Taiwan offers travellers a wide range of accommodation, from spartan dormitories and weathered white-tile hotels to quaint, family-run homestays and plush five-star resorts.
Few Taiwanese travel alone, so there is a severe shortage of true single rooms with one single bed. In most cases, the Taiwanese equivalent is a room with a queen-sized bed suitable for most couples – and priced accordingly. A double room usually has a king-sized bed and is more expensive still, while a twin room comes with two double beds.
Room prices vary considerably, depending on location, the season or time of week. While rack rates can be alarmingly high, they are only charged during peak times, such as weekends, public holidays and the summer school break (and even then mostly just at beach resorts and the most famous attractions). By far the most expensive time to travel in Taiwan is during Chinese New Year, when prices can be double the rack rates. Hotels are often full at this time, so if you plan to travel during this holiday you should try to make bookings well in advance.
Basic budget hotel rooms can be had for as little as NT$600 per night at off-peak times. At this price, rooms are likely to be a bit tatty and damp, probably with cigarette burns on the furniture and a smell of stale smoke. Still, most of them will have an attached bathroom with shower, TV and phone.
Mid-range hotels usually cost NT$1000–3000, and standards generally vary in accordance with price. At the lower end, rooms are likely to resemble cleaner versions of budget hotels, often with the only difference being that they offer packets of tea and coffee in addition to cable TV. At the higher end, rooms can be quite clean and comfortable, with big bathtubs and/or shower cubicles, and breakfast is often included in the price. You’re also more likely to encounter staff who can speak English.
All of the biggest cities, but especially Taipei, have international five-star hotels that feature giant beds with fine linen, high-speed internet connections in the rooms, business centres, fitness rooms, spa and massage services and luxury restaurants. Though discounts are sometimes offered, these hotels generally charge a minimum of NT$4000 for a standard room and prices are often twice that. Staff usually speak English.
Hot-spring hotels are all the rage in Taiwan, but standards vary wildly according to location. Those in resorts close to big cities can be expensive, often charging at least NT$6000 for rooms with en-suite jacuzzis, while those further afield can offer the same amenities for less than half of that price. Almost all offer public pools, which are free to paying guests and can be used by non-guests for what is usually a nominal fee. Many hot-spring hotels also rent rooms for shorter periods for those wishing to bathe in private without paying for overnight accommodation. Note that the quality of the spring water varies between resorts, and even between hotels at the same resort. In general, the older-looking hotels tend to be disappointing, often only having small bathtubs into which the “spring water” is piped through the tap. Meanwhile, newer – and considerably more expensive – hotels have been designed with a keener eye for aesthetics, with larger tubs made of marble or with Japanese-style wooden designs.
So-called “homestays” (mínsù) have sprouted up all over Taiwan, particularly in rural scenic areas, where families have set up bed-and-breakfast style businesses to take advantage of mounting tourist numbers. However, the nature of these homestays varies dramatically, and many are nothing more than tiny, family-run hotels – plus, prices tend to be on a par with mid-range to expensive hotels. Rooms are usually in wings that adjoin the owners’ houses, and breakfast, though provided, is typically not eaten with the family. However, places advertising themselves as homestays are nearly always clean and friendly, as well as exuding more character than most hotels. Although many aren’t directly accessible by public transport, most offer pick-up services from the nearest train or bus station if you ring them in advance.
These days hostels are just about the only accommodation in Taiwan that could accurately be described as budget. Dormitories can offer beds for as little as NT$350 per night, with discounts often doled out for long-term stays. Many hostels also have a few private rooms; though invariably small, they can be good value, with some going for as low as NT$450 a night, even in big cities – these tend to be the preferred haunts of newly arrived English teachers, who often rent them on a weekly or monthly basis, so sometimes they can be hard to find.
Most hostels in Taiwan now have affiliation with Hostelling International (whttp://www.hihostels.com), and will provide discounts to card holders. Many hostels have laundry facilities and common cable TV rooms, while some offer shared use of their internet connections for free. Kitchens can still be found in some.
Camping is becoming increasingly popular in Taiwan, especially in national scenic and forest recreation areas. If you have your own transport and your own gear, grass spots generally go for about NT$350, while those with raised platforms usually cost about NT$500. Some campsites also offer rentals with eight-person tents and sleeping bags and pads provided for around NT$800 – which for groups is undoubtedly some of Taiwan’s cheapest accommodation. Almost all of these types of camping areas have adjoining barbecue pits and public showers and toilets.
In national parks and other remote areas, camping is often your only option, though there are few designated sites and low-impact methods are recommended – campfires should be forsaken in favour of cooking stoves, for example. As landslips occur on mountain trails with frightening regularity, care should be taken when choosing where to pitch your tent, especially in rainy weather. The intensity of the island’s rain can test the waterproofing of even the most high-end tents, so make sure yours has been fully seam-sealed, particularly if you’ll be camping on bare earth (in which case a ground sheet is highly recommended).