Backpacking Taipei with AirAsia Philippines

Taiwan is probably one of the most underrated travel destinations in Asia. But like its Asian counterparts, Taiwan has plenty to offer in terms of rich culture, ancient temples, night market, exciting food, and new adventures.

The grandiose gate of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

Admittedly, Taiwan is in the bottom list of my Asian countries to visit. For most Filipinos, Taiwan is a popular country to work in as an OFW, and not as a tourist destination. Apart from that, most Pinoys are discouraged by the visa requirements in entering Taiwan, thus, they prefer to see Hong Kong for leisure trip instead.

AirAsia Philippines New Route: Manila/Cebu to Taipei

My recent trip to Taiwan, however, changed the impression I feel toward the country. Taiwan surprised me in a number of ways. Most in a good way, that is. Thanks to AirAsia Philippines, I was given an opportunity to visit Taiwan for the first time, by flying us to Taipei during their inaugural flight from Manila. AirAsia Philippines now flies direct to Taipei from Manila (once daily) and Cebu (three times weekly). Whether flying from either Cebu or Manila, Filipinos have now more options to choose when traveling to and from Taiwan.

Inaugural flight of AirAsia Philippines from Manila to Taipei

Surprise gift from AirAsia Philippines

AirAsia staff welcoming passengers at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport

Just like I mentioned, Taiwan has full of surprises especially for first time visitors like me. Together with newly-met Filipino friends, we embarked on a unique kind of experience by backpacking Taipei and exploring it like a local. The best part is that we got to explore most of Taipei for free, thanks to the young and passionate local tour guides from TourMeAway.

Yes, you can see Taiwan's capital through the local eyes by joining the FREE walking tours by TourMeAway. They offer six different types of walking tours such as Old Town Taipei Tour, Taipei Chill Out Tour, Longshan Temple Tour, Hunger Game, Pub Crawl Tour, and Vintage Taipei Tour. Each tour offers different kind of experience (more on this below).

Free Taipei walking tours from TourMeAway

If you have 4 days and 3 nights to stay in Taipei, you can copy our itinerary below. Take note that we weren't able to stick to our itinerary religiously due to bad weather. It was raining most of the time and made our tours a bit challenging yet fun.

Our itinerary was slightly changed like cancelling one of the tours, but it wasn't a problem since there's plenty of things to do in Taipei that four days is honestly not enough. For example, we decided to skip the Bike Tour due to uncooperative weather in exchange for an indoor trip by visiting Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. I actually thought it was a good option as we were able to try dining for lunch at the world-famous Michelin-star restaurant specializing in xiao long bao, the Din Tai Fung.

Taipei City Tour Itinerary

So here's the suggested 4D/3N itinerary in Taipei, Taiwan:

Day 1

Depart Manila to Taipei (11:15PM flight via AirAsia)

Day 2

Airport to Hotel
Old Town Taipei Tour
Hunger Game

Day 3

Bike Tour (replaced with Taipei 101)
Taipei Chill Out Tour
Pub Crawl

Day 4

Mt. Elephant Hike Tour
Longshan Temple Tour
Hotel check out
Travel to airport and depart from Taipei to Manila (1:45AM flight via AirAsia)

Five tours are the basic walking tours offered by ToursMeAway and two (Bike Tour and Mt. Elephant Hike Tour) are private tours arranged for our group by our hostel. Take note that TourMeAway's walking tours are open for anyone to join but for limited slots only and reservation via their website is required. The tours have also corresponding schedules on a weekly basis so make sure you consider that when designing your itinerary. They also offer private tour which is exclusive for your group at your convenient time.

View of Taipei City from Elephant Mountain

Free Taipei Walking Tours from TourMeAway

The best thing about TourMeAway is that their tour guides are composed of locals from Taipei who love traveling and adventure as well. And they all speak very well in English. So they are the best persons to talk about their city from food, secret spots, history, night life and basically everything about Taiwan.

The tour guides are doing this as volunteers - yes, that's how much they love their city that they are offering these tours for free. Most of the tour guides we've met have day job and become volunteer tour guides after office hour or during weekends. Since they're doing this for free, donations are welcome and appreciated.

Here is the list of Taipei walking tours that TourMeAway is currently offering.

Old Town Taipei Tour

Schedule: Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, 2PM
Duration: 2.5-3 hours
Meeting Point: NTU Hospital MRT Station Exit No.4
Price: FREE. Donation only.

As the name implies, this tour is about exploring the old town of Taipei, including the hidden corners and popular attractions in the city. Some of the sites to visit include the 228 Peace Memorial Park, Presidential Office, National Taiwan Museum, Inner City Market, Zhongshan Hall, Ximending, and Red House. Our tour guide, Chester, was enthusiastic enough to share the history and stories behind the places we visited.

Presidential Office Building

National Taiwan Museum

228 Peace Memorial Park

Taipei Tianhou Temple

Ximending Youth Shopping District

Ximending Shopping District at night

Hunger Game

Schedule: Every Sunday, 8PM
Duration: 2 hours
Meeting Point: Jingmei Station Exit No.2
Price: $500 TWD per person (Approx PhP 817)

I think this is the most exciting one among the tours by TourMeAway. Food tasting is always a part of every traveler's must-do list and boy, Taipei has really something great and crazy to offer. They call it Hunger Game for a reason. This is a food trip you will never forget.

In this tour, you will be able to try 12 local dishes that you will either like or hate. Our tour guide, Julie, took us to Jingmei Night Market to try some of the authentic Taiwanese dishes and street food such as fried pork bun (my most favorite), bitter tea, chicken intestines, intestine noodle soup, bean curd, and the finale of the night, the stinky tofu.

Fried pork bun

Tasting different kind of bitter tea

Local street food

Intestine noodle soup

Make your own dessert

Stinky tofu

Taipei Chill Out Tour
Schedule: Every Thursday and Sunday, 2PM
Duration: 2.5-3 hours
Meeting Point: Daan Park MRT Station Exit No.5 (Don't confuse it with "Daan Station")
Price: FREE. Donation only.

This tour consists of a visit to local neighborhoods and where locals go to chill and relax. Places to visit include Daan Park, Heaven Road, Qingtian Neighborhood, Yong Kan Street, Antique Boutiques, and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Our tour guide was Arthur who is very knowledgeable about every site we checked out and patient enough to wait for others who are too preoccupied with taking selfies and OOTD shots while on the tour. :-)

One of the places I was really excited to see in the list is the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. But due to rainy weather, we reached this place already late and dark and we weren't able to explore the area. However, the sneaky in me has found a way to take a quick visit during our lunch break on our last day. Thanks to the very efficient MRT of Taipei, I was able to quickly get there and back just in time for our next tour in the itinerary.

Stone foot path at Daan Park

Arthur sharing some history and trivia about the Qingtian neighborhood

Group picture with the owner of one of the antique shops along Yongkang street

The amazing Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

The National Theater on the north side of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Souvenir shops, trendy cafes and niche boutiques along Yongkang street

Taipei Pub Crawl

Schedule: Every Saturday, 8:30PM
Duration: 2.5+ hours
Buy 9 get one free!
Meeting Point: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station Exit No.2
Price: $700 TWD per person (Approx PhP1144)

For party goers who want to experience Taipei's nightlife, this is the most fun tour to join in. By nightlife, I mean binge-drinking and endless booze in some of the city's best bars and night clubs. Among the tours, this is the most crazy and fun that we've experienced, I think.

What made this tour even way crazier was our tour guide, Gordon, who was very funny and entertaining. In this tour, you'll get to experience bar hopping and drinking Taiwan's local beers, rice wine and cocktails, and even Japanese food.

First stop at an Irish pub and having Gold Medal Taiwan Beer

Cheers with different type of cocktail drinks

Tunnel 88 Kaoliang Liquor

Everyone's game to try Taiwanese Kaoliang or sorghum wine

On our way to the next stop

Longshan Temple Tour

Schedule: Every Tuesday and Friday, 7:30 PM
Duration: 2-2.5 hours
Meeting Point: Longshan Temple MRT Station Exit No.1
Price: FREE. Donation only.

Also spelled as Lungshan Temple, this is a night tour in one of the largest and oldest temples in Taiwan and its ancient neighborhood. Unfortunately, we cancelled this tour due to the adjustments in schedule. Again, I was able to take a quick visit to this beautiful place by myself.

I've always been fascinated by ancient temples and sacred sites so I didn't want to pass the chance to see it. So after dinner before checking out of the hostel, I decided to use my free time (instead of buying souvenirs) and went to Longshan Temple. Taiwan is said to have a total of 33,000 places of worship, and some of them are found in Taipei City.

Main entrance of the Longshan Temple

The main temple inside the Longshan Temple

Locals offering prayers inside the Longshan Temple

Waterfalls inside the Longshan Temple

Vintage Taipei Tour

Schedule: Every Saturday, 10:30AM
Duration: 2-2.5 hours
Meeting Point: Zhongshan MRT Station Exit No.1
Price: FREE. Donation only.

We never got to experience this, but this tour will take you to some of the oldest and traditional neighborhoods in Taipei. Secret districts and vintage treasures included in this tour are Ri Xing Type Foundry, Yongle Market, Watson’s Pharmacy, Dihua Street, and Xia Hai Temple.

Taipei Budget Accommodation: Meander Hostel

Our home for 3 nights in Taipei City is Meander Hostel located in the heart of the bustling district of Ximending. Ximending is one of the most popular shopping districts in Taiwan. Meander Hostel is highly rated on TripAdvisor and is popular among backpackers offering high quality, budget accommodations. It is also conveniently located just 10 minutes walk from Ximen Station with access to Blue (Line 5) and Green (Line 3) MRT lines.

Meander Hostel main entrance

Meander Hostel playground

Meander Hostel lobby

Jolo, my roommate, and I were assigned to Standard Double Ensuite, aircon room good for 2 persons, which I find cute and unique. It's one of their newest designs and has a Japanese-inspired look.

It has private bathroom, hot and cold shower, TV, and hair dryer. What I like about their room is despite being a backpacker hostel, it has lots of plug outlets! They also use universal power outlet which means you can plug virtually any type of plug into it, without the need of an adapter.

The room is nice and clean, and the hot and cold shower is working perfectly.

Meander Hostel Standard Double Ensuite

Meander Hostel Standard Double Ensuite bathroom

Meander Hostel Standard Double Ensuite is good for 2 persons

They also have private rooms good for 1, 3 and 4 persons. Aside from private rooms, they have mixed and female dorms with shared and private bathrooms.

Meander Hostel facilities include free wifi, free drinking water, kitchen, public computer, coin laundry, coffee machine, tour services and free breakfast. Meander Hostel has common areas which allow you to interact with other guests and meet new friends during your stay.

On their website, it stated that there's no elevator so guests are advised to pack light. Fortunately, the elevator on the second floor is in operation during our stay making it convenient for us to carry our luggage to our room on higher floor. One of their house rules is to use indoor slippers while inside the hotel, and place your shoes in the shoe cabinet.

The staff are accommodating and friendly and they can speak in English well. The location is great, there is plenty of convenient stores and restaurants nearby. I would definitely stay here again if I come back to Taiwan.

Meander Hostel common area at ground floor

Meander Hostel lobby area

Meander Hostel kitchen

Breakfast at Meander Hostel

Bikes for rent at Meander Hostel

Foosball at Meander Hostel

Huge wall map of places to see and things to do in Taipei at Meander Hostel


More Things to Do in Taipei

Elephant Mountain

Climbing the peak of Elephant Mountain is one of the popular outdoor activities in Taipei. From the top, visitors will get to see the best view of the whole city, including Taipei's skyline. Tourists are advised to hike the mountain during late afternoon to catch the sunset. The trail consists of stairs and it will take about 20 minutes to get to the top making it an easy hike. It is also close to Xiangshan Station (Red Line) making it very accessible to anyone who would like to trek up Mt. Elephant.

Sunset would have been more visible if not for the gloomy weather

Taipei 101 tower at night from Mt. Elephant

Jump-off point of hike to the top of Elephant Mountain

Taipei 101

Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, Taipei 101 is the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan spanning 101 stories above the ground. It used to be the world's tallest from 2004-2010 (now at 6th) and holds the record of having the fastest elevator going from the 5th floor to the 87 in 49 to 53 seconds. Sounds cool, right? But what's cool is the observation deck offering 360-degree views which is open to public. Unfortunately, we didn't go up to the observatory due to dismal weather thinking that the money we spend for the tickets will just go to waste.

The first few floors is a shopping mall so we decided to stroll around and had our lunch at the world-famous Din Tai Fung restaurant.

Taipei 101 building

Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, Taipei 101 branch

I didn't know Taiwan has one of the richest cultures in the world until this trip. I love how the traditional and modern cultures blend seamlessly in the bustling city. Compared to their Asian counterparts, I found Taipei to be one of the chillest cities and Taiwanese are the nicest and friendliest people on earth.

This is only few of what Taipei City has to offer, and there are more places to see and experience outside the city. I can't wait to go back and explore more of Taiwan. And with the addition of new flights from the Philippines, Taiwan expects a boost in tourism and more Filipinos have now the opportunity to travel to Taiwan.

Taipei City Tips and Travel Notes

1. Currency. Even within the metro some of our friends had a hard time finding a shop that would exchange their Philippine peso to Taiwanese dollar, so better have a local currency ready or at least bring money in USD which is commonly accepted. The other option is to directly withdraw money from one of the local ATMs/banks for a good fee.

2. Easy card. MRT is the most convenient transportation option within the city so get a reloadable card as soon as you arrive. Cabs are fine if you're traveling in a group. Also, download the MRT lines map on your phone for easy navigation. Travel apps such as Google Maps will be of great help as well.

3. Language barrier with random strangers can be a challenge. Before going out on a tour, we would ask for direction and guidance from the staff of Meander Hostel as they understand and speak in English. But don't worry, Taiwanese are very nice people.

4. Tianhou is the nearest temple from Meander Hostel, just about 5 minutes walk from the hostel. You will pass by it as you go to and from Ximen Station.

5. Explore the area around Meander Hostel. You will find lots of art walls and murals hidden in some alleys.

6. Rent a Flytpack travel wifi to experience unlimited internet in Taipei before leaving the Philippines. It only costs P250 per day and internet can be shared with friends. It's cheaper compared to buying local sim.

7. Convenient stores are found in every corner of the city. However, take note that convenient stores in Taipei City DON'T accept credit cards for payment.

To book for your flights to Taipei from Manila or Cebu:
To book for your free Taipei walking tours:
To book for your budget accommodations at Meander Hostel: (AirAsia fliers get a discount when you book via their website and show your boarding pass upon check-in)

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