Ultimate backpacking guide for Taiwan

Does Taiwan, for many that great unknown, belong to China? Is it an independent country? It is not part of the UN because most states do not recognize it due to pressure from China, but Taiwan is an autonomous state.

Culturally very close to China, its people are much more open than we might expect, it has a spectacular culture and unparalleled gastronomy. You could spend five years in Taiwan without eating the same dish twice

All you need to know for your trip to Taiwan:

  1. Best tips to visit Taiwan
  2. Best time of the year to visit Taiwan
  3. Two weeks itinerary for Taiwan
    1. Days 1 to 6: Taipei
    2. Days 7 and 8: Jiufen y Riufang
    3. Days 9 and 10: Taichung
    4. Days 11 and 12: Liuqiu
    5. Days 13 and 14: Kaohsiung
  4. Daily budget for backpacking Taiwan
  5. Where to stay in Taiwan
  6. What else to do in Taiwan

Official exchange rate 1EUR = 35 Taiwanese New Dollars

Best tips to visit Taiwan

  • Night Markets: They are without a doubt the best in all of Asia, the best food by far, you can try countless food, for all tastes, flavors and palates and the best of all is that each dish will cost about €3-4 . They are part of the country’s culture and it is where you will find the best food.
  • Cat cafes: Taiwan was the first country to introduce them and they have become part of their country’s culture. Don’t miss this unique experience, you will see cat breeds that you have never seen before and you will be able to feed them.
  • Bubble tea: They are becoming very fashionable in the West but they also originated in Taiwan, you can try them in hundreds of different flavors, not only bubble teas but any type of tea.
  • Money: Credit cards are rarely accepted so you should always carry cash with you. The great solution to all this is to go to any 7-Eleven and get a top-up card and put money in it, with it you can pay anywhere, transportation, restaurants, stores…

Best time of the year to visit Taiwan

Although it may not seem like it due to its location near South East Asia and the small size of the island, Taiwan enjoys different climates. The north central area has seasons and in winter on its hills you can see snow while the summers, especially in Taipei, are very hot. Being in the northern hemisphere the seasons are the same as in Europe.

You need to go an hour east of Taipei to find a completely mountain climate, with harsh fogs, heavy rains and lighter temperatures.

While from Taichung to Kaohsiung the climate is more moderate and tropical, the temperatures are higher and while in Taipei you had to wear a jacket in the south you could swim on the beaches of Liuqiu.

Two weeks itinerary for Taiwan

Taiwan was never in my plans, it was 15 free days and a €300 flight from Sydney to Taipei that took me to this island and what a pleasant surprise!

Days 1 to 6: Taipei

I spent about a week in Taipei because it coincided with Chinese New Year but really with 3 days you spend enough time to do most of the highlights, so I dedicated myself to exploring the city and its night markets a little.

Night Markets: The night market I went to the most was in Ningxia, due to proximity to my hostel, 10 minutes walk. There is also Ximen and Huaxi (I didn’t like the latter very much, most of it was fish and quite expensive), both are in their respective neighborhoods. My friend who had lived in Taipei for a year recommended Raohe to me but because it was a little further away I ended up not visiting it.

The most emblematic places that you can visit are the National Memorial to Dr Sun Yat-Sen, a spectacular mausoleum surrounded by temples with Taiwanese architecture. Not very close to there is the Taipei 101 which you can climb to marvel at its views if it is not covered in fog. The two times I went there was a fog of fear so I didn’t get to go up.

There are other emblematic places near the center such as the National Taiwan Museum, but the best thing about Taiwan are those places that we don’t have in our country, and what are they?

The Beitou hot springs, an unparalleled experience, the hot springs are part of Taiwanese culture and are frequented by locals making it a perfect day trip. There are four pools, three with hot water from lower to higher temperatures and one with cold water for contrasts. If you weren’t wearing a swimsuit, they could lend you one there. If you want to complement this excursion, make a mandatory stop on the way back in Zhishan and go to Genki Cat Coffee because Taiwan was the first place in the world where Cat coffees were introduced. You can have a drink and give a treat to the more than thirty cats that are around.

Days 7 and 8: Jiufen y Riufang

It is the perfect road trip to escape from the city and go on your own to discover the mountains and charming towns east of Taipei. For about €20/day you can rent a scooter to explore Jiufen.

After a couple of hours driving you will reach the Ruifang district, this is the route we took towards the coast. The first stop was the Golden Waterfall and from there we went to visit Qitan and its temples and we did a trek in the rain for an hour or so, the trek was Teapot Mountain Trail and from there you will see views of the entire valley.

Continue to Jiufen to be amazed by its old Street, the red lamps and its hundreds of restaurants. We didn’t find many cheap accommodations in Jiufen so we went to neighboring Ruifang, which doesn’t have any charm but has a spectacular food market.

The next morning on the way to Taipei in the rain we made a couple of obligatory stops in Houtong, the cat village, and in Shifen. In Shifen you can go visit the waterfalls but its biggest attraction is the train that crosses the town in the middle of the main street.

Days 9 and 10: Taichung

Taichung was a bit disappointing, maybe because it was post CNY and everything, absolutely everything was closed so we didn’t have much to do.

Of course, the night markets never stop, we went to see one every day and I can assure you that each one was better than the last. They are as follows: Feng Chia, Zhongxiao and Yizhong. But the icing on the cake is the Wuqi Fishing Harbor, you will see fish and seafood dishes that you have never seen and you will eat fresher than ever. As we were doing well in the afternoon we went to see the Gaomet Wetlands, what we did not expect was that winds of more than 100km/h arose against which we had to fight to jump over some walls and go inside to climb a lighthouse abandoned.

There are many temples to visit but we entertained ourselves with other highlights, the Painted Animation Lane, a street all painted with anime graffiti (very Asian).

Days 11 and 12: Liuqiu

Due to excess time and planning I arrived at Liuqiu, there is always that place on a trip where you go and not know very well. Would I go back? Probably not. Honestly there is not much to do, luckily we made a good group and we went out to explore the island a little.

As in all of Taiwan, it is full of temples so don’t worry, you will find them. It also has some beaches that are fairly good, but this is a local tourism place. What does this mean? It’s full of Taiwanese in life jackets and wetsuits on scooters up and down the island like crazy doing tours all day XD.

To get to Liuqiu you will have to go to Donggang and take the ferry, there are four or five each day and you will have to pay with cash. There are almost no ATMs on the island and most of them don’t work, don’t run out of money!

Days 13 and 14: Kaohsiung

My favorite city alongside Taipei. Enjoy (once again) a lot of its night markets.

There are two places you should not miss if you go to Kaohsiung. Fo Guang Shan is the first of them, it is a macro temple complex an hour and a half from the city center, you will have to take at least a bus and a subway. But the visit is worth it, the temples are in an immaculate state and all of them crowned by a gigantic golden Buddha on top of one of them. It is also full of museums so it is also a great way to get closer to the culture and history of the country.

The second place that you should not miss is the Lotus Pond, with a series of temples decorated with colorful animal and mythological figures, the most characteristic and the one that impressed me the most are two towers embraced by a tiger and a dragon. Also, like the rest of Taiwan, it is full of delicious food stalls.

Daily backpacking budget for Taiwan

Because of how developed the country is, it is not expensive at all. If I had to categorize it, I would put it within the intermediate price range, cheaper than Australia or New Zealand but above South East Asia.

Food: Around €10, significantly above the average prices in Asian markets but of unmatched quality, when in most countries you have 20 stalls selling the same thing, in Taiwan each stall sells something completely different.

Accommodation: Slightly above normal due to the fact that we were in Chinese New Year and prices everywhere were high due to lack of supply and excess demand.

Transportation: Very cheap, Taiwan has a more than excellent transportation system, an intense train network that covers the entire east coast and a relatively punctual bus and public transportation system that reaches almost everywhere with more or less frequency.

Leisure: It must be said that we liked Taiwan a lot but the fact that we were in Chinese New Year meant that everything was closed and we couldn’t do much on some dates.

Where to stay in Taiwan

Mixed feelings with the accommodation in this country, in Taipei I was in one of the best hostels I have ever been in while in Ruifang and Liuqiu I had to suffer.

  • Wow Poshtel // Taipei: A super top and modern hostel, it has a very social area in the basement to meet other travelers, the beds are like mini pods and it is extremely clean.
  • Delicateperfume // Ruifang: Don’t be fooled by the name, although it cost us less than $10 for a double room for two and they upgraded us, it is the typical motel with suspicious sheets.
  • Backpacker 41 // Taichung: There was no common area and 99% of the people were Taiwanese and it was very difficult to interact with the locals. Acceptable bathrooms and rooms, it made me very angry that some beds had curtains and others did not…
  • Star Orion Backpacker // LiuQiu: It was the only hostel on the island, so take it or leave it, as it was CNY there weren’t many other options so I ended up with a kind of hut with four bunk beds and a very dodgy bathroom.
  • Backpacker 41 // Kaohsiung: From the same family as the one in Taichung, quite well located in this immense city, it is like a house with several levels and with a lot of personality, clean, social and comfortable. The owner is a little intense about taking off her shoes…

What else to do in Taiwan if you have more time

I think two weeks in Taiwan are more than enough, maybe if I came back I wouldn’t do LiuQiu and I would have a little more fun at Sun Moon Lake or I would go to the central east to Taroko National Park which everyone says is spectacular.

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