Updated: Oct 27, 2019
This post will be where I log the information that I did not include in my other posts for the Kinmen-Penghu-Matsu (金门-澎湖-马祖) trip. I hope this will make a good starting reference for travellers intending to travel to the Taiwan Strait (台湾海峡) or even to Taiwan. If you are a Singapore passport holder, then all the more you should read this.
For me, I won't have to re-do all the homework again if I were to revisit the islands next time. This post will be where I start.
The most important considerations when planning a trip are the destination's pubic holidays and climate. These two factors normally determined the peak and off-peak travel seasons and hence the costs of travelling.
1. The Holidays
I plan to travel to Taiwan towards the end of this year, probably in November or December. There is no upcoming major holidays during this period in Taiwan — Christmas Day is not a public holiday. This period is also the beginning of Taiwan's off-peak travel season till March next year.
Chinese New Year, either in late January or early February, is a period to avoid travelling in Chinese-dominated places as prices sky-rocket and most local shops and services may be closed for around two weeks. Travel options are usually limited unless in the bigger cities, like Taipei.
April to June will be the peak travel period as seasonal flower blossoms bring travellers to Taiwan to see the sakura. Penghu County usually holds its annual firework festival from April to June and Matsu's beautiful "blue tears" will appear from April through August.
All of Taiwan's public holidays fall within the period of 1st January to 10th October, making November and December the ultimate off-peak season.
Off-peak travel season is the time I will roam the Taiwan Strait.
Reference: Holidays & Observances in Taiwan 2019
2. The Climate
Towards the end of the year, the temperature in Taiwan will start to get cooler with lesser rainfalls, especially after the typhoon seasons in October. However, in the Taiwan Strait, the Northeast Monsoon may bring strong winds that can hamper activities on the sea, including causing ferry services to be halted. This is evidently one of the primary reasons why this period is "off-peak" for travelling.
December to March is so-called the "winter" of Taiwan, but it does not snow in the lower altitudes. April to June is the spring season with the persistent "plum rain" taking place in May and June. Then, comes the hot summer weather that heats up Taiwan, preparing it for the onslaught of typhoons between July to October.
Logically, November would have been ideal for island hopping in the Taiwan Strait if not for the monsoon winds — travel plans do get disrupted when the ferries suddenly halted their services due to strong winds. This is definitely not a good thing for travellers with schedule constraints.
I will have to allocate more days for the trip since I will travelling in the monsoon season. Planning a couple of "buffer" days is essential to prevent missing the home-bound flight in case I got "marooned" on the islands without ferry for a day or two.
Reference: Taiwan Climate
3. The Currency
Taiwan's currency is the New Taiwan Dollar, denoted as "TWD" or "NT$". The exchange rate is currently S$1.00 to NT$22.40 (1st Oct 2019). When on the trip, the faster way to do a mental conversion of the currency will be to simply divide any dollar value in NT$ by 22 to get the rough estimates in S$.
4. The Cash
Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants and shops but bearing in mind that Taiwan is still a cash society. The transit system is mostly using cash and there are taxis that don't accept credit cards. Furthermore, expenses and purchases made using credit cards will be subjected to dual conversion charges by the bank — from TWD to USD to SGD. Credit cards are convenient but the extra charges are also high.
So, having at least an ATM card to withdraw cash from ATM machines is necessary. Most ATMs in Taiwan accept bank cards with PLUS and CIRRUS logos on it. And transaction charges are levied for each cash withdrawal.
The POSB card, which I have, carries the Cirrus logo. Withdrawal charges are free if I withdraw money at any DBS Taiwan ATMs but cost S$7.00 per transaction at other ATMs. Carrying large amount of cash around may not be a good idea but withdrawing too often will result in high transaction charges. So, plan wisely and estimate cash needs before going to the ATMs.
Well, I am not able to locate any DBS Taiwan ATMs on the 3 groups of offshore islands. I will need to use other ATMs but will limit to maximum 2 withdrawals for the whole trip. This calls for some thorough budget planning.
Reference: Overseas Withdrawal Charges for POSB Cards
5. The Language
The spoken languages on the 3 islands are the Minnan (闽南) dialects and Mandarin. The written language is Traditional Chinese. Most booking websites and blogs about the 3 islands are usually in Traditional Chinese. Use of English is pretty limited. So, for travellers who cannot understand their spoken and written languages, it can be quite inconvenient.
I do speak the Hokkien dialect of Singapore, so I have not much issues understanding the local Minnan dialect although there are some differences in the way certain words are pronounced (I was in Kinmen 6 years ago and had interacted with some locals). And I can read Traditional Chinese (from watching Hong Kong dramas with Traditional Chinese subtitles since young). So, travelling in Taiwan and reading road signs have been a breeze for me.
6. The Timezone
Taiwan time is GMT+8 hours, which is the same as Singapore, Malaysia and China.
7. The Visas
As a Singapore passport holder, I can have up to 15 days free visa to China and 30 days free visa to Taiwan. As usual, no extension is permitted when travelling on free visa. If a longer travel period is desired, apply for a tourist visa at respective embassies in Singapore before the trip.
8. The Customs Regulations
I will be buying sorghum wine from one of the islands to bring home, so here are some references on customs regulations:
Bringing into China (if transiting): 1.5 litre duty-free. Read..
Bringing into Singapore: 1 litre duty-free. Read...
Don't worry, if exceeded the stated quota, just pay taxes for the amount that exceeded the quota. But take note of the quantity allowed for "personal consumption". Anything that is deemed as beyond "personal consumption" may be subjected to heavy taxes or fined without having an alcohol-import permit.
To find out more about what I am planning for my island-hopping trip, see: