Like 2012, I began my 2013 with an overseas trip. This time to Taiwan! Also like the one in 2012, it was a trip with my fellow NTU toastmasters, but this time a little different. No funding from the school. Which also means we have more freedom in this trip!
5 of us this time, 1 Singaporean, 1 Scottish, 3 Chinese. We do our own research, plan our own itinerary, and select our own Toastmasters Club in Taiwan to visit.
Taiwan is a really popular holiday destination for many Singaporeans. Since the day I returned, I have quite a number of friends asking me how to travel the whole of Taiwan, requesting for my trip itinerary and so on. I also have some friends who have chosen Taiwan for their grad trip, which is really HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
So right now in this post, I’m going to share whatever I did for this Taiwan trip, which I think might help you in your planning and traveling over there. This is gonna be a super-long post, and not all will be relevant to you. Just find what you need !
Below is what I will cover, but feel free to go to any section you like.
1. My Itinerary | 2. Transportation | 3. Accommodation
4. Food | 5. Telecommunication | 6. Taiwan Traveling Tips
7. What I did and you should too
1. My Itinerary
31 Dec 2012 to 13 Jan 2013. 14D13N.
How much does my entire 14-day trip cost? I’ll reveal at the end when you’ve read what I’ve done there first!
Taipei (2) - Landed on 31st Dec 2012 7am.
Hua Lien (2)
Dan Shui (Taipei) (1)
Taipei (1) – Return to Singapore
Cities we wished we have gone to, but we skipped: Ping Xi, Zhang Hua, Hsin Chu, Tai Tung, Yi Lan. If you have time, you can add them into your tour around Taiwan.
So, where do we go to at the different parts of Taiwan?
National Taiwan University
We are from NTU, so we thought we have to visit NTU – National Taiwan University! It’s just a visit to see how their school is like. After all, we share the same acronym!
National Palace Museum
This is where 6000 treasurers are shipped from China, and kept. Huge museum with lots of exhibition. Might be a little boring for you, if you’re not really into history.
Taipei Presidential Palace
This is like our Singapore’s Istana, where the Taiwan’s President Office is. Therein is also a museum about Taiwan’s history. From this visit, I then knew why some taiwanese have Japanese descent.
Bei Tou Hot Spring
This picture is taken from the web. But that’s exactly how hot spring in Taiwan is like. If you’re in a public hot spring, which is cheap (3 hours for NT$50 (S$2)?), you have to dip inside the spring surrounded by others. For a private one, it can cost about NT$300 (S$12). Up to you to choose!
*Warning to GUYS Only: Don’t dip in the hot spring for long periods. Not GOOD for us!
U-SWOT Toastmasters Club
After all, we are toastmasters! Visiting the U-SWOT Toastmasters Club in Taipei. A very happening club.
Shifen Kong Ming Lantern
If you watched enough Taiwanese dramas, you would have seen Kong Ming Lanterns. Taiwanese believe if you write your well-wishes on the lantern, lit it up and let it fly up the sky, your wishes will come true. 1 lantern is NT$100 (S$4)
JiuFen Old Street
Old streets, Nice food. Up in the mountains too. That also means it can rain very heavily. A pleasant district to walk around.
Sun Moon Lake
Located in Taichung (Central of Taiwan), and you can call it a HUGE reservoir, surrounded by forested areas around. There’s also a reason why it’s called SUN MOON Lake. You’ll find out when you’re there. You can cycle around the whole reservoir, which may take 3-4 hours.
Image from the web. A historical place in Tainan during the Dutch colonization period. A tour around the fort tells you how Zheng Cheng Gong recovered Taiwan from the Dutch. We also visited many markets around Tainan, which I have forgotten the names!
Huayuan Night Market
This night market opens on weekends only, and is crazily HUGE. It can beat all the Taipei Night Market HANDS DOWN. The food at Tainan is relatively cheaper too, and lots of choices. Just look at the flags planted at each stall, trying to outcompete one another.
Creative art and designs exhibition in Kaohsiung, and some even managed to use scrap metal to build the Transformers Megatron. Kaohsiung is more of a business district than those historical place you see in Tainan. Hence, can be quite boring for us city dwellers.
Beaches, Nature Trails
Kenting is one whole attraction by itself, and there’s many things to do. You can rent a motorbike and discover the island, go for water sports at the beaches, or walk on the rocky stones to go near the South China Sea.
But above all, you just have to try their sashimi. Kenting is famous for this, and you must try. First, is because of its price. 1 full plate of 30 pieces of fresh sashimi (above) cost NT$150 ($6). Hey, S$6 can only buy you a few slices in Singapore lah! Wait, look at that pic again. Did you see how thick their sashimi is? It’s more like Sashimi Cubes, than sashimi slices.
After this, I never waste money eating sashimi in Japanese Restaurants in Singapore anymore.
I don’t know how to describe this place, because I’ve never seen it elsewhere before. If you’re a city dweller (Singaporean), then it might be fun for you. A very large area. We lost our way, but the friendly taiwanese helped us by giving us a free ride!
Gong Zhen Bao Zi
And one doesn’t leave Hua Lian without trying the popular Gong Zhen Bao Zi. Yet again, their price is ridiculously low, and food taste superb. Look at their Xiao Long Bao – NT$5. That’s like S$0.20 a piece! What can you buy with S$0.20? Here you can buy a Xiao Long Bao!
Similarly after this, I don’t fancy anymore Xiao Long Baos in Singapore.
Dan Shui is our last stop, because we don’t have anything else in mind to visit. So we just travel around and see what’s nice! What’s famous there is the Fisherman Jetty, and it is quite happening at night. Much like our Clarke Quay. In the day, we just walk around, and found this Aletheia University. Jay Chou fans will love this, because that’s where he film his movie – Secret (Bu Neng Shuo De Mi Mi)
The above mentioned are the places we visited in each area. However, there are many more little places we’ve been too, which are not planned out in the itinerary. I have also somehow forgotten the exact names. But these little places can be found in travel maps of the locations, or you can ask the Taiwanese people there
There are a few ways to travel around Taiwan – Bus, MRT, Train, Bicycle.
Once we landed in the airport, we have to take the bus (coach) out of Taoyuan airport. There’s no taxi or MRT connected to the airport. We took the bus out to Taipei Train Station, and when we are going back to the airport, we took the bus from Taipei Train Station too.
There’s MRT system in Taipei and Kaohsiung, and they are very comfortable. Less squeezy than Singapore’s, and can bring you to many places in Taipei. Kaohsiung has its own MRT system too. Just a note, you have to use different MRT cards in Taipei and Kaohsiung. Use the MRT to travel within the city.
We take the train when we travel from city to city. (MRT is for traveling within the city). From Taipei to TaiChung to Tainan, to Kaohsiung, to Fangliao (Kenting), to Hualian, back to Taipei. Ride vary from 1-2 hours to 6 hours, depends on where want to go.
As you can see that we traveling from places to places, it only make sense that we buy the Train Pass! A TR Pass that allows unlimited rides within a certain number of days.
This is the pass I get for unlimited train rides for 10 days. If you’re a student, you can get student rates too. My TR Pass costs NT$1098, which is about S$45. And that’s enough to travel Taiwan 1 round!
What you need to know about boarding the train with TR Pass:
1. With a TR Pass, you have to check your train timings. Check it online before you leave. You can’t board it like taking a MRT. There are specific train to specific location only. Board the wrong train and you end up elsewhere. You got the wrong timing, you need to wait a few hours for the next train.
Another note about train timing, is that you have to read the terms and conditions of your TR Pass (By the way, it’s all in Chinese). Because it’s a Pass. there are certain train timings which you are not allowed to board, example, peak hour timings).
2. There are different class of trains. Like air tickets, trains have their ‘First Class’ and ‘Economy Class’. Make sure you board the correct class with your TR Pass. Board the wrong one, and you can get fined! For us, that pass let us take ‘Ju Guang Hao’ only.
3. Your TR Pass doesn’t have any train seat number allocated to you. It’s Free Seating. However, the train you are taking are also taking up passengers who bought train tickets with Allocated Seating. Hence, you may find yourself playing ‘musical chairs‘, with passengers claiming you are sitting on their seat at different parts of your train journey.
That’s quite fun actually. But there’s a section of the train which has Free Seating for everybody. Sit there so you have an undisturbed train ride.
We cycled a lot in Taiwan, and that’s because Taiwan actually encouraged people to cycle! It’s part of their movement to reduce pollution from vehicles. Air pollution in Taipei can be quite bad, especially the motorbikes.
First 30 minutes of rental is Free, thereafter, it’s NT$10 ($0.40) for every 15 minutes.
Other than U-Bike, we also cycle at Sun Moon Lake around the reservoir, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. The hotels we stay in have free bike rentals too. Simply awesome.
In our trip, we stay at 3 kinds of Taiwan accommodation:
It cost about NT$450 (S$20) a night, a person. It’s a room with double-decker beds and you share the room with people from other nationalities. Men and women sleep in the same room. On their own bed of course. There’s a common kitchen, common toilet, common living room.
That’s the best way to stay if you’re traveling alone, because you can meet people from other countries. But the downside is, if you’re unlucky, you can share the room with people with body odor or who snore loudly at night. Also, towels are not provided.
Min Su, or Homestay :
Some taiwanese have really big houses that they covert it into a ‘mini-hotel’, and open up travelers to stay in. It’s very popular in taiwan. I can say, if you are going to travel Taiwan, then use Homestay. Don’t bother about hotels, unless necessary.
Prices range from NT$900 ($36) a room a night to NT$1500~~(S$60+), depending on how big you want the room to be. Most of their hosts are really nice people, and those we went to are mostly retirees, who use this as their income stream.
Note: If you want to book Min Su, don’t book it online. Read below ‘Taiwan Traveling Tips’ to find out more.
If you want privacy, then hotel is the only way. We also stay in hotels, but not in Taipei. And the reason we stay in hotel is when the rate of 5-Star Hotel for 5 people is cheaper than the Min Su there. That’s when we’re in Tainan.
The hotel rates can be ridiculously low. For one night stay in a Tainan Hotel, it’s NT$2200 (S$90) for 5 people. We get the biggest suite too. Do the math yourself. We have free bike rental and breakfast too. Again, we didn’t book it online (NEVER). We walk it to get the rooms, and we negotiate down the price. (Hey, we’re Toastmasters!)
We also found another one (walk-in) near the Huayuan Night Market. 5-Star Presidential Suite for 5 pax, at NT$3700 (S$150) per night. Do the math again, and see how much one just have to pay to stay in a Presidential Suite. But too bad. That hotel is fully booked.
Hey, that’s the least introduction you need. Taiwan food is advertised in Singapore TVs every time. Without skipping a beat, you can tell me to eat their Fried Chicken Cutlet, Friend Oyster Omelette, Oyster Mee Sua, Sausage, Beef Steak. Yes, go eat all that!
But there’s something you have to know other than the usual food Taiwan shows advertise. We learn that different cities in Taiwan are famous for their own food! So that means Taiwan is not just about Fried Chicken Cutlet or Oyster Mee Sua only!
Firstly, if you do board the train around Taiwan, try their Railway Bento Set (Tie Lu Bian Dang). Though they sell it on the train, it’s very common now, that you can even find it in 7-Eleven. A fulfilling set you see below is about NT$60 to NT$80.
If you’re in JiuFen, go eat their Yam Ball, Yu Yuan.
If you’re in Tainan, go eat their Casket, Guan Cai Ban.
If you’re in Tainan, go drink their Wintermelon Bubble Tea. (Image Credit)
If you’re in Tainan, go eat the Ah Ma Barbecue Sandwich. (Image Credit)
If you’re in Kenting, go eat their Fresh Sashimi. (Yes, 2nd time I’m posting this!)
If you’re in Hualien, go taste their Mochi.
If you’re in Hualien, go eat their Gong Zhen Bao Zi. (Yes, posted 2nd time!)
If you’re in Dan Shui, go eat their Ah Gei. (Image Credit)
After eating so much in Taiwan, similarly, I just find Taiwan food in Singapore is overrated, especially when a chicken cutlet is S$6 here, while Taiwan is only NT$50 (S$2). Other than the price, there’s many things to eat other than chicken cutlet too!
If you are between 15-30 years old, don’t wait. Before you travel go apply for Youth Travel Card! Taiwan Tourism Board has this initiative to help youths to travel around Taiwan.
Go apply through this link:
Once you arrive in Taiwan Taoyuan Airport, head down to the arrival hall. There’s a counter which will pass you the Youth Card. You will also get a 2G Sim Card, FREE. There’s some value inside I think, and you can top up the value as you wish. Just return them at the airport before you fly back.
This card also grants you many discounts to attractions all over Taiwan.
How about 3G or Wifi? I want the Internet!
In our 14 days there, we didn’t pay anything for internet usage.
In wherever we stay, Wifi is provided. In Taiwan, you can find Wifi hotspots everywhere. Yes. Everywhere.
Just on your Wifi signal when you want to connect to the internet. I have connected it at 7-Eleven shops, mini-marts, night markets, MRT stations, shopping centers, and even at Taroko Gorge (look at the picture above). I can even find Wifi signal at that kind of nature reserve. Who else still needs to buy 3G Data Usage?
But if you’re those hard-core internet user, who needs to instagram Immediately every photo you take, then go ahead and buy a 3G SIM card. Otherwise, just wait until the end of the day at your hotel, or find a Wifi signal to upload your photos.
6. Taiwan Traveling Tips
1. Rubbish Bins are Uncommon
Unlike Singapore, we don’t find rubbish bins placed along the streets in Taiwan. Yet, you don’t see Taiwanese litter around! They are cultured people indeed! I’m culturally shocked when I can’t find bins there. So what if you have rubbish to throw?
Go back to the stall where you buy your food. They will help you dispose at their own bins. Or go to 7-Eleven. They will help you too.
2. Don’t Book Hotels/Homestay Online!
Book online only if you must, in cases where you have to lead a group of 15-20 people. Or it is during peak travel period (Christmas/New Year). Or you insist on staying in a certain hotel. Then book. Otherwise, if you’re like us travelers, Don’t!
Hotel rates online can cost twice or thrice as much, than the rates you walk in. Once you know the real price there, you never want to book hotels online in Taiwan, even if they say 50% discount! This is what we experienced:
When we’re in Sun Moon Lake, we booked a Min Su / Homestay online, which cost about NT$4400 (S$180). Do the math, each of us only have to pay S$36. Quite okay for a night stay. But when we arrive at Sun Moon Lake, we say that the rates of Min Su advertised over there is just above NT$1000. That’s quite a large margin, isn’t it?
Even if we walk in, and wanted a big room for 5, the rates wouldn’t jump from NT$1000 NT$4000. What’s more, there are So Many Min Su over there! There’s so many choices for you, you can just walk off if the rates are high. You have the bargaining power.
We also overpaid for our Tainan Min Su. If you’ve read earlier, that’s why we switched to a 4-Star hotel which is much cheaper. For that Min Su, we paid NT$3800 (S$158), no towels, no breakfast. For the hotel, we paid NT$2200 (S$92), with towels, breakfast, free bikes, plus sleeping in the biggest room.
Similarly in other cities, you don’t have to worry you can’t walk in and book a hotel/Min Su. Just worry you don’t have money. So if you ask me if you can travel to Taiwan without booking any accommodation online, I say, YES.
3. Visitor Information Service all around Taiwan
But what if you don’t even know where the hotels/Min Su in Taiwan are, how can you walk in? Don’t worry! That’s what the Visitor Information Service counters are for! They are from the government tourism board, located at many Train and MRT stations all over Taiwan. They look like this:
When we alight at a new city by train (e.g. Hua Lien), we walk over to the counter. We tell them we are looking for Min Su, for X people. Our budget is about NT$1000 – NT$1200 per night. That’s the info they need.
They have a number of Min Su namecards on their hands, and they will call up the owners for you. They will tell you the price, and once it’s okay, the owner will come and pick you up. Usually with a car.
4. Okay to reject Min Su
As the owner will fetch you to his house, with your luggage all that, don’t be pressured that you have to stay there. If you don’t like the apartment (too dirty, too dark…etc), just kindly let the owner know.
That’s what we did in Dan Shui, when a Min Su we saw looks creepy. We don’t feel good the moment we enter. So we tell the owner we don’t want. Taiwanese are nice people. They tell us it’s okay. Not only that, they went on to recommend other Min Su nearby. How cool is that?
5. Their 7-Eleven is awesome.
If you are sick of night market food, then eat at 7-Eleven. It’s like a mini-eatery, which sells frozen food which are really tasty! They have frozen hot dogs, dim sum, bento set, sandwiches and all that. We tried them all.
On top of that, they have free Wifi. Sign up as a member, and you can access their Wifi at every 7-Eleven outlet. (Who still need 3G Data?) Their staff working at the counter are also very friendly, and will help you if you have any need.
If you’re in need, just find a 7-Eleven.
6. Ask for help whenever you are in need.
The reason why we (and many other people) love Taiwan, is mainly their people. Nice, polite and helpful. I wouldn’t say all of them, but all of the people we come across, are that nice.
1. At Hua Lien, we walked into mochi shops and went around testing different types of mochi, but we didn’t buy in the end. They still smile at you for testing their (free) mochi.
2. At Taroko Gorge, we lost our way while trekking, and there are no buses in sight. We tried waving for cars to pick up us to the nearest point, but to no avail. Then while we kept waving, two container trucks stopped and picked us up. Hey, Container Trucks leh! The two helpful drivers then drove us to the next point, which is about 10km away.
3. At Kaohsiung, we lost our way during our visit to Zhong Zhen University. We ended up along a road side near the beach. We thought of walking back to the university, but it would take about 30 minutes. So we decided to try our luck and waved for any cars to stop by to pick us up. We had 5 people then, so we need a big car to pick us.
No cars stopped, until one little red car pulled over when we are about to walk back ourselves. She is a professor from Zhong Zhen University. She realized that we are lost, and she told us to hop into her red car, so she can drive us back to the nearest MRT station. 5 of us squeezed in, and nearly broke her car. But we still managed to reach the MRT station. How cool is that?
I’m full of praise of their people. Unlimited praise. Ask for help when you need. They will help.
7. What I did and you should too
Just Eat. You won’t gain weight. You will walk so much that you burn all the calories you take in from your Chicken Cutlet.
Talk to Taiwanese people. And if you’re Singaporean, and can speak some hokkien, even better. They love you more! That’s how I managed to negotiate hotel rates and other discounts for our group, cos I’m only one who can speak hokkien among us.
Dare to talk politics with Taiwanese also. We all know there are long historical issues between Taiwan and China. There are 3 Chinese in our group who want to find out about the Taiwanese’s opinions about China-Taiwan relations. At first, we are kind of afraid to get backlash from the Taiwanese if we touch on this sensitive topic.
But hey, we ask some Taiwanese upfront, and they are alright to discuss it! Traveling is not just about sight-seeing and taking pictures of food. We can go in depth and know about their people.
c) Taipei KTV:
I know Taiwan clubs are very happening. But we didn’t go there. Our Taiwanese toastmasters friends brought us to KTV! Another thing you can do when you’re in Taipei! Their KTV service is first class. It will be fun if you’re going in big groups.
That’s us singing and eating at the same time.
It comes with free flow of food and drinks. The atmosphere is first grade too. But it doesn’t come cheap. It’s about NT$600 (S$25) for 3 hours per pax. But it’s worth an experience.
d) Travel out of Taipei:
Most Singaporeans i know who visit Taiwan, just visit Taipei. And they thought that’s all about Taiwan. It’s like visitors come to Singapore, shop at Orchard Road, and say Orchard Road is only where you can shop. If you’ve read the post till here, you’d have seen there’s so many things else outside Taipei, some even better.
After my whole trip, I just realized I didn’t visit Xi Men Ding, a shopping district at Taipei, which everybody says Must Go. It’s just too touristy that it slipped off my mind.
I also went to the heavily advertised Shilin Night Market, but it’s nothing special also. It’s nothing more than our ‘Bugis Street’, which sell all kinds of merchandise.
Night markets outside Taipei has more flavor, and more happening, yet cost less. What you see on TV, may not be what you see there.
Still don’t know where to go? Go Kenting. Eat their sashimi. Not many people know yet!
e) Dip into the Hot Spring!
Guys, just do it once for the experience. Dip too long is unhealthy to our productive system. Why dip? It has its medicinal benefits. You can see many Taiwanese old folks dipping there.
The feeling is damn shiok if you dip in a hot spring of 45 C, and the air temperature around you is just 13 C. You will be half-cooked.
However, it can be troublesome process to dip in the hot spring, especially you are wearing 3 layers of clothes in the weather of 13 C, then change into your swimming trucks. Then bathe, and wear back your 3 layers of clothes after that.
f) Visit a Toastmasters Club! (If you’re a Toastmaster!)
Toastmasters is an international organization, so there are also many clubs in Taiwan! Prior to our trip, we contacted a few clubs in Taipei, but we only managed to visit one – U-SWOT Toastmasters Club. And we visited a really great one!
Other than that, we also met up with Beatrice, a member of BID Toastmasters Club Taipei, whom we met for breakfast the moment we arrive. Due to our itinerary, we aren’t able to visit their club. Next time then!
In the meeting we attended, we are warmly welcomed by their people. We also gave our speeches at their meeting. I shared with them about the non-tourism part about Singapore. Yes. Our $1 Million HDB, Our $100,000 COE, and 2-year National Service.
My other NTU Toastmasters also share about Singapore, and what they love in Taiwan too. We exchanged ideas, we had fun. We discussed Singapore-Taiwan and Taiwan-China politics.
They brought us to Taipei KTV, and also introduced to Taiwan Beer by Chih, handsome and single. By the way, add Taiwan Beer into your list of ‘Must Try’ Food!
I’m glad I’m a Toastmaster, because as one, I’m connected to this whole network of clubs all over the world. I don’t worry I don’t have any local friends when I travel overseas, because I will visit a Toastmasters Club there!
g) Join a Protest (If you’re a Singaporean)
Although Singapore allows protest to take place, it is only confined to Hong Lim Park. Hey it’s different in Taipei! We’re just lucky to bump into a Mass Protest in Taipei City on our last day. We know about it from a fellow taiwanese friend we met in our hostel room. (Another benefit of staying in a hostel!)
Back here, we are indoctrinated to think that street protests will harm the economy, cause traffic congestion, chase away investors. But is it really so? You only know when you attend one!
The protest march we join in started from Taipei City, all the way to Taipei Presidential Palace (one of the places we visited), where the President’s Office is. Then, the people wanted to let President Ma knows how unhappy they are with him over his handling of the retiree’s retirement funds.
The protests are carried out orderly and peacefully. Just like road marathons, the police cordoned off roads to open them up for people to walk. Cars are just directed to use other roads. They march in groups by groups, carrying flags and banners. Flags are given out along the streets. No fighting, no vandalism, no throwing of explosives.
Did the protest jammed up the road traffic in Taipei? Did Taiwan’s economy go into recession after that protest? Did investors all pull out from Taiwan?
Sometimes, you have to see the things yourself, than to keep listening to what others tell you.
Something funny also happen when we protest along with the crowd. A Taiwanese news reporter caught up with us and wanted to interview us why we protest here. We tell her, we are not Taiwanese, and we protest for fun only. She was quite surprised, but I told her, “because Singapore doesn’t have this”. My two other Chinese friends also replied, “China doesn’t have too!”.
Are You Ready?
That’s all I have to share about how to travel around Taiwan in 14 days. Now the magic question in your mind: How much did I spend in total?
Expenses in Taiwan: S$745.
Jetstar air tickets: S$382
I brought along S$550 equivalent of taiwan dollar (NT$13000) in cash, and S$200+ of Singapore cash.
Note: I didn’t do a lot of retail shopping. Just had lots of food. But still managed to have money to buy a big bag of taiwan cookies back for family and friends. I came back with $0 left in my wallet. Haha.
Are you excited to plan your own Taiwan trip now? Go Ahead!
By the way, hope this guide helps you!