Part 2: Taipei,
Hotel Hao Li Wang ("HolyPro"), Taipei.
2926 TWD for a room which is not too bad except that it
has no windows. Apparently I should have been more
careful when booking this place, but I didn't know or
must have forgotten that hotel rooms without windows
exist. The second problem of this place is that there is
no place where to put or hang the clothes. But there is
a big LCD TV on the wall and a fridge. A/C of course and
a small table, attached bathroom with a bathtub. No
phone in the room, but there is wireless Internet. The
hotel is located in walking distance of the Taipei 101
Weather: slightly below freezing in
Munich (spring is delayed this year). Around 0°C in
Beijing airport early morning, no clouds, but heavily
polluted sky. In Taipei in the afternoon it's
surprisingly fresh (around 20°C or even a bit lower,
windy). We have to wear a light jacket and a long
sleeves shirt. No rain, but the sky is overcast. Poor
long distance visibility.
We reach the Munich airport check-in counter at 12:45pm.
Looks like checking-in is complicated because the plane is
full and the lady at the counter cannot manage to put us
all next to each other. I should have booked the seats in
advance, but somehow when I tried to do that on the Air
China website a few weeks ago I couldn't find the
Anyway, by 12:55pm we are finally checked in and since
some time is left we have some fast food at the airport
McDonalds restaurant. After that we proceed to the gate
and then to the plane. The plane is an Airbus A330 with an
a bit oldish setup (not the most modern seats and layout).
The seat rows are a bit narrow. No A/C sockets in the
seats of the economy class. The plane is almost full.
The flight takes off with a small delay at 2:25pm. Most
hostesses are friendly and more or less good-looking, but
the food is unimpressive.
While reading the in-flight magazine I discover that from
January 1st this year tourists from 45 countries are
allowed 72 hours of visa-free stay when transiting in
Beijing. Had I known this I might have planned a stop in
Beijing. Never mind.
At 7:40pm CET I check the flight data. It appears we are
travelling at a ground speed of close to 1000km/h and will
arrive early at 6:16am local time in Beijing. Quite
impressive, we must have a lot of tail wind.
In fact the plane lands shortly after 6:10am in Beijing.
We are on a runway and board a bus to the terminal. Must
be a new terminal, because it looks quite fresh and
modern, quite different from the airport I experienced
during my last visit in 2008. By the way, it's quite cold
in the airport.
We then spend the next hour going through a series of
security checks. Initially we need to queue up at a
transit counter where an officer checks the passports and
the boarding passes, as if we were entering China. Longish
queue by the way. Then
we need to go through a security check where again we lose
a lot of time. I have to take out the camera, all lenses,
the computer and put it all in a separate tray.
I wonder what would have happened had we arrived as
planned at 7:10am - we might not have made it on time to
It's 7:20am when we finally are in the terminal and can
proceed to the gate. The gate area (international flights
I guess) is not too big. There are several duty free shops
selling Chinese and international high-end goods. Very few
places where you can eat something. The terminal is
modern, but quite sterile.
Then our small girls forget their (small personal) bags in
some place. Big rush back to the security check area, then
finally we find the bags. We board the flight to Taipei at
The plane is again an Airbus 330-300, but this time more
modern and clean. Also this plane is almost full. The
flight to Taipei takes off with a small delay. The kids
manage to sleep a bit, I do not.
We land in Taipei at 11:30am local time. Then we proceed
into the mother of all immigration counter queues. I
haven't seen so many people queueing up at an immigration
counter for quite some time. Migration of the people, no
wonder the Chinese instituted the one-child policy.
Anyway, once we are finally past this immigration counter
we proceed to the luggage retrieval. Obviously we are the
last ones to get our luggage - our flight isn't even shown
anymore on the display boards.
Next thing we do is
to get into the arrivals ares and to purchase some SIM
cards for the phones. Surprise, surprise, the SIM cards
with a data package are quite expensive. The first counter
quotes me a price of 1300 TWD (= 33 Euro) for a card with
a two weeks Internet package (unlimited) which is pricey
since in Germany you can buy a prepaid card for 10 Euro
(500MB fast, after that slow Internet access). 3G
network only apparently, no 2G fall-back.
I move the next counter where the cards cost a bit less
and purchase one card from Taiwan Mobile for 1145 TWD (30
days unlimited Internet + 345 TWD of calls, local calls
are 7 TWD/minute) and one voice-only SIM card for 345 TWD.
Then, since we are almost starving, we go to the food
court of the airport. Feels like being back home, lots of
delicious food offerings at moderate prices.
It's finally 2 something pm when we are in a taxi on our
way to the hotel. Taoyuan airport is located 40km west of
Taipei and the taxi trip costs 1200 TWD. We reach the
hotel at 3pm.
While Shirley rests
I finally take a shower. Surprise, surprise, my hairdryer
is so weak. A brief check confirms that Taiwan has only
110V of AC power. My mistake, I should have checked before
leaving for Taiwan.
It's 5pm when we finally leave the hotel. We walk to a
nearby night market, since Shirley wants to do some
shopping. It's actually not so big, just one street
perhaps 200-300 metres long, but somehow interesting. Then
we walk back to the hotel and then to Taipei 101 where we
have some dinner in the food court.
The kids, Shirley and I are surprisingly fit despite the
lack of sleep. It seems that the body has realised that a
new day has started and doesn't want to sleep anymore.
Later in the hotel, around 10pm we collapse in the bed and
fall asleep quickly.
Ocean Hotel, Hualian. 3500 TWD
for a not too big room, decently furnished room, with
large LCD TV, phone, Internet via cable, fridge, tea
making equipment, table, cupboard for the clothes,
attached bathroom with bathtub/shower, hairdryer. Sea
view. Breakfast included (but relatively unimpressive).
Location a bit out of the city centre along the beach.
When we check in the staff insists that we prepay the
full three days we'll stay here.
Weather: quite warm in the
morning. Too hot to wear a jacket or even a long sleeves
shirt. In the afternoon after about 5pm it gets fresh
and windy. No rain the whole day. The sky is only
slightly overcast in the morning, but closes in the
afternoon. Warmer in Hualian in the evening.
The alarm clock starts my day at 9am. I get up, let the
kids and Shirley sleep a bit longer and take a shower.
After that we get ready and check out of the hotel at 11
We take a taxi and
drive to the train station arriving there around 12pm. The
train station is a big thing. It's a combined train, bus
and underground station in a big multistorey building with
adjacent food court, restaurants, shopping areas and so
on. It's a hive of activity, typical for an Asian travel
After some searching we find the food court on the first
floor. It's actually not such a big food court. We have
some lunch there until about 1:20pm.
Then we take a taxi to the Martyr's Shrine (Zhongličcí).
It's a 6km trip and I was thinking it would take longer
with the traffic jam, but surprisingly we are there at
1:45pm, after about 20-25 minutes of driving. The idea
would be to see the changing of the guard which should
take place at every full hour.
When we arrive I recognise the place. I've been briefly
here during my first trip to Taipei in 2005, but back then
didn't know what this place was and mistook it for a
There is an
imposing Chinese-style gate, which leads to a large inner
court at whose end there is something which looks like a
Chinese temple. There are a few tourist buses and a few
more are arriving. Lots of activity, many tourist groups
approaching. I notice a Japanese tour group. This changing
of the guard seems to be a tourist magnet.
In fact the action starts
at 2m sharp and is quite imposing and photogenic. A group
of five guards, impeccably dressed, marching in a
carefully choreographed manner from the main gate to the
shrine building at the other end. All five guards are tall
and probably good-looking. My small girls are quite
impressed and interested. The big one tries doing the
march in the same way the guards do.
At 2:25pm we get out of the shrine and take a taxi which
has been waiting outside. Taxi trips have a starting fee
of 70 TWD and cost around 200-250 TWD for 5-6km. Taxi
drivers are friendly and use the meter. However they do
not help with the luggage (or at least this was the case
with the taxi we took to the train station).
We drive to the not
so far away Confucius temple, arriving there at 2:35pm.
The Confucius temple is, well, not that impressive. It's a
somehow sterile building, clean, well-kept, but a bit
artificial. Outside the temple there is a place where
people can hang small wooden prayer tablets.
Shortly after 3pm we walk to the adjacent Baoan temple
which is much more interesting than the Confucius one.
This is a temple where people come for praying. Lots of
activity, lots of people with incense sticks, beautiful
flower decorations everywhere, many shrines, very
At 3:30pm we leave and take a taxi to Taipei 101. We are
actually a bit tired, partly because of the jetlag, partly
because we are not used to walk so much.
We should be fine after a few days of sightseeing.
We spend a couple of hours in the area around Taipei 101.
There are lots of malls selling branded and luxury goods.
All buildings and structures are nicely set-up, well
choreographed. The area is still undergoing
renovation/change. It's quite modern and elegant,
rivalling with what Tokyo has offer, although it's not yet
as sophisticated as for instance Roppongi. Still, what a
change since my last visit in 2005. Taipei is slowly
mutating into a chic Asian metropolis.
The price level in Taipei is relatively high. Some things
are even more expensive than in Germany, although the food
We buy a hair-dryer in a store. Then, at 6:20pm we take a
taxi to the train station. We could have also used the
underground, but this would have involved changing lines
and with all the walking, buying tickets etc. involved we
probably would not have arrived earlier than with a taxi.
We reach the train station at 6:45pm. We buy some food to
take with us for dinner (there is no restaurant on the
train), retrieve the luggage and proceed to the train
platform. We pick up luggage, paying an additional 70 + 70
TWD for a total of 140 TWD per luggage. When we enter 200
TWD into the machine we do not get the balance of 60 TWD
(and right behind there are lockers for 50 TWD....).
The train leaves punctually at 7:35pm. It's a bit oldish
inside and half-empty. Initially the A/C seems to be off
because it's quite hot. Later the train interior gets
We arrive in Hualien on time at 10:45pm, then take a taxi
to the hotel. The driver struggles a bit to read my
reservation paper in the low light of his car. He then
offers to bring us to the Taroko gorge tomorrow (an 8
hours trip, stopping in eight places) and I wonder whether
I should accept his offer or not.
We then check in the hotel and sleep at 1am.