Monday, June 30, 2014


It's been a month since I came back from a long weekend trip to Taiwan. So this is long over due. I used to be better about blogging but I think it's because I used to carry my laptop with me. It's easier to type with the laptop. Sometimes I write on my phone but it's just harder. I went to Taiwan because one of my friends was also there on holiday so I joined her and two of her other friends who were stopping in Taiwan before going to someone's wedding in Malaysia.

My journey to meet the group was a really long one. I started my trip on Friday afternoon (May 30th) shortly after lunch time. I was at a conference and left a little bit early (around 3pm) so that I could just take a leisurely bus over to the airport for a 6:30pm flight. I got to the airport and had just finished buying a drink at Starbucks when I got a Whatsapp message from one of my coworkers who had left for the airport before I did. His plane was delayed and he was just hanging out. He asked me what gate my flight was and coincidentally, that was the gate he was hanging out at. It turns out that his flight had been moved to the gate that my flight was supposed to depart at and my flight got bumped to the next gate. This is where we found out that flying to Taipei is closer than flying to Shanghai. I guess it's obvious if you look at a map but it just doesn't feel that way.

My flight got delayed slightly and it was getting close to 9pm by the time I arrived in the Taoyuan airport. I tried the ATM but the one I used didn't want to take my ATM card. I remember that it worked last time I came but it took a while for me to figure it out back then. Not wanting to miss the high speed train down to Tainan, I used some cash from my last trip to buy a bus ticket over to the train station and quickly got on a departing bus. My friends had just finished exploring the Alishan area and were in Tainan that day. So after the bus to the high speed station, I tried two more ATMs before finally getting some cash to buy a high speed train ticket. Luckily for me, they were running an extra train so I quickly hopped onto that one just as the doors were closing. I got to the Tainan high speed rail station close to 11pm. It was a good thing that my friend sent a brief description of how to get to the hotel that afternoon. They had picked a hotel that was really close to the Tainan city station, which is not the same as the high speed rail station. So I had to take a local train (more like a metro) over to the city station. This one was really slow and I got on one of the last ones for the day. I found them sleeping at their hotel room at around midnight. It was a long journey to get there but it was all pretty easy. Taiwan has really been working on boosting its tourism industry so they have tried hard to make everything easy to navigate. 

The next day started off with us walking all over the place in search of breakfast. This is where I reminded myself how much I dislike doing anything before breakfast. People seem to get up late and we were probably in the wrong part of town for food. We finally settled for some small road side eatery that served turnip cakes and other local fast foods. Then we walked around some parks and temples. We picked up some really great maps for the city that showed all the touristy sights. But Tainan is seems not as touristy as Taipei and the tourist street signage was still lacking. But armed with maps and GPS phones, we found everything we were looking for.
He's a musical instrument
It was a sweltering hot day but we still managed to walk around some touristy stuff before chilling at a cafe that serves quail egg quiches. We stayed there for a while to rest and then continued our exploration. We wanted to find a park but ended up at a department store that had a large sports section. Some of their stuff was on sale and I got a polo shirt that's made of sporty clothes material. We wandered around the supermarket but didn't end up buying anything there. After we cooled down in this department store, we finally found the park. But it was cutting close to the time we needed to head out so we walked through it really fast. I think we should have given up on this park at some point and took a taxi back to the hotel. Anyway, we got our stuff from the hotel and went to the local train station. This local train station was a really big mad house. It took us a while to figure out how to buy tickets. In the end, one of the guys working there just did everything for us. But all this still didn't get us on the high speed train that would have taken us back to Taipei by 7:30pm. My friends had left their luggage at a place that closes at 8pm. Our high speed train arrived in Taipei at 8pm and they rushed over to the luggage storage place. The guy was really not happy to see us even though we were late by 10 minutes max. We then went on a taxi to get to our Airbnb place.
Squirrel at park
We waited around the lobby of the apartment until I finally texted the lady and she sent her mom downstairs to meet us. I really think these Airbnb hosts should stick to the time they agreed because what if we weren't able to text her or find internet to email? This host basically has an extra apartment which she rents out through Airbnb. I had thought that Airbnb was more like couchsurfing but turns out it's more like a hotel service. In some ways, it's nicer to stay at an Airbnb place if you can get the whole apartment to yourself. There was wifi, TV, refrigerator, freezer, stove, washing machine. She even stocked the place with tea and water.

We went to a small night market for dinner and then went back to shower and sleep. The next day, we went up to the tea terraces by the Maokong gondola. It's a really cheap gondola ride, about $2 USD per person. I had expected it to be a really short ride since it was so cheap but turns out to be pretty long. There wasn't even a price difference between the standard and crystal cabins. There's definitely a lot of stuff to do up at the tea terraces. We walked for a while before settling down at a restaurant to eat. Their menu featured a lot of tea flavored stuff. The food wasn't that great and was pricey for what it was. We didn't make it all the way to the visitor's center and headed back in an attempt to keep to the schedule. We had a lot planned for this day!
Hello Kitty mascot at the Maokong Gondola
We were really serious about eating and buying pineapple cakes since it's a big thing in Taiwan. We first went to the Chai Te bakery, which is the most famous brand in Taipei. Their store is kind of out of the way and it took us a long time to walk there. When we got there, the line stretched down the road. People were coming out with huge bags and boxes of pineapple cakes. There were taxi drivers waiting to take people back to their hotels. The bakery looks like your standard Chinese bakery with displays of the pineapple cakes and other pastries. They had different flavors and I loaded up one big box and one small box of the original flavor for the office and one small box of other flavors for myself. After being a little bit short on souvenirs after my Japan trip, I wanted to make sure I had enough this time. Then we nursed some bubble tea at a really nice bubble tea place that looks more like a restaurant. Then we continued on our pineapple cake adventure and went to another pineapple cake place. This one is called Sunnyhills. It's not as famous as Chai Te but they are very high quality. Their store is set up like a cafe and when you enter, you get ushered to a table where they serve you tea and a full size pineapple cake for free. No one comes by to hassle you and they just let you enjoy the piece of cake. They only do one flavor and use all pineapple for the filling, no other fillings. I would definitely go back if I'm ever in town again. I never used to like these pineapple cakes but after having tried these "high end" ones, I can definitely taste the difference. It's too bad I can't bring any back to the States because they only have a self life of 2 weeks. They sell boxes of 10 and we each got a box of 10. Never getting the cheap stuff again!
Chia Te pineapple cakes!
Bubble tea
Sunnyhill pineapple cakes!!
The National Palace Museum was on the list for today but it was already getting late and we were tired from all the walking. So we decided to save that for the next day. We went out to the river to see if there was still dragonboat races. But they had just finished as we got there and all we saw were people leaving. We took the subway back to the place we were staying and rested for a while. We then headed out to the Shilin night market where we ate a lot of food.

National Palace Museum
The next day we got up extra early and headed to the river again to see the dragonboat races. They weren't all that exciting and we saw two heats before taking a taxi to the National Palace Museum. The museum is huge and full of tour buses. There is a designated route for the first few exhibits and you're crammed in with all the tour groups. It makes the experience really unpleasant. I'm not sure why they don't just let people go wherever. There's definitely plenty of room for that. Maybe it's because their first few exhibits are the most famous ones and they just want a somewhat orderly possession going pass these ones. The whole thing was kind of boring and involved a lot of walking. We didn't really have a proper breakfast beforehand so I didn't have very much energy to look at these exhibits. We went back and got a ton of food at the 7-Eleven nearby and ate it at the apartment before heading out to the airport. We took a bus from the main train station that was old and didn't have very strong AC. The hour ride was really hot but I think we were all asleep within 5 minutes. I was flying Cathay and was able to do online check-in and got a mobile boarding pass. The whole thing was really convenient. I didn't have to print anything out. My friends were going on to Singapore and I stayed with them at their gate for a while before heading to mine.

This concludes my streak of going on vacation every two weeks. Definitely feeling privileged in having a US passport. 

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