29 May 2024

12 Useful Taiwan travel tips for first-time visitors

Taiwan is an amazing country to visit. It is quite modern, so you don’t have to worry much about getting from A to B or finding places to sleep. However, for many of us it’s a country on the other side of the world with from time to time its own ‘instructions’. Are you about to travel to Taiwan, or are you thinking about planning a trip to Taiwan? Then this post with useful Taiwan travel tips will certainly help.

Taiwan travel tips: 12 useful things to know for first-time visitors

Best time to travel to Taiwan 

The climate and temperatures in Taiwan can vary greatly. You’ll get high temperatures above 30°C and tropical showers in the summer, typhoon season around July to September, and rain season (‘plum rain’) in the spring (although there is a chance of rain all year round). In winter, it can get quite cold.

The best time to travel to Taiwan is in October and November. The weather is very pleasant, and there is less chance of heavy rain. I was in Taiwan in the second half of October and early November. I did have a few rainy days, but most days the temperature was around 20-25°C.

How many days in Taiwan?

The great thing about Taiwan as a holiday destination is that you can see a lot in a short time due to the relatively short distances. At the same time, it’s such an interesting country that I would recommend spending at least two weeks. I traveled around Taiwan for 17 days, and it was perfect for a first introduction to this beautiful country. However, I could have easily stayed twice as long.

Taiwan travel tips: 12 useful things to know for first-time visitors

Do you need a visa to visit Taiwan?

With a passport from most European countries, the UK, Canada, USA, Japan, Australia or New Zealand, you don’t need a visa to get into the country. You can stay in Taiwan for up to 90 days without a visa, and your passport must be valid for at least another six months.

Taiwan travel tip: Get an eSIM with unlimited data

I would have been hopelessly lost in Taiwan without Google Maps. Or have no idea what to order if I couldn’t have translated the Chinese menu with Google Translate. In short, you’ll want to use mobile data during your trip in Taiwan.

Everywhere I went (except some places in the national parks), the mobile network was very good (4G or 5G). A few days before I left, I bought a Taiwan eSIM from Holafly, which allowed me to use unlimited data during my entire time in Taiwan. Perfect! Installation is super simple. And if your phone lets you use two SIM cards at the same time, you’ll continue to use your own number to make or receive calls, but use the Holafly eSIM to use social media, Google Maps, etc.

If you’re interested in getting a Taiwan eSIM (or for any other country), you get a 5% discount using the promo code URBANPIXXELS.

Getting from the airport to your hotel in Taipei

If you fly to Taipei, you will arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. You can take a taxi to the city center, which costs about €50 and – depending traffic – will take around 45 minutes. A much cheaper and equally fast (if not faster) option is the Taoyuan Airport MRT. This special metro departs from both Terminal 1 and 2 and takes you to Taipei Main Station in about 35 minutes. Depending on where your hotel in Taipei is, you can transfer at Taipei Main Station to the metro or bus to get to your hotel. Make sure to take the Express train and not the Commuter train, as the latter takes much longer.

You can travel on the Taoyuan Airport MRT with your EasyCard (more on this later), but if you don’t have one yet, you can also buy a ‘single journey token’ for TWD 160 (about €4,50) from a machine or ticket window. The Airport MRT runs from 6 AM to 11 PM.

Taiwan travel tip: You’ll need an EasyCard

The EasyCard is Taiwan’s most popular reloadable smartcard and is indispensable when you are in Taiwan. You can buy an EasyCard at a metro station (the machines have an EasyCard logo) or convenience stores such as 7-Eleven. When you buy the card you’ll pay TWD 500, which includes a TWD 100 non-refundable deposit and a TWD 400 balance to travel with public transport. The machines only take cash so make sure to get some as soon as you arrive in Taiwan. 

In addition to EasyCard there’s also iPass which is similar but not as widely accepted, so I would recommend getting an EasyCard.

To top up your EasyCard when the balance is running low, you can use the same machines at a metro station or convenience store. 

In Taiwan, they also use the EasyCard to pay in some stores, but you will probably use it mainly for transport. Although you can use the EasyCard on some TRA trains, this does not apply to the Express trains that you usually take to travel from city to city. You will need to buy a separate ticket for these. You can use your EasyCard for some long-distance buses such as the one from Chiayi to Alishan.

To use the card you simply touch the card reader when you enter and exit a bus or metro gate. It then also shows the remaining balance on your card.

Public transport in Taiwan

Public transport is very well organized in Taiwan. You can reach most cities by train, and there is a good bus network outside these areas. To travel around a city, you take the bus, which stops at almost every corner.

Taipei is the only city that has a pretty good metro system. Even though there are some other cities that have a metro, you probably will only use it in Taipei. In Taipei, the metro lines have names, but they are also indicated by the first one or two letters of the color (in English): Y for the yellow line, BL for the blue line, BR for the brown line, etc.

Traveling by train in Taiwan

During my time in Taiwan, I always took the train to get to the next destination, and it worked perfectly. It is important to know that there are two types of trains: the high-speed train Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) and the standard train Taiwan Railway (TRA). On the Taiwan Railway route, trains have different names, such as the Puyuma Express or the Tze-Chiang Limited Express, but getting tickets works the same. The HSR travels at an average speed of 225 km/h, while the TRA travels around 115-125 km/h. The Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) only stops in the main cities along the west coast of the island. With the TRA, you can reach more places.

As in Japan, the trains in Taiwan almost always run exactly as scheduled. The HSR trains are often (but not always) more modern, but the TRA train is also nice and has spacious, comfortable seats.

Although the Taiwan High Speed Rail obviously means less travel time, a ticket is more expensive than the Taiwan Railway. It is also important to know that the Taiwan High Speed Rail has its own station, which is located outside the city center. The TRA trains on the other hand stop at the city’s ‘central station’. Only in Taipei do all trains stop at Taipei Main Station. This means that you often need extra travel time to get from the HSR station to your destination in the city center. My advice is to check if the HSR is actually faster. For the route I took, I would only use the high-speed train to travel back from Tainan to Taipei.

Another travel tip if you are taking a TRA train from Taipei Main Station: once you go through the gates with your ticket, there is only the platform. If you want to buy some snacks or go to the toilet, do that beforehand. Also, keep in mind that Taipei Main Station is huge. Sometimes you need 15 minutes to walk from the metro to the train.

Buying train tickets in Taiwan

The Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) and the Taiwan Railway (TRA) have separate ticket offices at the station and their own websites for buying tickets. For the high-speed train, you can buy a ticket on the Taiwan High Speed Rail website. For the regular train, you can use the Taiwan Railway website. It’s a bit cumbersome as you have to enter the same information multiple times, but you will quickly get the hang of it.

Although you can buy a ticket and reserve your seat online, you won’t receive your ticket via email. You will have to pick it up at the station with your reservation code. This can be done at a ticket counter or a machine at the station. There is an app that allows you to get your ticket on your mobile, but it only works in Chinese, so it wasn’t an option for me.

Taiwan travel tip: Cash is king

Although Taiwan is a modern country, credit cards or debit cards are not accepted everywhere, and sometimes the card reader doesn’t work. So, make sure you always have enough cash with you. In hotels and convenience stores like 7-Eleven, you can always pay with credit cards. Fortunately, it’s never a problem to find an ATM nearby.

Do people speak English in Taiwan?

While traveling around Taiwan you’ll often be able to communicate in English, but not everywhere. In tourist places and hotels, almost everyone speaks English. Outside of these areas, it can be more difficult, but everyone does their best to understand what you’re trying to say. Either they’ll try to find someone who speaks a few words of English, or together you will figure it out by using gestures.

In Tainan, I even had an entire conversation with a taxi driver via the Google Translate app (letting the app do the pronunciation). Hilarious, but it worked. So, language can be a challenge but also leads to some very memorable moments. In any case, it’s nothing to worry about. And of course, it’s always recommended to learn a few basic phrases (like hello, goodbye, and thank you) in Chinese.

Is Taiwan safe for solo female travelers?

I traveled around Taiwan by myself for 2,5 weeks and never felt unsafe, even in the evenings. Of course, it is better not to walk alone in deserted alleys at night, which you shouldn’t do anywhere. Compared to other countries, however, there is little crime in Taiwan, and the places I visited all felt very safe.