I’ve been living in Taoyuan for more than 18 months now. If I had my choice, I wouldn’t live here or Taipei. Taipei does have all the exciting big city things, though it’s ridiculously expensive. As has been pointed out, you’d be better living in Taipei County than Taipei City if you want to save more money. Anyway, I’d prefer to live on the east coast, but it’s work and my girlfriend’s studies that keep me here.
In terms of Taoyuan, much of what has been pointed out is true. It looks to me like it has expanded very rapidly (and there’s a fair bit of construction on the outskirts where I am). Thus, transportation has been poorly planned. Invariably, buses will quickly hit roads that are single lanes each way, where they will have to compete with all the other traffic, plus the general overflow of pedestrians from night markets and so on. I can, at times, walk three quarters of the way home from the train station (before the road widens) faster than a bus. Yes, it’s that bad. I am lucky in that I live close to where I work, and I cycle.
Getting too and from Taipei and having a late night does mean either a taxi ride (and 700NT would be a very cheap ride) or crashing on someone’s sofa. The train is not too slow to Taipei, but it’s getting to the train station that’s the hassle. Likewise, there’s a really good bus that goes to Taipei from Chuenr Road, but you have to get there first.
As has been mentioned, there’s not a lot of nightlife in Taoyuan City, at least not much that I like. Your best bet would be one of the two Thai Discos. There’s one fully-fledged club (Kila) in Taoyuan, but it blows more than clubs normally blow. There are plenty of bars, though most won’t be happening places, and those that are (Waikiki, Monster, etc.) typically have cover bands that play a mix of Chinese and Western songs (think Bon Jovi, GNR, Eagles, etc.). I’m yet to see anything original.
The eating is fine here, in the main. There are enough Western style dinners and pizzerias, as well as fast food outlets, though I don’t go to them. I go to the local Taiwanese places and they’re pretty standard, which is to say cheap and good (though many foreigners don’t like Taiwanese food). My main issue would be with the lack of other types of restaurants. There’s plenty of Thai and Japanese to be found, and there’s a big south-east Asian section behind the train station. However, there’s only one Indian place, and it’s expensive and not that great. As far as I can tell, there’s no Mexican or Middle Eastern.
I’m not a big shopper, but there’s the usual collection of tatty shit for sale everywhere. In fact, downtown Taoyuan kind of looks like it’s one big sale out of the back of someone’s car. There are also three department stores downtown, as well as the afore-mentioned Tai Mall (pretty poor as malls go) in Nankan. There’s a little cinema downtown, as well as one at Tai Mall. There’s a very cheap cinema in Zhongyuan (near Zhongli), though I don’t know how you’d get there by public transport. As has been mentioned, there’s an Ikea, and there are also a few very large supermarkets. There are two Carrefours in Taoyuan, and another in Neili, and I think one in Zhongli too. There’s also a Geant.
In terms of the countryside, there are places like Shimen Reservoir and some decent mountains, though you do have to get a fair way out of Taoyuan to anywhere beautiful (and Tigerhead Mountain doesn’t really count). The beaches are disgusting, which reminds me to mention the general pollution in Taoyuan. The river is pretty disgusting, although there are a fair number of parks here, and some of them are quite nice. Tigerhead Mountain isn’t too bad, and it’s not too far away, though the views aren’t great.
Recreationally, I don’t know what people do around here (especially without wheels). I spend my weekends on the east coast surfing usually, and feel quite depressed upon my Sunday night return to Taoyuan. Need I say more?
I really don’t think Taoyuan is a great place to live, though it’s much cheaper than Taipei. I have a pretty large living room, kitchen, laundry, balcony, and two bedrooms (one is very big) with a bathroom each. I pay 9,000NT/month, plus 1,200/NT/month for security, etc. My friends in Taipei are paying probably 50% more (at least) for dog boxes. If you go out to eat, your standard meal will be probably 10% cheaper (at least). So, money is the appeal for Taoyuan, plus the availability of jobs. They’re plentiful here.