Mobile phones
Getting around

Taichung, Sun Moon lake, Chung Tai Chan temple

13.8-14.8: Munich -> Dubai -> Taipei -> Taichung
15.8: Taichung -> Sun Moon lake -> Taichung
16.8: Taichung -> Chung Tai Chan temple -> Taichung
17.8: Taichung
18.8: Taichung -> Kaohsiung -> KL -> Bali

Planning and overall impression

This was a brief, five days trip to Taiwan, which I did at the beginning of my journey to Asia in August 2016, mainly to meet my wife and her relatives who at this time were in Taiwan. More specifically in Taichung, where my brother in law is living.
The city of Taichung itself is rather unspectacular and in fact we had skipped it during our 2013 Taiwan trip. However it's kind of interesting because it's a typical Taiwanese city and isn't focused on tourists.
Near Taichung, towards the interior there are a number of interesting places: the Sun Moon lake and the surrounding area, the Chung Tai Chan temple and a natural reserve further to the north.


Taiwan is not a low budget place where to travel, as for instance the cost of hotels is close to the level in European countries. Despite that we found a relatively inexpensive hotel for just 1500 TWD (= 42 Euro) in Taichung. On the other hand food and taxis are not so expensive.


Food is one of the reasons to visit Taiwan, although I must say that on this visit we didn't go to restaurants with delicious food. On the first night we went to a night market where my wife and her relatives enjoyed eating local snacks. Lots of fried seafood and other strange fried or grilled stuff. In Taiwan there are plenty of choices of Oolong tea; another local speciality are the pineapple cakes.


The place where we stayed, the Taizhong Huiguan hotel, is not in the international booking portals. We stayed there because the wife of my brother in law knew this place and booked it for us. The room was relatively inexpensive at 1500 TWD/night (inexpensive for Taiwan), but the room was also quite unimpressive.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2016)

1 Euro = 34.5 TWD
1 Euro ~ USD 1.08
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards

I got a SIM card upon arrival at the Taoyuan airport for 450 TWD. This incluced a five days data package and 300 TWD of airtime for calls. Internet connectivity was good and overall coverage was good.

Internet access

I used mainly the mobile phone as a modem to access the Internet, because the hotel WLAN was not very good.


Quite rainy, because August is in the middle of the rainy season in Taiwan. Steamy and hot, like in a tropical country as it was summer.

Health / Vaccinations

Probably no vaccinations are required for Taiwan, as the country is well developed.

VISA / Entry requirements

With my German passport I didn't need a visa to enter Taiwan. I'd guess the situation is similar with nationals of other developed countries.


Taiwan is a very safe place.

Getting around

We used taxis for short and long trips, chartering taxis for half a day when needed. Good, fast high speed rail line linking Taipei with Kaohsiung and stopping in Taichung.

(some of the thumbnails are clickable and lead to larger images)

13.8-14.8: Munich -> Dubai -> Taipei -> Taichung
Taizhong Huiguan hotel (台中会馆 in Chinese). 1500 TWD for a big, but quite basic room with A/C, one cupboard, two smallish tables, telephone, flat screen TV on the wall, WLAN (not fast) in the room. Bathroom with shower in a bathtub (no curtain). Room is with 110V AC and US sockets, but there is a small hairdryer (ours doesn't work because it's a 220V AC model). No brekfast. The room is reasonably clean and there is a daily room service cleaning the room. For this price I can't complain.
Weather: hot and steamy in Taiwan. Blueish/overcast sky.

I leave home shortly at 12:30pm and reach the airport at 1:40pm. Check-in is smooth (only a short queue because I'm at the counter of those who checked in via the web). The security screening is different, because you have to go to the upper floor, then down again. Also it's now first security, then passport control. The security check guy complains when I walk through the electronic gate without him calling me. He tells me a story of somebody who did this in the U.S. and was fined 30 million USD. After security, to get to the actual departure gate it's a bit weird. Long walk, passing by a few queues, then suddenly the signs for the C gates area disappear. I walk back, finally I find an electronic gate where the passport control is automated. Finally I'm at the actual gate.

There is some time to kill (still over an hour), so I chat with Shirley via wechat. She sends me the address of the hotel and reminds me once again I have to go to Taizhong (Taichung), not Tainan. Around 3:10pm I board the plane. It's an A380 of Emirates. Big, spacious seats with an A/C power socket. Multi-standard socket, takes a variety of plugs without an adapter.

The plane ends up being completely full (at least the area where I am in the front of the plane). Next to me a young couple going to South Africa for a safari (and to the Maledives after that - not bad, I kind of envy the guy). Young couple, no kids, should have a lot of fun.

The plane starts rolling at 3:55pm, and finally takes off at 4:10pm with some delay. The flight proceeds smoothly and we land in Dubai shortly before midnight local time. Some searching for a trolley for the backpack and camera bag (which together are quite heavy). I can't find a place in the terminal where they have these trolleys, but luckily after some walking I manage to find a free trolley.

Next thing to arrange would be some drink. Again I can't find a 7/11 or some other convenience store. Lots of shops selling lots of stuff, but not what I need right now. So I walk to the Burger King near gate B2. Horrible queues and crowd, almost impossible to get in. I have to make a big round to get in.

So I queue up, then after a while I change queues to a shorter one. Finally at 12:45am I have placed the order and paid. Then I have to wait another 10 minutes until I get the food and drink. Around 1:20am I walk to the gate.

The plane, again an A380, starts rolling at 3:55am and finally takes off at 4:20am (scheduled departure: 3:40am). Again big, spacious seats. I manage to catch around two hours of sleep. As food they serve a sandwich and a breakfast.

We touch down in Taoyuan international airport at 4:25pm. By 5pm I have passed the passport control and shortly after that I retrieve my luggage.

The next step would be to get some cash. Over the next 30 minutes or so I try several ATMs, but they don't accept my bank cards. Finally I change 70 Euro cash into TWD. Then I buy a SIM card for 450 TWD (5 days of unlimited Internet and 300 TWD balance for calls).

At the information counter I ask about how to get to Taichung. There is a bus, takes 2 1/2 hours and a high speed train. Guy can't really speak English and is happy when I switch to Chinese. 

At 6:20pm I'm finally in the bus (30 TWD) to the high speed rail link (why doesn't the high speed train stop at the airport?) and reach the high speed train station 20 minutes later. With the help of a local guy I buy a train ticket at the machine (skipping the long queue at the counter) and pay by credit card (520 TWD).

At 6:43pm I'm at the platform, but have just missed the 6:43pm train. So I take the next one at 7:01pm. Seems I have to stay in the waggons 10-12.

Punctually at 7:40pm I'm in Taichung. Then I take a taxi to the hotel, arriving at 8:20pm. Everybody is already waiting for me. Quick change of clothes and then we take a taxi to the night market.

This is sort of a modern night market in Taichung, with plenty of small shops mostly selling clothes or junk and many small food stalls and tiny restaurants, also mostly selling food of questionable quality (one place selling steamed chicken feet, bleaaahhh...). Lots of places selling fried seafood.

After 10.30pm (probably 10:40 or 10:45pm) we take a taxi back to the hotel. On the way back I make a stop at a Standard Chartered bank, but their ATM is out of service.

Back in the hotel I call my two banks in Germany and tell them about the bank card problem. The first one tells me I can't use VPay bank cards outside Europe. My goodness, this was no problem in the past with Maestro/Cirrus cards. VPay is a useless piece of crap. The second bank tells me they blocked my card because the cash withdrawal attempt in Taiwan seemed highly suspicious. But in a few minutes they will unblock the card. Let's see. Without cash I won't get far on this trip.

15.8: Taichung -> Sun Moon lake -> Taichung
Taizhong Huiguan hotel, Taichung.
Weather: hot (maybe 30 something degrees Celsius), mostly overcast with some patches of blue sky and the sun poking through every now and then; some very, very light rain at the Sun Moon lake and later some rain when we drive back to Taichung; dry evening in Taichung; no wind the whole day. Overall better weather than I had expected.

Heavily jet-lagged, I'm woken up at 10am by the alarm clock. In the morning, while buying some breakfast at the convenience store below the hotel I try without success to withdraw cash at the ATM. One more call (Skype) to the customer support of the bank in Germany. They claim that my card is fine and that they can't see the cash withdrawal attempt.

After breakfast we leave the hotel at 12pm. We walk a bit along the street, looking for an ATM. Suddenly we spot a taxi waiting for customers. Some discussion, the driver agrees to bring us to the Sun Moon lake and back for 3000 TWD (come back in the evening). Seems reasonable, given the distance and the time.

We get into this taxi and ask him to bring us to an ATM of an international bank. The driver brings us to the bank of Taiwan, where I finally manage to withdraw cash. Then we continue driving to the Sun Moon lake. First it's a motorway with max. 100km/h, then it's a well-built mountain road. Pleasant countryside with forests and rice paddies.

We reach the lake shortly before 1:30pm. The Sun Moon lake lies at 762m of altitude and the sky is more overcast than in Taichung.

We are immediately approached by a lady who wants to sell us a boat trip around the lake. It's a boat making a three stop tour of the lake, the first one being the starting point, the second one on the opposite side, the third one in a small city near a cablecar. 300 TWD per adult, for the kids she only charges us 150 TWD/kid. We can get out at the stops, walk around and take the next boat. Last boat at 5pm, we are actually a bit late. One boat every 10-20 minutes.

Around the lake there is a ring road. The lake itself is pleaant, not too big and surrounded by mountains. Plenty of visitors today, most of them Asian. I see no western tourists.

We buy some snack and drinks, then board the next boat which leaves at 2pm. We cross the lake and twenty minutes later reach the other side of the lake (stop Nr. 3 of the boat journey).

Sort of small town full of shops and restaurants. Since we had no lunch, we eat something (noodle soup, some icecream) in a 7/11 convenience store. Later we realise that we should have immediately gone to the cablecar, because it is actually very late (last cablecar ride at 4pm).

We finish lunch, then shop around a bit in this place. Shortly after 3pm we start walking towards the cablecar, which is a bit out of town. Walking along the street, we reach the cablecar at 3:15pm.

Some discussion at the ticket counter, because the cablecar isn't cheap (300 TWD per person, even the kids pay the full price) and there is almost no time (10 minutes to go, 10 to come back). Finally Alissia and I buy tickets while Shirley and Natasha will wait here for us.

At 3:30pm Alissia and I board the cablecar. It's actually a beautiful ride, with great views of the lake, forests and cliffs around the lake.

The cablecar doesn't bring you to a higher place, it brings you to another place near the lake which isn't accessible by car. This is a aborigenal cultural village ("Formosan cultural village"). We reach it at 3:42pm, but to get in you need to buy another ticket. Probably not worth it for just a few minutes. We should have come here earlier.

At 3:55pm we catch one of the last cablecars of the day and get back to Shirley and Natasha. Then we walk back to the city, this time along a path around the lake which we previously had missed. Then we take the next boat and are back at the other side of the lake at 5pm. There we call the taxi and then drive back to Taichung.

We are in the hotel room around 6:30pm. At 7pm we are down again and meet Eryka (the daughter of Lisa) and Lisa, the wife of David, the elder brother of Shirley who lives in Taiwan. Together with her and other relatives of Shirley we walk to a steamboat restaurants. Total of 13 adults and kids walking along the street, the three small girls walking in front of us, very very fast.

At one point we lose sight of the kids and when the group of adults reaches the restaurant, the kids aren't there. Great, I've lost my kids in a town in Taiwan and I can't call them because they don't have a phone. We walk back, but it's almost pointless to look for kids in a big city.

We call the hotel, hoping that the kids will have walked back there, after having missed us. And yes, they are there. It was Eryka who apparently misunderstood the name of the restaurant when her mother told her where we are going (both Eryka and Lisa are locals of Taichung).

So the group of adults have dinner in this steamboat restaurant. The dinner is not bad and at about 250 TWD per person including drinks (I pay for all), even relatively inexpensive. After dinner Shirley tries to withdraw cash with her card, but this is still blocked, while mine works. Will have to call again the bank. We are back in the hotel at 11pm.

16.8: Taichung -> Chung Tai Chan temple -> Taichung
Taizhong Huiguan hotel, Taichung.
Weather: overcast the whole day, some intermittent rain during the day. Very heavy rain on the motorway at 1:30pm for about 20 minutes, then again rain for about 20-30 minutes after 3pm but less strong. It rains also in the evening after 7pm. Less hot than yesterday.

Around 12pm Eryka joins us in the hotel room. Some time later we leave the hotel. I buy some food in the convenience store below the hotel. The idea today is to visit the Chung Tai Chan temple and weather-permitting the Huisun forest reserve. It takes some time to find a taxi, but finally around 12:40pm we are in a taxi. This is a big car, with three rows of seats. The driver will bring us to the temple and the forest reserve and back to Taichung for 3000 TWD.

So we leave Taichung and start driving. Around 1:30pm, while we are on the motorway, it starts raining heavily. So heavy that I'm wondering if we should cancel this trip. Luckily the rain doesn't last long (20 minutes only) and at 2pm we reach the temple. Since the kids and Shirley don't want to see this temple, they will wait outside while I have a look.

The Chung Tai Chan temple is a relatively modern Buddhist temple, actually a monastery with monks. I was expecting some kind of Chinese style temple with lots of decorations, but this is a pretty austere one, with simple lines but quite large. The monastery is surrounded by a pleasant garden with pond. Inside there are some halls and a museum. Not that many things (statues, decorations etc.) inside. In fact, there is not that much to see.

Shortly after 3pm I'm done with the temple and join Shirley and the kids. Turns out that they didn't have lunch, because the shops area is rather basic and lacks a restaurant or something similar.

In the meantime it has started raining. Not heavy rain, but you still get wet. So we cancel the forest reserve visit and tell the driver to bring us back to Taichung, to the Tiger city shopping mall. Small price reduction of 500 TWD, because the trip is now much shorter.

We reach the Tiger city mall one hour later, at 4:05pm. This mall is surprisingly small, if compared to the malls you usually find in East/South east Asia or Dubai, which often are huge, like small cities, where you can spend hours shopping around. Inside it's mostly outlets for high end western branded stuff. We get to the third floor where there is a small food court and have some fast food in a McDonalds. It's quite cold inside this place, and there isn't actually much to see, because this place is so small.

Eryka then suggests to go to another mall, supposedly better than this one. Ok, so we take a taxi to this place. It's the Dayuanbai mall, somewhere in Taichung. We jump into a taxi and a short time later we reach this mall (in the evening I find out that we could have walked, as the the two malls are just 500-600m apart).

The Dayuanbai mall is bigger than the Tiger City mall, but is still relatively unimpressive. Again lots of shops with high end, western branded stuff. On the upper levels and in the basement there are cheaper stores (there is an H&M in the basement for instance). Seems to be a quite new place however, because for instance it's not (yet) in the Google Maps map.

After some walking around, at 6:15pm we take the lift to the 12th floor. There we have some dinner in the food court. Plenty of traditional food stalls in this place. After 7pm we take a taxi back to the hotel.

In the evening I book a flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo for Friday 19th and a hotel in Labuan Bajo for two nights. Most hotels in Labuan Bajo city are full and the ones which are available are not that great. The one I book, the Exotic Komodo Hotel, probably is nothing so special and it's 1km away from the centre of Labuan Bajo.

17.8: Taichung
Taizhong Huiguan hotel, Taichung.
Weather: mostly sunny sky with plenty of clouds in the morning, quite hot. Gradual clouds build-up in the early afternoon. It starts raining lightly at 3pm. At 4:30pm it's raining heavily.

I couldn't sleep well last night, probably a combination of the jet lag, too much cold A/C in the shopping malls and perhaps too much tea (?). So in the morning I'm not really in a hurry to get out of bed and to get ready.

At 11:30am Sara (the sister of Shirley) comes and picks up the kids. She will spend the day with them and Eryka in the science centre.

Shirley and I leave the hotel after 1pm. The weather is still good, but in a couple of hours it will start to rain. We buy some snacks and a drink in the convenience store, then look for a taxi. We quickly find one - it's the same guy who brought us to the Sun Moon lake two days ago. I tell him to drive me to the international convention centre because I want to take a photo of it.

So we drive and by 1:50pm we arrive. The place is near the high speed rail station, but it's not exactly the elegant building with the futuristic architecture I was imagining. It's a very unimpressive building without windows and corrugated metal walls. After a couple of photos we drive to the World Trade Center, a few km further north. Also this building is quite dull and unimpressive.

We then drive to the nearby Tunghai university. After a short stop of a few minutes, we drive back into town, this time heading to the national performing arts center, which lies between the Tiger City and the Dayuanbai malls. This building at least has some interesting modern architecture. Since it's starting to rain we decide to skip the Taichung park (台中公园), which would have been our last stop for today. We tell the driver to drop us off at the Dayuanbai mall (trip cost: 880 TWD). It's 3pm now.

In the mall we go to the -2 level where there is a food court and a small supermarket. Plenty of bakeries and cake shops with very sophisticated and appealing pastries. There we relax and have some food. After the food we shop a bit in the supermarket. It's relatively small supermarket, with quite sophisticated food however. Lots of imported stuff, but also good, local Taiwanese products. For instance the rice they have here is quite special - not so easy to find in Munich. Plenty of different tea types, Taiwanese pineapple tarts and so on. A pity all this is not available in Germany.

When we exit the mall at 4:30pm it's raining heavily. I had actually hoped to find some sunshine, but no, it's raining and it will continue to rain until the evening. August is not the best time to visit Taiwan - hot and humid, with lots of rain.

After waiting a bit for the rain to end we just walk to the taxi rank and take a taxi back to the hotel, arriving there at 5pm. Shortly after that Sara is back with the kids.

In the evening at 7pm we have a dinner in a noodle restaurant with the family of Shirley. It's a quite elegant place, serving mostly cafe stuff (drinks, teas, small dishes), but also some complete food sets (one tray with soup, salad, rice, vegetables, meat, total of six bowls/dishes). Very photogenic setup, and probably delicious in case you are into this kind of stuff. I'm told that the total expense for the eight of us is just 50 Euro (a bit over six Euro per person, which is very cheap considering that you get a meal with six courses).

At 8pm I walk back to the hotel, because I have to prepare for tomorrow's trip to Bali. Will need to catch the 10:40am train to Kaohsiung and from there the flights to KL and then Bali.

18.8: Taichung -> Kaohsiung -> KL -> Bali
Hotel Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai Airport. 800000 Rupiah for a wonderful room, high class with everything. Four star level. Probably the best hotel I will see in the coming two weeks. I'm upgraded to a free breakfast (was not included in the booking.com reservation). Elegant room, with comfortable bed and all amenities. The hotel is in the domestic terminal of the Bali airport.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with lots of clouds in the morning in Taichung. In Kaohsiung mostly sunny, but milky-blue sky with clouds. Overcast in KL, clear sky with some clouds in Bali.

Entire day spent travelling, leaving Taichung in the morning and arriving in Bali after midnight. I get up at 8:40am, then leave the hotel by taxi (290 TWD) at 9:45am. In just 10 minutes we reach the high speed rail station (there is little traffic on the streets). I buy a ticket fot Kaohsiung (765 TWD), then walk to the platform. Initially I walk to the wrong place, as it appears that the normal train station is attached to the high speed rail station. Then I walk to the right platform and catch the 10:20am train.

At 11:05am I'm in Kaohsiung, by 11:10am I'm in a taxi (420 TWD) to the airport. Less than half an hour later we reach the airport. The Kaohsiung airport is relatively small. At the Airasia check in the lady tells me that the luggage is checked in until Bali and that in KL I don't have to go through immigration (i.e. there is a transit area). A welcome development, Airasia is moving towards a full-service airline.

Then I head to the security check and passport control. At the passport control they route me through an e-gate where I don't have to show my passport. Only my fingerprints are scanned and immediately after that I'm allowed to go through, quite interesting.

I proceed to the gate and have a small meal at the restaurant before boarding the plane. Boarding starts quite early at 12:55pm (the scheduled departure of the Airasia flight is 1:45pm). The plane starts rolling shortly after 1:30pm, then takes off at 1:43pm, even a bit ahead of schedule. I guess because Airasia is a low-cost airline, they must hold their schedules very tightly and avoid any delays.

The plane, an Airbus A320, is completely full. Narrow rows of seats with minimum leg space. Almost all passemgers are Asian.

We arrive in KLIA at 5:30pm, about half an hour ahead of schedule. There I proceed to the departures area. I don't have to go through passport control and my luggage is checked through until Bali.

The 8:45pm Airasia flight to Bali is delayed. The plane only starts rolling at 9:25pm and takes off at 9:30pm. Again it's quite full. Must say that it is a bit tiring to fly for so many hours in a plane with so narrow seat rows with little leg space. An A380 flight with Emirates from Germany to Malaysia is no problem, but I probably won't spend again eight hours flying with Airasia, not if there is so little space in the planes.

We land in Bali around 12:10am, with 25 minutes of delay. Then I proceed through passport control as one of the first persons of this flight. One (Caucasian) traveller in front of me is questioned endlessly at the passport control. No idea what's going on, I hear 'multiple entry', perhaps some visa problem.

Then I proceed to the luggage retrieval and quickly get my suitcase. Things are less smooth when I pass through the customs. First I have to X-ray my suitcase and my bags (other travellers don't have to). Then a customs guy asks to see the content of my suitcase. It's 1am and I'm really tired after a full day of travelling. This individual opens everything, no idea what he is looking for. He finds it a bit weird that I'm coming from Taiwan. Then he is surprised to see my Iran visas in the passport. And finally he asks where I'm going to and when he hears Flores, he asks why and sort of says hat nobody travels to Flores so something must be wrong with me. I have to justify my trip to Flores and tell him there are beaches, nice landscapes villages etc.

This individual must be one of those people who only travel to mass tourism destinations, Disneyland-like places, and find it suspicious if somebody travels to a less visited place. It takes really a lot of self-control to answer all his stupid questions in a cool manner. Then he walks somwewhere with my passport and only comes back after a few minutes. I guess he must have run my name through a database of weird people. Finally he comes back with a bomb sniffing tool and takes samples from my hands and from my trousers. I understand that there are heightened security measures in place, but then why don't they screen Muslim travellers with beards from the Middle East instead of a tourist from Germany?

Finally after 20-25 minutes I'm allowed to proceed. I walk out, get some cash at an ATM (only 1250000 Rupiah per withdrawal are allowed, i.e. 83 Euro) and look for the hotel. It's supposed to be in the airport. Countless people who ask me if I want a taxi. Probably I tell no to two or three dozen people or mote. One gives me the wrong directions, another one insists to bring me to the hotel for 100000 Rupiah, then goes down until 70000 Rupiah. Finally I backtrack and find the signs for the airport hotel. You have to walk for about 200-300m to the domestic terminal. I reach the hotel and check in and sleep after 2am.

Continues with the Indonesia 2016 travelogue

Copyright 2016 Alfred Molon