A Trip to Taiwan

I try to write about this trip in my first opportunity, before the memory about it fades away and writing about it just going to be another unfinished business. I visited Taiwan for 4 days on 16 – 19 January 2014 with a friend. We bought the airplane ticket a year before. To be honest, at first I was not so excited about this trip because Asian country is not my priority. But the ticket was quite cheap (2.6 M IDR ~ 260 USD round-trip), so why not?

So, on Thursday, 16 January we departed from Soekarno-Hatta airport, left the flooded Jakarta to KL for transit then continue to Taipei. We used Air Asia X and it was on-time. We arrived at Taoyuan International Airport Terminal 2 at 22:30. The Airline did not give arrival card on board, so we have to fill it in the airport prior to immigration. The immigration process was quick. The airport itself is quite good and modern, with directions in English and the most important thing; it provides free Wi-Fi. Tourist information Center is available right in front of arrival hall and we can take a lot of tourist brochures and maps for free. After a few pictures and status updates, we searched for bus stop to take us to the city. The airport bus stop is in the right side of the terminal, there are several providers and we picked the soonest bus to depart. The fare was 125 TWD (~50.000 IDR/ 4 USD) bought in the counter). The bus final destination is Taipei Main Station. It took around 50 minutes from the airport to Taipei main station. But be careful, not all bus providers takes the same route, some will take up to 90 minutes, just in case you’re in hurry, it’s better to make sure before buying the ticket. From Taipei Main Station, you can continue to other part of the city with MRT. Taipei Main Station is a huge station providing connection of MRT (for commute inside Taipei), TRA (regular train to other cities) and HSR (high speed train to other cities).

Luckily, our hostel is located right beside the station (exit M8); the hostel name is Inn Cube. It is a backpacker style hostel that we have booked beforehand via booking.com. I like this hostel, the cost was reasonable 800 TWD (~320.000 IDR/30 USD) per night for a single room and the facility was good: the room is small but clean, comfy, private, air conditioned and TV is provided inside. The shared bathroom is separated between boys and girls and it is also clean, english-speaking-24 hours-receptionist and again the most important thing: free Wi-Fi! But what the best about the hostel is the location, it is important to stay as close as possible to MRT station, so we can go anywhere easily. So after check-in, we rested and prepared for tomorrow’s journey.

Friday, 17 January 2014. Our objective was to spend all day (and night) strolling in the Taipei city – visiting all famous landmarks. Our plan was to start at 07.00 AM, but I am NOT a morning person so we started a little bit late :D. After had a breakfast at KFC inside the station, the next step is BUY an MRT pass (a secret to cheap travelling). It is called ‘Easy Card’ – the price is 200 TWD (100 TWD deposit + 100 TWD value) – (~80.000 IDR/ 6.5 USD) and we can directly ‘tap and go’. The card can be bought in MRT information counter and 7Eleven, and the value can be added in automatic machine in every MRT station.  Besides for paying MRT, Easy Card also can be used for busses, Maokong Gondola, even for shopping in 7Eleven.

So, our first stop for the day is Chiang Kai Sek memorial hall, it is 2 stations away from Taipei Main Station. The MRT is very comfy with notification both in Chinese and English, so no need to worry. Chiang Kai Sek memorial hall is a huge beautiful complex with a wide yard. There is also exhibition hall. The most interesting attraction there is guard-changing ceremony every hour. The next stop is Ximending Pedestrian Walk, this area is similar to Myeong-dong in Seoul or Harajuku in Japan. But we got to the place too early, it is better to be there at night. Next stop is Longshan Temple, it is the biggest temple in Taiwan, it is beautiful and very crowded. Near to the temple, there is underground market. One thing that is so distinct about Taipei is underground markets/malls everywhere, connecting one MRT station to another.  Such as in Taipei Main Station, there are 3 huge underground malls, connecting it with the next MRT station. So, if you’re a fan of strolling in the mall – just take this route, you can save some money instead of taking MRT. Maybe that’s why we don’t see many people above ground. It’s reasonable because the mall is clean, spacious and air conditioned, hiding from hot sun.

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Pic.1 – The gate of Chiang Kai Sek Memorial Hall complex

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Pic.2 – In front of Longshan Temple

After Longshan Temple, it was near to lunch time, so we headed to Zhongxiao Dunhua station because we read that there is a halal -certified restaurant serves traditional Taipei Beef Noodle near the station. The restaurant name is Ai Jia Qingzhen Beef Noodle, but then we found that the travel book in which we got the information, was totally flawed. It gave us the wrong direction, so it was so difficult for us to find the restaurant’s location. So we headed back inside the station to find some information, because we did not have an internet connection on our phone there. And this is another fact that I love about Taipei, the city provides free Wi-Fi connection everywhere, but you have to register first at Tourist Information Center by showing the officer your passport. Luckily, there was one Tourist Information Center in underground mall connecting Zhongxiao Dunhua Station and Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. It was a quite far walk but it was worthy. So after getting our Wi-Fi connection, using the Google map, we managed to find the restaurant. The beef noodle was tasted delicious, but the portion was too big for me, so I did not finish it.

The rest of the day, we visited Sun Yet Seen Memorial Park, a beautiful park where people of Taipei spend their afternoon. It was a beautiful spot also to take a picture with Taipei 101 as a background. From there, Taipei 101 is on a walking distance. Taipei 101 is the highest and most famous building in the Taiwan and the 3rd highest building in the world, 439m above ground. We went to the building in the late afternoon on purpose, so we can see the view during the day, sunset and the night from the observation deck. And we made a right decision, the view was stunning from there. I also admire the super-fast elevator which took us from 5th floor to 89th floor in 15 seconds! The fare to go up to observation deck is 500 TWD (~200.000 IDR/ 26 USD), including free audio guide (available in English).  After satisfied exploring Taipei 101, we headed to our last stop for the day: Shilin Night Market. It is well known as biggest night market in Taipei. There are mostly food counters, game counters, and a few souvenir counters. In there, we tried fruit candy (which was super sweet), grass jelly milk tea and fried sweet potato. The market was very crowded. Get down in Jiantan Station (not Shilin Station) if you want to get there, it is the closest one.

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Pic.3 – Taipei 101

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Pic.4 – View from Taipei 101 Observatory Deck at night

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Pic.5 – Shilin Night Market

Saturday, 17 January 2014, we left Taipei for Hualien, the biggest city in East Taiwan. We took TRA to get there departing at 07.07 AM. The fare was 370 TWD (~150.000 IDR/ 12 USD) and it took 3 hours from Taipei to Hualien. The train ride was great because of the beautiful view, there are hill in one side and beach and sea on the other side. Our main objective of going to Hualien was to visit Taroko Gorge National Park, a huge and magnificent natural landscape.  To go to Taroko Gorge from the station, the most economical way is taking a tour bus. The bus counter is located near the main entrance of station, the big orange building in the shape of the bus at the left side of the entrance. One important thing to remember, ensure to get out at the right side of the station, because there are no clear sign inside the station. We got out at the back entrance (which is the opposite side of the main entrance) and wasted times to find the bus counter, luckily one nice girl helped us, but she did not speak English so it took time, it was so hard to find English-speaker in Hualien. The fare of the tour bus was 250 NTD (~100.000 IDR/ 13 USD). It was similar to hop-on-hop-off bus with  some stops along the national park, just hold on your ticket and show it to the driver when you on board, however it might take a long time to wait for the next bus. The bus is not available in every hour, so you have to check the time table at the counter. However, after departing it seems that the bus driver did not care anymore about the timetable. They did not stop in each bus stop so you have to push the button above your seat if you want to stop, or shouting in Chinese! The driver did not speak English at all.

We start our tour from the final tour bus destination, Tienhsiang. The road to up there was a little bit crazy but the view was stunning. In Tienhsiang, there are several food stall, no halal-certified food but some vegetarian options are available. The view in Tienhsiang is amazing, with the gorge and the river and also there is a long steps to the top of the hill where one beautiful temple located. From Tienhsiang, we continue our tour to several hiking trail in the Taroko Gorge. I won’t write a lot about it because it is simply stunning view with marble gorge and green-blue river, I will attached several pictures instead for a better description. We spent the whole afternoon there, and then we headed back to Hualien Station. One thing that we did not expected that the tour bus take a different route on the way back, from Taroko Gorge it was not go directly to the station but make a trip around Hualien City, the way back was 3 times longer, but I kind of liked it because I got Hualien City Tour for free. It turned out that the biggest city in East Taiwan was not so big at all; I thought it was similar with my hometown, Cirebon, in size.  One more thing about Hualien, the city is famous for ‘Mochi’  traditional Chinese snack, Mochi with various flavors were available with cheaper price than in Taipei.

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Pic.6 – Taroko Gorge 1

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Pic.7 – Taroko Gorge 2

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Pic.7 – Taroko Gorge 1

We arrived in Taipei on 20.30 and looking for dinner. We have targeted this famous vegetarian restaurant: Minder Vegetarian, located at 2nd floor of Breeze Plaza in Taipei Main Station.  It is a chain vegetarian restaurant run by Buddhist Association with a buffet concept. There are a lot of varieties, I think it was more than 50 dishes  served and we can choose and take as less or as more as we want and then we paid based on the total weight (1 TWD/gram). We could also add white rice, grain rice, dim sum outside the buffet menu. It was cheap and tasted good!! If there is a vegetarian restaurant like this in Jakarta, I will consider being a vegetarian :D. After dinner at Minder Restaurant, we went back to the Hotel.

The last day, we got our bag packed and stored them in receptionist so we could stroll in Taipei street freely. As planned, we would like to ride Maokong Gondola for our last day. To go there, we took MRT and get-off in Taipei Zoo Station. The gondola station is about 5 minutes’ walk from there. There are 2 types of the gondola, regular and crystal cabin, you have to queue at the right line for it. To pay the gondola, Easy Card can be used, the fare is 50 TWD (~20.000 IDR/ less than 2 USD) one way. It is very cheap, isn’t? Gondola ride in Taman Mini costs more expensive for such a shorter distance. We picked crystal cabin gondola of course, it has glass floor, providing 360 degrees of view along the way. It felt like flying in the air with green view everywhere we throw our sight. I bet in spring the view will be more amazing, we can see the flower blossom underneath our feet! There are 4 stations of Gondola Ride where we can get-off. It took around one hour form the 1st to last station one way. We got-off at the last station: Maokong, 300m above ground. The view from there was also amazing, we could see Taipei 101, stand alone in Taipei sky landscape made other building seems so short. There is also Taipei Tea Experience Center in Maokong Hill. We spent our last noon in Taiwan explored Maokong before went back to Hotel to take our baggage and headed to Taoyuan International Airport to go back to Jakarta.

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Pic.8 – Maokong Gondola Ride

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Pic.9 – Cyrstal cabin glass floor

Personally, I would recommend Taiwan as a country to visit. The country is beautiful, the facilities are excellent and cheap, and it offers different experience than others. It was a great trip for me and I wouldn’t mind to go there again someday.

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