Hello Taiwan!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

After going to Korea in 2015, I really wanted to go on another "solo adventure" (i.e., without parents) again in 2016. I didn't have many places in mind because I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Taiwan. The last time I went was in 6 years ago in 2010 when we went with most of my cousins as part of a tour group (it was fun in sense that there was 12 people in the tour group and 10 of us were family). But unfortunately, I have very little memories of our time in Taiwan back then because we were basically baby fed our meals and driven around in a huge bus. I agree that it was probably the easiest way to visit tourist attractions—considering the size of our group—but I realised after our Korea trip that travelling as part of a tour group is not travelling for me. It doesn't allow you to really see what the city or country has to offer because you're not on your feet, asking for directions, taking the public transport like a local. Even getting lost is part of the experience. When you're part of a tour group, you have less to worry about, but you gain nothing from the trip other than the fact that you've been to that particular museum or building. But enough of me ranting, onto our trip!

Our flight from Hong Kong to Taipei was at 10:50am, so we quickly grabbed breakfast at a nearby cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) before checking out of the hotel and making our way to the airport. However, it was only until we reached the airport were we notified that our flight was delayed for about an hour so we ended up boarding at around 11:30am. The flight was only about 1 hour 45 minutes and we flew with Dragon Air, which is an airline under Cathay Pacific.

When we finally landed in Taoyuan International Airport (桃園國際機場), the first thing we did was buy our SIM cards in the Arrivals area. The booths are not hard to miss because they’re basically located right before you go through border control. We each bought the 15-day plan (which includes unlimited data) for NTD$700, which is about AUD$30. Unlike the SIM card we got in Hong Kong over the counter, the registration process of the SIM cards are a bit more strict because they require a copy of your passport and flight details. However, the installation and activation process is basically the same: just pop it in your phone and you're good to go. We got reception almost instantly too.

Once we passed customs and immigration, we stopped by the first 7-Eleven that we saw and bought some rice balls/onigiri (飯糰) for ride to Taipei. Shirley and I love the convenience stores in Taiwan because not only do they have decent food, you can also do so many things like: top up your travel card, pay your bills, photocopy, buy transportation/concert tickets, etc. (Our 7-11 is so useless.) We also bought our Easycards (悠游卡) there. We paid NTD$100 each for our cards and put NTD$1,900. However, we soon realised thereafter that we put WAY too much money in the cards because the fare of single trip on the MRT is only about NTD$20 on average. By the end of our trip, we just ended up buying food and other items using our Easycards so we don't leave too much money cards that we can't use unless we're in Taiwan.

There are a number of ways to get to Taipei from Taoyuan, but we decided to take the High Speed Rail (高鐵). However, to get to the THSR, you need to get to the THSR Taoyuan Station (高鐵桃園站) first. We did that by taking the uBus, which costs NTD$30 a person (the ticket counter can easily be found just near the bus stations), and is about a 20 minute ride.

You can actually book and pay for your THSR tickets online and then pick them up from your nearest convenience store when you get to Taiwan. The last part was what I had intended to do, save for the fact that our flight was delayed and we couldn't take that particular the train. However, when we got to the Taoyuan THSR Station, the staff was able to reschedule the trip for us for an extra fee. I can't exactly remember how much it was, but the amount was cheaper than what I would've had to pay if I bought totally new tickets for the both us.

Our hotel, Hotel Relax III was only a short 10 minute walk from Taipei Main Station (臺北車站) so after checking-in and dropping off our luggage, we started exploring the neighbourhood on foot and eventually made our way to Ximending (西門町) for dinner at CoCo Curry. Shirley and I LOVE CoCo Curry and we were even planning to eat more than once while we were in the city (there was even one just next to our hotel), but that never happened because there was just TOO much food to eat and we just couldn't find a chance to have it again :(

And that night, we also had our first pearl milk tea or bubble tea (珍珠奶茶) from 50 Lan (50嵐). We got a drink with the small pearls because we didn't realise that we had to actually mention the word "boba" (波霸) meaning the big pearls. But nonetheless, it was still very chewy. The milk tea, however, was too sweet because we got 70% sweetness. #bigmistake 50 Lan is currently one of the most popular bubble tea franchises and is known for matcha latte (抹茶拿鐵), which we didn't get to try because it was sold out at basically EVERY store we went to. (We weren't looking that hard for it, though.)

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