Accommodation in Taiwan

Taiwan is much cheaper to travel than comparably developed Asian countries (such as Japan or Singapore). Relative to other expenses, however, hotels in Taiwan are expensive in local terms. Rooms are generally charged per bed (not per person), so for solo travellers who want their own rooms a night in a budget hotel can cost more than the day's food, transport and other expenses combined. Reserving ahead can save money, but it's not essential, except for weekends and other busy periods in Taipei and tourists hotspots.

Symbols and Language

The majority of hotels advertise with the word 'hotel' (in English) and booking online prevents any language difficulties, so it isn't necessary for the short-term traveller to learn any Chinese. 

The last three characters represent a hotel (Tamsui, New Taipei City).

The word for hotel is 大飯店 (dà fàn diàn, literally 'big rice shop'). This is usually used by hotels, but in common speech the term usually refers to a large, posh hotel that businessmen might dine at if they weren't staying there. A 旅館 (lǚ guǎn, literally 'travellers building') is more commonly used for a budget hotel, hostel or any other form of budget accommodation. If looking for a bed for the night it's usually more successful to ask someone where the nearest 旅館 is. Finally, 住宿 mean to 'stay overnight' (as opposed to a 'rest' during the day - see Love Hotels below).
Finally, the words used to describe accommodation are not used consistently in English or Chinese, for example the Juifen Walk Hotel (below) is really a hostel, while the City Home Hostel in Hualien (my favourite accommodation in Taiwan) is really a B&B or boutique hotel. 

Hostels

A typical (but good) hostel in Jiufen (Jiufen Walk Hotel, NT2000)
 
Taiwan is a newcomer to the Asian backpacker circuit. It's catching up fast, and a growing trend is for young people to give up their professional jobs in Taipei and return to their hometowns to convert their parents' or grandparents' homes, which are often left abandoned, into hostels. Many of these are illegal, but the government is considering changing laws to make it easier for them to obtain permits and safety certification, which many now lack. Ximen Ding is also shaping up to be Taiwan's answer to Thailand's Ko Sarn Road, with many young entrepreneurs making hostels (of varying quality) in unused floors of commercial buildings.

However, at this point, the majority of hostels in Taipei are pretty dire. Also, single or double rooms often cost more than a room in a budget hotel, and many wouldn't pass as prison cells in developed countries. They're simply cashing in on foreigners who go to Hostelworld by default without knowing about cheaper hotels, which are generally run by older people who have been slower to catch up with online booking systems.

The situation is improving, especially around spots frequented by Japanese and European cyclists and other travellers, such as Jiufen and Jiji (as opposed the the route followed by generally wealthier Chinese tourists, such as Hualien and Sun Moon Lake). Dormitories usually start at around NT400 mid-week, but for two or more people or other travellers I recommend budget hotels, unless of course you want to cook (which is usually more expensive than eating out) or meet other travellers I recommend giving hostels a wide berth, for now.

Budget Hotels


A typical (but good) budget hotel in Tainan (Tai Zi Hotel, NT500 / night).

The vast majority of cheap hotels in Taiwan are decades-old, poorly-maintained ferro-concrete monstrosities left over from Taiwan's rapid industrialisation in the 1970s or '80s. Most are clean and functional, but it's always important to read reviews online carefully (or ask to see the room first if you walk in). Most have a bathroom without a separate shower compartment or curtain, which is standard in most Asian homes. Walls are generally poorly insulated, and while most Taiwanese understand this, many foreign tourists (including Chinese) don't, so if you are a light sleeper bring earplugs. Air conditioners are usually provided (at no extra cost to use) but are sometimes old and noisy. Wireless internet is generally available and free, but sometimes connections can be a little unreliable. These hotels tend to cluster around the train station in most smaller towns and cities, but they are found all over Taipei.

Prices

Double rooms (which make up the vast majority of rooms, and are rarely discounted for solo travellers) generally start at around NT600 per night in Southern Taiwan and in smaller towns and cities, and around NT1000 in Taipei, Hualien and other tourist stops such as Puli and Jiaoxi. Prices are at least double on Friday and Saturday nights, when most hotels fill up.

Safety

While noise can be an issue, I've never experienced or heard of anyone being disturbed in their rooms, which is a common problem in China. Earthquakes, however, are a small but serious risk, and I recommend reading the charts (usually on the door, and often bilingual) and knowing the way to fire exits. Keep a torch (flashlight) at arms reach when you sleep. I keep one in a small ziplock bag to (hopefully) stop it rolling away in a earthquake. It's also a good idea to know where your shoes are and be ready to put them on in a hurry. It's nothing to be paranoid about, but a little preparation goes a long way in the event of a major earthquake. 

Love Hotel Features

Japan is famous for its business hotels, with their tiny but functional, spotlessly clean and impeccably maintained rooms, which are usually so nondescript that it's often difficult to remember them when a review request arrives a few days later. It's also famous for its love hotels, which come in every imaginable (and unimaginable) theme and style and have both overnight and daytime "rest" rates. In Taiwan there's a continuum, with most budget hotels serving both travellers and couples wanting privacy in this land where most people live with their parents into adulthood. They tend to meet the needs of all clientele well, but some foreign guests complain about condoms provided with the amenities or (very occasionally) pornography channels on the TV, so if you will be offended by these or are travelling with children please read reviews carefully, or stay at higher-end hotels. Another problem with hotels at the love hotel end of the continuum is that many don't offer many twin or family rooms, so again if you need these it's best to reserve ahead online.

High-End Hotels



Taipei has excellent four- and five-star hotels, which are the same the world over, however compared with other developed countries they are usually excellent good value. Many expatriates from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore or other nearby countries enjoy 'living it up' in Taipei in hotels they wouldn't often stay in at home. These hotels are much cheaper if reserved ahead online, and are usually cheaper on sites such as Agoda or Booking.com than they are booking directly with the hotel.


The recent influx of Chinese Tourists (currently set at five thousand per day), along with more domestic transport and tourism and other international travellers, has increased demand well above supply, especially in Taipei and tourist hotspots such as Jiaoxi and Hualien. Hotels in these areas often fill up during the weekend, when prices are often doubled. It's essential to book online for these periods.

Booking Agencies

I have, for years, found Agoda to be the best hotel reservation company for Asia, and have chosen to partner with them on this site for this reason (meaning I earn a small commission on hotels booked through this site, but it costs the same as booking directly through Agoda, which is guaranteed to be the same or less than booking directly with the hotel). Booking.com are also growing in their hotel database, and sometimes their search locations are more specific, which can be helpful. Both are owned by the same company (Priceline). While it's certainly worth trying Hostelworld or hostels.com if you are searching for budget accommodation, many travellers used to these sites from overseas end up paying more than they would for hotels on sites like Agoda.

Walk-Ins

Mid-week it's possible to walk into a budget hotel and ask for a room, especially mid-week. It offers the freedom to travel at your own pace (something Taiwan is especially good for) but it may cost more than booking ahead online.If you don't have a room for the night and are on the road it's best to stop at a large town or small city, and just try the hotels around the train station. It's technically possible to bargain over the price, but is unlikely to offer much saving, but it's important to make it clear that you're only enquiring about room prices at the time. Many budget hotels advertise prices outside which they don't (or perhaps no longer) offer.

The majority of travellers to Taiwan go to the same set locations, especially Chinese, for whom the 'tour bus route' includes Taipei, Taroko Gorge, Alishan and Sun Moon Lake. For the rest of Taiwan, outside of peak times ( weekends, holidays and Chinese New Year) it's okay to just turn up at a hotel and ask the price of a room. Always insist on seeing a room before taking it, and I recommend in particular checking the sheets (assuming you expect clean sheets). Budget hotels offer prices similar to online rates (sometimes lower, oddly often higher, perhaps because they perceive a greater need) but high-end hotels charge much higher rates to walk-in customers than those who've reserved ahead online.

Language

If you require any arrangement other than one double bed per room I strongly recommend booking online, but if walking in and requesting a specific room, the important thing is the number of beds, as this is how the rooms are charged. Taiwanese are very liberal, and hotel owners see everything, but to avoid potentially awkward moments same-sex couples, couples with significant age differences or male and female adults travelling together who need separate beds would be best to specify the number of beds they require.

English Chinese Pronunciation*
one bed 一张床 yī zhāng chuáng
two beds 兩张床 liǎng zhāng chuáng
three beds 三张床
sān zhāng chuáng

* Chinese is very difficult to pronounce, and literacy rates are virtually 100%, so I recommend visitors who are unfamiliar with Chinese to just show the Chinese characters.

Is something out of date? Please let me know.