Hello! It’s been a while as I had embarked on several trips after my previous post to Penang, Bangkok & Taiwan. I had long wanted to do a solo travel and the opportunity finally arose as I had officially graduated. J had further urged me to embark on a solo journey as well and I am so thankful to him for that. 🙂
The reason was simple. I wanted to visit a place that is relatively safe(r) for girls and somewhere that I had no language barriers. I was contemplating between Phuket and Taiwan but the final choice became much clearer as I further broke down the equation.
Additionally, it has been 5 years since I last visited Taiwan and it was time to see how it has transformed over the years. More importantly, my aunt resides in Taiwan and it was a good opportunity to visit her as she would be able to give me an authentic glimpse of the locals’ life.
However, there was one main problem I constantly faced while researching on Taiwan – There was a rather severe lack of information for backpackers/ budget travellers.
Hence, I wanted to do my part and provide a short guide for potential backpackers/ budget travellers.
Taiwan is situated approximately a 4.5 hours airplane ride from Singapore and its capital is Taipei. The currency used in Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD). The main language spoken and written is Traditional Chinese. For English speakers, it could be slightly difficult to converse if you travel outside of Taipei, unless you are visiting touristy attractions.
In order to travel within the different states in Taiwan, there are various modes of transportation for tourists. They include: train, high-speed rail and buses. Of course, you can always choose to rent a car or motorcycle but let’s focus on public transport for now.
1. Train – Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA)
Travelling on the TRA can be intimidating, especially if you cannot read the Simplified Chinese characters. There are 2 main types of trains – Chu-Kuang Express and Tze Chiang Limited Express. Generally, Tze Chiang trains are faster and seats are slightly more expensive and can be sold out much faster.
Seats on Tze Chiang trains are guaranteed so there is no need to change your seat(s) several times during your journey. Also, it is more comfortable.
I found the following website extremely useful if you wish to book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. Alec has done a step-by-step guide to booking TRA tickets and it is easy to read and understand.
One additional tip that I wish to highlight is the collection of tickets. Alec mentioned about having to print the Ticket Pickup form and to collect the tickets 30 mins before your ride. Alternatively, you can choose to visit any 7-11(not applicable for Family Mart, I think) to collect your tickets. There will be a small machine near the cashier and a small administrative fee of 8 NTD will be imposed.
Secondly, other than purchasing tickets online and at the train stations, the same machine allows you to purchase train tickets directly! Do note that you will need to be able to read Mandarin characters if you opt for this option. Otherwise, a friendly cashier will always be available to help too!
2. High Speed Rail (HSR)
The HSR travels at a much faster rate than TRA and runs along the Western side of Taiwan. You can save up to 2 times the amount of time taken to travel as compared to TRA. However, HSR tickets can also cost twice the price of TRA tickets.
3. Buses – Also known as Ke Yun (客運)
Generally, the cost of taking a bus is much lower than the TRA but the journey itself could take a longer time depending on road conditions.
Lugagge/ Big ticket item(s) Hacks
Yes, you read that right! If you are unwilling to lug along your heavy luggage, you can always choose to have it delivered to your hotel! This service is also known as Zhai Pei (宅配), or shipping service. Most convenience stalls provide this service.
Basically how it works is that you will need to visit the convenience stall at your arrival airport and ask for your luggage to be shipped to your designated location. It should reach you in 1-2 days time. Similarly, if you have bought a big ticket item or you do not wish to lug your heavy luggage to the airport before you depart, you can do the same!
This service is exceptionally useful if you have bought a lot of souvenirs and it is too cumbersome for you to bring it to the airport when you already have your luggage to take care of. All you need to do is to have it packed and bring it to the convenience stall near your hotel 2-3 days ahead of your flight and collect your package again at the designated zhai pei area at your terminal.
The entire cost varies according to your luggage/ item size and weight but I have never paid more than $15 for it. Check out this website for the price list: https://www.e-can.com.tw/serviceNormalTemp.aspx?id=1&sys_id=5
Technically, this isn’t really a food hack but a list of food items that Taiwan is famed for. I recommend trying out all the items on this list at least once before you leave! Most of these items can be found in any night markets. Find a queue, and simply join it!
1) Beef Noodles
2) Mala(Spicy) Hotpot
3) Rice cake
5) Lu Rou Fan
6) Fried Chicken Cutlet
7) Taiwanese Sausage
9) Bubble Milk Tea
10) Stinky Tofu
11) Taro Ball (Credits: http://dennyglee.com/2012/01/13/foodie-friday-taiwanese-dessert-%E8%8A%8B%E5%9C%93/)
(Food) Souvenir Hacks
Other than the atypical souvenirs such as Sun Cake (太陽餅), Pineapple Shortcake (凤梨酥), tea leaves, mochi, nougats and milk tea, I would like to recommend Taiwanese rice. I know, this sounds ridiculous but this is something that my family love getting whenever we come to Taiwan.
Singapore uses long-grain rice from Thailand but the rice produced in Taiwan are short-grain and similar to Japanese rice. There are small packets of vaccuum-packed rice sold in Taiwan and these are best eaten when you cook them as congee.
There are several types of accommodation in Taiwan. They include: hotels, min-soo(民宿 or more easily known as airbnb/home stays), couch-surfing and hostels.
Hotels and home stays can be slightly higher priced. Couch-surfing was not on my list as I had concerns about safety, hence the hostel is my primary choice. Typically, the cost of hostels hover around $10 to $25 per night and the 3 hostels that I stayed in were brilliant. There were always plenty of cubicles in the toilet available and the facilities were very well kept. Reviews of the hostels to come up soon!