We're back! Our stay in Taiwan was great, but I'm glad to be back. I have a lot of pics and comments to post, so there will be a lot of Taiwan talk for a short while.
I'll begin with my notes on transportation and accommodations in Taiwan. We took Thai Airways to Taoyuan International. Our flight was quite nice. The staff is very friendly, the interior of the plane is a vibrant purple, and we had our own individual screens. (Can't say the same for our return flight though). Thai Airways, by the way, has the most hypnotic safety instruction video I've ever made an effort to watch. The flight, a little over 2 hours, went by very quickly thanks to the on board media. I was finally able to watch Be Kind Rewind! (The film has its flaws, but its so very enjoyable.)
Once we arrived in Taoyuan, we purchased a SIM card (I brought my unlocked GSM phone from the Homeland). Then, we purchased shuttle tickets to Taipei Main Station from the first window that we could find. Unfortunately, this was a bad call. Our ticket was quite inexpensive at just 90TWD (about $3) -- suspiciously inexpensive. Our cheap seats got us a ride on the roundabout route that makes multiple stops, including a cruise down the street with all the Betel Nut Girls. I should have known we were on a poor choice in bus when the driver said with a quizzical look, "Taipei Main Station?"
I recommend that you shell out $12 or so for tickets for an express bus to Taipei.
Once we got to Taipei Station, we caught a taxi to our hotel in Songshan. It turns out that taxis are relatively more expensive than taxis in Seoul. The starting fee is 70TWD. Most Taipei drivers do not speak English, and our Mandarin accent is quite off, so it was a bit of a challenge to direct our driver. But, we worked it all out thanks to our map and broad gestures.
Cyndi and I shared a room at a budget hotel called Wonstar Hotel (not to be confused with Onestar Hotel). The hotel also goes by the name "Wantai Hotel." The exterior of the building is nothing to write home about, so I was quite surprised by the cleanliness of the room. The bathroom looked like it had been recently remodeled, and the bed was quite comfortable. I had no complaints. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, which included a buffet of congee, eggs, ham, toast, and other fixings that I imagine that your Taiwanese auntie would prepare for you on the weekend.
We arrived at the hotel in the evening, so most of the shops were closed, but we were able to check out Raohe Street Night Market.
The Wonstar is near many prominent spots including Taipei 101, City Hall, and the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. It's also walking distance from the Yongchun MRT stop. Take exit 5. Head LEFT. Cross the bridge, and walk straight up the street for 7-10 minutes.
Due to room availability, we also had to book two nights at a hotel in Ximen, called King Shi Hotel. King Shi is not your typical hotel in that it only takes up two floors in a non-descript building. Since J.IM was joining us, we booked a deluxe double room. King Shi is located in the midst of the bustling Ximen district and is very close to Taipei Main Station. The room was big enough for three people, but the facilities were less shiny and new, at least in comparison to Wonstar. The bathroom was also a little small, and looked like it could use a little updating. Nonetheless, the hotel adequately clean and centrally located.
To find King Shi, take the MRT to Ximen. Take exit 6. Walk up Cheng Du St. Make a LEFT at Kuming St. (You should see a KFC and Family Mart).
Our humble little budget hotels in Taipei were sufficient, but they pale in comparison to the brand spankin' new Garden Villa in Kaohsiung. To our surprise, our room at Garden Villa was significantly less than our rooms at Wonstar and King Shi. Of course, we received a little discount thanks to our friends in Kaohshiung. More on Kaoshiung later...
We primarily got around Taipei on foot or the MRT, which thankfully, had many English signs. We did take a cab a few times. At the risk of harping, I just want to say that based on what I've observed, Taipei taxi drivers are a lot more helpful than Seoul taxi drivers. The Taipei drivers may not know a lick of English, but they'll help you load your bags into the trunk, unlike some Korean taxi drivers. Yeah, I'm talking about you Mr. Bundang Ajusshi, who just sat in your air conditioned cab, while we three ladies tried to swing our heavy bags into your crowded trunk.