Planning your DIY Taipei vacation

Taipei, Taiwan is a haven for foodies. Its themed restaurants and street food offerings are enough reasons to fly to this nearby food destination. But Taipei will not just please your palate; it will fascinate you with its charming cityscapes and alluring activities. (READ: Incredible food trip in Taipei, Taiwan

There is so much to do in Taiwan that the pointers below can't cover it all – but let this guide help you start planning your food and travel adventure to Taipei. 

How to get there

For convenience, opt for direct flights from Manila to Taipei. Travel time takes about two hours. Check out flight schedules of the following airlines:

Plan ahead and book early to avail of promo fares. My hubby and I were able to score a good deal with a budget airline during our first trip to Taipei.

By scheduling our trip months ahead, we were able to get two round-trip tickets for less than P9000! We weren’t as lucky on our second trip as we only booked a couple of weeks before our desired date. The consequence was paying practically the same amount for just two one-way tickets. 

Visa application

Secure a visa if you’re visiting Taiwan. Application is pretty easy. Simply go to the website of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines (TECO) and fill up an application form online, print it out, and submit it to TECO along with the other requirements (e.g. passport, picture, birth certificate, marriage certificate, health certificate, bank certificate, etc.).

The visa application fee for visitors is P2400 for single entry and P4800 for multiple entry. Processing time takes 3 working days; there is a rush-handling fee for expedite processing.

For Philippine nationals who plan to stay in Taiwan for just 30 days and have a valid visa or permanent resident certificate issued by the U.S.A., Canada, Japan, U.K., Schengen Convention countries, Australia and New Zealand, there is no need to apply for visa. You’ll be eligible for the visa exemption program. Just fill up an Authorization Certificate online, print it out, and present it to the airline staff and during immigration inspection. For more details, check this out.

Where to stay 

Ximending’s trendy vibe makes it appealing for travelers. It is being compared to Shibuya in Tokyo that has a hip and fashionable atmosphere because of its plethora of entertainment options and activities. (READ: 10 family-friendly things to do in Taiwan

NIGHTLIFE. Go shopping and food tripping in Ximending night market. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

NIGHTLIFE. Go shopping and food tripping in Ximending night market.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

We chose a place that was neither super high-end nor budget. Westgate Hotel was decent, comfortable, and was just walking distance to a train station and the Ximending Night Market. Its strategic location allowed us to explore nearby attractions on foot and by train.

On our second trip, we had a chance to stay overnight at an apartment in Taoyuan City that we found via AirBnb. We opted for such since our red-eye flight arrived past midnight and we just wanted cheap accommodations for the night, instead of paying full price at a hotel. The booking included pick-up service from the airport, by the way. (READ: 9 places to visit in Taipei

What to see and do 

You’ll find a lot of things to do within the city itself, and even experience more if you have time to do side trips and visit the national park and hot springs. For starters, though, you can check out the following sights by being your own tour guide. 

Get a bird’s eye view of the city at Taipei 101. You can’t get a better perspective of the city than at the observation deck of Taipei 101, which may not be the world’s tallest structure, but holds other records like having the world’s largest and heaviest tuned mass damper and the world’s fastest elevators with a speed of 1,010 meters per minute.

STANDING TALL. Taipei 101, a 101-story skyscraper in Taipei. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

STANDING TALL. Taipei 101, a 101-story skyscraper in Taipei.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

Note: there is an admission fee to go up the observation deck. You may also indulge in some luxury shopping and dining at its mall area.

Get a glimpse of local culture at its museums, memorials, and temples. Don’t miss to check out the magnificent structure that is Chang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Take some pictures and have a leisurely walk about the compound and enjoy its beautiful gardens.

MAKE A STOP. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

MAKE A STOP. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

 

Also visit the National Palace Museum that hosts the world’s largest collection of Chinese Art. You may want to consider temple hopping as well. Go see Longshan Temple and Bao’an Temple, among others. 

Treat your taste buds. Be prepared to gain some weight as you discover exciting and even exotic eats in the city’s night markets. At Shilin Night Market, for instance, you can go shrimp fishing and eat your catch.

GO WITH THE FLOW. The crowds at Shilin Market

GO WITH THE FLOW.

The crowds at Shilin Market

 

You won’t get hungry in this maze of mouthwatering finds that feature large fried chicken, noodle soups, grilled sausages, stinky tofu and much more. The Ximending Night Market may be smaller, but it has one of the most interesting theme restaurants, Modern Toilet, which serves food in miniature toilets and has that bathroom theme throughout the establishment.

CURRY? Be prepared to eat from a toilet bowl at Modern Toilet

 

Don’t leave Taipei without queuing for Din Tai Fung’s signature xiao long bao and noodle dishes! 

TREAT YOURSELF. Have a Taiwanese food feast at Din Tai Fung. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

TREAT YOURSELF. Have a Taiwanese food feast at Din Tai Fung.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

Have some high tea at Maokong. Make sure to take the crystal cabin when you ride the Maokong Gondola so you can see through the bottom and enjoy the sights.

FLY THROUGH THE AIR. Experience riding the Maokong Gondola. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

FLY THROUGH THE AIR. Experience riding the Maokong Gondola.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

 

Once you reach the top, you may join tours for tea tasting, but my hubby and I decided to just pick a nice tea house and get a table with a good view of the city, as we sip on hot tea and taste some tea cuisine.

TEA PARTY. Have tea at one of the tea houses in Maokong. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

TEA PARTY. Have tea at one of the tea houses in Maokong.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

Bring out your inner child at Taipei Zoo. When was the last time you’ve entered a zoo? You may want to make new memories at Taipei Zoo, the largest city zoo in Asia with a combined area of 165 hectares. See all kinds of animals – from camels to giant pandas – all in one place. 

PLAY. Find orangutans and other amazing animals in Taipei Zoo. Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

PLAY. Find orangutans and other amazing animals in Taipei Zoo.

Photo by Nikka Sarthou-Lainez

Additional tips for travelers 

Budget. A trip to Taipei won’t put a hole in your pocket, as long as you watch out for promo airfares, don’t splurge on accommodations, and be content with street food fare. My hubby and I approximately spent P35,000 for a three-night trip in Taipei – and half of that was for the hotel stay. 

Getting around. The easiest and fastest way to get around the city is by taking the train. Get a TaipeiPass so you can move around at your leisure without any worries about getting lost along the way since you don’t have to purchase train tickets at every stop.

The good thing about it is that you can use it for unlimited rides on both the Taipei Metro and on Taipei City and New Taipei City buses. Should you wish to travel outside the city, the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is affordable, convenient, and efficient. My hubby and I rode the THSR from Taoyuan to Taichung and enjoyed the scenery throughout the one-hour ride. 

Money exchange. It has become a habit for me to bring US dollars or local currencies of the countries I am traveling to. My trips to Taiwan were no exception. I found it convenient to have money at hand and not be bothered by exchanging it at the destination’s airport. Banks are the most reliable place to do money exchange in Taiwan; just present a valid ID/passport. 

Local speak. Expect to encounter language barrier when in Taiwan. Some of the people you encounter locals speak only their lingo so you may have to improvise and do sign language or learn some local words or phrases to get by. In night markets, for instance, we had to make do with pointing at pictures on the menu so we can place an order. 

Travel time. Typhoon season in Taiwan is from June to October, so try to visit between the months of November and April when the temperature and humidity are better. February’s Lunar New Year is peak season, so expect locals to go on vacation as well. 

Will you be paying a visit soon? Have you been to Taiwan? Share your travel experiences with us in the comments section below. – Rappler.com

As a freelance writer and editor, Nikka Sarthou-Lainez enjoys being her own boss and having the flexibility to indulge in her other passions like food and travel. Every year, she vows to visit places she has never been to and tick them off her bucket list. She hopes to be like chef/host Anthony Bourdain someday who journeys around the world to sample different cuisines, one plate at a time. Find out more about her travel and culinary adventures and follow her on Twitter @nikkasarthou

Thumbnail photo via r.nagy/Shutterstock