Saturday, 10 January 2015

Publication: A Vegan TRAVEL Guide to Taiwan

Chasing the Tamsui sunset is one of Taipei's most popular outings, but is not easy to catch.

The guide is now finished, and can be purchased (8 USD) on Amazon. Please see this new post about the guide, or this page for updates, map links etc.

For year's I've been using this blog to promote vegan businesses in Taiwan which should be of interest to English-speaking vegetarians and vegans, but now I'd like to promote my own. For the last few year's I've been slowly working on a vegan travel guide to Taiwan, but particularly since I returned to Taiwan as a student in August. I hope the have the book out in the next few months, and will probably sell it as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, available for kindle reading devices or as an app for most smartphones and tablets (including iPads). With the amount of work I've put in (instead of doing 'real' work) I do need to sell it, but it will be significantly cheaper than regular travel guides.

What it Is and What it's Not
As far as I am aware, this will be the world's first travel guide for vegans. It's intended to be used by short-term visitors to Taiwan who don't speak Chinese (as there's plenty available in Chinese already), but may also be of use to anyone moving here. This is not a 'vegan guide' in the traditional sense, in that it's focus is not on reviewing restaurants and other vegan businesses. Instead it features outings, connecting all Taipei's vegan restaurants, and a few good vegetarian ones, with top tourist attractions, making planning food and sightseeing easy.


Guandu Temple, north of Taipei, is an impressive sight, but the nearest vegan-friendly restaurants are in Beitou (a short MRT ride away).

This Information is Already Here
Much of this information is available from this blog and my commercial site www.formosaguide.com, including many photographs (often shared between all three). And any that isn't probably will be eventually, as I like to offer all information to anyone who wants it and have no interest in a 'premium' section of this blog. What this book offers is a convenient guidebook format which works offline, can be read on the plane and has symbols and addresses all ready to use (eg show taxis), and suggested itineraries to make planning your trip easier. Again this is just like how most guidebooks also post much of their information online (try searching for "National Palace Museum" "Lonely Planet" for example) but many people still choose to buy a concise, offline guidebook for the convenience.

So What's in a Vegan Travel Guide?
Just like any other guidebook, this covers sights and activities to do in Taiwan. And, like other guidebooks, they're listed alongside nearby restaurants, with a quick description of the type of food they offer, an approximate price range, opening hours and their address in English and in Chinese. I always include one photo of a meal and the storefront if it's necessary to find it. The only difference: all the restaurants in this guide are vegan-friendly. About two thirds are fully vegan, one third vegetarian and one also serves meat but is the most vegan-friendly restaurant in Tamsui.

Maps
 
 
Maps are screenshots of maps created using Google's MyMaps (used in accordance with their terms and conditions) and clicking on them will bring up the same map in a web browser or other suitable application (Google's new MyMaps is best); I'm working on a way for users to be able to use them offline, which will probably be Osmand (for Android). For example, just like any other guidebook I'll tell you how to reach Taipei 101, how to get to the observatory at the top, how much it costs and the best times to go (and not to). But I also describe the several vegetarian restaurants around, explaining possible itineraries.
What's Covered in the First Edition?
 The book is divided into 'Outings' for northern, southern and eastern Taipei with suggestions for one, two or three days for each, depending on how long you have and your priorities (nature, history, culture etc). The first edition will also cover Jiufen (and Jinguashi and Houtong), Jiaoxi and Yilan and of course Taroko Gorge. If it's successful the next edition will cover Southern Taiwan, and I dream of a final edition covering all of Taiwan and its outlying islands.

Accommodation

City Home, Hualien's fully vegan B&B, is excellent value at 2000NT per night (weeknights only)


Since hotel prices, deals and owners change so rapidly and everyone has their own tastes and expectations, I recommend booking most hotels online, and for the rest (midweek) just turning up and finding a hotel near the train station. I discuss types of accommodation, including budget hotels, love hotels and the blurry line in between, luxury hotels, hostels and Air B&B. I do, however, recommend this vegan B&B in Hualien and discuss options in Taroko Gorge.

How Long?

If you did absolutely everything in this guide it would probably take three weeks, but I expect that this book would be sufficient for a first-time visitor to Taiwan for up to about a week. If you have any longer than that and I'd recommend (for now) either using Wikitravel or purchasing another guidebook as well, and then travelling to Southern Taiwan and the stunning East Coast, and if possible going into the central mountain range. If you have a special interest (eg hiking, bird watching, or aboriginal villages) then there are many excellent blogs and some specialist travel guides available which would supplement this one very well. With my explanations of the food labelling system, chain restaurants, convenience store food and general travel tips it should be very easy to travel outside of the area covered by this book independently, and eat well as you do. 


Vegetarian Survival

 

Just as most guidebooks describe the cuisine of a country, I explain the different types of vegetarian and vegan foods and restaurants available in Taiwan, list common chains and notable branches. I explain how world's best labelling system works, so that the traveller can easily find their own food in convenience stores or elsewhere, and use the provided translations to easily ask staff for help. I also explain the situation with fake meats, most of which contain dairy and egg products, despite common misconceptions that they are vegan. Like any other guidebook, I include the history, culture, religions and languages of Taiwan, and include practical information on transport, safety and other  necessities for a holiday, including what to prepare and bring and how to find and book hotels. A small section at the start covers what to bring and what to do to prepare, but the rest can be read on the plane, so you should be able to turn up in Taipei with an itinerary all worked out.
 
Enjoy the stewed tofu at the beautiful (Xiangde Temple) deep in Taroko Gorge, but don't trust their other menu items.

 
Why not just use a conventional guidebook and Happycow?
It's certainly possible, and I've been doing it for years, in many different countries, for years. However, that often leaves the traveller trying to weave together their favourite restaurants with their chosen travel itinerary, in an unfamiliar city in limited time, which often requires hours of preparation and from my experience doesn't always work as planned. Also, most guidebooks recommend so many restaurants with nothing for vegetarians to eat, as well as zoos, dolphinariums, fish spas and other such "entertainment". I believe that vegans and vegetarians need and deserve our own guidebooks, and I'm surprised it hasn't (as far as I know) already been done. I have aspirations to cover plenty more destinations if this guidebook is a success.

Of course there are hundreds of restaurants and possible sites of interest in Taiwan, and everyone has different travel and dining priorities, so I still recommend using Happycow and other sites, however this guidebook should at least offer some skeleton plans for exploring Taiwan, and can always be used offline to find food, sights and other essential information normally found in guidebooks, but without having to skip past the best oyster omelet recommendations or the best times to go and photograph the new pandas from China.

Note that the vegetarian restaurant on the right uses the savastika, but the one on the left doesn't. The black box outlines the characters most commonly used to advertise a vegetarian restaurant.

Finally,  most conventional guidebook writers make little effort to provide useful, up-to-date information for vegetarians, and certainly don't go out of their way to find the best restaurants (or, it seems, even consult Happycow). As an example, here is the chapter of my Lonely Planet, with my comments in red. This is from the 2007 edition, but the newer one is almost identical but has omitted the reference to vegan food altogether, perhaps after the scare that a lot of fake meat contains real meat.


Vegetarian Cuisine (from Lonely Planet Taiwan)
Vegetarian visitors to Taiwan may well consider applying for citizenship once they've experienced the joys of Taiwanese vegetarian cuisine. Almost the only true statement, but unfortunately it's very difficult. ... Buddhist vegetarian restaurants are easy to find. Just look for the giant savastika (an ancient Buddhist symbol that looks like a reverse swastika) hung in front of the restaurant. This myth is perpetuated largely as a result of this book. Only a small fraction of vegetarian restaurants display the savastika (only ones run by Buddhists, and not even all of those), however there are enough vegetarian restaurants that this myth survives, with many tourists simply never realising that they're walking right past many vegetarian restaurants everywhere they go. All they need to say is to look for two almost universal vegetarian symbols; see my post on finding restaurants here. If the restaurant has a cassette or CD of playing a soothing loop of ami tofo (Buddhist chant) and a few robed monks and nuns among the lay patrons, you're in business. Some Buddhist restaurants do play Buddhist chants, but few are likely to have monks and nuns dining at any point in time. It's certainly not a reliable indicator of a vegetarian restaurant.  Food at these places tends to not merely be 100% vegan-friendly (no animal products of any kind) but also garlic and hot-pepper free (fiery belching being disruptive to meditation)... This is absolutely wrong. Many dishes at these restaurants contain diary products (often hidden, usually in sauces and fake meats) and many also contain egg (also hidden). I explain this, and the lack of garlic and onion, in my guide.


Authenticity
I have visited every location recommended in this guide, usually at least twice on separate occasions. All photos are my own except historical photographs appropriately credited to Wikimedia Commons. I have personally eaten at all the restaurants, always pay my bill and have not taken (and will not take) any form of incentive whatsoever for recommendation in this guide. While, after maintaining this blog for many years I have come to know the owners and staff at several of these restaurants, I do not know personally any of the current owners of any restaurants or businesses I recommend. This guidebook does not contain any advertisements.

National Taiwan Museum is often overlook in favour of the National Palace Museum (of Chinese treasures) but I highly recommend visiting both.


Please Help! 

I would greatly appreciate comments in the comments section, or please feel free to email me at jesse.duffield@gmail.com.

If you are living in Taiwan:
1. Do you know of any especially good small, little-known, vegan-friendly restaurants that might appeal to foreign visitors? In particular, do you know of any good outings, which combine a great restaurant with an interesting sight or activity? I'm particularly interested in less famous spots in or around Taipei.

All Travellers:
For everyone who travels internationally, especially anyone considering a trip to Taiwan, please offer suggestions on what (if anything) you look for in a guidebook. It doesn't have to be about vegetarianism or veganism. I want this to be a guidebook that works as the main travel in for ethically-minded visitors to Taiwan (Northern Taiwan for now) and will take and greatly appreciate any advice at all. I'm particularly interested in how to integrate the traditional guidebook with the digital era, such as maps.

Xie xie!
 


Zhongshan Park, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, is within walking distance of Taipei 101 and many of Taipei's best vegan restaurants. 

4 comments:

  1. Hi Jesse, I think this is a wonderful idea and will be most helpful to vegetarians/vegans in Taiwan. I'll be traveling to Taipei in 2 weeks time and I'd like to get a copy of this guide. Do let me know what's the best of getting a copy of the guide or the app. Thanks!

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    1. Hello
      Thank you for your interest, and for leaving the comment. It's been a couple of weeks from being finished for a few months, but it really is almost there. I've just put it up on Amazon as a test here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Z25E5RW
      My final problem is that links within the book aren't working, and Amazon staff can't figure it out either; I'm promised that their programmers are investigating it and will have an answer by Sat (6/13), from which I hope it will be easy to fix.
      It would be possible to read it for planning now, but it will of course be much more user-friendly when links within the book work (eg links between sights and restaurants recommended for other sights) but it is possible to jump between chapters using the Table of Contents. It's also not my final draft, so I have a few minor typing and formatting issues to fix before the final product but they shouldn't affect the use of the book.

      So it would be perfectly usable if you'd like to start planning your trip, but unfortunately if you do buy it now it's not possible to get an update when it's fixed. So of course you're welcome to try it now as is, but can I suggest waiting a few days? I'll post an update here as soon as I hear anything. I really hope to have it all finished soon!
      Thanks again for your interest anyway. In the meantime please let me know if I can help with planning your trip at all!
      Jesse

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    2. Hello again
      Sorry I can't find any way to get in touch with you, but it's finally finished and available here:
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00Z25E5RW

      Please let me know if I can help with anything for your trip, if it's not too late!
      Jesse

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