If you’re staying in Tokyo long enough that you need a holiday, why not use it as a base to explore Asia, starting with Taiwan? Here’s a guide to planning your break from Tokyo to Taipei.
Only three and a half hours from Tokyo with direct flights on budget airlines, Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, ticks all the boxes if you’re looking for an affordable city-break from Japan. Officially the Republic of China, Taiwan is one of Japan’s most popular travel destinations and vice versa.
The area was under Japanese control for around 50 years, and the two cultures are intertwined. While some elements will feel familiar, like teahouses and convenience stores, there are aspects more commonly associated with China and other East Asian countries that seem to pass Japan by—for example, bustling night markets filled with street food and snacks.
Ideal if you only have a few days to explore, Taipei has a great mix of traditional and modern attractions, as well as fantastic day trips to small towns and cat villages. It has amazing transport systems which are really simple to navigate, superb food including plenty of vegetarian options as standard, and more than enough affordable accommodation to house you wherever you want to stay.
Tokyo to Taipei: The basics
- Flight time: 3.5 hours from Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita Airport
- Average flights: ¥25,000 return; deals available, see below for more info
- Currency: New Taiwan Dollar (100 yen is approximately 28NT$)
- Public transport: Great! Metro and bus, with the top-up EasyCard available to simplify tickets.
- Accommodation: Hotels, hostels and even capsule hotels available for any budget.
- Budget: A great city to explore by foot, with plenty of free sights and low-priced food at night markets. Taipei is easy to see on the cheap.
Taipei city sights
There are a thousand amazing things to do in Taipei, and although we can’t list them all, here are some highlights you simply can’t miss.
One of the best things about Taiwan has to be the night markets, something Japan is really missing out on. While there are plenty to choose from, the two main ones both offer something different: Shilin Night Market is largely indoors, while Raohe Night Market is a bustling outdoor affair. Shilin is known for its unique food, with many popular vendors sought out for their special dishes. Ciyou Temple is right next to the entrance to Raohe Market, making it easy to spot, and although it is only around 600m long, there’s enough food to keep you full for days.
If you’re in town on limited time, the Tonghua Market is closest to Taipei 101, so you can combine your sightseeing. Gongguan Market has a student vibe and is the biggest market in the southern part of Taipei, while the old-fashioned Ningxia Market is small but perfect for a taste of old Taipei, with stalls that have been offering traditional snacks, meals and games for over 50 years.
Once the biggest tea-growing area of Taipei, Maokong is a stunning spot to enjoy a cuppa and look out over the city. Although it is a small village atop a mountain, it’s easily accessed by a gondola if you don’t fancy a hike, and some of the cars even have glass floors. When you arrive, there are more teahouses than you could hope to choose from, with food stalls and restaurants too. Opt for one with a terrace for views across Taipei, and try the local variety of teas before exploring Sanxuan Temple and the Tea Promotion Center (although it doesn’t have much English).
Access: Ride the Brown Line to Taipei Zoo Station and then catch the Gondola from there—it can be paid for using the EasyCard, but also has ticket machines at the station.
Ximending Shopping District: Taipei’s Harajuku
For all your shopping needs, you can venture into the incredibly bright neighborhood of Ximending, known as the Harajuku of Taipei. With countless stalls, stores and bargains with everything from fashion to food, there’s everything you need and plenty more you don’t. This was the first part of Taipei to be pedestrianized and was founded during the Japanese colonization as a recreation district, and the effects are still visible today.
Access: You can catch the train to Ximen Station and head for Exit 6—you’ll come out right in the bright lights.
Lin Family Mansion and Gardens
Perfect if you want to relax and admire some traditional Chinese Garden design, the Lin family home and garden dates back to 1846. Surrounded by busy streets, a night market and plenty of shops, the grounds still retain a peaceful air. Some members of the Lin family still live here, despite portions of the property having been donated to the government in 1977, before it was opened to the public a few years later. You can explore the gardens for a small fee, but a tour is necessary if you want to explore the mansion.
Access: The gardens are in the same district as the Banqiao Nanya Night Market and are a short walk from Fuzhong subway station.
If it’s temples you’re after, there’s one area that’s famous for them: the historic Wanhua District. Here, you’ll find three stunning temples, all within walking distance and with a few bonus sights nearby. The Longshan (Lungshan) Temple is the most famous in Taipei, built in 1738 as a gathering place for Chinese settlers in what is now Wanhua. It has survived disasters, fires and bombing by Americans after rumors that Japan was using it to store munitions. You can enter the temple for free, and it’s especially vibrant around Chinese New Year.
The Bangka Qingshui Temple is small but beautiful, and the Taipei Tianhou Temple completes the triangle with its beautiful decorative colors and carvings. You can stroll down the Bopiliao Old Street to admire the preserved architecture and explore Huaxi Street Night Market (Snake Alley), both of which are close to Longshan Temple.
Museums and galleries
The city is filled with museums big and small, and although the famous ones draw all the crowds, the unusual ones can sometimes be more exciting. The National Palace Museum and National Taiwan Museum are great places to start for a spot of history and have impressive displays. Alternatively, try the Miniatures Museum of Taipei or the Taiwan Asian Puppet Theater Museum for something a little different. If you like being outdoors, there’s the Huashan 1914 Creative Park or the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Taipei is also home to the Yingge Ceramics Museum, Taipei Fine Arts Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art.
Day trips from Taipei
While you can easily spend a day in each of these places, they do combine quite well. One option is to travel to Houtong in the morning by train, before heading back to Ruifang and then going on to Jiufen, as this is best in the late afternoon/evening and has buses straight back to Taipei.
Houtong Cat Village and Jiufen
Whether you look this up in advance or happen to see it on a map and then chase down a cat-themed bus in the streets of Ruifang, it’s the ideal place for cat lovers. Once a prosperous coal-mining town on the Keelung River, Houtong declined along with the coal-mining industry in the 1990s, and the population—which had peaked at 6,000—was reduced to mere hundreds. In 2008, however, volunteers created a cat sanctuary and pictures of it online garnered plenty of attention, so today the area is filled with cats, cafes, craft shops—and cat lovers, of course. There are countless abandoned homes to explore and the scenery is amazing, so it makes for a fantastic adventure with cat-themed pastries as an added bonus. You can catch the bus or train back to Ruifang and then catch the bus on to Jiufen from there.
Jiufen is known as one of the locations which inspired the land of Studio Ghibli’s animated classic Spirited Away. It’s a decommissioned Japanese gold-mining town with awesome food, alleys and more. When Taiwan was under Japanese occupation, the discovery of gold in the area led to a gold rush, but the town was later used as a POW camp during the war. In the 90s, there was a tourist boom, and today the famous A-Mei Teahouse and other local teahouses are among the most popular spots to visit. There are steep cobblestone streets, with market stalls offering traditional snacks and souvenirs.
Access: You can catch the train from Taipei Station to Ruifang, and then either catch the local train or cat-themed mini-bus to Houtong. Return to Ruifang and catch the 827 or 788 bus to Jiufen. To get back to Taipei, you can catch the 1062 bus, which stops near the Raohe Night Market.
Pingxi and Shifen
Most famous for its annual lantern festival, Pingxi is a popular town with a tradition of lighting lanterns to make a wish and setting them off from the train tracks. Pingxi Old Street is a market area with shops built back in the 30s and 40s still in business today. Nearby is Shifen, which also has an Old Street and is known for the Shifen Waterfall. Many taxi tours are available, which allow you to visit the sights without relying on public transport. A nice route is to take the train to see Shifen, then on to Jingtong to explore—and then you can walk back to Pingxi along the train tracks.
Access: You can catch the Northbound train from Taipei Station to Ruifang Station and change to the Pingxi Line—one-day tickets are available on this local line and help save some cash if you’re hopping on and off.
Transport in Taipei
Getting around Taipei is really easy, and if you get an EasyCard then it’s even, well … easier. Much like a Suica or Pasmo, this smart card gives you access to buses, metro and gondolas without having to worry about getting the right ticket every time. You can pick one up from machines across the city, including at the airport and convenience stores, and it offers a discount of 20 percent on MRT fares. An EasyCard costs NT$500, with NT$100 going to the deposit and NT$400 to your balance for travel.
The MRT/Metro: Standing for Mass Rapid Transport, the metro is the easiest way to get around the city, and is affordable too. The system runs between 6am and midnight, and has five different lines, differentiated by name and color: Wenhu Line (Brown), Tamsui-Xinyi Line (Red), Songshan-Xindian Line (Green) Zhonghe-Xinlu Line (Orange) and the Bannan Line (Blue).
Buses: As the metro is relatively new, buses are still a primary way to travel to the further outreaches of the city, and although they can seem more daunting than the metro, they’re pretty manageable. There are over 300 routes to choose from within the city, as well as long-distance buses to places like Jiufen. With an EasyCard you swipe once—when you get on or off, depending on the symbol shown: a Japanese/Chinese symbol for Up (上) means pay when you get on, the symbol for Down (下) means pay when you get off.
From the airport: Assuming you’ll be landing at Taoyuan International Airport (almost all international flights do), you can get a bus to the city center in 40 minutes. If you purchase your EasyCard here and follow the signs for the bus/coach area, you’ll see customer service desks and boards with destinations and times on your right, with buses departing from lanes on your left.
Accommodation in Taipei
Taipei is full of grand hotels, but has plenty of hostels and even capsule hotels too, so whatever your budget there’s an affordable option. One of the key things to consider is which area you would like to stay in: for example, decide if you prefer the trendy shopping district of Ximending, or to be near the Raohe Night Market in the Songshan District (with direct bus routes to Jiufen nearby). There are also options in the Zhongzheng District to be close to Taipei Station for transport connections, if you have a late arrival or early departure.
One popular option is the We Come Hostel—from ¥1,500 per night, including breakfast and located in the Datong District. In the Songshan District, you can stay at the Sleepy Dragon Hostel with beds for just under ¥2,000 per night, including a homemade breakfast. Alternatively, there’s the Meander Hostel (pictured) near the trendy Ximending area, which offers a bunk in a mixed dorm and includes breakfast for around ¥1,800 per night, as well as the option for private rooms.
To be as near as possible to the station, try NiHao Taipei, which is only 50 yards from the main station and has dorm beds from ¥1,800 per person. For capsule hotels, you can try Bouti City Capsule Hotel with capsules for around ¥2,000 per night, or the futuristic SleepBox Hotel with spaces from ¥1,300 per night.
Flights from Tokyo to Taipei: Early mornings and alternative airports
Budget airlines Peach, Scoot, Jetstar, Vanilla Air and Tigerair Taiwan all run the Tokyo to Taipei route. While Vanilla, Scoot and Jetstar depart from Narita, it’s much easier and cheaper to get to Haneda, which is home to Peach and Tigerair. This also gives you more flexibility when it comes to catching earlier and later flights. Keep in mind that budget airlines run in more inconvenient time slots—for example, Tigerair and Peach flights depart Tokyo at 5am and Jetstar often leaves Taipei at 2am, which will save you a night in a hotel, but can make for a long night on airport benches.
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Jetstar||¥8,810 (US$79)||Details|
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Tigerair Taiwan||¥10,314 (US$93)||Details|
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Scoot Tigerair||¥10,485 (US$94)||Details|
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Peach||¥11,991 (US$108)||Details|
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Jeju Air||¥12,908 (US$116)||Details|
|Tokyo => Taoyuan||Air Busan||¥17,129 (US$154)||Details|
Both Tigerair and Peach offer regular deals and promotions, which often include flying from airports other than those in Tokyo. Osaka, Sendai, Okinawa and Okayama have flights to Taiwan from around ¥20,000, which is great if you want to explore some other parts of Japan too.
While we do our best to ensure that all information is correct, prices, routes and other details in this post are subject to change.
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards