| Part 6: Lugang,
-> Lukang (Lugang)
Lukang Zhida Culture Service Guest
House, Lugang. 94 Euro for a room on the 12th floor of a
skyscraper. This room is a mixed bag. On the positive
side the room has nice furniture and several cupboards
where to store things. It also has the feeling of a 3-4
stars place. On the negative side the room is just too
small: there is no space for our luggage. We have to put
the luggage on the table and in the cupboard.
Otherwise the room has adjustable A/C, an old TV (not
LCD), fridge + tea making equipment, a phone, bathroom
with shower. Internet access via cable. Overall this is
an old hotel with an old infrastructure.
Weather: except for some sunshine in
the morning in the Alishan area, it is mostly overcast
and it rains a lot today. It seems that we are visiting
Taiwan during the rainy season. Heavy rain in the
afternoon and in the evening.
We leave the homestay at 11:30am. The idea for today would
be to - weather permitting - drive to the Sun-Moon lake
and then reach Lugang in the evening. Weather permitting,
because it makes no sense to visit the lake if it rains.
A poster in the Lonely Planet Thornthree forum had
suggested to use the highway 21 (the one across the
mountains) to reach the Sun-Moon lake. I won't do that
because from our location in the Alishan area it would
take four hours according to Google Maps by car to reach
the Sun Moon lake. Four hours of driving on narrow and
winding mountain roads.
We'll end up skipping the Sun Moon lake because of the bad
weather. But actually we would also have had a time
problem, because we are leaving Alishan too late. We are
somewhere in the Mingjian area around 1:30pm and would
only reach the Sun Moon lake only around 3pm, which would
leave us just three hours, i.e. not enough time.
So instead while
driving towards Lukang, around 1:30pm we visit a place in
Zhushan where they manufacture Chinese lanterns. Then we
have a lunch in a Family Mart convenience store (total
bill for the four of us: 273 TWD). Zhushan is actually
only 40km from the Sun Moon lake, but these 40km take over
an hour by car according to Google Maps.
After lunch we drive to Lugang, initially on the highway
Nr 3, then on the road Nr 76.
We reach Lugang around 4pm and park the car somewhere in
town, not far from the Tianhou temple.
The entire area around this temple and the Zhongshan
street are a hive of activity. There are countless stalls
and small shops selling food and characteristic/touristic
things. Lots of people on the streets.
Today is tomb sweeping day
(Ching Ming) in Taiwan, a public holiday. Tomorrow
(Friday) is a bridge day, which explains why there are so
many people on the streets.
We spend the next few hours in Lukang, visiting temples
and exploring the historic centre. Lukang (or let's say
the historic centre) makes the impression of a laid-back
touristy place with several old buildings.
Around 6pm we start looking for a place where to have some
food. We have been eating some snacks here and there but
would like to have something warm for dinner. After some
search we settle down in a place on Zhongshan road. This
meal costs just 90 TWD (two bowls of noodles and one of
noodle soup) - cheapest dinner so far.
In the meantime it is raining heavily. We somehow make it
to the car, more wet than dry. Then we drive to the hotel.
Regal Executive Suites, Taipei. 3840
TWD (almost 100 Euro at the current exchange rate) for a
room with A/C, fridge, two TVs (one LCD, one not), some
furniture (table, chair, cupboard for the clothes,
attached bath with bathtub shower, breakfast included.
Essentially the room is ok, it's just that it feels
Very old infrastructure, the room smells old. Internet
access not via WLAN, just only through a LAN cable (next
time I visit Taiwan I bring a wireless router with me).
Later I notice that the room window is actually useless,
because the next building is only a couple of metres
away and you can't see the sky. Good shower, breakfast
not bad for Taiwanese standards (which unfortunately are
quite low if you are not into the Chinese style
Weather: rain, rain and more rain.
It starts in the morning in Lugang, when it rains until
almost 11am, quite heavily. Then it almost stops to
rain, but you still get wet when walking on the streets.
Then it starts raining again intermittently. Heavy rain
on the motorway between Lugang and Taipei. Even Shirley
(who comes from a tropical country) is surprised that it
rains the whole day. Even in the evening in Taipei it
still rains a bit, i.e. you need an umbrella when
walking on the streets. Not cold - I can walk around in
We check out of the hotel at 10:45am, then drive to the
Longshan temple. This is located in a side street at the
other end of the Zhongshan street and is less impressive
than the Tianhou (Matsu) temple we saw yesterday.
Essentially it consists of some shrine buildings separated
by courts. The temple is active, i.e. people come there
for praying. We buy some pineapple cookies in a shop next
to the temple.
At 11:40am we start walking towards the Zhongshan street.
Once there we welk along it for a while. In the process we
pass by a series of shops selling food, drinks,
handicrafts and traditional stuff. In fact the entire
historic core of Lugang is full of these shops.
What Lugang has is kind of interesting, but is not as well
preserved as for instance the historic core of Singapore.
In the historic core of Lugang there is every now and then
a historic building, but that's it. Each of these historic
buildings is surrounded by modern buildings, i.e. there is
no uninterrupted historic area. So in fact, Lugang is a
bit overrated as a historic place or as a place
representing the old Taiwan.
After some walking here and there we finally get back to
the car by 1:50pm. Suddenly Shirley spots a noodle
restaurant, near to the place where we left the car. So we
drop the stuff we bought in Lugang into the car and have a
noodle soup in this place (120 TWD for all of us).
By the time we get out of this place and start driving to
Taipei it's already 2:30pm. I have the silent hope to make
it to the base of the Elephant hill in Taipei by 5pm (that
is 2:30 hours of driving, which should be doable given the
distance of 199km), in order to be on top of Elephant hill
for a sunset view of Taipei at 6pm.
The traffic conditions and also the weather conditions
however conspire to make my plan fail. It starts with some
traffic jam at the access to the motorway Nr 1 in
Changhua. Then due to the traffic conditions the effective
speed on the motorway most of the time is below 100km/h.
Sometimes there is a peak of 110km/h, but very often the
speed is only 80km/h.
It also doesn't help that some dumb drivers block the left
lane (the fast one) driving at just 80-90 km/h. These
idiots do not understand that if they want to drive
slowly, they have to free the fast left lane. As a
consequence drivers here have got used to overtake these
slow left lane blockers on the right side, which isn't
exactly safe and would be fined in a country like Germany.
Basically on Taiwanese motorways people are used to
overtake other drivers both on the left and the right
side. So, when you want to change lanes you need to watch
very carefully the traffic behind you.
As we approach Taipei, once we are past Taoyuan, we get
into the mother of all traffic jams. No idea why so many
cars are driving towards Taipei. It's almost 5pm, so this
could be rush hour traffic. On the other hand Taiwanese
are supposed to work hard so should not leave the office
by 4pm. Today is also a bridge day, so one would expect a
traffic out of Taipei not a traffic into Taipei.
While driving on the motorway we pass one of the toll
gates without paying because we are too far to the left
(heavy traffic) to be able to reach the cash pay tool
booths which are on the far right. There are such tool
booths in more or less regular intervals and every time
you pay 40 TWD.
Anyway, after a while it becomes clear that I won't make
it in time to the base of Elephant hill. And even if I
made it in time, it's pointless to be on top of Elephant
hill in the rain.
So we simply make a stop in the nearest shopping mall,
which turns out to be the Sogo mall in or around Shulin.
This is a big and flashy mall, with an interesting food
court in the basement. We spend over two hours there
between 5:30pm and almost 8pm.
When we continue driving to the hotel, the traffic on the
motorway is much more relaxed. We reach the hotel around
Overnight in the plane
Weather: rain, rain, rain the whole
day in Taipei. It is still raining when the plane takes
off from Taoyuan international airport. It does not rain
heavily the whole day: the rain intensity varies, with
periods of light rain alternating with periods of heavy
rain. Not cold, but what a f**cking weather.
We manage to check out of the hotel by 10:30am. Before
seeing today's weather I had this sort of idea to make it
to Elephant hill for the view of Taipei. As soon as I
realise that outside it is raining heavily I cancel my
plan and decide instead to make it to the Guandu temple,
which offers a lot to see and is an indoor place.
So we key in the address of the Guandu temple into the car
navigation system. We start driving around 10:45am and
reach the temple shortly after 11:20am.
Due to the confusing directions the car navigation system
gives we miss the correct road exit one time and have to
make a small detour. Adjacent to the temple there is a
parking (cost for us: 60 TWD).
The Guandu temple
is quite large and one of the more intersting temples we
have seen so far in Taiwan. It dates back to the 17th
century (but must have been restored recently because it
looks so immaculate and new) and is built over several
levels on the side of a mountain. The main access is from
the riverfront street. This leads through a tunnel carved
into the mountain to the higher levels. The tunnels, all
the temple walls and more in general all temple surfaces
are completely decorated with carvings, statues and
frescoes. In fact the entire temple is beautiful and
features a n impressive wealth of detail.
The temple is in a great position overlooking the river.
If the weather was good, the views from here would be
excellent, especially at sunset. But today, with this
greyish-milky sky, poor long-distance visibility, there
are no views worth recording in a photo.
Despite the weather, quite a few people are visiting the
temple today. My guess is that it's inhabitants of Taipei
who come here for prayers, although I also spot some
tourists as well.
Around 12:30pm we are done visiting the temple. We walk to
the food court area near the temple and have some noodle
soup for lunch.
Then at 1 something pm, since it is still raining and it
is too early to go to the airport anyway, we drive to the
Taimall, a large mall not far from the Taoyuan airport.
We reach this place shortly after 2pm, after a small
detour, because one of the roads suggested by the
navigation system is closed.
We park the car in the parking adjacent to the mall (lots
of cars entering the parking today, but there are still
330 free parking slots when we drive in). Lots of activity
today on this Saturday afternoon at the Taimall.
The Taimall supposedly is the largest mall in the Taoyuan
area. It's large building extending over 6-7 floors, with
a department store and many, many shops. Quite an elegant
place, lots of high end branded goods.
Since the lunch was a bit small, we buy some food in a
bakery on the 5th floor (by the way, delicious raisin
bread, and also the other stuff looks good). In another
shop we find again the pineapple cookies, this time a box
of 10 for 280 TWD.
Around 2:30pm the family transfers to the 6th floor where
the kids have spotted a children playing area with lots of
game machines. Kids must have a sixth sense for these kind
of things because they immediately locate them.
So now starts the almost ritual game area visit. "Ritual"
because the kids have been visiting such places almost
every day since we are in Taiwan. There are such game
& fun areas in all malls in Taiwan. They are much more
widespread than in Europe, and the cost to use the games
is lower than in Europe.
At 3pm we get back to the car and drive to the car rental.
There we return the car. We pay 640 TWD for the extra four
hours we have used the car (the 5th day ended at noon and
they are charging us 160 TWD for each of the additional
hours; it's about 3:30pm when we return the car, i.e. we
pay for four additional hours).
It's not a bad deal considering that we are returning the
car in a different place than the pick-up one and they are
not charging us for the transfer back costs.
We mention the missed toll booth thing (happened
yesterday) to the staff. They tell us the fine will be
around 600-700 TWD.
Then one of the car rental guys gets into the car and
drives us to the airport. It's a bit strange that Hotai
Motors, the car rental, have no office at the airport
directly. How can they pick up customers arriving by plane
if they have no office there? Probably they do not target
We are at the airport around 4pm. There we check in at the
Air China counter (quite a long queue by the way) and
proceed to the gate. Everything proceeds quite smoothly,
there is just again this quite long queue at the
It takes quite some time to reach the gate area, because
we arrived at the airport around 4pm (ok, add 10 minutes
for repackaging the suitcases and changing the clothes)
and we only are in the gate area at 5:25pm.
The airport terminal is clean, quite flashy and modern.
Lots of shops in the duty-free area.
For some reason we can't access the Internet with the
smartphone and when trying to make a call we get the
message that all lines are busy. My guess is that there
are just too many people at the airport today and as
prepaid card users we probably are assigned a low
priority, so don't get phone lines or data channels for
We proceed to the gate and at 6pm board the plane. The
machine is an Airbus A330-300 and leaves with a small 5
minutes delay. The plane is almost completely full. This
time the dinner served is not bad.
The flight lands a bit early in Beijing (at 9:45pm). There
is the same security and screening procedure as on the
outward flight only applied in reverse: first a
temperature health scan, then a kind of passport/boarding
pass sort of immigration check, then again a
passport/boarding pass check with photo shooting, and
finally a security check on your hand luggage and the
items you carry with you.
The Beijing terminal is quite life-less at this time of
the day (around 10pm). The shops are all closed, the
restaurants as well, I just notice one open bar. The money
changer is closed as well. Either bring some cash or
withdraw money at an ATM if you happen to need something
in the evening. This terminal is ages away from a terminal
such as the DUbai one, which is operating 24h/day.
I proceed to the gate and connect the notebook PC to the
charging station (220V AC power sockets provided at all
gates) to recharge the batteries.
Home, sweet home.
Weather: not raining in Beijing.
Cold (+2°C) and overcast in Munich.
At 12:40am we board the plane to Munich. The Air China
machine is a A330-200 and is almost full. The plane takes
off more or less on time at 1:10am, but lands in Munich at
6am local time with half an hour of delay after a long