Taiwan is a small island with a large appetite.
Known for being one of the top food hubs in the world, it definitely lives up to its name. A typical day involves having a traditional Taiwanese breakfast- either a “dan bing” which is an egg crepe roll, or a “dou jiang” which is soy milk, either sweet or savory with a mix of other ingredients like dried shrimp, chili sauce, and pickled vegetables. After your breakfast, you will probably eat at a Din Tai Fung for lunch, Taiwan’s speciality restaurant with world renown soup dumplings. As for dinner, around 6 is a good time to head to the nightmarkets in search of more treats for your tummy. The name of the game isn’t to fill yourself up at each stop, it’s to slowly have little bits, or in Chinese we call it, “xiao chi”. The country motto is, eat small, and eat frequently. That is how to experience Taiwan culture.
Taiwan quick information:
Currency: New Taiwan Dollars- NTD
Visa: If you are the lucky bunch from Tier 1 countries plus a few extra, you don’t need a VISA and you are free to stay within 90 days. Check here if you need one. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your entry!
Language: Be ready to have downloaded the Pleco app prior to arrival because most of the people here will not speak English depending on where you are staying. If you’re in the Xinyi area (main shopping area, business area) you could get by if you stick to large establishments. If you want to veer off the main road for some street food, make sure you have your app handy for those quick English- Chinese translations.
Celebrations/Festivals: It’s said that coming to Taiwan to celebrate Chinese New Year is a unique experience. However, Chinese New Year is the dedicated time to get with family, so the majority of shops, restaurants, clubs are closed. The atmosphere is actually the opposite than what you’d think. With that said, I’d recommend coming for the western New Year, December 31. The most famous building, Taipei 101 shoots thousands of fireworks as well as a massive LED display. Baseline: come for New Years!
Best Time to Go: Skip the summer sweat and daily winter showers, and go when it’s between seasons, October and March, April are the best times to check out the city.
Bugeting: As with any other Asian city, you can find western prices, but these are the prices for basic meals. Taiwanese breakfast~ $2+ (Egg crepe, soymilk), Lunch box ~$3+ (Cafeteria style traditional lunch: meat, veggies, rice), Dinner ~depends where you go. But, you get the jist. If you’re coming from a western country, its cheap! However, if you want to have a meal similar to back home, you will pay more, a lot more. European style restaurants will have a hefty pricetag, coming from Taiwan standards. You’ll be looking at spending $20+ for a dinner.
Accommodations: I don’t recommend getting an Airbnb, or looking for apartments. Apartments in Taiwan are one thing: tiny. You don’t want to feel enclosed while on vacation. I’d start by taking a look at expedia and filter to xinyi district, its the most central to nightlife, shopping, and restaurants. Hotels will run around $60 for a three star, $80 for a four star, and up. If you’re a hotel fanatic, you can try out the classic luxury style, Okura Prestige, here which runs $200+/night, or the trendy, hip W Taipei $300+/night.
Transportation: You are lucky, there’sa newly built metro that runs from the airport to the city (Taipei main station) for only 160 NTD which is around $5.00. You should get an EasyCard depending on the duration of the stay. The card is refillable and can be filled up at any metro stop. If you’re not going far, the majority of stops will only cost you 16 NTD, which is around $.50. Not bad, huh?
Things to do: Besides intaking your whole body weight in food, there is more to Taiwan than eating. Who would have thought?
- Maokong Gondola: Take the metro to Taipei Zoo (brown line) and take the Maokong Gondola to the top of the mountain. Wait to get the crystal bottom cart so you can look down and see all the vegetation below. As you float up, you notice that Taiwan is essentially a jungle, there’s green everywhere. On the ride up, you can see a killer view of Taipei 1o1. When at the top, it’s a good chance to try out some high mountain oolong tea produced nearby. I love heading to the Longmen restaurant; it has a classic European flair mixed with asian customs. Try it!
- Raohe Night Market: Smaller and easier to navigate than Shilin nightmarket. Shilin is more of a hodgepodge of regifted toys and clothing that are still left in your mom’s attic. Raohe has many different types of food to eat, clothing, and electronics. But after you’ve seen one nightmarket, you can get the jist. Things to be on the lookout: Stinky tofu (despite the odor, very popular among the Taiwanese), Chicken heart (hanging on skewers), Pigs blood, liver, etc. Watch out.
- Yangmingshan mountain: Located in the north, this big mountain is the perfect easy-to-access-from-Taipei spot for locals. It’s only 30 minutes from the city, and you can except full nature immersion. It also doubles as a place you can find great restaurants at the top of the mountain.
- Taroko Gorge National Park: I can’t say hiking without thinking of Taroko Gorge. It’s the most famous and most beautiful nature reserve in Taiwan. Located on the east side of Taiwan, Hualian, and accessible by rail, it’s a mere 2.30 min from Taipei. I’d suggest going to the park for 2 days (see the grotto!) and spend one night in a B&B. There’s a bunch on expedia with prices as low as $40 ranging to 60-80.
- Beitou hot springs: Hot springs are open year round and are a great activity to do, especially if you’re visiting as a couple. The best option is getting a hotel with your own private tub in the hotel room. I’ve had a phenomenal experience at Grand View Beitou which is a newly built modern resort like hotel which also has public hot springs if you want to just check it out for a day. You can’t leave Taiwan without a real hot spring experience!
- Eastend: This is my favorite place to get my old fashion in Taipei. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem, but slowly growingdue to the fame of the bartenders. It’s a extra modern bar located in the Proverbs Hotel, another newly built hotel also in the exclusive design hotels group. This is a get what you pay for place, so be prepared to spend $15/cocktail. The bartenders are all international acclaimed, if that helps!
This is just the start of curating your journey to beautiful island of Taiwan, or as the Portuguese called it in 1542, Formosa, meaning beautiful island.
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