A few months ago, my friends from med school and I went on a very spontaneous trip to Taiwan. I usually plan my out of the country trips three months in advance at the very least but this one only took us just a little over a month. I remember we were just studying for our long exam, and during one of our study breaks, we decided to go to Taiwan.
We planned to go on January before our new semester started. It was already November and we still didn’t have a ticket. So we thought that if we couldn’t find a cheap ticket during the 11.11 sales, we just wouldn’t push through with this. We were on a very tight budget then because 1) we’re still really just students without any source of income, and 2) we still haven’t told our parents about it. LOL.
When I travel, I always make sure to stay on a budget especially because I don’t want to keep asking my parents for a huge amount when they’re already spending so much on my education. With this trip especially, because I only asked permission about 2 weeks AFTER I bought my plane ticket, my parents were adamant that I spend my own savings for this. Apparently, when I was asking for permission, one of my reasons were “I’m going to spend my money for this, and will not ask for anything if you would let me go”. They really taught me a lesson with that one because unlike with my previous travels, they really didn’t back me up with any extra pocket money. HAHA.
Luckily, we found roundtrip tickets under 6, 000PHP during the 11.11 AirAsia sale and we decided to book it. Now, because it was such short notice, we barely had any time to save up for this. So we had to be smart about where we’re staying, what our itinerary would be, and the mode of transportation we should take.
We stayed at Cheers Boutique Hostel in Ximending. A double room only cost us 3, 000NTD (so just around 1, 500NTD each) for 4 nights. It’s actually already very cheap because it’s right in the Ximending shopping area, and just a few minutes walk from Ximen station. The hostel doesn’t have any elevators (we had to climb up and down 5 flights of stairs everyday) or toiletries or any free breakfasts. It’s basically just a room with a shower. It does have airconditioning, cable TV, hair dryer, and a heater though so it’s really not all bad considering we booked it for a very cheap price.
Our trip lasted for five whole days which I believe was enough to really explore the country. We were able to explore Northern and Southern Taiwan aside from Taipei. We went to Yehliu, Keelung, and Jiufen as well as Taichung.
I enjoyed our day trip to the north because we had really good food at Keelung and we got to tick off everything on our list for that area except for Shifen. We decided to skip Shifen because we found reviews saying it’s always packed with tourists and it’s a bit difficult to get to. We didn’t regret it because we had fun in Jiufen having the most expensive tea experience I’ve had so far. HAHA.
The next day we took it easy (we woke up early the previous day). We went to Longshan Temple, Chiang Kai Shek, and then to Beitou to try out their hotspring. We were really looking forward to the hotsprings because by this time, our feet and calves were hurting from all the walking and the cold. It took us quite a while to find a cheap private tub. We ended up at SweetMe Hotspring Hotel and paid 500NTD each for 2hrs which isn’t bad considering that the place was really nice and clean, and they had free drinks and toiletries as well.
Before heading back to our hotel, we decided to drop by Drunk Cafe. It was a cool place with cool interior but the drinks were really pricey. I’d recommend going here if you have extra cash to spare and if it’s along your way, otherwise, you could skip it.
The next day, we woke up really early to head down to Taichung as we decided to take the bus. We read that the HSR tickets to Taichung could amount to 700NTD one-way and we just refuse to spend that much on train tickets. HAHA. So we just figured we’d go early and sleep on the bus instead. It was a comfortable ride, actually! The seats were very spacious and it was only 450NTD each way.
We originally planned to go to Zhong She Flower Market, Rainbow Village, and then drop by their night market. So we went to the Flower Market first and then as we were looking through Google Maps to decide which route to take to the Rainbow Village, we realized that all the tourist spots in Taichung were about an hour away from each other, and their trains actually had a schedule. Unlike in the city where a train would come and go every 5mins, in Taichung, you actually had to wait 20mins. So we thought that at this rate, we might not be able to catch the last bus to Taipei, let’s just head back and go to Raohe Night Market instead.
So we did, and that’s why I’m so salty about our daytrip to Taichung. The commute was either time consuming (bus) or pretty expensive (HSR), and then the tourist spots are pretty far from each other, and taking an Uber cost quite some money too (although to be fair, they have good Uber cars, we rode in a Lexus HAHA). To top it off, it was drizzling that day too so the Flower Market was a bit muddy making it difficult to walk around and take cute pictures (which is, let’s be honest, everyone’s reason why they want to go there).
Honestly, for me, Taichung is totally skippable. Unless you’re really into flowers and have the cash to spend on HSR tickets, then by all means, go. But it’s just not worth it for me, and the rain just really ended it for me. There’s already a lot that you can do in the city alone and it wouldn’t take so much of your time and budget.
For our last day, we went to Maokong and it was awesome for me because I liked how cold it got during that day. We rode the crystal gondola going up, and just rode the regular one when we went back. The ride took about half an hour, I think. We also visited the Taipei Fine Arts Museum which I think is break from all the touristy spots we’ve been going to.
Taiwan is a very beautiful country with AMAZING FOOD. I would honestly go back (but only in the winter time so it’s cold and not always rainy!) just to be able to taste the food again. The wagyu cubes, beef noodles (Niu Dian is THE BEST), paper pork, pineapple cake (from Sunmerry!), salted egg biscuits, sausage, crab meat soup, oil rice… JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING (maybe even stinky tofu? 😜). It’s a beautiful country to visit and I couldn’t be happier that we went when it was cold, but it’s honestly expensive! I thought I could get by with just 15, 000PHP pocket money (bec I really challenge myself to stay within a budget, remember my Singa4k blog?), but I couldn’t do it. By the 4th day, I had to withdraw my remaining money because I only had 100NTD left in my wallet. HAHA.
Oh and another tip (and this is not an ad, I promise!), if you have GCash Mastercard card, take it with you and use that instead to withdraw from their ATMs. The charge is only 100PHP and they have pretty good exchange rate too! And I didn’t even have to call Globe to have it activated for international access which is honestly very hassle-free.
So for us millennials whose thirst for travel feels insatiable but are held back by our measly entry-level wages (with exhausting hours and demanding tasks), I’d say go for it still. But only if it’s really just your spare savings — if you didn’t have to borrow money from anyone just to make it happen, do it. Traveling is such an escape from the depressing corporate cycle or from the immense pressure school gives us. There’s no shame in traveling on a budget, you went because you wanted to go to a new place, eat their food, experience, their culture, and just get away from all of it.
You really just have to smart about your itinerary, and remain hopeful that a you could get a good deal from the piso sales. Commute as much as you can because Taiwan has one of the best train systems in Asia, and just take it all in. Enjoy as much as you can, we only have one life to live. ✨
Oh, and I also made a short montage of this trip which you can watch on my YouTube channel (linked below) or on my IG TV (if you follow me on Instagram @piaaloraine). 😉
All photos are taken by me and post-processed using my Taiwan Lightroom preset. Let me know what you think about it below!