Is Taiwan a Go?

As I impulsively booked a round trip ticket for my early 2012 destination, I was quickly drawn to Taiwan. I remember a friend recently mentioned about it being mostly an affordable destination so the name is so fresh in my head that I quickly hit the book button without any further plans in mind. I know of Taipei 101 but that was it. And since I’m doing it alone, I have to make it extra interesting (or try). Check out the tourist spots, take the local commute, meet some locals, figure how to communicate and get lost. So is Taiwan really worth a stopover? Let’s find out.

Formerly known as Formosa, the island is found on the east of Asia somewhere between Shanghai, China – Batanes, Philippines – Hong Kong. Upon searching for budget flights I found a couple: AirAsia from Kota Kinabalu & Kuala Lumpur, Cebu Pacific & Philippine Airlines from Manila, Zest Airways from Kalibo(PHL), Dragonair from Hong Kong, Jetstar from Osaka & Singapore, and Tiger from Singapore. Great! Finding a budget line is a good plus already. Now let’s see visas. As per TECO’s website, entry to Taiwan as a tourist requires a visa but you must be aware that some countries are exempted (30 or 90 days) like most European countries, Canada, S. Korea, Malaysia, US and many more. Better check this website for further details so you can start getting your visa requirements too.

What about weather? Well I found that Taiwan’s got 4 seasons – spring happens March to May, summer on June to August, autumn from September to November and winter during December to February with typhoons coming between summer and autumn. This should be perfect since I’m set for late February so it will be nice to experience winter a little for someone coming from a tropical country.

Taipei streets during winter

For sights these are the ones I particularly grew interest in then included some that might interest others, check them out. The National Palace Museum, dubbed as the holder of some fine Chinese art though some say it’s particularly focused on China rather than Taiwan. And for a free tour (10am & 3pm) I’ll definitely take my chance to see some cool caligraphies or jades. The Maokong Gondola, a good way to get a good view of Taipei from aboard a gondola (cable car) then make a stop to grab a cup of tea. Better plan this on a weekend though as I heard queues are quite long and could get horridly hot especially inside the gondola. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, if you heard of the name then this is a great place to know more about the man and the history of China and Taiwan. Yangmingshan National Park, this is a must for some relaxing down time and picture taking with nature. It is a bit of a travel though but commute seems to be easy from what I heard. And oh yeah, end of february is supposedly the start of cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossom in Yangmingshan park

Long Shan Temple, Taiwan has got a lot of temple but this is one of the favorites because of the interiors and craftmanships of the place. And of course Taipei 101, hi-speed elevators can take you up the observation deck for a good panoramic view of Taipei but I heard that it could get expensive, you can check the mall in the building though.

Well judging by the list of sights above (and many more I am undecided of), Taiwan does look worthy of checking out. Add the culture and authentic food, this could very well be an interesting destination. But can I afford it? How much do I need for the essentials?

First of, let’s check the currency. Taiwan uses New Taiwanese (NT) dollar nationwide which means we have to exchange any other we have on our pockets to be able to use them. As of this writing (8/29/11) the fx rates are NT$1 = US$0.034, and for me it’s NT$1 = Php1.45. For a place to stay, I checked hostelworld.com and found that there are several good & cheap hostels in Taipei. Judging from online reviews these are some of the favorites: Flip Flop, Star, Homey and Eight Elephants with prices averaging to NT$400-550/night. Not bad I say but let’s see when we actually get to stay there.  As for food based on LonelyPlanet’s estimates food costs should be around NT$200-300/day. And lastly transportation, taking the public transport (ie. bus, mrt) should be the most convenient & cheapest way according to someone from Taipei that I met before. Fares look relatively cheap so my estimate if just going around Taipei would probably be around NT$50-100/day. Other miscellaneous costs to keep in mind are entrance fees, shopping expense and maybe a mobile service provider.

That’s it. All in all I believe Taiwan is doable based on my budget and there are plenty of interesting places to visit. My verdict – yeah it’s worth a stop so I’m going for it in february! Now I just need to figure out how to brave the language gap as Taiwan generally doesn’t speak English. Thinking of taking some Mandarin classes or maybe not haha.

Taiwan here we come!

[Updated: I took on the trip and this is what happened – Taking Formosa]

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