When a Philippine news site reported about an upcoming visa-free entry to Taiwan, my Facebook notifications exploded like baby it’s a firework. Well, it’s not really surprising given Pinoys’ current travel fever coupled with me spamming Facebook with Taiwan travel stories. I guess I was baffled that some people really read what I wrote.
As my notifications took a chill pill, I realized that maybe all my Taiwan blabbing were, if anything, effective. It’s actually the best pay-it-forward I could think of considering how this lovely island took care of me for the last 5 years and counting. Kinda gets me nostalgic especially now that I’ve just applied for permanent residency.
Taiwan is a lovely underrated travel destination, and its people among the nicest well-mannered folks you’ll ever meet on this planet. Seriously.
That said, I now decided to push through with a blog series that can guide fellow Pinoys and foreigners to Taiwan, especially those who’ll come here for the first time. Hopefully, this personal travel guide could also give you the basics you need to explore what Taiwan has to offer at your own pace, in your own way, local style. Imma give you the street smarts you’ll need. 😉
To officially start this personal passion project (naks naman haha) here are some FAQs which could cover all the important first-timer questions you may have in mind:
1. Why should I visit Taiwan?
Taiwan isn’t known for Disneyland or Universal Studios or any of those theme parks you’re familiar with. If you want visuals to entice you, Taipei 101 and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial hall should do it.
Have you ever wondered how China and Japan might be like if they’re combined? Wonder no more once you’re here. Throw in a little bit of K-Pop and you got East Asia packed in an island. And you can spend time here with a budget you’d also reserve for some SEA countries like Thailand.
There are only three things you should remember to do here: sightseeing, eating, and shopping for cheap original brands.
I personally love the sightseeing part, because Taiwan is home to picturesque naturally-preserved flora and fauna within its many mountain forest parks. You don’t even need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy places such as Yangmingshan. As a special note, outdoorsy folks who’ve always wanted to experience the great outdoors conveniently would have a swell time here.
We here in Taiwan love nature. We only go to malls if summer’s blazingly hot. Otherwise, the mountains are all we need.
But if you ain’t just that, don’t worry, the laid-back culture of Taiwan will still give you lots of reasons to chill out and enjoy your time here.
2. How many days do I need to enjoy Taiwan?
If you’re coming here for the first time, I’d recommend staying in Taipei for 3-5 days. You might even be able to squeeze in a quick day trip outside Taipei within those 5 days.
But if you’ve been here before, I’d say give it two weeks. That’ll be enough for you to go around the island. I have a friend who did that before, but it might mean you’d van-hop from one place to another and it could be tiring. There are also round-the-island cycling events held annually in Taiwan and that goes for 9 days straight, so I’m guessing two weeks is the optimum amount of time to fully enjoy the entirety of this island.
BUT if you want to enjoy Taiwan at a super chill, relaxed pace then better be here a month. You’d probably come out talking some Mandarin too by the end of it.
3. How much money do I need for my trip?
My personal daily allowance is around NTD 500 maximum. This means I can spend up to 200 NTD each for lunch and dinner, and leave 100 NTD as travel expense.
But let’s dissect that thought further.
Meals in Taipei range from el cheapo 40 NTD (local carinderia style/convenience store food) up to 300 NTD (restaurant meals). However, eating at local eateries may not be easy for foreigners who are the epitome of tim bu dong. You might need a bit of Mandarin skills to order food, because most homegrown eateries are family-owned and manned by older folks. Some places have English menus but these translated menus aren’t really a standard here. You can still try to ask for it though, as I’ve noticed most places now try to serve foreign visitors too. If all else fails, Google Translate is your best friend.
When I was new, convenience stores were my lifesaver.They still are, up to now, when I’m too tired to figure out how to order what I want. According to one local taxi driver, this is the unofficial ranking of convenience stores: 7-11 > Family Mart > Hi Life > OK Mart.
There’s also street food at night markets, but note that night markets aren’t open until 5PM.
Travel is bearable if you don’t have problems with long walks. If you’re used to hustling it in Singapore/Hong Kong, Taipei will just be piece of cake to you. Both the MRT and inter-city buses are convenient, though the latter might be a little tricky at first. MRT fares range from 14 NTD to 32 NTD while bus rides are a flat rate of 15 NTD per stop or full route. Taxis start at 80 NTD, and drivers would only attempt a “contract” price when traveling to a tourist spot outside Taipei.
I haven’t tried a hotel staycation in Taipei, but my friends have good experiences with hostels here. AirBnBs are also good. Just make sure you rent one near the blue or red MRT line. I think 1000 NTD per night is doable, maybe even less if you’re going to split among friends or stay in dorm-type hostels.
You can bring money in USD or already in NTDs. If you need to exchange more moolah while in the city, you can only do so in banks or in forex counters within malls. You can freely withdraw from Cathay United ATMs using your Philippine ATM debit card/credit card but be aware that fees could be hefty. Last I checked, it’s around 2% of the total in NTD plus other applicable bank fees.
4. Where should I stay?
If it’s your first time in Taiwan, stay in Taipei preferably near Taipei Main MRT, Ximen MRT, or Zhongshan MRT station. If you can’t, then just make sure you’re along the red or blue MRT line nearest to either of those stations. Other places are also okay but they may be farther away from the Airport MRT or Taoyuan airport bus stations which are located near the MRT stations I mentioned.
If you’re here again, and have exhausted Taipei’s hotspots, I would suggest you try to concentrate on another county and stay there for at least 3 days. A good follow-up to Taipei is Taichung, Kaohsiung, or even just go straight to Hualien because of this beautiful place that UNESCO should definitely include in their list—Taroko Gorge.
If you’ve covered all those already, proceed to Taitung or Penghu and let me know when coz I haven’t been there either and Imma go with you! Haha.
5. Do locals speak English?
In Taipei, you won’t have problems talking to locals in English, though older folks may not be too keen to speak it. Whatever your circumstances may be, I can confidently assure you that LOCALS WOULD ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO HELP YOU. It’s a Taiwanese thing and I personally love them for it. 🙂
Tip: If you notice a local trying to answer your questions in English but isn’t too fluent with it, try to ask questions in broken English or simpler terms. For example: Instead of saying “Where can I find the MRT station” just say “Where is MRT?” It’s also helpful to have the Google Translate app so you can check how English words sound or look like in Traditional Chinese. Take note, they speak/read/write here in TRADITIONAL CHINESE. You can just show the words/phrases to them and for sure they’d help you out.
6. Is there free Wi-Fi anywhere?
Not really. There is free Wi-Fi inside/near MRT stations and bus stations, however, you can’t just be anywhere in Taiwan and expect to find free networks to connect to.
You can also seek help from a Visitor Center in MRT stations if you’re having problems registering to free Wi-Fi.
If you’re traveling in a group, you may want to invest on a pocket Wi-Fi that can be rented at the airport. You can also buy a data SIM card soon as you arrive, or at Chung-Hwa telecom stores you’ll find here. It’s a worthwhile investment, because it runs on 4G.
7. What type of souvenirs or pasalubong should I buy?
Oolong tea! Green tea! Alishan tea! My favorite place to buy tea is at Ten-Ren’s as they’re easy to find all over Taipei and their tea is good and affordable.
If you’re not a tea person nor your pasalubong recipients, you can just give them any of these: pineapple cakes, mochi, nougat, black sesame crispies, beef/pork jerky.
The best place to buy food souvenirs from are groceries such as Carrefour or PX Mart (those blue and red groceries with Chinese characters). Next best places would be at night markets where they are sold wholesale.
Other than tea or food, and if you have money for it, then splurge on jade accessories. Real ones can be bought at the National Cultural Gift Center near NTU Hospital MRT, or at the jade market. But of course, expect them real ones to be pricey.
8. Do gadgets have international warranty?
As far as I know, brand-new Apple products have international warranty and come with optional Apple Care. For other brands, it depends. Samsung’s got international warranty if you buy them from their very own shops.
Most of the brands you’d buy at local stores in Taiwan would sell gadgets at cheaper prices because they only offer store warranties. And they’re all guaranteed to be originals unless they say Br. Deats instead of Dr. Beats (true story).
9. How come other branded items are so cheap, are these for real?
Gap, Uniqlo, and H&M are my personal faves and go-to’s as you can find many affordable stuff there even if they’re not on sale. And don’t even get me started on shoes, especially the Converse and Vans you’d find in night markets. I can go on and on and include items such as luxury bags, Western/Japanese cosmetics, outdoor gear… I guess it’s because most of these brands are made in China and they enjoy lower taxes as imported here in Taiwan. I guess.
If you’re looking for a nice local brand to buy clothes from, I wholeheartedly recommend the pants and jeans from NET. So cheap, so good. Also, Giordano? God I love those shirts as pasalubong too.
So that’s it for now! Whew, that was long but feels fun to share. 5 years worth of getting lost, being misunderstood, yet having such awesome adventures in Taiwan hehe…
How about specific places, you ask? Foods to try? Wait for it… 😉
For now, I hope all these recent Taiwan info can already get you started and enjoy planning your trip to Taiwan.
‘Til next guide! Zai jian!