Taiwan Overview: 6 Handy Tips

Planning a holiday to Taiwan? Let us help you with 6 handy tips :D

Tip 1: Know your enemy well i.e research, customise and plan your itinerary early (including wet weather programmes)

A. Places to Visit
First up, a good itinerary takes months to plan (not to mention discounts for early birds). That said, it is impossible for an itinerary to contain all the relevant information you need, so be prepared to react and navigate on the ground.

ImageTaipei City Hall and the iconic Taipei 101

Taiwan is a beautiful island with a plethora of attractions and many would agree. If you have limited time, we were told that you should try to visit either Taipei or Kaohsiung, since both are large metropolitan city centres. If you’re looking for a beach getaway, Kending is the usual popular spot. However, if you are looking for a less touristy, scenic and perhaps cultural destination, opt for Penghu. If you are into surfing, we were told that Penghu has great magnificent waves (which we almost got swallowed by), while you would struggle to compete for surfing space in Kending. That said, both have gorgeous beaches and remember to bring along your swimwear and sunblock.

B. Adventure Activities

ImageRiding the waves in Penghu

If you enjoy fun or extreme activities, there is no lack of exciting options in Formosa Taiwan. River-tracing, paragliding in Puli, trekking in Taroko Gorge, snorkelling, surfing or windsurfing in Penghu, are just a handful of activities which you can try in Taiwan. However, do check out the insurance coverage for each activity and whatever comes, safety always comes first. For more ideas, click here.

Paragliding
Service Provider: Fly Taiwan ParaglidingFacebook
Tel: +886 910 704 354
Time: 12-2pm usually, as long as weather conditions permit (i.e. no rain or strong winds and sufficient sunlight)
Cost: NT3000/20min
Tip: Wear long pants, long sleeve and sunblock.

We initially planned to paraglide at Nantou Puli (南投埔里)(but did not go eventually due to inclement weather) because: (1) their instructors reply within hours on Facebook (I messaged him at about 11pm on weeknights); (2) it was on the way for our itinerary; and (3) they make beautiful videos for their patrons! Puli is located in Nantou and is about 2 hours ride from Taichung. For other paragliding spots, visit Luye Gaotai or Hualien.

C. Weather and Climate

ImageSummer: Scorching hot in Taipei Ximending

We visited Taiwan in summer and there are two natural phenomenons which can be expected: typhoons and earthquakes (which we experienced in Hualien). If possible, read up emergency guides before flying and check the local weather daily. it is also advisable to prepare torches and batteries, a first aid kit and bottled water. In the event of any emergencies, here is a useful list of numbers to call.

ImageThe unwelcomed rain at Taichung Xinshe Lavender Fields

Wet weather plans are also a must. When our friends visited Taiwan in May 2013, it was overcast and rained cats and dogs for half of their trip. We were lucky that it was mostly sunny for our trip, but do remember to prepare backup plans.

Tip 2: Have a balance of city and scenic spots and know the geographics: e.g. island-wide tour clockwise (including how to get from city to city)

Geographics and Festivals
After the initial research of the spots and cities you wish to visit, you can then map them according to their geographical position, taking into account any festivals and events. In summer, a plethora of events beckon: Penghu Fireworks Festival, Dragon Boat Race, Taitung and Hualien Hot Air Balloon Festivals and many more. For a complete list of Calendar of Events, click here.

ImageThe unforgettable Penghu Fireworks Festival

For us, we chanced upon the Penghu Fireworks Festival and backdated the planning for other spots. Eventually, we settled on the following itinerary, ensuring that there was a mix of city and scenic spots: Taipei (City) – Hualien (Scenic) -Taichung (City) -Penghu (Scenic/Festival).

Tip 3: Allocate time to be on your side and understand the Taiwanese way of life

Now that you have worked out the rough dates of your itinerary, it’s time to work on how you are going to travel from point to point. In this regard, it would be useful to understand the Taiwanese way of life: (1) most shops and attractions close on Mondays, so use Mondays for travelling between cities; (2) Check-in for hotels are at 3pm while check-out is 11am (although most hotels allow you to safekeep your baggage), so do prepare lunch plans; and (3) On weekends, you can laze in bed because shops do not open until 12pm (at least for Taipei).

Flight Timings
Domestic Flights: It is fine to arrive 30min before the flight. Domestic flights offer free check-in baggage of up to 10kg, but the counter usually gives some allowance. Just remember not to check-in any batteries or flammable goods and you can only carry 1 lighter on board.

International Flights: The usual “arrive-2-hours early” rules applies.

Inter-City Train/HSR
How to pick up your ticket and the deadline
Take your ID card (or passport or residence permit if you are overseas Chinese or foreigner) to the “Ticket Counters”, post office or convenience stores (e.g. 7-ELEVEN, Hi-Life, Family Mart, OK Mart) 30 minutes before taking the train.

Getting Around within the City
Metro or Rapid Transit is only available in Taipei and Kaohsiung (Taichung metro expected to be ready in 2015). For Taipei, trains run from 0600 to 2400hrs. To check out the costs of travelling (one-day pass at NT150) and the route map, you may visit the Taipei Metro website.

Travel Tip: Smoking, drinking and gum chewing are strictly prohibited. Interestingly, cellular phone usage is also prohibited in the first and last cabins of the trains (though not strictly enforced).

Tip 4: Avoid extremely touristy places on weekends and prepare your own food e.g. from convenience stores

ImageThe scenic but also touristy Taroko Gorge

Extremely touristy places: read Taroko Gorge, Doraemon Exhibition and etc. Food at these places are mediocre at best and costly, so try to prepare your own food.

Convenience stores (e.g. 7-11, Family Mart, Hi-Life and OK-Mart) are a big thing in Taiwan. They are ubiquitous, provide Wifi access and their staff are always ready to render advice to tourists. If you have run out of places to find food, take a look at these stores and they have good deals all year round.

Tip 5: Budget accordingly

ImageNight markets: Delicious food at wallet-friendly prices

A budget of S$100/day is more than sufficient for accommodation and 3 decent meals. If you go for adventure activities or taxi tours (e.g. in Hualien or Taichung), prepare more cash. Surprisingly, we realised that we actually spent less in Taipei, since metro was cheap and affordable. The discounts in Taichung are very competitive (Fengjia Night Market and Yizhong Street), so keep some cash before they run out in Taipei :)

Tip 6: Keep an open heart to impromptu changes and stay safe.

Wifi Access
The Internet is perhaps the easiest and ready-to-use information source when things go wrong. Generally, Wifi access is not a problem in Taipei and MRT stations generally have wifi coverage. Tourist may apply for the iTaiwan wifi access at Tourist Service Counters (e.g. at airports). Shops are also connected and just feel free to ask for their password. As for the other cities, wifi access might be limited so do check if your hotel/hostel provides Wifi access.

Asking Convenience Stores and Locals
Taiwanese are generally friendly people and speak some English. In particular, we found Taichung locals to be the most approachable and helpful of all, so do feel free to approach them for directions and assistance.

Drinking Water

ImageMust-try for non-drivers and adults chilling by the beach: Taiwan Beer

After the recent maleic acid saga, many have shunned from consuming pearl milk tea and other contaminated products. As for drinking water, it is best to consume them after boiling and/or filtering, with the exception of Kaohsiung. In Kaohsiung, the water supposedly contains trace amounts of arsenic, so it is best to consume bottled water, or better still, grab a can of Taiwan Beer (ranges from NT35-50)!

And most importantly, keep a lookout on your belongings, don’t be too flashy,  stay safe (although Taiwan is generally regarded as very safe) and enjoy!

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