Before arriving here, I didn’t really know what to expect from Taipei. I’ve never heard anyone talk of visiting Taiwan, so it was a bit of an unknown entity. Having now been here for 24 hours, it looks like it is going to be an interesting destination.
Most of yesterday was taken up with relocating from Cebu, Philippines, which came with some challenges. I left my Cebu hotel about 8.30am and was checked in for my 11.50am flight by 9.30am. Whilst sitting near the gate, I heard my name being called over the PA system with a request that I go to the gate. I was told that my 11.50am flight to Manila was going to be delayed and that the delay might impact on my ability to make the connecting flight to Taipei. The Cebu Pacific staff suggested that I catch an earlier flight (that had been delayed itself), to ensure that I reached Manila on time. I agreed to the switch and got to Manila airport around the time that my scheduled flight should have landed. My connecting flight was on time, so I arrived at the Taipei airport around 7.10pm.
The airport made a good first impression. Very clean and modern. The immigration desks were fitted with modern biometrics equipment to record photos and fingerprints of all passengers entering the country. But, there was still a long line of people waiting to get through the non-citizen checkpoints.
The airport is about 45km outside the centre of Taipei. Fortunately, there is a modern and well organised bus service to get passengers to various parts of the city. The various options are explained here. As my hotel is located near to Taipei Main Station, I needed to catch express bus # 1819 on the Kuo-Kuang line. There was a short line to buy a ticket on the lower level of the airport and then I headed outside to a longer line of passengers waiting for the same bus. But the bus runs every 10 minutes, so it didn’t take too long to get onto one of them.
The bus was clean and comfortable. The one-hour-plus ride only cost 125 New Taiwan Dollars (about $4). It seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, I found myself seated on the same row as three twenty-something university students (two from N. America and one from Australia). I say unfortunately, because I had to listen to their banal and petty conversation for the entirety of the journey and felt like banging my head on the window! Everyone else on the bus remained quiet for the journey but I was stuck next to these three!
After exiting the bus at the Taipei Main Station, I asked a taxi driver to take me to my hotel. I showed the driver my reservation printout with the name of the hotel. I knew that it was only a 10-minute walk from the station, so I knew that something was amiss when the driver started speeding down a highway. I tried twice to tell him that I thought he was going the wrong way and to emphasise the name of my hotel. But, each time, he waved me off and pointed ahead of us, indicating that he knew where we were going. Finally, he pulled up to a hotel – it just wasn’t mine! And the meter was already on 225 Taiwan dollars. At least the doorman of this hotel was able to explain to the taxi driver where my hotel was located. The driver apologised, and we re-traced the route back towards the Main Station. Despite having a GPS sat-nav fitted and operating on his dash, it was still clear that the driver wasn’t sure where he was going. He finally managed to find my hotel, with the meter reading over 400 Taiwan dollars (about $13). Lesson learned – ensure that I have the name of the hotel printed in the local language! By the time I got to my room, it was past 10.00pm.
Being after 10.00pm already, I decided to just walk around the immediate neighbourhood to get my bearings and to withdraw some local currency from an ATM. The first two ATMs declined my request, but I was able to get cash from the third. Then I made a quick visit to a 7-Eleven store to buy a variety of local beers for sampling.
This morning, I began my exploration of the city, staying fairly close to the hotel. The Ximending pedestrian shopping district is only a couple of blocks away from my hotel, so it seemed like a good spot to visit first. I ended up wandering around the shopping area for most of the day, returning to my hotel after dinner.
I soon discovered that there are many street food outlets in Taipei, ranging from portable carts to permanent shop-houses.
Above video clip: One of the intersections in the Ximending pedestrian area
Above video clip: Some portable food carts
Shortly after taking the above video of the small food carts in Ximending, I was preparing to order food from one of them. Suddenly, one of the vendors called out and they all quickly pushed their carts away down a lane. A police officer had just ridden into the pedestrian area on a motor scooter and it was clear that they were not permitted to operate their carts in that area. It was amusing to see how quickly they shut up shop and scampered out of the area.
With the portable carts having disappeared, I went to one of the permanent shop-houses and ordered an oyster omelette. Not particularly impressed with it, unfortunately.
My visit also coincides with the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival which seems to be based in Ximending. Don’t know if I will get to se any of the films whilst I’m here.
There was also a Cosplay 2016 event taking place in Ximending, with several competitors dressed in their outfits.
Here are some photos of the buildings around Ximending.
Whilst I suppose I should have been diving into the Taiwanese food, I decided to treat myself to sushi for dinner. Glad I did – it was delicious. Nice, small restaurant on Hankou Street. Customers peruse the menu on i-Pad minis and place the orders directly from the device. Quite fancy!
I’ve no idea yet what I’ll be doing tomorrow. I’ll decide that in the morning.