Taiwan is an island rich with history and culture. It is also a country that has reaped much economic success over the years. Now, it has become a travelling haven for Singaporeans of all ages.
Families go there to relax, married couples go there for their honeymoons and friends go there to party it up in Taiwan’s vibrant night life scene.
So with all the buzz surrounding Taiwan, you must be asking yourself. What are the top things to do and see here? Fresh from my Taiwan experience 2 weeks ago, I thought I’ll put together a guide to Taiwan for Singaporeans thinking of having a holiday here.
Before you go:
1. Bring Extra Cash
Think you’ve brought enough money? Think again. Basically multiply when you had in mind by 1.5.
Taiwan has an enormous variety of cheap stuff to buy from its night markets. Cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap accessories will lure you on a never ending spending spree.
That’s what happened to me. I didn’t bring enough cash and I didn’t manage to buy all that I wanted. Don’t make the same mistake.
2. Know their Transport system
Taiwan is no Singapore. Yes they look small on the world map compared to other countries but in truth, Taiwan is huge. If you wanna go beyond Taipei and explore other cities, knowing the transport system is crucial in saving you time in getting from one city to another.
Here’s the part you wished you paid more attention during Mandarin classes.
3. Prepare a handy currency conversion note
Create a handy conversion rate table for yourself before you head for Taiwan. The Singapore-Taiwan conversion rate can be quite hard to mentally calculate when you are checking out items at street markets or convenience stores.
The Must Do Things in Taiwan
1. Shi Lin Night Market
Many would have heard of this famous Night Market in Taipei. This was the place that unleashed the spending beast in me. They sell food and items at incredibly cheap prices. It is so cheap that you feel bad if you try and hassle and bargain.
One thing you must buy are the clothes there. Clothes there are incredibly cheap – the cheapest I found being just SG $4.25 for a t-shirt! If you are a shopaholic, this is the place to go. By far the best place to shop in Taiwan.
Tip: Go to the Night Market around 9.00pm. Any time before that is sort of ‘tourist time’, where prices are more exorbitant so as to suck the money from the poor tourists. The later you go, chances of things going on sale is higher.
2. Shifen Old Street
Shifen Old Street is a street known for one thing – Sky Lanterns (Tian Deng). Enter Shifen and you’ll see people from different races and countries congregating together to write their well wishes and light up their sky lanterns. There will be many shops there selling miniature LED sky lanterns which you can take home as a souvenir for your friends and family. Just beware most will be overpriced as this is a tourist hotspot
Bargaining Tip: Pretend to be ignorant of the price and ask the stall owner how much. When he/she quotes you an expensive price, shake your head/ sigh and leave. They’ll be dying to do business with you so before you know it they’ll try and make you buy by lowering the price.
If they don’t, leave momentarily and then keep walking past them as if you are looking at other shops. Before you know it, they’ll approach you with a lower price 😛 Worked for me.
Key Things to do:
- Buy and light a Sky Lantern and write your well wishes on it.
- Take many photos with your lantern and the railway train that comes every 15 mins
- Buy a marble soda (ramune) and keep the marble as a souvenir after finishing the drink
3. Jiu Fen Old Street
If you take a look at Jiu Fen, you will notice that it’s pretty similar in terms of the street’s structure and design. However, when you enter, you will notice that food is everywhere! Food is in abundance. Thus, Jiu Fen is definitely the paradise for street food. I ate so much that day until I almost felt sick. Also remember to buy packaged food as gifts to relatives or friends
4. Taroko National Park
With so much happening in the city, I would highly recommend paying the Taroko National Park a visit to take a breather. Its stunning scenery amazed me when i was there. The mountains there are breathtaking. When I gazed upon it, I realised how small humans are compared to nature.
Pay the Swallow Grotto and Eternal Spring Shrine a visit as it is an experience you will never forget. I was lucky enough to spot two swallows at the former while the mini waterfall of the latter was just a beautiful sight to behold.
Key Things to do:
- Snap photos of the gorgeous scenery
- Take deep breaths because fresh air like this is hard to come by
5. Hotel Royal Chihpen
Why a Hotel? Well Hotel Royal Chihpen is different from other hotels. Every bathroom in the hotel has a mini hot spring. How amazing is that! After a tiring day of shopping, nothing beats soaking yourself in hot spring water to rejuvenate yourself. There is also a public spa that mimics the authentic Japanese hot springs. You will learn here that Taiwan culture is heavenly influence by Japan.
Tip: For first timers to Japanese hot springs, be mentally prepared that it is compulsory to be in your birthday suit (nude) at the public pools. Men and women are separated also.
Key Things to do:
- Go to the public pool to enjoy the comfort of the hot springs
- Try out the really unique chamomile tea pool.
- Watch the performances by the native Taiwanese people at the plaza.
Must Eats in Taiwan
1. BBQ Corn
People are often sceptical when it comes to corn. It lacks in hype as compared to other Taiwanese street food. But for me, their BBQ Corn is just too good. Among all the street foods I’ve tasted, the corn is the best.
It’s so good that even corn haters like my sister could not stop fighting over it with me.
2. Fried Chicken Cutlet
To all Singaporeans, this is not unfamiliar. It is also available at most Taiwanese snack eateries in Singapore. However, what is distinctive about chicken cutlets in Taiwan is the variety of flavours they have
There were cheese, pizza and thai chilli flavoured cutlets in various night markets. I’d highly recommend the cheese flavoured one as the feeling of hot piping cheese bursting in your mouth upon biting is just heavenly.
3. Ow Wah Mee Sua
This is hard to find in SG. The broth is delicious and roadside stalls selling this have an vast variety of flavours for this local Taiwanese delicacy. Simply delicious.
4. Braised Pork Rice
A dish that’s a little salty yet sweet. Is one of my all time favourites. Really good as a comfort food. There are actually a lot more dishes, but just too many to list! Taiwan is really a street food paradise.
Must Avoid Things in Taiwan
Highly advise you not to go there. I went there and was utterly disappointed. With 101 floors, only 5 to 6 floors are accessible to tourists. The worst thing is that the shops in 101 are all branded. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, you can name them all. In addition to that, to go to the top you have to pay an entry fee of approximately SG $20+. Totally not worth it. Left the tower after an hour or so.
In all , I have to say that Taiwan is really good tourist destination for people looking to enjoy themselves on an inexpensive holiday. It has bustling Night markets, beautiful and panoramic countrysides coupled and affectionate people who just want to make your holiday in Taiwan terrific one.
Also, for an older perspective stay tuned for Jensen’s write up of Taiwan. He just had a family holiday there!