Sleeping around on the cheap

By David Greenberg and Stephan Larose/Photos by David Greenberg/Translated by Sharon Yang

Whether you're just passing through or planning to stay awhile, there are plenty of options for budget accommodations in Taichung. For a quiet and convenient place to crash in that won't bankrupt your wallet, you might give a local hostel a try.

Hostels, or guest houses, have been popular in North America and Europe for the cost-conscious traveler because they offer several advantages over expensive chain hotels. These places are a good place to meet other similar-minded travelers and to share information, look for jobs, or hear about the hot spots in town. Also, because you are typically expected to wash your own linens and help clean up a little around the facilities, the costs are very low and only go towards paying for the general operations of the hostel. This no-frills approach means that the cost of staying at a hostel can be several times cheaper than the least expensive hotel in a popular tourist area.

One such option in Taichung is the Hacienda Guest House (17, Lane 66, JungJeng [ChungCheng] St., 5F-5)(Closed). "Hawaii" Steve, a 12-year American veteran resident of Taichung, has been running the Hacienda for over two years and has a steady stream of travelers, thanks in part to a nice write-up in the The Lonely Planet. With a comfortable living room, cable TV, full kitchen, laundry and several air-conditioned rooms on different floors to accommodate small or large groups, the Hacienda is conveniently located behind Napoli in the Canal District.

Another advantage of the Hacienda is that, because of the high rotation of foreign teachers, the lobby phone rings constantly with new English teaching jobs and other information for foreigner guests. However, there are also a number of Taiwanese guests staying at any one time. Steve places much importance on security and maintaining a "wholesome" atmosphere. Room rates vary but generally start in the very inexpensive NT$200+ range per night (vs. NT$600 per night for train station area hotel rooms). Weekly and monthly rates are also available. The Hacienda was the starting point for many of Taichung's current residents.

Taking the Hacienda's overflow is a recently completed newcomer to Taichung, The Loft (125, JungJeng [ChungCheng] St.)(Closed). Opened by two award-winning Hollywood filmmakers, a Canadian graphic artist and a Taiwanese travel agent, this is part guest house, restaurant, and bar/art lounge. The Loft is also located in the Canal District near Napoli, directly across the canal from Night Bar at the intersection of Hua Mei West Street. The Loft has several guest rooms (also in the NT$200+ a night range with longer-term discounts), and the owners have artistically decorated each guest room in a different Asian country theme.

With drink specials, cheap beer, good food and a comfortable lounge open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., the owners aim to improve cross-cultural exchanges by catering to both Taiwanese and foreigners. Billed as "the funkiest art lounge in Taichung", The Loft serves food in the "Nipa Room" restaurant and outside on their fresh-cut, all-bamboo deck. Live acoustic performances happen every week in the underground "Red Lantern Room" bar/art lounge. Other services/features include Internet access, cable TV, AC, dance/kung fu classes, scooter/cell rentals, and "beat any price" air travel tickets. Coming soon is "The Zone" dance floor and V.I.P. lounge room.

A 51-year old landmark in Taiwan is the Taichung Hostel C.S.F. (400, MeiTsuen [MeiTsun] Rd., sec. 1; tel. 2372-1954), across from the Art Museum. With over 30 rooms averaging NT$1,100 a night and up, this hostel caters to a mix of out-of-towners, Taiwanese college sport teams and foreigners. This establishment was heavily used by American military personnel in the 50s, 60s and 70s and includes a restaurant and bar.

Other nice features include parking for cars and nice gardens in the front and back, plus some bungalow-style rooms. A place where you definitely don't do your own linens, the Taichung Hostel is comparable to many of the nicer hotels in Taichung and is pricier than a typical hostel, but offers a higher class of accommodation for shorter-term visitors.