In this guide, I will be sharing a few of the things I learned about Taipei while touring the city for the Arm Innovator Asia Tour.
If you are a hacker, software engineer, hardware engineer (or, well, anyone) I recommend considering a trip to a small island located below Japan called Taiwan. I recently spent some quality time in Taipei and had the opportunity to experience the people and culture of this great city. I wanted to write about my experience and encourage others to do the same.
With the right planning, it is possible to spend a week in Taipei without much expenditure, as there are plenty of hostels and even “capsule hotels” which you might recognize as something associated with Japan. For as low as $100, you can spend five days in bustling central Taipei living in an air conditioned pod, hard to argue with those prices.
With 20+ million people, Taiwan has several smaller cities and one enormous one (Taipei) which is ringed by an extended city called New Taipei City. You are free to venture out from Taipei to see the countryside via a train and bus system but keep in mind that the interior of the country is immensely mountainous with many curving and winding roads. Should you choose to leave the city, I recommend Taroko Gorge as a great trip (it takes a bit of time).
In terms of traveling to Taipei for work, it is relatively easy to visit and there are few barriers as a foreign national to entering and staying for a week or so. The MRT (Taipei’s mass transit system) is one of the world’s greatest works of civil engineering. For as low as 20 NTD (about $0.70) you can travel nearly anywhere in downtown Taipei and experience a safe, quiet, smooth, clean, orderly travel experience.
Taiwan is exceptionally safe for travelers, I’d rank it up there with Japan based on my past experiences and feedback from others.
Now that we have learned a bit about Taipei and visited our first Night Market, the next stop might be something more work related: A visit to FutureWard, a relatively new co-working space around downtown Taipei. Not having been to Taiwan in many years, it was very helpful to meet with a local super-connector like Daniel Lin and get oriented.
Taiwan is in a unique position in the IoT / hardware ecosystem in that it is an island democracy with numerous ties to other local asian countries. One of the things that came up frequently was that Taiwan is located such that someone who lives there can easily commute to visit Tokyo (only a 2 hour plane flight) or Shenzhen and Hong Kong (2 hours away also).
Given the convenience, culture and affordability of Taipei, it is a tempting spot to consider locating if you really want to make the leap to asia and have a soft landing. Many of the local Taipei hardware, software and IoT companies have extensive experience navigating the Chinese market and can be helpful guides should you want to live in Taiwan and manufacture next door in China.
I suppose for a moment I should talk about food. Taiwan is exceptionally famous for their innovations in the department of snacks. Everywhere you go in Taiwan, you are going to be inundated in desserts and small, salty, meaty, bready dishes of all varieties. For such a small island, Taiwan has had an outsized impact on cuisine.
Among Taipei’s most famous exports and inventions is the bubble tea. My favorite bubble tea I have experienced was from the Chun Shi Tang located on the top floor of the Eslite Spectrum Songyan shopping complex.
If you are not familiar with Eslite, it is a chain of bookstores and retail locations which are prolific throughout Taipei. While I didn’t take a picture, Eslite have a unique approach to retail in that they offer clusters of small artisans who hand make products directly in the store. Imagine an American shopping mall with blacksmiths, glass blowers, leatherworkers and you begin to get the idea.
My favorite Eslite was the Spectrum Songyan located in the Songshan Cultural Park. If you like to make things with your hands, you will certainly appreciate the experience. You will find plenty more of them hidden around Taiwan both above and below ground.
One thing to understand about Taipei is that there are miles of underground passageways and tunnels filled with yet more food, drinks and other amenities. The combination of the MRT and the heat make it frequently appealing to spend more time underground. Now back to hacking.
There are a few maker and hacker spaces scattered throughout Taipei, some of them are more open to walking in the door than others (my experience is similar in the United States). We stopped by Taipei Hack to say hello. I certainly recommend checking to make sure they are expecting you in advance as it is a smaller and community run space.
As a potential entrepreneur, Taiwan has many incentives to tempt you to consider relocating your operations there. The Taiwan and Taipei government have multiple departments engaging in activities meant to enable the local startup ecosystem and help import talented founders into the country. Lin Daniel, for example, has run several “Taipei Startup Tours” meant to help potential imported entrepreneurs get a sense of what the city has to offer.
One of the new initiatives in Taiwan is something called the Taiwan Tech Arena, where we hosted our very first Arm Innovator Program APAC tour stops. The Taiwan Tech Arena (or TITAN) is a 30,000 sq foot facility located in downtown Taipei meant to help many new startups and entrepreneurs access and take advantage of the resources Taiwan has to offer.
With extensive government backing, TITAN (the creators of the arena) are certainly an emerging and powerful force in the city.
Aside from TITAN, I also stopped by the Syntrend Complex (owned by Foxconn) to visit the Star Rocket co-working space and hardware accelerator. Star Rocket is managed by Cherrie Cheng and the Syntrend Startup Foundation.
Taiwan for Women in Tech
On our trip to Taipei this week for the Arm Innovator Tour APAC edition, we also ran into some of Taiwan’s community for women in tech including Amanda Hsu (above center), who co-organizes a group called Women In IoT.
Our Arm Innovator Jinger Zeng (who is located in Chengdu, China) participated in a panel covering topics relating to empowering Women in Tech and we got to meet more than a few of the local leaders in this area.
If you are interested in connecting with the women in hardware and tech community in Taipei, email Amanda: email@example.com.
Wrapping Up Our Tour
I won’t say much more since we are getting long in the article here, but if you are into electronics markets I recommend stopping by the Syntrend complex and having a walk around the neighborhood, there are many electronics stores (Some of them hidden underground) to buy components you might want as a developer.
While I certainly didn’t cover everything you can do and everywhere you can go in Taiwan, perhaps consider ending your tour at the botique FabCafe and then having a walk around the locality of the “Central Art Park.” There are a series of really wonderful warehouses, shops and buildings to explore with a revolving set of events and exhibitions in this area. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
So there you have it. I have always loved technology and learning about hardware and software, but the experience is not complete without it’s context — the travel, people and culture surrounding the technology we are working on daily.