Imagine a place that combines wild and stunning nature, interesting history, incredibly friendly people and lots of amazing vegan food. Now open your eyes – this place exists and it’s called Taiwan!
You have no idea how excited I am to write the first post about our trip to this beautiful country. I waited so long to get the chance to visit Taiwan; this summer I finally had the opportunity to do so… for 10 days! From traveling around the country (we literally circled it) and visiting many places, I have a lot of experiences and tips to share with you all.I plan to write you a detailed guide about our route and all the great places we visited, but first things first. In this post I will share the most basic pieces of information. Hopefully this will save you a lot of time trying to gather them from different sources around the web. Let’s get down to business!
Our route: Taipei, Tainan, Kenting, Taitung, Dulan, Hualien, Taroko, Jiufen, and back to Taipei
Traveling in summer
I have to say we gambled a little here as it is typhoon season in Taiwan. Luckily for us, there was no typhoon during our visit. Actually, we were blessed with sunny and clear weather for the most part of our trip. However, even when there’s no typhoon, the weather might be a little too hot for some people. We traveled in late July-early August, and some days it did get pretty hot and humid. I can’t say that it changed anything for us though. As we’re living in Kyoto, 30+ degrees doesn’t bother us much.
Traveling in summer also has many benefits. It’s considered off-season so it wasn’t hard to book a hotel (see the ‘where to sleep’ section). Additionally, there was no problem with reserving seats on trains, waiting in lines, or anything like that. Actually, in some of the most amazing places we visited – we were alone! Also note that this weather is great for swimming in the beautiful ocean, and taking a dip in the rivers and waterfalls.
Although it’s off-season, I will recommend checking if there are any vacations in Taiwan or the surrounding countries before booking. It will help you avoid traveling when it’s crowded. We did this too – one of the periods we wanted to avoid was Japan’s Bon vacation. During this time, more Japanese tourists are expected to visit (although the weather is hot). Not that I have anything against other tourists – but the less people, the better for us.
I can’t comment much about traveling in other seasons. From what I’ve read, it’s usually recommended to go during April-May and October-November. Please note that it will also be more crowded, so consider this when booking trains, hotels, and planning to go to a place in which you may wait in line.
We booked with Peach Aviation (who are based in Kansai International Airport), the low-cost company owned by ANA (All Nippon Airways), and flew between Osaka and Taipei. We did add extra baggage with an additional payment, and it was still very affordable. Our flight landed and departed from Taipei Taoyuan International airport – which proved to be extremely convenient. Before leaving the airport we managed to change money, buy an EasyCard and sim card, as well as eat our first dragon fruit 😉. There’s a nice food court on the basement floor with very affordable prices. You can also find a branch of The Bank of Taiwan there, where you can change money.
We took the bus from the airport to the city center (bus number 1819, costing 140 NTD). It leaves every 15-20 minutes, and takes about 40-50 minutes. There should also be a subway that takes about the same time (maybe slightly faster than the bus), but we preferred looking at the view, so we chose the bus.
As I mentioned before, we got our sim card at the airport, specifically from Taiwan Star Telecom. There were other cellular companies at the airport, but Taiwan Star Telecom was recommended in a few resources I read. It is one of the biggest in Taiwan and has service even in remote areas (which we were about to visit). The staff there will set up everything on your phone, so you don’t need to know or do anything. Just remember where you put your original sim card!
There are various plans you can choose from, depending on the length of your stay and your needs. We paid 470 NTD for unlimited data for 14 days, and a few minutes of outgoing calls, without charging option for the calls.We preferred it this way: if we needed to make any phone calls after the credit was done, we just used SkypeOut with our data or hotel Wi-Fi.
Where to sleep
Well, traveling in summertime made its impact here too. When we left our Kyoto apartment we only had one night booked – the first night. There were a few reasons that led to the decision to not book anywhere in advance: 1. Typhoons – if one will come, we can know in advance and not go to the affected area. 2. Waves – my partner likes to surf, and as it depends on mother nature, we wanted to be able to stay in a place if the conditions were good.3. We’re ‘free spirits’ 😉 – we wanted to be able to make decisions spontaneously. If we enjoyed a certain place – we could prolong our stay, if we’d had enough – we could leave earlier. We booked all of our hotels online.
I understand this way of rolling is not for everyone. The obvious advantage of it is that you can be flexible with planning your trip. However, searching for hotels during a trip can be time-consuming, so searching for a few options in advance might make it faster. You will also need to make sure that you have an internet connection in order to make the bookings. In general, the occupancy of hotels is higher on weekends. If you want to book only your weekends in advance – it might be safer.
Finding places to book was very easy for us since it was considered off-season. On more than one occasion we were the only guests on the whole property! Having a car was another advantage that allowed us to find cheaper places to stay (as written about in the next section). We found cheaper accommodation in areas that were 2-3 KM from the main scene, and traveled there easily by car. It made a huge difference to the prices.
Like every other aspect of traveling, the holy trinity of every decision is always time, money, and convenience. After considering these three aspects, we made the decision to rent a car for most of our trip.
Renting a car
Except for Taipei and Tainan, we had a car for the whole trip. This is a HIGHLY recommended way to travel if you want to visit the less populated areas, such as the South and East sides of the island.There is limited public transportation in these areas and you’ll need a vehicle to be independent and reach the most magical spots. You could also hitch-hike, but it might be time-consuming. There is the option of renting a scooter, but we had never ridden one before, so a car was our best option.It was also very convenient when we needed to transport our luggage and on rainy days.
We rented our car in Tainan from one of Taiwan’s biggest car rental companies, Car Plus.The whole process was super easy and fast. We also received a navigator for free, however,the names of the places were in Chinese, so we mainly used Google maps. You might want to make sure the navigator you receive has the names of the places and streets in English. We did pay more for better insurance, but both the petrol and toll fees were ridiculously cheap. After driving almost 1,000 KM we only paid 1,988 NTD for petrol (~64$) and 115 NTW for tolls (~3.6$). It was the best decision we made on this trip!
Driving in Taiwan was pretty easy; they drive on the right side of the road and there’s parking lots everywhere. Some of them are free, and some ask for a fee of around 60 NTD. In highly crowded areas like Jiufen it got as expensive as ~150 NTD, but this was an exception.
Getting around in the cities
We didn’t have a car in Taipei or Tainan, so we used public transportation. The best way to go is buying an EasyCard for 100 NTD. You can then charge it with the amount you need. The 100 NTD is non-refundable but the amount left on your card is. You can buy and charge the card at the airport, any subway station, and any seven eleven, and use it for subways, trains, buses, and even the airport shuttle bus.You can also pay with it in some shops.
In Taipei there’s very good public transportation, including buses and subways. Times and fares can be checked with Google maps. We did use taxis when our time was limited. From our experience, taxi drivers are very reliable (I also read about it before coming) and it’s quite reasonable for short distances. If it’s long-distance, it might be faster and cheaper to ride the subway.
Between Taipei and Tainan we took the HSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) which roughly took about two hours. The lady at our hotel booked the HSR train tickets for us at the nearest seven eleven the day before. If you travel between the two cities, this is the fastest, most convenient way to travel.
The HSR station in Tainan is out of the city center. There’s a free shuttle bus from the station to downtown, line H-31, and it goes through various main spots in the city. In Tainan we mainly walked. As we had limited time there, we used a taxi between downtown and the port area.
Basically, you shouldn’t worry about it too much. In Taipei, almost everyone knows English (and some Japanese). In the Southern and Eastern parts some locals may only know Chinese – which is no problem if you’re friends with Google Translate. If you’re planning to take taxis outside Taipei, make sure you print the name of the place in Chinese. With hotel names hotels – it’s better to have the Chinese addresstoo.The same is true for food restrictions. If you happen to be vegan – in one of my next posts I will upload a note in Chinese explaining clearly what vegans can/cannot eat.
As you might have already guessed after reading the opening paragraph, there is way too much information on this topic to include it as a section in this post. I will write separate posts about my favorite vegan places in Taiwan. It will also include the most useful tips to safely navigate as a vegan. There’s a lot to wait for!
Other things you may want to know
❀ Except for the car rental, we paid for everything in cash. You can pay with a credit card for hotels and some restaurants, but be prepared with cash for smaller restaurants, food stalls, and markets.
❀ Save coins and small notes to buy drinks in vending machines. Please remember it’s better to avoid this if you can, to decrease the consumption of plastic.
❀ For an Israeli, it wasn’t something unusual, but for others it might be: military presence. In Taiwan, there’s mandatory military service for men. The period of time is at least four months, but it could be longer. So, if you see soldiers on the streets – it’s okay, nothing happened. It’s probably just soldiers on their duty.
❀ Days-off: all official places are closed on Saturday and Sunday, but everything else is open unless mentioned differently. Most places, such as museums, restaurants, night markets, etc, have at least one day-off. Although not all – some are open 7 days a week! Please check what day it is before you go there!
❀ Google maps in Taiwan. Google maps might be good in Taipei, but it’s not a good app to use for transportation between cities. I recommend planning your intercity rides with Rome2Rion, which was found to be reliable on other trips. However, we didn’t need it much in Taiwan, since we had a car.
❀ Taiwan is a rainy country throughout the year, so always carry an umbrella or a poncho in your bag. It served us well when it suddenly started to rain out of nowhere. If you find yourself in the rain without either, you can easily purchase them from the closest convenient store.
❀ Luggage storage. There are lockers in every big station. We had a very large backpack and we had no problem storing it when we needed. Make sure you have coins, or 100 NTD bill to pay for it when you’re done.
Now you know the most important tips to getting around, we can move on to more in-depth recommendations. The next posts will include more details about our trip – what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what you just can’t miss! See you next time 😃