There’s no denying it – the mercury in Taiwan is dropping, especially up north. Even Siri is sympathetic. When I asked “What’s the weather in Taipei?” Siri responded in typical I-phone doggerel:
“Some bad weather coming to Taipei: Down to 9° Celsius today.”
But you’ll get no sympathy from my family back in New England, where it’s currently 23° Fahrenheit (about negative 5 on the Celsius scale), nor from MyTaiwanTour CEO Michael Wu, who’s currently spending the last days of his New Year’s Holiday watching the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Canada (where Its so cold that the F&C scales read pretty much the same numbers).
So to friends from either of these two regions (or pretty much anywhere else in North America this weekend), please accept my deepest sympathies (and presumably Siri’s) along with an offer to visit Taiwan, which, current cold snap aside, is at least warmer.
Indeed, Taiwan is a generally warm country in both spirit and temperature. So when the latter drops into the teens or even high single digits Celsius, the fact that the same weather is considered unseasonably balmy for winter in much of North America comes as cold comfort to locals. This is understandable, as Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer and generally tends towards the too hot rather than too cold end of the global Goldilocks spectrum. But Taiwan is also a humid country, and as anyone who’s spent any time in Mongolia or Minnesota will tell you, dry cold is a different, and generally more tolerable beast than damp cold.
Oh yes, unlike those other places mentioned, buildings in Taiwan don’t have central heating (though a dehumidifier makes the winter chill way more tolerable indoors).
Though we generally get one or two cold snaps a winter in Taiwan, this doesn’t stop such occurrences from being considered newsworthy. In addition to making the papers, cold weather brings out displays of inexpensive puffy winter coats from street vendors and night markets from north to south. If you’re traveling in Taiwan during a cold snap and haven’t prepared, you won’t have far to look for something reasonably utilitarian (though not generally fashionable). And on the subject of unfashionable winter wear, when the mercury dips into the low teens and single digits on the Celsius scale, visitors may notice the unusual site of folks on scooters wearing their jackets backwards. Locals swear by this warmth retention method, claiming that it prevents cold air from blowing in through the jacket’s zipper. Try it yourself; as long as you’re on a motorcycle, the fashion faux-pas will be forgiven.
In any event, though locals may complain bitterly about 9° Celsius (about 48° Fahrenheit) being Hǎo lěng! (so cold!) Taiwan’s cold weather is definitely cold only relatively speaking. That said, it’s best to prepare for the weather if you’re traveling here in the cooler months – click here for some suggestions.
So what do people do in Taiwan when the mercury dips (besides saying Hǎo lěng at regular intervals)?
Here are a few tried and true typical winter activities for local and visitor alike:
1) Head to the nearest hot spring: From north to south, there are hot springs everywhere in Taiwan, with some of the nicest ones being. But even if you’re down south, you’ll find excellent hotsprings like Zhiben in Taitung County, Wenshan hot spring in Taroko, and the mud springs of Guanziling in Tainan. Perhaps the abundance of geothermal recreation is nature’s way of saying sorry about the earthquakes, but here…go sit in these and relax. Whatever, hot springs are a blessing in the winter.
2) Head out for hot pot: If Taiwan had an official winter food, it’d probably be hot pot (火鍋), and many an winter’s evening has been spent by groups huddled around bubbling cauldrons of broth chucking in meat, vegetables, seafood…if it’s tasty after being boiled in a spicy broth, it’s game for the hot pot. As a bonus, hot pot restaurants tend to be the warmest restaurants in town.
3) Head south: Despite the fact that Taiwan is only a bit longer north to south than the state of Vermont, geography gives us way more variance in so far as temperature is concerned. Case in point: You’ll see people swimming year round in Kenting, but not in Fulong, while back in the Green Mountain state if it’s snowing in Brattleboro, chances are pretty good it isn’t much better in Burlington. So yes, hopping on a bullet train and heading to Tainan or Kaohsiung (or trekking a bit further to Xiao Liuqiu or Kending) are always decent options for escaping old man winter in Taiwan.
As for myself, I’m opting for options one and two, first heading to an old Japanese era hot spring I’ve discovered up in Beitou, then out for at least one (maybe two) lengthy hot pot sessions over the weekend. Hopefully this cold snap won’t last into next week.
If it does, well…Tainan is only a bullet train ride away!
Until next week,
Joshua Samuel Brown