Taiwan - Taipei, Tainan, Hualien

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April 11th 2012
Published: April 11th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY


Since it was on the way to Shanghai, I figured I would stop in Taiwan. I was only planning to spend a few days there but ended up staying for a week because I couldn’t get a reasonable flight to Shanghai on the days I wanted to go. I got to Taipei late on Wednesday night and took the bus from the airport to downtown. I’ve mixed up my hotel schedule. Some days I’ll book in advance, others I’ll find something when I arrive. Since I was getting in late I thought it would be prudent to book ahead.

I got downtown late with an address and phone number of the “hotel” I had book on hotels.com. It was really more like an apartment. The girl sitting next to me on the bus asked where I was from and where I was staying. She had never heard of the "hotel" I booked. She offered to call the number for me to make sure it was legitimate. I was a little concerned when I was at the airport getting the bus. The lady at the bus station had called the number too and told me that there was a code I had to use to get into the building. I thought I was set after that.

Vicky, the girl on the bus, said she would walk me to the “hotel” and make sure I was ok. Her sister and her sister’s boyfriend were waiting for her and they all came with me. I was lucky that the bus stop was only about 3 blocks from the “hotel”. Had I taken the other bus I would have been all the way across town. This is one of those occasions that I knew someone was looking out for me. When we got to the “hotel” Vicky called the phone number and figured out all the passcodes needed to get to my room. There was one for the main door, another for the floor, and a third for the room. The lady she called spoke no English. Finally, we got into the room. It looked like someone had been staying there and needed cleaned. Vicky called the lady and she came over and gave me a nicer room in the building right beside the original one. I was really fortunate to meet Vicky that night and to have her help me get situated. I probably would have had to book another hotel had she not been there.

The next morning I got up and went to Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is the largest building in Taiwan, and formerly the largest in Asia. It sits on the edge of town and overlooks everything. It has the fastest elevators in the world. It goes from floors 1-94 in about 35 seconds. The view from the top is great.

I had only booked my “hotel” for a night. I figured it was time for some proper accommodations, so I booked the Westin using cash and points. This way I was sure I wouldn’t have any problems getting a room and not have to worry about being stranded in a Taipei. The Westin is a great hotel chain. I’ve spent almost 700 nights in a Starwood hotel in my life. To me Starwood hotels are my home away from home. The cash and points option is great too. It costs me a very small amount of points, and I can stay in a top hotel for about the same amount as I would pay for an average place or hostel. Plus I get full lounge access and can work out or hit the hot tub or sauna.

I really didn’t plan out my time in Taiwan that well. I did some research online when I got to the Westin and decided to go to the National Palace Museum. The museum was nice. It had a lot artifacts and Chinese art. I felt like I was running through it, since I only got there an hour and a half before closing time. That was fine since the happy hour at the Westin started at 6:00. It gave me just enough time to get back for the free drinks and appetizers. I also wanted to meet up with Vicky and buy her a drink for taking care of my “hotel” situation the night before. We met up and walked to the night market. We didn’t get a drink though. We just ended up walking around and I listed to what she does. Basically, she lives in South Korea and buys clothes and resells them online back in Taiwan though yahoo.com. It sounded interesting. She and her sister work together on it.

The next day I switch hotels to the Sheraton. I couldn’t get the same ‘cash and points’ deal at the Westin. In the US the Sheraton is an ‘ok’ hotel. So far in Asia I’ve been blown away by the quality of the Sheraton’s. I took the morning to hit the gym and hot tub/sauna. It was relaxing. I also planned out my next few days in Taiwan. That night I met up with a couple I had met in Bali and kept in contact with. Joel and Clea and I were in a bus in Bali and were telling me about how they lived in Taiwan and were teachers. I talk about it in my Indonesia blog. I met Joel for drinks while we waited for Clea to get off work. Joel was telling me how a woman on a scooter hit them a few nights earlier. Clea was in the hospital for a day or so from it all. Luckily they’ll be ok. They took me to a cool restaurant that night. It was an ‘all you can eat’ type place. They brought out a pot and put it on a burner on the table. The water (or broth) boils and you put the meat in it to cook. One side had some sort of substance in it. At first I thought it was a dark colored tofu or liver, but it was actually blood that is condensed somehow. I didn’t try it.

The next day was Good Friday. I made my way to the National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. It was a huge memorial to the former leader of Taiwan. To be honest, it looked like it was modeled after the Lincoln Memorial. The area where the memorial sits also has a huge square, performing arts center, and a huge arch. From there I tried to find a church for Good Friday services. My train to Tainan was at 4:30. The service wasn’t until 7:30.

I took the train to Tainan. Tainan is the old capital of Taiwan. For some reason I thought there would be a lot to see there, but there really wasn’t. It was almost impossible to find a restaurant. I found a place that served noodles. For such a large city it didn’t seem to have basic things at hand. I had booked a hotel online. Lucky this one was easy to find and had a reception desk. The receptionist almost spoke English too. I asked if I could book there for another night, but she said they were all booked. I found the hotel online and it said they had three rooms available. After some calling and waiting I was able to book for the next night was well.

The next day I got up and walked around a bit. I wanted to try to go to a city on the east coast called Hualien. I went to the train station to see if they had any direct trains, but they were booked. I basically came to the conclusion that I had to take the high-speed train back to Taipei, and then take a 3-hour train to Hualien. I thought I would check to see if there was a bus to go there just incase. I stopped a girl on the street and she tried to help me out. The Taiwanese are really nice. This girl walked me to the bus station and translated what I wanted to do. She even offered to take me around Tainan. However, I think she thought I was going to head back to Taipei that same day. We grabbed some lunch and then headed to the old city. There wasn’t much in the old city except for an old Portuguese fort. That night I went to the Easter Vigil mass – in Mandarin. Wow, and I though the English version was long. Having no idea what is being said for almost three hours is a long time.

The next day I took the high-speed train back to Taipei and then took a regular train to Hualien. To this point I really hadn’t had any contact with travelers in Taiwan. It doesn’t seem to be a big tourist destination. It also seemed quiet to me, at least for big cities. People seemed to just live pretty much. I didn’t see any areas that were artsy or many street vendors, compared to other places in Asia.

I met two people on the train to Hualien that were traveling together. One was from Australia and the other from France. None of us had reservations so we walked together to get a hotel. I had dinner with them that night. It was nice to talk to people for a change. The next day I booked a tour of Taroko Gorge. I was the only English speaking person on the bus. The driver/tour guide spoke the whole time – literally. He had a microphone headset on. I just wanted to listen to my audio edition of the Economist, but his microphone was so loud. Plus, one of my earpieces wasn’t working. The scenery was great though. There were lots of river valleys and areas where water had cut through rocks and made little canyons. That night I caved and went to Pizza Hut. I wanted to go back to the restaurant we ate the night before, but they were closed on Monday’s. I also got a new earpiece for my iPhone.

I got up and headed back to Taipei. The last thing I wanted to see was the huge night market in the northern part of the city. I think I saw everything I needed to see in Taiwan for the most part. The people I met were nice and helpful, but I didn’t get a vibe in any of the cities I was stayed.

Next stop – China!

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