Friday, October 28, 2016

One Week in Taipei, 2016, DIY, Day 1

1. Introduction
2. Itinerary
3. Departure
4. Day 1 (current post)

*     *     *     *     *

We landed on Runway 5 at 5:59AM. As an aviation enthusiast, our landing route was perfect for me. Most of EVA Air's flights use Concourse C, which was on the other side of the airport, meaning we had to make a U-turn and pass all four aprons.

Terminal 1's iconic wave-shaped roof, plus a flock of China Airlines.

The north side of the airport consists of aprons A and D, and is dominated by China Airlines.

A pair of Vietnam Airlines A321.

Our plane used a remote parking stand, so we had to take a bus to get to the terminal. Immigration took almost an hour, as there were a lot of early morning arrivals. By 7:30AM, we had retrieved our luggage and were headed for the buses.

Terminal 2 arrivals immigration.

Terminal 2 arrivals hall.

Now getting to the city center is the tricky part. There are several options, and it all really depends on your schedule and budget. (Note as well that from a Filipino's perspective, Taipei's transportation system is already heaven.) 

The cheapest option is to take a regular bus. Both terminals of Taoyuan Airport have mini-bus stations, so it's all really convenient. The journey from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, which is the de facto transportation hub of Taipei, supposedly takes around an hour and costs a little over 100NTD. 

The most convenient option, of course, is to take a taxi. The trip supposedly takes around 40-50 minutes and the fare costs around 1000NTD. 

The third option, which was the one we took, is the high speed rail (HSR). From the airport, there is a shuttle bus (the one we took was U-Bus) that costs 30NTD and takes you to Taoyuan Station in 10 minutes. At Taoyuan Station, the HSR to Taipei Main Station costs 160 NTD and the trip takes just under thirty minutes.

So if you're on a budget and have ample time to spare, take the regular bus. if there are four of you traveling together, it would probably be more convenient to take a taxi than the HSR. (It would be more or less the same price individually.) As for us, we took the HSR for the novelty of it. 

Terminal 1 exterior.

China Airlines B747-400 from the U-Bus.

We arrived in Taipei Main Station at 8:29AM, and that was where we got our Easy Card, which is basically the one must-have for getting around Taipei. It is the equivalent to Hong Kong's Octopus, or Manila's Beep Card (though I feel the latter is a bit too stretched an analogy). The Easy Card can be used for the Taipei MRT, TRA (the national trains), buses and convenience stores like 7-11, among others. We would have bought our Easy Cards at the airport, but the counter was still closed at 7:30AM.

Taipei Main Station can be disorienting. It's massive. It has several entrances, has its own food court, is connected to a bus station and several malls, and has separate areas for the MRT, TRA and HSR (this is very important to note).

In all honesty, Taipei's MRT is very efficient. Taipei itself is a very walkable city, with its wide sidewalks and tree-lined avenues. A ride on the MRT starts at 16NTD, if I'm not mistaken, and that is already considerably cheap. The MRT website is pretty helpful in planning your trip ahead of time.

Taipei Main Station atrium.

Since our check-in time at the AirBnB unit wasn't until 3PM, we had to proceed to our first destination, so as animal lovers, we decided to pay Taipei Zoo a visit. (This was also the week that a typhoon threatened to wreck Taiwan for the second time in a matter of weeks, but instead went to the Philippines; nevertheless, we had to take advantage of the good weather.) The train ride took around 30 minutes, and we were at the zoo by 10AM. 

Both Singapore and Taipei claim to have the largest zoos in Asia. Now I don't know who's telling the truth here, but Taipei Zoo is massive. The attractions are spaced far apart, and the enclosures themselves are pretty spacious. The main attraction for the hordes of Chinese tourists, of course, was the pandas. 

It took us 3 hours to cover the zoo, and the only disappointment was the lack of crocodiles. (There's a gharial exhibit, plus the Chinese alligator, but whatever.) On the plus side, however, there were a lot of White Rhinoceroses and Nile hippos, and I couldn't have been happier.

I also have to mention that they have a pair of malnourished-looking African elephants, so maybe somebody should look into this.

Also, the entrance fee is only 60NTD!!! (And if you have your luggage with you, you can store them in lockers at 50NTD for an unlimited time.)

Taipei Zoo exterior.



Nile hippos.

White rhinos.

African elephant.

This disgusting excuse of a waffle in the zoo was the worst thing I ate in Taipei.

We left the zoo at 1PM and rode all the way to Ximen station, where we had lunch at this ramen place along Chengdu Street. (Hey, we were already a bit tired--we'd been up since 1AM, remember?--and it was the first appetizing shop to come our way.)

Taipei MRT life at 2PM.

Ramen lunch. Pretty okay.

After a bit of miscommunication with the landlord, we finally checked in at a little past 3PM. For 2400PHP a night, this place was a pretty great find. It is located along Kunming Street, a couple of blocks away from the Ximen Pedestrian Area (where it all happens in the evening). The only cons were probably the railless stairs (definitely not for the elderly) that led to the low-ceilinged loft, where I bumped my head once. Also, the instruction manual provided by the host was all in Chinese, as was the remote control to the air conditioner. (And Jacky the landlord had this habit of replying to my English messages in Chinese.)

After a late-afternoon nap, we headed for Gongguan Night Market near Taipei University. Gongguan is definitely one of the lesser known night markets, to judge by the crowd and the number of food stalls. However, the shoe stores there have unwittingly prepared quite a bargain for someone from the Philippines.

Ximending, night.

Ximending crossing.

Gongguan Night Market.

What we had for dinner (L-R): some kind of chicken sausage, goat meat xiaolongbao, some sort of seafood gratin in a shell.

Ximending crossing at 11PM on a Saturday night.


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