I first dreamed of going to Taiwan to see different arts and craft stores and visit their 24-hr boosktore (though I'm not sure if seeing Meteor Garden actors IRL would count lol) and to drink bubble milk tea. I've been reading several blogs that Taipei (Taiwan's capital) is much like Japan's art scene and I heard from a tour guide that Japan had been a big influence to this country. No wonder I fell in love with this place immediately.
The series of Taiwan trip posts will be an accumulation of my both visits (January and May 2018) so if you'd be asking about my itinerary, there had been repeated visits to some spots. The reasons behind this were (1) my 1st visit was with the family so since I'm the master planner of the whole trip, I need to include tourist spots that are family- and preschooler-friendly (my nephew was with us) which means less walking and (2) I was suppose to fly solo in my 2nd visit (wherein I initially planned just to visit Taichung + art hubs around Taipei) when my boyfriend decided to tag along so I need include again must-see spots.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TAIWAN. To summarize, Taiwan's rich of art parks, museums, night markets, delicious local foods and convenient modes of transportation. For their currency, during my 1st visit, it was 1 PHP to 1.66 NTD but during my last visit, it was 1 PHP to 1.74 NTD. I tried exchanging my peso and dollars both here in Manila (thru ForEx stores) and in Taoyuan airport and I found out that they give better exchange in their airport. Initially, Taiwan requires visa but as of this writing, it's visa-free for Philippine Passport Holders until July 31, 2018. I stayed most of the time in Taipei so I can pretty much say I enjoyed the weather last January (winter: 11-20°C) than my stay last May (spring to summer--but really felt like Manila summer! 30-34°C).
Most probably, you'll be arriving at Taoyuan International Airport so commute going to Taipei is just easy. You have 4 options: (1) bus which operates 24/7 in its respective terminal, (2) airport MRT which has 2 kinds: express (has 4 stops before arriving in Taipei in 40 mins) and commuter (has 12 stops before arriving in Taipei in 1 hr and 10 mins), fare is NTD 160, (3) private transfer (NTD 1700 with Leo Sun: just search his FB page Leo Sun Taiwan Tour Team for Filipinos--this rate was given when I was with my family of 6 to Shilin District | price depends on area of drop-off) and (4) taxis which may cost NTD 1200-1700 depends on your drop off.
Basically, there's free Wi-Fi in almost all areas in Taipei but it's not that reliable (especially on trains and stations) so you may avail a sim card upon airport arrival or rent a pocket Wifi from Klook here. You'll also be needing commuter cards/tickets/passes in order to ride MRT (some cards will have free entries to some spots). Here are the following tickets that I've tried: (1) single journey coin, (2) 72-hr Taipei Metro Pass (NTD 330), (3) 5-day Taipei Fun Pass (NTD 700 with free access to scenic spots | learn more about this ticket's perks here) and (4) EasyCard (basically reloadable but have to buy the card for NTD 100 but reusable when you plan to visit Taipei anytime soon--as long as within 2 yrs from last use). I suggest you to plan your itinerary well to decide on what "pass"/ticket you'll be getting since they come with different day passes as well. To further help you in commuting, download the app Go! Metro Taipei app: it aids you to know the different train lines (it's color-coded so visual people, rejoice!) and the train transfers, station information (and what sightseeing spots can you see from that station) and even travel time!
You have to keep in mind that Taipei Main Station is just literally the main station of all train lines and even buses: Taipei Metro (MRT), airport MRT, THSR (bullet train) and TRA (local train). You start from this station going to your next destination or in your accommodation.
FUN FACT: Bring a small notebook with you as every MRT stations has their own stamp station and you can stamp your notebook for free (read: remembrance). Each station has different designs and usually uses drawings/symbols of what you can expect from that particular station.
You can watch these videos below. These are my January and May 2018 trips, respectively.
TAIPEI MUST-SEE SPOTS. Here's a list of tourist spots you can see in the capital (format: short description/admission fee/nearest MRT line):
1. Taipei 101. I've been here for both during day and night. I can say I appreciated it more during night. The unobstructed view is at the 89th floor and elevator trip is just around 37 seconds from the 1st floor. You can also see the wind damper in the 88th flr which keeps the building from swaying through winds.
Admission: Php 896 thru Klook / MRT: Red line - Taipei 101 station
2. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. If you're lucky, you'll ge to see the hourly changing of guards
Admission: Free / MRT: Red or Green line - Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Station
3. Longshan Temple. You'll love all the intricate details and colors this temple has! Flowers and street foos are being sold in front of the temple.
Admission: Free / MRT: Blue line - Longshan Temple
4. Taipei Zoo. If you're a nature lover or would like to see pandas, this is a must-see
Admission: NTD 60 / MRT: Brown line - Taipei Zoo
5. Maokong Gondola. The ride here gives a panoramic view of the whole city through cable car. It's best to ride it during sunset and it runs for 4 kms or 30 mins one way.
Admission: NTD 120 one-way, Free if with Taipei Fun Pass / MRT: Brown line - Taipei Zoo
6. 2/28 Peace Memorial Park. We had our lunch here since it's less tourist-y. From what I've read this park has squirrels but failed to see some since it's summer when we went here. I only got to see big turtles in the pond. Also nearby spots are National Taiwan Museum and Presidential Office Building.
Admission: Free / MRT: Red line - NTU Hospital
7. Tamsui Wharf. For obvious reasons, you'll see yachts, party boats and lover's bridge. Best to visit during sunset/sunrise. You can ride boat to see the whole of Tamsui River with your Easycard. On the bus ride going to the wharf, you can drop by Fort Sto. Domingo and going back to the MRT station, you can hang out in the old street. I got to eat the best pork bun (stall beside small Family Mart) in this station, too.
Admission: Free / MRT: Red line - Tamsui then take bus no. 26, 836 or 857 towards Fisherman's Wharf
8. Shilin Night Market. It's the only night market I visited for few times. In my first visit, my family stayed at a hostel near this night market. I also read somewhere that's it's the biggest night market in the whole city. You can actually shops for clothes and shoes here in great value. For food, try their legit Hot Starr chicken (that's even bigger than your face), frog eggs, bubble tea, beef noodles with dumplings, Benefly milk tea (comes with a free tumblar in just NTD 70), pineapple cakes + salted egg nougat cookies (this pair is a staple pasalubong), stinky tofu, lobsters and shrimps clad in melted cheese, fried milk, etc. You can get to try toy cranes and avail a variety of candies, too.
Admission: Free / MRT: Red line - Jiantan (but I personally prefer the Shilin station, might be a longer walk but I like the end side of the night market more because of lesser crowd)
9. Gudetama Chef Restaurant. Taipei is also known for theme cafes or resataurants. Since Gudetama is my fave Sanrio character, I knew that I must visit this place! Food are a little bit expensive but every corner of the resto is IG-able (because adorable, lol).
10. Outside Taipei Spots. If you need more scenic views like nature or flowers, get ready to be into adventures which meant more (and local) train rides + bus rides + long walks. I made a separate entry about Houli Flower Farm, Rainbow Village, Jiufen, Shifen and Yehliu Geopark here.
11. Creative Parks/Art Hubs/Stationery or Art Stores. There are a lot of arts and crafts hubs in Taipei so looking shall not be a problem. The most popular parks they have are Shongshan Cultural and Creative Park and Huashan 1914 Creative Park which both houses pop-up art events/installations. You can read a lot more about them on my separate post here.
Before I end the first part of my Taiwan blog entries, here are some travel tips while exploring this city:
1. Always bring your extra small bag or ecobag with you. You'll never how much pasalubong you'll buy in every destination you go to.
2. In case you're too early for your flight or for your check-in in your accommodation, you can leave your luggages in lockers in MRT stations. Lockers have different sizes so even big luggages can be accommodated. We tried using it once, for a small and big luggages and surprisingly, they fit in the large size lockers which costs NTD 70 for 3 hrs. Pls do take note that price differs in locker size. You can get locker information in the Go! Metro Taipei app I mentioned earlier, too.
3. Non-food pasalubongs (pens, good luck tags, keychains, bookmarks) can be bought cheaper at bookstores. Tourist spots offer them in more expensive prices.
4. If you're not so picky with food (but I love their food selection most of the time), 7/11, Family Mart Mart and Hi-Life Convenience Stores can save your travel budget!
I hope this post will make you want to book a flight to this fuss-free country ASAP!
Photo credits: Some of the photos were from Kayle Castro (Taipei 101 night time pics, CKS Memorial Hall, Longshan Temple, Shilin, Tamsui Wharf/Old Street, 2/22 Peace Park), Sydney Esteron (Taipei 101 daytime pics, streets, Taipei Zoo, Maokong Gondola, Shilin, MRT) and Celine Esteron (Maokong Gondola, Taipei Zoo and Gudetama Resto). You may follow their respective IG accounts linked to their names for their portfolio.