Image: Jonathan Liu

Image: Jonathan Liu

After spending three weeks in Taiwan (mostly in Taipei) with my five-year-old Geeklet, I have a better idea of what things are the essentials and which are a little more expendable. Here, a short list of what you really need while getting around the city.

1. Good walking shoes
If you’re going to spend much time in Taiwan, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, even if you elect to take a cab everywhere (more on that later). So, make sure you and your Geeklets have nice comfy shoes; my daughter had a pair of hiking shoes that worked fairly well, but the sandals were a recipe for “carry me, my feet are sore!”
And speaking of the little ones, don’t bother using the stroller for everyday use. It’s too crowded and the sidewalks are often very uneven; I’m not even sure how wheelchair-bound people get around. If you’ve got geeklets that aren’t walking yet, I’d suggest some form of baby carrier instead.

2. Umbrella
Not just for rain, but for sun. At least in the summer, the sun is fierce during the day, and there are lots of places where you won’t find a lot of shade. During the worst part of the day just crossing a wide street can be sweat-inducing. I have a wide-brimmed hat that I wore some of the time, but I found that in the end I usually preferred to just carry an umbrella: it was easier to stow when I wasn’t using it, and provided more shade when opened. (You can always pick up an umbrella when you arrive–they have a wide variety and some of them fold down to literally pocket-size.)

3. Water bottle
There is a huge selection of interesting drinks available throughout Taipei (Pocari Sweat, anyone?) but if you drink a lot of water like myself and my daughter, you may just want to bring a water bottle. We bought one with a carrying strap the day after we arrived and took it with us whenever we went out. It saved on searching for water fountains (much rarer than in the States) and even many restaurants don’t have cold water available.

4. Purell and tissues
You could just go native and not worry about germs at all–standards of sanitation are a little looser here than you might be accustomed to–but I compromised by having a little bottle of Purell and a pack of tissues. You never know when the bathroom won’t have toilet paper, paper towels, or soap. Also, Taipei is extremely dusty, so if your kids have been “exploring” at all chances are their hands are going to be pretty grimy when it’s time to eat.
The other thing to note is that the Taiwanese in general don’t seem to believe in paper napkins, at least the sort I’m used to. What you’ll see instead is about the consistency of facial tissues, which means you can wipe your mouth once and you’ll need a new one. I didn’t find a really good solution to this but I suppose if you want to bring napkins with you, too, you might be a little happier at restaurants.

5. Easy Card
The Easy Card is a plastic pass card for the Taipei Metro system which you can use for the train and buses, but also for other places like admission to the Taipei Zoo. It’s much handier than digging for change every time you board the bus, and the train is a great way for getting around town. (Buses are nicer for getting you to more locations, but take a little more effort to figure out.)

6. Map
This probably goes without saying, but it’s nice to have a good map of the city. The Metro actually provides a couple different maps, in English and Chinese versions, and I found those particularly helpful to get my bearings and also for a tips on places to go.

7. A set of chopsticks
As Taiwan goes green, more and more places are cracking down on the old disposable chopsticks, which are problematic anyway. A lot of people have taken to carrying around their own set of chopsticks (and sometimes a spoon). If you know where to look you can buy a set with a handy carrying case, and you’ll always be ready to chow down on all those tasty treats, splinter-free. This one’s not absolutely essential but can certainly come in handy.

8. Cash
It’s a good idea to get some cash when you arrive. If you’re planning to visit any of the night markets, or get produce at the day markets, or buy a tasty snack from any of the countless vendors and booths around the city, plastic won’t get you very far. You won’t necessarily need a lot of it, but it’s best to have a couple hundred yuan on hand.

Bonus: Grandparent
Okay, so this is not an essential, but certainly very nice to have around. My mom went on this trip with us and I’m lucky enough to have a few other relatives in Taipei as well, which certainly made for an easier trip. You might not be so lucky, but it’s very helpful to have at least one person with you who knows the language and the city, or can connect you to other locals. They’re the ones who will tell you the best places to eat, where to go for fun, and how to get the best deals at the night markets.

There you are–my essentials for getting around Taipei. How about you, readers, anything else you think I’ve left off?

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