Tips for Your Taiwan Trip (With Kids)

Taiwan with KidsAlright. Now that we only have 5 eating days left in Taiwan, I’ve been thinking about what I wish I had known (or remembered) prior to coming. (Seriously, I count down eating days because I do not care about touristy or sight-seeing things. I just want to shove as much yummy Taiwanese food in my fat belly as possible without squeezing the baby out.)

So, here are some of my tips for traveling to Taiwan with kids (and some even pertain to the actual camp/schooling process or bilingual support). Here they are in no discernible order:

1) Pack an extra huge, empty suitcase. 

If you’re like me and buy a lot of heavy books/dvds/stuff, you will need an extra suitcase. Or you will be comfortable in packing huge boxes and carrying those to the airport as luggage. It helps that I have so many people in my family that I can have 10 free checked in luggage.

Otherwise, you can always buy a cheapo suitcase at a local market.

2) Bring cereal. Or snacks you know your kids will eat.

American cereal is around $10 a box. I shit you not. I laughed at Guavarama when she suggested it to me in the States. Why would I do that when I can buy cereal or do without it?

Ah, karma. Always biting me in the ass.

I wish my kids weren’t culture shocked and food assholes, but they are and they were. So, I ended up buying $10/box fruity Cheerios because that’s what they wanted to eat.

3) The supermarkets in the fancy department stores are expensive.

If you are lazy, or an expat, or just like clean, bright and shiny supermarkets like they have in the US, you are welcome to go to your local Jason’s or City Super or whatever. But just know that you will pay $50USD for like four things.

I think that’s where half my money went. Buying at expensive supers because it was extra convenient and bright and shiny and I can see things I’m familiar with and not guess as much about ingredients.

But there is a price for all that shiny.

Go to local supers like Carrefour or Wellcome market. Even better, go to the super local markets off Alley 216 (Zhong Xiao Dun Hua MRT) or similar side alley markets that look sketchy but are way cheaper.

4) In fact, go to Costco the first week you’re there.

Obviously, this won’t work as well if you don’t have a Costco membership, but if you do, then know that your membership also works in Taiwan.

Irish Twins went to all FOUR Costcos within the Taipei area (Zhonghe, Neihu, Xizhi, and Beitou) and she says the Beitou one has the most books and DVD sets available.

Costco is a great option to buy a ton of book sets (just like in the US) for a reasonably cheap price (not the cheapest, but not shabby, either) as well as stock up on essentials your family might go through super fast.

For example: apples. For some reason (like importing), apples in Taiwan are mealy and yucky and if you want to pay about $360NT for TWO Fuji apples at the fancy expat supermarket, you should go to the Costco because for that SAME price, you can get 8 apples. I might not be a math genius but 8 >> 2.

In general, you’ll find that prices match US prices. So, if it cost $12USD to buy a product, it will cost $12USD in Taiwan. It’s not that great a deal in a Taiwanese sense, but it is a price that I’m willing to pay because it’s usually for stuff that would cost double elsewhere due to the product being imported.

Bulgogi bake

Bulgogi bake

The best part of Costco in Taiwan is that they have a Bulgogi Bake. It is delicious. I don’t know why they don’t have it in the US. It is YUM. They also have mango/lime smoothies (I think) and they are light and delicious. Also, they have mango shaved ice.

And, if you’re feeling a wee bit homesick, they have a hotdog for a smidge more than $1.50USD.

In fact, walking into Costco during our 3rd or 4th week here felt like walking into the US. A bit of home.

So comforting.

Oh, what was my point? Yes. Stock up on staples because otherwise, you will overspend on things at the local markets.

Of course, it will be a pricey trip because even if you took the bus or MRT to the Costco, you’ll likely need to cab back from the Costco.

5) If you want to buy books, don’t go to Eslite.

Well, GO to Eslite to riffle through all their books. (For some reason, all the bookstores – not just Eslite – like to shrink wrap individual books. I find it environmentally horrible. But they are good sports about opening the packaging for you. If you’re at Costco, just do it yourself.)

But don’t buy there. Eslite is hugely marked up. If you aren’t in a hurry or leaving right away, you can buy books from Kingstone or books.com.tw. If you don’t want to pay an exchange rate or they won’t take your US credit card, you can always have them deliver to your local 7-11 or Family Mart and pay COD. You’ll get a text message when your packages arrive and have about a week to pick up and pay.

Of course, they can also deliver straight to your home, but I don’t think they offer the COD option then.

6) There are also local bookstores from which you can buy.

You can go to Mollie for used books (they also have a location for used DVDs and CDs) and once again, you run into the problem of books being individually shrink wrapped. They will even deliver the books to your address the next day for $70NT (~$2USD).

Here’s my problem with going to any bookstore or CD/DVD store in Taipei: everything is in Chinese.

I mean, no fucking shit. Of course, everything is in Chinese. We’re fucking in Taiwan.

But as a functionally illiterate person in Taiwan, my brain just blanks and hits the overwhelmed button and all I see is that ALL CHINESE BOOKS LOOK THE SAME.

I think I wandered shell-shocked in the Mollie for about 2 hours while frantically texting Guavarama as she was on her two week camping/road trip adventure with Fleur and their combined 5 kids eight years old and under.

She told me to just sit down and look through all the titles and books and see what I liked. I was not about to open up hundreds of hermetically sealed books just to see if they looked interesting.

I felt ill.

I felt FOMO and fear of Buyer’s Remorse and all sorts of shit. Until finally, I gave up and just sat on the floor looking dejected.

(Incidentally, I have a few posts on Taiwanese bookstores so you can either look them up on Google for the addresses and hours – which obviously, they are more accurate – or you can search by my book categories or tags. Here’s the post where I mention a few of the bookstores I mention in this post.)

Eventually, I sacked up and looked at a few more books and ended up buying a set that came with audio CDs. I felt marginally better (that I didn’t end up wasting the whole trip), but it ultimately was very unsatisfying.

Obviously, YMMV. I’m a wuss and hate uncertainty. That’s why I make Guavarama buy everything for me. I just throw money at her. Everyone needs a Guavarama.

We also went to some local bookstores that Tiger Woo’s MIL and another of my friends recommended. They ended up at about 26% from retail price – which according to Guavarama is a really good deal since bookstores barely make a profit at that price point. (I think they break even around 60-70% retail.)

南門書局 (nan2 men2 shu ju2/Southern Gate Bookstore)
Physical Location: 台北市中正區羅斯福路一段南門書局

釆繪星球 (bian4 hui4 xing qiu2/Bookstar)
Physical Location: 
臺北市南昌路一段59巷7號1樓

Again, same problem of OMG IT HURTS US EVERYTHING IS IN FUCKING CHINESE BLERGH and my brain just shuts off.

But at least in these smaller bookstores, most of the stuff isn’t shrink wrapped, it’s super small businessy, and the staff are very friendly and can recommend a bunch of books.

Also, at Bookstar, they had lots of games for kids (and I bought a ton).

But FOMO and Buyer’s Remorse and lack of Guavarama on speed-text are still anxiety producing factors.

Perhaps that is just me.

7) Next year, I’m shortening our trip.

I think I forgot to take into account just how lazy I am in general. I hate doing touristy stuff – why would I think that being in a foreign country where navigating train websites, site websites, and everything being in CHINESE FFS – in addition to being 28 weeks pregnant and towing along three assholish children would change that at all?

I had lofty plans for this last week.

I was going to take the kids to see the crayon factory. Or to Tamsui. Or JiuFen. Or just take them to all sorts of play spaces.

I did not factor in the fact that Cookie Monster (and to a lesser extent, Glow Worm and Gamera) only wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge and would rather veg out in front of the iPad all day instead of leave the apartment.

We have gone to a few silly places for them to eat or do crafts, but for the most part, Hapa Papa has stayed in with the kids (because they are also REALLY FUCKING DONE WITH THE SUN) and I go out to meet Irish Twins and her 2 year old (while ditching my children – because other people’s children are always preferable to dealing with one’s own because you don’t have to keep them and there is a limited duration of suffering) to eat or shop or just be out of the house.

Wow. That sentence is nigh-incomprehensible.

I have no plans to fix it.

Anyhow, my point being, that you really should take an honest stock of who you are as a person before you pay for an extra week of Airbnb housing prices in Taipei.

Next year, (especially since I will have an 8 month old baby strapped to my sweaty chest and belly), I will likely still come about a week early for the kids to get used to the time change as well as play a little.

However, after school/camp ends, I will let them relax the weekend and do some last minute shopping, and then we will likely leave on Monday or Tuesday and go back home.

My kids will likely be just like me and not give a fuck about touristy shit and just go home. If ONLY they enjoyed food to a greater degree. Sigh.

8) I should have anticipated the kids getting a lot of stuff to take back.

I really don’t know why I didn’t expect the kids to bring back a ton of shit from school and camps. After all, two years ago, they brought back a lot of paper crafts and I took a few pics, kept a few items and then tossed the rest.

Call me an unsentimental bitch. Whatever.

This year, the stuff that they’re coming back with are actually interesting. Like fired and glazed pottery thingies or cool robots they made out of Kinex like thingies (I’m really killing the technical terms today) and honestly, they’re kinda keep-worthy.

Also, I paid for a lot of shitty and expensive crafts and I should really take those home, too.

9) Craft activities at the fancy department stores are really expensive.

The majority of these crafts seem awesome. Make super cool playdoh sculptures or shiny glittery boxes and jewelry boxes. They all seem awesome until you realize they’re like $50. EACH.

So, here’s how it works. Depending on the type of craft you want to make, the cost varies. The more complicated, obviously, the more expensive.

Each finished craft is displayed on a shelf and either has a sticker telling you how many 點 (dian3/points) it costs or it’s on a shelf with a sign telling you how many it costs. Then there is a chart that tells you how much each “point” costs.

The majority of places will cost around $500NT per point. (That’s ~$15USD.) Of course, the more you buy, the more you “save” and it’s tempting until you realize that somehow, you’re paying $50USD for a craft you could buy and do yourself at Michael’s for $5 in the US.

Of course, since the classes are taught in Chinese, and the kids were bored and I really wanted to make the kids happy, I told them they could choose only the crafts that cost 1 point.

They were happy enough. So in the end, over a period of a few days, I spent $3000NT (~$90USD) on six stupid crafts. But all my kids seemed happy about it so I guess it’s a win.

Here is a slideshow of the various crafts my kids did:

10) If you are used to living in a space larger than where you are renting in Taiwan, you WILL get on each other’s nerves.

I mean, it could be just that I’m an asshole and have bred asshole-ish children. But quite frankly, we are at the point where my kids are cooped up all day because they refuse to leave the house and I want to murder them all by dinner time.

I know. It’s not that different than when we are in the States.

But the problem is that there are just far fewer things for them to do in our Taiwan apartment – and SO MANY PEOPLE who can hear me yell at my shitty kids and cussing them out.

For instance, just now, I coldly told Cookie Monster to stop being an asshole. And in case he didn’t understand what that is since he is only 6.5 years old, I explained that an asshole is a butthole. And I really would like him to stop being something poo poo comes out of.

Win.

11) Essential oils are great but NOT FOR INSECT REPELLENT.

Hey. I love essential oils. In fact, they came in very handy for much of the barfing and coughing and heat rashes and heat strokes and mosquito bites. But what they were TERRIBLE at were actually PREVENTING bug bites.

Maybe they work great in the US.

But these Taiwanese mosquitoes are NOT fucking around.

I was eaten alive.

Use the insect repellent with as much DEET as possible without giving you or your children or your unborn fetus birth defects.

Hapa Papa's shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha'd. That's what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

Hapa Papa’s shoulder looking like raw meat after I gua sha’d. That’s what happens when you walk over 50,000 steps in two days during the hottest parts of the day.

12) I will need to 刮痧 (gua sha) my kids almost every day or every other day next time.

I am very susceptible to heat stroke and heat rash. Apparently, so are my children.

In fact, almost Glow Worm’s entire body is covered in heat rash. It’s so sad. He also had an unexplained fever that would disappear and reappear for a period of 4-5 days. As soon as I used gua sha, his fever stopped.

So, I tried it on my other kids, and sure enough, the telltale signs of prickly heat showed up and I regret not using it earlier. Also, all my kids like it and find it comfy.

But definitely bring stuff for heat rash. Pretty much every single member of my household has some form of heat rash (with Glow Worm being the most serious).

This does not contribute to my kids enjoying Taiwan.

13) However much Benadryl I think I need, I should double it.

Due to everything being in Chinese and the fact that in Taiwan, people are not as familiar with food allergies and “forget” ingredients in food all the time, pretty much every child of mine, (even the kid with no known allergies whatsoever) has broken out in hives at least once.

But again, poor Glow Worm has suffered the most. He has pretty much needed to take Benadryl at least once or twice a week. First for food allergy reactions and then for the unbearable itchiness of heat rash.

14) I really need to pay attention to my limits.

I know I am stubborn. I know I am a ridiculous planner and want all these lofty things. But I really need to know my limits and pay attention to how I’m doing.

It’s tempting to think I’m invincible or to stick through something just to prove my mom or other people wrong or whatever.

But really, there is no prize for stupidity and or stubbornness. (Or at least, I don’t think there is.)

So, there really is no award for never taking a taxi (even if it would be physically better for me) or for forcing the kids on death marches (even if it kills me).

There is no prize for purposely choosing a more difficult path.

15) Eat only foods that make me happy.

Corollary: Do NOT waste a meal (or calories) in Taiwan.

So: kids didn’t finish their McDonald’s chicken nuggets? Fuck the nuggets. Go eat something you want like more shaved ice.

Leftover udon from a food court restaurant that you feel guilty leaving because hey it was not cheap? Fuck it. Your kids are not going to eat it again and it just takes up space in the fridge and then you have to figure out how to dispose of its rotting remains in a place that does not have garbage disposals.

Rotting food in the garbage smells about as appetizing as it sounds.

Already have shaved ice today? WHO CARES? Have it again.

Like something a lot? EAT MORE. Preferably soon.

If you don’t want a real meal and only want to eat dessert? DO IT. For instance: instead of having lunch today at Modern Toilet with the kids, I watched them eat mediocre fries and nuggets and then I had almond tofu shaved ice at Yu’s Almond Tofu and fried mochi (one dipped in black sesame sauce and one dipped in chocolate) at Okinawa Japanese Grilled Mochi.

Tonight, instead of having dinner, I am likely going to go buy these fried sesame balls with salty gooey egg yolk in the center from Kitchen Pucci and then have another shaved ice.

Why? Because I now have only FOUR eating days left in Taiwan and my kids are utter shits and I want them to go home ahead of me and if Cookie Monster pisses me (or Hapa Papa) off one more time today I swear he is not going to make it back home in one entire piece.

16) If you need to go to the bathroom in a public space, the cleanest bathrooms are in the MRT station.

I mean, sure you could use a restaurant bathroom or a mall bathroom. They’re not always horrible. But they are not always great, either (even if it’s a fancy place).

So, when in doubt and you can make it to the MRT station? USE THAT ONE.

This holds especially true at the Taipei Main Station. Are you in the HSR/train/bus station? Those bathrooms are disgusting. They’re not dirty or in disarray, but they FEEL gross. If you’re heading to the MRT station anyway, HOLD IT. Wait. Your entire body will thank you.

17) If you use a taxi to frequent a particular route, PAY ATTENTION if a driver happens to be WAY faster than other drivers.

Then ask him how he did it. Memorize it. Then from then on, TELL the other taxi drivers how to do it.

It will save you a lot of time and money.

18) Explore the smaller alleys and streets. 

Now, I’m totally not the type of person to wander small alleys and streets. I am definitely the person who sticks to major thoroughfares (the better to find my way back) as well as go to either places I have been before or a place that has been recommended and is locatable on Google Maps.

I HATE wandering aimlessly on side alleys. Especially with kids and in the heat.

But, if you can manage to set aside some time to do so at the beginning, you will find a lot of small hole in the wall places that likely, you’d enjoy very much.

Alright. This post turned out much longer than I anticipated. Whoops. But I hope I find it helpful next year when I’m remembering how to do this travel in Taiwan thing with the kids and a baby in an ergo.

Have a great day!

More Chinese Bookstores

Here are a few more Chinese bookstores. Keep in mind, I have not used any of these sites. I am merely listing them here on my blog for your convenience.

Whose Books (胡思二手書) – I would link to their actual site, but it is coming up broken. This is a physical used bookstore in Taipei. 
Site Language: N/A
Physical Locations: Taipei, Taiwan
Products: Secondhand books,
Product Languages: Traditional, English

DotDotBuy – Online Chinese shopping portal. Looks like you can buy everything, including books. This is not an English-friendly site as it is a Chinese site for Chinese people.
Site Language: Simplified
Physical Locations: No, based in China.
Products: all product types
Product Languages: Simplified

Times Book – Online Taiwanese book store and retailer. Looks like you can buy everything, including books. This is not an English-friendly site as it is a Chinese site for Chinese people. Also includes a community and has a tab all on summer camps.
Site Language: Traditional
Physical Locations: No, based in China.
Products: Books, movies, DVDs, CDs, etc.
Product Languages: Simplified

TAAZE – Online Taiwanese bookseller that sells all types of books. Also has books in specialized fields. Useful to look up a book you have seen elsewhere since there are often videos of someone showing the condition of the book and then flipping through so you can see if it has zhuyin or not. (h/t: RM)
Site Language: Traditional
Physical Locations: No, based in Taiwan
Products: books, textbooks, secondhand books, art supplies, ebooks, children’s books
Product Languages: Traditional, Japanese, English, zhuyin

 

One More Chinese Bookstore

Single entry today. Hey, this just means I’m done consolidating most of the Chinese bookstore sites and can now add the sites as I come across them. Special thanks to GYS for the tip.

Small World Children’s Museum (小天下-線上童書館) – A Taiwanese publisher and bookstore that specializes in children and young adult books. Part of Bookzone (天下文化書坊), a big publisher and bookstore. The nice thing is that for each entry, they describe the products very well (including what age range, whether or not there is zhuyin/English, content summary, bios of authors/translators/illustrators, and comments/reviews from readers).
Site Language: Traditional
Physical Locations: No
Products: Readers, Books (multiple subjects, story books, fiction/non-fiction), DVDs, Chinese translations of foreign books and movies/programs,
Product Languages: Traditional, zhuyin, bilingual

Yet More Chinese Bookstores

Here are yet more online Chinese bookstores:

SageBooks (思展) – Provides proprietary literacy materials for young readers. Explores the philosophy, history, art, geographic nature and many other interesting facets of China.
Site Language: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Physical Locations: Hong Kong
Products: Proprietary learning materials, children’s books (learning Chinese and stories), multimedia, ebooks, free learning resources
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English, pinyin

Yahoo Online Auction Store – While technically not a bookstore, you can get books this way. This is the Taiwan-based site and you can occasionally find books or other educational materials here. It is an online auction and in a foreign currency, though!
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical Locations: No
Products: anything – but you can search for books, etc.
Product Languages: Traditional

Jiang Sheng Educational Co., Ltd (劍聲幼教事業機構) – Mostly an Educational company, they provide a lot of classroom materials and some Chinese Montessori items
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical Locations: No
Products: classroom materials, Chinese Montessori learning materials
Product Languages: Traditional

Wink to Learn – Provide early learning flash cards, DVDs, and streaming videos in multiple languages
Site Language: English
Physical Locations: No
Products: Flash cards, DVDs, streaming videos
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English, Arabic, other Asian and European languages

XinYi (信誼) – Children’s bookstore, toys, and learning materials. I’ve personally visited this store and it’s a nice, cozy shop with helpful staff. There are a ton of learning materials, books, toys, DVDs, and even electronic readers that teach zhuyin and sight words. There are several areas where kids can play, including a tiny, adjacent playground.
Site Language: Traditional
Physical Locations: Taipei
Products: Children’s books, toys, learning materials, CDs, DVDs
Product Languages: Traditional, English, zhuyin

More Chinese Bookstores

Here are a few more online Chinese bookstores:

World Journal Bookstore (世界書局) – Bookstore affiliated with The World Journal newspaper (世界日報). Also has a children’s, magazine and Simplified books section.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical Locations: Multiple US locations
Products: Books (all subjects), magazines, children’s section
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified,

Little Monkey and Mouse – A bookstore that features fun, attractive, and high-quality Chinese reading & educational materials, interactive media, toys, art and cultural products from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. Includes books with zhuyin and pinyin.
Site Language: English
Physical Locations: Belmont, CA (Bay Area)
Products: Books, educational materials, interactive media, toys, art and cultural products
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, zhuyin, pinyin, English, Spanish

Greenfield Education Center (青田教育中心) – This center publishes and sells high quality children books in Chinese and English geared for ages 0-14, as well as books for parents. They also hold courses for parents, teachers, and children.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English
Physical Locations: Hong Kong
Products: Proprietary learning materials, children’s books (learning Chinese and stories), multimedia, English books, parenting books
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English

NanHai – Store provides pinyin or character only Simplified textbooks (K-college), test prep, and books. They also provide seminars, workshops, art, and cultural experiences. (ETA 4/23/15) According to CL, a fellow parent in one of my FB groups, she feels that Nanhai is not particularly catering towards the younger population; many of their books are for adult learners. Children books are limited. She bought from them once before and the service was fine.
Site Language: English
Physical Locations: Santa Clara, CA (Bay Area)
Products: K- college multiple subject textbooks, test prep, teacher aids, readers, reference materials, seminars, workshops, cultural experiences
Product Languages: Simplified, pinyin, bilingual, English

Mei Zhou Hua Yu (美洲語華) – Publisher of textbooks (K-10) in pinyin Traditional, zhuyin Traditional, pinyin Simplified. Also provide homework samples. Note: They do not have online ordering capabilities. You have to download an order form, fill it out, and then send the form and check to a Southern Californian address.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English
Physical Locations: No
Products: K-10 textbooks, homework samples
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, zhuyin, pinyin

Some Chinese Bookstores

Here are a few online Chinese bookstores:

Books.com – Traditional online bookstore for all types of books (eg: fiction, non-fiction, etc).
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: No
Products: Books (all subjects), magazines, children’s section, CDs, DVDs, and lots of other stuff (eg: housewares, etc.)
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English

Eslite (誠品書店) – The most awesome bookstore in Taiwan and its online home.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Multiple Taiwan locations
Products: Books (all subjects), magazines, children’s section, CDs, DVDs, stationery, housewares
Product Languages: Traditional, English

Ya Book (雅博客) – Used books.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Taipei
Products: Books (all subjects)
Product Languages: Traditional

Mollie (Jasmine) Used Books (茉莉二手書店) – Used book site.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Multiple Taiwan locations
Products: Books (all subjects)
Product Languages: Traditional

k9Books (康軒書屋) – Textbooks
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: New Taipei City
Products: K-12 Taiwanese textbooks (multiple subjects), teacher editions
Product Languages: Traditional, English

Kingstone (金石堂網路書店) – Bookstore, stationery, magazines, toys, and other goods and services. (Looks almost like a Taiwanese version of Amazon)
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Multiple Taiwan locations
Products: Books (all subjects), magazines, children’s section, CDs, DVDs, stationery, housewares, appliances, toys, apparel
Product Languages: Traditional, English

PC Home Online – Online shopping mall/portal site. Also has US shop.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Multiple Taiwan locations
Products: Books (all subjects), magazines, children’s section, CDs, DVDs, stationery, housewares, appliances, toys, apparel, etc.
Product Languages: Traditional, English

San Min (三民網路書店) – Great physical store with lots of study guide and textbooks. Also has a sections that sell stationery, movies, comics, and Simplified books.
Site Language: Traditional Chinese
Physical locations: Multiple Taipei locations
Products: Study guides, textbooks (university), government publications, CDs, DVDs, stationery
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English