Taipei, Taiwan on the Cheap: 1 Week – $300
When it comes to traveling to expensive countries, Sara and I always tell ourselves, “We’ll go when were older, and richer.” While we are waiting to strike it rich, there are plenty of places to see that are inexpensive. That’s part of the reason we moved to Southeast Asia. However, when a cheap flight to Taipei came across our web browser, we couldn’t resist a week-long vacation to possibly the greatest food city in the world. We discovered that it was possible to travel Taipei, Taiwan on the cheap.
Of course, it would require a bit more planning, and perhaps some sacrifices, but we managed to pull it off. Seeing Taipei, Taiwan on the cheap isn’t difficult if you want to just experience the city, eat its amazing food, stroll it’s pristine streets, and experience what it would be like to live in the city. We did it for a week for only about $300 each.
Before you go
A lot of people live in Taipei, so you’re going to experience large crowds. If you want to take a day trip, buy your tickets ahead of time so you can reserve a seat. We decided last minute to take a train up to the north part of the island. The lady at the ticket counter advised us not to go. She said we could buy a ticket, but the train was too crowded and we’d regret it. Too crowded for a Taiwanese person is way, way, way too crowded for me.
In Taipei, be prepared to wait in line for everything. I absolutely hate queuing. In fact, I hate the word ‘queue’. What’s with the extra ‘u’? Spelling a word should never be a tongue-twister! Anyways, I had to get used to lining up in Taipei. To get movie tickets, we waited 20 minutes. To get into the movie, another 15 minutes. The line-up for popcorn was so long that we decided we’d just eat what other people dropped on the floor. It drove me nuts at first, but I slowly evolved. Now, I can say I’m an okay queuer. I’m nowhere near British-level, but I can hold my own in a line.
Taiwan has some of the fastest Internet in the world. It also has WiFi almost everywhere. As a huge fan of the world wide web, I was pretty happy about this. Often, when I arrive in a country, I’ll get a sim card and hook my phone up with some of that sweet 3G that it loves so much. For Taiwan, I decided that it wasn’t necessary. I regret that decision. WiFi is available pretty much anywhere downtown, but to connect to it you’ll need to give a phone number so they can SMS you an access code. Since my sim card was from Vietnam, I couldn’t receive an SMS. You also need a local sim card if you want to use Taipei’s bike share program, YouBike. Of course, there are ways around this -- for instance, if you know a local that has a cell phone -- but a local sim with some data will only cost about $10.
The airport is quite far from Taipei, but have no fear, there are plenty of ways to get downtown for cheap. The easiest and cheapest, is probably by bus. There are different companies doing the route, but it generally takes an hour and costs NT$90 ($2.75). Just follow the signs to the “Bus Ticket Counter” when you get into the arrivals hall, the look for a bus to Taipei Main Station.
The Big Costs
First off, I want to make it clear that $300 does not include our flights. We paid $305 each for return flights from Ho Chi Minh City.
Here is a list of low-cost airlines that serve Taipei:
- V Air -- Taiwan’s low-cost airline. Flights to and from Manila, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Busan, and multiple cities in Japan.
- Jetstar -- Flights from Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Phiippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
- Tigerair -- Flights from all over Southeast Asia, as well as India, China, Japan, and more.
- AirAsia -- Many of the flights go through Kuala Lumpur, but if you can catch a short layover, you can save a lot of money and only add a bit of time.
- Nok Air -- Bangkok to Taipei deals can be as low as $120 return.
- VietJet -- cheap flights from Ho Chi Minh City (as low as $110 return).
- EVA Air -- Not a budget airline, but if you are flying from another continent there’s a good chance that you’ll find the best deal with EVA. It’s likely to be cheaper to book through affiliate sites, so check Momondo, or Hipmunk before booking on EVA’s official site.
- China Eastern Airlines -- One of the cheaper airlines in China. They have flights from Australia, Europe, and North America that are sometimes cheaper than EVA.
Accommodations -- Taipei, Taiwan on the Cheap
Hotels in Taipei are expensive. Many people choose to stay in hostels, which range in price from $25 to $50 a night depending on whether you want a dorm, private room, private room with a shared bathroom, etc. Since we’re somewhere around 30 years old, we don’t do dorms anymore. Seriously, a week in a dorm sounds about as much fun as bee stings. If you are looking for a place that feels like you are a citizen of Taipei, I suggest checking Airbnb. It’s possible to get your own small apartment for about $30/night. A private double room in a hostel is hard to find for under $35, so this is a real bargain. If you are staying for less than a week, it may cost more, but Taipei is the type of place that you’ll want to settle in for an extended period of time.
We stayed here for $245.50/week (including a cleaning fee and service fee). That’s $122.75 each. Overall, it was a cool place to stay. The neighborhood was quiet, and felt authentic. The room was pretty basic, but had everything we needed, including very hot water with major pressure. However, we did get viciously attacked by mosquitoes. It was a rough couple nights. I almost turned into the Hulk and started smashing stuff. To hear me complain more, read my review on the site.
A few things to consider when searching for a place:
- A fancy city doesn’t mean fancy accommodations. Most of the affordable hotels and guesthouses will be pretty basic, and small. Taipei is one of the top ten most densely populated cities in the world. Boxes, stacked on boxes.
- It’s easy to get around in Taipei, so if you are a bit outside of the city center it’s not a big deal. I would, however, try and find a place that’s close to a metro station.
- The various districts offer various vibes. If you want a college neighborhood, the Daan district will work. Shilin district, which is a popular place to live for expats, is a bit suburban but also includes museums, and possibly the best night market in Taipei. Xinyi is more modern, and might be hard to find a budget accommodation in. For more of a suburban feel, you could stay in New Taipei, which is technically another city that completely surrounds Taipei, it’s likely cheaper and is connected by the metro. Keep in mind, the districts are fairly large and their feel changes depending where you are in them, so just picking a district may not be enough. We technically stayed in Zhongzheng, but we were quite close to Daan district, so there were a lot of restaurants and shops aimed at college kids.
The small costs
More info about Taipei’s Metro system
The metro system in Taipei is pretty amazing. The cost changes depending on how far you are going, but you’re not likely to spend more than NT$50 ($1.50). In fact, most trips will cost you NT$20 (60 cents). It’s also possible to buy day passes, and even 5 day passes, but we found that unless you’re taking multiple or lengthy trips, it wasn’t worth it. You can also get an EasyCard, which allows you to put money on a card so you can just swipe it instead of buying a token every time you ride. It requires a NT$100 deposit. When we were there, the EasyCard was only available at select stations — probably because it was a Taiwanese holiday — so we didn’t bother getting it.
Food: Eating Taipei, Taiwan on the Cheap
More info about Taiwanese food
To be honest, the main reason we went to Taiwan was the food. As we were planning the trip, the tourist attractions list got smaller, and the foods to try list grew larger and larger. It’s not difficult to eat for about NT$240 ($7.40) a day.
A typical day’s meal might include:
- Breakfast: Egg and bacon rolled into a scallion pancake, with coffee. NT$80 ($2.40)
- Lunch: Freshly made dumplings (in a soup or own their own). NT$70 ($2.10)
- Dinner: Night market buffet! Browse the stalls and get whatever you feel like. There are lots of options, and most will cost between NT$50 and NT$100 ($1.50-$3).
- Drink: Taiwan tea is a must-try. The cost will vary place to place and cup to cup, but a decent cup of milk tea is usually around NT$40.
- Dessert: Taiwanese bakeries are pretty amazing. They’ll have some traditional Asian sweets (mochi, egg tarts, etc), but most of what I saw was closer to European-style desserts.
More info about visiting Shilin Market
Of course, there are some high-end restaurants in Taipei. If you’re going to go for a nice meal out, I would highly recommend the famous Din Tai Fung for dim sum. One xiao long bao (basically a dumpling with soup in it) will change your life. It might be the single most delicious spoonful of food I’ve ever put in my mouth. Our quite filling meal cost NT$836 ($25) for the two of us. Considering it’s Michelin star food, that’s an incredible value.
What to do in Taipei, Taiwan on the Cheap
If you plan carefully, you can find a variety of affordable activities to keep you entertained in Taipei.
- Hike the Four Beasts Mountain
For amazing views of the city, you could pay $15 to go up in the Taipei 101 observatory, but you’d be missing the best part of the skyline -- the Taipei 101 tower! Instead, I’d suggest hiking up to Elephant mountain. That may sound a little daunting, but it’s actually only a 20 minute walk (without breaks… which you’ll likely want). Most of the climb is stairs. It may be very busy at peak hours. You can find more information, and info about climbing the other beasts, here.
- Visit a Museum
The museums in Taipei are quite good and are affordable.
- National Palace Museum -- One of the world’s largest collection of ancient Chinese art and artifacts. NT$250
- Taipei Fine Art Museum. NT$30
- MoCA Taipei (Museum of Contemporary Art). NT$50
- National Taiwan Science Education Center -- Sara’s a science teacher so we nerded out here for about 5 hours. NT$100
- Taipei Astronomical Museum -- They have an IMAX theater as well as an observatory. NT$40 for general admission (NT$100 for the theater)
- Museum of Drinking Water -- the history of drinking water in Zhongzheng district! I know it sounds a bit silly, but it’s in an old pump station from the early 1900s. NT$80
- National Taiwan Museum -- The oldest museum in the city. NT$30
- Huashan 1914 Creative Park
This former wine factory has been transformed into an artistic venue with shops, art exhibits, and plenty of places to relax with a drink. You can go to one of the cafes or restaurants, or just grab a drink in a vending machine and find a bench in the shade. There’s also a cinema there that shows less-mainstream movies.
- ShoppingShida Night Market | Taipei, Taiwan's Trendiest Market
More info about visiting Taipei’s hipster market
Of course, shopping can get expensive, but I was happy to browse around, observe people, and look at never-before-seen items. Taipei has a unique sense of fashion. Perhaps it’s a combination of Japanese culture (the island was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945) and Chinese culture. At any rate, they are hip, they like to look good, and their clothing is actually pretty cool. You’ll find recognizable brands like the Gap, Uniqlo, and H&M, but there are also some Taiwanese owned brands that are quite popular. For example, Net.
I would also recommend a visit to the Xinyi Eslite bookstore. It’s the largest bookstore in Taiwan, and it’s filled with amazing things (not just books). A large percentage of the books are in English, so this would be a great place to stock up on reading material. You could also find some really cool gifts — stuff that will make you say, “Whhhaaaa! This is so cool!”
- Taipei Maokong Gondola
You could spend an entire day riding the gondola and exploring the various areas. There are tea plantations, temples, hiking trails, galleries, and museums. A single journey costs from NT$70-120 ($2-4), but you can also get a round trip ticket that’s NT$260 ($7.90) and includes one extra stop.
- Memorial Halls and Parks
There are quite a few memorial halls that are event spaces, but are also open to the public. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is one of the more popular ones. The massive buildings are impressive, but the grounds are pretty vast with not much shade. It has a city square feel to it though, and is great for observing locals.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall is surrounded by a park with a small lake. You can also go inside to see the statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and check out what exhibits or performances are going on.
2/28 Peace Park has a few interesting things to see. It’s the oldest park in Taipei (established in 1900 and renamed in 1945). 2/28 refers to February 28, 1947, an important day in Taiwanese history, when an anti-government protest ended violently with thousands dead. The park is close to the National Taiwan Museum and the Presidential Palace, so why not spend an hour checking out these historic landmarks.
- Hot springs
Taipei has a whole area that’s dedicated to hot springs, including a hot spring museum. Choose a local public hot spring (NT$40), or a fancier private one for around NT$700. There are many different options, so do your research and find the one that’s just right for you.
Budget Breakdown (for 2)
Transportation: about $27.50 for the week (including buses to and from the airport)
Food: $200 (including some relatively fine dining, and a couple extra meals)
Tourist Attractions: $30
Extras: $50 (just to be safe)
That’s $277 per person.