Shopping is something of a national obsession. From cheap night-market knock-offs to high-end fashions, Taiwan offers a wealth of options for the ardent shopper.
There are a few options for purchasing your day-to-day necessities. On the smaller and slightly more expensive end, there are convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and HiLife, and the mini-mart chains Wellcome and Matsusei. With the exception of some Matsusei stores, these places are usually open round the clock and offer a limited range of food, drinks, toiletries, and other daily items. For fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, many locals will shop at a wet market instead of going to a supermarket. These places can often turn out cheaper than the large chains, and also generally offer fresher produce. Wherever you end up living, one of these traditional markets will not be far away.
There are also a number of supermarket chains around, but those used to European or American supermarkets may be a little disappointed at the range and quality of products on sale. The French supermarket giant Carrefour has the largest operation in Taiwan, with others like RT Mart, A-mart, and PX Mart also boasting a large number of stores around the island. Opening hours vary, with a few twenty-four hour stores around but the majority operating from around 8am to 10pm, often staying open later on Friday and Saturday nights.
For your fix of imported goods you can’t find in one of the options above, there are a few speciality options that offer the jar of Marmite or double cream you just can’t live without. These stores are concentrated in the large population centres, so if your new home is in the sticks you might have a fair amount of traveling to do to get there. Jason’s, City Super, and Breeze Super are the main options, but be warned that you will be paying handsomely for the foreign treats they sell. The US membership warehouse Costco also operates eight stores on the west coast of Taiwan; three in greater Taipei, two in Kaohsiung, and one each in Hsinchu, Taichung, and Tainan. There are also a few smaller independent stores that import various foreign goods, such as Wellman’s in Taipei or Klim in Tainan. A final option for a foreign food fix (with an admittedly narrow range) is the Swedish furniture store IKEA, which has four branches on the island.
Crowds throng the street at a night market
Image © P.D. Bailey
Taiwanese people in general are crazy about night markets. These crowded open-air markets usually operate from 8 or 9pm until past midnight, offering clothes, small-stakes gambling opportunities, and lots of cooked food options. While not so popular among the foreign community, it’s worth taking a trip to your local night market to see how the locals live, and eat!
Taiwan is an electronics shopper’s paradise. Prices are competitive, the range of options is broad, and consumer protection is generally good. The biggest single place to shop for computer parts, cell phones, and other gadgets is Taipei’s Guanghua Market, a four-floor tech palace. The other major cities also have their electronics streets, for example Jianguo Road in Kaohsiung or Beimen Road in Tainan. For Americans prices are usually comparable to those at home, while for Europeans and particularly Brits prices are often a lot better than in your home country. One exception to the rule is with high-end photography equipment, which can work out to be quite costly.
Generally the problem for foreign residents buying clothing in Taiwan is with sizing. Taiwanese people are generally rather shorter and slimmer than the average Westerner, so finding acceptable clothes and shoes in the right sizes can be a struggle for some visitors. If you fit the typical local body type then there are a large number of options available to you, from boutique high-end imported clothing through chain stores like Hang Ten and Uniqlo to dirt-cheap basic items available in supermarkets and night markets. If you are not in that typical range, you might wish to consider bringing extra items with you. For shoes, sizes above US 10½ (UK 10, EU 44) for men, and US 9 (UK 6½, EU 40) for women become increasingly difficult to find as you go up in size, so bringing sufficient pairs with you from home may be the best option.
Books and music
There are a few options for buying English-language books, and obviously being in a big city will help. Eslite offers a good selection in their larger stores, and with over 50 locations around the country they are usually fairly close by, wherever you choose to base yourself. The other widespread option for English books is Caves, with more than 25 stores, though their selection is often more limited than Eslite. Added to these choices is Page One, in the Taipei 101 skyscraper, and a smattering of second-hand choices around the country, though you may have to hunt hard to find a decent English selection.
For many foreign residents, ordering over the internet, or purchasing an e-reader has become a viable option in recent years. Amazon’s Kindle is available in electronics markets as a grey import, as are other e-readers, and there are no problems syncing with an overseas Amazon account to purchase ebooks. For ordering physical books, the major booksellers will ship to Taiwan, though the shipping costs can become a little expensive. The Book Depository offers free shipping to the island, so it’s worth double-checking pricing across sites to find the best option. Second-hand retailers like Abe Books or individual sellers on eBay are often happy to ship to Taiwan.
Photo by Ray Tsang.