taiwan information - shopping, what to buy
As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating. Night markets are open-air markets, usually on a street or alleyway, with vendors selling all sorts of wares on every side. Many bargains can be had, and wherever prices are not displayed, haggling is expected. In the larger cities you will have a night market every night and in the same place. In smaller cities, they are only open certain nights of the week, and may move to different streets depending on the day of the week.
Every city has at least one night market; larger cities like Taipei may have a dozen or more. Night markets are crowded, so remember to watch out for your wallet! Shops selling the same items tend to congregate in the same part of the city. If you want to buy something, ask someone to take you to one shop and there will probably be shops selling similar things nearby.
Bargaining is OK and expected in night markets and small stores. Computer chain shops and department stores normally have fixed prices, but at least in department stores you may get a "registered member discount" if you're shopping a lot. Anyway it's always worth a try!
When bargaining at small stores, please note that the agreed prices are normally cash prices. If you like to use a credit card, the seller normally wants to add anything up to 5% to the price as a "card fee" etc. The fee consists actually of the credit company's commission and also the local sales tax/VAT. Even if you pay cash, you normally don't get an official receipt, as then the seller would have to report & pay their taxes in full (tax evasion is rampant). If you ask for a receipt or "fa piao", you will get it but you may need to pay 2-5% more.
What to buy
Popular things to buy include:
- Jade. Although it can be hard to know for sure if the item you're buying is real jade or not, some beautiful objects are sold. Most cities have a specific jade market dealing in jade and other precious stones.
- Computers. Taiwan is a center of computer design and manufacture, so some places sell original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) items at good rates. In particular Taiwanese companies produce laptop computers under license to international companies and then sell the same items under different brands locally, effectively giving the same quality for much lower prices. Desktop computers and components however tend to be the same price in Taiwan as in other areas of the world, though peripherals such as cables and adapters tend to be noticeably cheaper. If you're buying domestic it's best to go to tourist hangouts to buy your stuff as you might be saddled with Chinese documentation otherwise. Also, notebooks are typically only available with a Chinese or English keyboard.
Note: In order to protect the environment, a government policy rules that plastic bags cannot be given freely at stores in Taiwan, but have to be bought (at a flat rate of NT$1) - bakeries being an exception as the items need to be hygienically wrapped. Re-useable canvas and nylon bags are sold at most supermarkets.