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It’s no secret that I love Taiwan, or that I didn’t love it at all the first two weeks I was there. I spent a month in Taiwan making my way around the little island, spending most of my time in Taipei. I ended up going back between Japan and the Philippines and on my way home, which was awesome since I was there long enough to actually spend time in the city. It may have been a rough start, but I ended up loving it and it’s pretty close to the top of the list of places I’d love to go back to, here’s why.
It’s surprisingly budget friendly
I was actually surprised at how budget friendly Taiwan was. I really didn’t think it would be a bank breaker either, but I was surprised at how affordable it was. I mean, you could try eight different things at a night market for the same as a sit-down meal. Way awesome. It’s really perfect for backpackers.
Helpful budget tips:
- Stay in hostel dorms for cheap accommodation. I think most were between $12 and $25 per night. I stayed at Meander Taipei (which I would highly recommend) and loved it. A bed in a dorm was around $15, depending on the day of the week.
- Eat at night markets instead of restaurants. You get to try all kinds of food for 40-100 NTD per dish, which basically evens out with a sit-down restaurant meal.
- Walk or take the MRT instead of taxies or Ubers. It’s not usually terribly far between MRT stops so it can be fun to walk if it’s nice out instead of taking the MRT (which is also super cheap.)
- If you are taking taxies or Ubers, try to find fellow backpackers to split the cost with.
- Instead of taking a taxi from Taoyuan (the main airport, about $30, Uber is right around there, too) take the bus and MRT, it’s super easy and way cheaper. This isn’t an option after a certain time, so a taxi may be necessary.
The food is delicious
I’ve also made it known that I’m not a huge fan of Asian food. Like, when I’m home I might eat it once a year. Maybe. But once I was there, I was more open to trying the food and actually really enjoyed most of it, stinky tofu aside. I ended up eating my weight in dumplings and noodles while I was there.
Tips for eating in Taiwan:
- Try all of the things.
- Go to the hot pot place across from Meander Taipei and treat yo self.
- Try out a themed restaurant. Keep in mind these are more about the experience than the food. I would recommend Modern Toilet if you can only make it to one.
- Go to the Original Din Tai Fung (a Michelin Star restaurant) on Xinyi Street, right by the Dongmen stop on the MRT. If you want to go to Taipei 101 and are limited on time, there is one there as well. There are a few others scattered around Taipei, too.
- Spend some time exploring the coffee shops around Taipei, too. There are tons of awesome ones.
- Don’t be afraid to use chopsticks, even if you don’t know how. I didn’t but had to learn. I just picked them up and held them a way that worked for me. Dumplings are a good first thing to try them on since they’ll probably stick to the chopsticks.
Getting around is super easy
I almost cried standing alone in the MRT station for the first time. There were so many people. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what to do. WHAT IS THE MRT? It’s the subway system in Taipei, in case you’re wondering. That’s how I felt. I finally stopped a lady before I actually cried and she showed me what to do. Turns out it’s super easy and nothing to cry over unless you’re really stressed or something. Trains are a little more confusing, but they’re still pretty easy to navigate. If you can’t figure it out, just look lost. Someone will probably help you. Walking around is super easy and fun, too and Google Maps works so you can use that to navigate. And if none of that sounds good to you, there are taxies and Uber, too.
Tips for getting around:
- Want to know how to use the MRT in Taipei? Just go to the little pay kiosk things, find your destination on the MRT map and put in however much money it says next to your final stop. Put that in the machine and take the token it spits out. Head down to the color line you need to start on and you’re on your way!
- Keep change handy to pay for the MRT and trains.
- If you can’t figure out which platform your train is leaving from, just show your ticket to pretty much anyone and ask which platform it is. They’ll probably be able to point you in the right direction.
- You can buy train tickets from a person or machine. Asking a Person is easy because you just tell them where you want to go and give them money. Machines are a little harder but similar to the MRT.
- It’s super easy to take the different trains all around the island.
- If you have no idea what to do, just look confused and someone will probably help you, walking or in the MRT station. If no one volunteers, just stop someone and ask. I even did that and I’m not big on that kind of thing because I’m just shy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for directions if you’re walking.
- If you don’t know where the closest MRT station is, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Google Maps is awesome for helping navigate on foot. Just load where you want to go while you have Wifi (which all the MRT stations have) and open it once you’re walking. This was a lifesaver and made walking to places a thousand times easier. Except the 24 hour bookstore. It didn’t take us to that.
I looooove the night markets in Taiwan and was super sad these weren’t a thing in Japan. There was the Nishiki Market in Kyoto, but it closed pretty early, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late. But, that’s when Taiwan’s night markets are just opening and they go to midnight(ish.) They’re super affordable and you can find pretty much anything there from shoes to bubble tea and carnival games to stinky tofu.
Tips for visiting night markets in Taiwan:
- Ask at your hotel or hostel which ones are recommended and to make sure they are actually open. Some have weird hours or are closed on certain days. Never fear, if one is closed, another will be open.
- Small coins and change are perfect for night markets (and an awesome place to lighten up your wallet.)
- While you’re waiting in line, get your money ready so you can just hand it over and go if you have exact change. If not, still have it ready so you can hand it over and wait for your change.
- Don’t be afraid to try anything. It’s fun to try some of the weirder stuff.
- Go with other people to split things if you want to try a lot of things but don’t want to eat it all or waste it. Don’t be pushy about sharing, though. Suggest it and if people don’t seem into it, let it go. It’s all pretty cheap anyways.
- Some things to try: bubble tea, large fried chicken, oyster soup, steamed pork buns, oyster omelet, dumplings, seafood, Taiwanese sausage, and fried squid. These are just a few things, there’s WAY more out there.
- Don’t pass on the stinky tofu. I did not enjoy it, but it’s fun to try, that’s for sure.
- If you’re in Taipei around Chinese New Year make a trip to Dihua Street Market. Go on an empty stomach since you can get samples of pretty much everything here. There are also all kinds of decorations for sale that could make fun souvenirs.
- They are all pretty easy to get to via the MRT. Just look up the closest stops and get directions from there or ask at your accommodation.
- They’re also an awesome place to practice street photography. Some of my favorite pictures of Taiwan are from the night markets.
The people are awesome
Everyone says this about everywhere. The people were wonderful! They were so nice! Yes. We get it. But not everyone everywhere is so nice. BUT, I did find people to be pretty helpful here. Most were after I asked for help, others just offered if I looked like I needed it. I don’t really have tips for this, other than be nice. Instead, I’ll share my experiences of this.
- You already know that someone helped me my first time in the MRT station, so I won’t go back into that, but remember it.
- The first time using the train, trying to buy tickets, we had no idea what we were doing. Someone stopped to help us figure out the machine and showed us how to use it and where to go from there.
- Every time I wasn’t sure I was on the right train platform, I asked and people always helped me to the right one if I wasn’t there.
- When we went to the Huashan Creative Park, we walked so we had no idea where the closest MRT station was. We asked someone and he didn’t speak English so instead of pointing vaguely, he walked us the 4-7 blocks to the station.
- When I went to Lanyu, I was very overwhelmed. The day I was trying to get a flight back to Taitung, someone from my flight onto Lanyu was there and he helped me buy a ticket for a couple days later in case I couldn’t get on on standby. (I ended up making it on the next morning.)
- Then, on the flight I did go back on, there was someone else from the flight onto Lanyu. He helped me get the right train ticket for the next day then gave me a ride from the airport back to my hostel.
- And to even get to Lanyu, I needed help buying my plane ticket, so one of the girls that worked at my hostel translated for me. The website was all Chinese, so I definitely need the assistance.
- Then, on Lanyu, my hostel owner (who also didn’t speak a lick of English) was super helpful. He picked me up from the airport (twice) and brought me to the airport (twice) and showed me the highlights of the island. He also bought me lunch after the second airport pickup. I think he took pity on me. AND he found a bike for me to rent.
There’s a lot of hiking in Taiwan
I didn’t really think of Taiwan as a place for hiking, but there is actually quite a bit, even in close proximity to Taipei. There is something for every skill level, so don’t worry, even if you’re not a hardcore, spend all day hiking kind of person, there is something for you from the waterfalls of Shifen near Pingxi to Elephant Mountain on the outskirts of Taipei. Strap on your Chacos or flip flops and get on your way!
Tips for hiking in Taiwan:
- Like a lot of places, check to see if you need a permit for some hikes, like in national parks. Others you won’t need them, like Elephant Mountain.
- Speaking of, Elephant Mountain and Fairy Footprint are both awesome, easy hikes in Taipei with wonderful views of Taipei 101 and the city below. Both trailheads are accessible by MRT and make for awesome sunrise/sunset hikes.
- If you’ll be doing a more vigorous hike, check the weather or to see if there are any warnings or closures.
- Like everywhere else, bring water. It can get really hot in Taiwan, especially in summer and even in winter. A small snack isn’t the worst idea, either.
- Bring layers, like a sweater or sweatshirt and a rain jacket. It might be cool, but once you get walking, it’ll get a lot warmer. And if it’s really hot and gets cold at the top of a mountain or hill, you’ll appreciate something keeping you warm(ish.)
- Some awesome hikes in Taiwan are to the Shifen waterfalls, Elephant Mountains, Fairy Footprint, Xiao Yehliu, Yehliu Geopark (this isn’t so much of a hike as it is wandering through cool rock formations), anything along the East Coast or in Kenting, Taroko Gorge, or around Sun Moon Lake, maybe to the Cie-en Pagoda.
Like, the best. Granted, I haven’t spent all that much time in all that many cities, but I do love it. It’s super easy to navigate, it’s hip in all the right places, it’s got night markets in tons of neighborhoods, and it’s perfectly weird. No, it’s not the prettiest everywhere, but what place is, really? Plus, it’s safe. I never felt worried about my safety while I was walking around, even at night. I was with people a lot, but I spent my fair share of time wandering around on my own as well. I even did some walking at night without a worry.
Safety tips for Taipei and Taiwan in general:
- Ask at your hotel or hostel if there is a specific area you should try to stay away from.
- Let someone know where you’re going if you can, just in case.
- Like most places, I wouldn’t flaunt everything expensive you own, but I didn’t feel very worried about carrying around my iPad on occasion. I was still cautious, though.
- Use a purse that zips shut and isn’t just gaping open.
- Try not to flash around a lot of money, but where would you anyways? If you can, use your big bills in restaurants or to pay for your accommodation.
- Use common sense and trust your gut. If it says don’t get in this taxi, then don’t get in that taxi. Don’t get drunk alone then wander around dark alleys.
So, if that hasn’t convinced you, I don’t know what will. All it took for me was a random blog post with a picture of a temple at least a year before I even decided to go. I knew I wanted to see Asia, remembered that picture and thought why not go to Taiwan? even though I knew literally nothing about it. Now here I am, convincing you to go.
Have you been to Taiwan? Where did you go? What did you think of it? Do you want to go?