Do the Taiwanese Authorities have a Foreigner PR Problem?

Getting home from work tonight I turned on my computer to find an email from a Taiwanese acquaintance which explained a plan to start charging visitors to enter Taiwan’s national parks. Nothing wrong with that, in principle. However he also explained how he’d heard from a friend that certain local politicians were suggesting that foreign visitors then be charged a higher fee than Taiwanese tourists. I immediately felt a tinge of righteous anger, but there was more than that; the news was slightly disturbing also.  After several hours I finally put my finger on what was wrong, and couldn’t sleep until writing down feelings that I’ve actually had for some time, in black and white.

I realized that this is far from the first time that the Taiwanese authorities have  differentiated between what foreigners and Taiwanese can do when exploring this wonderful island, or how much they should pay while doing it.

Now I must immediately make it clear from the start that I’m not suggesting any loopy conspiracy theories here, or for a minute that there’s some devious plan to discriminate against foreigners…!! It strikes me though that the wrong signals are being sent out sometimes, and that a few changes could be made if Taiwan wants to attract more foreign tourists, and to keep them happy. Even when intentions are good, how they’re perceived by others is important, and I’m finding it hard to perceive the logic of some of the more idiosyncratic rules and restrictions I’ve encountered on my travels around the island over the last few years. It’s quite possible that there’s a good and fair reason behind all of them, but the bitter taste remains, and I’m curious whether I’m being over-sensitive or whether other foreign residents feel that something doesn’t sit quite right.

Here are a few curious facts I’m aware of that affect foreign passport holders here (residents and/or visitors) trying to explore the island:

– A proposal announced last year suggested that a fee will be charged for staying in the new Paiyun Lodge (when it opens) on Yushan (Jade Mountain; the highest mountain in northeast Asia). Unfortunately foreign tourists, it was proposed, would be charged NT$700, while locals (and foreign residents) would be charged only NT$220. The proposed dual fee policy has yet to be implemented.

– Foreign hikers wishing to climb any of the high mountains in Taroko National Park (including popular summits such as Mounts Nanhuda and Chilai) can only climb if a local resident acts as ‘leader.’ Exactly who the leader is however doesn’t seem to matter – hikers I know have used their wives and girlfriends (neither of whom went on the trip) – they just have to have Taiwanese ID.

– Qingtian Hall, a huge underground chamber carved out of the granite of Mount Taiwu on Kinmen  is now open to Taiwanese visitors, yet foreign visitors and residents alike are not allowed to enter.

– Similarly the army stronghold (which commands a marvellous view) on top of Mount Yuntai on Nangan in the Matsu Islands is now open to the public – but only to holders of Taiwan ID. Foreign residents and visitors are forbidden from entering. Perhaps they’re afraid of foreign spies….

– …and now, according to my acquaintance it appears certain local politicians want to charge foreigners more for entering Taiwan’s national parks when and if proposed entrance fees are levied on visitors.

While I’m sure the authorities are sometimes merely erring on the side of caution, after discovering these limitations which affect me simply because I’m a foreigner, I’m thinking the Taiwanese authorities would do well to re-consider the way they treat us aliens if they want us to feel as truly welcome as the average Taiwanese person on the street here invariably does.

11 thoughts on “Do the Taiwanese Authorities have a Foreigner PR Problem?

  1. I think there are several reasons for these proposals. For one, if a foreign national climbs a summit and there are accidents or issues, it’s harder for the authorities to deal with (more complications, also due to Taiwan’s lack of proper diplomatic relations). Perhaps there were some issues in the past for certain mountains and they decided to just allow locals to visit, who knows.

    Charging foreign visitors more than locals is common in many parts of the world, it just depends how you do it (or what kind of message you send out to tourists). Some of us Taiwan expats had a good discussion on this topic here, perhaps you can check it out and join:

  2. Thanks for the link! You make a good point about the difficulties faced when foreigners have problems in the mountains, as that’s probably exactly what caused Taroko National Park to ‘restrict’ the movements of foreigners on the park’s trails, apparently after some years ago a foreigner was lost for several days while trying to follow the route of a long-gone historic trail through the park. The problem is that their present measures simply don’t help or protect anyone, the NP authorities end up looking naive and clueless, local hikers inadequately prepared or experienced to venture out on paths continue to get injured or even die in the mountains, and foreign hikers continue to bypass the regulations (and usually have a great time). I think the authorities are (quite reasonably) unwilling to risk the possibility of another high-profile foreign disappearance and that their laughably ineffective ‘local leader’ measure is a half-baked attempt to make sure they bear no responsibility in the event of it happening again, without making any real effort to make sure that those heading out actually actually have the experience to be there. They’d do very well to follow the example of Yushan NP, which requires ALL climbers on the NPs harder routes to provide photographic evidence that they’ve been to several significant hikes, and in icy conditions, if they plan to go in winter.

    As for the restrictions on foreigners entering those two military installations on Kinmen and Matsu, I believe that’s surely just the long arm of the military exercising its might because they can, unless they really do fear foreign spies…. They did the same at Jinshan, near Keelung, ordering the coastline along the little pennisula underneath Lion’s Head Park out-of-bounds to the public a couple of years ago, although there’s still nothing physically erected to stop people walking there if they decide to.

    Whether charging foreign tourists higher fees than local residents to enter tourist attractions is fair or not is debatable, especially in developed countries such as Taiwan. I believe it’s not, but the more important point is the simple fact remains that among many people I’ve talked to different prices for locals and foreigners is viewed as discriminatory, it creates a negative impression, and that’s something Taiwan should be avoiding if it wants to attract more foreign visitors. For that reason alone, implementing a two price system anywhere in the island is a really, really bad idea.

    • Definitely someone’s idea of bad taste and copying mainland Chinese. As a Taiwan citizen (as well as a US citizen) I am embarrassed! Hope they don’t implement it or hopefully sound minds prevail!

    • Hi Shirlee! Great to see your blog, and read a couple of your entries (you still have a wonderful way with words…) although I couldn’t read too much because the afternoon tea shop and pub grub reviews made me long for some good-old British food – and I’m having shuijiao for lunch in a mo… 😦

  3. Richard – I love your entry on the area you say must have inspired avatar – amazing scenery! hope life is good for you – are you still working on COT I heard rumours that is was going to finish. maybe it should just be an online resource

    hope to see you next time you come over – shirlee x

  4. If they really want to keep spies off of the “sensitive” places in Matsu and Kinmen, then “High-ranking ROC Military Officers who are Retiring Soon”, should come before “Tourists and Resident Aliens” on the list of people not allowed.

  5. Richard, I visited the Yuntai Shan military intelligence building in Matsu in late 2011. They checked my ID extra carefully, but they did let me in. Strictly no taking pictures inside, though.

  6. One of the things I always apprecaited in Taiwan was the way visitors got charged the same as locals. If this were to change it would be a great shame. My partner is from Myanmar and there foreigners have to pay more and in dollars (rather than local currency). After a while it really gets on the nerves.

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