WHILE LIVING and teaching English in Surabaya, Indonesia, my husband and I became very familiar with EVA Air’s standard 18-hour Taipei layover en route to West Coast USA.
Yes, we could’ve checked into a hotel and popped an Ambien, but this would’ve further complicated our sleeping pattern adjustments once home. Thankfully, the airport offers free tours around Taiwan; public transportation also makes it easy to head into Taipei City on your own.
Will they let me in?
Of course, leaving the airport requires a trip through immigration. Citizens of the following countries are eligible for free, visa-exempt entry to Taiwan for a period of 30 days:
What should I do with my bags?
If your bags aren’t checked through to your final destination, you’ll have to pick them up once you clear immigration. The bonded baggage claim counter is located in the baggage claim lobby; you can store your bag(s) here.
A 22kg bag, a typical checked-baggage allowance, will cost 250 New Taiwan Dollars (NT), about $8.20 USD. Have your passport and some NT ready, as they don’t accept any other currency. Don’t panic if you couldn’t change money before you arrived — there’s a moneychanger located near the customs counters.
After checking your bags you’ll be given a yellow claim ticket — don’t lose it.
When you’re back from your tour and have reentered the airport and cleared immigration, turn LEFT — there’s a small counter in a hallway just around the corner where you can collect your bags. They’ll check your yellow ticket and passport and will call someone to retrieve your luggage.
Make sure to give yourself time for this, as retrieval can take about 10 minutes.
Where do I sign up for the free tour?
In the arrivals lobby is a big yellow desk — head around to the front of it and ask for an attendant. The tours are first come, first served with a limit of 18 participants (there was only one other person when we signed up for the morning tour), but you can choose from two time slots.
The morning tour leaves around 8am and, depending on traffic, will have you back to the airport before 1pm. This tour doesn’t take you into Taipei City, but instead to:
- Yingge District, Taiwan’s pottery hub, with cobblestone streets and little ceramics shops — a good place to buy souvenirs.
- The Yingge Ceramics Museum, the first of its kind in Taiwan — a relaxing place with 200 years of history on display.
- The last stop is Sanxia, home of the Zushi Temple, which has been painstakingly restored — it is known for its intricately carved columns.
The afternoon tour leaves around 1:30pm and will have you back to the airport before 6:30pm, again depending on traffic. This tour will bring you into Taipei:
- Taipei 101, until recently the world’s tallest building at 508 meters. Count on a great view and overpriced souvenirs at the top.
- Longshan Temple, one of the oldest in Taipei.
- The Presidential office building, seven years’ worth of construction.
- Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall — built in memory of late President Chiang, this is an impressive monument located on over 25 hectares of well-kept gardens and pavilions.
- Martyrs’ Shrine, dedicated to the fallen heroes of China’s wars. There’s an hourly changing of the guard.
How do I get into Taipei on my own?
If you’ve missed the tour or just want to do things on your own, the public transportation system makes it fairly easy to get into Taipei.
When you enter the arrivals lobby, head right to the end of the hall for bus tickets to either the train station or directly into Taipei (buses depart every 20 minutes or so).
If you choose to head to the train station, you’ll need to buy tickets into Taipei’s Main Station. From there you can walk, take taxis, or use the MRT subway system to see the sites listed above.
A useful Taipei Metro map can be found at JohoMaps.com.
My Taipei favorites
- Ximending is a busy shopping district and a great place to get lunch.
- The Maokong Gondola, located near the Taipei Zoo, is worth the MRT trip but note that it’s a bit far from central Taipei. Maybe follow this with a zoo visit and — if you’re there at night — a light show.
- Wandering around the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and surrounding neighborhoods and markets is a great way to stretch your legs before your next flight. From the hall, walk toward Taipei 101.
[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Laura’s personal blog, Writings From a Broad.]