FOR Filipinos, Taiwan isn’t something we typically think of as a “tourist destination.” When it comes to traveling abroad, we dream of going to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand — we often forget about visiting Taipei, Taiwan, which is only 1,000 kilometers from the Philippines.
This is why Taipei is so beautiful in its own way — it’s an underrated and unassuming city that has a lot to offer. Cebu Pacific now offers direct flights from Cebu to Taipei thrice a week, which will get you to the capital of Taiwan in two hours.
Veer away from the mainstream and try visiting this eastern gem for a change. There’s a reason, when Portuguese sailors caught a first glimpse of the island, why they named it “Formosa” (literally meaning “beautiful island”).
Before you put Taipei into your next stop of destinations to visit, here are a few things you need to know, before you pack up and go.
1. You may or may not need a visa.
Philippine passport holders are required a visa to visit Taiwan. Failure to present the necessary travel document will mean refusal of entry. If you have a valid visa or permanent residency in Japan, UK, US, Schengen, Canada, AUS or NZ, you can travel to Taiwan without a visa by simply applying for a visa exemption certificate online.
2. The Taiwanese are genuinely kind and helpful!
I mostly relied on the kindness of strangers in Taiwan. Even their cab drivers. That statement needs to be bold for emphasis. Kind and honest cab drivers are like unicorns in Manila — they simply don’t exist in our ‘hood!
Case on point: When I first arrived to Taipei in the dead of the night (1 a.m.), I took a cab from Taipei Main Station to get to the place we booked via Airbnb. My friend arrived a day before, and we decided to meet in a Family Mart near the address. When I hopped on the cab, the driver said there were actually three Family Marts in that area. I told my cab driver to drop me wherever and I can figure it out on my own.
“No, it’s too late for a lady to be out on her own!” he said, like a concerned grandpa. Instead, he took me to all three Family Marts and even accompanied me to look for my friend. He was also sweet enough to teach me a few Mandarin words that came really useful throughout my trip.
It is easy to befriend the Taiwanese people, and have had random friends we met in a restaurant, bar, or even on the streets. They will go out of their way to help you.
3. Taiwan is well-known for its love for food.
Foodies will love Taiwan; because they have a great love affair with their food. You can’t talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning their street food cuisine. Kinda unfair — they never seem to get fat.
I will go as far as to say that food should be the primary reason you’re going to Taiwan. Go all out and don’t think about dieting! Some of the famous Taiwanese food include: pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, oyster omelette, steamed dumplings, crispy chicken cutlets… everything. Most times, I don’t really know what type of animal or animal part I ordered— they surely don’t waste any animal part, and it all tasted good anyway.
They have the oddest restaurant and cafe concepts I’ve seen, probably only second to Japan. They have restaurants dedicated to Hello Kitty, the toilet, hospital, and more. It will be a good idea to go cafe-hopping and discover for yourself!
4. They have a sizzling nightlife.
There are plenty of things to do in Taiwan at night. With a lifestyle of 24-hour convenience stores, there’s always something happening — even at 5 in the morning.
So in a scale of 1 to Filipino, how seriously do the Taiwanese take their karaoke? Their KTVs are serious, lucrative business, and atmosphere is first-grade. It would be an experience to try it, but they don’t come cheap compared to our hulog-piso karaoke machines.
Ahh, and Taipei nightclubs are happening. There are too many nightclubs and I remember their names very vaguely. So, after a quick Google search, I remember being or passing by most of these clubs: Barcode, Myst, OMNI, Room18 — the clubs are all clustered in one area near Taipei 101 so they’re not that hard to spot.
One thing I noticed though: Taiwanese love to party without limits — they drink until they can’t stand up on their own feet. I always see Taiwanese men and women passed out drunk in toilets, in and out the clubs. In the nightclubs, all the toilets are expected occupied with puking girls by 2 in the morning. I like to control my alcohol content and avoid losing my shoes, thank you.
5. Don’t haggle so much, don’t leave tips.
You don’t haggle so much in Taipei markets. You can ask for a discount, but you can’t get an item 80 percent 0ff its original price like you can in Mainland China or Thailand. This is because Taiwanese don’t like overpricing their goods, as they believe that the practice is dishonest and unethical. Try haggling 15 to 20 percent off the price, and if you do, you’re lucky.
Tipping in Taiwan is generally not expected. On one occasion a friend was chased after the waiter when he left the restaurant for leaving his money behind. Tipping is also not expected by the Taiwanese taxi drivers, who are quick to give you your change to the last cent. 10 to 15 percent service charge is already included in restaurants. Rule of thumb, 10 to 15 percent tip is generally accepted in spas, salons and tour guides.
6. The internet?
Taiwan has the fattest internet service I’ve experienced, even in comaparison to Western countries! The Taiwanese are just as obsessed at getting connected, so Filipinos won’t have any problem with wi-fi service at all.
Taiwan is the very first destination in the world that provides free wi-fi access for tourists for up to 30 days. Simply go to the Tourist Service Center near you and show your passport to staff.
Aside from that, wi-fi hotspots are available almost everywhere — cafes, restaurants, convenience stores, mini marts, MRT stations, everywhere! So you don’t have to worry about uploading your Snaps or Instagram posts on time.
7. Shop for electronics in the night markets!
Taipei is also a shopper’s dream. Especially for electronics! As you know, a lot of technology brands originated here in Taiwan: Acer, Asus and HTC, to name a few. Everything is much cheaper here, and of higher quality than, say, China. Get your share of electronics at Guanghua Digital Plaza.
Taiwan is also known for their night markets. Their biggest and most famous one is the Shilin Night Market with thousands of stalls selling food, toys, clothes, shoes and souvenirs of all sorts!
For a first-world nation, Taiwan is surprisingly peso-friendly! One Taiwanese dollar is pegged almost the same as the Philippine peso (Around our time of visit, 1 NT$ = 1.4 Philippine peso) so no need to make annoying conversions in your head.
8. 24-hour Convenience Stores are a part of life.
The thousands of 24-hour convenience stores are an indispensable way of life in Taiwan. I mentioned earlier that our Airbnb place had three different Family Marts in one street. This isn’t actually commonplace across Taiwan — with over 10,000 convenience stores or one store for every 2,000 residents, the country has the highest minimart density in the world. They sure love their convenience, and you will, too. If you’re hungry post-party, you’re sure to get your fill — there’s bound to be a restaurant or shop open for you.