Navigating Taiwan: From Hotels to Attractions

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People often ask me whether Taiwan is expensive. I hear it often—and not just from travelers. Having moved to Taipei in mid-2019, my friends in the city (even local people) ask me my perspective on this issue…. as a foreigner, as a travel writer and as someone who does not earn his income in New Taiwan dollars (NTD).

Of course, my answer doesn’t simple related to the Taiwan money situation, nor do I simple compare Taiwan to other places I have traveled or lived. Rather, I’ve devoted a lot of energy to scrutinizing not only the cost of living and traveling here, but the value—I speak in terms as absolute and objective as possible.

Which is not to say this is going to be a post about cost of living in Taiwan, neither from a clinical perspective nor one calibrated for expats and long-term visitors. I’ll be speaking to issues about the cost of traveling in Taiwan in general, whether you’re a backpacker or a bougey boutique traveler.

Taiwan: The Sweet Spot of Asia

Before I begin addressing the specifics of the question “is Taiwan expensive?” allow me first to heap some praise on the country. Whether because of culture, weather, location or indeed cost, Taiwan is nothing short of the sweet spot of Asia. A few hours’ flight from basically anywhere, with four seasons (more or less), a mix of historical influences and a local population that’s somewhere between Japan and Thailand in its disposition, Taiwan embodies everything I love about Asia.

And as for cost? Well, in general I’d say Taiwan is relatively affordable—you’re not going to go broke traveling here, whether you’re a Taiwan backpacker or all but the most luxury-oriented traveler. However, while the cost of traveling in Taiwan is as wedged between Southeast and Northeast Asia as its culture, there are some noteworthy exceptions you’ll want to keep in mind as you map out your budget.

Breaking Down the Cost of Travel in Taiwan

Hotels in Taiwan

When it comes to where to stay in Taiwan, there’s bad news and worse news. The bad news is that it’s going to be expensive: A proper hotel will easily cost you 100 USD (about NT$3,000) per night, while even hostels and budget hotels can exceed 50-75 USD. Airbnbs can be cheaper, but only if you avail weekly or monthly discounts. The worse news? Places to stay in Taiwan are uniformly disappointing, even (especially, maybe?) the ones that are supposed to be luxurious.

Taiwan Food and Drink

Is Taiwan expensive? Not when it comes to eating. While certain restaurants (namely homegrown Din Tai Fung) can be pricey, especially if you’re in a large group, ordinary food in Taiwan is remarkably cheap. Enjoy Taiwanese street food like cong bing scallion pancakes for pennies on the (Taiwan) dollar, or indulge in bubble tea (but get half sugar, OK?) In general, most travelers in Taiwan can get by spending around 20 USD per day on food—and eating like kings.

Getting Around in Taiwan

Transportation in Taiwan is efficient and cheap, especially in Taipei (and, to a lesser extent, Kaohsiung). Buy yourself an EasyCard and use the Taipei MRT, local buses and even the U-Bike system seamlessly and cheaper—I spend less than NT$1,000 (~$30 USD) per month. On the other hand, while local trains and long-distance buses are relatively affordable, beware the Taiwan HSR, which is pricey and, in spite of being based on Shinkansen technology, is only sometimes more convenient.

Taiwan Activities and Excursions

Is Taiwan cheap when it comes to doing things? That really depends. The good news is that Taiwan is home to dozens of local and national parks, with incredible hiking trails that are mostly free to enter. This is true whether you hike in or around Taipei city (ni hao, Yangmingshan) or head to more conspicuous ecotourism destinations, such as Taroko Gorge National Park near Hualien on the East Coast. The most expensive part of truly getting away in Taiwan is car rental, to be honest.

Other Taiwan Travel Expenditures

There are a lot of other ways to ask (and answer) the question “is Taiwan expensive?” and I won’t even try to go through them all. However, I will address one more cost: ATM fees. Since Taiwan doesn’t accept credit cards much compared to other countries, you’ll need a lot of cash. It’s generally cheaper to exchange than than withdraw, though if you have to take cash out, use a Taishin Bank inside Family Mart to enjoy no fee. Another way around the lack of credit card acceptance is using Apple or Samsung Pay.

Ways to Keep Your Taiwan Travel Cost Down

As is the case in any destination, limiting your shopping (in this case, your “Taiwan must-buy” list) is a great way to make travel cheaper. Here are some other ideas specific to Taiwan:

  • Stay in the cheapest and most centrally-located lodging you can find. Even “nice” hotels aren’t going to impress you—why waste the money?
  • Take advantage of Taiwan’s street food/local eatery culture. While a meal at Din Tai Fung can be a nice splurge once in your trip, cheap food is the best food in Taiwan.
  • Avoid the high-speed rail if you can; and find a friend to split the cost of a rental car. Many HSR stations are outside of city centers, and car rental prices in Taiwan are relatively high compared to other countries.
  • Take advantage of excellent public transport, especially in Taipei. Taxis are a huge rip-off throughout Taiwan, and while Uber is a bit cheaper it still adds up over time.

Another tip? Don’t fixate too much on the best month to visit Taiwan. The island has highly changeable weather that can see tropical downpours during the “dry” season and beautiful sunshine during the monsoon. Come when it’s convenient for you.

Kaohsiung-5

Kaohsiung

Plan the Ultimate Trip to Taiwan

If you’ve clicked any of the links I’ve inserted into this article, you’ve no doubt gotten a taste of all the amazing places to go in Taiwan. (Not to mention, you probably realize there’s a great deal more to see in the country besides Taipei, as wonderful as my current home city is). You might start in Taipei, rent and drive a car down the East Coast and around to Kaohsiung and then travel back up via high-speed rail, stopping in places like Tainan and Taichung on the way.

The Bottom Line

Is Taiwan expensive? Mostly not, though the exceptions to this rule are important ones. In general, while you can expect the cost of daily expenditures in Taiwan to be low (surprisingly so, for most of them), the cost of finding a place to stay in Taiwan is high, especially when you consider the price of accommodation. Unfortunately, this is true irrespective of where you stay—a boutique or luxury hotel, or an Airbnb apartment. The good news is that if you can choose Taiwan hotels or apartments that are priced fairly and located centrally, the rest of your trip will be smooth sailing, both in terms of what you spend, as well as the experience you have.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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