We found Taipei to have the features of a fast paced capital city most countries would have but with a blend of nature to it. In many ways, we found it closer to say, Hong Kong rather than Singapore, New York while London is in another league altogether.
Despite being our first trip to the country and not knowing Mandarin, getting around was not an issue with the very efficient public transportation. However, bus travel can be a bit of an issue given that sign boards at the bus stops were only in Chinese in a lot of locations, if not all and hence we almost always needed to ask someone for the same. Eventually, that was a non issue in what was truly a fantastic experience.
Getting to Taipei
We took the Hong Kong Airlines to the Taoyuan Airport and immigration was pretty smooth except that my dad’s immigration officer could not speak English well so had to sign-talk. Tip: Duty free in Taiwan is much cheaper for Whisky, but not for Vodka or Tequila/Wine etc. In fact, we dont recall seeing wine there. Electronics was same cost as a branded store in Hong Kong but I think HK is still cheaper overall, in electronics.
Hotel and getting around in Taipei
OK, so the journey begins. We checked in the iTaipei service apartments in the heart of the city, right above the Taipei Main Station and for family, we think service apartments are better bet than booking two rooms in hotels. Anyways, thats a matter of choice as well coz service apartments do not give free service of making up the room each day and so on. But you can call for part time helpers for TWD600/day as of Dec-2012. Well, while the apartment bedrooms are not big, they were quite clean, well maintained but the biggest positive for them was the location. Right next to Taipei Main, the whole city’s metro lines are linked to this station, the bus terminal is here as well as is the Q-square, one of the prime malls in the city.
Another thing if you’re using the public transport – get the Easy Card. Period. Cannot emphasize more how helpful it will be and works in all Subway/Tube/MRT/Metros, buses, many 7-11s and other convenience stores. Process such as security value adding value and using the card etc similar to Octopus in Hong Kong, EZ-Link in Singapore or Oyster in London. Note – the TWD100 security will not be returned if card is returned within 2yrs, but also note that the tariff in trains is cheaper if we use the card.
These days, AirBnB is a great option and I think Taipei is a place where the concept of renting apartments should work really well.
Taipei Palace Museum
One can take the Metro to the Shilin station and then a 5-10min bus ride to this place. From here, can can also go to the Shilin Night Market in late evening.
What we did was go to Longshan Temple since we had some time before dark and then visited the Shilin market. The sign boards at the metro stations are quite clear and in English as well as Chinese and quite convenient to use even for first time users.
So I have seen carts selling items in many EM countries and while the same is found in a cosmo city in NYC, it was a bit surprising to find them in Taipei. Maybe its reminiscent of the good ol’ times.
Believe it or not, this is just a simple structure put together in front of the Taipei temple. The aspects make it look like a real postcard, but that is it.
Post the visit to the temple from Longshan station, we went back to our service apartment to have a 2-3 hours break, (which is why having it at the centre of Taipei really helped) and then headed for Taipei 101. We did not have intention to go to the top of 101 since we have been to Burj Khalifa, Macau Tower, ICC/IFC in Hong Kong, etc and after a point, its all the same.
We just wanted to go to 101, see the place, take some nice evening/night pictures and see the malls etc, and then head out to Shilin market.
From Taipei City Hall station, we took the Metro again to Jiatian (note, Jiatian station, not Shilin station) via change from Blue line to Red line at Taipei Main Station. We went to the Shilin market which is right next to the exit from the Jiatian station. The sign boards at the station easily take you to the market.
For the veggies of the world, while there are not many options, you’d find restaurants just outside the street market which offer decent veg food.
Overall, it is not that hectic to cover the three landmarks in a day given that we got to rest in between and hence, cannot emphasise enough how cool it is to have your base at the middle of the city. Especially if you have parents with you. Else, you can also consider just spending more time at the restaurants and take a break and even cover one more landmark during the day.
With this, we ended our day 1. Please see day 2 here, and others will soon be coming… Cheers for now!