A year ago, standing at a relative’s high-rise apartment balcony in Fuzhou, we looked across the 110-mile wide Taiwan Strait where Taiwan would be located. With the grave possibility of China’s reunification of Taiwan, the prolonging unrest in Hong Kong and the upcoming Taiwan’s Presidential Election in January 2020, we decided to visit Taiwan sooner than later. Thus, we chose Taiwan as our connecting “country” en route home this year.
Prior to this trip, due to our ignorance, we knew almost nothing about Taiwan. We knew Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, Taipei 101 is one of the tallest buildings in the world, and Taiwan is famous for its stinky tofu… and that was it. However, after discovering many existing Japanese-era landmarks in Taipei, my piqued interest encouraged me to learn more about Taiwan, including the Japanese occupation in Taiwan for 50 years, the complex relationship between China and Taiwan, and how the massive amount of priceless treasures from the Forbidden City in China ended up in Taiwan.
This time, sis and her family joined us to explore the top half of Taiwan. Since this was our first time traveling together in a different country, we honestly didn’t set any expectations. For one, I was uncertain if everyone could manage doing our typical 20K+ steps per day especially with 2 younger kids (they did). Our travel style involves exploring a place by wandering off the beaten path while observing and absorbing the local culture as much as possible. Since I was the only person planning the whole trip, I was nominated to be the group’s unofficial tour guide.
We were very worried about our short 45-minute layover in South Korea due to our unusual flight schedules. Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport, several airport staff were seen holding big signs of our names at the arrival gate and yelling at the crowd in attempt to find us. Then, 2 staff promptly escorted us where we made a mad dash to the departure gate minutes before the flight took off. We were so certain our luggage wouldn’t have made it to this flight that we were already stressing out about the additional hours we needed to stay back at Taoyuan International Airport to wait for the luggage, knowing that 1) we had traveled for almost a day, 2) we were tired and exhausted, 3) the accommodation location is an hour drive from the airport, 4) it was getting late at night and 5) we were still in the process of figuring out the exact location of the AirBnb accommodation based on the last-minute check-in instructions from the house owner. So, upon arrival at Taoyuan International Airport, we surrendered to our fate and dragged our feet to the baggage claim area trying to locate the service counter to report our delayed luggage. However, to our huge surprise, our 2 luggage were the first to come out on the conveyor belt! We grinned and smiled from ear to ear. The surge of euphoria made us the happiest folks in Taiwan that night, bar none.
Although we stayed at the same accommodation in Taipei for 6 nights, we spent the first 4 days exploring the attractions in the town center on our own (covered in this album). We made 2 separate day trips to explore other attractions outside Taipei (not covered in this album). Since we arrived a day earlier than sis and her family, we explored the National Palace Museum and its vicinity first, knowing that her kids wouldn’t have the attention span to enjoy this museum. Even though November is generally the driest month in Taiwan, Tropical Storm Fung-Wong had just made landfall on the east side of the island when we were there. So, we experienced a slightly wet weather on several occasions, but overall, the weather was generally dry and comfortable with the temperature around mid-70s. In Taipei, we covered most of the main attractions, including National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, Maokong and Taipei Zoo. Realizing that my nephew is still very crazy about dinosaurs, we tweaked our itinerary to include an hour visit to National Taiwan Museum, the oldest museum in Taiwan.
A couple of observations…
- We were absolutely awestruck by the level of friendliness and politeness of the Taiwanese people. The very first time we saw the locals quietly queueing up at a busy MRT station, it gave us a great first impression of this wonderful “country” knowing that we didn’t have to sacrifice our limbs, honor and dignity just to board the trains. Even in the crowded night markets, everyone patiently queued up to buy street food without any fuss. When riding the escalators, everyone stood on the right to allow others to walk on the left.
- The AirBnb accommodations are technically not legal in Taiwan. The house owner advised us not to mention about AirBnb and that we were staying there as his friends when asked. At the same time, we were also educated the existence of Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which protects us from sharing any personal information with anyone if we choose not to. You would think at some point of time, his neighbors would start wondering about all his “friends” carrying big suitcases week in, week out.
- There are too many different ways to pay for the MRT rides: Single Journey Ticket, Taipei Metro Multi-day Pass, Taipei Fun Pass, All Pass Ticket and electronic tickets such as EasyCard, iPASSes, iCASH and HappyCash. It was very confusing to say the least, especially to foreign visitors like us. We were on the verge of purchasing the 3-day Taipei Metro Multi-day Pass tickets, but after doing some last-minute research and quick cost calculations, we made the right decision and bought the EasyCard tickets instead. Besides paying for the MRT rides, we were able to use these tickets to make any purchases at the convenience stores without the need to deal with loose change. At the end of our Taiwan trip, we proceeded to the MRT station at the airport to get a refund of the remaining balance.