I took a quick trip to the wonderful city of Taipei on April 4th, 2019 and I ran into a couple of familiar faces. Ray and Lisa! Kidding, this was not a coincidence, it is one of our many meetups during our year away from work.
Getting to Taipei
- From home in Tokyo, take the train to Nippori station (JR Yamanote line)
- Take NEX to NRT Airport (Terminal 2)
- Cost: 2470 Yen, ~$30 CAD
- Duration: 40 minutes
- Cathay Pacific Flight CX 451 (Round Trip)
- Cost: 34,900 Yen, $418.92 CAD
- Duration: 3h 40 minutes
- Taipei Airport -> Air BnB (Shuttle Bus)
- Cost: 290 NT, $12.60 CAD
- Duration: ~1h
Flight was great overall. Comes with a meal; beef curry rice + salad. Immigration was pretty long and seamed inefficient. I would put it on par with Toronto Pearson airport. I lined up for about 45 minutes. Otherwise, the airport itself was great, with easy to follow signs. I picked up my sim card right outside the arrival gate. I paid 500 NT ($21.72 CAD), for a 5 day sim card, 5gb data and $50 of voice credit. This actually ended up being useful when we needed to put in a phone number for our escape room reservation.
- Day 1 – 4
- Get Fat
- Watch movie in hotel room
- Day 5
- Go to Jiufen
- Get Fat
- Watch movie in hotel room
The above is true. The spirit of this trip, in general, was just to eat. So other than day 5, we didn’t venture off too far or get too adventurous. There were no hikes, and no sightseeing. So to re-iterate, the whole plan was to eat, and get fat. Instead of telling you about the food portion in this blog, you can watch my vlog about it 🙂 This will be the first in a new set of vlogs that i’ll make throughout my travels titled: Getting Fat With Carson
Surviving In Taipei
For transportation, we mainly walked and took the bus / mrt. It’s super easy to use and you just need to get the EasyCard for payment. You can pick these at any station or 711. They work just like Suica / Pasmo card in Tokyo or Octopus card in HK. Cards cost 100 NT ($4.34 CAD) and they don’t expire, so you can bring them home with you! For our escape room we called an Uber and it was really cheap. We also took an uber to Jiufen, which I’ll talk about later.
For communication, we mainly spoke English. I can speak Cantonese (thanks Mom and Dad for sending me to school), and with many years experience from watching TVB shows, I can actually read a bunch of Chinese characters. I took some Mandarin classes when I was younger, so I would say I have “Survival” communication skills. I can point and order, ask for “1 or 2” of something, and understand locals if they spoke slowly.
With that said, I don’t know how hard / easy it is to get around here if you only speak English. Ray and Lisa seemed to do okay for the most part. Locals trying to sell/advertise something will know enough English to get your attention (for a foot massage, or sell you a food item). But if you go to an actual restaurant or small food joint, then you may not be so lucky. When we went for dim sum, I spoke “crappy Chinese”, which was my special blend of Cantonese and Carson’s garbage Mandarin. It got the job done for the most part.
Two night markets were tackled on this short trip. First was Ximending (西門町) which is like the “Harajuku” of Taiwan. It’s got funky shops, and many blogs say it’s for the younger crowd to shop. It was pretty interesting and I recommend it, but I would say it’s more for shopping and less for food. We also didn’t really know how to navigate the area, so it took us a while to find the food carts.
The second night we tackled the big boy, Shinlin night market (士林夜市). This is the most popular one in Taipei, but also the most crowded and overpriced. I would still recommend it because I definitely enjoyed it, but expect it to be ultra crowded. The one piece of advice I would give, is to try and find the downstairs area first. Check that out and even have a quick meal there before going along the main street. We were a little late to the party, and by the time we got to where the “real” food was being served, we were already ultra full. But we still managed to enjoy one of the most popular dishes in Taipei, minced pork rice.
Everything, in general, is pretty cheap here in Taipei. We stayed in the Zhongshan District, which was luckily in the “middle” of everything we wanted to do, and walking distance to the giant tech mall in Taipei (光華數位新天地, 光華商場)
- Bus to any nearby night market:
- Between 15-30 NT ($0.65 / $1.30 CAD)
- Uber to places within 5km
- ~200 NT ($8.69 CAD)
- Uber to Jiufen
- 950 NT one day ($41.20 CAD)
- Night Market Foods
- 20-40 NT ($0.87 – $1.74) for cheap stuff: fishballs / buns
- 100-200 NT ($4.34 – $8.68) for anything steak or seafood items
- ~50 NT ($2.17 CAD) for any street food you can find: rice bowls, beef noodles
- Spa / Foot Massage
- ~900 NT ($39.02 CAD) for an hour of foot massage + shoulder massage.
I exchanged about 40,000 Yen (11,000 NT, 480 CAD) for my entire trip, and I have about 3000 NT left over ($130.37). I used cash for everything except for the AirBnb and uber rides. So all public transit rides, all meals, 711 visits and foot massages were all cash. For 1 person, I would say that is a good amount of spending cash.
In total with flight / hotel, everything said and done (depending on where you are flying from/) I think $1200 CAD would be a very generous budget.
Journey to Jiufen
If you’ve never heard of Jiufen, you’ve probably still heard of the popular movie: Spirited Away. The town from that movie is inspired from the beautiful town of Jiufen, Taiwan. We originally did not want to go there because we were feeling fat and gross after 4 days of eating. Plus the bus / train ride was about 2 hours. However, I came up with a genius plan, and that was to take an Uber. It’s not cheap at 950 NT ($41.27 CAD) each way, but split across 3 people we sort of didn’t care. Plus it cut our commute time to 45 minutes, door to door.
This town has a lot of Taiwanese charm to it. Ray and I are very happy that Lisa “forced” us to go before we both fell asleep at 3am in the morning, This town used to be a gold mining town, so there are museums and a bunch of other cool references to this throughout the town. We didn’t actually do any of those tourist things, other than go to the old street of Jiufen and just walk around. It was 30 degrees C and fairly humid, so walking around in such a crowded and narrow place was difficult. Just how crowded and narrow was it you ask? Let me answer with a visual. (Some parts are better than others)
One of the funniest things I found in this authentic town was “Condom World”. I guess everyone needs protection.
The entire old street is just selling you food food food, But we were still feeling gross from the previous 4 days of eating. So we didn’t really eat any of the night market foods: fish balls, buns, etc. But we still had to get lunch, so picked a funky little beef noodle shop, and got the most popular item on the menu.
So that’s a wrap on Taipei. It was fun, we had a lot of food, and I’m pretty sure I gained like 50 pounds. If you’re nearby, I definitely recommend checking it out. Flights aren’t expensive and as you can tell from reading everything above, I didn’t spend too much money either. Thanks for reading!