Taiwan Budget: the surprising cost of hotels, food and more

Before arriving in Taiwan we’d been expecting prices to be higher than those in Southeast Asia but not too expensive. We were wrong.

It was definitely a far pricer destination than we’d been expecting with prices often being more in line with England and Australia. We were a bit caught out and so wanted to put this post together to help you decide on your Taiwan budget.

However, since this trip we learned that we were stung by not booking things up before we got there. If there’s one thing we want you to take from this blog is this: book all your hotels, flights, car hire (everything!) before you arrive!


Taiwan Budgets: Spending money per day

Here’s the crux of a trip to Taiwan in terms of spending money per day. The budgets below are for a room and then costs for food etc for one person.

If you are a couple, the cost per person will be less as you can share a room. We are assuming you will be booking ahead of time to secure decent accommodation at reasonable prices.

Budget traveller - US$40 per day

This will get you a shared room in a cheap hotel or hostel dorm bed plus three meals out (at least two of which would need to be local food, western food is much pricier) as well as public transport and entrance fees to inexpensive attractions such as museums.

Midrange traveller - US$70 per day

This will get you a better category of hotel or B&B, three meals out, public transport including using the bullet trains (although not daily) and entrance fees to attractions.

Top end traveller - US$150 plus per day

We say US$150 plus per day would cover the top-end traveller, but even with this daily budget you won’t be able to get international five star hotels in Taipei or the top lodges in Taroko Gorge. For this you will need much more (at least three times more) but you will get very good hotels in all areas.

For US$150 a day you can dine out for all meals in good restaurants (though again not in 5 star hotels). You can rent a small car or use Tripool or taxi services for some journeys, as well as bullet trains.

Spending money per day in Taiwan

The biggest costs in Taiwan

Accommodation

This was the biggest surprise.

Before arriving, we’d read about $15 - 20 USD would get you a private room, window, en-suite in most locations in the mid-range category. We can tell you that this wouldn’t even get you a dorm bed in a hostel much of the time if you’re travelling on the fly.

We tried really hard to find cheap hotels and the best we could do was US$50-70 a night and that got us a windowless box in Taipei and a little more in other areas (though still not much). We’ve never been anywhere in the world where $50 USD got a room where you can touch all four walls from the bed.


Top Tip - Book your hotels as early as possible

Taipei and Alishan will be significantly more expensive than any other area in Taiwan. You will benefit greatly from booking as early as you can in these areas. We are going to assume you are booking ahead for the prices we mention below, if not expect accommodation prices to double or sometimes even treble - we learnt the hard way on this. We were so shocked at the cost of accommodation in Taipei that we were contemplating going back to staying in hostel dorms…until we say even they were US$35 per person per night. I have looked today at the cost of the same dates for this year in the same hostel where a bed is US$10.

Late discounts are not a thing here and we would have easily halved our accommodation over our month in Taiwan if we had only booked ahead. Please don’t make the same mistake!

Taipei

Hotels in Taipei are the worst offenders. Knowing that there’s a limited supply, the prices are high, the rooms are miniscule and many don’t tell you that they don’t have a window (check with every booking otherwise you’ll stay in a glorified closet). The largest room we had - even for $70 USD - was 16 metres squared and was in fact a ‘love hotel’.

Again book ahead to get something habitable for less.


Where we recommend in Taipei

Budget - Purple Garden

Anywhere else in the world, Purple Garden would have been classified as a mediocre place, even if it charged $15 USD per night. In Taipei it’s a secret gem and charges $55 USD per night.

The rooms are a normal size and have windows, but you’ll have a glass partition for a bathroom inside the room (a relatively standard fix in Taipei). It’s a little dated and basic, but not too bad. It is quiet and set in a great location.

The downside is the musty/slightly cheesy smell that must have been created by the ancient air con system. If you can put up with that, then you’ll be fine. You can try and air the rooms, it doesn’t go, sigh.

Booking.com

Mid-Range: Orange Hotel - Kaifong

To get a reasonable hotel in Taipei, you’ll need to spend about $70 USD a night and book at least two weeks in advance (even in low season) otherwise forget it.

Whilst Orange Hotels outside Taipei are much much better, the one in Kaifong is a decent choice. The rooms are nicely furnished and really quiet.

They are a little dark and for $70 USD you’d normally expect more, but its a comfortable place in a great location.

Booking.com
Booking.com

Accommodation outside of Taipei

Outside of Taipei the standard gets a little better (accept in ever popular Alishan) but the rates are still pricey.

Alishan

Hotels in the Scenic Area are in short supply so they charge extortionate rates. We were ecstatic when we got a room for $50 USD per night, even though it was really run down, the bed was made of concrete and you couldn’t sleep from the noise.

You can get better places in Alishan, but many are 2 star hotels charging over $150 USD a night. The only hostel in the area doesn’t accept bookings in advance making it a huge risk for backpackers.

Also, several hotels and airbnbs like to claim they are in Alishan, but are actually at least an hour away. You’ll be forced to get the bus and spend over 2 hours commuting to the entry of the Scenic Area.

The best hotel in the area is Alishan House and we’ve seen them go for anywhere between US$200 and US$400 a night depending on your dates and room category.

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is another expensive area with very basic and run down rooms costing over $50 USD a night mid week and more on weekends. There are a couple of hostels here, but they also charge $20 USD a night for dorm beds (one of which has pretty deafening noise from the road). Again book ahead otherwise the few good options will be gone!

Other cities

In other cities such as Kaohsiung, Chiayi and Hualien (the closest big city to Taroko Gorge) are much more reasonable. US$50 in any of these areas will get you a nice, clean and comfortable hotel with pretty big rooms. Biggest shoutout goes to the Orange Hotel in Chiayi - fab hotel for the money.


Food

So we need to be upfront here and we feel a little bad to say it… but we didn’t really enjoy the local cuisine. Given that many people rave about it we know it’s just a matter of personal taste. If you love the food and can happily eat all the street food of which there is so much on offer then food isn’t going to be an expensive part of your trip. Street food whilst not as cheap as in Southeast Asia is still great value. As a vegetarian I ate a lot of vegetable rice and missed out on some of people’s favourite dishes, such as beef noodle soup and braised pork with rice.

However, despite the fact we know a lot of people who liked the Taiwanese food, we didn’t meet anyone on our trip who didn’t head to the 7-11 every day, sometimes for snacks and sometimes for entire meals!

Read next: Teapot Mountain - an epic day walk in Jiufen

Street Food

Now obviously everyone has different tastes, but we really didn’t fall for Taiwanese street food. This is mainly because we found it quite greasy.

If you’re a meat eater and even better an adventurous one you will no doubt find loads of dishes you will enjoy. Street meals tended to be around US$3-10 depending on your dish and how much you wanted to eat (lots of meat on sticks is cheap for example but most people needed quite a few to fill up).

It may be street food, but scallops are expensive wherever you go (these were $5 USD per scallop off a bbq)

Restaurants

Taipei is pretty decent for a diverse restaurant scene, but there are not many true budget options outside of American Fast Food joints. It was hard to find any restaurant that charged less than $400 TWD for a main ($13 USD) and this quite often the most boring bland option on the menu. If you have a reasonable budget then you will be able to find whatever you are looking for.

Outside of Taipei it gets more difficult, mainly because there aren’t many restaurants to choose from outside of the huge cities like Taichung, Kaohsiung, Hualien and Chiayi. As most tourists in Taiwan are daytrippers, there aren’t many places to eat in places like Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge and Alishan.

In Sun Moon Lake we had to resort to eating side dishes of rice and noodles as everything else was $500 TWD (about $16 USD) for a plate of fried cabbage.

In Taroko we found that even a side of fried rice would cost $200 TWD ($7 USD). So yes in short we lived mainly on rice! If you have a bigger budget it will still all be local food options but you can add a variety of meat hot pots including choices such as duck and deer. Vegetarians will find Taiwan has an abundance of mushroom varieties which they will add to your rice or BBQ for you.

Teahouses

If you want to get rich, set up a Tea House in Taiwan. The prices charged are really extortionate. For a tiny bag of tea you’d pay a minimum of $600 TWD (just under $20 USD). Then you’re charged a “water fee” of $100 TWD per person ($3 USD) and have a minimum spend.

We fully understand that tea is really significant in Taiwan and the tea is good quality. As tea lovers experiencing these tea houses but we couldn’t justify the prices. I guess it becomes better value the more people you have but we’ve been to many other tea producing nations where the prices are much much lower.

Starbucks

For the majority of the world, Starbucks is a convenience. Cheapish coffee in a comfortable place. Yeah the taste isn’t great compared to just about everywhere else, but they give you a huge mug of coffee for a few dollars. You can sit in an armchair and relax.

You know where I’m going with this!

In Taiwan - surprise surprise - it’s expensive, but in fairness it is considered a luxury item. A small coffee costs $110 TWD ($4 USD) with a large one being nearly $200 TWD ($7 USD). Bread rolls are $70 TWD (just over $2 USD) and you’ll easily spend $500 TWD ($17 USD) for a couple of mid-sized coffees and croissants.

If you’re a budget traveller definitely avoid, we used them sometimes when we wanted a break from rice for breakfast!

7-11

The local snack shop in Taiwan is immensely popular and you will see one every 100 metres in most towns. In Taiwan they’ve taken advantage of the outrageous food costs in many restaurants and set up seating areas that are always packed with locals and foreigners trying to eat at a lower cost.

It’s depressing, but unless you don’t care about the cost, 7-11 is a place you’ll probably end up at some point in Taiwan.

They also serve coffee for $1.50 USD which is popular because of the shocking price of their competitors.


Local Attractions

We came to Taiwan primarily to hike and all the hiking areas were free of charge except for Alishan which had a TWD $150 ($5 US) per person charge to enter the scenic reserve. This means that if you are into walking you will happily spend very little. Temples also tended to be free of charge.

In Taipei if you want to go up Taipei 101 that will set you back TWD $600 ($20 US) and the National Palace Museum is TWD is $350 ($11.60 US) but overall attractions are not where most of your money will go.


Public transport costs in Taiwan

High Speed Rail

Taiwan has a brilliant high-speed rail network with few journeys ever taking more than 2 hours. The west coast is served by a bullet train, taking you from Taipei to Kaohsiung in just 1.5 hours. The standard fare is just under US$50 per person. You can save a little booking in advance and we also found the website Klook had discounts of around 30% on their website so we booked with them.

There’s also high-speed trains in the east, they’re just not 300 kmph like the bullet trains. You can get from Taipei to Taroko on the Puyama Express in 2 hours. It costs 440 TWD ($14 USD).

Local Trains and Taipei MTR

The MTR in Taipei is up there with the cheapest we’ve seen. You’ll never pay any more than 50 TWD (just under $2 USD) and it’s quick, easy and has a train every five minutes.

There are also local trains to take you outside of Taipei to places like Jiufen and Shifen. These are cost $48 TWD ($1.50 USD) and are pretty quick.

Taxis and Uber

We were a bit surprised to find that Uber was more expensive than most local taxis and few Uber drivers knew how to get to where we wanted.

Taxis aren’t cheap in Taiwan with meters that start at $70 TWD ($2.30 USD) in Taipei and goes up to the alarming $100 TWD ($5 USD) in Chaiyi and smaller towns.

The meters go up pretty quickly and a friend of ours was burned $1,000 TWD ($50 USD) for a 20 minute ride.

Tripool

Tripool is a great alternative for long distance travel, but you need to book in advance. It’s cheaper than Uber and calls itself a carpool service, but its basically a private driver.

You need to book by 3pm the day before, but you’ll get a cheaper ride in your own car. We went from Taichung to Fenchihu (140 km, 2 hours) for $50 USD. The same trip on the high speed train and a bus would have only saved us $10 USD.

We used it twice and had no problems. It’s the same as Uber so has the same risks involved (you could get a rubbish driver), but we had good experiences.

Buses

The buses in Taiwan aren’t too bad in price and were incredibly prompt. We never left late or arrived late either! The majority are air conditioned and pretty comfortable, making connections simple.

The local buses are the cheapest and rarely cost more than $1 USD per person per journey. Long distance buses are also good value.


Other costs for a trip to Taiwan


Getting from the airport to Taipei city centre

If you want to take a taxi from the airport to the city it will cost around US$40. If traffic is really bad it could run higher.

A ticket on the metro system will cost around US$5 per person.

There actually isn’t a huge amount of difference between the time taken by either option as the metro is quick and efficient, both take around 45 minutes. We chose to use the metro both times due to cost, and as we always based ourselves close to Taipei Main Station we didn’t need to add on further metro or taxi costs.

Car rental in Taiwan

This is how we were originally planning to travel around the country but in the end we decided it was a bit too expensive. Whether on not you rent a car in Taiwan may come partly down to cost but also how many more off the beaten track places you want to visit. We had to miss out on some of the hikes we had been planning to do but otherwise our Taiwan itinerary using public transport was pretty straight forward.

Car hire per day during our visit US$60 for the smallest vehicle available. When I look for the same dates later this year I get a similar price but a better quality of car. Petrol was about $30 TWD a litre ($1 USD) during our visit.

Sim Cards

Getting a local sim card is essential in Taiwan. As few people speak English, having a local sim card and Google Translate or the Waygo app makes getting around a lot easier.

You can get a sim card at the airport or a Far East One shop that gives unlimited data (win!) for 10 days for $550 TWD ($13 USD). It’s not the cheapest, but it makes everything a lot easier. You can only get 30 day sim cards at the airport, we didn’t buy it there assuming you could get a cheaper deal in the city. You can’t.


A final word

Overall, we’d say that we found Taiwan to be expensive, but not more so than places like Jordan or Hong Kong, the difference for us was that we hadn’t been expecting it. Hopefully this post can help you plan your trip in the most cost effective way possible and if you’re into hiking you will definitely be in for a treat. Taiwan is some of the best hiking we’ve experienced in Asia.


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