Know This to Plan Your First Time Travel to Taiwan
Taiwan is perhaps the most underrated destination in Asia. I dare to say this after living and exploring Taiwan for three years. In this article, I will explain why you should visit Taiwan now and share everything I learned that you need to know. As you will be most likely to visit Taipei on your first travel to Taiwan, I wrote this article with your visit to the capital city in mind. However, the majority of tips shared here apply to other parts of Taiwan. Before you book your next trip to Taipei, continue reading my essential Taiwan travel tips below.
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Why Visit Taiwan?
The official name of Taiwan is the Republic of China (R.O.C.) – not to be confused with mainland China, a.k.a. People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.). Affectionately, Taiwan is also called Formosa. The legend has it; when the Portuguese sailors first saw this beautiful uncharted island in the 14th century, they decided to call it “Il Formosa” (The Beautiful Island in Portuguese) attributing to its natural beauty.
After a few years of traveling in Taiwan, I now understand why it’s called Formosa. I’m constantly impressed with the natural beauty of this country. Every time I discover new places, I’m surprised how such a beautiful location is still under the radar. Because of the low profile, Taiwan’s natural landscapes have not been bastardized by over-tourism, which many popular travel destinations in Asia conversely suffer from.
For example, I recently collaborated with travel bloggers to write about the best beaches in Taiwan. Although Taiwan has one of the most beautiful beaches and stunning coastlines in Asia, Taiwan beaches are uncharted by international travelers, hence uncrowded. While I certainly do not support mass tourism, I also feel that it deserves some recognition.
Besides the natural beauty of Taiwan, there are so many more reasons to travel to Taiwan.
Taiwan is safe and clean. It is a developed country with low violent crime rates. In that sense, Taiwan is an excellent destination for solo female or family travelers.
Taiwan is a wonderful curator of Chinese culture. When the Communist Party seized power in mainland China, the country went through the Cultural Revolution, which destroyed traditional Chinese culture and cultural heritage. Fortunately, a vast amount of Chinese cultural treasures was moved to Taiwan and currently exhibited in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.
Taiwanese are genuinely nice and friendly. I say this because people do make a huge difference in your travel experience and the first impression of a country. Taiwanese welcome foreigners with hospitality and are curious about people from other cultures and backgrounds. Even though I’m Asian, locals can spot me from miles that I’m not Taiwanese! While Taiwanese are not into small talks with strangers like in the U.S., most of my interactions with the locals end in friendly conversation. I can tell they are curious about how I end up in Taiwan and more than willing to help me settle in their country.
Taiwan can be either a budget-friendly or a luxury destination. Taiwan is comfortably affordable, yet has all the luxury within reach for those who want to drop a pretty penny. Continue reading “how expensive is Taipei” below.
Taiwan is one of Asia’s best culinary destinations. The island country was built by the aboriginal people and the Chinese immigrants – mainly from Fujian province. It was ruled by the Dutch, the Qing dynasty (ancient China) and Japan throughout history. Despite this complicated history that puts Taiwan in a bit of murky political position, it also makes a great environment for a diverse culinary culture.
Best Time to Visit Taiwan
Avoid Summer Months if You Can
This is going to be my best piece of advice for Taiwan travel: Avoid summer! I’m bluntly honest with you, and you will appreciate this a lot. Here’s why.
Taiwan is geographically in East Asia, whereas the weather is much similar to that of Southeast Asia. Summer is brutally long with months after months of hot and humid air. It doesn’t matter how Taiwanese define summer; in my opinion, it is 7-month long, from April to October. While average temperature is “only” around 26 °C (78 °F) – 28 °C (83 °F) in July, the temperature often soars to 35 °C (95 °F) and above during the day. With high humidity, it gets too hot to walk outside and too dangerous for outdoor activities. I came from Texas, where the temperature goes well above 100 °F. But thanks to blasting a/c everywhere and the comfort of driving my own car, I never felt the heat to this extent. In Taiwan, I feel like I’m about to melt down like ice cream all the time.
Inevitably, you will profusely sweat. If you have curly hairs, like me, you will unlikely have a good hair day. Your curly hair will go frizzy, and makeup will smudge. Sorry, your photo might never come out to your liking.
In Taipei, it rains quite frequently all year around. Especially, if you are traveling in May through June, be prepared with the monsoon season. Typically, it does not rain all day long, rather on and off. Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan would be hotter but sees more sunny, bright days than Taipei.
Also, June through September is a typhoon season. While occasional typhoons should not deter you from visiting Taiwan, there is a chance you will get stuck inside your hotel, or even worse, stranded in Taiwan. So be sure to check the local weather if you travel in summer.
Winter Months are the Best
So when is the best time? My general recommendation is November through March. If you have any flexibility in your vacation time, Taiwan is best explored in winter. The shoulder months around winter (i.e., Spring and Fall) are brief but pleasant.
Taiwan’s winter is mild. It never snows here (except on the mountain). The weather is pleasant for general sightseeing and outdoor activities. Believe me, you will be much eager to get the most out of Taipei when you don’t have to sweat.
There is hardly ever the need for a heavy and bulky winter jacket even if you travel in the coldest month. (Yay to light packing!) What you would wear in fall like a light jacket will work. By the way, do not let local Taiwanese fool you with their puffer jackets. But do not make fun of them for their “exaggerated” winter gear for the mild winter, either. Many of them ride a scooter – which is a convenient way of exploring Taiwan but you don’t need it in Taipei – and need to wear a thick windbreaker.
How long to visit Taiwan for
Taipei is a large metropolis full of fun things to do. It is a cultural city to experience traditional and modern Asian cultures, a foodie city to enjoy fantastic food from Michelin restaurants to street food, and a sleepless town to party and entertain all night long.
Ideally, if you can spend five days in Taipei, you can hit the most popular sites and even make a day trip to nearby cities. While three days in Taipei will not be enough, you will get a taste of what Taipei has to offer.
If you can, I highly recommend extending your stay in Taiwan to explore the island further and see different sceneries beyond Taipei. Taiwan is a beautiful country with lush green landscapes, gorgeous coastal lines and stunning ocean views. There are many small towns you can easily visit as day trips from Taipei. Or, take a THSR (Taiwan High-Speed Rail) bullet train to hop to other cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan or Taichung. More on THSR below under “Transportation in Taiwan.”
Budget for Taiwan Travel Planning
Currency in Taiwan
Taiwan uses the New Taiwan Dollar. It is written as NT or 元. For easy calculation, USD 1 = NTD 30 roughly.
Most hotels, shopping malls and restaurants in touristy areas will accept credit cards. Rarely, you will see shops and restaurants accepting Apple Pay or Line Pay.
Keep in mind; cash is the king! Always bring some cash with you, especially if you want more authentic local and budget-friendly experience. There are many cash-only establishments in night markets, local eateries and shops.
ATMs are available everywhere in the bank and convenient stores such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart. Make sure you can use an ATM card in Taiwan by calling your bank before you leave your country. Otherwise, you can bring USD to exchange to local currency in Taiwan.
Pro Tips: When using a credit card, always choose to pay with local currency. You get the best exchange rate that way.
Pro Tips: I recommend preparing a coin purse to manage your changes.
Tipping in Taiwan
Taiwan does not have a tipping culture. Most of the time, you do not need to tip. Tips are not expected but appreciated when using hotel or taxi services and hiring tour guides.
Note that some restaurants and cafes charge 10% service fees.
How Expensive is Taipei
Taiwan, in general, is surprisingly affordable for a developed country. Even in Taipei, you can manage your budget to enjoy luxury at a fraction of what you would spend in other metropolitans. Your travel budget will be even less outside of Taipei.
FYI, if you are thinking about moving to Taiwan, keep in mind that I’m writing mostly for travelers. Living expenses will be different from travel expenses, thanks to high rents, energy costs and import taxes.
Just to give you an idea, here are a few examples (with very rough conversion to USD):
- A bottle of water: NT$20-30 (USD 1)
- Americano Coffee: NT$90 (USD 3)
- Milk tea: NT$50 (USD 2)
- Beef Noodle Soup: NT$100-200 (USD 3-6)
- Hot pot for two persons: NT$700-1,500 (USD 22-50)
- Taxi: Meter starts at NT$70 (USD 2.20)
- Taipei MRT Ticket: Starts from NT$20 (USD 0.60). IC Cards: NT$16 (USD 0.50)
A bottle of water is super cheap in Taiwan, which is great because you are not advised to drink tap water. If you eat like locals, one meal can cost as little as NT$100 (USD 3). (For fellow Americans, the portions here are tiny.) Obviously, dining at a high-end restaurant will cost significantly more.
As for lodging, it is difficult to quote the price range. It depends on the location and amenities. Generally speaking, I can say that one night stay in Taipei would be more affordable than the equivalent in Tokyo or Seoul.
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Language in Taiwan
The official language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese. The written language is traditional Chinese. Unofficially, the local language of Taiwanese is also commonly used in conversation, especially in southern Taiwan.
English is not commonly spoken in Taiwan. However, the young generation speaks some English. (They understand much better than they can speak.) Taiwanese are one of the friendliest folks in the world, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Pro Tip: When you ask for help, don’t start with, “Do you speak English?” Not many Taiwanese will confidently say, yes. Instead, approach them by speaking Chinese such as “Ni Hao” (Hi) or “Qing Wen” (May I ask). You can carry the rest conversation in English. Thank you is “Xie Xie.”
Taoyuan Airport to Taipei
Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan and has two international airports: Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) and Songshan Airport (TSA).
When most of you travel internationally, you will be most likely arriving at Taoyuan Airport. Note that it is in the city of Taoyuan, not Taipei. It is not terribly far from the capital city (about 25 miles or 42 km away), like in some other metropolises, but still requires some travel time into the city.
Taxi is the most convenient way to travel into Taipei. But the fare will be the most expensive. A one-way taxi fare will cost minimum NT$1,000 (roughly USD 35) and charged by meter. Tipping is not expected in Taiwan although appreciated when using a taxi. Unless you reserve in advance, airport taxis charge a 50% surcharge plus highway tolls. It’s better to book your ride here with the fixed rate.
Taiwan has a Uber service. Generally speaking, Uber is slightly cheaper than taxi although the difference is minuscule and not as noticeable as in other countries like in the U.S. The benefit of Uber in Taiwan is that it eliminates the language barrier. Just enter your destination address in the app, and you are set.
Download the Uber app here. Use my code (chloek407ue) to get up to $20 saving. You will also get to enjoy this app in Taiwan cities, especially if you plan to go out at night.
Taoyuan Airport MRT: Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station
My recommendation. New Taoyuan Airport MRT makes the connection between Taoyuan and Taipei a breeze. The train is comfortable, clean and air-conditioned (heated in winter). Airport MRT is also connected with Taipei MRT; therefore, it is convenient to get to your final destination in Taipei.
There are two trains: Express (直遠車) and Commuter (普通車). The Express train zips you into the city in 35 minutes but skips many stops. It is the fastest way to travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station. If your destination is not a stop, you can take a Commuter train. It takes 50 minutes to Taipei Main Station, so it’s not a bad deal, either. The fare is NT$160 (USD 5) between Airport Station to Taipei Main Station – the same for Express and Commuter. You pay for the fare calculated by the distance.
Bus from Taoyuan airport to Taipei
You can also take a bus to the city. It is comfortable in the sense that it requires minimal walking. You can sit down until you reach your destination. But it might not be the easiest for the first timers to navigate their way.
Go to the bus ticket office at the airport (before you get out of the building) to buy a ticket. You can tell the clerk your destination. Look at the terminal number on your ticket and wait outside at the designated terminal. The driver will give you a stub for your luggage that you will need to show to get your luggage back.
Pro Tips: If your first stop in Taiwan is not Taipei, you might need to get to a high-speed rail station. In that case, you don’t need to go to Taipei Main Station. Instead, go to THSR Taoyuan station.
- From Taoyuan Airport MRT station, take the airport MRT to THSR Taoyuan station to transfer to a bullet train. See “Transportation in Taiwan” below for more info on THSR.
- Take Ubus (NT$30), which takes about 25 minutes. For more info, click here.
Songshan Airport to Taipei
Songshan Aiport is a city airport in Taipei’s Songshan District. It is a much smaller airport than Taoyuan (read: easier to get in and out).
From Songshan Airport MRT station, you can travel to the city quickly and conveniently. Also, you can take an intercity bus from the airport. As you will be already in the city of Taipei, Taxi or Uber would cost you significantly less. Taxi meter starts at NT$70 (USD 2).
Transportation in Taiwan
Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) & Taiwan Railways
Taiwan is well connected with an excellent public transport system. Besides the domestic flights, the main cities along the west coast of the island are connected on bullet trains – THSR (Taiwan High-Speed Rail). Stops include Nangang, Taipei, Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan and Zuoying (Kaohsiung). It takes as little as 1.5 hours to travel from Taipei to Kaohsiung.
Taiwan HSR is not cheap. However, foreign nationals can save by purchasing this discount Taiwan High Speed Rail pass (3-Day THSR Unlimited or one-way ticket). I recommend reserving the seat on THSR in advance as it sometimes gets fully booked, especially on weekends and holidays. You can take a chance in the non-reserved cabins although they fill up quickly. Check Taiwan High Speed Rail schedule here.
Taiwan Railways (TRA) connect the dots in the East coast cities and other small towns that THSR does not service. If you plan to travel small or remote towns like Taroko Gorge or Taitung, consider purchasing this 5-Day THSR & TRA Unlimited Pass. I don’t see the need to book regular trains in advance, but you can check Taiwan Railways schedule here.
Taipei and Kaohsiung – the two largest cities in Taiwan – have a subway system (MRT). The MRT trains are an efficient and convenient way to explore these cities. The trains are clean and safe. You will enjoy the air-conditioned train in summer (heated in winter).
MRT Etiquette: You are not allowed to drink any beverage (including water), eat or chew gums/tobacco inside the MRT train. If you get caught, you will be fined. Even if not, you will still be prosecuted by the public stares.
Also, Taiwanese are orderly and look down upon the people cutting in line. Follow the yellow lines to line up for the MRT train. Wait for everyone to get off the train before getting on the train.
I think it’s easier for foreigners to navigate the city via an MRT train than a bus. But if you can figure out how to take and get off, bus is another reliable means of transportation in Taiwan. When paying with an IC card, touch the sensor twice when entering and exiting.
Transport IC Card: EasyCard & iPass
I recommend purchasing a transport IC card such as EasyCard (Taipei) or iPass (Kaohsiung) at the MRT station or any convenient stores. If you’d like to get cute designs like Hello Kitty or Rilakkuma, go to 7-Eleven or Family Mart. Both EasyCard and iPass not only work for MRT, bus and ferry in both cities but also regular trains by Taiwan Railways. You will also receive discounts on fares.
How to Call a Taxi in Taiwan
You can easily get a taxi from airports, train stations or bus terminals. You can also go to department stores or hotels. In Taiwan, it is okay to flag down a taxi on the street. But you can also go to 7-Eleven and ask to call a taxi for you. Or, use Line App (ID: TaxiGo) to call a taxi.
For those who don’t speak Chinese, I recommend using Uber instead of Taxi. It is much easier to communicate your destination on app. Most taxi drivers don’t speak English. You can use my discount code to get $5 off each of your first 4 rides (total saving up to $20): chloek407ue
Do I need to rent a car or scooter in Taiwan?
In Taipei, you don’t need to rent a car or scooter. If you need a vehicle, you can always get a Taxi or Uber. In other cities and Taiwan’s outlying islands, the scooter is a convenient transport mean to zip around the town. You will need an international driver’s license specifically for a motorcycle; otherwise, you will have to rent an electric scooter, which is much more expensive. Scooter accidents in Taiwan are pretty common and scary. I don’t recommend riding a motorcycle unless you absolutely need it. Please be extra careful!
Taiwan Travel Essentials
EasyCard or iPass
If you want to use any public transport system in Taiwan, purchase the transport IC card. You will save money and time. Hassle free!
Taipei Fun Pass Unlimited
Taipei Fun Pass Unlimited includes free admissions to up to 16 top tourists attractions, including Taipei 101 Observatory and National Palace Museum, as well as unlimited rides on MRT, city buses and Taiwan Tourist shuttle routes. You can select the Taipei Fun Pass for 1-3 days and can pick it up at Taoyuan Airport or Taipei Main Station.
Taiwan uses 110V – the same as in the USA. Any electronics from the U.S. will work without the need for a travel adapter. Otherwise, you will need one.
Useful Travel App to Download
Google Map (iOS, Google Play): If you don’t already have this mighty app, download for your trip to Taiwan. It is my go-to app for navigation. BUT, it sometimes does not give me all the public transport options – especially bus. Refresh if that happens.
Metro Taipei Subway (iOS, Google Play) has a decent route search function with English/Chinese bilingual metro map. If you’d prefer a metro app both for Taipei and Kaohsiung, consider Journey Planner (iOS, Google Play) and download the Taiwan map.
Uber (Download the Uber app here): It is super easy to use Uber in Taiwan as you can eliminate the language barrier. You can use my discount code to get $5 off each of your first 4 rides (total saving up to $20): chloek407ue
Line (Download Line here) is a popular messaging app in Taiwan. Most businesses have a line account, including taxi services (ID: TaxiGo). You can make calls or send messages to those businesses for free.
Pleco (iOS, Google Play ) is a Chinese/English translation app. While Google Translate can capture characters on camera for translation, its Chinese translation is not very accurate. I use Pleco instead. I can type English words and get traditional Chinese translation with pinyin. Click on the speaker icon for pronunciation.
Health Clinics & Medicines in Taiwan
Taiwan has an excellent healthcare system with decent medical institutes and technologies. Clinic visits and medicines are affordable. I had a pretty good employer-sponsored health insurance in the U.S. and still paid an out-of-pocket payment every time I went to see a doctor. Without the Taiwanese national insurance, my visit to a doctor for basic services – such as a common cold or skin rash – is cheaper than the co-payment in the U.S. with insurance.
I don’t mean to say this to deter you from getting travel insurance. I still believe in the importance of having proper medical insurance. You never know what unfortunate event you encounter when traveling to a foreign country. However, when you get sick in Taiwan, don’t let the fear of medical bills get in the way of seeking the necessary medical services.
Toilets in Taiwan
I know some of you ladies fear for Asian squat toilets. It’s not my favorite things to use, either. Unfortunately, you will see many of those in Taiwan (and other Asian countries). So, let’s talk about the toilets! I wrote an article dedicated to this unpleasant yet essential topic. Click the link below to learn all about it and overcome your fear!
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Other Taiwan Travel Information
Planning your trip to Taiwan? Check out my other articles on this blog for your next vacation.
- Taipei Old Town Heritage Tour: Dadaocheng & Dihua Street
- 6 Historic Places to Visit in Taipei
- Play Design Hotel | Award-winning Boutique Hotel in Taipei
- Best Beaches in Taiwan
- Kaohsiung 4-Day Itinerary
- Best Food in Kaohsiung
- Where to Buy Best Pineapple Cakes
- Best Milk Tea & Coffee in Kaohsiung
- Getting Around in Kaohsiung