Thursday, October 22, 2015

Taipei Again

The first time I went to Taipei, I stayed in the Xinyi District. There was never enough time to go anywhere else, so I stayed put. That's actually a good way to see a new city, especially if you plan on going back a few times. Big cities are hard to see all at once. When people go to Tokyo for the first time, they try to hit the Imperial Palace, Roppongi, Ginza, Meiji Jingu, SkyTree and a million other sights, but they are all in different wards. The SkyTree and Meiji Shrine are nowhere near each other.

By concentrating on Xinyi, I got to know that area relatively well. I learned nothing about the rest of the city, but I would have learned nothing about any of it if I tried to see all of it in a single weekend.

For this trip, we stayed in Zhongzheng, which has more than enough to see and do for the weekend. But we did stray out of the area a little bit. Taipei, like most large East Asian cities, has an efficient mass transportation system. I never got to use it last time. I went in a group and we got a ride to and from the airport. This time, I went with Lily. We were on our own, so we had little choice but to use the MRT.

There are several options to get into Taipei from the airport. Like Tokyo, Bangkok and Fuzhou, the airport is far away from the city. Unlike Hong Kong and Tokyo, there is nothing like the MTR Airport Express. Buses seem to be the most popular option, but we took the $1 shuttle from the airport to the nearest high speed train station since it was close to the main station, which was across the street from our hotel.

We stayed at the Caesar Park Hotel, which is a typical business hotel. I liked the Home Hotel in Xinyi better because it was a smaller boutique hotel. You tend to get better service at those places. There was nothing wrong with the Caesar Park, other than the bathroom. The location could not have been better.

The hotel is three blocks north of the 228 Peace Park and National Taiwan Museum, which is a block west of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, National Concert Hall and National Theater, which are northeast of the National Museum of History and Botanical Garden. Immediately south of the hotel is a shopping neighborhood with more than enough food. Unlike Xinyi, it is not flooded with western food, but we did see a McDonald's and Starbucks. Just like Xinyi, there is a 7-11 on practically every corner.

Since the main MRT station was across the street from our hotel, we took the train a few stops north to the main Confucius temple, creatively called Taipei Confucius Temple. That was not simply the English name. It's actually called that in Chinese. 臺北孔子廟. We also headed east to Taipei 101. I had already been there, but Lily had not.

Taipei's MRT is pretty much like Hong Kong's MTR. Except we had to pay with cash. They have a card similar to the Octopus, but I didn't buy one since I don't know when I'll ever go back. I've heard that it can be used at 7-11 and other places, just like the Octopus card, so I'll probably get one next time. The MRT has a number of different lines that seem to go everywhere in the city. The trains are not as clean as Hong Kong, but they were a lot less crowded.

On the way back home, we took a taxi from the hotel to the airport. That's probably the most expensive way to go, but we were in a hurry. Taking the high speed train to the shuttle to the airport is a good hour plus however long you have to wait around for the train and shuttle. The taxi ride was also an hour, but there was no waiting time. Overall, we saved almost 10 minutes for three times the price.

Taipei taxis are also pretty much like Hong Kong taxis. They are dirt cheap and dirty compared to Tokyo. Unlike Mainland China, catching a taxi was very easy. It probably helped that we were at a large hotel across the street from the main train station. Unlike Hong Kong, our Taipei driver understood my Chinese perfectly. Nobody was expecting that. He could understand me without the usual “eh” and I caught about half of what he said. That's pretty good when it comes to taxis. He spoke with a heavy accent, but I'm sure my accent sounded crazy to him.

It's nice to know I can communicate with taxi drivers in Taipei, but next time I'm sticking with the trains.

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