Beginning last November 1, 2017, Filipinos visiting Taiwan for the purpose of tourism, business, visiting relatives, or attending functions/events can enter without a visa and stay for up to 14 days. The visa exemption is being implemented on a trial basis — there’s no guarantee the program will be extended beyond July 31, 2018 — so make sure you grab this opportunity while you can.
Taipei is the perfect long weekend destination for Filipinos. It’s only over 2 hours away by plane and is served by local carriers such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia Philippines. Its lively night markets, known all over the world for great food, allow visitors to make the most of limited vacation time even after sundown. Perhaps most importantly, Taipei is affordable: with frequent seat sales, delicious street food, and affordable accommodations, Pinoys can go on a holiday to Taipei without breaking the bank.
Need ideas for a cheap — but still comfortable and enjoyable — long weekend getaway in Taipei? Read on.
Take advantage of seat sales
You don’t even have to wait for a piso sale. This year, a seat sale by a local airline offered flights to Taipei for PHP 899 (one-way). If you include the return flight, taxes, and fees, the total cost of airfare would be ₱2,066.97.
The international travel tax is ₱1,620 — make sure to include this in your budget as well.
Stay in a nice but cheap hostel
Nothing ruins a vacation like having to go home to a seedy, rundown place after a tiring day of sightseeing.
Fortunately, Taipei has a lot of amazingly clean and cheap hostels. Just make sure that you read the feedback from people who have previously stayed in the property — you can peruse travel forums such as TripAdvisor or the reviews in booking engines such as Booking.com.
Need quick recommendations? Check out:
- Hey Bear Capsule Hotel – ₱600+ per night, without breakfast
- Uinn Travel Hostel – ₱800+ per night, including breakfast
- C U Hotel Taipei – ₱800+ per night, including a buffet breakfast, located right next to the Ningxia Night Market
If you don’t like sharing a room with strangers, here are a couple of affordable options for private rooms:
- ColorMix Hotel & Hostel – ₱1200+ for a single room with shared bathroom
- Taipei Sunny Hostel – ₱2700+ for a double room with a private bathroom
- Miniinn – ₱4900+ for a family room that can accommodate 5 (this is where we stayed)
All of these places have a travelers’ rating of at least 8.5 out of 10 in Booking.com and 4.5 out of 5 in TripAdvisor. For more options, see: The 15 Best Cheap Hostels in Taipei.
Cheap or free things to do in Taipei
There are quite a lot of free or nearly-free things to do in Taipei, including:
- Elephant Mountain – While it’s Taipei 101 that immediately comes to mind if you want panoramic views of the city, you can actually get stunning views of Taipei’s skyline — including Taipei 101 — from Elephant Mountain. You can get there by taking the Metro to Xiangshan Station and hiking up for 15-20 minutes. Obviously, the best time to go up Elephant Mountain would be around sunset, when the city starts to light up.
- National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – This iconic Taipei landmark has two sets of white marble stairs, each consisting of 89 steps, one for each year of the great Taiwanese leader’s life. The surrounding gardens are dotted with plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, or osmanthus at different times of the year. Time your visit to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which happens every hour on the hour, starting at 9 AM. If you get there early enough, you may see locals practicing tai chi in the plaza.
- Temples – The Longshan Temple, the Confucius Temple, the Hsing Tian Kong, the Baoan (or Paoan) Temple…take your pick! At Longshan Temple, single ladies/gentlemen can take a piece of red string, clasp it between both palms, and pray for a husband/wife. (If your wish is granted, our guide reminded us, you must remember to come back to the temple and make a thanksgiving offering.)
- Beitou Hot Springs – If you’re going to Taipei in cool weather, this one will be perfect after a day of walking. Entrance to the Millennium Hot Spring, which is just walking distance from the Xinbeitou MRT Station, is only NT$40. You also have the option of dipping in the cool or the cold spring. Bring swimwear. (According to TripAdvisor, they’ve recently required men to wear tight swimwear; baggy swim trunks won’t do.)
- Guandu Flower Festival – How does a visit to a sea of flowers sound? This festival, which takes place in the Beitou District, opened last August and will run for 6 months till February 2018. Get there early so you won’t have to jostle for space with other visitors.
- Beitou Public Library – Taiwan’s first “green” library is a wooden oasis that’s perfect for both taking Instagram-worthy shots and recharging before charging into a Taipei night. (And for reading books, of course!)
- Eslite Bookstore (Dunnan) – If you love books, or if you’re just looking for something to do after midnight, you could do worse than a visit to this 24-hour shop. According to a report in the Guardian, the busiest time in this bookstore is from 10 pm to 2 am; you can read books without buying them in the company of kindred spirits.
- Yangmingshan National Park – Accessible by bus from central Taipei, the park is great for hiking (there are several established trails), biking, and viewing cherry blossoms in the spring or silvergrass flowers in autumn. It can get windy there and the temperature will be lower than in the city so bring a windproof jacket.
With the help of Google maps, it’s easy enough to get around Taipei using public transportation. For places farther away — or if you just want the stress-free feeling of having someone else do all the thinking and navigating for you — you might consider splurging a bit and signing up for a tour. On our recent trip to Taipei, we went on a half-day private guided tour with MyTaiwanTour and engaged Edison Tours to take us on day trips to Shifen for the sky lantern experience and Jiufen and the northeast coast. Having a local for a guide gives you access to insights and knowledge you might not have had otherwise; for example, it was our night tour guide who told us about the red-string-marriage thing at Longshan Temple. However, if you’re so inclined, you can definitely go DIY.
Meals and transportation
Taipei is a foodie’s paradise and you can easily spend a minor fortune on food if you’re so inclined. However, there are lots of cheap and delicious street food as well — you can easily get by on a budget of NT$150 for each meal. And of course, if you stay in a hostel with free breakfast, that will keep your food costs down considerably.
The EasyCard is Taipei’s contactless smartcard that you can use to tap in and out of the city’s public transportation system. Single journey tickets are also available but the EasyCard, aside from being convenient, gives you discounts on bus fares (normally NT$15) and MRT fares (NT$20 to NT$65). The card itself costs NT$100 and you can decide how much value to store in it. For our 3 full days in Taipei, we spent less than NT$500 on transportation — including the train ride between Taoyuan Airport and Taipei Main Station, which costs NT$160 each way.
Taipei for Budget Travelers
Total Budget: ₱10,000
To summarize, here’s the budget for a frugal but wonderful long weekend (3 days and 3 nights) in Taipei.
- ₱2,067 – Round-trip airfare
- ₱1,620 – International travel tax
- ₱2,500 – Accommodations (3 nights at Uinn Travel Hostel, with breakfast)
- ₱1,530 – Meals (3 lunches and 3 dinners)
- ₱1,100 – EasyCard (NT$100) loaded with NT$500
- ₱1,183 – Miscellaneous (for paid attractions, extra food trips, or souvenirs)
- ₱10,000 – TOTAL
Doable, right? So go! 🙂