Taiwan – I can’t stop saying it – is my perfect tourist country. Can you imagine that the state provides and maintains free camping sites? Yahan, you heard right! In the following sections I want to share with you how to sleep for free (or for a few bucks) in Taiwan. Because Taiwan is the perfect spot for travels on a budget. And independent of if you are biking through the country (highly recommended!), hitchhike or travel with other means, you’ll eventually have to spend the night somewhere…
/* Earthquake in the East of Taiwan
Wow, I’m shocked that just one month after sharing my wonderful bike experience along the East coast of Taiwan here with you, this terrible earthquake happened North of Hualien, meaning only some kilometres away from where I biked last year. Because two tectonic plates meet one another there, earthquakes strike Taiwan regularly. (The island is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire.)
May the souls of those who have lost their lifes rest in peace and may their relatives find the support they need.*/
How to sleep on a budget in Taiwan
I circumnavigated the island almost entirely with couchsurfing and connections. 🌏 In my 5 weeks on the island, I only paid for a bed three times: in a small village on the East coast, at Sun Moon Lake and in Alishan National Park.
Although most things are cheap in Taiwan (like delicious food, public transport or bike rentals), housing unfortunately isn’t among them. Flying in from South East Asia, accomodation seemed to eat up my budget.
Even though it is still cheaper than their German counterparts, 550TWD per person per night (~15€) is the average expense of guesthouses in Taiwan. It’s also possible to find 300-400TWD per night. The smaller the town the cheaper (and simpler) the lodging will be. Places in higher elevation will cost more than guesthouses in cities. A good research pays off.
If you are travelling alone, you might consider a dorm room in a hostel. If you are two or more people, then it might already be cheaper to get a separate room in a hotel (double room etc.). 🛌
My preferred online booking service for (budget) accomodation is Agoda*. When comparing different providers, it almost every time has the best deal (or the same low rates). You can also look for accomodation that might not be using e-booking platforms via the region-specific search on wikitravel.org (a free, crowdsourced travel guide).
If you are staying in off-season or need a place last minute, you can also just walk into the hotel and ask for a discount (provided they speak English). You can be lucky and they offer you a room that is not yet occupied for the night at a lower rate!
Bargaining is allowed!
- When I solo-biked along the East coast, my couchsurfer in Taitung got me in touch with a befriended couple of him who welcomed me at their home at my next destination. The night after, couchsurfing was not an option so I had to find another accomodation on the spot. I asked for help at a police-station and the friendly police officer assisted me to bargain my bed in a guesthouse for 500 TWD (it was this one, if you’re curious: 永豐自行車休閒住宿). This was my luck because the grandparents at the premise didn’t speak a word of English. From there onwards, I slept at couchsurfers’ again.
- When I hitchhiked from the East to the West, I contacted some potential couchsurfing hosts while in a hitched car. One couchsurfer even lent me his tent for a trip to Kenting, since I told him I wanted to camp in a schoolyard. There might be only fancy guesthouses close to National Parks, that means (a) you could try to find a host who would like to take you on a trip to this National Park or (b) you might use one of the two room-searching options mentioned above. I had this problematic when I wanted to watch the sunrise at Alishan NP. That time, I used wikitravel to find a budget accomodation in a Catholic hostel right at the entrance of the park (still needed to bargain!).
Where to sleep for free in Taiwan ⛺
I, as a student, couldn’t afford to sleep in a guesthouse every night, so I inevitably looked for other options:
Free options to spend the night:
👉🏼 Campsites (often near police stations)
👉🏼 Primary schools
👉🏼 Temples (you might consider a donation)
When you are low on a budget, you might consider a camping vacation. The camping sites are officialy free of cost and often located in a safe environment next to a police station. To have a good sleep, the individual camp spots are covered with a floor mat.
A friend of mine did the whole circle around the island by camping. I still remember that she told me how awesome it was to take a shower under one of the waterfalls close by the road 😆 She really enjoyed her time there!
Another convenient option is to pitch a tent inside a primary school. Of course you should ask the headmaster or the concierge first if it’s okay that you stay in the school overnight. He will then probably show a spot where you stay best, for example in a corridor protected from the wind. You can even use the school’s toilets and washbasins. On the week-end it’s usually no problem that you stay, during the week you might have to leave early in the morning before the school kids arrive.
A couchsurfer in Pingtung lent me his tent so I could visit Kenting National Park on a budget. I looked for camp sites on Google Maps and saw that there were some, even with sea view. The day I was in Kenting and took a local bus to one of the camp ground on the beach, it turned out that Taiwanese also like to go camping in Kenting – the luxury version with power connection and water supply – and thus a tent pitch cost more than a night in a hostel. Since I knew it was possible to stay at primary schools, this was my chance to try it out. I hitchhiked back to Kenting Elementary School and looked for a teacher to ask for permission. A very friendly lady suggested me to pitch my tent in a stairwell. (Yeah, seems ridiculous, but you can see in the picture above that I really did it…) In this way I could sleep shelterd from the wind and didn’t bother the night guard passing by.
Couchsurfing means to spend the night in a private home, on a couch, a proper bed or a mattress on the floor. You will most probably have your own room or share a room with someone of the same sex (families member will squeeze together in another room to make space for you). The host will most likely introduce you to the specific food of the region and show you around the city. To request a couch you need to be a registered user. The membership is free of charge. Most users in Taiwan live in cities. Find out here, how to get your couchsurf request accepted.
Taiwanese people are very welcoming and love visitors from abroad. It happened to me that a colleague of a host was so happy to see me that she insisted I had to spend the next night at her place. She showed me around her small part of town, introduced me to finely ornamented temples and other cultural sights and bought little delicacies for me around every corner, which were specific from that region and I needed to try… One couchsurfer was a professional photographer and brought me to scenic (in my world: artifical) places around town for photo sessions. Another one even took one week of holidays just to show me around his area. We slept at an observation deck to watch the stars and ate freshly catched, raw thunafish at the port. It was an overwhelming feeling. Also Taiwan’s most crazy (and famous) couchsurfer got wind of me and invited me to sleep in his self-built home up in the hills on a self-grown wild farm.
Warmshowers.org is similar to Couchsurfing and especially designed for the needs of bikers. It features a map with the locations of all users that gives you a good overview of potential couches along your way. Unfortunately, one year ago there were not too many offers along the East coast. I hope this will improve.
I didn’t try this myself, but my Taiwanese friend has used this option a couple of times. The monks usually have some free beds in the temple that you can request. Assess if you like to make a small donation for the temple in return.
How can I find the location of primary schools and campsites?
🗺 MAPS.ME is your helper in emergencies. The mobile app is an Open Street Map with some entries that even Google Maps doesn’t know of. The maps of specific regions can be downloaded ahead of time and accessed offline during the time of travels. I use this app all the time whereever I travel (to navigate inside a city, for hiking and hitchhiking…).
In case your battery runs low or the app just can’t help you, you can ask at a police station in case of doubt. The police officers are very happy to assist you with your issue.
I hope I could give you some insights to travelling through Taiwan on a budget and didn’t scare you with the basic housing of Dan 😅 Taiwan is a very developed country and you will have a comfy sleep whereever you go.
Have you travelled through Taiwan? Can you recommend some awesome guesthouses or possibilities to reduce the costs for lodging? Feel free to share your impressions in the comments. 👇🏼📝
- https://maps.me/ (locating camp sites)
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