Taiwan is often overlooked as a Southeast Asian travel destination – it is a little bit off the standard path, and it is somewhat more expensive then places like Thailand, or Cambodia.
Don’t let these factors dissuade you! Taiwan is very much worth the extra flight, and compared to places like Europe or even the United States, it is still very affordable. The fact that is it is off the normal Southeast Asia travel circuit works to its advantage, in that it hasn’t yet been tainted by the dark heart of the tourism industry. Taiwan has class, exquisite culture, and insanely delicious cuisine. Most importantly, on a budget of $25 a day, you can enjoy Taipei in relative style.
Public transport in Taiwan is clean, efficient, and available almost everywhere. The subways are clean, easy to use, and make traveling within major cities a breeze. If there isn’t a subway, the bus system is reliable, comprehensive, and will take you anywhere the subways can’t. On top of their efficiency, Taiwanese subways are extremely cheap between 15-30 TWD (50 – 90 cents) per trip, depending on how far you’re going.
Unfortunately, accommodation in Taipei is a little more expensive than a place like Bangkok, Thailand. This being said, it’s also tends to be much nicer, and includes a more amenities. There is a wide array of hostels available, some for as low as $10 USD per night, to others for as much as $30 USD per night. The cheaper ones tend to be more on the outskirts, rather than smack dab in the city center. Be sure to verify that your hostel is at least on a subway line, this way you won’t be stuck taking taxis everywhere. So, while cheap accommodation is definitely available, keep in mind that this expense will probably take up around half of your $25 a day budget.
Taiwan is steeped in rich culture, and as it is an island the natural landscape is simply phenomenal. Taipei is full of fantastic historical landmarks, and it is even relatively easy to escape the city and experience Taiwan’s natural beauty.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial (Free): This memorial is takes is comprised of several massive structures, and takes up several city blocks. Though he did play an important role in Taiwan’s history, Chiang Kai-shek is a rather controversial character and many Taiwanese people do not look upon him favorably. All that aside, the memorial grounds are immense, interesting to behold, and definitely worth a visit.
Taipei 101: ($9 for elevator entry, $0 just to look) – A visit to Taipei would not be complete without a trip to its crown jewel: the Taipei 101 financial center. This massive skyscraper is windowed in stunning blue glass, and is strangely elegant for something of its size and stature. Of course, it is totally free to simply stand outside and look; however, if you want to ride in the super fast passenger elevator to the top floor that will cost you. The fee is a little bit hefty (300 TWD or around $9 USD), so it’s up to you if you really want to splurge. As long as you keep you other costs down for that day, you can still make it to the top and stay under the $25 budget.
Wulai Hot Springs ($2.50 for bus far/Spring and river free): I would highly suggest taking this day trip. The springs are located on a section of the Wulai River that is about an hour away from the Taipei city center by bus. If you take this trip your only expense for the day will be the bus fare, and whatever snacks/food you might want. The river is stunningly scenic, the springs are warm and relaxing, and the atmosphere is vibrant yet serene. A truly unique experience, and perfect for travelers on a budget.
Four Beasts (Free) – There are four mountains that rise up in and around the city of Taipei: Tiger, Elephant, Leopard, and Lion. These mountains are easily accessible by subway, provide unparalleled views of the city, and are perfect for anyone looking for a quick nature getaway. For the best views of Taipei 101, head out to the Elephant either a little bit before sunrise or sunset.
Lungshan Temple (Free) – Unlike many popular temples in Southeast Asia, Lungshan is a living, breathing area of Buddhist and Daoist worship. Though the temple itself in not reported to be overly unique, visiting during the day provides a unique opportunity to experience unadulterated local culture. Breathe in the incense, listen to the chants, and respectfully observe authentic religious practices in action.
Ximending Red House (Free) – Amongst locals, this area is known for its popularity with a younger age group. However, the bustling streets and vibrant atmosphere provide a perfect place for the curious travel to take in the massive neon store fronts, indulge in a multitude of shopping and dining opportunities, or simply just wander about.
Dadaocheng – Known for its rich historical background, colonial Japanese architecture, traditional shops, and the Ningxia night market, this area provides a plethora of sites and activities for travelers on a budget. Rent a bicycle for cheap and pedal along the river, check out the various structures leftover from Japanese colonial rule, or indulge in some delicious eats at the Ningxia night market.
Maokong Gondola ($2) – For a relaxed and scenic ride to Maokong Station, consider taking the Maokong Gondola. One can choose between the glass bottom carriage and the regular carriage, but both options provide unparalleled views of Taipei 101 and the lushly forested mountains that surround Taipei as a whole. Once you reach Maokong you can head towards the zoo, do some hiking, or wander the small village that surrounds the station.
In terms of eating cheap in Taipei, I only have two words for you: night markets. Taiwanese food is ridiculously delicious, and there are several night markets dotted around Taipei. Here you will find a huge variety of mouthwatering street food that will leave your stomach satisfied and your budget intact. The food is always fresh, the flavors are bold, and the variety is immense: sautéed squid, spicy black pepper buns, succulent fresh fruit, sweet Taiwanese sausage, savory green onion pancakes, tender soup dumplings, crispy fried chicken, and so much more. The most popular night markets in Taipei are Shi Lin, Tonghua, Huaxi (also known as Snake Alley).
Have you been to Taipei? If not, is it on your bucket list?
Hello! My name is Morgan Sullivan. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, I lived there for 22 years before moving to South Korea to teach English. I have suburban sensibilities, penthouse dreams, and am currently pursuing my lifelong dream of international travel. I am always looking to meet new, interesting people, devour delicious foods, and partake in unique experiences – my current goal is to make it to six continents by the time I’m 25. Find me on my website A Beautiful View, on Facebook, or tweet to me at @abeautifulview0.