Wandering In Taiwan: Travel Tips For First-Timers
My recent trip to the Heart of Asia is my favorite one so far. Why? Well short answer is: the food, the people, and the city in general is nothing short of amazing. My parents and I never had a bad meal while we were there. Both the street food and the restaurants offer A+ dishes.
The people, in our experience, are respectful, polite, and friendly. Even if some of them can barely understand or speak English, they'll try as much as they can to help you with directions, or with explaining what they're selling, or even details of things on display in their museums.
The city is a beautiful mix of the old and the new. There are traditional Chinese structures, the ones that you've probably have seen in movies once or twice, and then there are ultra modern skyscrapers that stun you the moment you lay your eyes on it (I'm talking about you Taipei 101). Honestly, walking in the streets of Taipei and the places we went to in the North Eastern part of Taiwan felt like I was in a large movie set. It was surreal.
If these things don't convince you to pack your bags and book that ticket to Taiwan, I don't know what else will. But if these things tickled your fancy and you're a bit clueless on how to start planning your first trip to the Heart of Asia, read on!
things you should know before your trip
Visa-Free Entry For Filipinos
The Taiwanese government recently lifted the visa requirements for Filipinos starting from November 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018 only. If you're visiting for no longer than 14 days, you are not required to get a visa before you visit Taiwan as long as you meet the following requirements:
- A passport with remaining validity of at least six (6) months from the date of entry
- A return ticket or an onward ticket to your next destination
- A proof of accommodation (hotel) booking or sponsor’s contact information, or arrangements of tour or events
- A completed “Arrival Card” (which airlines usually provide you with during the flight)
- You must not have a criminal record in Taiwan
If you meet all the requirements above, you're all set to enter Taiwan! For more details, you can check out this post on the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in The Philippines' website.
If you are visiting after the visa-free entry period, you must obtain a Taiwanese tourist visa before entering the country. Now, I don't have a personal experience with this but here's a good article to read.
Good to know Travel Tips
- Exchange your PHP to USD before you leave the country - Money changers are regulated in their country so you won't be able to exchange your Pesos anywhere. There's only one bank in the entire city of Taipei that exchanges Philippine Peso to New Taiwan Dollar and that's the Bank of Taiwan.
Have your Pesos exchanged in US Dollars before you leave the country because there are more banks that exchanges it to NTD. And for sure the rates will be so much better. Don't make the same mistake we did!
- Check the weather and pack appropriately - My parents and I went to Taiwan last February and it was still their "winter season" there. I haven't been to cold countries before so I totally underestimated the 9 degree (Celsius) temperature! I only packed a denim jacket, two sweaters, and a thin olive green hoodie and it was definitely not enough. I had to buy a pair of gloves in Ximending to thaw out my frozen fingers. So before you leave, check the weather and pack right.
- Buy the EasyCard - This is similar to Singapore's EZ Link Card and Hong Kong's Octopus Card. The EasyCard is basically your one-tap payment for their metro, for their buses, for buying stuff in convenience stores such as 7/11 and FamilyMart, and even for your admission to the Taipei Zoo!
You can buy this in MRT stations and in convenience stores for NTD 100 but that's just your payment for the card itself. After buying it, you need to load it with credits. You can top-up in MRT stations and convenience stores too. For me, this is more convenient than purchasing single journey tickets because you can use it for a lot of things. More details in this article.
When you arrive in Taiwan, you will be landing in Taoyuan Airport which is about 20 minutes away from Taipei. I suggest taking the airport train to the Taipei Main Station. It's a lot cheaper than taking a taxi. Make sure to get a copy of their metro route map in the airport too when you arrive. Here's a helpful link you can read to prepare.
- Buy a local sim card - I've learned a lot from my previous trips abroad and so for my Taiwan trip, I made sure to buy a local sim card. Just like their money changers, their government also regulates the selling of sim cards so you can't buy them anywhere.
I bought one when we arrived in the airport and subscribed to the 5-day unlimited call and text. Plus, it also has (I think) 1GB worth of data. Their 4G network is freakin' fast and strong that you can even use it in their underground metro. I had to emphasize this because it's so different from the Philippines.
Now that you've got these tips in mind, let's move on to the bloody parts haha!
How To Get There
If you're coming from the Philippines, there are flights available from major cities in the country to Taipei. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines offers flights from Manila or Cebu or Davao to Taipei, while AirAsia only has flights from Manila or Cebu to Taipei.
Most of the time, airfare prices can be expensive that's why you have to carefully plan your travel date. As much as possible, book your flights months ahead. For us, since I wanted to treat my parents before their wedding anniversary (this was in February), we had to leave a week in advance. I booked the tickets in December 2017 and that was too close to the travel date already. I wasn't able to score promo tickets but the regular ones instead which was about 7, 200 + (per person) for Manila to Taipei and back.
Round trip tickets can actually go as low as 4,000 Pesos. Just keep your eyes peeled for the latest promos especially the elusive Piso Fare by Cebu Pacific.
If you're not coming from the Philippines, you can check our websites like Rome2Rio to know the best possible routes to take. Skyscanner also offers budget-friendly and good deals when it comes to flights.
Where To Stay
There are a lot of places you can stay in Taiwan. Whether you're visiting Taipei or in any other side of the country and you're looking for a luxury experience or you're on a tight budget — the options are endless.
I don't have a personal experience with staying in expensive hotels so I can't give you suggestions on this, but a good place to search for it would be Agoda.com and bump up the price filter to your budget.
When choosing a place to stay, make sure to check not only its price but also its location, reviews, and amenities. Send them a message if you have questions. They sometimes respond to Facebook or Twitter messages faster than email. Don't just take note of the star ratings too because sometimes people rate accommodations not because of their price, location or amenities but their experience with the staff and the people they met there.
Since my parents wanted all of us to stay in one room, dorm hostels were definitely not in our choices (which is usually my pick if it were just me). So we stayed in Taipei York Hostel 2 in Ximen. We booked a room that's good for three people and we paid 2,288 PHP (44 USD) per night. It was super worth the price because there's one double bed, one single bed, a heater, AC, a TV, a spacious closet, a hair dryer, a mini fridge, a small kitchen, heated shower, and fast WiFi, to name a few.
The small kitchen was perfect because we were able to save money on food. We only had to go down to the 7/11 (there's one in the building where we were staying) or the market and buy food that are easy to cook. The location was excellent too because it was several blocks away from the Ximending Shopping District and the metro.
I also recommend searching for places to stay in AirBNB. You can rent out an entire home or just a private room. Again, take time to research and look into the homes. Send the host a message if you want to clarify things.
If you want to book through AirBNB, get 30 USD (1,600 PHP) off your first booking by using my LINK!
What To Do
Okay, honestly, there are a million things to do in Taiwan, not just in Taipei. It's pretty difficult for me to write this part of the guide but I'll do it anyway haha. Let me talk about some of the things that we did and the things we wish we did to give you an idea of what you can do during your trip too.
Visit The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Complex
I think this is a must-do especially for first time visitors in Taiwan. In the complex, you'll see the Arch of Liberty Square, the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the NTCH Arts Plaza. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall houses pictures and personal mementos that once belonged to Chiang Kai Shek, Taiwan's former president. It's an interesting site to visit and if you're a history junkie, you'll enjoy this place. Also, the architecture of the buildings in the complex is beautiful.
It's easy to go to the complex place by metro. There's a station dedicated for it. Look for the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall station on the route map :)
Check out the night markets
Night markets are a huge thing in all of Taiwan. In Taipei alone, there are three popular night markets namely the Ximending Shopping District, Shilin Night Market, and the Raohe Night Market. The closest one to where we were staying was the Ximending Shopping District. Most of the people there are in the younger age group. Some blogs also said that it's comparable to Shinjuku in Japan and Myeongdong in South Korea.
On our last day, we went to Shilin Night Market. From the Taipei Main Station, you have to get on the Tamsui-Xinyi line. The Shilin Night Market was overwhelming but I had so much fun seeing what people were selling. There are a lot of boutiques and food stalls. You'll be satisfied and full for less with the variety of street food available.
Go on a day trip to the North Eastern part of Taiwan
There are tours available that will take you from Taipei to the North Eastern part of Taiwan. The usual places in the itinerary includes the Yehliu Geopark, the Shifen Old Street, the Shifen Waterfall, and the Jiufen Old Street. KKDAY come highly recommended by most Filipino bloggers but of course, they're not the only ones offering this kind of day tour.
I like my experience with KKDAY because of how well we were accommodated. We were also given enough time to explore each area on our own. Our tour guide, Sharon was funny and helpful. When my mama needed to buy a pair of plastic boots to replace her soaked sneakers, the lady in charge in the store didn't understand English. Sharon was quick to help with the translation.
Of course you can choose to go to these places on your own without a tour group. Unfortunately, I haven't tried this yet so I can't suggest anything specific about this. However, what I do suggest is to Google on how to get from point A to B like "How to go from Taipei to Yehliu Geopark". For sure, there will be tons of forums and blogs that will help you plan your DIY trip.
See the taipei 101 up close
If this is going to be your first time in Taipei, don't miss seeing the popular skyscraper! You can choose to go to Taipei 101 itself or climb up the Elephant Mountain during the late afternoons to get a better view of the tower and the city while the sun sets. Inside the building, there's a mall and a food court. Most of the shops are high-end brands though, kind'a like the Petronas Twin Towers in KL and Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
It's easy to go to Taipei 101 too if you're riding the metro. Get on the Tamsui-Xinyi Line and look for the Taipei 101 station on the map.
Visit The Huashan 1914 Creative Park
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This park is filled with beautiful cafes, shops selling local and independent labels, and interactive museums. If you're someone who loves all things art and you want to check out the sort-of "surface level" of the art scene in Taipei, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a good place to start. Get a cup of coffee in Fujin Tree or in any of the quaint cafes there too. You won't regret it :)
Take A Day Trip to Taichung
If we had stayed longer in Taiwan, we would have gone on a day trip to Taichung to see the Rainbow Village and Zhong She Flower Market. Taichung is super accessible via the THSR or the Taiwan High Speed Rail. You can buy tickets in the Taipei Main Station and from there it takes about an hour to reach Taichung.
So that's pretty much it! I hope this has helped you plan your Taiwan getaway :)
I also suggest to check out and read other blogs too. One good search engine for when you're searching for activities to do and places to go in Taiwan is Pinterest. There are tons and tons of valuable resources there that will definitely help you with your trip. I know because it has helped me!
Good luck, enjoy your trip and I wish you more travels!