My plane landed in Taipei at around 1pm of Nov 2, 2012. On my way to the baggage carousel, this sight greeted me:
I was happy to note that they had free wifi in some portions of the airport, so I was able to contact my friends who were in the hotel waiting for me. They had flown in from the Philippines and had arrived earlier at 2am.
They said that the taxi was expensive at around 1000 TWD for the trip from the airport to the hotel, and since I was by myself with no one to share it with, I decided to find a cheaper alternate route.
But first, I looked for a moneychanger to exchange my SGD to TWD. After my bad experience of being duped by a seedy moneychanger in Bali, I have always made sure to change my money at the airport every time I traveled. A good thing I did, because Chi later lamented that it was really difficult to find a moneychanger in downtown Taipei. Only one bank accepted Philippine pesos.
I saw a sign pointing to a bus station and asked to buy tickets to Taipei main station. The people spoke little English, but I managed to get my point across using a printout of the Taipei train maps and pointing to the station nearest our hotel.
My bus ticket only cost 140 TWD. I walked outside to wait for my bus and was delighted to feel the cool breeze. When the bus arrived, I stowed my luggage at a side compartment, climbed up, and found a single seat. Then I hunkered down for the hour-long trip and may have fallen asleep at some point.
Later, when the bus stopped and a bunch of people got off, I got off too, and asked a guy outside who had “authority” written all over him if I was at the Taipei main station already. He said yes, so I hurriedly collected my luggage and then stood on the sidewalk, looking around for something that looked like an entrance to the train station. Nothing.
I finally gathered the guts to ask for help from a couple of women. They spoke no English at all, but they somehow managed to understand what I wanted to happen, thanks to me pointing to my train map. So they beckoned for me to follow them, which I did.
They were only the first of a lot of helpful and friendly Taiwanese folk that I would meet on my trip. We walked for a block, then went down some stairs. My luggage was pretty huge, weighing in at 13.5 kg, so it was quite difficult to drag it down all those stairs. We finally reached the train, though, and we bid goodbye.
I found a ticket booth and bought myself a plastic token to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall station.
When I got off at the stop, it was once again time to ask for help, this time from another person who looked like an “authority” figure. I showed her the printout of my hotel’s address in chinese characters, and she pointed out where I was supposed to go.
It took me about 5 to 10 minutes to find Saual Keh Hotel. I went up to our room and the moment I walked in the door, AA’s camera’s flash went off. Haha.
I loved our room! It was clean and roomy and it had a bathtub! They had wifi in the bedroom too. Our only gripe was how hard the bed was.
After I stowed my stuff, we headed out the door to meet up with Chi and Punch for early dinner in Taipei 101, a famous landmark skyscraper.
We rode the Taipei Railway, and as what always happens when girls are with boys, we let Melvin be in charge of navigation. Haha. He was a sport about it and did a good job.
Their railway is quite like Singapore’s – clean, organized, and tourist-friendly. There are English signs and arrows everywhere so you can’t possibly get lost even if you’re all alone, like I was earlier.
Once we got off the railway, we and had a bit of difficulty figuring out how to get to Taipei 101. In the midst of our confusion, who should we spot on the streets but Chi and Punch? The surprise made us extremely giddy, like this:
We walked quite a ways to the building, pausing once in a while to pose on the streets.
When we got there, we looked for Din Tai Fung in the basement. Din Tai Fung is one of our favorite restaurants in Singapore. Why go there, then, when all of us had already tried it in Singapore? Because it originated in Taiwan and we wanted to know if their food tasted better there. And also because we just love Din Tai Fung and don’t mind eating there again and again.
We ordered their most famous dish, the xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings), along with fried rice with pork chop, salad, string beans, hot and sour soup, and a couple of noodle dishes.
I couldn’t tell if their food tasted differently from Singapore’s, but Chi said they do, that it tasted better, especially the xiao long bao.
One thing we all agreed on was how all the food was delicious and surprisingly cheap, for the value. I think we paid 200-300 TWD each.
Tummies full, we headed up the building to the observatory. Taipei 101, you see, is a landmark skyscraper which was officially the world’s tallest from 2004 to 2010. It is comprised of 101 floors above ground, hence the name.
We fell in line to buy tickets to the observatory which cost 450 TWD each. Chi and Punch got discounted at only 360 TWD because they had three-day railway passes.
Unfortunately for us, the outside viewing deck was closed for renovation, so we could only view from inside the building. They had us pose for pictures while we were in line, then they overlapped those pictures on a background of Taipei 101, but we didn’t buy them.
To get up there, we had to ride the world’s fastest ascending elevator at 1010 meters per minute. They actually showed our ascent progression via a small screen on the inside of the elevator. I actually felt my ears pop.
When we got there, we were each handed a phone-like gadget. We pressed numbers that corresponded to locations and when you pressed a number, you could listen to a “tour guide” telling you about the buildings you see outside.
Unfortunately since it was dark already, we couldn’t really see the buildings being described, but the bird’s eye view of the cityscape all lit up, like a black velvet cloth sprinkled with glittering diamonds, was marvelous. So we admired that and then wandered around the floor and took random pictures.
The building’s mascot was the damper baby because one of the building’s features is the world’s largest passive tuned mass wind damper, suspended from Level 92 to Level 87. Melvin was obsessed with it, for some reason. Haha. I am tempted to just ask you to refer to him for an explanation as to what it is.
The short explanation is that the damper is a pendulum that sways to offset movements in the building caused by strong gusts, helping to make Taipei 101 one of the most stable buildings ever constructed.
This is a cute pic, btw. Ngi’s family, friend and lover, complete!
After we were done with sightseeing in Taipei 101, Punch and Chi had to go back to their hotel because poor Punch had gotten sick.
The rest of us were still full of energy though (which was weird considering I had only 4 hours of sleep and the two were a bit sick too), so we decided to head to the famous Shihlin night market.
We hadn’t even gotten there though when I already made my first purchase – a yellow umbrella at a store right outside the train station. If you watch How I Met Your Mother, you will know its significance. 🙂
Once again we had a bit of difficulty locating the place, and when we finally saw it, we said, This is it? There’s hardly any stores and people! Turns out we were just at the tip of the huge market.
Later on we would find loads of stores on the sidewalks peddling food and clothes and all sorts of stuff.
We tried a lot of street food. My favorite was the grilled barbeque corn which was actually drenched in barbeque sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Super yummy!
Next in line was my first of my many bubble teas during that trip. I used to hate iced milk tea even though they are popular in Singapore because I can’t stand the tea taste, but this one had a mild taste and was not too sweet and the pearls were so small and delicious. I was hooked, and consumed at least one bubble tea for every day of my stay in Taiwan. Hahaha.
We also liked the glaze-covered strawberries but I hated that the bottom piece was actually a cherry tomato. I hate tomatoes! Blech. >.<
Ngi and I also bought some colored stockings/leggings which we wore the next day. Haha. Then we were super amazed when we saw this!
Explanation: those are the stickers from the Line app! We didn’t know they were popular! Well apparently they are, in Taiwan. And probably Japan too, coz thats where it originated. (I think.)
Line is the messenger app we use to talk to each other everyday, and our favorite part about it is the stickers, these very same ones. So we bought one for each of us, a version of what best represents us hahaha. Look at the picture in the center, which one do you think is me? 😀
Then our feet were super tired and painful already that we could no longer bear to walk back to the train. So we rode a cab, and it wasn’t too expensive, just around 200 TWD. I was so tired that I actually fell asleep while waiting to use the bathroom to change! Haha. They just woke me up and I quickly showered and changed and fell asleep on the rock-hard bed. 🙂