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May 18th 2004
Published: May 9th 2017
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Hong Kong to Taipei

Thursday 13th May – Hong Kong – Taipei

Tony said when he awoke he could quite easily stay in bed, considering how our day turned out this may have been the best thing to do! We left the Dragon Hostel just after 10am for Hong Kong Airport, our flight was at 1.10pm, but we had a couple of trains to catch etc. Caught the Metro to Central HK11 ($2.40) and then had to transfer to the Airport Express Train HK75 ($16) which took about half an hour. Once at the airport, it didn’t take long to find the Cathay Pacific counter, which is where our troubles began. “You can’t enter Taiwan without an ongoing (exit) ticket”. We explained that when we got to Taipei we were going to buy a ferry ticket to Okinawa, this, however is not good enough, we must have the exit ticket BEFORE we enter the country. Tony pulling his hair out, “I have never, ever heard of this, not from the travel agent, not from the Taiwanese Govt website blah blah” It was no good, Cathay Pacific could not carry us into Taiwan, so we had to purchase a return ticket (Taipei – HK) which we would cash in at Taipei, obtain a refund and then purchase a ferry ticket. So, frothing at the mouth (especially at STA travel who should have made us aware of this) we had to fork out HK1908 ($424) for our ticket and we will get charged a fee of HK125 ($27) when we refund it.

Not happy but we managed to catch our flight which was quite short at only one hour 20 minutes and arrived in Taipei just before 3pm. Already Taiwan is different to China and Hong Kong as there are hardly any high rises buildings and lots of green spaces. The temperature is also warm and humid. We passed through immigration without having to produce our exit ticket then caught the airport bus to the metro station which cost NT135 ($6) and took about a half an hour. I couldn’t believe how clean and uncrowded the was where are all the people?! After China, this place is a breath of fresh air. We had to be at the Taipower Building Station at 5pm to meet a girl from the hostel we were booked into. We kept having to change lines to get to the Green line, but we got stuck on the Orange line for about half an hour, we couldn’t work out how to get off the Orange and onto the Green line until we realised that the Orange/Green line uses the same part of the track for this leg, you must look at the front of the train to see what colour light it has on, orange for the Orange line, green light for the Green line!!

Finally, we caught a Green line and arrived at Taipower station right on 5pm, but there was no one there to meet us. 5.30pm still no one, so we had to find our own way to the hostel, we asked a few people, everyone knew the road but not the hostel and it had started to rain heavily. Taipei’s roads have sections, then lanes, then alleys, so confusing. We asked every westerner that walked past (they were all Americans) but no one could help us, although one guy gave us his spare umbrella!! The hostel was supposed to be a two minute walk from the MRT but in two hours we couldn’t find it, we even had a local Taiwanese girl zooming up and down streets on her scooter looking for us, but she couldn’t find it either.

It was now past 7pm and we were both pissed off, hungry, tired and aching from the weight of our backpacks. We went back to the MRT and rang the tourist bureau with a phone number an American woman had given us so we could find a hotel. We also asked a European man who was passing if he knew of any hotels and he took me outside and down the street and showed me one, but when I got back to Tony the tourist bureau had given him an address. As it was past 8pm we went to the “Lovely Hotel” it sounded dodgy but was very nice and comfy but at NT1480($65) was a little bit more expensive than we wanted to pay but the bed is so soft we will sleep like logs. We have no guide book for Taiwan as we assumed the hostel would help us arrange things, we are very unhappy that no one was there to meet us as arranged.

Friday 14th May – Taipei

We awoke about 9.30am and both went out like lights but are stiff and sore today from carrying our backpacks (it was the longest time so far that we had to have them on). Breakfast was included so we went downstairs to have ham, eggs and toast. Our first stop for the day was the tourist bureau to plan our stay in Taiwan, so we caught the Metro to the nearest stop and then spent half an hour looking for the office. Taipei was beginning to be a bit of a joke if it wasn’t so clean and the people so polite (no one pushes or stares) we would probably hate it here.

Finally, we found where we needed to go only to find everyone was at lunch and wouldn’t be back until 1.30pm. To kill time, we went for a walk down the street and looked at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. It was more of an art gallery so we didn’t go in, but were amused by the antics of a squirrel in a tree. We still can’t get used to how deserted this place is after China! We went back to tourist bureau only to find it’s more a government department than an information centre, the lady was still helpful and gave us heaps of brochures and pointed us in the direction of the information centre, which was only 2 minutes away.

At the information centre, we tried to book tickets for the Okinawa ferry only to be told we would need an “exit” ticket for Japan!! We couldn’t believe it, how could this keep happening, our trip was slowly turning into a nightmare. The ferry company refuses to take anyone unless they have an exit ticket for Japan. We then got the address for the Japan Tourist Office in the hopes they could help us buy a ferry ticket to Japan and Korea and resolve our “exit” problem. We had to catch two metros to get to the right road and then finding the address was hard (as usual). Finally, we found the right ‘section’, in each section the street numbers start again, so you can have 3 number 137’s on the same street. The people in the Japan Tourist Bureau were utterly useless, giving us numbers to ring in Japan, we decided to purchase tickets from Cathay Pacific, but not today, we are too exhausted so we went back to our hotel and I had a long bath.

Saturday 15th May – Taipei

After our ‘free’ ham, eggs and toast breakfast, we set off to find a bookstore we had been told about. Luckily after a short walk we found it, and there were heaps of books all in English and more importantly, Lonely Planets. We bought one on Taiwan for NT750 ($33) and feel much better now. The bookstore also showed us where there was an Internet Café, so we spent about an hour and a half catching up on our emails. Tony sent an email to a ferry company in Japan so let’s hope they reply soon about tickets to Korea. While on the Internet Tony looked up the hostel we should’ve been staying at, and found the address was wrong and it was located at Lane two, not lane nine (we passed lane two several times on Thursday night).

We went straight there and found it quite easily (although no signs anywhere) apparently, the girl who was supposed to meet us was late and didn’t get to the station until 20 to six, by this time we were outside looking for the hostel in the rain. She was very apologetic, so we booked into the hostel for three nights, its half the price of the hotel at NT700 ($30). We will come back tomorrow.

After that we caught the MRT to the Shilin stop and once outside hopped on bus 304 to go to the National Palace Museum. It didn’t take long to get to the museum, which is supposed to be in the top five in the world, we were given free tickets at the airport, so thought we might as well use them. The museum was undergoing renovations and I hope this explains why there wasn’t much to see, only about three floors and most this was calligraphy, the Shanghai Museum was much better, still it was free! After the museum, we returned to our hotel for a while, Tony just seems to love bakeries, personally I’m sick of ‘sweet” Asian bread.

About 8pm we were back on the Metro to go to Lungshan Temple, the temple was impressive, there were heaps of people worshipping and the incense made your eyes water. We then walked to Snake Alley Night Market, where apparently, they have Cobra handlers, we saw one guy with a Cobra but the rest were playing with snakes before they killed them to eat. We didn’t like it much, especially when I saw the poor turtles waiting to be slaughtered, we wanted to get the hell out of there it was huge disappointment. Tony wasn’t having a good night, he, too, was upset by the turtles, he had stubbed his toe and then someone ran over it with a scooter! Things improved for him when we stumbled across a Burger King and he could have a Mushroom Burger, his first one in 7 years (since London!).

Sunday 16th May – Taipei

This morning we moved to the hostel which was located just five minutes from the hotel. It’s not so much a hostel as an apartment, there are three bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen and bathroom. At the moment, there seems to be two others here, an American girl and a French knob who must be in his late 40’s early 50’s. We met him yesterday and he seems to be a really bossy tosser. We dumped our bags and then jumped on the Metro to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Station, where we found the memorial building. The building was huge and impressive and was situated at the top of a staircase between two Chinese old style temples. Inside there was a statue of Chiang Kai-shek, which was guarded by two soldiers.

After the memorial, we caught the Metro to Taipei City Hall, so we could go to the Warner Village to watch a movie, the movie cost NT270 ($12). All English movies in Taiwan have Chinese subtitles, so we watched Hugh Jackman in “Van Helsing” and when he kissed his leading lady all the Taiwanese went “Ooooooooooh!!!!” which was hilarious. After the movie, it was about 630pm, so we caught the Metro back to our hostel, stopping at a supermarket on the way for supplies, bread, cereal etc. We were relieved to find the hostel empty and had a great tea of toast and cheese before watching TV and going to bed.

Monday 17th May – Taipei

We woke about 9.30am and the first thing we did was check Tony’s email for a reply from the Japanese Ferry Company. They had replied but needed more information, so we sent another email in response. We then caught the Metro to the Cathay Pacific Office to refund our air tickets this was done easily although we will have to wait for the money to appear on our credit cards.

We then jumped on the Metro and disembarked at a station close to the Taipei Astronomical Museum, unfortunately for us, the space museum appeared to be closed, so we caught a cab NT75 ($3) to Taipei Sea World, which is a big aquarium. It was rather expensive to get in, even with our student cards NT430 ($18) but it was quite good, with some lovely exhibits in clean tanks. In one section, they had a motion simulator which simulated a rollercoaster ride it was great fun. It was past 4pm when we finished, so we caught the Metro home before popping in to an Internet café for an hour first. On the way home, we had KFC and I found a t-shirt to buy for NT99 ($4), all my others are stained or falling apart! We had the hostel to ourselves for about an hour before French Knob came home and about 20 minutes later, a young Asian lad.

Tuesday 18th May – Taipei

We got up early to visit the Aboriginal Village of Wulai and by 8am we were on the train to Xindian, which being a metro train didn’t take long. Once in Xindian we had a bit of trouble finding the bus to Wulai, a quick check with the information desk in MRT told us the bus stop was outside the 7-11 down the street. You would never have known as there was nothing on the bus stop to indicate it was going to Wulai. We asked an old man which bus to catch, but he didn’t speak any English he just pointed to his watch and held up nine fingers which we took to mean the bus came at 9am!

Sure, enough it came trundling down the road and the old man indicated for us to get on. The spelling on the bus was different, Wu Lay Instead of Wulai, a thing that happens often in China! The bus cost about NT35 ($1.50) each and took about 30 minutes to get to Wulai. Wulai is in the very mountainous part of Taipei and is reminiscent of Bali, with tree ferns everywhere. The town of Wulai is renowned for its hot springs though we had to pay NT50 ($2) to cross the bridge before catching the funniest little electric train to the waterfall for NT50 ($2), it was hilarious because it went like the clappers and Tony and I thought we were back on the motion simulator from yesterday! The train dropped us near the waterfall which was pretty, but not as impressive as the one we saw in China. Still, it was in a very pretty location. We then walked up about 100 steps, it was an incredibly hot morning so we sweated buckets to get to the cable car. Again, our student cards came in handy, it cost us NT150 ($6) for a return trip. It was a short trip, only three minutes, which was a bit of a disappointment for Tony as it was his first cable car ride! At the top, you could walk around and there was a small lagoon with piranha gold fish that you could feed for NT10 (.40c), you put your money in a big goldfish and it spat out a roll of fish food. It was hilarious feeding the fish, they went into an absolute frenzy and practically climbed on top of each other to get to the food. After that we explored the rest of the park it was mostly cheesy amusement rides but the scenery was beautiful.

We then made our way back to our bus via cable car and electric train and were back at Taipei MRT Main Station by 1230pm. As we exited the MRT we found ourselves right in front of the ticketing office for the normal trains which was a stroke of luck as we could buy our tickets for the train to Hualien tomorrow. They cost NT445 ($19) and was so much easier to do than China! After a quick stop at Burger King for mushroom burgers, it was back on the MRT to find China Air to purchase our ongoing tickets from Japan. Found the office on the same street as the Japanese Tourist Bureau and purchased two refundable air tickets for NT8000 ($340) each. Exhausted we headed back home to the hostel about 3pm, and are spending the evening relaxing, we both enjoyed our trip to Wulai and feel like we accomplished a fair bit today. French knob turned up at 6pm and has spent about three hours cooking and listening to Louis Armstrong, what a tosser, even Tony doesn’t talk to him, and that says something.

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