own time and initiative.
Even if one does not speak Mandarin, friendly interactions can still be had. Naturally also, Taiwanese customer service is excellent - you will be welcomed in and out of the shop with a smile.
2. 24-hour social life
Taiwanese culture is characterised by an avid night life. With a variety of night clubs, KTV, a high density of 24-hour convenient stores and night markets, there's something for everyone. In short, this country never sleeps.
3. Din Tai Fung
Source: jslander (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xiao_Long_Bao_by_jslander_at_Din_Tai_Fung,_Arcadia.jpg)
An award-winning restaurant originating in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung is known internationally for its xiaolongbao (pictured). Outside its native Taiwan, Din Tai Fung also has branches in Australia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, the US, etc. but NONE come close to the ones in Taiwan itself.
My personal recommendation is the SOGO Fuxing branch. If I recall correctly, we did not have to pay service charge and the atmosphere was cosier. Service was prompt and excellent - they even cover your bag and jacket with a cloth to prevent food from splattering on them. Also, the toilets at this branch are Japanese style- with heated seats, washing features i.e bidet toilet seats.
A few must-trys: xiaolongbao, shrimp fried rice, A-cai (native to Taiwan) and the noodles in spicy sesame and peanut sauce.
4. Bubble Tea
Taiwan - or more specifically, Taichung, was the place where bubble tea originated. Today, one of Asia's best loved drinks, it can be found along the streets in Taipei, at nightmarkets, in department malls - there are no shortage of outlets for this drink. Most bubble teas come with small chewy tapioca balls commonly known as "pearls" or zhenzhu.
For an authentic experience, head down to Chun Shui Tang Cultural Teahouse in Taichung, the birthplace of bubble tea. Located by International Street near the Tunghai University campus, it is a popular hang out for tea drinkers, the restaurant also offers snacks and main courses in a quaint, cosy setting. Aside from using top-quality ingredients, Chun Shui Tang's bubble teas are made to order and are usually shaken, not blended as in other shops.
5. Papaya Milk
A traditional Taiwanese beverage, it is made with fresh papaya, fresh milk, and a bit of sugar or honey -somewhat like a milkshake native to Taiwan.
The best ones I've found are available at juice stands and night markets - one of the most popular Kaohsiung Milk King.
One can also purchase papaya milk at 24-hour convenience stores at an affordable price.
It's healthy and affordable - what's not to love about papaya milk?
6. Night Markets
The night-time culture in Taiwan is dominated by yeshi (night market in Mandarin) - from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Fengjia Night Market (or Fengjia Shopping Town) is the largest night market in Taiwan, located in Taichung and next to Fengjia University. Most people aren't able to browse the entire market in one go.
Shilin Night Market in Taipei (pictured), is considered to be the 'king of night markets' by many and is another popular and must-see tourist location. It also underwent extensive relocation after which 94 food vendors were moved into a basement.
7. Taipei 101
Taiwan's tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101 also stands out for its 89th floor observatory tower proferring a bird's eye view of the city and its sheer range of shopping goods - Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine and other top brand names. In short, Taipei 101 is a shopper's paradise.
Taipei 101 towers above the city like the gigantic bamboo stalk it was designed to resemble. To get there, take the free shuttle bus from Taipei City Hall Station. Give yourself around half a day there.
Look out also for Taipei 101's massive wind damper or 'damper baby', a massive gold-coloured iron ball that keeps the building from experiencing the unfortunate effects of wind vibration. Unlike others, this is on display to visitors and can be seen up close on the 89th floor.
8. High Speed Rail
With the opening of the THSR or Taiwan High Speed Rail in 2007, visitors can now opt for day trips between Taipei and Kaohsiung. Tickets can be reserved on the phone or online. Even though ticket prices are higher than normal trains or express buses, they are more affordable than travelling by airplane. It also runs on schedule and is extremely fast; also the carriages are quiet and clean.
Eight stations are currently in operation on the THSR line down Taiwan's western corridor: Taipei, Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan, and Zuoying (Kaohsiung). Three more are in the pipeline: Chang-Hua, Miao-Li and Yun-Lin.
9. Hot Springs
As any tired traveller would agree, hot springs are one of the earth's most precious gifts and a sheer reward for an exhausted body. The minerals in the water are commonly suggested to help treat chronic fatigue or arthritis.
Taiwan is ranked among the world's top 15 hot spring sites and home to over a hundred hot springs. There are many affordable hot spring options even in Taipei, if one does not have the luxury of time or is simply in Taiwan for business.
The Millenium Hot Springs in Xinbeitou is open to public and unisex - one is required to wear swimming gear to bathe. Other private and more expensive, top of the range options are available within the same area. All these are just a stone's throw away from the city - be whisked away from Taipei Main Station for less than a dollar (USD).
Other famous hot spring spots in Taiwan include Wulai, Green Island and Yangmingshan.
Jiufen is a mountain area in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City near Keelung. Legend has it that there were only nine families living in this village, hence they would request only "nine portions" (Chinese for 'jiu fen') everytime shipments arrived from town. Later, 'Jiufen' would become the name of the village.
Characterized by quaint streets, tea houses and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Jiufen is popular not only with tourists but locals keen to relive scenes of the past. The most prosperous shopping district is Jiufen Old Street. Check out "Grandma Lai’s Taro Ball Shop" said to be the ancestor of Jiufen’s taro ball dessert shops.
To add to its charm, Jiufen was also used as a model in the Oscar anime movie 'Spirited Away' by Hayao Miyazaki.