I wanted to go to Taiwan just because I haven’t been there. And it’s so near the Philippines. When I chanced upon a Cebu Pacific seat sale, I booked a trip for me and my mom.
First Time in Taiwan
It’s our first time to go to Taiwan. Rather than go to a local (Philippines) travel agent, I decided to experiment and do things all online. I called the Taiwan embassy to ask about securing tourist visas and the woman I talked to gave me this site. I visited agoda.com and got a hotel with good ratings and with 20% discount for early booking. I googled and found a Taipei tour operator where I booked a city tour and airport transfers. All set.
On the last weekend of May, we had a delayed departure from Manila and had a bumpy 2-hour flight. We arrived in Taipei on a Saturday a little over 2am. It was great to see our names written in a placard held by a tired-looking man who was to drive us to our hotel. Thirty minutes later we were at Tango Hotel Nanshi. I chose the hotel because of its good ratings in Agoda and Tripadvisor, and being located near the MRT station. The hotel room was small, but I was pleasantly surprised with the many amenities that are not usually included in a basic room- ironing board, flat iron, hair dryer, microwave oven, along with complimentary Evian bottled water, softdrinks and pineapple cake bars everyday.
First Day: City Tour and Shilin Night Market
The first day we took the morning city tour to see what Taipei has to offer. The tour provides a glimpse of Taiwan’s rich history and cultural heritage. Visiting historic landmarks like the National Palace Museum and Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall with a tour group makes it easier for you to navigate these spacious sites where a lot of mainland Chinese tourist go. Your tour guide will decide which parts to go to. However, if you’re going with a tour group, you would not be able to see as much as you would like because your time would be very limited. Also included in the city tour are visits to the Martyrs’ Shrine, a Taiwanese temple and a souvenir shop.
In the evening we went to the Shilin Night Market to go shopping and to enjoy the food. Shopping was a disappointment; the merchandise was a hodge-podge of garments, toys and jewelry which were ordinary-looking. The food was something else. Apparently, the Taiwanese and also the tourists go here in droves for the food. The basement food court was packed, as were the many eateries and food stalls in and around the area.
Second Day: Church, Expo Park, Taipei 101, Longshan Temple and More Night Markets
Our second day was a Sunday, so we looked for a Catholic church. I asked for Google’s help, and with the able translation of the hotel staff who wrote down instructions for the taxi driver, we found our way to St. Christopher’s Church where there were a lot of Filipinos. After the service, we walked towards the nearest MRT station and happily found the Taipei Expo Park where an international flora exhibition was held a year ago. Such beautiful gardens!
In the afternoon, with rains threatening to show, we went to Taipei 101. Since it was a cloudy day with light rainshowers, we contented ourselves taking pictures on the ground of the Taipei City Hall overlooking Taipei 101. We didn’t go to the observation deck anymore, but we did go inside the building and saw the high end shops like Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors. In the evening we went to the Longshan Temple area were there were more night markets.
Third Day: Neighborhood Walk, Yangmingshan Park and Hot Spring Bath
On the morning of our third and last day, we just walked around to explore the neighborhood around the hotel. In the afternoon we had a tour of Yangmingshan National Park and took a refreshing hot spring bath in one of the nearby spas. It would have been great if it wasn’t raining that day so we could better explore and appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Very few tourists there, which goes to show that tourists in Taipei favor exploring the urban city jungle over the countryside.
In the evening, we rested at the hotel and prepared for our midnight flight back to Manila.
Insights and Discoveries in Taipei
The Heart of Asia is Taiwan’s tourism slogan. The city retains its unique Asian charm. Though there are a lot of towering, modern buildings in this metropolitan city, many old world structures still exist. The modern structures like the MRT stations incorporate traditional designs. Taipei has not completely succumbed to modernization as it preserves its cultural and historical sites.
Coming from Manila where urban decay is prevalent, I am impressed with Taipei’s clean and green surroundings. There are a lot of parks in the city, well-maintained at that. Trees are everywhere, even in major thoroughfares. How I wish Manila would be like this in in my lifetime.
Taipei at this point doesn’t have the tourist numbers to compare with Hongkong, but one can see the growing presence of mainland Chinese visitors evidenced by tour buses and tour groups along the city tour route.
Because of the lesser number of visitors, Taipei doesn’t have the hustle and bustle vibe of Hongkong. It is quiet in the early morning in Taipei’s shopping district where our hotel was located. Shops open late in the morning around 10 or 11am. We walk around the neighborhood in a leisurely pace, looking at the surroundings and observing people.
It is relatively easy to go around the city because the MRT (mass rapid transit) is easy to navigate. Directions are easy to understand and there are free maps available that show tourist attractions in each of the stations. On your first day, get hold of a Taipei MRT map from any of the stations. I was amused by the toilets there because there were indicator lights by the door pointing out which toilet stalls were available (green) or taken (red).
The Taiwanese are friendly enough, but many do not speak and understand English. They are patient in trying to get their point across, so be patient in dealing with them too. Taxi drivers use technology to get help in language matters. The taxis are equipped with GPS screens, and the drivers use their cellphones to call customer service people who can translate for them. With store staff, they know their prices in English, but their accent is a bit hard to understand so do ask them to repeat the price of goods.
As for the food, I think 3 days is not enough to taste all authentic Taiwanese food that I wanted to try. Having occasional food allergies, I had to hold back in eating some stuff. We ate some oyster omelet, some kind of squid soup and spicy pork buns in the night market. The omelet was much too flavorful for my taste. Perhaps if we had it with rice, we would have finished the whole serving. The squid soup was ordinary, but I would look for the tasty spicy pork buns when I return to Taipei. On our last day, we went to a Din Tai Fung food court outlet (Tienmu restaurant in Sogo department store) and had steamed pork dumplings and noodle soup with shrimps for a light lunch. Deliciously simple, clean taste. Whether we ate in the hotel for its breakfast buffet, in the night market stalls or food court outlets, Taiwanese food offerings did not disappoint.
I was surprised by the many western style bakeries in the city. Taiwanese must love breads, cakes and pastries a lot. We went to one French-style bakery as we couldn’t resist the pretty and delicious-looking treats on display. Another interesting thing we saw was that scooters were all over the roads. Mobile food stalls along side roads sold a variety of food choices. Great bargains can be had in makeshift sidewalk stalls. Merchandise sold in department stores, even the local labels, are expensive by Manila price standards.
Clearly, there is more to see in Taipei and the rest of Taiwan. I’ll be back.
More info on Taiwan tourism:
Official Taiwan tourism website: http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/
Taipei MRT route map: http://english.trtc.com.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1056373&CtNode=49780&mp=122032
Tour Maps: Taipei Tour Map
Edison Travel tours: Taipei tours
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