I know I haven’t written anything in a while but a lot of things has happened in the last weeks including getting to visit Taiwan with my mother. It was actually one of my goals to visit Taiwan ever since the time the country announced a one year visa free trial for Filipinos. Fortunately, through a piso fare sale, I was able to grab a cheap one way ticket at Php 251 each for me and my mother. For our return flight to the Philippines, I used my airline points to obtain discounted flights. Such a great deal, right?
In this post, I will be sharing to you our DIY itinerary of our Taiwan trip. I will be giving you tips and share my experiences both good and bad. Note though that in the expenses breakdown, I did not include the airfare ticket as it could vary depending on what airline and when you booked your ticket.
BEFORE YOUR TRAVEL
Thinking about going through immigration is very nerve-wracking but at the same time, it could be such a smooth process if you come prepared. To visit Taiwan (or any country), be ready with the following:
- Round trip flight itinerary
- Accommodation Reservation
- Trip itinerary
- Other reservations (wifi egg, sim card, attraction tickets etc)
- Passport (old and new, just in case)
- Photocopies of your IDs (company, government IDs)
- Visa (if applicable)
Great news for those still planning to go to Taiwan as they have announced a year extension of visa free access for Filipinos that will end on July 31, 2019.
WHERE TO STAY IN TAIWAN?
For this trip, since I was travelling with my mother and brother, I opted to book an Airbnb apartment for us. If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it is where locals from the city rent out their apartments, condominiums and even houses to outside guests. For me, booking through Airbnb was the best choice since I personally think Taiwan’s accommodation is relatively expensive if you are looking to book a private room in hotels. I also noticed how small the room spaces are in Taiwan hostels and it might be inconvenient for my mother. So I just went on with the Airbnb option.
However, there are a number of hostels with dorm rooms, with shared bathrooms, that can go as low as Php 500. This option is perfect if you are traveling with friends.
HOW TO STAY CONNECTED IN TAIWAN?
You can either buy a sim card or rent a wifi egg which you can pick up at Taoyuan Airport. Sim cards can vary with a 3day, 5day, 7day use. By experience, the internet is really fast even though we were outside of Taipei.
TAIWAN’S CURRENCY AND WHERE TO EXCHANGE MONEY
Taiwan’s currency is called New Taiwan Dollar. As of writing, NT$1 = Php 1.74 (selling rate). You can opt to change money at airports, local banks or currency exchange counters. But let me give you a valuable tip based on experience. I found out that withdrawing money from ATMs in Taiwan has a lower buying exchange rate compared to buying NT$ in the Philippines or even at the airports. You can also use your credit cards as rates are also much lower. However, just be sure your debit/credit cards are enabled for international use. Just coordinate with your local banks for this.
HOW TO GO AROUND TAIWAN?
Taiwan, like Singapore and Hong Kong, has a very efficient transportation system. The country has trains running to each city/county. Aside from that, they also have buses and Youbikes available.
It is advisable to purchase an EasyCard for your trip. This reloadable card costs NT$100. The EasyCard allows you the convenience of not getting change all the time when you ride trains or buses. Aside from transportation, the EasyCard can also be used to purchase items from convenience stores and even pay for attraction entrances (e.g Maokong Gondola).
Now that you are all set, let me take you around Taiwan through our itinerary below.
DAY 1 – Taipei 101, Red House, Ximending Night Market
Our day started quite early. We took a connecting trip via Manila from Cebu to go to Taiwan. Currently, Cebu Pacific does not offer direct flights from Cebu to Taiwan anymore so we had to go through such a long travel time. Anyways, our immigration experience in both countries were smooth despite my mother being a first time international traveler. Once we cleared immigration in Taiwan, we immediately went to get my 5 day sim card which I purchased via Klook just a day before the trip. If you are traveling in groups, it may be cheapest and best to just rent a WIFI egg instead. Claiming counters for both sim cards and WIFI eggs are just beside each other inside the airport.
To get to Taipei City, we took bus 1819 and used our EasyCard. The ride to Taipei Main Station lasted 45mins. I personally love the bus since it has a USB charging slot. Such a lifesaver if you are running out of batteries during the trip.
When we arrived, we had lunch at one of the food courts inside Taipei Main Station. To be honest, I was quite shocked at the meal prices inside the food court. Meals were quite expensive at Php 250-400 depending on what you will be getting. However, each serving is huge and can be shared by two persons. I honestly always have a hard time finishing my meals every time we eat at food courts, they are that huge.
After a satisfying meal, we then headed to our Airbnb apartment, rested for a while and went to Taipei 101.
The icon of Taiwan would probably be Taipei 101. It once stood as the tallest building in the world until Burj Khalifa was constructed. Inside Taipei 101 are offices, restaurants and a mall. It has an observatory which can give you a bird’s eye view of Taipei. It is also where the highest Starbucks branch is located and the famous Ding Tai Fung is housed.
The Red House is a historical building built in the 1900s. Originally a market building, it is now a theatre and houses various shops and exhibits in the ground floor.
XIMENDING NIGHT MARKET
I found Ximending Night Market as a youth zone. You’ll find various acts here. Students dancing, some singing and artists making their unique creations. Aside from that, this is also considered a shopping district as there are various shops all around the area. If you have been to Myeongdong in South Korea then the site might be familiar to you.
There are must try foods here in Ximending Night Market and my favorites are the Mee Sua, Coco Bubble Milk Tea and Hot Star Calamari.
Day 2: Taichung (Zhong She Flower Market, Rainbow Village and Miyahara)
As you know, Taichung has gained much attention to travellers for mainly two things. One, the famous Zhong She Flower Market and second, the Rainbow Village. These two are the places that we targeted to visit here in Taichung.
Going here isn’t really complicated but you have to be really mindful of the time. If you plan to DIY, always check the train schedules and I suggest buying your tickets ahead. What happened to us was, we were not able to ride on our desired train time and had to wait another hour for the next train. This happened twice, on the way to Taichung Station and then to Taian Station. It was honestly a waste of time. But that was the price for doing it DIY.
ZHONG SHE FLOWER MARKET (HOULI FLOWER FARM)
To reach the Zhong She Flower Market, you have to alight at Taian Station which is nearer compared to the Houli Station. You can actually walk towards the flower farm but I would really suggest that if you have an elderly with you and if it’s too hot then take the taxis found outside the station and pay NT$150 one way.
Once you reach the flower farm, you have the option of going directly to the farm or take the Unli BBQ + entrance fee combo. The combo costs NT$280. Regular entrance rate is NT$120. We took the combo since it was already lunch time when we arrived.
I personally think the combo was worth it. Among their choices for BBQ were beef, pork, chicken, chicken innards, corn, squid balls and lots of vegetables. Rice and iced tea is also unlimited. It’s a perfect way to spend a meal especially when you’re too hungry. This is a self service restaurant so don’t worry about being judged if you’ve got a lot in your plate as no one will be looking (wink wink haha).
After a sumptuous meal, we headed inside the flower farm. The place was just huge and beautiful. There are countless places to take a photo. Beware though, there are lots of bees buzzing in the garden.
After the photo ops, we headed back to Taian Station but this time, we boarded a taxi since we have to catch the next train schedule. Again, if you plan to do this DIY, keep checking the train schedules online.
To reach the Rainbow village, we opted to ride a taxi from the Taichung Man Station for NT$300 since it was past 4pm already. Upon reaching the area, don’t be surprised though that the Rainbow Village isn’t really a big village. It only comprises 5-6 houses painted in very unique and colorful drawings. Again, manage your expectations about the rainbow village. It still is a nice place to go though.
Going back to Taichung main station, we rode the bus and the ride took us an hour. Since we had spare time, we visited Miyahara which is actually just walking distance from the Taichung main station.
What once was an Eye Hospital built in the 1920s, Miyahara, named after the Japanese doctor Miyahara Takeo, was reconstructed to become a pastry shop after the Japanese colonial era. The shop sells its famous pineapple cakes, ice cream, cookies and more. The packaging of their items are quite pretty and it just makes you want to buy everything. However, the place is a bit expensive compared to other local shops selling the same item.
After Miyahara, we boarded the last train back to Taipei Main Station.
Our day in Taichung was such a long one for me. If I had a chance to do this day over again, given also that I’d be travelling with more people, I’d choose not to DIY Taichung for the following reasons:
- Most of our time was spent on travelling. If you can’t catch your train ride, you have to wait for the next train. From Taipei main station to Taichung main station, travel time is 2 hours. Trains to Taian Station from Taichung Station have an interval of 1 hour but travel time is just 15-20minutes.
- Attractions are quite far from each other.
- You may not abe able to buy tickets so better buy them ahead. One of the reasons we were not able to arrive earlier at Taichung was that we ran out of tickets even though we arrived at Taipei Main Station an hour earlier from our desired train ride.
- Plenty of Taiwan-based filipinos offer car rental services. Though it is more expensive than DIY-ing, the convenience will be worth it cause most of the packages includes pick up/drop off to/from your hotel in Taipei and 5-6 attractions to visit. There are tons offering in facebook just make sure to read reviews.
- Travelling with your parents and DIY-ing in Taichung is not really a good idea unless you plan to ride taxis all the time. When we walked from Taian station to the Houli flower farm, it was then that I realized that I underestimated the distance and should not have let my mother walked. Yes, it was 1.2km walk. Sounds short but honestly isn’t especially when you are walking under the heat of Mr. Sun. (We visited June so it was summer time)
Day 3: Taipei City Tour – Maokong Gondola, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Dr Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Shilin Night Market
The Maokong Gondola is a 4.3km cable car system that takes you to the peak of Maokong which is famous for its tea. You can use your EasyCard to ride the cable cars and the price is the same wether or not you’ll ride the crystal cabin or the regular cable cars. The ride will cost you NT$120 per way but if you use your EasyCard, you’ll have a 20% discount.
Once you reach the peak, you’ll be greeted with various tea shops. Aside from that, I don’t think there is anything much to do in Maokong. So we just stayed for a while and rode the shuttle bus going back to the Taipei Zoo station.
CHIANG KAI SHEK MEMORIAL HALL
After lunch, we headed to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. This is a national monument and a landmark built for the former president and founder of Taiwan, Chiang Kai Shek. Inside the square also sits the National Theatre and and the National Concert Hall. Make sure to tour the exhibition hall for a brief history of the life of Chiang Kai Shek and be amazed of the many displays of Chiang Kai Shek’s personal items around the exhibition hall.
DR SUN YAT SEN MEMORIAL HALL
If you don’t know who Dr. Sun Yat Sen is, then this is the perfect place to find out. This memorial hall was built in honor of the first president of the republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Similar to the CKS Memorial Hall, it also has an exhibition hall on the life of the first president. It also houses various galleries from local artists in the many exhibition halls found inside the building.
SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
Our last stop for day 3 is Shilin Night Market. This night market is most famous for its wide array of streetfoods. Once you reach Jiantan Station, just cross the street and you’ll immediately find your way in the Shilin Night Market. There are lots of food finds here including the octopus takoyaki, pork ribs, pork buns, seafoods and more.
Day 4: Jiufen, Shifen, Ximending Night Market
Once a gold mining mountain town, its now famous for its old narrow streets filled with food stalls, artists shops, tea shops and souvenirs. Jiufen also houses the famous tea shop, A Mei Tea House where scenes and illustrations of the animated film “Spirited Away” draws its inspiration from.
This place is popular because of its sky lanterns. You can write your wishes and fly the lanterns yourself. Also, the rail tracks you see are where the trains run through. Kinda cool, I must say.
Another nearby is the Shifen Waterfalls. You can rent a scooter for a few hours for NT$200 to get to the waterfalls instead of walking 20-30mins to get there.
If you want a hassle free tour at Jiufen and Shifen, you can book a bus tour here.
XIMENDING NIGHT MARKET
You might be wondering why we went back to Ximending Night Market. Aside from getting milk tea, we bought our souvenirs here. We bought mostly pastries like pineapple cakes and mochi which were priced at NT$100-300 per pack. We also bought ref magnets with an average price of NT$80-100 each. Other famous souvenirs from Taiwan are 3 in 1 milk tea and tea but I think are mostly found in supermarkets.
Day 5: Going home
This is officially our last day in Taiwan and to reach the airport we rode the airport train which is a bit pricier than taking a bus. Since we had spare NT$, we decided to eat at the airport food court after checking in our baggage.
TIP: Check in counters are quite strict in Taiwan. This is the only airport where I’ve experienced strictness with the one bag only hand carry baggage. My backpack was weighed in by the staff and they made sure I had only one bag. They also don’t allow pooling of the 7kg allowance. What I mean by this is for example, if friend number 1’s carry on baggage weighs 4kg then that leaves her an 3kg allowance. If friend number 2 exceeded the 7kg baggage allowance by 2kgs, she cannot use the 3kg allowance of friend number 1 to offset her excess baggage. A person in the other counter was advised to pay for the excess baggage even if she suggested this possible solution to the airline staff. They really are strict with the 7kg per person rule.
For the conversion rate of this trip, I used Php 1.95 = 1 NT$ (buying rate at the time of travel)
So I hope I was able to help you plan your trip and inspire you to visit Taiwan in the near future. For filipino wanderers and milk tea lovers, take this chance to visit Taiwan while the government has extended the visa free status for Filipinos. Taiwan is truly a wonderful country to visit. Not to mention the amount of food trips you can do here and the cheap entrance fees to their attractions.
If you have any questions, feel free to hit the comment and I’ll try to answer them as much as I can 🙂
Ciao for now!