The secret’s out. Taipei is pretty darn cool.
To be honest with you, had it been up to me, I would never have come here. It wasn’t on my bucket list. But after this trip, I can’t wait to go back and explore all the places that we missed. Three days just wasn’t enough time to fully experience the city.
Not planning on taking any other international trips this year, it wasn’t until my sister invited us that we decided to go. But even after booking our tickets, I was still hesitant because it didn’t seem to have a lot of interesting places to visit, at least not on the surface. It didn’t look to have the charm of a Japan or the promise of adventure of a Thailand. Expecting no more than a glossy metropolis that lacked character, I kept my expectations to a minimum.
But as I’ve learned time and time again, it’s when you keep your expectations low that you’re apt to be surprised. That was definitely the case again here. As my sister put it, Taiwan is one of the best kept secrets among expats living in Asia. Now I know why.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHEN TO GO
Taiwan enjoys pleasant weather year-round with an average temperature of 22°C (71.6°F). The rainiest months are from May to September, with June to August being the height of typhoon seasoon. Avoid those months at all costs. I had an aunt who visited Taipei during that time and couldn’t go to a single night market because it was raining too hard. How much would that suck? Instead, shoot for October to February if you can. The weather is cool and dry and air pollution is at a minimum.
HOW TO GET THERE
Taipei has two international airports — Taoyuan and Songshan — but the vast majority of international flights are served by the former. Taoyuan is around 40 minutes away from the heart of Taipei so a taxi will be expensive, at least NT$ 1,200 depending on traffic. Take a bus instead as it’s the best and cheapest way to get to the city from the airport.
After going through immigration and collecting your luggage, proceed to the city bus ticketing counters. There are several bus lines to choose from, but I recommend Taiwan Bus Corp. (Kuo-Kuang). It operates 24 hrs and will take you to Taipei Main Station — which is the city’s central MRT station — for NT$ 125. You can follow this link for the Kuo-Kuang Line timetable. From there, you can take a taxi or the MRT to your hotel. Personally, I prefer the MRT because it’s easy to use and cheap. Depending on where your hotel is, you may want to take a different bus line so you can check this page on TripAdvisor for alternatives.
To go back to Taoyuan Airport from Taipei Main Station, just reverse the steps above. The fare is the same, with buses departing every 15-20 minutes between 4:30AM and 11:20PM.
HOW LONG TO STAY
We stayed for 3 nights but it wasn’t enough. It allowed us to visit the major sights within the city, but Taipei is so much more than that. Located just outside the city’s limits are fantastic hiking trails, hot springs, and Jiufen mining town — all of which I was disappointed to miss on this trip. If I could do it all over again, I would have stayed at least 5 nights.
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
We found Taipei to be surprisingly affordable, especially for a developed Asian country. If you share an inexpensive hotel room with someone, travel by MRT, and eat modestly, then you’ll be fine with a starting budget of around NT$ 1,800-2,000 a day.
We hardly did any shopping so you can increase your daily allowance based on how much shopping you want to do. Even then, shopping at night markets is cheap. As is the food. You can enjoy a great Taiwanese street feast for under USD 10. Apart from the Taipei 101 Observatory and urban shrimping, admission to all the places that we visited was free. The MRT is cheap and efficient as well, with most journeys costing just NT$ 25.
Banks offer the best exchange rates but the currency exchange booths at the airport are almost as good. There’s one right before you go through immigration and another at the baggage claim area. For convenience, I’d exchange some currency here especially if you arrive on a weekend. Hotels can exchange currency as well but at a less favorable rate. Be sure to keep any receipts issued because you’ll need them to change back any unused NT$ before departing Taiwan.
WHERE TO STAY: Dong Wu Hotel
The Taipei MRT is cheap and efficient so you can pretty much stay anywhere in the city as long as it’s near a station. Just a 5-minute walk from Daqiaotou MRT station and located right next to a Family Mart, Dong Wu is a convenient hotel that offers big rooms at reasonable rates. Making the reservation through Booking.com, we paid NT$ 1,960 a night for three nights over a weekend in October 2014. This came with free buffet breakfast, wifi access, and complete amenities.
Check out my post on Dong Wu Hotel in Taipei for more information.
Approximate Room Rate: NT$ 1,960 per night (as of Oct 2014)
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO
1. Eat Street Food and Go Shopping at a Night Market
Night markets are synonymous with Taipei. With several to choose from throughout the city, you should go to a different one every night if you can. If not, then Shilin and Raohe are two that you absolutely must go to. Open daily from 5PM to 12MN, you’ll find great bargains and some of Taipei’s best street food at these open air night markets.
Check out my post on Raohe and Shilin Night Markets in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Admission: FREE
2. Get a Killer View of Taipei from the Taipei 101 Observatory
Once holding the distinction of being the world’s tallest building, there’s no better place to get a bird’s eye view of Taipei than at the Taipei 101 Observatory. Located on the 89th floor, the world’s fastest elevators will shoot you up to the observatory in a mind-numbing 37 seconds. Sure makes up for that 45-minute wait… 🙂
Check out my post on Taipei 101 in Taiwan for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Admission: NT$ 600 for adults
3. Go Urban Shrimping
A popular Taiwanese pastime, spend a relaxing hour or two fishing for shrimp and drinking beers at one of these indoor concrete pools. Whatever you catch you can barbecue on the spot and eat. Fun!
Check out my post on urban shrimping in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-2 hrs / Cost: Minimum NT$ 350
4. Feel Tiny at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
I wasn’t sure whether to include this in our itinerary at first, but I’m glad that I did. A monument to former ROC president and KMT general Chiang Kai-shek, you’ll be amazed by the sheer size of the place. It’s MASSIVE.
Check out my post on Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1 hr / Admission: FREE
5. Get Artsy at a Creative Park
Interested in something a little more contemporary than the National Museum? If so, then look no further than Huashan and Songshan Creative Parks. Both are former factories that were repurposed into full-time arts and cultural venues. Apart from holding art exhibits and live cultural shows, they host fashion shows, product design expos, art seminars, and lifestyle bazaars all within an historic, industrial setting.
Check out my post on Huashan and Songshan Creative Parks in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs each / Admission: FREE
6. Go Shopping in Ximending
Filled with trendy shops and boutiques, the Ximending area is where young Taiwan goes to stimulate the economy and kill time. If you’ve been to Osaka, then you’ll find that it’s similar to Shinsaibashi.
7. Visit Jiufen Mining Town
I really wanted to visit this place but we just didn’t have time. About an hour away from Taipei in the mountainous Ruifang District, Jiufen was once a prosperous gold mining town. Today, it’s home to a maze of alleyways filled with interesting shops, teahouses, and food stalls. If you visit Taipei, then be sure to spend a day exploring this charming town. You can arrange for a full day tour of Jiufen and the northeast coast of Taiwan on Klook. If you prefer to explore on your own, then Klook offers just round trip transportation to Jiufen from Taipei as well. When we go back to Taiwan, this is the first place we’ll visit.
By Jordy Meow (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
To inspire you to visit Taipei, check out this awesome 10 Days in Taiwan video by Sean Wang. Just watching it made me want to experience Taiwan all over again. 🙂
9 THINGS TO EAT
Taipei is all about night markets and street food. Check out my post for a list of 9 delicious (and sometimes comical) things to eat in Taiwan.
Red-bean-filled penis waffles
WHERE TO EAT
1. Din Tai Fung
Home to what’s said to be the world’s best xiao long bao. If you’ve never had a xiao long bao before, it’s a type of pork dumpling filled with hot soup. There are many Din Tai Fung branches throughout the city but I suggest going to the one at Taipei 101. You can have lunch there before heading up to the observatory.
Check out my post on Din Tai Fung in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: NT$ 500 per person with drinks
2. Addiction Aquatic Development
A wet market / gourmet grocery / restaurant, Addiction Aquatic Development is home to some of the best and freshest seafood we’ve ever had. If you like seafood, then there’s absolutely no way that you can go to Taipei without enjoying at least a meal here. It’s so effing good. And surprisingly affordable too, considering the quality.
Check out my post on Addiction Aquatic Development in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: NT$ 750 per person with drinks
3. Night Markets
With so much delicious street food to be had at night markets, there’s really no need to have dinner anywhere else. You can stuff your face silly with just USD 8-10. Raohe is known for having some of the best street food in Taipei so I would definitely start there.
Check out my post on Raohe and Shilin Night Markets in Taipei for more pictures and information.
Expect to Pay: NT$ 250 per person with drinks
4. Tao Yuan Street Beef Noodle Shop
You know that a restaurant is good when it doesn’t have an actual name. Known only by its address — No. 15, Tao Yuan Street — this tiny, nondescript shop is one of just three restaurants that can lay claim to the title “Best Beef Noodle Soup” in all of Taipei.
Located near Ximending, you can have lunch here before shopping in the area. Get off at Ximen MRT station, exit 3. Go straight along Baoqing Road, then turn left on Taoyuan Road. You’ll see the restaurant on your right just before a minor T-junction. Follow the link to see where it is on Google Maps.
It’s pretty well-known so if you have any trouble finding it, just show the Chinese address to anyone on the street and they’ll help direct you to the place.
桃源街牛肉麵/老王記牛肉麵大王 (Taoyuan Street Beef Noodles/Old Wang Beef Noodles)
台北市桃源街十五號 (No. 15, TaoYuan Street, Jhongjheng District, Taipei City)
Tel: +886 2 2375-8973
Expect to Pay: NT$ 180 per bowl
To help you get your bearings, I’ve created this interactive map so you get a better sense of where everything is. Most of the places recommended in this guide are pinned on this map. (Tap on the thumbnail below to open up in full screen mode on mobile.)
1. Plan Your Trip with Sygic Travel (formerly Tripomatic)
This is a great app. Available for free on desktop and mobile devices, Sygic Travel allows you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you can see exactly how far you need to travel between points. It enables you to group attractions together so you can visit them in order and minimize travel time. With pocket wifi, it turns your mobile phone into a GPS tracking device so people with a poor sense of direction don’t get lost. Pretty awesome right? Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.
2. Rent A Pocket Wifi Device
I usually rent a pocket wifi device whenever we travel so I regretted not getting one for Taipei. It makes traveling easier and more fun when you have a constant wifi connection to do research, check maps, post on social media, etc. I guess it’s because this Taipei trip was unplanned so it slipped my mind. In any case, if you’d like to rent a pocket wifi device in Taiwan, then you can do so through Klook. They’re offering 4G pocket wifi devices for just NT$ 100 per day (instead of NT$ 199). Follow this link to rent a Taiwan pocket wifi device from Klook.
3. Check for Discount Passes
I recently discovered Klook and have been using them to get discounts on attractions and services. They offer deals in many cities throughout Asia including Taipei. If you’re looking for deals on tours, entrance fees, transfers, etc, then you may want to search through this list of Taipei attractions on Klook. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so it’s definitely worth a look. For example, I discovered ice fishing in Hokkaido thanks to Klook so I’ll be doing that in February 2017!
4. Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, it felt more like an added expense, one we didn’t need. But now that we travel more, I understand how important it is to have it. Fact is, you never know what can happen on the road. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.
Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day food trip to Penang may not really call for insurance but if you plan on doing more active things like bungee jumping, atv riding, or even going on a city bike tour, then I’d say travel insurance is a must.
We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow this link to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Taipei’s MRT is one of the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient subway systems we’ve ever used. If you’re staying within city limits, then you shouldn’t need any other form of transportation. The only time a taxi became absolutely necessary was when we took one from Shilin MRT station to the shrimping pools clustered north of the city.
Most MRT rides will cost you no more than NT$ 30 per destination. You can get an unlimited daily pass for NT$ 150, but I don’t think you’ll need it. We traveled exclusively by MRT on most days and we never paid more than NT$ 100 total on any given day. If you ever get lost, just remember that most Taiwanese can’t speak English but are very helpful. As long as you have the Chinese addresses printed on a piece of paper, then they’ll be more than willing to assist you.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A VISA
Great news! According to this article on ABS-CBN news, Filipinos will no longer need visas to Taiwan for stays of up to thirty (30) days beginning this June 2017. This means that all Philippine passport holders, regardless of status, will be able to enter Taiwan visa-free same as Hong Kong! Woohoo!
But if you’re traveling to Taiwan before 1 June 2017, then you’ll still need to secure a tourist visa. Provided that you have all the necessary paperwork, it’s a relatively quick and easy process, even easier if you have a valid or recently expired (10 years) US, CANADA, UK, JAPAN, KOREA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, and/or SCHENGEN visa. Check out my post on how to apply for a Taiwan tourist visa for a step-by-step process.
HOW TO GET CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS
Ever since I scored my first piso fare from Cebu Pacific, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to cheap airline tickets. Our tickets to Taipei with a shared 15 kg baggage allowance came out to just a little over PHP 5,000 each roundtrip. How awesome is that?
These piso fare tickets are limited and sell fast, so you have to be quick. To give yourself an advantage, I suggest liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter to quickly find out about these seat sales. If you check off “Get notifications” on Facebook, then you’ll receive instant alerts every time they post something new.
I’m not an expert on Taipei but I do hope that you find this post useful. I’m only sharing some of the things that I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by and have fun in Taiwan!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Taiwan. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
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