Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 2: Taipei, Hualian

Map of route in Taiwan
24-25.3: Munich -> Beijing -> Taipei
26.3: Taipei -> Hualian
27.3: Hualian -> Taroko gorge -> Hualian
28.3: Hualien -> Ruisui -> Hualien
29.3: Hualian -> Qingshui cliffs -> Kaohsiung
30.3: Kaohsiung -> Tainan
31.3: Tainan
1.4: Tainan -> Guanziling
2.4: Guanziling -> Alishan
3.4: Alishan
4.4: Alishan -> Lugang
5.4: Lugang -> Taipei
6.4: Taipei -> Beijing
7.4: Beijing -> Munich

24-25.3: Munich -> Beijing -> 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 skyscraper.
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 reservations page.

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 the gate.

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 8:05am.

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.

26.3: Taipei -> Hualian

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 something am.

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 centre.

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 Chinese temple.

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 photogenic.

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 is cheaper.

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 fresh.

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.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon