Four weeks in Taipei plus three weeks to write this article and I’m still unsure what to say. We enjoyed Taipei and would recommend visiting but if you ask for more details on “why exactly?” I will struggle. It’s one of those places where you feel comfortable, you enjoy the city life as well as nature, the food is great and people friendly but there is no one spectacular thing I can name as the main reason to like Taipei.
The other thing that had me confused from the beginning was how Japanese it looks. If someone would transport me there without telling me where I am, just by looking at the streets and the architecture I would first think of Japan. But then, when you look closer, the signs, menus and labels are all in Chinese, everything is slightly less orderly and the more you look, the more differences you’ll be able to notice.
Our neighbourhood & accommodation
Lesson learned – when searching for accommodation always check not only where it is on the map but also how much time it will take to get to the centre or points of interest. Thinking oh, it’s very close, just a bit to the north may get you 50min train ride away.
Other than the distance it was an area perfectly suiting our requirements of being not touristy. There were buses, a train, markets, shops, street food and restaurants within ten minutes walk. The area was filled with local people, with shops and restaurants representing the local flavours as well as the prices.
Our apartment was located on the 19th floor of one of 3 towers. There wasn’t much in terms of a view. I guess real estate agents would call it “side river view” which sounds better than “neighbouring building’s grey wall view”. The buildings were standing in what we called vortex. The temperature was always lower by a few degrees than around the corner, not much sunshine in the apartment (even on the sunniest of days) and so f&*@#$ windy.
The apartment itself was tiny and rather old. And that’s the thing with apartments in Taipei – they’re usually not much bigger than hotel rooms. It was hard to find something matching our budget and requirements and that’s how we ended up far away in an apartment where Hubby couldn’t stand up straight in the office/bedroom without touching the ceiling. The kitchen was (like everything else in the apartment) small so we had limited cooking possibilities and often ended up eating out or, what’s even worse, eating microwaved food from Family Mart.
It wasn’t all bad though. The internet, after a day of fixing, worked well. The TV had a sports channel so I spent days in front of it watching the Australian Open with Chinese commentary. And there was a gym, which we, unfortunately, used only a few times because of conflicting schedules (why does the gym open at 1pm? I prefer to work out before breakfast and move on with my day).
Impressions about Taipei – likes & dislikes
Sweet potato is a huge part of Taiwanese food culture. There is also a theory that the country is shaped like a sweet potato. But most of all, it is a popular street food snack – you can get a freshly baked sweet potato even at a convenience store. I also found out there is at least one company that makes a sweet potato beer but I couldn’t find it at any store and didn’t get a chance to try it. I ate a lot of potatoes though, so that counts.
Either I’m oversensitive after Malaysia and suspect everyone is adding sugar to everything but I swear everything that shouldn’t be sweet tasted like it was full of sugar. Things like milk, bacon or sausages tasted weirdly sweet and I wasn’t a fan of that.
Cats & dogs
Dogs in Taipei are treated like children (or maybe even better than children from what I’ve seen). They are usually sporting a cute outfit and are carried around in special bags, a carrier or in a pram. During those four weeks, we’ve seen far more prams with dogs than with babies inside them (I later found out Taiwan has the lowest fertility rate in the world).
I had problems not just with the gym in our building. Cafes were even worse. Most of them open well after midday. Anywhere between 1.30pm and 3pm is considered an appropriate time to open and serve coffee. Then, they close very late at night – midnight or 2am seems to be most common. That seems to me like an odd time to be serving coffee.
Before deciding on coming to Taiwan, I checked the weather, as I do before any trip. It was supposed to be the dry season, just a few days of rain at worst and temperatures around 18°C during the day.
It rained a lot this January. The sky was grey most of the days and it was very windy (at least in our vortex). After 6 months of European summer and ever hot SE Asia I was freezing for the first week (then I kind of got used to it). It was good to cool down a bit before going to Japan in February.
People of Taipei
People in Taipei were nice and helpful to us. When I went to a pharmacy and needed tablets for heartburn the pharmacist couldn’t speak any English. Just when I wanted to resort to Google Translate a girl queueing behind me helped translate. And only when the pharmacist returned with a basket full of choices for me, I noticed the girl (who had already completed her purchase) waiting on a side to see if I need help translating the labels.
Oh dear, we didn’t do too well here. The at-least-three-words rule ended up being two words – hello and thank you. We didn’t learn anything else and used Google Translate or English for everything.
English isn’t as widely spoken as in other countries we visited so our “conversations” usually ended up in pointing to something we translated in the app or showing photos on the phone to order at smaller restaurants. Also, sometimes their google-translated signs and text on clothes can be hilarious.
Ok, to be honest, we were able to recognise some Chinese characters (like entry, exit and meat) as they’re the same as kanji in Japan but we had no idea how to pronounce them.
I’m not proud of not learning more and feel like a total ignorant.
In January 2019 1000 NTD cost us around 45 AUD (at the same time, it would be around 32.5 USD).
How much we paid for our groceries? For example:
- 8 eggs: 89 NTD = 4.06 AUD
- 300g pack of tomatoes: 59 NTD = 2.69 AUD
- 150g of ham: 63 NTD = 2.87 AUD
- 100g butter: 69 NTD = 3.15 AUD
- Taiwan Beer 0.6L bottle: 45 NTD = 2.05 AUD
How much you should expect to pay for:
- one small flat white in a cafe: 60 – 165 NTD = 2.74 – 7.65 AUD
- dumplings in a local restaurant: 50 – 60 NTD = 2.28 – 2.74 AUD
- for 0.5L beer in a craft beer bar: 300 NTD = 13.58 AUD
- a sweet potato: 20 – 40 NTD = 0.92 – 1.84 AUD
- bubble tea: 55 NTD = 2.51 AUD
- Hot-Star large fried chicken: 70 NTD = 3.19 AUD
How much we spent in 4 weeks (2 people) including 2 weekend trips
Accommodation: 44 099.38 NTD = 1 961.82 AUD
Groceries: 10 695 NTD = 488.37 AUD
Eating out (we went out for meals, snacks or ice cream 62 times): 9 491 NTD = 432.85 AUD
Coffee: 1 985 NTD = 90.77 AUD
Alcohol: 8 655 NTD = 394.31 AUD
Transport (public transport, Uber, Taxi etc): 8 951.55 NTD = 408.34 AUD
Entertainment (cinema, museums etc): 100 NTD = 4.56 AUD (we didn’t go out much)
SIM (2 x SIM + 1 data top up): 780 NTD = 35.58 AUD
Total: 84 756.93 NTD = 3 816.60 AUD
Night markets in Taiwan are fantastic. We’ve been to many in Taipei and to one in Kaohsiung and despite being packed with people (locals and tourists) we enjoyed them all. The only thing we didn’t like, especially me, was the smell of stinky tofu dish. Too pungent and stomach-turning (which is a shame, because I wanted to try it as many people said it’s delicious once you get past the smell).
Kind of goes with the above section but also stands on its own. Go to Taiwan for food. They have giant chicken chops, fried sandwiches, tandoor baked pepper pork buns, beef noodle soups, dumplings galore and many more things to try. On days we didn’t eat Family Mart ready meals (shame on me for eating this so often!) we were happy with all the meats, dumpling and noodles Taiwan has to offer.
Bubble, boba or pearl tea was invented in Taiwan. It’s sold everywhere and there are constant queues to the most popular shops. I really liked the brown sugar & cream version from Tiger Sugar and enjoyed it a few times until I saw how much sugar those things contain (20 teaspoons on average).
Many cafes, shops and restaurants have special photo/Instagram areas. They come in handy when you want to snap a pic of your purchase or a pre-dinner selfie and post it to social media. It’s a clever way of advertising and, as we’ve seen on many occasions, a very popular thing to do.
People of Taiwan are nuts for betel nuts. They chew it to get kind of high. Supposedly it has the effects of tobacco mixed with a lot of caffeine. The other outcome of the nut chewing is cancer, so no, thank you.
On the streets, you won’t have any trouble locating shops selling betel nuts. They have huge neons and other blinking colourful lights to attract your attention from afar. Apparently, in the past, they would also have girls in skimpy dresses making sure you don’t miss the shop.
Chewing the nuts turns people’s saliva to a bright red colour. There’s a lot of red coloured spit on the footpaths and streets, as well as many people giving red-teeth smiles.
Happened this month
Jioufen, the so-called Ghibli’s inspiration for Spirited Away, must be one of the places most visited by tourists. We decided to hang around overnight hoping to see it in all its glory (read: without hordes of tourists) and we were almost successful.
The famous A-Mei Teahouse was a great slow travel experience. We got in without a wait and without booking beforehand and spent over an hour sipping tea and watching tourists take photos of the tea house.
Weekend in Kaohsiung
With a High Speed Rail Pass in hand, we went on a weekend trip to Kaohsiung. It was nice to see some other parts of the country and I really hope we’ll be able to come sometime again for strictly tourism purposes.