One lazy day, I was browsing through Facebook and come across this cheap flights ad to Taipei. Without much knowledge about the culture, the people, or anything, I clicked the ad, entered my preferred dates, convinced my friends to go with me and then booked a flight for three to visit Taiwan.
Taiwan was never really in my bucket list of countries to visit, mainly because I had this impression that I could only see factories of electronics and high-rise buildings, but I was wrong in so many levels. Now, I’d like to talk about my short trip to Taiwan and the reasons why I fell in love in this thriving yet culturally preserved country.
1. Visit Taiwan for its lovely people
This is first thing that I noticed as soon as we passed the immigration desk. From the security personnel to the old lady who taught us how to get a train ticket from the automated booth, they’re incredibly friendly and helpful people. Even most of them could only speak little English; they would teach you how to do something through the use of hand gestures and body language.
Despite the language barrier, they would stop for you, put down whatever their carrying and would even use their own mobile phones to search for answers. Don’t forget to say Xièxie (pronounced hsieh hsieh) means “Thanks”. As Taiwanese people are generally very polite, memorize this one phrase, use it frequently and you’ll be fine.
2. The ease of public transportation
From well-maintained trains, accessible buses and easy-to-hail taxis, it’s never difficult to commute in Taiwan. Trains and intercity buses connect the entire island. In Taipei, their colour-coded subway system is perfectly designed in making it super easy to find your way around. There are also hop-on-hop-off buses that run along and stops only in popular tourist spots.
For easy train access when you visit Taiwan, buy an Easycard at any 7-eleven, Family Mart, and other convenience stores or at the MRT stations. Easycard only costs around 100 NT$. The card is issued with no balance, so be sure to recharge the card with some credit after purchase. The Easycard is recommended for all public transit, especially train rides from Hsinchu through Taipei out to Ruifang. Average train ride costs around 15 -20 NT$ and all credit can be refunded at MRT stations.
3. For walking without worries
If you want to see the beauty of Taiwan, put on your most comfortable walking shoes and be amazed by the skyscrapers, lush green parks, historical streets and busy business centres. Taiwan is considered one of the safest places in the world because of its low crime rate, so walking is relatively free from harm.
Tourists can also rent a bike to go around places. All you need is to register online using a Taiwan simcard and use the credit of your Easycard to start using their Youbike. Bike rental is around 10 NT$ per 30 minutes.
4. Visit Taiwan to see its preserved cultural history
Taipei is famous for its shopping centres, food streets, luxury clubs and of course the Taipei 101, which was officially classified as the world’s tallest building in 2004, and remained such until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010.
Although modernization is evidently visible in Taipei, scattered amongst the city’s towering skyscrapers are a number of beautiful temples that remind visitors of the country’s cultural history. From colourful and vibrant architectures to elegant simplicity, Taipei’s temples have it all.
These temples are considered sacred and you’ll see locals offering prayers inside them, so be respectful and always observe silence.
5. Taiwan is a foodie paradise
Taiwan is lauded as a foodie paradise, and there are always new dishes to try. Famous for its street foods, you’ll never run out of choices when you visit Taiwan. From noodle soup, rice meals, tofu, meat and sea foods, each stall has something sumptuous to offer. For an affordable price you get to try some of the best snacks and discover one of the best treasures that Taiwan offers to its visitors: the food.
There are many famous night markets in Taipei or just about any city across the island where you can sample Taiwan’s famous street fare. But if you’re on a budget, convenience stores like 7-eleven and Family Mart are also dotted everywhere. With variety of foods and drinks to choose from, it makes easy for people to grab a quick hot meal for a moderate price.
6. For its easygoing but disciplined locals
I noticed that Taiwanese people are pretty relaxed while they go about their day. And another thing that impressed me is how locals maintain discipline on the road and when using public transportation. Here are some of the few things that I observed:
- Everyone uses the pedestrian crossings and you are expected to stop if the traffic sign is red, regardless of a short distance across the street and even if there are no cars running your way.
- I’ve never seen a car blocking a pedestrian crossing
- Locals stand behind the painted line while waiting for the train to arrive
- They stand on the right and walk on the left when using the escalators
- Locals do not occupy the priority seats (dark blue seats) inside the trains as these are reserved for the elderly, pregnant women and handicapped individuals, so always be mindful. They may not tell you to transfer seat, but you will surely get a weird look from other local passengers if you ignore the notice.
Although these rules are also implemented in other countries, many people do not follow these simple rules, so seeing it being widely obeyed in Taiwan makes me happy.
7. It’s the home of the original bubble tea!
Your trip to Taiwan won’t be complete without trying their famous bubble tea. The flavourful taste of milk tea combined with the chewy goodness of tapioca pearls or if you’re a fruit tea lover, the right amount of zest. Taiwan is the bubble tea wonderland and you’ll never run out of choices. You’ll see bubble tea shops almost everywhere and all stores have something unique to offer. My all-time favourite is Coco’s bubble tea. The average price of a large bubble tea in Taiwan is 45-60 NT$.
Another beverage shop that really caught my attention is the bitter melon juice stand. Yep, bitter melon; they make a juice out of this wrinkly, green and bitter vegetable into a refreshing cold drink and people are queuing for it! I’m not a big eater of bitter melon, but amazingly, it has many health benefits like diabetes treatment and blood sugar management.
8. Taiwan is a shopper’s dreamland in Asia
Aside from Mongkok in Hong Kong and Chatuchak market in Bangkok, Taiwan is also considered as a shopper’s dreamland in Asia. So whatever the reason for your trip to Taiwan, you should try to make some time in your schedule and experience shopping.
Are you looking for clothes, food, little knickknacks and cute things? Head to one of Taiwan’s night markets, upscale stores inside Taipei 101 mall up to the little alleyways that snake around filled with boutiques and shops. Are you on a limited budget? You can still enjoy window shopping, slowly browse and look around, it doesn’t matter if you have no intent to actually make a purchase, shop keepers don’t mind!
As for the prices, I found out that shopping in Taiwan is not really that much cheaper than other cities in Asia, particularly in Taipei. But if you’re feeling frugal and disagree with somebody’s price at a night market or a makeshift stall, haggling is acceptable however it probably won’t get you very far. Based on what we observed, you’ll be lucky to get a 20% discount on anything. It’s worth a shot though, and nobody will be particularly offended if you ask.
9. Nightlife is never boring when you visit Taiwan
There are many clubs in the cities with Taipei in particular boasting venues that appeal to fans of every music genre. Whether you’re up for an all-night Karaoke party or a night out clubbing with friends, Taiwan got you covered. If you prefer a fairly chill night after your long touristy activities, there are many small cafés and bars popping up all over the country.
If you’re staying at Ximending area, I recommend Ximen Beer Bar. It’s a small cozy bar that offers locally brewed craft beers. I found they had friendly staff who even allowed us to bring outside food so we could eat our late dinner while enjoying our beer. A small glass of locally brewed craft beer is around 130 NT$ and the large glass costs around 250 NT$. You’ll likely meet other tourists and expats there too for a small talk and chitchat.
10. Visit Taiwan and experience one of the fastest internet services in the world!
In 2017, Taiwan was ranked third when it comes to the fastest internet speed in the world by Cable.co.uk. Taiwanese users and visitors enjoy an average download speed of 34.4 megabytes per second and a high definition movie can be downloaded within 30 minutes.
Surprisingly, there are free public WiFi in train stations, public parks, government offices and some tourist attractions, making it easy for visitors to navigate online maps, emails and social media pages. To access the free public WiFi, you need to sign up for it first. I read on TripAdvisor that you can do this at the tourist kiosk in most of the MRT stations.
For our convenience, we rented our own pocket WiFi via klook.com for a discounted price.
- They have easy pick up and drop off service at any of Taiwan’s international airports (Taipei Taoyuan, Songshan and Kaohsiung).
- As a security deposit in case of lost or damage to the device, you’ll need to provide your credit card details at the kiosk during the pickup process.
- You’ll enjoy unlimited 4G WiFi access throughout your stay in Taiwan, with coverage over 99% of the island.
- You can connect up to 10 devices and the internet speed did not fail our expectation.
- Perfect for those who visit Taiwan and need to work while travelling.
The device’s battery can last up to 10 hours so if you’re travelling for a whole day, I’d recommend that you bring a portable battery charger to recharge.
Get your own pocket WiFi via Klook for a discounted price!
11. Visit Taiwan for the spectacular view of Taipei City
For a breath-taking view of Taipei City without having to pay for access to Taipei 101 Observatory, you can go for a hike to the top of Elephant Mountain! Not far from Taipei 101 and Xinyi Shopping District, the hiking trail to Elephant Mountain is free and perfect for the adventure junkies. The hike takes a total of around 20 minutes to the top, and includes lots of stairs! But once you reached the top, the sweat and muscle pain is all worth it. We went up there during late afternoon so we could catch the sunset as well as the stunning night-time view of the city.
How to get there from Taipei 101?
From Taipei 101, walk east on Xinyi Road for 15 minutes until you reach Xiangshan MRT Station then continue walking alongside the edge of Xiangshan park. At the end of this road, take a left up to ascending road and follow until you reach the starting point of Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail.
To get there faster, take a YouBike from the station across the street from Taipei 101 (MRT Exit 2), then return the bike at the park nearby the start of the trail.
How to get there by MRT?
Take the red line to Xiangshan station, after arriving at Xiangshan station (the end of Red Line 2), take Exit 2 and continue walking alongside the edge of Xiangshan park. At the end of this road, take a left up to ascending road and follow until you reach the starting point of Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail.
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12. And lastly, because Taiwan is cheaper than Hong Kong!
Yes, Hong Kong is Hong Kong, and if you’re into shopping and perhaps Disneyland, it’s the best choice. But if you’ve been to Hong Kong and Taiwan as a tourist, you’ve probably noticed that it is much cheaper in Taiwan.
According to Expatistan, the cost of living in Taipei (Taiwan) is 40% cheaper than in Hong Kong. For example, a basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district in Taiwan is around 208 NT$ while it costs around 360 NT$ in Hong Kong. The monthly ticket for public transport in Taiwan is around 1375 NT$ and over 2000 NT$ in Hong Kong.
My final thoughts
Taiwan truly exceeded my expectations. My impression from nothing but an industrialized and stodgy country has been changed by amazement and love for everything it offers to visitors. While many people say that Taiwan is a popular destination for food lovers, one thing that really marked on me is the welcoming nature of the locals. Both helpful and friendly, the local people of Taiwan are a tourist’s dream. My first trip to Taiwan was indeed something that I will never forget and I will definitely comeback again and again!
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