City Summary: Taipei
The very last leg of my adventure was Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan, or officially, the Republic of China. It ended up being a fantastically cheap way to get back home to Auckland. It was a true feast, in every sense – the flavours, the smells and the sights.
Made in Taiwan
Towards the end of my “seven-month” holiday I was getting quite fatigued and I was ready to make it back home. There was no end date for this journey, so I had no clue when this would all be over. Let me say: travel is exhausting. There’s a certain level of effort required in each aspect of a trip. And then you lose all sense of comfort, sameness, and every day is new, alien, sometimes confronting, and rarely, ever familiar.
My own travel style compounded these feelings. I want to make the most of my short time in these wonderful places, meaning I get very little spare time. An hour that’s not spend adventuring is instead spent planning (or recovering). I know it’s not exactly the ideal style for long-term travel but I still wouldn’t change a thing. And I can, and will recover when it’s all over.
Bound for home
I started looking at flights back to Auckland, because I needed some family time before anything else. Cheap cities to get there were Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh. (I should confess I did this an ultra-slow way: by typing in random cities in Google Flights to see average prices for one way flights to Auckland. If you know a better way – hey, let me know!)
I then spied a very tasty looking $250 (AUD) flight home with AirAsia. It would consist of three seperate flights, but that price was about half of some of the other options. Factoring in that I had wanted to visit Taipei anyway, it became my return route home. The route: Taipei – Kuala Lumpur – Gold Coast – Auckland.
I should mention this fare obviously includes no fun things like entertainment or food (which wasn’t expensive with AirAsia) or luggage. Although my chicken satay was tasty, it wasn’t so needed. The stopover in Kuala Lumpur was perfect for a meal and I had enough snacks to last a week! With AirAsia carry on luggage was limited to 7kg, wso e ended up spending a further $100 AUD for check in luggage. Note! Do not carry any more than what you pay for. This guy next to us was charged 1,000 TWD ($45 AUD) per kg he was over.
So let’s get to Taipei:
- You don’t need a visa. So it gave us a taste of China without having to go through the paperwork of China.
- The food! Crazy big Hot Star fried chicken. Cheap popcorn chicken that’s randomly boney. Other fried things. Night markets. Weird smelling beef noodle soup. Asian bakeries. Din Tai Fung and other classy establishments.
- The drinks! Each day I had a bubble tea at 50 TWD ($2.20 AUD) and it was so good. Little/ no sugar and little/ no ice. I don’t know if I can pay Western prices for this any more now!
- There’s lot of shopping to be had with rows and rows of adjoining malls. We filled our suitcase.
- The metro makes it so easy to get around. For an infrequent traveller, you get the coolest things I have ever seen – little chips that both have a magnetic strip that opens the gates. Then, when you get to your destination, you drop your chip in to exit. Magic!
- For the geek in me – Gacha machines and so much anime/ cartoon/ character merchandise. Unnecessary stuff, but oh so fun.
- Claw machines. The ones in Taiwan were next level. Basically here, they have a counter, to show how many attempts have been had without winning. The higher the number, the higher the tension of the claw. Plus it’s cheap – each play is 10 TWD (0.60 AUD). So we played a lot and won a few. It felt much more achievable, yet the victory tasted just as sweet. Claw machines are a big thing here in Taipei/ Taiwan, with parlours everywhere.
- The city is very safe, very clean. I haven’t yet been to China, but I’ve heard this is much different to there.
- We loved the vibe around The Red House and there’s some cartoon artisan products inside the market.
- Taipei offers some great hikes, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see how much nature you can still encounter whilst in such a metropolis. We did the classic Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail (象山步道, Xiangshan) which gives a great view back to the classic Taipei 101 tower. We did find the route a little more confusing, so pay attention to the map?
- Very easy airport to city route. Make sure to get on the Express (and not the ‘every-stop’ Commuter) train though!
- Weather. A lot of rain and fog. The city functions fine around it – so much Taipei is underground and there’s plenty you can do without being exposed to the elements. Everyone seemed to have an umbrella, no matter what the forecast.
- Restaurant selection – I think we kind of had a bad run here. Ended with some quite generic meals a few times.
- As a Chinese-looking, Cantonese-speaking traveler I was often lost in translation with the language skills I had (or didn’t). But hey, English is a compulsory language in Taiwanese schools so that should make it easy for most.
- I wasn’t really that into the more fancy shopping, of say, places like the Taipei 101 mall. A bit soulless and a reminder there’s a bit too much excess in the world. Ximending, on the other hand, lots of fun and cheap crap and a younger demographic.
- We didn’t have a SIM card for our short time with the city, so navigating was a bit more trickier. Free Wi-Fi felt less frequent. Also – with underground shops/ malls it was near impossible finding some places.
Tips & Advice
- More time! I only had a few days as a consequence of booking the trip based on the cheapest flight. But there was plenty more in the city (and out) that I wanted to see. Also the weather meant some activities weren’t viable options for the day, so we had more downtime than originally planned for.
- See something, buy it. You might not get another chance with so much to discover.
- Plastic bags cost money, bring your own.
- Take cash – hardly anyone took card, even major fast food outlets. ATM withdrawals were free.
- I’d recommend our “almost-capsule hostel” of Pillow Hostel. Or even just the location, which was amazing. Right next to Taoyuan Airport MRT, walking distance to markets, malls, Xinyi, and major attractions like the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
And that’s a wrap for Taipei. The last city for my 2018 adventures but surely not the last of my travels!