Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taiwan 2013 Travelogue: Prologue | Travel Guide

I keep telling myself that I should probably write something about my recent trip to Taiwan before I lost my mojo. This post will focus more about some basic information that you might need to know as well as some travelling tips to Taiwan especially if it's your first time to Taiwan or if you're travelling free and easy. The reason that I came up with this post is that I have a lot of doubts and inquiries while planning this trip. While doing some research, I came across a lot blogposts that are not much of a help cause it's filled with tons of photos *cough* mostly endless selfies *cough* and with minimal useful details. Lucky me that I have my elder sister to help out and the fact that she's been to Taiwan is definitely a bonus. So I  thought I should come up with a proper blogpost to help those who is experiencing the same problem as me. Research is really necessary so that you'll get a rough idea of what to expect and like they say, a little research goes a long way. It's always good to prepare yourself, no?

Booking flight tickets
Thanks to Airasia, now everyone can fly. Since my travelling period falls during the school holiday, I didn't manage to get cheap air tickets despite there is a promotion going on. It was roughly RM1000 for each of us, excluding baggage fees and pre-booked meals. Flight tickets to Taiwan can go as low as RM500 per person during non-peak season. On a side note, I would suggest taking a morning/afternoon flight so that you could apply for the Youth Card and local sim card for your mobile phone at the airport itself upon arrival. I'll elaborate on that more later. As for me, I took the evening flight and by the time I reach, the telco booths are all closed which I have to survive two days with just hotel wifi until I got myself a local sim card.  

This is definitely the hardest decision to make when you have so many hotels and bread & breakfast hostels (more known as minsu 民宿 which many have claim to be a must-try experience) to choose from. My advice is to book directly with the hotel itself , be it by email or dropping them a message on FB page rather than using Agoda or any other related hotel booking websites.

After much consideration, we settled with CityInn Plus Ximending cause of the numerous good reviews that we've read. The fact that it's located in Ximending, just a few steps away from Ximen MRT station 3rd exit makes it convenient for us to travel around too. Apparently certain Taiwan hotels allow you to store your heavy luggage at their premises while you travel somewhere else. For example, we went to Hualien and Taichung during the weekend and then returned to CityInn Plus XMD Hotel to stay for our remaining last four nights. The front desk allowed us to leave our luggage with them while we were away. Super convenient cause we get to pack light for our weekend trip away from Taipei. Some hotels also allow you to leave your luggage with them before the official check-in time. I'll blog about the three different accommodation that we stayed during the one week trip to Taiwan in separate posts.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We would like to experience how the locals travel everyday from one county so we took the trains (TRA and HSR) to Hualien and Taichung respectively.  TRA (Taiwan Railway Administration) is something like our KTM while THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) is bullet trains.

You can purchase your TRA online 2 weeks in advance to get 10% discount off and secure your seats. Another 10% discount if you purchase return tickets too. You can always check the train schedule at this website. Pay via credit card and have it print out at the nearest 7-11 or Family Mart near your hotels with minimal fee. All you need is your passport number and the booking number. It works for HSR and bus tickets as well.
The printing machine which you can spot in most convenience stores in Taiwan. 
Or you can just collect it on the day of departure, at least 30 minutes before the train leaves. Make sure you get to the train station on time as the trains are super punctual (no Malaysia timing please) and waits for no one. For detailed instructions on how to check, reserve, buy and cancel your TRA tickets online, feel free to check out this excellent guide.
Train tracks at Hualien Station. 

If you wish to travel by HSR, you can either buy them at the counter (at Taipei Main Station) or book them online at the HSR website. The tickets will be slightly expensive as compared to TRA but you can get up to 30% discount if you manage to get the early bird price which requires booking at least 1 month prior to your travelling date. Information on timetable, fares and routes are available at this website.

So it's best to have your itinerary all plan out nicely at least a month or two before your travelling date so that you can secure all these transportation tickets on time and save up on the transportation fee.

Besides TRA and HSR, you can also travel around Taipei with MRT. I'm really impressed with their systematic MRT systems despite having so many different lines making every part of Taipei reachable! Though it looks complicated to me at first but eventually I managed to get used to it. You can get the route from here and it's better to have the route map saved to your phone so that you can refer to it anytime. You can ask for a mini route map from the MRT station ticket counters too.

Travelling by bus is pretty convenient in Taiwan but I wasn't really confident using it (no time to get lost, every minute is valuable HAHA) so we didn't use any bus while we were there expect for that one shuttle bus from Taichung HSR station to Fengchia University.

SimCard on your Mobile Phone
I guess nowadays people couldn't live without mobile internet (which includes me as well) so getting a local simcard is considered one of the essential as well. It can be pretty useful when you need to navigate your way with Google Maps or searching for information online or even reading some tips from 4sq. For my case, I use it for checking in on 4sq as well as updating my Instagram :P Back to the simcard, you can easily buy it from the 3 telco booths at the airport namely: DaGeDa, Far EasTone and Chunghwa. Since they are closed when I reached, I thought I could try my luck at the convenience store but apparently you can only get simcard with 3G connection from telco service stores. Tried our luck again on the third day at Taipei Main Station but most of them ran out of stock for nano sim card. Yes, they have nano sim card readily on sale! Finally after 3 days of being disconnected from the cyberworld, I managed to secure myself with a sim card from DaGeDa in Fengchia, Taichung.
NTD500 for 1GB of data and NTD400 talktime credit. Once you've exceeded 1GB, you will be charged accordingly. Reload available at all convenience stores. 
All you need is just your passport and they will settle the rest for you, no activation time needed as well :D You can use it right away, how efficient. The speed is pretty fast (compared to DiGi lolol) even in rural areas or up on the hill like Jiufen and compared to some of the wifi is available. Somehow I've read many reviews stated that ChungHwa is better and on a plus note, they provide unlimited data for mobile internet even with the same price I paid for DaGeDa. 

Easy Card 悠遊卡

Easy Card is something like our Touch n' Go, can be used for all buses, MRT and trains in Taipei. You can buy it in any MRT stations or convenience stores. NT500 for adult, with NTD400 of credit and NTD100 deposit. We got ours from Family Mart for NTD100 and throughout the whole week, we used less than NTD300. You can use this Easy Card to buy stuff in their convenience stores, Starbucks and Watsons as well. How cool! Since I had NTD78 left, I used it all up buying junk food in Family Mart and kept the card as a souvenir. Who knows I can still use it on my next trip? Otherwise, you can actually return the card and get refunded for the full balance and deposit with a charge of NTD20 termination fee as long as your card is still in good condition. More details at the Easy Card website, here.

Card design varies from time to time (: 

If you will be taking a lot of public transport, then you might consider getting the Taipei Pass instead where you can take unlimited number of rides on the MRT and buses. Available in  few types; more info here.

Youth Travel Card 台灣青年旅遊卡

The Youth Travel Card is eligible for traveler aged between 15-30. You can apply the card at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Customer Service upon arrival with no application fee. Since I reached the airport late, I had mine done in Taichung's Sun Moon Lake Visitor Information Office instead. With this card, you can enjoy discounts and special gifts from selected stores and restaurants as well as entrance ticket to place of interest. I got to use mine while visiting Taipei Zoo, Taipei 101 as well as Shifen Waterfall and I get discounted price for the entrance fee. 

Currency Exchange

It's best to have all your NTD currency change before you fly off cause there aren't money changer stores in Taiwan around like how you have them everywhere in Malaysia. You can only change your currency in the airport or certain banks, doubt that they will give you better rate either. You can also bring along some USD as they do accept USD, but not Malaysia Ringgit. Credit cards are widely accepted in every decent-sized town, making this a convenient way to cover expenses without exchanging cash. All major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted in most shops, restaurants and hotels.

Well, it would be a slight disadvantage if you can't read (traditional Chinese to be exact) or converse in Mandarin Chinese cause it is their official language and Taiwanese Hokkien is widely spoken too. Most of their signs in public area are in bilingual, Chinese and English so fret not. But when it comes to menu in the breakfast shops and certain eatery outlets, they are in Chinese and obviously I have a hard time deciding what to eat most of the time. I'll be like "Mum, what is this and what is that" HEH I can't really read but somehow I still manage to survive #sucesskid.jpg

Traveling Etiquette
In Malaysia, we're often encouraged to keep to our left while going up the escalator but in Taiwan, it's the other way round. Always remember to keep to your right. It took me some time to get used to it too. Also, passengers are expected to queue while waiting for trains and the best things is there are even queue strips on the floor to guide people so they won't get in the way of passengers alighting from the trains. Surprisingly, people automatically queue up in Taiwan! Sorry to say, but you don't get that in Malaysia. They will rush into the trains without even letting you out first. They also leave the priority seats empty for the disabled, elderly and pregant women. I'm just amazed by how civic minded they are, needless to say, they are super friendly and polite too. 

Essential to bring along
  • Electricity: 110 V (Two flat prongs plug; so bring your universal adapter) 
  • Umbrella/Disposable Raincoats
  • Recycle Bags (Most of the stores practice no plastic policy. Some charge NTD1 for plastic bag)
I guess that's pretty much it about my so called guide-to-travel and hope you'll find this blogpost helpful :D I'll further edit this post if there is more updates. I'll blog about planning the itinerary in a separate post. Don't hesitate to drop me a comment or you can even email me if you have any further enquiry. I'll be more than happy to help! If you have any additional tips you want to contribute, do feel free to add your comments below too.

Last but not least, enjoy your holiday to Taiwan!

More updates about Taiwan coming up next, so stay tuned.


Henry Tan said...

wooo very informative! and yeah weyyy.. u better write all before u lost all your mojo. then ended up like me just simply write. lol

比比 said...

Nice post you have here, makes me miss Taiwan even more now T_T

Kelvin -KtheBlogger- Tan said...

Wow. So long wall of text. LOL. But quite informative lah what you mentioned.

Diana Diane Teo said...

Your Easy Card is so cute than mine. I know I should buy from Family Mart instead from the machine.

Regarding the HSR, the discount can up to 35% cause I managed get that discount ;)

Small Kucing said...

good post. Takes a lot of planning :)

Mr Lonely said...

thanks for sharing~ will go there soon too~

JessicaChaw said...

Omg!! This would be my guideline if I am going to travel to Taiwan! :P Thanks for sharing!