DIY Taiwan: A First-Timer’s Guide to Taipei

Taiwan. Honestly, we didn’t have much expectations going on our trip to Taipei. We knew that they have good street food and it’s a good place to go shopping. Apart from that, Taiwan is our neighbor up north and is a small island nation. Now, after having spent five days in Taipei, we can’t wait to go back!

Not expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised that Taipei is such a cool and bustling city with a plethora of things to do, day and night. This destination is the answer to both your weekend escapade and your month-long soul searching.

GETTING THERE

A number of airlines fly non-stop from Manila to Taipei such as KLM, China Airlines and more but we were lucky to score cheap flights with Cebu Pacific Air. Check out Skyscanner for the cheapest airfares.

VISAS

A visa is required for Filipino passport holders; however, you may also qualify for a visa-free entry (only Travel Authorization Certificate needed) if you have a valid visa or residence permit from the following countries: U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, U.K. and EU Schengen. Here’s our step-by-step guide on How To Get a Visa for your Taiwan Travel.

GETTING AROUND

The Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is outside Taipei and is around a 45-minute bus ride that will take you to different drop-off points in the city. There are several stops to choose from and we chose to be dropped off at the Taipei Main Station where the Taipei Metro is connected. Alternatively, there are taxis and cars for rent available but will of course cost you more.

The Taipei Metro is one of the best transit systems we’ve tried. Everything is well connected and there are English signs as well so it’s tourist-friendly. Make sure to purchase an EasyCard at the airport for your convenience. You can use this card for most of the transportation systems in Taipei such as buses and the trains, you can even use it at convenience stores and some attractions. Read more about the EasyCard here.

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Taipei Main Station

WHERE TO STAY

Taipei is home to so many convenient and artsy hostels and we chose to stay at Ximending area, a hip and vibrant district where Taipei’s youngsters hang out. We highly recommend that you make a booking online especially if you are arriving on a weekend because it might be difficult for you to get a place for the night. We tried walking-in at Meander Hostel, a popular hostel located in Ximending area but they were fully booked for the night. After a little bit of struggle while getting lost in the streets at wee hours, we found Lio Hostel and we paid 2,100NTD (3,100PHP) for our room for 3 pax a night.

Couchsurfing – We have always advocated Couchsurfing on our blog. It is basically an online community of travelers where as a member, you can either host a traveler/s or you can stay in a host’s couch for free. They also host meet-ups in different cities which is a great way to meet like-minded people while you’re traveling. In our case, we were lucky enough to stay in a very beautiful home for the last days of our stay in Taipei. We even had the view of Taipei 101! The best part is seeing Taipei from a local’s perspective and earning a new friend along the way.

WHAT TO DO

1. Join the FREE Walking Tours.

These tours give you a more in-depth look at Taipei while having fun and appreciating the city’s culture. The tours are hosted by young locals who are very friendly, efficient, and entertaining too! We joined the Old Town tour where we got to try pork floss ice cream! Read more about our experience here.

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Our tour group with our guides

2. Go on a street food binge.

What is travel without trying the local grub? Taipei is famous for its street food! Stalls are everywhere and it clearly shows that this is a big part of their culture. I remember the tour guide telling us that cooking at home is not so common in Taipei as everyone eats out on a daily basis. And I think, why not? You can eat a full course meal including soups, noodles, sausages, seafood, gyoza, rice meals and all kinds of desserts on the street stalls for cheap!

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One of the popular food stalls in Ximending

3. Shop (and eat!) til you drop at Taipei’s countless night markets.

The night markets pay tribute to the fashionistas, foodies and shopaholics. The locals not only sell their trendy clothes, shoes and bags at an affordable price, they also wear their fashion. It was refreshing to see a lot of hip and young people selling their products on the street. There are tons of night markets in Taipei, they aren’t only for tourists but much for the locals as well. Here you can see that night markets are part of their culture where people go to eat, shop and socialize after work. Different night markets sell different things, so it’s helpful to do a little research if you are looking to buy anything specific. At all markets though, you can expect food stalls everywhere.

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Colorful socks sold at one of the markets

4. Have a few drinks and check out the city’s nightlife.

If you still have energy after night market hopping, we recommend that you go and grab a drink or two at Café Dalida – a popular outdoor café situated in the gay district behind the Red House Square in the Ximending area. Grab a drink and enjoy chilling with the mixed crowd of locals, tourists and expats. If you are still up for a party, you can check out the many clubs around Taipei 101.

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Kat having some Taiwan beer at Cafe Dalida

5. Go higher at Taipei 101.

The building that sums up Taipei! Formerly known as the World Financial Center, it has yes, 101 floors and is the most famous landmark in Taipei. The facade of this building is incredibly unique because it resembles the shape of a temple. There is a mall with luxury shops inside the building. For 500NTD (700+PHP), you can ride the world’s fastest elevator to the observatory on 89th floor and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. It takes 40 seconds to reach the observatory from the ground floor. At night, this building’s corners light up with different eye-catching colors.

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Taipei 101 at night

6. Brush up on the country’s history while visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Also one of the most prominent landmarks in Taipei, the memorial hall was built in honor of Chiang Kai-shek, the first president of the Republic of China. The hall is enormous and inside is a bronze statue of the former leader. There is also a museum nearby where you can read up on the country’s history. Surrounding the hall is a national park which is part of the area. Here, we were able to see countless cherry blossom trees in bloom which was fantastic!

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There are 89 steps that represent Chiang’s age at the time of his death.

7. Take a scenic cable car ride and have some tea in Maokong.

Located at the outskirts of Southern Taipei, Maokong used to be the biggest tea-producing area in Taiwan. Now, it’s a small suburb nestled on a mountain with scenic views of the city. There are lots of food stalls and also some very good tea restaurants and with the unbeatable view, it’s no surprise that it has also become a popular tourist area. Don’t forget to try their delicious green tea ice cream! The gondola station is a short walk from the metro and nearby is the Taipei zoo which is also worth a visit.

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Way up high in the Maokong gondola ride

MORE TIPS!!!

  • Get a local SIM card at the airport. The Taiwanese are very friendly but not most of them speak English and when it comes to finding places you want to go to, GoogleMaps is your friend. Unlike in the Philippines, you can’t get a SIM card at any local 7-11 or convenience stores. Since you don’t want to rack up an outrageous bill when you get home, having data connection with a local SIM is the way to go. You can only get SIM cards at the airport and at Telecom stores, we got ours at Far EasTone store in the Old Town area for 500NTD which was enough data allowance for us for 5 days.
  • Leave your luggage at the Taipei Metro Main Station. If you are looking to do some last minute sightseeing before heading to the airport for your flight, you can leave your luggage at designated lockers in the metro for a small fee. We did this on our last day there and it was worth every penny as we were able to go around and do some last-minute shopping before without lugging our bags everywhere.
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Convenient lockers at the train station

Overall, our Taipei experience is something we won’t forget anytime soon. The lovely surprise of this city being colorful, vibrant and active is something we look forward to experiencing again. Five days felt like we have barely scratched the surface. So if you are looking for your next international adventure, Taipei is one of those cities that offer endless experiences to the ones hungry for it. Do you think Taipei is your next holiday destination? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Neoprint!!!

 

Watch our video about Taipei video here:

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