Expat Travels: Taiwan!

by - Monday, November 30, 2015

Greetings! Or, "ni hao!"
Gorgeous coast!

November was the busiest month for me so far this year, so I wanted to destress and get away from Korea for a minute. I did a quickcation to Taiwan this past weekend, and I enjoyed it a lot. I went in with zero expectations, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Of course I blinked and the weekend was gone.


Deets:

Flight:
Roundtrip flight from Seoul (ICN) to Taipei (TPE): $279 usd on EVA Air:

I fell asleep on the return. They offered to come back and feed me. 
American carriers: take note!

Interior cabin. Not pictured: the inflight entertainment screens on the seat-backs.
I watched Straight Outta Compton on the way in!

  • EVA Air was modern and efficient but like most of the Asian airlines I've dealt with thus far they left some things to be desired. Online check-in and pre-selected seat assignment offered at no additional cost, but no option to pre-print boarding passes. This culminated into an hour queue at ICN just to get a ticket printed-EVA only had self-serve kiosks at the TPE airport, not at ICN. The FA's didn't give us customs forms on arrival. Luckily, we were the only flight in at that hour and the immigration line was quick.

Transportation:
  • TPE is 30-45 minutes depending on traffic from Taipei/New Taipei City. The best and most economical way to get into Taipei from the airport is by bus. The FreeGo bus served my hotel's area. It cost NTD 140 cash only one way ($4.43), and I got dropped off two blocks from my hotel. The bus was cigarette SMOKY and outdated, but by the grace I made it. The trip in took about an hour since we dropped others off along the way. Since I had an early flight out, I took a taxi on the departure. Taxis to and from the airport are extremely expensive; it cost me NTD 1100 cash only ($35) to get back to the airport. Crazy, but I needed to be there early. Taxis within the city, however, are super cheap. After Uber left me hanging at a restaurant Saturday night (more on that later), I got a cab back to the hotel for NTD 105 ($3). There is an MTR, but I didn't get to use it or the local bus this time. 

Lodging:
  • I booked the Taipei Morning Hotel in Zhongshan district based on the Trip Advisor reviews. You can reserve a room and pay on arrival if you choose. There was no deposit or incidental hold placed on my card, either. The room was small but efficient, modern and had cute decor.
Standard Queen rooom at Taipei Morning hotel; also has modern bathroom with waterfall shower.
They had several cable channels in English. Cold AC in spite of being windowless.
  • I was pleased with the stay until the night of my departure. This is a non-smoking hotel, but somebody nearby decided to light up in the middle of the night (when I had to be up for a 4am airport run). Since there are no windows in the rooms, the smell was suffocating and downright nauseating. I would recommend them if not for that mishap, but if you can get to New Taipei City near one of the MTR stations you'll be close to more action.

With quickations, the goal is to relax, but I want to keep myself occupied as well. I booked two activities on both Saturday and Sunday through Viator. I usually look to Viator for ideas rather than actual bookings, but they have been pretty clutch lately. I booked a full day tour to the Taroko National Park in Hualien, a coastal city 2.5 hours south of Taipei on the east coast of Taiwan. To get to Hualien, we took the express train and had optimal views of Taiwan's east coast. It reminded me a lot of the ride up the 1 to Big Sur in California.

We learned on the way that people were killed the day before after being crushed by falling rocks at the gorge; the park was just re-opening to the public. Lawd! They waited until we got good and on the bus before telling us, but by the grace, we had a lovely day with no accidents.

This. park. is GORGEOUS. It is Mother Nature in full splendor. None of the pictures I post here will remotely do it justice. I'm still shooting with my iPhone 6+ by the way, but even your DSLRs don't take the place of Taroko being seen, inhaled, exhaled, fully sensed.

Train ride from Taipei to Hualien: 2 hour ride.




Assigned seating on the ticket.

"Everyone use the bathroom before we board the bus" Arghhh!!
The dreaded squatty potty; must have your own tissue as well!

Headed to Taroko, 45 minute drive from the train station.





Taking it all in. So peaceful, so serene.






Hardhats required for the gorge. 


Please believe I did.

BREATH TAKING MARBLE STONES AND FRESH WATER



Suspension bridge kindly reminded me of my fear of heights.
Some Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ish!



Eternal Spring in the background



We ended the day at the local beach (name escapes me). It was so beautiful and the weather was pleasant, I'm so glad the rain held off! Knowing that I was returning to freezing temps in South Korea made the visit that much more lovely.



Selfies and sunshine!

This day trip was pricey, overpriced to me, but I'd do it again. It included a really good traditional lunch at a five star hotel in the park, our guides-which you need at Taroko-all entrance and access fees, roundtrip transport from the hotel to the train station, bus transport from the train station to the park, and roundtrip train transport from Hualien to Taipei and back.

On Sunday, I did a half day trip to nearby Jiufen Village on the northeast coast of Taipei. We stopped along the coast on the way and took in some interesting sights, among them, a large limestone formation in the fishing villages.


Looks like a tornado shaped rock.

More interesting rock formations.



Jiufen is an impressive shopping centre that is filled with Chinese and tribal culture. I saw locals paying homage to "tribes" at Taroko and in Jiufen (did not snap pics out of respect). I did some research and learned about the Taiwanese Aboriginals. They make up about 2% of the present population in Taiwan. Taiwan stands out from PRC and the other sovereign areas of China in that the remnants of Aboriginal culture is still evident in many places, especially touristy areas. The Aboriginals in Taiwan are descended from the so-called Austronesian peoples, also found in Indonesia, Oceania, and Madagascar. Taiwanese Aboriginals thrived before the Han invasion of the 17th century, but have since become an underserved minority in the nation. Very interesting to say the least! I am an absolute culture junkie, and I'm always learning something new at each locale. There is an Aboriginal Festival in Taiwan that I am going to research more about.

Tribal store owned by a Taiwanese Aboriginal in Jiufen.
Chinese writing and tribal prints: a mesh of cultures.


Coinage for the visit

Purchased a hand-made fan; it was clutch for the 80 degree day (prints on the other side)

The reason I eat vegetarian on most trips.  

Goods for sale




And of course: western influence abound





For those wondering, yes, Black people are unicorns in Taiwan as well! Initially, I did not get a lot of stares and gawks, but as soon as we got to the coast my goodness. I was in direct competition with Taroko's sights and scenes! I took a picture with a woman who treated me something like a celebrity-I usually DON'T oblige pictures. I found the people of Taipei to be friendly and helpful, unlike my experience in South  Korea so far. I mentioned Uber left me hanging at T.G.I.Friday's on Saturday night. The manager called a cab for me and made sure I got back to my hotel safely. While waiting for the cab, I was asked if I need any help by passers-by; sure they may have been a bit curious but I appreciated the gesture. These were stares of curious surprise, versus the stares of indignant surprise that I experience here in South Korea. Most people I encountered spoke English; Taiwan is a little more diverse than South Korea so there's that.

All in all, this trip was just what I needed. I think a weekend was enough time for a visit to Taiwan for me. I did not desire to do any shopping, but maybe add a third day if you're looking to hit the night markets. I hear the west coast is just as serene as the eastern coast of Taiwan; adventurers might want to venture out there. If I am looking for peace, I know to return to Taiwan. 



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