In recent years, Taiwan, also known as Formosa, which translates to “beautiful,” has gained popularity among Filipino travelers for good reason. Its close proximity to the Philippines, coupled with visa-free entry until July 2024, and budget-friendly options, make it an attractive destination. Nestled between the Philippines and Japan, Taiwan has become a sought-after dream destination.
If you are a foodie, loves exploring vibrant night markets, and diverse street delicacies, then you’d be happy to know that Taiwan stands out as a top travel choice. And if you’re considering a trip to Taiwan, the land of milk tea and Xiao Long Bao for at least 3-4 days, then this travel guide is for you.
GETTING TO TAIWAN
By Air: Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia fly to Taiwan. Travel time is approximately 2 hours. There’s no time difference between Taiwan and Philippines
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TAIWAN
VISA. As of this writing, Filipinos can travel to Taiwan visa-free until July 2024.
ACCOMMODATION: There are lots of hotels, hostels and BnBs in Taiwan. The area where you plan to stay actually depends on your activities or itinerary. A room good for 2 people only costs more or less P3,000 for hostels, Php1,500 for a bunk bed, and approximately Php5,000++ for a hotel.
Like in any other countries, best to stay in an accommodation where there’s a near train station. My area of choice is still near Ximending Night Market, but if your itinerary mostly consists of a visit to nearby regions of Taipei, then an accommodation near Taipei Main Station is your best bet.
HOSTELS IN TAIPEI, TAIWAN:
Meander Taipei Hostel
Star Hostel Taipei Main Station
Fun Inn Taipei
Hotel Papa Whale
Diary of Ximen
HOTELS IN TAIPEI, TAIWAN:
Caesar Park Hotel Taipei
Cosmos Hotel Taipei
Hotel Midtown Richardson
FOOD. Food in Taiwan is quite affordable, except of course if you want to dine in fancy restaurants in the city. Would you believe we only spent less than NTD5,000 for 4D and 3N in Taiwan? And that’s already good for two! Maybe because we just eat street foods, buy snacks at 711, and I’m a light eater. But just to be safe, allot a budget of P1,000 per day per pax.
TRANSPORTATION. Similar to Japan and South Korea, navigating Taipei and its neighboring provinces is very easy because of their efficient train system. You may opt to buy an EasyCard to eliminate the need for purchasing tickets before every train ride. Personally, I still love using their ticketing machines, which helps me conveniently track my train fares.
TOURING. No tour guide necessary when you plan to explore Taipei or other provinces within Taiwan. Nearly every destination is conveniently accessible by train or bus. Nonetheless, individuals with limited time or a preference to avoid train transfers may choose to join the Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen, and Shifen Day Tour offered by Klook. As for me, I continue to opt for the do-it-yourself approach. Having visited Taiwan thrice (2017, 2018, and 2023), I still enjoy the experience of navigating and deciphering directions and transportation, and occasionally embracing moments of getting pleasantly lost.
RECOMMENDATIONS: If you have the time and resources, I recommend venturing beyond Taipei to explore other regions of Taiwan. Kaohsiung offers nice beaches, Taichung is best to experience arts and culture, and Alishan Mountain is particularly famous for its stunning train journey amidst the Cherry Blossom trees in spring, and the captivating autumn foliage during the autumn. If you happen to be in Taiwan during the Lantern Festival, usually held in February, I highly encourage you to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join in their festivities. I swear the feeling is very surreal. Just be ready for BIG CROWD!
THINGS YOU NEED TO HAVE WHEN YOU VISIT TAIWAN
Comfy footwear. You will do lots and lots of walking so you need comfortable shoes to last you all throughout your trip. Sneakers is a good idea.
Money. You have the option to have your money exchanged in the Philippines before your departure, upon arrival at Taoyuan Airport, or simply withdraw cash from their ATM machines.
Medicine. If you are allergic to some medicines, it’s always best to bring your own first aid kid.
Transit Maps Subway App.Taiwan offers numerous subway and bus apps; however, during my last visit, I opted for Bus Taiwan. This app conveniently displays Taipei’s train fares.
Pocket Wifi or Sim Card. Being connected online is very important, especially you are not very familiar yet with directions. Rented a 4G Pocket WiFi at Klook for a very decent price. Here’s the KLOOK LINK where you can book. 🙂
BUDGET: Like I said, I’ve been to Taiwan three times already, and I budgeted differently for each trip based on how long I stayed and where I stayed. But to be safe, setting aside around P25,000 to P30,000 per person (excluding airfare) should be enough, and that includes money for shopping or any unexpected expenses.
TAIWAN DAILY ITINERARY
Catch the earliest flight to Taiwan and just drop off your luggage at your hostel or hotel if you’re not allowed check in yet.
HOW TO GO TO TAIPEI MAIN OR XIMENDING STATIONS FROM TAOYUAN AIRPORT?
The majority of accommodations, including hotels and hostels, can be found near to these two stations, making them the most frequently asked directions by almost all travelers.
Train. Whether you arrive at Terminal 1 or Terminal 2, you can board either the Commuter (Blue line) or the Express (Purple line) trains. Refer to the route map below to pinpoint your destination station. It’s important to note that the Commuter Train, with more stops, requires approximately 50 minutes to reach Taipei Main Station from Terminal 1. On the other hand, the Express Train, with only 5 stops, takes only 35 minutes from Terminal 1 to the Main Station. Therefore, if your destination is Taipei Main Station or Ximending, I highly recommend opting for the Express Train, as the fare is just the same to that of the Commuter Train.
Headed to Ximending? From Taipei Main Station, transfer to the Blue line headed for Dingpu, and alight at Ximending Station. The distance is only one station so train fare only costs NTD20. The MRT Route map below might come in handy when exploring Taipei by train. I always make sure to have a copy of it on my phone, especially when I don’t have the Train app, just to ensure that I know where to get off when I need to switch trains.
Bus. Coming from Taoyuan Airport Terminal 2, make your way down the Bus Station and look for Kuo-Kuang Bus No. 1819 and get down at Taipei Main Station. If you are headed to Ximending, from Taipei Main Station, take the Blue line to Dingpu, or just walk if you want some exercise.
Another bus option if you are headed to Ximending area is the Citi Air Bus No. 1961. This bus will directly drop you off at Ximending Station Exit 1, few steps away from Exit 6.
Taipei Zoo. Needless to say, the expansive 90-hectare zoo can be quite exhausting, especially if your intention is to check out all the animals and exhibitions. I’d suggest you adopt a leisurely pace, with no obligation to pay a visit to every single creature. This park is designed for relaxation – you can find a spot to sit, unwind, and even enjoy a meal if hunger strikes. Just be mindful of the closing time, which is 5:00 PM, with the last entry permitted at 4:00 PM. A trip to the zoo provides an excellent way to pass the time as you await your check-in. And if you’re not pressed for time, you might also consider trying the Maokong Gondola for an additional unique experience. Visit Taipei Zoo website for more information or updates before you visit.
Ximending Night Market. Given the assumption that your hostel is conveniently situated near the Ximending Night Market, I strongly recommend exploring their array of street foods for dinner. Even if we do have the Hot Star chicken chain in the Philippines, there’s no harm in experiencing its place of origin – Taiwan. Spoiler alert: it tastes just the same! 🙂
Shifen Old Street. Shifen is situated in New Taipei and entails 2-3 train transfers, depending on your starting point. The area is very popular for its flying sky lanterns and captivating waterfalls.
If you’ve come across pictures of tourists gathered on an aged railroad track, releasing colorful sky lanterns adorned with written wishes, then you likely have a glimpse of what awaits you in Shifen.
In our case, we forewent the experience due to environmental concerns. Considering the uncertainty of where a sky lantern might land, the decomposition period, and the potential fire hazard, we opted not to release a sky lantern and just took pictures. While they do look pretty, I felt it’s better not to add to the environmental issues they might create.
If you are up for some cardio and leg exercise, walking few less than 2km from Shifen Old Street would take you to the beautiful Shifen Waterfall. Trek to the waterfall is pretty steep so you can just adore the water curtain from afar while sitting in one of the benches there. In our case, we did not bother to visit the falls anymore since we’re really headed to the at the Sky Lantern Square for the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. That was year 2017 by the way.
HOW TO GET TO SHIFEN:
From Taipei Main Station, hop on the TRA train (it’s different from the Taipei Metro and HSR) heading to Ruifang Station. Once you get to Ruifang, switch to the Pingxi Line and jump on the train to Shifen Station. When you get off at Shifen Station, you’ll spot a big crowd and lanterns floating in the sky—so you’ll know you’re in the right place. Just go with the flow and follow the crowd. 😊
Jiufen. Anyone who’s been to Taiwan should absolutely not miss Jiufen Old Street, especially if you’re a foodie and a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting animated film ‘Spirited Away’. It’s said that the A-Mei Tea House served as inspiration for the lantern-lit bathhouse featured in Miyazaki’s award-winning animation. For the ultimate experience, you can even dine inside this iconic tea house, though I should give you a heads up that it leans a bit towards the pricey side. If that doesn’t fit the bill, no worries—just capture some amazing shots and treat yourself to the array of mouthwatering foods and snacks available at Jiufen’s food stalls. Don’t forget to do some souvenir shopping as well.
HOW TO GET TO JIUFEN:
From Shifen, catch the Pingxi Train back to Ruifang Station. When you arrive at Ruifang Station, take a left and walk about 300 meters or just a 3-minute walk until you reach the police station. There, you can wait for Buses Nos. 965, 856, or 788. If you’re not sure, just tell the driver you’re heading to Jiufen Old Street when you board the bus. Once you hop off the bus, take a short walk down the narrow alley right next to the 7-11 convenience store. You’ll notice that most people get off there, so it’s a good clue for when to disembark as well.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. This hall stands as a tribute to Chiang Kai-shek, the inaugural president of the Republic of China. Within its blue and white interior lies an imposing bronze statue of Chiang himself. Tourists visit this site to witness the ceremonial changing of the guards and to explore the exhibits recounting Taiwan’s rich history.
Taipei 101. Located just 5 stations away from CKS Memorial Hall is Taipei 101. Take the Red MRT Line and get down at Taipei 101 World Trade Center Station to visit this iconic landmark. This tower held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010, when it was surpassed in height by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
As the name suggests, Taipei 101 features 101 floors with an upscale mall at its base. If you’re interested in shopping for luxury brands, this is the place to be.
The Taipei 101 Observatory, situated on the 89th floor, offers a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic view of Taipei City. With its impressive height of 1,474 feet above ground, it ranks among the world’s highest observatories. I don’t know why, but going up to the observatory just didn’t appeal to me. Probably because paying NTD600 just to see Taipei City from up high didn’t seem worth it to me. But that’s just me though, because many people enjoy the experience.
Elephant Mountain. If you’re looking for a bit of cardio and a good leg workout, make sure to include a trip to Elephant Mountain in your itinerary. It’s recommended to do the Elephant Mountain trek later in the afternoon to avoid getting sunburned and dehydrated due to the intense midday heat. Plus, the view from the mountain is absolutely stunning during the nighttime, so you wouldn’t want to miss it.
The hike to the most Instagrammable spot, known as the rockview point, involves ascending 500 stair steps. After that, if you want a higher view of Taipei City at night, that entails another 100 stair steps.
Shilin Night Market or Raohe Night Market. After a tiresome trek at the Elephant Mountain, what better way to recharge but to head in some of Taipei’s famous night markets. Try the stinky tofu, candied Strawberry or Cherry Tomato, Pork Pepper Buns, among others.
If your flight is still in the evening, Day 4 should be your free day. Use this time for some pasalubong shopping and last-minute exploration of the areas in Ximending.
The Red House. This red-brick octagonal building in Ximending was constructed back in 1908 as Taiwan’s first public market. In 2007, it underwent some cultural changes and is now one of the coolest spots to shop for cute and artsy stuff. You can often find pop-up stores with loads of unique items to choose from.
Don Quijote. This cool and popular Japanese discount store is pretty new in Taiwan – it only opened its doors in January 2021 under the name Don Don Donki. It’s got three floors and stays open 24/7. So if you want to avoid the Donki crowd during the afternoon or evening, you know what to do.
MUST TRY AND BUY IN TAIWAN
Milk Tea. You are in the land of Milk Tea so no reason not to try the OG. I personally love Taiwan’s milk tea because they are less sweeter. Try Comebuy Tea in Ximending, near Taipei City Hospital and Ximen Enployment Service Station.
Yong He Chinese Type Breakfast. If you’re staying around Ximending, you’ve gotta give their soy milk and Xiao Long Bao a shot. I’m a big fan of their piping hot soy milk myself! It’s the perfect way to kick off your day.
Pineapple Cake and Mochi.These two goodies are among the most popular pasalubongs you can grab in Taiwan. You’ll find them in plenty of shops, so it’s your call where to pick some up. I usually get mine at Ximending Night Market, and they usually go for around NTD250 for 3 boxes.
Admire and take photos at Ximending’s Graffiti. When in Ximending, wander into the narrow alleys and let your feet lead you to the vibrant street art at Taipei Cinema Park. Just beyond the main shopping area, you’ll find numerous walls along the back alleys of Kunming Street adorned with lively and trendy works of art. Believe me, every spot is Instagram-worthy.
There are still plenty of places to check out and delicious food to try in Taipei, and all over Taiwan for that matter. If you can spare at least 10 days, make sure to explore the countryside and hop on Taiwan’s bullet train. Taiwan is one of those places I never tire of visiting. It’s not just budget-friendly, but the scenery is stunning, and the people are awesome too!
Try to visit at least once, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. 🙂