PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Click on the sections to expand details on good things to know and resources to use as you plan your trip. Have unanswered questions? Let me know!  

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ENTERING TAIWAN

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VISAS: US citizens do not need a visa for visits under 90 days. If you are staying longer than 90 days, or are studying or working, you will need to get visas.

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CUSTOMS: Most restrictions on what you can bring in are pretty typical (you can bring in up to about $650 in goods, up to $10,000 cash, 200 cigarettes, 1L bottle of liquor, no fruits, live animals, etc). And of course no drugs. This includes marijuana. And drug trafficking can be punishable by death.

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INTERNET & PHONE ACCESS

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Like it’s east Asian neighbors, Taiwanese people love their internet and their smart phones. Internet is widely available, especially in the cities. There is free wifi in every MRT station, public bus and 7-Eleven – which combined cover a significant portion of Taiwan and mean that if you’re in Taipei you are probably never more than a block away from free wifi. Taiwan offers free wifi to all foreign visitors through the iTaiwan government service. You can pre-register here for 30 days (with extensions up to 90 days). Taipei also offers free wifi to all visitors: you can register with a valid passport and e-mail address.

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If you still need a phone, it’s pretty easy (and cheap!) to get a pre-paid SIM card for voice, text and/or data with Taiwan Mobile. This is usually for 30 day periods, and cards can be refilled at any convenience store. Packages start around 300NT (<$10). They also have day passes (100NT / day for unlimited data). Note that in Taiwan, you are only charged for outbound calls. So even if you ran out of money on your card, if someone calls you, you can still answer. If you need charging on the go, carry a charger with you – there are charging stations and outlets in all MRT stations.

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KNOW BEFORE YOU PACK

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MONEY: Credit cards are super popular in Taiwan, people generally have several to collect points and rewards in the competitive programs. That being said, for visitors, it might be easier to carry cash. Street food, night markets, hole in wall places tend to only take cash. You can also load money on an EasyCard for transportation, 7-Elevens, and other stores as a sort of debit card.

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ELECTRICITY: Similar to the US, currents are 110V AC and sockets are compatible with two prong flat plugs. If you have three prong, you'll likely need a converter.

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ACCESSIBILITY

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BATHROOMS: Women's bathrooms tend to have both squat toilets and regular toilets. Newer buildings tend to have regular, while older have the squat toilets. Mens bathrooms have urinals and regular toilets. Also important to note that the habitual practice is to not flush toilet paper (rather, throw it away in the trashcan) because earlier on there were issues with the toilet paper and plumbing. Toilet paper sometimes comes in sheets (like tissue) rather than in rolls in households. Now, it is generally ok to flush, but you may notice that people still don’t due to habit. In some places (outdoor parks, rural rest stops, etc) toilet paper may cost money, so best to carry a pack of tissues.

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WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY: Taiwan has laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. In public institutions (including the subway and buses) and new buildings, everything is accessible. However, older buildings often have narrow hallways and stairs without elevators.

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DIETARY RESTRICTIONS: Taiwan is very vegetarian / vegan friendly. Many people are vegetarians for religious reasons, so restaurants are labeled with the Buddhist swastika (it’s not rotated like the Nazi symbol) . Buddhist vegetarians in Taiwan are like vegans – they do not eat anything with animal products (eggs, milk, etc) or any “fetid” vegetables (with strong flavor, such as garlic, leek, etc). There is an abundance of vegetarian restaurants as well as vegetarian options at other eateries. There are also plenty of options for gluten-free, since a lot of dishes are made with rice. Same with lactose-free, a lot of Asians are lactose intolerant, and generally the cuisine doesn’t usually use milk products. Popular breakfast drinks are soy milk, rice milk.

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HEALTH & SAFETY

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There are no required vaccines for visiting Taiwan. There have been some cases of Dengue Fever, so make sure to avoid mosquito bites with spray, long sleeves, etc. Taiwan has modern Western medical facilities as well as traditional Chinese medicine. There are plenty of pharmacies in the cities, as well as walk-in clinics. Hospitals in Taiwan are also a lot more accessible than the US, people tend to visit more frequently for minor illnesses and injuries. In general, the healthcare system is pretty robust. They have a highly successful universal health insurance system, and even without insurance, the costs are pretty affordable compared to the US. If you do end up needing to go to the hospital, you will have to first pay and then claim insurance afterwards.

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Taiwan is generally safe with low crime rates. The biggest threat to safety is probably traffic accidents, which, given the congested cities can be pretty common. The second biggest threat would probably be a natural disaster, though generally cities are built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. Pickpocketing is not as rampant as it is in other cities, especially because there are security cameras everywhere (and most cars have cameras as well...so there’s no shortage of footage if there is a crime). It is generally pretty safe for solo female travelers and young travelers as well – in subway stations they have nighttime waiting areas designated for women with extra surveillance. In case of emergency, call 119. To report crimes, the local police can be reached at 110.

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TAXES & TIPPING

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VAT is usually 5%, and there are often tax-return kiosks in department stores, as well as at the airport. Generally, tipping isn’t expected. In restaurants, there is often a built-in service fee added to your bill. Receipts in Taiwan double as lottery tickets. If you’re not down to check the website for the bi-monthly lottery drawing, you can find plastic donation bins all around the cities to drop your receipts for charitable causes.

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OTHER RANDOM INFO

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Smoking is not allowed in any indoor public places. It’s a more common habit than the US, but less than Europe.

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The legal drinking age is 18, though it can be more relaxed in rural areas.

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You must have an international driving permit to drive in Taiwan. Like in the US, you drive on the right side of the street. There are different licenses for different types of vehicles (yes, you need a special license to ride an electric motorcycle)

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Taiwan does not observe daylight savings.

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Many buildings (especially hospitals) will not have a 4th floor because the word for 4 sounds like the word for death. Generally, the ground floor is the 1st floor (rather than 0 like in other countries), and basement levels are labeled B1, B2, etc.

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WHEN TO GO

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There are many things to consider when you decide when to visit Taiwan. First of all there’s the question of weather. Summers are hot. Offensively hot. With disgusting levels of humidity that make it difficult to breathe. The kind where you step outside and immediately get a layer of sticky sweat on your skin. But don’t worry, it washes off in the daily afternoon downpours. During mid to late summer (into September) you can also count on at least one or two typhoons to sweep by. Generally, it will rain for a few hours every day, so don’t leave without an umbrella, and plan all outdoor activities for early morning.

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Fall and spring are more mild. Still warm, but not offensively so. Still rainy, but maybe not every day. The driest months are November through January. It’s also a lot cooler these months and into early spring (March), with average temperatures in the 60s.

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In terms of plane tickets, it’s best to avoid summers and late January / early February (wherever Lunar New Year lands). Summers in Taipei are particularly grueling because there is a surge of expats (and their crazy teenage children) because of summer break. Oh and sweaty college student backpackers, also because of summer break. Plane tickets (economy class) during high season generally go from $700-800 on the really low end to upwards of $1500+ on the high end depending on when you book. Compare this to off-season (say, March or late September), where you can easily find tickets under $600.

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If it were up to me, I would try to visit in October / November, or March / April. After 22 years of enduring the summer heat, I avoid those months if there’s anything I can do about it. Unless you have family or family friends, I would also avoid Lunar New Year (at least the first few days of it) because most stores are closed and people are generally just hanging out in their home towns with family.

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HOW LONG TO GO FOR

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There are a lot of ways to explore Taiwan, from an extended layover to a month-long adventure. How long you should go for depends on what you want to do.

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If you’re just on a layover, you can hit the main sightseeing spots and eat plenty of famous Taiwan food in as few as 3 days. If you’re really into nature and outdoor activities, you’ll probably want to explore the eastern coast and an island, which could take longer: a week or two at minimum if that’s all you’re here for, more if you want to explore other cities. Given that Taiwan is pretty compact, you could comfortably do a full island tour (or even circumnavigate on a bike) within a month.

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If you want a little bit of everything but not venture too far off the beaten path, I think 7-10 days would be perfect. You’ll have plenty of time to explore Taipei, and work in a couple day trips for cultural excursions in northern Taiwan (Keelung, Yilan, etc) as well as a weekend trip farther away (Sun Moon Lake, Lukang, or even Tainan).

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Lunar New Year: This is the biggest holiday of the year, also called the Spring Festival. It generally lands in late January or early February. It is a 15 day celebration (from new moon to full moon) that is full of traditional symbolism and rituals that have evolved and adapted to modern society. In Taiwan, people generally get New Year’s Eve off, as well as 3 business days following. It’s equivalent to the common Christmas to New Year’s holiday break in the US. Prior to New Year’s Eve, there are traditional holiday markets worth checking out. On the 15th day (and often in days leading up to and following that day), there are Lantern Festivals all over Taiwan that attract locals and travelers alike (and adults and children alike as well!). Leading up to and throughout the Spring Festival, media programming and retail will generally be aligned with whatever the zodiac animal is.

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2/28: This is a day of memorial for the massacre that occurred on February 28, 1947. Like Memorial Day in the US, it has basically become a long weekend vacation. For visitors, this translates to a lot of locals also flocking to popular tourist spots outside the city.

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Tomb Sweeping Day: This is a public holiday that has generally landed on April 5 (but moving forward may be a long weekend holiday). It’s a day dedicated to the remembrance of ancestors, where families visit the graves or temples (where cremation urns are shelved) to tidy up and pray. Often, families bring flowers and other offerings and light incense, burn joss paper for ancestors.

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Dragon Boat Festival: This is another one of the major 3 holidays of the year. It usually lands in early June (it’s officially the 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar, near the summer solstice). The origins of the holiday is not really clear, though most people tend to know the Qu Yuan story. People celebrate the day by watching or participating in dragon boat races and making and eating zongzi (sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaf - think of it as a Chinese tamale). A lot of people also buy decorative fragrant herbal pouches to wear.

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Mid-Autumn Festival: This is the third major holiday of the year. It usually lands in late September or early October, on a full moon. This holiday is kind of similar to Thanksgiving. It’s all about bringing the family together, giving thanks (it’s a harvest festival) and celebrating harmony and unity. People tend to gather outside, eat mooncake and admire the full moon. In Chinese culture, the moon is extremely important. Traditional holidays still go by the lunar calendar (and many people in Taiwan still use their lunar calendar birthdays). The word for “month” is the same as the word for “moon.”

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National Day: Taiwan’s National Day is on October 10th, rather frankly referred to as double ten day (10/10). The date corresponds to the start of the Wuchang uprising in 1911 that ultimately led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China. Similar to national days in other countries, festivities include a military parade, speech by the president, and fireworks.

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If you’re a shopper, you should also know that fall is the season for “anniversary sales” in all the department stores. Think of it as a blown up Black Friday that lasts a couple weeks and has convoluted deals and offers through combinations of vouchers, giveaways, etc.

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Other holidays to take note of:

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Taiwan also celebrates New Year’s Eve along with the rest of the world. December 31 generally has festivities starting in the afternoon and going through the night. Since it’s all about stepping into the next year, they call it “kua nian,” whereas “xin nan” or new year generally refers to the lunar new year. There are huge free outdoor concerts all around Taiwan, the biggest being in Taipei City Hall that culminates with the Taipei 101 fireworks. Concerts generally feature the biggest new names in Taiwan and other Asian countries and are hosted by the most famous hosts and celebrities. The performances are broadcasted on major networks and streamed online.

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The seventh month of the lunar calendar is Ghost Month. The Buddhist / Taoist festival lands on the 15th day of the month, but generally, you’ll see retail theme the whole month, similar to October leading up to Halloween. Traditionally, this is the month when ghosts and spirits run free. There are religious rituals performed throughout the month. It’s also unlucky to have weddings during this time. Ironically, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, Taiwan recognizes Qixi day, which is essentially Valentine’s Day.

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Another thing to note is that Father’s Day is celebrated on August 8th rather than in June. This is because the words “eight eight” sound similar to the word for dad in Chinese. Mother’s Day is the same as the rest of the world on the second Sunday in May. Children’s Day is April 4th.

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The famed sky lantern festival in Pingxi is held in February. Details can be found here.

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GENERAL COSTS

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The cost of living is lower than the US, as well as other east Asian countries and cities like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc. But it’s more expensive than south Asian countries.

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A street food / hole in wall meal can easily be under 100 NT / $3, while mid-range restaurants / department store food courts tend to be 200-300 NT/ $6-10. General groceries and household necessities are usually cheaper than typical US prices across the board, even in Taipei, and even cheaper in small towns. In terms of brands, Taiwanese and Korean brands are pretty standard priced, while Japanese and American / European brands are more premium priced.

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Admission prices to museums, parks, etc are usually pretty cheap, and there is almost always student/children/senior discounts.

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Some things do cost more than in the US, such as gas, new smartphones, Apple products, cheese (& other imported foods).

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LOW END / BACKPACKING

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TRANSPORTATION

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Try to fly out during low season, when economy tickets can be found under $500. Plan to start looking for tickets at least a few months ahead of time to find the best deals.

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Once there, take a bus from the airport into Taipei (or to whatever city you want to be in). Tickets can be purchased at the airport and it’s the cheapest way to get into the city, under 150NT. Depending on how many stops are on the route (some have a lot more than others, so try to check the route map beforehand!) and traffic, it usually takes about 50-70 minutes to get to Taipei Main Station, and more or less to other parts of the city as well.

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For getting around Taiwan, opt for buses or trains (slow more local trains are likely cheaper than express).

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STAY

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The cheapest places to stay are at hostels or youth centers. You should be able to find beds for under 800NT a night in Taipei, and cheaper rates in other cities.

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EAT

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Even if you’re on a budget, you’ll still get to experience the whole spectrum of flavors in street food and hole-in-wall eateries. Your best bet for cheap and filling meals would be at noodle / dumpling shops (usually these look like an outdoor metal kitchen area in a fog of steam, and some tables in the indoor area) or at buffets (you go down the line with a plate or box and point at what you want, get rice, soup and pay by weight). You can easily average under 200NT (~$6 a meal).

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Trendy food usually starts off in the form of a street food cart. Even fancy food usually finds its way to the street food scene. There’s no shortage of options, from traditional Taiwanese snacks to sushi to crepes to 1000cc boba drinks to Taiwanese steakhouses. Just go to a night market (or wherever street carts are clustered) and get in the longest line you see.

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If you have access to a kitchen, it would also be economical to get produce at traditional markets (note that these are closed on Mondays!) and to go to neighborhood grocery chains like DingHao or QuanLian for snacks and frozen foods (frozen dumplings in Taiwan put even fresh dumplings in America to shame).

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And if all else fails, there’s always 7 Eleven. They even have microwaves and hot water if you want to eat there. Most convenience stores have at least some seats or tables and a bathroom too.

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DO

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So much can be done for free. Many of the attractions have free and ticketed areas. For example, you can explore the CKS Memorial Hall park and the main part of the memorial for free, while some exhibitions are ticketed. Same with Taipei 101. You can visit the building and window shop in the department store area for free. You can even go up and see the view from the Starbucks on the 35th floor (with a reservation at least 1 day ahead, and minimum purchase of 200NT). You can also go on hikes (Elephant Mountain is a fast one with a killer view of Taipei), walk around “old streets” (Dihua Street is in the middle of Taipei, or take a bus to Jiufen and make a cheap day trip out of it), and submerge yourself in the culture by exploring markets and temples.

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MID RANGE / COMFORTABLE

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TRANSPORTATION

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Try look for tickets a few months early. There are often great deals for Economy Plus tickets during off season (sometimes under $1000). Throughout the year, besides holiday and summer high seasons, you should be able to easily find Economy tickets under $1000.

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Once there, take the airport MRT into Taipei. A ticket from the airport to Taipei Main Station is 160NT and takes 40-50 minutes depending on if you take the “express” or “commuter” train. The HSR is the same price and faster, but a little less convenient to get to the station.

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For getting around Taiwan, opt for express trains.

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STAY

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There are plenty of budget hotels (2 star, 3 star) in all the cities, as well as Airbnbs. You should be able to get a private room for 2 people for under 2000NT a night. If you are looking for an Airbnb in the city, make sure to ask where the nearest MRT station is. A good rule of thumb is to stay within a 10 minute walk to the nearest station and to be within a few stops from a transfer station. If you are venturing away from the bustle of the cities, you’ll find plenty of perfectly decorated (and often themed) local bed and breakfasts, or even entire houses for short term rent surrounded by idyllic landscape on the east coast.

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EAT

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For under 400NT (~$13) a meal, you can basically have anything you can dream of, even all-you-can-eat buffets. Most mid-range restaurants and chains should all fall within this budget, so you don’t need to consciously look for anything in particular when choosing a restaurant or ordering to average under 400NT a meal.

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When in doubt, a consistent option for lunch or dinner are the food courts in department stores, train stations, etc. You’ll find that food courts in Taiwan are an entirely different concept than your typical mall food court in middle America. If anything, it’s more similar to the “food halls” of NYC and LA. Generally, there are counter-order options, dine-in restaurants, market specialty stands, and high end grocery stores all packed into one or two floors and offering options in a range of cuisines.

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You will find that the most popular cuisines in mid-range restaurants are Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese. Western restaurants may come at a more premium price.

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DO

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A majority of things to do in Taiwan all land within this moderate budget range. Most museums, parks, ticketed events, all have fair admission prices, usually in the 100-500NT range, with options for discounted tickets for children, students, seniors, etc. The most famous museum, National Palace Museum, is 250NT for a regular ticket.

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On a rainy day, you can kill a few hours in a private karaoke room (yes, free AC, ensuite bathroom, unlimited food) without breaking the bank. These are usually cheaper during off-peak hours, and you can pay by room or by person, depending on the packages.

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There are also a bunch of day trips that can be done for under 1000NT / person (this is taking into account transportation, food, admission, etc).

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You can also “pamper” yourself with massages, manicures, even getting your hair washed and conditioned (yes, this is a popular leisure activity) for under 500NT.

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For shopping, go to XiMenDing, which has a good mix of everything from street vendors to international brands.

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HIGH END / LUXURY

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TRANSPORTATION

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During off-season, you can score business class tickets for as low as $3000 (LAX to TPE). Otherwise, it is usually around $4000-$5000 for non-stop flights.

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Once there, you can either opt for the most direct and easiest way into town via taxi (usually around 1000NT), or the fastest way to any city in Taiwan via the high speed rail (HSR). HSR tickets from Taoyuan to Taipei are 160NT for regular tickets, 350NT for business class and takes about 25 min. Depending on traffic and what part of town you’re headed, going by car will take 30 min to an hour.

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Getting around, you can hire a taxi for a day if you’re hopping in and out a lot, but if you’re in Taipei, it’s pretty easy to hail a cab from the street (it never takes longer than a few minutes to get one). Taxi rates are pretty fair, starting at 70NT and going up 5NT per 200m after in Taipei. Other cities are similar, but some have a higher base fee. There’s usually a 20NT premium for night service.

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STAY

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If you want a luxurious experience, book a stay at one of the many five-star hotels. From the Grand Hyatt across from Taipei 101 to the W right by Taipei City Hall to eslite Hotel tucked off ZhongXiao East Road to the Mandarin Oriental near Taipei Arena, there are countless options for 5 star living.

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If Airbnb is more your thing, you can get a modern apartment in a trendy neighborhood all to yourself for $250 a night.

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Try to plan a weekend getaway and hit up a hot springs resort (Wu Lai). Rooms usually come with a private hot spring tub on a balcony with a view of lush mountains beyond.

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EAT

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Even if you don’t stay at a 5 star hotel, you should definitely still eat at one. Going to a hotel buffet is an experience that can only be matched by Las Vegas. There’s beautiful spreads of food often with made-to-order options in a beautiful setting. The most economical time to go is for “afternoon tea,” which usually is similar to lunch in terms of offerings, but cheaper due to the timing.

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Just because you think the food courts are for the plebes, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat at a department store. Just go up, instead of down. While food courts are usually on the B1-B3 levels (in Taipei), if you go to the top few floors, there’s usually one that is dedicated to sit-down restaurants (rather than order counters).

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Other $$ restaurants are usually scattered in the Xin Yi, Da An, and Zhong Shan districts, on the big boulevards and surrounding the shopping areas.

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DO

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Most things in Taiwan are not exhorbitantly priced, so the only places that cost a pretty penny are probably inside 5 star hotels (spas, nightclubs, bars, etc).

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For shopping, go to the Taipei City Hall area, where you can shop through 10 department store buildings (if you’re not familiar with Asian department stores, this isn’t like your local mall's Macy’s, think more like Harrod’s in London) without getting a drop of rain on your head (v convenient on rainy days).

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HOTELS

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There is a whole range of hotels to fit pretty much any budget. The lower end rivals hostel prices (if you’re splitting the cost with a travel buddy), while high end hotels offer first class experiences for a 5 star price.

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There are plenty of budget hotels (2 star, 3 star) in all the cities. You can easily find a private room for 2 people for under 2000NT a night. These might be a little older and dingier in decor and architecture, with fewer amenities. If you want a classy experience, book a stay at one of the many five-star hotels. From the Grand Hyatt across from Taipei 101 to the Mandarin Oriental near Taipei Arena, there are countless options for 5 star living while racking up points at international hotels. For a traditional old-world experience, head up to Yuanshan and go to the iconic Grand Hotel in Taipei. There are also “motels” which aren’t like a Motel 6, rather, they are boutique hotels that are moderately priced. Check out Wego Neihu or CheckInn in Zhongshan.

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There are also a whole bunch of luxury resorts in scenic areas, often with great amenities (like hot springs, private balconies, etc) and fine dining included, perfect for an all-inclusive escape.

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There are also plenty of more budget-friendly family-owned bed and breakfasts (often with super cute themed designs and home-cooked meals) in small towns.

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AIRBNB / SHORT TERM RENTALS

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There are also plenty of Airbnb options in the cities and beyond. In Taipei, you can get a private room for as little as $40-50 a night, or a spacious modern apartment in a trendy neighborhood all to yourself for $250 a night. In the scenic countryside, you can rent an entire beautifully designed home for as low as 3000NT a night (seriously, this place is so aesthetic).

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If you are looking for an Airbnb or other short term rental in the city, make sure to ask where the nearest MRT station is. A good rule of thumb is to stay within a 10 minute walk to the nearest station and to be within a few stops from a transfer station.

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HOSTELS

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The cheapest places to stay are at hostels or youth centers. You should be able to find beds for under 800NT a night in Taipei, and cheaper rates in other cities. There are a lot of hostels and budget-friendly “backpacker” hotels in the Taipei Main Station area.

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GETTING TO TAIWAN

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Pretty much the only way to get to Taiwan is by air. Sure, there may be some ways to get there by boat from Japan, maybe. But don’t. Just fly.

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The most common airlines for direct flights are Eva Air and China Airlines (which is a Taiwanese airline, not to be confused with Air China). Other common airlines are Singapore (my fave), Cathay, Japan. There are a bunch of discount shorthaul airlines from Japan as well, if you're doing a bigger Asia trip.

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TO & FROM THE AIRPORT

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The cheapest way is to take a bus. There’s a ticketing area in the arrivals terminal, and there is regular service to Taipei as well as other cities – though less frequent at night than during the day. Some airport buses take longer than others (they have more stops circling around more places), so if you’re just looking to get to Taipei Main Station or one of the major MRT stations, try to look for an express route with fewer stops.

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Another easy and inexpensive way to get to Taipei is by the metro that connects the airport to Taipei Main Station. A ticket from the airport to Taipei Main Station is 160NT and takes 40-50 minutes depending on if you take the “express” or “commuter” train.

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The fastest way to get into town would be by high speed rail, which takes 25 minutes to get to Taipei (starting at 160NT) and can even get you to Kaohsiung in under 2 hours (starting at 1330NT). You can take the metro from the airport to the HSR station, or take a shuttle. You can also take a taxi into town for about 1000NT.

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GETTING AROUND TAIWAN

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There are several ways to get around Taiwan, and depending on your budget and where you’re trying to go, you should opt for different options.

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If you’re trying to get from Taipei to any city on the western coast (Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, etc) or vice versa, the most efficient way would be to go by HSR. The HSR can get you from Taipei to Kaohsiung in less than 2 hours. It stops at 12 cities / towns down the western side of Taiwan. Book ahead of time to save up to 35% off full price tickets.

  • - For cheaper and more options / stops, try taking a train. For trains, be sure to get a ticketed seat, and to check the routes and lines. Some are more express while others will chug along stopping at every village and town. And yes, you can buy traditional train lunch boxes at the station or during the trip.
  • - The most budget-conscious form of transportation would be by bus. There are countless long-distance buses (at varying degrees of quality) that drive between the big city stations. You can buy these day-of (usually even in the hour before departure) at the stations. Tickets are generally one-way and pretty cheap. Some bus companies are more expensive than others (those might come with big armchair seats and a personal TV screen), many of them have wifi (though not the most reliable service), and pretty much all of them have a bathroom (but still, go before you board). Of course with buses, your travel time is subject to traffic. But the highways are good along the western side, so it’s generally not too bad.

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If you’re trying to get to and from the east coast (Hualien, Taitung), the fastest way to travel would be by plane. Plane tickets aren’t too expensive (you can buy them just a few days ahead), considering the travel time is 30-40 min, compared to the upwards of 5+ hours by train or car. You can fly out of Songshan airport in Taipei (so you don’t have to trek to Taoyuan), to either Hualien or Taitung.

  • - The most scenic route would be by train. Puyuma and Taroko trains that go directly from Taipei are a little over 2 hours to Hualien and 3 and a half to 4 hours to Taitung, while local commuter trains can take several more hours.
  • - And of course you can also take a bus, but the freeways and roads aren’t as efficient as they are on the west coast, so it can a pretty slow drive, especially if you’re venturing into the mountains.

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If you’re going to one of the islands, the best and fastest way is to take a plane as well. There are also ferries from nearby cities if you prefer to travel by sea.

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TRAVELING WITHIN A CITY

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TAXIS

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Taxis are extremely common and popular in Taipei. I used to joke that if you stood by the side of the street and sneezed, two taxis would pull over. In other cities, like Taichung, it’s harder to flag down a taxi and best to call one for pick up. Same goes for smaller towns – ask locals for the phone number (or ask them to call one for you!) If you do flag one from the street, you can see if the taxi is available by the neon red or green sign (the words are in Chinese, but you can tell by the color). Taxis have a starting fee and then goes up by distance or time. At night, there’s usually a 20NT premium.

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Generally, taxi drivers are pretty honest. They know all the back streets (you just tell them where you want to go and they go - no map needed), and know how to cut through traffic (put on your seatbelt!). But if you do feel like you might be getting scammed, just open maps in your phone as a precaution. I will say that if you do speak some Chinese, taxi drivers are pretty talkative, so if you ever are wondering about politics, society, food recommendations...you know who to ask! If you don’t speak Chinese, have someone write down where you are trying to go, or just pull up the Chinese name on your phone. The likeliness of taxi drivers speaking English is extremely low – many of them (especially down south) won’t even speak much Mandarin.

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SUBWAY / MRT

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The only cities with a subway system are Taipei and Kaohsiung, though Taichung is in the process of building theirs out. It’s definitely more popular and more comprehensive in Taipei than in Kaohsiung. Both systems are modern and clean (especially when you compare to subways in New York or Paris). The price of each ride depends on the distance you travel (generally 25 - 50 NT), rather than being a standard price per ride. So if you’re buying a single-use ticket, you’ll have to study the map and figure out where you’re going, and then buy a coin with the appropriate amount (the coin is tapped on entrance to scan, and then deposited on exit).

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This is probably the most reliable way of getting around, and the most tourist-friendly. All stations are announced in English, Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka, and announcements and signs are displayed both in Chinese (traditional) and English. There is free wifi and charging pods at every station. Some stations can be more convoluted than others, but as long as you keep track of the signs and the color-coded lines, you should have no problem.

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BUSES

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The bus system is pretty convoluted. It’s definitely a popular method of transportation for locals, because it is cheaper than the MRT and has a lot more options and bus stops for those who know exactly where they need to be. However, these are not as tourist friendly, mostly because stations are only sometimes announced (and often only in Mandarin), and also because the timetables can be unreliable (like 5 of the same bus coming at the same time, and then nothing for the next hour). It’s pretty easy to miss your stop, sometimes if you don’t flag it early enough the bus driver will skip a stop, etc.

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Buses can also be confusing because depending on the route (or what part of the route), you would pay when you get on or get off, or both. There’s usually a sign (in Chinese) that indicates when you pay at the front of the bus. All being said, there are some parts of town that aren’t covered by MRT, so there may be cases where buses are the way to go. But if you don’t know Chinese, it might be better to grab a taxi. Buses have free wifi in Taipei.

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BIKES

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Taipei has a pretty robust bike-share system called You-Bike with 200 stations all around the city. Other cities have also begun to implement the system, though at smaller scales. You can register at the station using an EasyCard and be charged depending on how long you rent it for (starting at 5NT for the first 30 minutes in Taipei City, free elsewhere). In more rural areas, a lot of hotels and bed and breakfasts have bikes that you can borrow to get around for the day.

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OTHER

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For sightseeing in more rural areas, your best bet is to hire a taxi for a day to take you from place to place. Or, if you’re looking to go from a hotel to a destination (like Hualien to Taroko), look for tour buses that take you directly there.

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EasyCards 101

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Warning: EasyCards are actually life-changing. After you figure out the full capabilities of this system, you will no longer be impressed by any other public transportation system.

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To someone new to Taiwan, EasyCards might just seem like re-loadable transportation cards. And while that is the primary function, it is so much more. For example, you can use your card for any form of public transportation: bikes, buses, subways, taxis, trains, HSR, in the country. You can also use it at any convenience store (7-Eleven, FamilyMart, etc), and on top of that, a lot of other chain stores (including bakeries, eateries, department stores, grocery stores). It’s like a tappable debit card (a lot of locals actually connect it to their bank accounts so it reloads automatically). All of these tap to pay options are new in America, but have been seamlessly integrated into Taiwanese society for years. You don’t even need to take it out of your wallet or bag (which helps facilitate the endless flow of people during rush hour). For the MRT, you have to scan when you enter and leave the station, since the amount deducted depends on how far you travel.

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EasyCards are sold at all MRT stations (in Taipei and Kaohsiung) and at convenience stores. They cost 100NT, plus however much you want to load in. When you’re leaving, you can also return the card for any of the balance you have left, so you don't have to worry about extra money going to waste. You can refill in the kiosks at MRT stations or at convenience stores in cash or card. There are also scanners where you can check your balance (of course, whenever you use the card on the bus, MRT, it displays your balance).

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You are only allowed to use up to 1000NT per transaction, max 3000NT per day and hold up to 10,000NT on the card (though I can’t imagine actually keeps that much money on their card).

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Tl;dr: the first thing you should do when getting to Taipei is to buy an EasyCard. The 100NT ($3) price is totally worth the convenience.

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TRANSPORTATION ETIQUETTE

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Priority seats: Sure, a lot of cities have priority seating in public transportation. But in Taiwan, they take it very seriously. Even if you aren’t in priority seating, it is still best practice to offer your seat to any elderly, pregnant, or injured person, or children.

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Foot traffic in the MRT stations can get pretty hectic, so the general rule of thumb is to walk on the right side (sometimes there’s even a rail dividing paths in half). When in doubt, go with the flow of people. On escalators, stand on the right half, walk on the left half. Do not. I repeat. DO NOT stand on the left side and block traffic. This actually was briefly a law, but now it's just common courtesy.

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When waiting for the MRT, stay in the lines drawn on the floor, and do let people get off before going in. Again, these are rules actually followed.

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On buses, you can usually get on from the back door and leave from the front door. Of course, if you have to pay when you get on, you should get on from the front and leave through the back. Like I said, it can be confusing.

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GOOGLE MAPS

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Google Maps is a bit of a hit or miss. It’s definitely not as commonly used as it is in the US, so some of the locations are not very accurate. Same goes for public transportation – don’t use it. However, it is pretty useful to download an offline area and use it to navigate around the city if you’re walking.

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MEASUREMENTS

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Taiwan (like the rest of the world) uses the metric system, so brush up on the conversions for everything from temperature to distance to weight to volume.

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In traditional markets, produce will be sold either by item or using Japanese mass measurements where “jing” is about 0.6kg and “liang” is about 37.5g.

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Physical spaces are generally measured in “ping” which is about 3.3 square meters.

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TIME

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Taiwan does not observe daylight savings, so depending on the time of year, Taiwan is 12 or 13 hrs ahead of EST, 15 or 16 hrs ahead of PST.

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Generally, people follow the same Gregorian calendar. However, religious activities and holidays tend to go by the lunar calendar. If you buy a calendar or planner in Taiwan, it’ll probably have the lunar calendar dates overlaid on it. Birthdays tend to be celebrated on either calendar date.

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Taiwan also uses both the BCE/CE year count, as well as the “Republic of China” calendar which counts years starting from the first year of the republic, 1912. So, 2017 is the year 106. You can just add or subtract 11 to get the year. A lot of people say their age by the year they were born, like saying your birth year was 83 instead of 1994. And you’ll probably see the ROC year used for expiry dates as well.

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Age is sometimes calculated differently, though people also go by their “western” age as well. You are 1 year old on the date of birth, and then you count each year with the Lunar New Year rather than your birthday.

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CURRENCY

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The easy conversion is $1 to 30NT, so you can just mentally divide NT prices by 30 to get the USD estimation. Or even easier but less accurate, use $3 for 100NT, $30 for 1000NT and multiply it out. So if something is 500NT, it would be about $3x5=$15. The actual rate fluctuates but over the past decade it’s stayed around this rate.

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But if you want the official conversion rate check here.

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CLOTHES

  • - During winter: sweaters, jeans, coats (they don’t have heaters, so definitely wear layers)
  • - During summer: T-shirts, shorts, maybe a light jacket (in case they crank up the AC) but generally loose clothing that withstands humidity is your best friend

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SHOES

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  • - Something waterproof (flip flops with a grip?)
  • - Something easy to walk in
  • - Slippers (for indoor use, you can buy this there)

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ACCESSORIES

  • - Sunglasses
  • - Hat (you’ll probably need it for the shade, tbh)

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OTHER

  • - Converter for electronics
  • - Portable umbrella (or get this once there)
  • - Sunscreen
  • - Bug repellent (or get this locally)
  • - Access to cash - a lot of street food and hole-in-wall places only accept cash, so make sure you bring some, or at least have access to getting some, at least 300NT per day per person if you plan to also use card, and at least 600NT per day per person (unless you also plan to shop, etc) if you want to only use cash.
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OFFICIAL TOURISM WEBSITES

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OTHER GUIDES TO CHECK OUT

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Rough Guides: This is a good place to start when planning a trip. There’s a lot of details by geographic area, and short descriptions of different points of interest. The guide is also very good at giving context, whether cultural or historical, to different places. It’s not a super visual guide, but very informative.

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AFAR Guide: This guide gives a quick overview of Taiwan, and has some interesting curated articles and places. Definitely more of an experienced traveler’s perspective than a locals one.

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Design*Sponge City Guides: These are great personal guides for the aesthetically-conscious. There are definitely places here that I’ve added to my list. Amazing for discovering small shops and concept stores to check out, and trendy places to eat and drink.

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The Thousandth Girl Blog: This is a great blog to discover new places to check out from a local creative’s perspective. There’s a lot of small guides like the best hikes, or best late night food.

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Hungry in Taipei Blog: This is my go-to English language food blog for Taipei. Not the best place to peruse when you’re hungry, but a detailed guide if you ever need inspiration on where to eat, and what is and isn’t worth the wait. You can filter by location (MRT station, neighborhood), cuisine and price range.

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T+L Guide: This is a good top-line guide to Taiwan for more “mainstream” travelers: great for getting the download on international hotels, famous restaurants and popular things to do.

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TripAdvisor: Great collection of crowd-sourced guides, itineraries and reviews by fellow travelers.

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EMERGENCY NUMBERS

  • Ambulance / Fire: 119
  • Police: 110
  • English-speaking directory assistance: 106
  • Freeway / traffic info: 168
  • Tourism Information Hotline: +886-[0]2-2717-3737
  • 24hr Travel Info: 0800-011-765
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs: +886-[0]2-2348-2999
  • Visa International Hotline: +886-[0]2-2546-3456