01 January 2018

7D6N Taipei Itinerary | My Maiden Trip to Taiwan

Hubby and I had travel to Taiwan numerous times, of which many trips did not have a written plan on where to go and what to eat. Sometimes we do research on the spot, browsing through Facebook, YouTube and local blogs. While I have set up this blog to help fellow travelers plan their Taiwan vacations, I realized many colleagues and friends are often too 'lazy' to read through my blog and preferred to reach out to us directly (gasp) for 1-to-1 advice or the old itineraries. This sort of defeats the purpose of this blog - which instead of me manually finding old word documents, I collate, share and update our travel experiences in this online platform. I also refer back to my blog when I plan for my next trips.

Nonetheless, I'm happy to share my experiences - though being a broken record rewinding how great some places in Taiwan are and you should not miss out. I've decided to dig out our old itineraries for the sake of the 'lazy folks'.

7 Days 6 Nights Taipei Itinerary

To kick-off, here's my maiden trip to Taiwan back in end-February to early-March 2010. It was probably Hubby's 2nd or 3rd trip, having been there with his Prudential colleagues previously. Hence all the planning was done by him.

Honestly I didn't like Taiwan as much in the beginning - the weather in Taipei then was cold and rainy and he introduced me to many 'weird' foodstuff for the first time. You will see me mentioning this throughout the itinerary haha! However it was also the trip where I grew my 'must-eats' list including 萬年排骨老店, 小南門傳統豆花 and Mister Donut. And yes, a lot of bubble tea.

This itinerary would probably be the most useful to many first-timer travelers to Taiwan as Hubs included most of the must-see and must-eat for me. Do note that the following itinerary recollection is based on the numerous photographs taken (Hubs don't prepare written itineraries). This itinerary has not been updated, and we would skip certain places of interests such as temples and certain foods (some of the stuff I detest includes spicy cuisine, spring onions and yam).

Day 1 - Excited but blah weather

  • Flight arrival in late evening. Traveled to Taipei City via the trusty airport bus.
  • Stayed in Ximending, hotel along Chengdu Road.
  • Ate late dinner at the only stall that was opened beside the hotel. Had my first taste of pig kidney, not bad. But the stall had a stinky pee stench. 

Day 2 - Realized I have iron-stomach for Taiwan street food

  • City Hall MRT Station - Eslite (I think we walked all the floors. Loved the artsy stuff and bought a number of books), Shinkong Mitsui shopping centres (went to a foodcourt for yummy 萬年排骨老店, there was an outdoor food festival then, had my first smelly tofu there, don't like it), Taipei 101 (didn't went up though due to the gloomy weather)
  • Zhongxiao Dunhua Station - Zhongxiao Donglu, Yang Zi Da Hun Tun
  • Jiantan MRT Station - Shilin Night Market (it was fully outdoor then). Bought many bags from Tian Lan Xiao Bu.

Day 3 - Great View + Fireworks!

  • Moved to Rainbow Hotel, also in Ximending
  • Shopped around Ximen. Ate A Zong Mian Xian, KFC Egg Tarts (they had more variety than in Singapore), Ya Rou Bian (don't like)
  • Back to Taipei 101 - clear skies that day. Snapped lots of photographs. 
  • Walked to SYS Memorial Hall - we managed to squeeze to a good spot to watch the lantern festival and fireworks!
  • Houshanpi MRT Station - Formosa Chang, Wufenpu
  • Returned to Ximending for night street eats

Day 4 - Discovered miracle water!

  • Xinbeitou MRT Station - Hotspring. My only input for this trip was probably researching for this atas hotspring place Villa32. We loved it! Also, I had a very stubborn pimple for days which finally came out with a gentle touch - after which I deemed hotspring as miracle water! LOL
  • Danshui MRT Station - eat all sorts of weird stuff, don't like ah-gei and the sour plum soup. Took a boat to Fisherman's Wharf and enjoyed the sunset with Hubs.
  • Zhongxiao Dunhua Station - Dintaifung for dimsum (I think this outlet is closed now), Dong Qu Fen Yuan desserts, Daiso at Mingyao Department Store (we were crazy about Caramel Corn then)

Day 5 - Unluckiest day of the trip HAHAHA!

  • Went to Bank of Taiwan to exchange more cash. Dintaifung didn't accept credit cards - luckily Hub set aside some money for transportation otherwise had to stay and wash plates the previous night...
  • Walked to Yuan Ling Shoe Street... 'cos Hubby's in love with shoes. He thought he would have found lots of fashionable street-wear there. Opps!
  • Took bus Blue-7 from City Hall MRT Station to LEECO Outlet Mall. Hub's damned excited initially, but came out empty-handed. We also went to a Carrefour nearby (didn't know what food stuff to buy then)
  • We bought a big of Mister Donut and took a bus to Yangmingshan. However it was near 5pm already and the sun was setting. We walked from the bus terminal to the sign "Yangmingshan", snapped some photos, ate some donuts while walking back to the bus terminal. Sad.
  • Made our way to Shida Night Market. We loved Xu Ji Sheng Jian Bao. But that's about it for the foodstuff there as most of the foodstuff there were too bland for our taste buds' liking. I recalled buying a lot of cheap and nice jewelry there.

Day 6 - Scenic Views

  • Took train to Ruifang, changed bus to Jiufen. Ate the famous beef noodle and yam/sweet-potato ball dessert, and lots of weird kueh.
  • Took bus back to Ruifang, change train to Pingxi. We arrived after the annual lantern festival, hence it wasn't crowded in Pingxi. It felt weird to release the sky lantern in the middle of the road where not much folks around were doing it too. The store-owner gave us some sparklers and Hub became a kid again! Saw many huge spiders too (eeks!) Ate some weird-tasting peanut sesame paste, no like.. Had the gaoliang wine black pig sausage which I picked out all the spring onions and garlic haha! Took the last train back.
  • Went to Raohe Night Market. We enjoyed the meat broth and oily glutinous rice at Bai Nian Lao Dian by the shophouse temple where one of the female shop helpers welcome you in a loud screechy high pitch. (Was very excited and told Hubs at once when I returned in November 2017 and saw her again!) Had herbal mutton soup, iced fruits desserts, etc. Bought the (useless) face mask as there were lot of motorcycles exhaust. Was like wearing a decorated bra cup on our face.

Day 7 - Last Day in Taiwan

  • Sabotaged by me. Can't recall the exact MRT Station we stopped at but we WALKED a lot as I tried to search for beads and findings stores. I was still managing my Etsy shop and selling at bazaars and flea markets then.
  • Taipei Main Station underground malls. Shop non-stop too. Our 'favourite' are the Check Fun cube-rental stores due to their variety of cute stuff. 
  • Had the second 萬年排骨老店 meal, Bao Xin Fen Yuan (don't really like) and finally found Tian Wai Tian hotpot buffet. (We always look forward to our upcoming trips for the hotpot buffet).
  • Journey to the airport for evening flight.

That's all folks! Do also refer to my other blog post https://wendyboey.blogspot.sg/2014/01/taiwan-travel-itinerary-for-taipei.html when planning for a vacation in Taipei


05 August 2017

How to Travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung

I've traveled to Taichung more than 5 times in the past few years and have been researching for the most effective and most cost efficient way to travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung, and the other way round - from Taichung to Taoyuan Airport.

This blog post was first written in September 2016 and has been updated. It would cover 3 ways to get from the international airport to Taichung - airport buses, high speed rail, and public taxi.

When planning your transportation mode, you may want to consider the traveling time, transportation cost, your destination in Taichung, and convenience (e.g. travelling with multiple luggage, or travelling in a group). A comparison table is available at the end of this article.

Note: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is sometimes referred to as 'Taipei Airport' due to its IATA airport code: TPE, and Taipei being the biggest city in Taiwan.

Bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung

Since I usually reach Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 6am on a budget flight, my preferred transportation mode is the highway bus. Airport buses are known as 客運巴士. The two hour bus journey would allow me to catch some sleep and reach Taichung city refreshed at a nice breakfast time.

Where to Take a Bus at Taoyuan Airport:

You can purchase the bus tickets and board the buses at the bus station, located at Terminal 1 Basement 1, or Terminal 2 Level 1. You can follow the 'Bus to City' signage at the Arrival Hall to locate the bus station.

There are 3 bus companies offering transportation services from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung - Guo Guang 國光客運 (國光號), Free Go 建明客運 (飛狗巴士) and UBUS 統聯客運. The 3 service providers offer different routes to Taichung City. Other differences include operating hours, bus frequency and ticket price.

These airport bus services to Taichung operates from early morning 6am till late night 1am, with bus frequency intervals ranging between 30 minutes and 2 hours. You can refer to the departure timing displayed at the bus ticket purchase counters.

Travel Time:

The duration of travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung by bus is about 2 hours.

Bus Fare from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung:

There are two types of ticket pricing.

A full-price ticket 全票 costs between TWD 230 to TWD 300. This ticket is applicable to most adults and teenagers.

A half-fare ticket 半票 costs between TWD 145 to TWD 190. Seniors over 65 years of age, children less than age of age 12 years, and people with disabilities are eligible to buy a half-fare ticket, and may be required to present identification during purchase.

Where to Alight in Taichung City:

Many passengers often alight at Chaoma Station 朝馬站 to switch to another bus service or a taxi to get to their hotel. If you have pre-arranged for a taxi to fetch you from the bus stop to your hotel, do check with the taxi driver which bus stop you should alight at. It may be nearer for the driver to pick you up from Chaoma Station and drive to your hotel.

If your hotel is situated near to Fengjia Night Market, you should alight at Chaoma Station 朝馬站 too and switch to a bus/taxi. If you alighted near Taichung Railway Station instead, it'll be about an hour's public bus ride back to Fengjia vicinity.

If you intend to travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung Railway Station, do alight at Taichung Station 臺中車站. There, you can switch to a local train or an express train to reach other cities and towns such as Jiji and Checheng in Nantou county.

Taichung Airport Bus Travel Tip:

If you fortunately/unfortunately purchase your ticket when the bus is about to leave the station, the bus company may rush you to run with your luggage to catch the bus! Be prepared!

For travellers arriving at the airport at night, you may want to check the bus schedule available at http://www.taoyuan-airport.com/english/buses As of 5 August 2017, the last 1860 bus service departs from the airport terminal at 23:40.

Taipei Airport to Taichung High Speed Train

Traveling by 'bullet train' would of course be a much faster way to reach Taichung. The travel time from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung by high speed rail is approximately 40 minutes. According to Wikipedia, the high speed rail can reach a high speed of 300 km/h (186 mph)!

If you are wooed by the shortened travel time of 40 minutes by high speed rail, don't forget to take into consideration the travel time to the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) station!

To go from Taoyuan Airport to Taoyuan THSR station:

You can board a shuttle bus at a full fare 全票 of TWD 30. Seniors, children and disabled persons may purchase the ticket at a half fare 半票 of TWD 15. The shuttle bus tickets can be purchased at the UBUS 統聯客運 counters at Terminal 1 Arrival Lobby or Terminal 2 Arrival Lobby.

To go from Taoyuan THSR station to Taichung THSR station:

You can purchase your ticket at the station itself using cash or credit card. Tickets from Taoyuan to Taichung are available at a standard adult fare of TWD 540, or a half fare of TWD 270 for the kids, the elderly and the handicapped.

The following table shows part of a typical weekday schedule from Taoyuan THSR station to Taichung THSR station. The earliest high speed rail services from Taoyuan may start from near-7am in the morning, and the latest service may end around 11.20pm in the night. To check the THSR schedule for the day, you can go to their Timetable and Fare Search webpage.

Click on HSR schedule to view larger imager

Total Travel Time:

The shuttle bus journey would take about 25 minutes to arrive at Taoyuan THSR station. This is not inclusive of waiting time, which ranges from 5-10 minutes during peak hours to 20 minutes or more during non-peak hours.

So if you arrived the airport at a non-peak hour, this may mean 20 minutes waiting time + 25 minutes bus journey + maybe 5 minutes walking time + 40 minutes THSR ride = 1 hour 30 minutes. And not forgetting you would need to transfer to a bus or taxi to get to your hotel.

Taiwan High Speed Rail Travel Tip #1:

You can purchase your THSR ticket online up to 28 days in advance, payment via credit card. (21.09.2016 Thanks Chyn Huei for informing on the 'dead' link, have updated the hyperlink!) You would need to provide your passport or travel document identification number and a mobile phone number to complete the online transaction. Do note that the online ticketing system may be unavailable during non-working hours from midnight to 6+am in the morning (Taiwan time zone is GMT+8). And in the event you arrive too early or too late for the rail ticket you have purchased, you can contact the service counters for help to change or refund  your ticket (conditions apply).

Taiwan High Speed Rail Travel Tip #2:

When you purchase your THSR ticket at the station, it is likely that your seats are 'non-reserved', i.e. while your tickets are valid on the specified date, seats are not guaranteed. This means you would need to search for an empty seat in the designated train car, or stand for your journey. And if you unfortunately took the seat of a passenger with a reserved seat ticket, you would need to give up your seat to this passenger. Speaking from personal experience, this is pretty cumbersome when you are traveling with huge luggage or multiple luggage, and especially on a crowded train.

Taiwan High Speed Rail Travel Tip #3:

I don't typically get motion sickness when traveling on airplanes or ferries. However I do get migraines when traveling at rapid speed on the THSR. So if you are like some of my friends who are tantamount to motion sickness, do consume your medication and prepare a plastic bag in case you feel queasy.

Taxi from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung

Taxi transportation is very convenient when you are with multiple luggage or heavy luggage, since it will bring you directly to your hotel. It is also a good option if you arrive at timings where you are unable to board a highway bus or a shuttle bus to the THSR station.

Where to Take a Taxi at Taoyuan Airport:

You can board a taxi at the Arrivals Lobby of both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Airport taxi services are typically available 24 hours daily.

Taxi Travel Time:

Similar to the airport buses, the taxi journey from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung city is about 2 hours. What I usually do is to take an airport bus to Chaoma station or Taichung Railway station (which also takes about 2 hours), and then switch to a taxi to get to my hotel. This helps me to save some money on transportation.

Taxi Fare from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung:

Do note that the taxi fare is based on meter, and may include additional highway toll charges. WorldTaxiMeter.com provides an estimated taxi fare of TWD 2,362 from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung City.

In December 2015, one of my friends chartered a taxi from the airport to her Taichung hotel for her family of 4. The journey costs her TWD 5,400. After the taxi driver drops her family at their hotel, he returned to pick them up in the evening to go to Fengjia Night Market.

Click the image above to view a larger version

Getting from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung 

As discussed, there are multiple ways to get to Taichung from the international airport in Taoyuan. The following table summarizes the above article and shows some factors for your consideration:

Comparison Table:

Comparison table done by me :)

Usually I would prefer to travel from Taoyuan Airport to Taichung City by bus, and then transfer to a taxi to get to my hotel. While this may take slightly more time (maybe 30 to 40 minutes) compared to taking a high speed rail or taxi, it is much more cost efficient.

I hope you have benefited from the information shared in this post. If you like this article, do share with your friends who are planning for their trip to Taichung. Thanks!

16 June 2017

Budget Travel to Taiwan | How to Save Money When Traveling

After 13 trips to Taiwan, you bet I've learnt quite a few ways to save some money when traveling there. Pardon me for not sharing this earlier! These are things I've learnt along the way, slowly consolidating in my brain, and do note that not all my trips to Taiwan are budget travel, as I do indulge in food and stay in luxurious accommodation when I get great hotel deals such as La Vida in Taichung. Nonetheless I hope you'll find this blog post useful, and drop me a comment or share this post in Facebook with your friends :)

How To Save Money When Shopping in Taiwan

BYOB! Bring your own shopping bag! I can't recall which are the places that charge for shopping bag, other than Watsons. Sometimes the staff do not inform you that you are being charged for the plastic bag and you get a rude surprise when checking your receipt (though it's usually a small sum). Well, look at it this way - you can do your part to save the earth and generally you wouldn't need so many plastic bags when traveling. Probably just one for dirty socks, another for dirty undergarments, one for your wet umbrella during rainy seasons, and one huge one to act as your daily shopping bag. No worries about bringing the huge red plastic bag or even NTUC grocery bag from Singapore - I often do it too! When I'm shopping in Taiwan, I would be carrying a backpack or a tote bag, and inside would be at least 2 huge fold-able shopping bags.

Check prices between stores! If you're shopping for snacks, drinks or beauty items, you may want to compare the prices between stores. Other than pricing differently, sometimes they run different promotions for that same one item. I was lucky in my last trip when I needed to buy lots of facial masks for Mom. Cosmed offered a better promo than Watsons on that day - spending TWD 2,000 rewards me with a discount of TWD 200, and on top of that I did my downtown tax refund at the same shop. A bit inconvenient though as I needed to climb those narrow stairs to the top floor of the 3-storey shop while carrying my heavy shopping bags just to get the tax refund done... FYI tax refund eligibility is TWD 2,000, and there are random spot-checks at the Immigration, so do leave the items unused and the packaging intact.

Be mindful of misleading promotions! I'm not a competent reader of Traditional Mandarin characters myself and get pretty mentally challenged when faced with numerous signboards and price-tags screaming their discounts and promotions. So do your sums correctly before heading to the cashier.
  • When you see "6 折", it does not mean 60% off. Rather it means you pay 60% of the price (i.e. you are receiving a 40% discount). So don't be too happy when you see lots of red sales signage with "9 折"... you should scream for joy when you see "1 折" 
  • I was in NET fashion store in Taipei in one of my recent trips, and chanced upon their "5 折" promotion. When I went nearer to the discount bin, guess what? The signage still states "5 折", but the price-tags on the sale items read "Buy 5 pieces of the sale items to receive a 50% discount". My instant response was to throw what I have on my hands back into the discount bin.
  • Convenience stores often have "Buy 2 for $XX" promotions for their beverages. Do note that the discounted price sometimes apply only for the same flavor. Hence do check with the cashier before buying/paying; they are usually quite helpful to advise you. 
  • In my last trip, I learnt that Watsons (or was it Cosmed?) sell facial masks by pieces even if they are packaged in a box. 

If you've bought so much stuff that your luggage cases are running out of space (but you still have sufficient check-in luggage on your flight), you need not buy a new luggage. Instead head down to the 24-hour Carrefour (nearest MRT: Ximen or Xiao Nan Men) to get some empty carton boxes from the packing station. Yes, I would strongly recommend you to buy something from Carrefour before you do so. Oh, the Taiwanese beer and instant beef noodles are much cheaper at Carrefour as compared to convenience stores.... and Carrefour do sell luggage too ;)

How to Save Money Before Your Arrival in Taiwan

Do book your hotel before your trip so you can compare rates, especially during peak season. Personally I like to use Agoda when planning my travel lodging due to the map function. When you enter your destination in the discount site, for example Ximending, you can see all the lodging at the specific area available on your travel dates. You can further narrow by the price to fit your budget, whether you're ok with staying in a 3 star or want to stay in a luxurious 5 star, select which facilities you cannot do without (e.g. 'bathtub' when I'm travelling with Hubs), and most importantly - scour the guest ratings to check out any hotel nightmare stories!  

And for flights, I usually book my tickets as soon as the budget airlines announce their promotions. However you have to be very sure of your leave plans and leave availability before doing so, in case of work conflicts... somehow work triumphs holidays (that's how Hubs sorta abandoned me on a few trips - but at least I get to travel solo! woohoo!) And if you're a Krisflyer member, or member of any frequent flyer club, do remember to check if you've got sufficient points/credit to exchange for a ticket (or even two!) Those numerous business trips helped one of my friends to chalk up quite a fair bit of such points that her honeymoon flights were literally 'free'!

You should also check out kkday if you intend to go on day-tours to places such as Jiufen and Yehliu. Especially if it's your first trip to Taiwan, directions to get to the Northeastern coast may be confusing and time-consuming on public transportation too. FYI, kkday also offers English tours for some of the itineraries. 

For fellow Singapore-based travelers, these 2 tips are especially for you:

1. For seamless WIFI connectivity as soon as you step out from the plane upon arrival in Taiwan, I would recommend that you reserve ChangiWifi. I've tested this in both mountainous and seaside areas in Taiwan and connectivity is great! Moreover with Skype and Whatsapp call these days, you can actually do without purchasing a local SIM card. 

2. Do collect your freebies from the Taiwan Visitor Association at Chevron House Level 10 (Raffles Place MRT). So far I've been there twice (didn't learn about this earlier!) and I've mainly gotten free one-way bus tickets from Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei (which may be otherwise used from the city to the airport), and theme park discount vouchers. 
  • Remember to bring a copy of your flight itinerary and hotel booking. Softcopy on your mobile will do too.
  • A word of advice: please call them at 62236546 on the day itself before making your way down. While they are usually open Mondays to Fridays 9am to 5pm, there was this one time when I went all the way there - but only to find out from the security that the association was closed for that day due to a Taiwanese public holiday. 
  • When calling them, you can also check with the staff what are the freebies available for now, as well as any stock left. 

Other ways to save money in Taiwan

Taiwan is bubble-tea / milk-tea paradise! I know it's not the healthiest option, but I can down close to 5 cups a day during the summer.. opps! I do convince myself that the sugars are burnt with the long hours of walking I do in Taiwan though haha! Besides.. it's cheaper in Taiwan than in Singapore! 

OK ok... so if you need to quench your thirst the economical way, do bring along an empty water bottle (you'll 'need' one if you're getting on a budget flight anyway) and refill it at the water coolers - usually outside the toilets at the airports, MRT stations, train stations, etc. If you prefer hot/warm drinks, bring a thermal flask as most water coolers dispense hot water too. 

There's no need to bring too much tissue paper unless you've got a sensitive nose like mine and often sneezes in the plane or at change of weather... Most of the eateries provide tissue for their customers. Do note that their tissue paper is half of our usual square sized ones. 

Oh, talking about tissue paper.. you know those wet tissue packets (often charged at SGD 0.30 a piece and you'll be too embarrassed to return to cashier) when dining in certain restaurants in Singapore? Bring them along for the trip. Super useful when visiting night markets. I tried using disposable plastic gloves like some of my Korean friends does; I guess I don't really like the feel of the plastic clinging onto my sweaty hands..

Hope you enjoy this post! And if you have any great tips about saving $ when traveling in Taiwan, do share with me by leaving a comment. And of course, if you find this post useful, do share this with your friends who are making plans for Taiwan too :)