First, some background!
Established in 1931, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has a long and rich history, offering programs in a wide variety of majors, from Medicine, Engineering, Sciences to Liberal Arts, Design, Management and more. Situated in Tainan, right by the Tainan Train Station, the campus is conveniently located in the heart of this charming old city filled with historical sites, temples, alleyways full of cafes, bars, little shops, and lots and lots of good food!
Living abroad for several months definitely requires some preparation beforehand, and here is some information that will hopefully be useful!
Visa – Students on a semester-long exchange will be issued a visitor visa which is valid for 180 days, but MUST be renewed every 60 days! (failure to do so will result in a fine and you will have to leave and re-enter the border.) Make sure to apply for a multiple-entry visa instead of a single-entry one, in case you have to travel out of the country.
Semester – A semester in NCKU (& most Taiwanese universities) is 18-weeks long, unlike the 14-week trimester in SUTD.
Mobile Plans – Many local telco companies offer affordable student plans with unlimited data, just head down to any of the many outlets around the city to compare and sign up for a plan. I definitely recommend getting an esim as you’ll be able to retain your local sim card in your phone!
Getting Around Tainan
Scooter – The most convenient way to get around Tainan is undoubtedly by a scooter (but only if you have a license!) especially if you want to head further out.
Bicycle – Alternatively, NCKU loans bicycles to exchange students, completely free of charge! Head down to the military training division to loan one but be sure to get your own bike lock and lights as those are not provided. We did not have licenses and got around the city mostly by bicycle. Cyclists cycle on the road alongside cars, buses and scooters so be sure to watch the road and always stay on the scooter/bike lane! Bikesharing service YouBike is also widely available around the city area.
Buses – The only public transportation available and the frequency for each bus is roughly an hour, so be sure to plan ahead (& use the Tainan Bus App as Google Maps timings can be highly inaccurate). Transport cards such as iPass/EasyCard/iCash card can be bought and topped-up from all convenience stores, and in fact the student ID issued by NCKU doubles up as a transport card!
Taxis – Generally fairly priced, and are great for getting to further places, or on rainy days! Uber and FindTaxi mobile applications can be used to book cabs with only some slight differences between the two. Uber – fixed price, card payment. Find Taxi – runs on meter, cash payment.
I stayed on campus while in Tainan, in Ching-Yeh Student Dorm 3 and paid approximately SGD 650 in total for an 18 week stay! The room is a fairly large and comfortable double room, with an ensuite toilet and a small balcony.
Facilities + Stuff Nearby – Water dispensers are available on every floor and there is a large study room called Knowledge on the first floor that is open 24 hours. FamilyMart and 7-11 are a short walk away, and the NCKU Hospital is across the road. A downside would be the lack of a pantry, but with the wide variety of affordable and delicious food, I did not find much of a need to cook anyways! A vending machine also sells instant noodles and drinks.
WiFi -There is no WiFi available in the dormitory rooms. A LAN port is available but prepare your own LAN cable or rely on the unlimited mobile data!
Do note that you will have to purchase your own mattresses and pillows. (I bought from a fellow exchange student who has already been around for a semester as it was much cheaper and convenient!)
Getting out of Tainan
Bus – Buses run from Tainan Bus Station to all the major cities around Taiwan and are the most affordable option to travel. However, they do take a much longer time, but is a great alternative for those on a tighter budget and not in a rush! Tickets can be bought online/KLOOK/at the station.
Trains (TRA) – Trains are my favourite way to travel around Taiwan. You can get anywhere around the country with trains, enjoy the beautiful scenery along the entire journey, and never have to worry about traffic jams! Transport cards can be used for local trains, but tickets must be purchased (at station or at TRA’s website) for express trains and reserved seat trains.
High-Speed Rail (HSR) – HSR is undoubtedly the fastest way to get around the southern coast of Taiwan, running from Nangang in the North to Zuoying in the South. (It does not run on the east coast!) The only downsides are that tickets come at a steeper price and some stations can be located a distance away from the city center. HSR offers discounted tickets sometimes for students, but only for certain timings! Tickets can be bought online, at the station or via KLOOK (for foreigners, and at a discount!)
All 3 options are extremely clean, comfortable and relatively punctual, with the main differences being price points and duration. For a little comparison, here is how it looks like to travel from Tainan to Taipei via the 3 different options:
|HSR||~60 SGD||~1.5-2 hours|
|TRA||~40 SGD||~4-4.5 hours|
|BUS||~20 SGD||~4.5 hours (with no traffic jam)|
Food in/near campus
Canteens – There are 2 canteens that we frequented, one located in Kuang Fu Campus in the heart of the school, and another in Ching Yeh, in the dormitories. The canteens serve rice with a variety of vegetables and meat where students can help themselves to the portion they want, before making payment at the counter.
Convenience Stores – There is a FamilyMart located in Kuang Fu beside the canteen and many more can be found all around Tainan (& Taiwan)! The variety and quality of food in convenience stores never disappoint (& in my humble opinion, I prefer FamilyMart’s selection to 7-11! 🙂 ) Most of them have comfortable dining areas for customers, and there is even a 7-11 with a variety of beer on tap near the dormitory!
Additionally, you can print documents, pay bills, collect parcels (e.g. shopee parcels) at convenience stores!
Yu Le Street – Right across the street from campus, there are many affordable food options along and around this street, as well as a stationery store, pharmacy, hardware stores, and printing shops.
Food Delivery – UberEats and FoodPanda are both available in Tainan with delivery fees generally costing around 10-30NTD (0.5 ~ 1.50 SGD) and is a convenient and not too expensive option when feeling lazy!
In general, a meal at the canteen/local eatery/convenience store would generally cost around 60~100NTD (about 3-5 SGD), and restaurant or cafes around 180NTD and upwards (about 7 – 10 SGD and upwards).
From my personal experience, while card is generally widely accepted in restaurants, malls, convenience stores and supermarkets, cash is still widely used in small stores, local eateries, nightmarkets where electronic payment is not available. etc.
Bank Account – It does not seem to be possible to set up a bank account on a visitor visa as you require an ARC to do so.
Card – I used a YouTrip card as it supported the local currency and had a decent exchange rate. It can also be used for cash withdrawals at ATM (but they do charge a withdrawal fee)
Cash – always! carry! cash! ATMs are conveniently located everywhere and the withdrawal limit is 20,000NTD per transaction (approx 880 SGD). Note that some ATMs may charge an additional withdrawal fee on top of YouTrip’s so try to avoid those!
LinePay – can be set up with a line account and local Taiwanese number, rather widely used as well!
Line – Line is the most commonly used messaging application in Taiwan and it is a necessity when living in Taiwan.
Facebook – Facebook groups and Messenger is also widely used here! I had classes and school clubs disseminate information on facebook groups, and it is also a great platform to find secondhand items if needed.