A cold snap descended on Taiwan this week, resulting in weather advisories for the northern end of the Island. For those of us who call Ilha Formosa home, it was a signal to pull out our long underwear and heavy blankets, and transition fully into our winter routines. For those of you who are new to Taiwan or who have not spent a lot of time in Southeast Asian in the winter months, we decided to write this post for you. Welcome, it can definitely get chilly here.
Although Taiwan straddles to the Tropic of Cancer and tends to err on the side of “too warm” rather than “too cold,” the months of December through February do get cool. You will often see temps between 6-12 degrees in the northern end of the country. In rare cases it can drop to freezing and in higher elevations on the Island it is not uncommon to find snow. Add to this overcast skies, rain, and high humidity alongside cement structures and tiled floors with to minimal to no indoor heating and it can feel more like damp winter camping than a stay at a nordic ski lodge. This can come as a particular shock to those from northern climates who are used to colder temperatures but who are also used to it being warmer inside. The question most expats find themselves asking their first winter in Taiwan is: “how do I get warm?”
Luckily we happen to have a few tricks up our sleeve.
Approach the problem the way you would when winter camping, going skiing, or spending time outdoors. Layer. Get used to wearing a multiple base layers, followed by a sweater, sweatshirt, and or jacket. Long johns and long socks are your new friends and remember that in a humid climate like Taiwan, cotton is not. Be prepared to wear these layers indoors as well as out and about. Keeping your head and neck warm go a long way to keeping the rest of your body warm as well. If you are in Taiwan and in need of a winter coat, Uniqlo is often an easy place to find relatively stylish and affordable jackets. Remember too to stay dry.
There are multiple reasons that slippers and flip flops are common indoors in Taiwan and other parts of Asia, not the least of which is that it provides your feet with insulation from a cold tile or formica floor. That small layer makes a massive difference. Investing in a pair of fluffy slippers at your local shoe stand will go a very long way to keeping your feet warm when hanging around your apartment. Some people will also get smaller throw rugs or mats for next to their desk or couch to add an even extra layer of separation from the floor.
Throughout Asia, and in Taiwan it is common to see people carrying glass or plastic water bottles in the winter time filled with hot water and or tea. If you have not purchased your own bottle already, we’d recommend you join the club and add this to your next shopping list. Basically, the hot water bottle will heat you twice. Once through the ambient heat it provides your hands or pocket as well as the warmth that comes when drinking it. Further more, and throughout Asia, hot water is widely considered to a curer of most ills. In our view, ingesting more of it in the winter months certainly won’t hurt your chances of staving off a common cold.
If your electric bill will allow, and you are able to remember to turn them off, electric heaters and electric blankets make for wonderful companions in the winter months. It’s not quite the same thing as a fireplace but sitting next to a heater on a cool day or hopping into a bed warmed by an electric blanket can make a world of difference. Otherwise, heavy blankets and a hot water bottle will do the trick. We often like to get hand warmers from a local grocery store for evenings or afternoons out with friends.
Surviving your first winter in Taipei can feel a little like waging war against the cold. As such do your reconnaissance. Find the places and the stores that have heat: coffee shops, shopping malls, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, etc. Like our winged and furry friends in the outdoors, develop a different set of routines in the winter months and leverage these to your advantage. Working or spending a few hours in a warm coffee shop with cushioned chairs is vastly different than shivering on a cold wooden seat in the local library.
One of the tried and true ways of warming up is to take a hot shower. In the winter in Taiwan time these and make sure to fully dry and bundle yourself afterwards. On the topic of hot water, Taiwan is famous for its hot springs. Taking time for a soak a few times a winter or even a few times a week can be quality of life changing.
While we don’t advise this one all the time, on select, cold and drier days, boiling a pot of water on the stove can be a very effective means of raising the humidity level in one’s apartment and warming it up quickly. Alternatively, making a larger meal or hearty stew can be just as effective. Again, use your judgement and don’t go overboard with this method. We have known one or two overzealous expats who have accidentally turned their apartments into a steam bath that then left everything more damp when it cooled.
On the topic of heating things up, when the winter months roll around, you can often find us at Poprooms drinking tea and making soups and chili. Black tea, ginger tea with a bit of brown sugar, and citron tea are our go-to winter survival brews. We consume these in the gallons. On the soup front, we are particularly partial to French Onion soup and even enjoy whipping up a beef stew on occasion. The powdered corn soup that is popular and easy to buy in Taiwan is not half bad either. Otherwise, when we eat out, in the winter time we will always eat something warm and or with warm liquids. Hot doujiang, coffee, bubble tea, noodles, dumplings, etc.
Use the winter months as a means of getting into shape. Pushups, Burpies, crunches, and planks are all great ways of warming up fast.
Surviving the winter in Taipei should include always include a trip to warmed latitudes. This can mean leaving for other parts of Southeast Asia, but, for the more economically inclined, the southern and western parts of the Island are far drier and warmer than the north and east coasts. If you go just a few hours south to Tainan or Kaohsiung the temperature is often markedly warmer and there is a good chance you might even find blue skies. These can be great destinations for a day or weekend trip.
We mentioned this already, but in the winter eat warm. Hot pot and dumplings are popular in Taiwan in the winter months, as are roasted sweet potatoes and corn. If you can stand it, this is also the time of year to up your spice game and start to warm yourself from the inside out.
Over the years, plenty of locals and foreigners alike have devised methods for coping with the cold in Taipei. While less than conventional, these are some of the ideas that we have read about, seen, or heard of (mostly from foreigners) over the years. We thought we would include a few below in the off chance that they might help alleviate the chill.
To deal with the cold in Taipei people: