When we found out that our trip to the Philippines over the holidays involved a nine-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan, we were not thrilled. Long layovers often meant hanging out at the airport, failing to make time move faster. Fortunately, as soon as we landed in Taipei, we were pleasantly surprised to see a sign for a free half-day tour for people with long layovers in Taipei. Since we did not want to miss out on the tour, we immediately took a photo of the sign to save the information and headed straight for Customs & Immigration.
Once we were out on the arrival area, we found the small kiosk for the Tourist Service Center right in the middle of the terminal after a few minutes of walking around and going the opposite direction of the kiosk. Two tour groups were available–morning or afternoon–and each group had different itineraries. The morning tour included the Shou Sin Fang Creativity Wagashi and Cultural Center and the Sanxia & Zushi Temple, while the afternoon tour included the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and the Longshan Temple. Tourists could only pick one tour, and due to our layover schedule, we had to pick the morning tour. The attendants then asked for our Passports and flight details, then instructed us to return at 8:00am to meet-up with the rest of the group.
Our tour guide arrived promptly, was very friendly, and spoke English well, so language was not a barrier for us during the tour. (We unfortunately only know a few Mandarin Chinese words–Xiexie for Thanks and Ni hao for Hello.) He entertained us with stories about Taipei and Taiwan in general throughout our bus ride and even made a few jokes. He also always had a smile on his face. The tour bus itself was very comfortable and clean, but it only had room for smaller carry-on items since they do try to fill the buses (around 12-14 people). When we arrived at our first stop, we were assured that it was safe to leave our bags in the bus, so we decided to just bring our most important items with us, such as our passports, wallets, and phones. Once we entered the Center, we immediately realized that it was a food production facility, specifically, a mochi-making center. Mochi is a sticky Japanese rice cake usually with different flavored sweet cream fillings. We enjoy eating mochi, so we were very excited when we found out that our tour included a mochi-making class and free tastings at the shop, including free coffee and tea. We ended up purchasing about eight boxes of different-flavored mochi to bring with us to the Philippines. We spent about an hour and a half there then rode the bus again to the Sanxia & Zushi Temple. There, we were in awe of all the Temple’s architectural details. Our tour guide also shared the story of the Temple’s construction and explained how worship is practiced at the Temple. Before we headed back to the airport after about an hour at the Temple, we had some time to walk around the shops outside of the Temple. The shops sold everything from bread, gemstones, clothing, art supplies, tea, to chou dofu (stinky tofu), which is fermented tofu and seemed to be a common snack in Taiwan.
We were back at the airport by 1:00pm, which gave us ample time to prepare for our flight to Manila. Although we left our bags in the bus during both stops, there was no reason for us to be concerned. It was a great time, especially because we got the chance to visit a few of Taiwan’s landmarks for free even with just a short amount of time to spare.
Are there other airports around the world that offer free tours for people on layovers? Please share below! We’d love to try them out.