In order for you to become more independent, try visiting a foreign land once in a while. Just you or with someone you won’t feel being dependent on. Breathe a sigh of relief after doing something right even if you didn’t understand what the locals were trying to say. DIY traveling unlocks your potential to survive without relying too much on one blueprint plus it gives you the freedom to control your time and finances. Taiwan is a country rich in beauty and discipline, waiting to be discovered by the travel-hungry. I included tips and links of helpful apps/websites on how you can save time, money, and effort while you enjoy traveling around in The Heart of Asia. Enjoy reading!
A better way is to have your PHP exchanged to USD in foreign exchange centers here in the Philippines first then convert USD to NTD in Taiwan. I recommend Czarina Foreign Exchange since they have the best exchange rates (airport rate sucks). I’ve been told that you have to visit their main branch near Ayala Triangle if you want to buy USD but I called Greenbelt and Uptown Mall and they said I should call around 12NN to know if they have enough USD to sell (since they usually buy USD from clients). Luckily, they have enough USD for me. Since I work in BGC, I went to the Uptown Mall branch which is located at the mall’s basement. You must present your passport, another government issued ID, and your plane ticket/travel itinerary because they won’t entertain you if you didn’t comply. Money exchange centers are limited to airports and banks in Taiwan (mandated by the government) unlike in Hongkong where they can be found in almost every corner. There are, however, individuals who discreetly buy USD (a t-shirt souvenir vendor in Shilin Market offered but we just declined).
We stayed in Taipei Livepal Hostel via Booking.com (GET YOUR US$15 VOUCHER NOW WHEN YOU BOOK AND STAY IN ANY HOTEL THROUGH THIS LINK) because it’s just 5 minutes away from Songshan MRT and TRA stations and 4 minutes away from Raohe Street Night Market. Talk about convenience and not waking up extra early haha (although we still did). They have air conditioned capsule type rooms (bed size is 95 x 195 cm) and wi-fi is available (though I find it a bit weak from the 2nd floor). Hairdryers are also available in their shared bathrooms. There’s also a lounge with TV, books, water dispenser, microwave, kitchenette, and a refrigerator where you can store your food (just make sure to label yours). Lockers are also available outside the rooms with a size of 89 x 43 x 77 cm (28 inches luggage is fitted). You also need to leave your shoes in their shoe rack but they’ll provide you shared slippers if you didn’t bring yours. Kinda yucky, right? LOL!
Prior to our trip, we rented a portable wi-fi from Flytpack. We were delighted on its fast speed (20-30mbps) and long battery life (up to 10 hours). The rental fee for Taiwan is Php 260 per day and we had a total of Php 3,560 for 6 days (including courier fee, Php 1,800 deposit, 12% VAT, service fee). The deposit was returned to my account 2 weeks after pick-up.
Date of router rental begins on the departure date and ends on the return date.
Make sure to book on their website 5 days before your departure date (to be safe).
The router will be collected within 3 days after your return date.
To get a discount, look for Flytpack brand influencers and use their promo code. I used Crissey Si’s code FPCRISSEY and got Php 90 off hehe! Who doesn’t love discounts, anyway??
Now for some fun. If you want to skip the long queues and hassle of transferring from one transportation to another, a joiner/package trip will be your best friend. Not only you get to save time, but your energy and money as well! We booked our Leofoo Village, Jiufen, and Shifen tour tickets in Klook (avail your discount now!). When I checked the ticket rate in Leofoo Village’s website, the Amphibious ticket (Leofoo Village Theme & Water Park) is around Php 2,200 (NTD 1,299) but we only got it for Php 1,078 in Klook. We saved a thousand peso! You should also commit to their stated pick-up time. We had a misfortune of coming late (because we alighted at the wrong station at first, thanks to me huhu) to our Yehliu, Jiufen, & Shifen tour. We were late for 10 minutes at the pick-up point. I hoped for some luck so we waited for the next bus. However, the Klook staff was only able to provide us extra seats for the tour without Yehliu Geopark on the list *cries*. I learned the hard way. Leave earlier (so you can have contingency time in case you get lost) and make sure you read the correct details on your voucher.
FOOD AND BUBBLE TEA
Food and other commodities in Taiwan cost almost twice the price in Philippines (x 1.6-1.7) Bottled water is NTD 24-35 (Php 40-60) in convenience stores and markets. Rice and pork topping we ate in a non-air conditioned eatery is NTD 50 (Php 100). Bubble tea ranges from NTD 60-100 (Php 100-170). Most restaurants don’t serve a free glass of water for every meal purchased. The best places to eat? Night markets and old towns (Raohe Street Night Market, Shilin Night Market, Jiufen, Shifen, etc.)! Great food at cheap prices await your tummy and pockets. Taiwan is definitely a foodie’s heaven. Must try: Stinky Tofu & Takoyaki (with legit baby octopus) at Raohe Street Night Market in Songshan and Tiger Sugar Bubble Tea in Ximending. Keep in mind that traveling shouldn’t only fill your soul but your stomach as well hehe.
DEBIT CARD ACTIVATION
If you only have a debit card with Mastercard/Visa like I do (still afraid of the credit card commitment), contact your bank to activate it internationally 3-5 banking days prior your departure. Charges apply when you withdraw and check balance abroad.
Before the trip, I computed our transportation fare from one place to another. That’s how dedicated I am in traveling and saving money haha! Fare rates are discounted when you use IC card (Integrated Circuit) in riding trains, bicycles, buses, and even in Maokong Gondola (cable car). We bought EasyCard at a convenience store in Taoyuan International Airport. You can have it recharged in MRT stations and convenience stores. EasyCard can also be used in paying at convenience stores and supermarkets.
One of the things I love about Taiwan are its train stations. As an individual who loathes being late, time is of the essence. Same with other Asian countries, train stations in Taiwan are organized, have directions that are very easy to understand & follow, on-time, and tidy.
I used City Rail Map (available in iOS and Android) to guide us in commuting around Taipei by train. This app is an absolute life saver! Just type in your starting point then let the app do the directing. It also shows the details on what line you’ll be transferring to. You don’t have to waste your time researching through the internet for the directions ‘coz City Rail Map got your back. One feature I like about this app is that it gives alerts if you’re near the drop-off point (just bring your trusty wi-fi with you).
Planning to visit Taichung, Kaohsiung, or other parts of Taiwan? TRA and THSR will be your best options.
If you have money to spare and prefer a quick travel time go for THSR where Taipei to Taichung is about less than an hour. Check the schedule and fare: THSR Timetable and Fare
But if you’re on a tight budget like us, you may ride the TRA and this will take you a little longer though. Taipei to Taichung is about 2.5-3 hours if you choose this. Check the schedule and fare: TRA Timetable and Fare
Taiwanese Hokkien and Chinese Mandarin are the main languages in Taiwan. You’ll have a hard time communicating with most of the locals (most especially in provinces) since they don’t speak English that much except for Taiwanese millennials. In our case, we used hand gestures and iTranslate (which has a voice and camera translation) to help us understand each other. I also showed photos and words in Chinese characters of our destinations to non-English speakers when I asked for directions.
Thank you for your time and I hope you find this blog helpful. Do you have an upcoming trip to Taiwan? You might wanna check out my blog post about Taichung where fairy tale-like places exist! Feel free to ask me anything 🙂