My trip to Taiwan has been a momentous one for my traveling credentials – for the first time ever, I have travelled with only carryon luggage (that’s for a 3 country trip!). It’s also the first time I have travelled without a planned itinerary – in the past I have booked all or most of my hotels, and known how I was getting from a to b. Not so on this trip! I had a rough idea of some places that sounded interesting, and I booked the first nights accommodation, but the rest was up in the air when I boarded my flight to Taipei.
A quick layover in Hong Kong was extended when my next plane was delayed, and the gate changed from one end of the airport to the other. But no matter, we were soon up in the air again. Arrival into Taipei was surprising – coming out of the arrivals hall I was greater by a mass of faces, and not one pushing and screaming “taxiiiiiii”. Much of my trip was like this – you hear the Chinese being spoken and see the signs everywhere, but then notice that no, people aren’t trying to get you to buy their products or no, people aren’t trying to scam you, a bit hard to get used to!
At the airport I quickly and easily organised a sim card and a bus to town. My hotel was easy to find and easy to check into. Exhausted from travel, I wandered around till I found an ATM that would accept my MasterCard (luckily I had bought some TWD in Melbourne). Grabbed some 7/11 food for dinner (an amusing mix of Japanese and Chinese konbini foods) and crashed for the night.
At this stage I was still considering just getting a tour package, and have someone organise my travels for me, so the next day I set off for one of the travel agents in town. Navigating the metro was simple (similar reusable token system as Bangkok), and using google maps on my phone (best invention ever!) I quickly found the travel agent. I was able to organise a tour for that night to see one of the markets and do Mongolian BBQ, but unfortunately there was only one tour running that week. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I left it for now.
I wandered around the town for the rest of the day, until the taxi picked me up for my night tour. We went and collected another girl for the tour before meeting up with the “big bus”. A total of 6 on the bus, we had 2 Australians, 2 Japanese, a French and an Italian in our group. Most had been in Taiwan for a few days at least and were all due to fly out in a day or so. Our first stop was Mongolian barbeque – once again proving that Mongolian/Korean BBQ has very different meanings in different parts of the world. Here, we lined up and chose our choice of thin (raw) meats, vegetables and sauces. Into a bowl they went, and then were handed to the chefs, who fried them up on the spot for us. There was also a selection of salads, fruits and drinks. The middle of the table had a bubbling pot of water that was available to be used for shabu-shabu style food as well. The restaurant appeared to be catering purely towards bus groups, and the food was just mediocre, but the experience was amazing!
Our next stop was the Snake Alley street market, culminating in the Long Shan Temple. To be honest, if I had of realised the street market we were going to was Snake Alley, I probably wouldn’t have done the tour. Snake Alley is known for its shops selling snake blood – they cut and bleed the snake in front of you, and then you can do a shot of this lovely concoction. HOWEVER I saw none of this – we arrived in the middle of a huge street festival, celebrating the goddess of the sea. There were people everywhere, and men dressed in scary devil costumes. Our poor guide was terrified he would lose us (he said when he has a group of 20 or 30 it is horrible), but we had a brilliant time, weaving in and out of the procession. We beat them to the temple and had a quick look around before attempting to find our bus again.
The last stop was Taipei 101. It was a clear night, and the view from the top was flat out amazing. When it was built, it broke all sorts of records – check out Wikipedia for more info. The Italian guy and I attempted to get a photo of each other in front of the mascot – trying to get in between the mainland tourists was challenging – mum had to take a photo with son, son had to take a photo with dad, dad had to take a photo with daughter, daughter had to take a photo with aunty, grandma had to take a separate photo with everyone! The Italian guys hasn’t been to China, so was a bit bewildered by it all. On the other hand, I got a photo with grandma!
Whilst we were up Taipei 101, I rang around and tried to book a tour to Kenting for the following day, but I was laughed at and told everything was full, so I’ve decided to catch a train and do it myself. My tour mates were very apprehensive about this (they had all done 3 or more of the tours), which in turn made me a little apprehensive, but with no other options, that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow!