I'll admit Taiwan wasn't on my radar when I decided I was heading to South Korea back in early 2018. It's a country I never heard much about. It's certainly not talked about much on the world stage.
As I started traveling around Korea (Busan, Gwangju, Suncheon) and it's neighboring nations (like Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong 1, Hong Kong 2) meeting Koreans and foreigners alike, discussing where they recommend going, Taiwan was frequently mentioned.
My interest in the island nation of nearly 24 million people was ignited.
They're right. Taiwan did not disappoint.
1. Easily accessible
2. Beautiful landscapes
3. Warm, friendly, helpful, English speaking locals
4. Convenient, easy-to-use, cheap public transportation
6. Great night life
7. *for US Citizens* Visa free 90 day travel entry
Must See And Do
1. Taroko Gorge
Going to Taiwan and NOT going to Taroko Gorge would be the biggest mistake you could possibly make. Taroko Gorge in Taroko National Park will blow your mind with its beauty.
There are tour groups that run tours from Taipei, but, it's important to note that these tours will last 14 hours. I was picked up at my hostel in the central city of Taipei at 5:45am. We were then taken to nearby Taipei Main Station where we were joined by others who had been shuttled to the station. We were joined by a tour guide who had train tickets in hand and given our directions to take our three hour train trip to Hualien City (6:23am-9:30am). Upon arrival in Hualien City we were gathered by another tour guide who was waiting for us on the platform. We were then escorted to our coach tour bus which drove us around the gorge until we returned to the train station for our train home at 4:30pm. A lunch at a five star resort in the gorge was included with the trip. We arrived at Taipei main station at 7:30pm and were driven back to our respective hostels and hotels.
There are tours that run out of nearby Hualien City, Taiwan. Those tours are less expensive and not as physically demanding (they don't run nearly as long). I must warn you that Hualien City is a very countryside city on the Pacific Ocean coast of Taiwan so I can't speak to how much there is to do there if you'd rather stay in a nearby city.
2. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial
Chiang Kai Shek is a beautiful memorial site in inner city Taipei. After entering through the incredible gate at the entrance (it's free!) you can walk down the center of Democracy Boulevard (also referred to as Liberty Square) and look to your left at the National Concert Hall and to your right at the National Theatre. Some truly beautiful architecture!
Take a moment to really grasp this memorials beauty. Then take some pictures! Following the photo taking, make sure you make your way to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and walk up the stairs and into the memorial to see the large memorial to Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.
From 9am-5pm on the hour every hour there is a 5 minute changing of the guard ceremony that is definitely worth seeing!
3. National Palace Museum
This is definitely the most interesting museum to visit while in Taipei. Be warned though, it's expansive and has a TON to see. So make sure you have the energy and you've eaten before you arrive. That was the mistake I made.
If you're into audio guides you can rent an English audio guide which will give you very detailed information about the museums famous artifacts. Some of which are several thousand years old.
I found the expansive range of artifacts to be beautiful and interesting to see. The English audio guide was very detailed and you'll learn a lot!
Too bad I was tired and hungry when I went.
4. Yehliu Geopark
I did not make it to Yehliu Geopark but a wonderful lady on my Taroko Gorge tour told me I really missed out.
It's located in Keelung City, Taiwan which is a short intercity train ride from Taipei. Roughly 30 minutes, if I'm not mistaken. From there you'll either need to find a taxi or there is probably a public bus that goes to the park from the train station. I'm not really sure as, again, I didn't actually go.
She told me to recommend you go.
If you're intimidated about trying to manage getting around in a non-English speaking nation, Taiwan is not a place to fret about. The signs are all in Chinese and English. As are all the announcements on the public transportation.
Even on top of that, all the locals I interacted with and encountered have *at the very least* a basic knowledge of English. Most were relatively fluent and completely fluent. *I was told by locals if you stray outside of Taipei this definitely isn't the case.*
The public transportation in Taiwan, much like the rest of Asia, is superb. There is a cheap way to get everywhere.
Taipei's MRT train system gets you at the very least within walking distance of everything you'd want to see and do. If it doesn't you can hop on a quick bus ride from an MRT station. Both options are very inexpensive as they are in the $20-$30 TWD per trip range (65 cents to $1 USD).
I fully recommend going to a local convince store (Family Mart, 7-Eleven, Hilife) and purchasing an "Easy Card" which is the public transportation card that can be reloaded at MRT stations and convenience stores throughout Taipei. The card has an initial cost of $100 TWD ($3.25 USD).
In the MRT stations, you'll notice there are television screens through out the train queuing areas where it displays a countdown clock to the next train. In my experience, most trains were roughly 2:30 apart (a time I often saw when looking at the screens). Whether that's the actual gap between each train, I don't know but I did not notice a long wait for any trains. Nothing over 5 minutes.
To get on the trains pay attention to the queuing lines in white on the ground by the doors. Just stand in line with the locals. Make sure you're actually in line and not crowding around the door.
Taxi's in Taiwan are also extremely cheap. Unlike what I recommended for Japan, if you're tired or in a rush, take a taxi when you're in Taiwan.
It's just the public transportation is convenient and REALLY cheap.
Taipei Taoyuan International Airport
The International Airport that services the greater Taipei area is in, technically, another city. It's called Taoyuan and located to the west of Taipei.
There are two very easy ways to get downtown.
The first is an army of express bus routes that take you from the airport to certain areas of the city. You can also return to the airport the same way you came.
For me, I took the 1961 bus from the airport. The 1961 bus made a handful of stops along the way before my stop at Ximen ("zi-men") station. One of the stops was at Taipei's Main station (the central city MRT station).
Taipei Taoyuan International Airport ---> Taipei Main Station: 55 minutes
Taipei Taoyuan International Airport ---> Ximen Station: 60 minutes
There is also an express train from Taipei Main Station that goes to the airport. It's more expensive ($200 TWD) but a good 20 minutes faster. If you encounter traffic on the bus it could be substantially faster so if you're trying to get to Taipei or the airport during rush hour, I'd highly recommend the train over the bus.
Taipei is quite affordable. As mentioned above the public transportation is very cheap and even the taxi's are inexpensive.
For four nights at a hostel in inner city Taipei (near the Presidential Plaza), it only set me back $72 USD.
Beers in the city mostly cost $200 TWD ($6.50 USD). Cocktails will run you anywhere from $300-$400 TWD ($9.70-$13) depending on what you get. That may be expensive on the outside looking in but considering I was paying those prices at trendy inner city bars and night clubs, I think that's pretty inexpensive compared to elsewhere around the world and Asia.