In June 2009, in response to public support, sex workers’ protests, and academic research (!), the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration announced that prostitution was to be decriminalized, on the grounds of treating prostitution as a matter of human rights. For emphasis, read that again: a matter of human rights. “The government concluded that punishing sexual transactions only forced them underground, leaving sex workers open to abuse.”  No shit.
Somewhere along the line, the existing legislation was declared unconstitutional, for reasons nobody is prepared to explain. While decriminalization could initially be perceived as an attempt to undermine the criminal element, i.e. the gangsters who were running the show, Ma took it a step further and declared that sexual transactions between consenting adults should be “governed by personal, educational and religious considerations, rather than by laws, and therefore, the sex trade should be regulated like any other occupation.”  The previous laws were also considered to be ineffective, leaving the question of where people could engage in prostitution up to local governments. However, the administration’s proposal to allow those local governments to establish red-light districts was met with opposition, particularly by Taipei City mayor, Hau Lung-bin, who warned of Taiwan becoming a destination for sex tourism. Nevertheless, in October 2010 the government announced it was planning to allow small brothels to operate; meanwhile, the laws are no longer being enforced.
Do you see the conundrum here? If sexual transactions between consenting adults should not be governed by law, then what the fuck do you mean it should be regulated like any other occupation? What is regulation but application and enforcement of laws? If paying for sex (or selling sex for money) is a matter of human rights, how the fuck are you going to regulate that without having a framework of laws? You can’t. Now, I know President Ma couldn’t come right out and say, “The KMT has decided to nationalize the sex trade, and since we’re running the country, guess who’s the new pimp on the block? This guy!” because it wouldn’t get the laughs and the dual thumbs-up.
In comparison, adultery is also technically illegal in Taiwan, but the subject rarely comes up in public debate unless someone famous is going through a nasty divorce. This in turn doesn’t quite explain the proliferation of love hotels, but it does explain the need for love hotels with underground parking lots. Take this with a grain of salt since this is purely my experience, but adultery in Taiwan is no more unusual or uncommon than any other First World country. Not everybody does it, but given the right circumstance and opportunity, more of them do than don’t. For many men, particularly successful businessmen, it is considered a requirement to have a wife in Taipei City, a mistress in Taoyuan, and a couple of KTV hookers on call in Macau.
Gambling is semi-legal in Taiwan. There are no casinos (yet) but Taiwan Lottery Shops are abundant. Informal card games, high-stakes or otherwise, are also prohibited but tolerated. However, gambling is a serious social problem and this is where the gangs get involved, and Taiwan has a thriving underworld. Yours truly doesn’t want any beef, so let’s keep this part brief. Recreational drugs are also illegal in Taiwan. Smuggling is punishable by death. There’s a big sign at the airport, it’s the first thing you see when you get off the plane.
Can you buy drugs in Taiwan? Of course you can. Do people get busted for it? All the time, brothers and sisters. All the time. Every single crocodile will tell you the same thing: if you want to stay in Taiwan and out of jail, do not discuss, seek out, or use drugs for the duration of your stay.