It’s been a week since I got back from a 10-day trip to Taiwan to present at the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS). APCRS was my first time to present at an international scientific conference so YAY ME! After a hectic schedule of shuttling back and forth between Taipei and Pingtung, of balancing work and having fun, here’s my Top Ten list of (suggested) things to remember and/or do to make your trip easier, more fun, and less tiring.
1. Good news! Filipinos holding valid multiple-entry US, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or Schengen visas are visa-exempt for Taiwan! Just register online 1-2 months before you leave and bring a printed copy of the authorization certificate with you. The authorization certificate is valid for multiple entries for 30 days, starting from when you first enter Taiwan. I have US and Canadian visas so the exemption saved me time and around P2,000 in visa application fees.
2. If you’re between 15 to 30 years old, apply for a Youth Travel Card at the airport Visitor Information counter when you arrive. It’s free, the card gets you discounts at participating attractions (the National Palace Museum is included!), and it makes for a cool souvenir. Unfortunately, I didn’t do enough Googling prior to leaving so I thought that you could only get it at the airport. Since the counter closed at 10pm and we arrived at 1:30am AND I didn’t know that you could get it elsewhere, I wasn’t able to get the Youth Travel Card myself. So yes, this tip comes from a (sorta) shallow well of bitterness 😛
3. Get an EasyCard. This reloadable tap-and-go card is the single-most important thing you’d need to travel around Taipei and possibly the rest of Taiwan. It works for the MRT, buses, the High Speed Rail, the Tamsui ferries, even the Taipei Zoo! You can also use it in convenience stores. Some Starbucks branches also take it 😛 It’s basically the equivalent of Hong Kong’s Octopus card. You can get the EasyCard at any MRT station. A NT$100 deposit is required plus any credits that you want to load on the card. You can return the card at the end of your trip (also at the MRT station) for a refund of the deposit and any unused value, minus a NT$20 administration fee for a card that’s been in circulation for less than 3 months or used less than 5 times.
4. Taipei Taoyuan International Airport is Taiwan’s main gateway but it’s not located inside Taipei itself. The airport is about 1 hour out of Taipei and the cheapest and most convenient way to travel between Taipei and Taoyuan Aiport is via bus. Kuo Kuang Motor Transportation operates express buses between Taipei West Bus Station (beside Taipei Main Station) and Taoyuan Airport and the trip generally takes 50 minutes to an hour. Adult tickets are NT$125 each. Operating hours are:
Taoyuan Airport to Taipei West Bus Station: 5:30am to 12:20am the next day (buses leave every 10-15 minutes)
Taiwan West Bus Station to Taoyuan Airport: 4:30am to 11:50pm (buses leave every 10-15 minutes)
Since we arrived at the airport at 1:30am, we had to take a taxi to our hostel. The taxi cost NT$1,200 with similar travel time as the bus.
5. Unless you want to take advantage of discounted early bird tickets and/or are traveling during super peak times, there’s really no reason for you to buy High Speed Rail tickets in advance. I got my Taipei-Zuoying ticket at NT $1300 (30% off) instead of the usual NT $1630 but my Zuoying-Taipei ticket was at regular price. My friends had no problems buying tickets even five minutes before the train was scheduled to leave.
6. Get a translator app and maps. Yes, this seems like a no-brainer but I thought it worth mentioning it anyway just in case you somehow forget it in the rush of getting ready. None of the taxi drivers we got spoke English – one of them asked us (politely?) to get out of the cab once he found out that we didn’t speak Mandarin. He only agreed to take us to Taipei Main Station once I pointed it out on the map. The map itself was in English (the street names were also in English) but Taipei Main Station had a cute illustration to mark the spot and the driver recognized it.
7. Eat at the roadside eateries and streetfood areas. All of the places we ate at served cheap and delicious food AND we didn’t get sick. Hooray! If you plan correctly, NT $400 can get you 3 square meals plus snacks. The only semi-letdown was the not-so-stuffed takoyaki I got at Shilin Night Market. Boo 🙁
8. If you’re the type that flinches at the idea of no Wi-Fi, never fear! Taipei offers free Wi-Fi in many public areas, including the MRT, bus, and train stations. Some users can register using their mobile phones (depends on the country where your mobile phone is registered) but for others, you’ll have to register at one of the many Visitor Information Centers. A valid ID is required to register at the centers.
9. Bring an umbrella if you’re visiting in June. Seriously. I’m Filipino so I’m used to the heat but Taiwan’s heat and humidity is something else. I felt ready to take another shower after just three hours of walking outside.
10. Bring a little notebook with you to collect stamps. Yes I’m serious again. In a brilliant (IMHO) move by Taiwan’s tourism authority, they have stamping stations located in their top tourist destinations and even the MRT. The collected stamps are a fun, cute, and free souvenir of your trip. If you’re a completist, the stamps can be a standalone goal. Bonus points if you buy your stamping notebook in Taiwan and get the ones with Taiwan maps and images on them (like mine!).