Taipei Field Notes

My parents are from Taiwan, and historically I made it back there once every few years, mostly staying with or visiting relatives. I speak some (very poor) Mandarin Chinese (the official language) and slightly better Taiwanese (basically Hokkien/Fujian Hua). Earlier this year I visited for about a month total in my initial leg of my Asia trip.

Taipei is pretty familiar to me so it didn’t really occur to me to write a guide, but since I’m back, I figured I might as well type up some thoughts.

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General

  • Taipei can best be summed up as “convenient” – while Tokyo’s konbini/vending machine culture may be slightly more so, you can’t complain about the average 2 24hr convenience stores/block. ATMs are open 24/7 and everywhere, and public transit (and aptly named EasyCard system) is great.
  • While Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries on earth, and Taipei is cosmopolitan and bustling, it rarely feels as cramped/crowded as say Tokyo, Shanghai, or Hong Kong. There’s a surprising amount of greenery scattered around, and less traffic than you might expect.
  • Sadly, and this really is the biggest drawback for me personally, the mosquitoes are out of control here. Mosquitoes love me, so even in the “off” season I’ll attract their attention, but Taipei/Taiwan is pretty warm and wet, and doesn’t embrace the sort of extreme pest controls that say Singapore does. While I’ve never gotten anything like Dengue Fever (outbreaks are usually more common in the south), Taiwanese mosquitoes tend to give me ridiculously large/inflamed/itchy welts.
  • Wintertime is the best time to travel to Taiwan – right now it’s balmy, not too humid, and ~75F. Perfect, really.
  • Cost of living is generally about half of major cities in the US. Rent is a fair amount cheaper than LA (although buying property may be more expensive), and food costs are significantly less. While the economic growth has been pretty blah, especially for young people, even those working the lowliest service jobs can make a living wage.
  • One exception to costs is for hard goods (electronics, etc) – these tend to be unexpectedly more expensive than in the US, even for the common Taiwanese computer brands (Asus, Acer, Gigabyte, Netgear, Kingston, etc) – the explanation I’ve heard is due to consumer market-size disparities, which maybe makes sense, but still, it’s just a bit surprising.

Mobile

  • The big two providers are Chunghwa and Taiwan Mobile and they’re both pretty competitive. They have service desks where you can buy SIM cards at TPE, although they serve slightly extended business hours so are likely to be closed if you arrive early or late (these are pretty much your options if you’re arriving from LAX) so you might have to buy a card once you get in town. Even so, it might be worth taking a picture/checking out the pricing at the airport kiosk as the shops in town are rarely English friendly. Have at least your passport and maybe a second form of photo ID available.
  • Taiwan as fast HSPA+ that seems to have pretty universal coverage in the cities. LTE rollouts are supposedly happening (Q4/2014 and 2015) but I haven’t seen any yet wandering around Taipei so far (November 2014) w/ a Nexus 5 and an iPhone 5S.
  • Chunghwa has an “unlimited” 30-day plan for NT$900 (~$30). Taiwan Mobile has some time-based unlimited plans as well, but if you’re not planning on going crazy, they have great per GB pricing – 1GB for NT$180 (~$6) or 2GB for NT$300 (~$10) with 30 day expiration, or NT$700 ($~23) for 5GB with a 90 day expiration, which is pretty damn good.