Despite all the pre-trip planning – and there was a LOT – we didn’t plan for a layover in Taipei. It was a spur of the moment decision, made without so much as a glance at TripAdvisor or a surreptitious google of ideas for layover in Taipei. Shocking, I know.
Most travellers choose layovers because they are the cheapest way to reach their desired destination. For us, the next destination of our year-long adventure was Bali – please, save us your sympathy, we’re fine. Really.
After a week back in Blighty, and a brief interlude in Italy, it was time to go again. Re-pack our possessions, get back to the backpack and hit the road.
The cheapest flights to Bali from Rome included a 19 hour layover in Taipei. No problem, we thought. We were proper travellers after all; hardened from six months of gruelling travel across South America. A layover in Taipei would be cool. We’d just mozy through the streets, chow down on world-class eats and casually drink in the culture before jumping on a plane again the next morning. Right? Wrong.
Spending a 19 hour layover in Taipei is easier said than done. Taipei is a massive metropolis, and – especially for first time visitors to Asia – it can be pretty daunting. For us, our layover in Taipei was an adventure alright. An eye-opening, nose-scrunching, confidence-shaking adventure. We felt like rookies, demoted right back to #shitbackpacker status, despite six months of experience.
We’ve since read a thing or two from better backpackers on how to effortlessly nail a layover in Taipei. Shame we were six months too late. Anyway, as usual, we’ve got plenty of lessons for you to learn from; avoid our mistakes, and don’t spend your layover in Taipei like we did.
Check the weather forecast
It was HOT and rainy during our layover in Taipei. We are not talking a light drizzle. It was typhoon-type rain. Shocking really, since we booked our flights for July – the beginning of typhoon season… *rolls eyes*
The rain only caught us once or twice. But, that was enough. If you are planning an afternoon walking the streets in July, be prepared. Take a poncho/heavy-duty umbrella/all of the above. Don’t rule out an inflatable unicorn either, just in case. If you are going to be washed away, you may as well do it in style.
Helpful hint: The hottest months are July and August, with an average temperature of 33 degrees centigrade. Rainfall increases during this period, with peak rainfall occurring in September. In the colder months of January and February you can expect temperatures around 16 degrees.
Research transport links and distance from the airport
Bagging a cheap flight is the dream. Especially if you get a cheeky 19 hour layover in Taipei. Without careful planning however, the costs of your layover could end up outweighing the savings.
The heart of Taipei is about 40km from Taoyuan airport. It took us nearly an hour to get from the airport to the city centre by public bus. Add on waitingforthebus time and timespentfaffingwithcurrencyexchange and you’re probably looking at arriving in the city a good two hours after you’ve landed. We shrugged it off, okay, we wouldn’t quiiiiite get there for lunchtime as planned, but we still had plenty of time.
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The biggest blow was when we realised that, due to a ridiculously early flight the next day, we’d need to get a taxi back to the airport. Good backpackers don’t spend money on taxis. They hitchhike, or walk, or get 4,567 busses through the night to reach their destination. #Shitbackpackers get a taxi. No prizes for guessing which we chose…
Helpful hint: Rome2Rio is a fantastic app which can help you plan your journeys more effectively. Check if Uber or Grab (Asia equivalent) operates locally, they are often cheaper than flagging down a taxi.
Don’t stay in a brothel
Taipei is relatively expensive compared to other places we’d travelled so, ever budget-conscious (apart from with taxis), we opted for the cheapest hotel we could find. Error. The hotel itself was set on the top floor of a shopping centre/cinema complex. Upon arrival, it seemed ok but on closer inspection it was most definitely er, multi-functional. The hallways were patterned with vomit-colour carpet, circa 1980. A distinct perfume of cigarettes, mildew and something altogether unsavoury lingered in the air. A shady-looking couple passed by, clearly ready to go their separate ways having taken advantage of the facilities. We scurried to our room, seeking respite from the grimy world in which we’d found ourselves. It got worse.
Our room, complete with floor-to-ceiling bathroom-peeping-panel, was dark and damp. Condoms, tissues, lube and a hairbrush (?!) sat on a nearby shelf in front of a large mirror. If we needed anymore persuading that this hotel wasn’t just for backpackers on a budget – this was it.
Helpful hint: When planning your layover in Taipei, avoid anything rated less than a 7 on booking.com or hostelworld. Listen to your peers. No reviews? Enter at your own risk…
Open your mind and fill your stomach at the food market
For reasons mentioned above, we didn’t actually hit the streets of Taipei until about 5pm. Not quite enough time to mozy the streets before dark, but with night comes night markets – and we were ready for them! Or so we thought. The Ningxia night market, in the Datong District of Taipei, is a traditional food market made up of street food stalls and restaurants. Fast-forward a couple of months later, we now embrace the quirks and stinks of the Asian night markets. But back then, fresh off the plane, our shock-reflex was low. Bright lights, graphic photography and steaming bowls of godknowswhat as far as our eyes could see. People weaved in and out of the narrow passageways between food carts, looking perfectly at home and hungry. We’d not eaten all day but suddenly, our appetites had disappeared.
It wasn’t just the intestines, or pig heads or even chicken feet that really put us off. It was the smell. Like a teenage boys’ bedroom in the peak of a scorching summer. A teenage boy who’s had a smelly sock party with 100 sweaty friends and a few wet dogs. A teenage boy who also has a penchant for hanging raw meat around the place. That’s what it smelled like. Still hungry? Thought not!
Helpful hint: The night markets are a lot of fun, once you get used to them. A little research before you go will help you identify largely unidentifiable dishes so you know what to ask for when you arrive. Failing that, hold your nose and get behind the biggest queue. It never fails.
Planning a layover in Taipei? Let us know how you get on!
With our first stop in Asia under our belts, we felt anything but ready to embark on the next six months travelling through the South Eastern part of the continent. But, the show must go on. And go on it will. Follow us on instagram and facebook for more sneak peeks into Our Taste of Travel.