Prepaid GSM
Getting around


30.9: Munich -> Bangkok
1.10: Bangkok -> Taipei
2.10: Taipei
3.10: Taipei
4.10: Taipei -> Busan

Overview and overall impression
In early October 2005 I briefly visited Taiwan, spending three days in Taipei, mainly to have a look at Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. Taipei is not the typical tourist destination and actually most western visitors who are in Taipei probably are there on a business trip or are teaching English. Taipei is  not as elegant and exotic as Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. The city has a grid structure, with huge streets running from north to south and east to west dividing the city into blocks.
The climate is sub-tropical and when I was there you could walk around in shorts, but it wasn't too hot to walk on the streets (as is the case for instance in Bangkok or Singapore).
Taipei seems to be influenced a lot by Japan. Lots of young girls with the "Japanese look" for instance.

Pre-departure plan
This is the pre-departure plan for the overall  trip:

Sep 30
Oct 1
BKK-Taipei Arrive at Taipei airport 21:55
Oct 2
Oct 3
Oct 4
Taipei-Busan Fly 17:50-21:10 with GE702
Oct 5
Busan-Gyeongju Visit Busan; Busan->Gyeongju with bus in the evening
Oct 6
Gyeongju Gyeongju
Oct 7
Gyeongju - Seoul Gyeongju until afternoon; Seoul in the evening
Oct 8
Oct 9
Meet Shirley in the evening in Beijing
Oct 10
Oct 11
Oct 12
Oct 13
Oct 14
Oct 15
Oct 16
Chengdu-KL Chengdu-Lhasa Shirley flies Chengdu-Kunming-Kuala Lumpur; Alfred flies Chengdu-Lhasa
Oct 17
Do the Gyantse-Shigatse- Yam Tso lake loop

Oct 18
Oct 19
Oct 20
Oct 21
LXA-CAN Arrive in the evening in Guanzhou
Oct 22
CAN-BKK Afternoon flight Guangzhou-Bangkok
Oct 23

The overall trip is a bit ambitious, but doable. I don't have the tickets for the flights within Asia when I leave Munich (will have to buy them while I'm in Asia). Shirley already left for Malaysia on September 23rd. She'll leave the baby with the in-laws and meet me in Beijing on October 10th. We'll travel for one week across China, then we'll split and meet in Bangkok for the return flight. I'm planning to do a three-days circuit (Gyantse-Shigatse-Yam Tso) in Tibet.

The overall cost level is not low and is comparable with the cost level in Singapore. I paid 2160 NT$ (= 54 Euro) for a good, but a bit smallish room in a "business class" hotel. I actually got a corporate rate through a local Taiwanese who works in a Taiwanese company.

Money  / Exchange rate (October 2005)
1 Euro = 40.9 NT$
The cheap dollar (the Taiwanese dollar is kind of linked to the US$) made my trip less expensive. For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

Mobile phones / Prepaid GSM
Taiwan has several GSM networks. I didn't bother looking for a prepaid phone card because I was only staying three days, but they should be available as everywhere.

Internet access
The hotel where I stayed offered a DSL line in the room at no extra charge. High speed (2MBit/s) downloads were possible.

The day after I arrived a typhoon swept across Taipei. Strong winds and heavy rains. The other days were mostly sunny or partly cloudy. Temperatures were around 30°C during the day.

Health / Vaccinations
I didn't do any new vaccinations for this trip, relying on the immunisations I did over the previous years. But I'd say that Taipei (and perhaps the whole of Taiwan) is relatively safe.

VISA / Entry requirements
No visa required for EU nationals as well as nationals of other developed countries.

Pretty high. I had the impression that Taipei is a very safe place.

Getting around
I used mostly taxis (very cheap) and occasionally the fast and efficient MRT subway system.

30.9: Munich -> Bangkok
Weather: sunny, but fresh in Munich (around 12°C).

I get out early of a meeting at 6pm (the meeting is going to continue until 7pm at least, but I have to get to the airport and catch a flight). Tough day today - important meeting on a Friday afternoon until 6pm, after that a nice 18 hours flight is waiting for me. I go to the car, take the travel clothes and get changed (no point to travel to East Asia in a business suit).

At 7:30pm I'm at the Lufthansa (star alliance) check-in counter. There is a huge queue of people and it takes 45 minutes to check in. They could have opened some more check-in counters, but I guess that's how they "segment" the market, by making economy class people wait long at the check-in counter - business travellers usually are short of time.

Never mind, at 8:15pm I finally have the boarding pass and rush to the Burger King restaurant for some very fast food (haven't had a dinner yet today and I'm very hungry). After that I check my emails, using GPRS and the organiser.

It turns out that Shirley knows about the typhoon which is going to hit Taiwan over the weekend. Great - now she is going to worry (was hoping she wouldn't find out). And what a bad timing to visit Taiwan right during a typhoon. Well, things could get even worse, there might be an earthquake and a tsunami, who knows ? Actually I've never experienced a typhoon. Could be an interesting new experience.

The Thai TG 925 flight leaves pretty much on time from Munich. Interestingly the plane is very full.

1.10: Bangkok -> Taipei
Hotel Rido, Taipei, 2160 NT$ (= USD 67). This hotel has been booked by Jessie, a helpful Taiwanese I met in the rec.travel.asia newsgroup.
Weather: A mix of sunny and cloudy in Bangkok airport

My "day" starts at 4am CET, when I wake up in the plane after about three hours of sleep. Can't believe I managed to sleep in a plane, because I rarely sleep in planes, but I guess that I must have been very tired. 4am CET corresponds to 9am Thai time and 11am Taipei time - a good time to start the day.

The plane lands on time in Bangkok international airport at 12:40pm local time. In the airport I get some drinks and some food, then check my emails in the telecoms office. I also check the weather and on the satellite map I can see the white spiral of a typhoon approaching Taiwan. Great weather tomorrow in Taipei - I guess I'll do all the indoor things (national museum, shopping complexes etc.).

The flight to Taipei takes off on time at 15:30. The plane itself is relatively empty. This is supposed to be a flight to Taipei, but we make a stop in Hong Kong. The plane touches down at 19:25 and we only leave at 20:50. You are allowed to stay on board if you like, but everybody leaves the plane. By the way, in the Hong Kong airport you have to pass with your bags through a security check.

On the leg Hong Kong-Taipei the plane is completely full, no empty seats. Flights between Hong Kong and Taipei must be a good business.

The plane arrives in Taipei International airport a bit late, around 22:10 (scheduled arrival was 21:55). The plane landing is a bit shaky, because of the approaching typhoon. The airport itself, at least the terminal where we arrive, is old and the infrastructure is run-down (a bit like the Bangkok airport, and far behind the Hong Kong airport or KLIA).

It takes quite a while to pass through immigration, as the officers seem to check very carefully all passports. It's quite obvious that the airport in Taipei is not geared towards tourists. But when I make it to the baggage claim, my suitcase is already there, so I don't lose time there. At 22:40 I pass through the customs, walk out and look for the driver of the hotel Rido. After some searching I find him. We leave the airport in the limo at 22:50.

There is a motorway connecting the airport with Taipei. The speed limit is 100 km/h but the recommended speed is 60 km/h (!). On such a big straight motorway, in Germany there would be no speed limits. The driver averages between 60-80 km/h, and since we arrive at the hotel at 23:30 (i.e. 40 minutes later), the distance from Taipei downtown to the airport must be around 40km. By the way, they drive on the right side of the road in Taiwan.

At the hotel Rido everything is organised (Jessie made the booking) and in a matter of minutes the reception formalities are done. Breakfast is from 7am to 9:30am (is brought to the room).

Around midnight the wind outside gets stronger (BTW it has been raining more or less heavy on the motorway). Looks like the typhoon has arrived. I sleep at 00:30.

2.10:  Taipei
Hotel Rido, Taipei, 2160 NT$ (= USD 67), www.rido.com.tw, tel. 02-27065600, email: rido2000@ms53.hinet.net. The hotel room is a bit small but very good. It has controllable A/C, a big TV, a DVD player, comfortable bed, good quality furniture, phone and a free ADSL line (2 Mbit/s sustained, the hotel will give you an Ethernet cable if you don't have one). Five local calls are free and every day they bring some food (fresh fruits, a snack and two bottles of mineral water) into your room.
Weather: Until about 5pm huge storm (a typhoon) over Taipei, with very strond wind and very heavy rain. Very difficult to take photos, actually almost impossible. After 5pm no more rain and in the evening the sky is almost free of clouds. The evening is still windy.

At 4am I'm woken up by girls who talk very loudely in front of my hotel room door (later I hear that at 4am there was an earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan - were these girls woken up by the earthquake ?). At 5:30am the phone rings and somebody says "oh excuse me - wrong number).

I get up around 10:40am and am ready to leave the hotel at 12:10pm. Before doing that I have called Jessie and discussed what to do today. I was thinking to visit the National Museum, but she tells me that the National museum is closed because of the typhoon (?!). Apparently there are no other indoor places worth visiting, so I decide to go to the shopping complex inside Taipei 101. But before that I need to get some cash. It appears that there is a Citibank near the Taipei 101 skyscraper, so I tell the taxi driver to bring me there.

On the way to the Citibank I have a look at the town. It does not really have charming and elegant streets. The town essentially consists of a grid of roads going north-south and east-west. Huge roads with 8 lanes (!), and the buildings I see are in kind of a desolate state.

After "refuelling" at the Citibank I walk, in the storm, to the Taipei 101 complex. The skyscraper is huge, but not as elegant as the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The shopping complex itself is ok, filled with expensive shops carrying branded stuff, but is less impressive than the shopping complex in the KLCC complex or the ones I saw in Singapore.

I have some food in the food stall in the basement of the shopping complex, then around 3pm decide to get back to the hotel. I'm in the hotel until after  5pm. At 4:30pm, when I'm about to leave, Jessie calls and offers to pick me up and show me a bit of the town. She also explains that the hotel has a free ADSL line. Great news, I was about to start a search for an Internet cafe.

I call the reception and minutes later a lady knocks at the door with an Ethernet cable. After plugging it in I'm online in a matter of seconds. Cool, definitely cool.  I purchase a 10 Euro credit with Skype and will later make high quality VOIP phone calls over the Ethernet to Malaysia and back home in Europe for 2 Euro cents/minute.

Around 5:30pm Jessie is at the hotel. Jessie is a Malaysian lady from Perak, who came to Taiwan for studies in 1986, eventually got married to a Taiwanese and now has two children. Today she will be my guide - great thing to have a guide in a foreign place. We initially go to the bus stop and start waiting for a bus, which however doesn't show up soon. So, well, I suggest to walk to the place (we are going to the Chang Kai Shek memorial) - well no actually we start walking around and she shows me a place full of restaurants, even one where people are queueing up to get in. In the meantime our bus comes and leaves, so I suggest to take a taxi, as my time is limited. The taxi ride is 95 NT$ (most of my taxi rides are around 100 NT$ - the meter starts at 75 NT$ and overall taxis here are relatively cheap).

We reach the Chang Kai Shek memorial at 6:10pm and it's already almost dark. Pretty impressive place, with an opera hall and a huge square. Will get back there tomorrow. At 6:40pm we leave the memorial and take the MRT to the Longshan Chinese temple (the MRT ticket is 20 NT$). The temple, as Jessie explains, is one of the oldest temples in Taipei (130 years old) and is built in Fujian style.

After about half an hour at the Longshan temple, we leave and take the MRT to the Taipei 101 complex. It's a relatively long ride, as we pass through many stations. We reach the Taipei 101 complex at 8pm, then start looking for a place to have some food. We end up having a dinner at a Teppanyaki restaurant in the food stall of a shopping complex. Lots of shopping complexes around the Taipei 101 complex.

As Jessie explains, the owners of the Taipei 101 complex are having difficulties to rent out their office space. Essentially she says the problem is that it's a tall building, there are frequent earthquakes and people don't feel like being in a place which swings around. Also the problem is that all restaurants around the Taipei 101 complex are expensive - too expensive for employees on a local salary.

After dinner it's around 9pm and Jessie goes back home. I stay some more time near the complex, shooting some photos, then go back to the hotel at 10pm. I end up sleeping at 1am.

3.10:  Taipei
Hotel Rido, Taipei
Weather: Sunny with some clouds and some wind. Hot (around 29-33°C) and no rain the whole day.

The alarm clock wakes me up at 9am. During the night I woke up at 3am and couldn't fall asleep until 5am due to the jet lag. This morning it's early enough to have breakfast in the hotel. After calling the reception, breakfast is brought to the room. I ordered the American breakfast because I'm not too crazy about the congee of the Chinese breakfast.

After the breakfast I call Jessie. Bad news, she tells me the Transasia flight GE702 to Pusan for tomorrow is fully booked. I call the airline and they confirm that indeed the flight is sold out. It's not even possible to queue up in the waiting list. The lady suggests to go to the airport on standby. Some more phone calls follow and finally Jessie tells me that the travel agency said one of the customers on the Pusan tour cancelled the trip, so I can get the ticket. I will have to show up at 3:30pm at the travel agency to pick up the ticket.

Due to this accident I end up leaving the hotel only at 11:20am. First thing I do, I take a taxi to the Shin Kong tower, near the Taipei railway station. I'm planning to shoot some panoramic photos of Seoul from the panorama platform at 244m. On the way to the Shin Kong tower, I spot an interesting building (which turns out to be the Presidential Office Building) and get out there. Then I walk to the Shin Kong tower. The ticket to the platform is 160 NT$.

I'm on the platform until 12:30pm, then get down again. I take the MRT to the Sun Yat Sen memorial. Actually the MRT exit is a bit far away from the memorial, so it takes some time to find it (I'm there a bit after 1pm). By the way, it's getting hotter and hotter and the sun is strong. On a wall a thermometer shows 33°C.

About the girls in Taipei: there are quite a few pretty girls in Taipei, although a good number are not that attractive. Good for us men is that they often wear short skirts due to the high temperature. On the down side lots of girls here in Taipei dress very bad - even worse than girls in Germany (and it is tough to beat German women for what concerns bad taste when dressing). The girls here seem to copy the Japanese style and looks, which can be ok, but sometimes Japanese girls dress in the worst possible way. Anyway, the girls in Taipei and all the locals as well are very friendly.

From the Sun Yat Sen memorial I walk to the Taipei 101 complex and shoot some photos. A bit after 2pm I go to the food court in the basement of the Taipei 101 shopping complex and have some food. After I get out again and walk to Citibank, where I withdraw some additional cash. Then it's almost 3pm and I fetch a taxi to the travel agency.

At 3:10pm I'm at the "New Fantasy Travel Service" travel agency in Nanjing road. The ticket is not there yet and after some time they tell me it will be there at 4:10pm. So I fetch a taxi to the Yuanshan hotel. This is huge, quite impressive building in traditional Chinese style.

At 4pm I take a taxi and drive back to the travel agency, which I reach at 4:10pm. What follow are one and a half hours of waiting for the plane ticket in that travel agency office. They only give me the ticket a 5:40pm. By the way, they can't really speak English in that travel agency, because it rarely happens that a foreign customer shows up there.

At 5:45pm I take a taxi to the Taipei 101 complex. Was actually planning to take some sunset photos, but by the time I'm there (6:09pm) it is already dark. I spent too much time waiting in that travel agency.

Around 7pm I have a dinner, again in the food court of the Taipei 101 complex. At about 8pm I start looking for the MRT station. This is well hidden and it takes me half an hour to get there (well, I also stop on the way to shoot some photos).

Around 9pm I reach the Shilin night market. This is actually a place where you can buy cheap branded stuff, not a place with traditional shops like Yuyuan in Shanghai. It's full of young people.

I don't spend too much time there and around 10pm I fetch a taxi and am back in the hotel at 10:10pm.

4.10:  Taipei -> Busan (South Korea)
Hotel Phoenix, Pusan. 68000 won for a room with TV, phone, bath+shower, ADSL internet connection. Not too pristine, looks a bit old, but is clean.
Weather: Sunny with some clouds and some wind. Hot (around 29-33°C) and no rain until I leave Taipei at 6pm. Quite fresh in Pusan in the evening.

Again the alarm clock wakes me up at 9am. Today I'm planning to essentially spend the whole time at the Taiwan National Museum, then at 3:30pm go by taxi to the airport.

I extend the room until 3:30pm and manage to leave the hotel at 10am. I take a taxi to the Taiwan National Museum, which I reach at 10:25am (cost of the ride is 230 NT$). The museum looks quite nice from the outside. My visit at the museum ends within five minutes, as I'm told that photography is not allowed inside the museum.

At 10:45am I'm back in a taxi, this time going to the train station in Taipei. The meter of this taxi must be broken, because the bill to get to Taipei station is 250 NT$. From the train station I take the MRT to the Longshan temple, which I reach at 11:40am.

The Longshan temple is very scenic and full of people who are praying. I spend 20 minutes there, then at 12:05pm I take the MRT to the Chang Kai Shek memorial. It's only a few MRT stations between the Longshan temple and the Chang Kai Shek memorial, but you have to walk to the underground and change trains in the Ximen station, so it takes 30 minutes to get from the Longshan temple to memorial. A taxi would have been faster, despite the traffic.

The memorial is quite scenic. In the inner court there is a group of children (probably schoolchildren) who are doing some kind of group performance. I'm at the memorial until 1pm. This time, since I'm short of time and for some mysterious reason there is no MRT station in the Taipei 101 complex (the closest is the one in the Taipei city hall and from there you have to walk for about 15 minutes), I take a taxi to the Taipei 101 complex.

In 15 minutes I'm there and have some lunch in the food court in the basement of the Taipei 101 shopping complex. I briefly chat with an American guy who is married to a Taiwanese. He's not teaching and is not in the computer business. Instead he's a missionary for some American church.

After lunch I go to the observatory on top of the Taipei 101 skyscraper (ticket is 350 NT$ + another 100 NT$ if you want to get higher to the outdoor observatory. The queue is not too long and only 20 minutes pass from the moment I bought the ticket until I'm on the top. Cool views of Taipei and the valley there.

At 2:35pm I go down again. By the time I reach the hotel it's 3:15pm (the taxi driver managed to get lost and the bill ends up at 170 NT$, higher than usually), so I have to postpone the airport limo to 3:40pm. I pack my stuff, get down and pay the remaining bill (the room is available until 2pm, after it's 200 NT$ for every hour you stay longer).

We leave the hotel at 3:55pm. On the road to the airport there is initially some traffic jam, with the taxi in the stop-and-go mode, but after a junction (why do they put a traffic light on the motorway ???), the traffic becomes smooth. We are on a motorway and the driving speed is only 80 km/h. Lots of cars overtaking on the right lane - but what can you do when somebody is blocking the left lane of a motorway driving at 80 km/h ?

We arrive at the airport at 4:35pm. Also this time the terminal is old and run down. It looks like the entire airport is old and run down.

The Transasia GE702 flight to Pusan leaves almost on time. The plane is full, for some mysterious reason lots of Taiwanese want to visit Busan.

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon