Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


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How to Get to the Top of Taipei 101 for Free…Kind Of

Our friend Doris arrived from London on Friday last weekend. Having never been up the world’s once tallest building, Taipei 101, so we though it would make a good Saturday morning outing.

However, riding the worlds fastest elevator up to the top costs a staggering 500NT (£10/$17/€12.5) which while not astronomical, when two of the three members of the group have already been up before, it seems a waste of £30 to look across the city from above

Fear not, here is a secret hack for when you visit Taipei. Continue reading


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Travels in Taipei

Apologies for the extremely long, and mistake riddled blog, but I wanted to get my travels about Taipei onto paper before I forget.  Now i’m off to Kaohsiung for Chinese New Year.

We set off from Devon almost two weeks ago after an amazing christmas where I managed to catch up with lots of my friends in London for New Years and see my family at home.  We left it too late to book a decent train up to London so ended up getting on a £12 Megabus to Victoria which took about 4 hours, but wasn’t too bad really.  We stayed at our brother’s house in Crouch End, having taken “Simon Pegg’s” bus from Finsbury park to his door.  He lives in a nice leafy area of London just on the corner of Alexandra palace.  We had a relaxing few days there in order to sort our resident visas at the Taiwanese embassy. 

View from Ali Pali

Knowing that it was the last time we would be eating western food, our diet consisted of fish and chips, battered sausages, giant italian pizzas, lebanese cuisine (delicious) and bacon sandwiches.  The application for residency went smoothly enough despite the frosty attitude of the people working there.  We paid our £44 and a day later collected them without any mishaps.  We met up with John Saxby after this, and did a day trip around London, visiting the Science museum and dinning out at the aforementioned lebanese restaurant. 

Our flight to Hong Kong was at 845pm, so we set off in good time, leaving the house at 445pm, and taking the Victoria line all the way south which was easy enough despite having to lug our giant suitcases up and down flights of stairs.  I actually enjoy long haul flights quite a lot as it’s a chance to watch lots of movies and not feel guilty about it, and there is a constant supply of food and drink from the nice asian ladies of Cathay Pacific.  I highly recommend the noodles that they serve throughout the night.  I managed to watch Drive with Ryan Gosling, which I though was good but not as special as what i’ve been told and read about.  I can’t remember the other movies which either means i’ve got dementia, they were not very good, or the free red wine and reduced oxygen level impinged my memory.  We landed in Hong kong which was a first for me, having only been with Cathay this once.  It was very muggy and overcast, but you could see plenty of mountains enshrouding the airport.  Here out connecting flight to Taipei was delayed by 1h30 which would mean it was be a push to get to our hostel on time before closing.  Luckily the flight was only as long as the delay, and we were soon on a kuo kuang bus (國光) from Taoyuan airport to the city centre which takes around 50 minutes.  Here we hailed a cab and made our way to http://www.taipeihostel.com/  which was the top hit on google and seemed nice enough. It’s located centrally, on a back alley and just a few meters walk from Shandao Temple station.  We couldn’t find the actual hostel at first, poking our heads into long empty corridors deserted but for a cockroach, but I gave reception a call, and she said they were on the top floor of the building. We put down a 500NT (£10) deposit  and paid for our two night stay up front, which worked out at 1300NT for the two of us (£26).  Our room was located on the very top of the building, which had a nice roof garden and decked area with washing lines and plants all around.  The actually room was pretty grotty compared to the pictures on the website.  There was a double bed wedged into one half of the room, adorned with a yellowed duvet.  Laurie assured me he had stayed in far worse places in Morocco, so we laid out his throw, and got a good nights sleep.  A warm shower the next day made me feel a lot better, and we headed out into Taipei.

It was the day of the presidential elections, so we saw cues of people placing their ballots as we made our way to the underground.  The MRT is an amazing tube system compared to London, but this is understandable given it is much newer.  Each station is immaculately clean, and it’s easy to navigate around the city.  Each train is on time to the second, and the best thing is that it is amazingly cheap to use.  We got an Easy card (like an oyster) and topped up by 200 NT (£4) and managed to get almost 2 solid days of transport out of it.  Laurie had downloaded a Taipei city guide on his Android, so we used this to visit some of the sights, including the fine art gallery,  the modern art gallery, (both highly recommended, 50NT ticket price), 

part of Chiang Kai shek's Memorial.

Taipei 101

Chiang kai-shek memorial hall, and then headed to Ximen district which is packed fully of cinemas, clothes shops and young people.  In the evening we go the tube to Shilin night market (Jiantan stop) which is famous for its outdoor food stools.  There were thousands of people lining the streets cueing up for giant chicken steaks and other tasty treats.  After walking around the night market for an hour, jet lag set in and we headed back to our hostel to watch Trailer park boys and sleep.   

The next morning we checked out of the hostel and put our bags into lockers at the airport, freeing us up for the day which was a relief.   We headed back to Ximen district tobuy some clothes for our role as teachers.  Laurie managed to get a couple of pairs of decent chinos for a great price, but sadly they didn’t quite have my size, and it would have taken a day for them to customise. 

Ai WeiWei's Bicycles.

Before our flight home we got on the tube intending on visiting the national museum which is out of town, but being short of time, we got off a few stops early (Yuanshan station) and walked across the beautiful park to the fine art museum.  The first exhibition was my kind of stuff.  It contained all of the best tech to have come out of Taiwan, so we had top of the range Giant racing bikes, amazing PC’s, flat screens, USB’s and hard drives mounted in persepex boxes.  We then went into the proper gallery and saw artwork by Ai Weiwei including his giant bicycle statue which was impressive and smelt just like a bike shop.  We treated ourselves to a meal in the Gallery cafe which came to £10 a head, me having a gorgonzola pasta and he an italian seafood dish, with cheesecake and coffee to follow. 

We rushed back to the airport in the evening to check in for our flight to Penghu.  However, when we got there the departure board was slowing filling up with red

boxes as flights got cancelled due to bad weather.  This was surprising considering the weather in Taipei was lovely.  Our flight was the last to be cancelled, so we asked the desk if they could book us into a hotel for the night.  They had a big book with all the hotels and prices, and we opted for a medium range one which looked fairly classy. We decided to treat ourselves after two nights in a dingy hostel, so opted for the VIP suite which was only a few more hundred $’s more expensive.  A short taxi ride later and we were in the lobby of a swanky hostel and soon in our luxury room (it had a kettle and everything).  I had two showers it was that good, then sunk into my ultra comfy bed to watch the Taiwaneseelection results.  Fiona was extremely nervous, phoning me up telling me to watch the results live.  Luckily her party won and president Ma gave a speech in the pouring rain, which we really should have gone to, but for the nice warm beds which were too good to leave.  The next morning we went downstairs to have our first hotel breakfast in Taiwan, which is a weird mix of rice, vegetables, and meats, that is in no way different to what they eat for lunch or dinner.  We checked out at noon, maximising time spent in hotel, and dropped our bags off once again at the airport.  

Taiwanese Breakfast

Our flight wasn’t until the evening, so we looked on laurie’s app once again and headed for the mountains.  We got the tube to the end of the line, which took us through some amazing scenery south of city, arriving at Taipei zoo stop.  We had a choice between the zoo and the cable cars into the Maokong valley and decided on the later.  Again, this was extremely cheap and was the same price as the standard tube ride, using our Easy cards to swipe in.  The cable car took 30 mins each way and went up and down over several high mountains .  It was pretty scary, especially when it went past the pylons that hold up the wire because it suddenly shudders and swings, and when you look down it’s a long way.  

Maokong Gondola

We could see giant bee hives in the canopy below, and equally giant bee’s flying past our cabin. Taipei 101 stood majestically in the distance and the zoo could been seen from below.  Once at the top there was the chance to go on and trek the mountains or visit the famous Maokong tea house, but we were pressed for time and got the next cart back with some Japanese tourists.

I’m glad I got to see taipei again, and this time I felt much more at home, knowing my way around a bit better.  Last time I came in July which meant the weather was pretty uncomfortable and sticky, but this time it was perfect.  It was also good to show Laurie around before returned to Penghu.  I was sad to leave.

Today I leave for Kaoshung to visit Fiona’s extended family at their family home somewhere in the mountains.  It lies just below the tropic of cancer so we’re expecting a different climate which should be much warmer and “equatorial”.

Fine Art Gallery