Travelogue Taiwan 2002
1/2/02 – 1/5/02: Taiwan
Thai airways flight from BKK to Taipei. Scheduled to take 3.5 hours, got in early in only 3 hours.
However, the lines at immigration were epic and moved very slowly. Took over ½ hour to get through.
Went to the hotels desk and found the Sheraton representative, who found my reservation in his list. Turns out that the hotel shuttle wont leave for another hour. Ugh. A taxi is reputed to be about NT$1500 (about US$43), and the Sheraton representative offers me a private Mercedes for NT$1900, or a Volvo for NT$1300. Rather than waiting an hour for the NT$400 shuttle, I go for the Volvo. The Taiwan domestic airport is in Taipei, but the international airport is almost an hour away with little traffic. Something to consider when I leave on Saturday.
The Lai Lai Sheraton (address), is a typical Chinese hotel ala Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore; lots of restaurants, a huge lobby area including expensive shops like Gucci, a giant atrium extending the entire height of the building, wasting vast amounts of space. However, the rooms are tired and unimpressive with aging furnishings and a depressing feel. My room is on the 12th floor, a “Starwood Preferred Guest” floor, but faces the super-busy street. The windows are single glazed, and though my wing is set well back from the street, the noise is fierce. I go back down and ask if there is another room available; I had specifically requested a quiet room in my reservation. It turns out that the rooms on the back side of the hotel are smaller “inferior” rooms, and because I used a “travel agent” (i.e. Expedia.com), they cant move me to a lower-priced room because they already paid the commission. Huh? They offer to move me to a room on the 15th floor, which I accept. Of course, the 15th floor is actually the 14th floor, because the superstitious Chinese don’t have a 13th floor. The new room is virtually identical, but marginally quieter. The bed is hard, the bathroom is ugly, the shower is bogus. This is a tired old Sheraton on a noisy street and earns an “avoid” review from me.
I relax in my room for a while, eating the courtesy fruit basket, then realize that because of the 1 hour time difference from Bangkok, it will be dark soon. I head out for a walk to the Chiang Kai Shek <sp?> monument. It is a 15 minute walk. Taipei appears to be a relatively clean, relatively organized and efficient city. It seems less crazy and crowded than Hong Kong, and while the pollution is just as bad a Bangkok, that city’s madness is missing. The walk to CKS is pleasant, and people on the street return my smile, which makes me feel comfortable.
The CKS monument is set in a large park area with a huge stone arcade flanked by the impressive National Theater and National Opera buildings.
Back to the hotel
Dinner at <restaurant>. Peking Duck. It will be one hour, no 15 minutes. A huge duck all to myself, cant possibly finish. Price is NT$770. Not as good as ducks I have had in HK and USA.
Back to the hotel. Quiet evening.
Move to Westin
Very nice, not as convenient location. Can see airplanes landing at domestic airport from my window, mountains barely visible through the pollution.
Pollution is about as bad as Hong Kong or Bangkok on a bad day. My “tourist map” notes that sunsets in Taipei are exceptionally beautiful due to the heavy pollution.
Taxi to National Palace Museum. Most interesting thing was a timeline comparing the history of China to that of the other major cultures in the world, noting artistic, philosophical, political, and scientific developments. The most exciting thing for me was the carving work on the third floor, especially the unbelievable ivory and seed carvings. Unfortunately I had started on the first floor and was fairly exhausted when I finally made it up to these most remarkable pieces.
Dinner at <shihin night market – name?> Concierge writes down the Chinese names of different foods I should try. As she describes them to me I don’t have the heart to tell her that most of her recommendations sound revolting. When I get to the market I am not able to figure out how to find any of her recommendations anyway, and I find myself too shy to stop people on the street and show them my list.
Vendor of “not humbow”.
Some kind of gelatin in crushed peanuts
Various other kinds of things.
Lunch with Dr. Mark and Helen at Sichuan restaurant <name?>
Back to CKS memorial, open this time
Chinese handicrafts market
Luhan temple <name?>
Dinner at Pu-Li restaurant, gifts
Up, pack, check out
Wait for public bus to go to airport, leaves from in front of hotel, only NT$135 (US$3.91). While I am waiting a taxi pulls up and holds up 9 fingers – offering a ride to the airport for “only” NT$900. I have plenty of time, so I’m happy to wait and check out the bus. It arrives after only 5 minutes and the hotel porter rushes out and puts my bags on the bus for me. Nice. The bus is completely comfortable and takes only 45 minutes to get to the airport, including a lengthy stop at the bus office where a ticket vendor comes on the bus and sells us tickets. Change is available. Apparently there was a bus that I could have taken from the airport directly to the Lai Lai Sheraton. I had a feeling that the hotel rep at the airport was a bit shady.
At the airport my checked luggage was hand searched before checkin. It was a very weird search, thoroughly examining some objects while ignoring others. I think an Xray system would be much more effective. The business class lounge has a nice selection of Chinese buns on which I feasted. Unfortunately the airline lounges are before immigration and security. Thus, you have to leave plenty of time to get from the lounge to the gate. It took me over ½ hour. I far prefer clearing immigration and security first, that way I can just relax in the lounge. Oh well.
The line at security was huge, but it moved quickly. All passengers on flights heading to North America had to take off their shoes and put them through the x-ray machine along with their carry-on bags. Wouldn’t some kind of explosive detection sniffers work better? Even though I had been x-rayed and metal-detected, when I got to the gate my carry-on was hand-searched and I was re-metal-detected. Then, three people in a row checked my passport. I do mean in a row; show your passport, walk 10 feet, show your passport, walk 10 feet. The people re-checking my passport could literally see each other. Now, I’m all in favor of security; please, search and detect and be secure. However, the nature and quality of the searches didn’t leave me feeling secure at all. I carry all kinds of interesting wires, batteries, and electronic devices, but the searchers seemed more interested in my underwear. Oh well. Here’s to a safe trip home…
Taipei is a strange place. The pollution is terrible and the traffic is bad. There are very few attractions for a tourist, and as an English speaker, it is a relatively difficult place to navigate. There is no architecture worth mentioning, and by Asian standards it is fairly expensive. However, there is something going on here… something strangely attractive. There is something about the way people smile at me on the street, a friendly quality to vendors and taxi drivers, a general helpfulness and empathy. There is also the mystery of the rest of the island; reputed to be full of beautiful mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and expansive views. I’d like to come back to Taiwan someday, though I suspect I wont want to spend much more time in Taipei itself.