Wandering around old Taipei

I’ve heard that business passengers like overnight flights because it enables them to do a full day of work. Maybe if you can afford a nice lie flat bed on the plane that might be true, but for those of us who can’t sleep it means a day of exhaustion before your hotel will let you check in.

We arrived at Taoyuan Airport so early that most of its shops were closed. Most importantly, I can’t purchase a prepaid SIM card until 8 AM. I’m still not feeling 100%, the other two are also tired and our hotel in Taipei won’t be ready until 2 PM. B and Alex agree with my suggestion of a day stay at the nearby Novotel. I call the Novotel using Google Phone, but they say we have to check in in person. So down to the minibus we walk.

Unfortunately, when we arrive the only availability is for an expensive premium room. It’s a pity because the transit stay we had in the Novotel Taoyuan back in 2013 was one of the best ever. Back on the free, but packed, minibus to the airport terminal.

The airport shops are now open for business and I quickly get a Chunghwa prepaid SIM card with 5 days of unlimited 4G data access for less than $15. Now it’s off on another bus to connect to the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) train into Taipei, this airport being a whole other city away.

It’s inconvenient having to catch a shuttle bus and it’s quite a long ride. We could have caught a bus the whole way, like we did on our first visit. I’m told that Taoyuan Airport should be connected to the Taipei metro system in April, but for now you need to catch the shuttle to the Taoyuan THSR station.

At the THSR station we purchase a couple of sandwiches and some milk from the Mosburger outlet and convenience store and consume them on the orange, black and white Shinkansen derived train. It’s just like being back in Japan. Fast and very comfortable.

We are staying at the same hotel as last time in Taipei, the CityInn II, so we know the way from the station. It’s a friendly little hotel, very modern, a lot like one of the Japanese business hotel chains we stay in but with a few extra features like a shared kitchen and free washing machines and dryers. Free coffee and hot chocolate too from the Nescafe machine.

This is an unplanned for day in Taiwan. Our original flights would have seen us landing here in the evening from Taiwan. Now we have a whole day to do something.

B decides that she wants to go looking for some soft shorts for Alex. Checking the map I see a “fashion area” listed within walking distance. It’s something, so we leave our luggage with the hotel and set out to explore.

The surrounds of our hotel are mostly clusters of small shops each selling the same kind of thing. There are Chinese decorations, red and gold to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year, shops selling luggage and backpacks, a cluster selling socks and accessories, others selling jackets and so on.

I’ve said before that Taiwan is like a grittier Chinese version of Japan, which considering the latter’s previous occupation of the island, it is. There’s a particular style about the building and apartment design that I’ve not encountered elsewhere. There is a layer of black grime over the structures, that is noticeably absent from their northern neighbour.

Is it lack of washing, of the sometimes tropical atmosphere or air pollution or a combination of all of them? Indeed later on this visit Google supplies warnings to my phone about particulate levels in the air.

I don’t find the effect ugly though. Instead it gives the place texture, a sense of history and stories. And there are both in this area. A plaque at a spot along Nanjing West Road described it as the flashpoint for the February 28 Incident, when the Kuomintang led government massacred an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 Taiwanese civilians.

Today the current version of the Kuomintang government are facing electoral defeat in a more peaceful as Taiwanese citizens line up to vote for the opposition presidential candidate of Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party.

The DPP are pro Taiwanese independence from China, so China has apparently retaliated by restricting the number of its citizens who can visit what it regards as a renegade province. This is a good thing for us as it means having to fight through much smaller crowds of pushy mainland tourists.

We are just going wherever looks interesting and find ourselves wandering along old Dihua Street, past the Yongle fabric and wet market. There are many shops selling dried fruit and other traditional produce. We stop at one to buy ice blocks, custard apple, rice, and other “different” flavours. The shopkeeper encourages us to enter and try his dried fruits and vegetables. B likes the okra chips, I take a fancy to the dried onion and dried cheese (!) chips, though I eventually decide the flavour is too overwhelming.

Instead I buy some dried mango and dried kiwifruit (or Chinese gooseberry as it is also known in English). Taiwan grows a lot of tropical fruits and they are delicious.

The Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum is nearby, but it is closed for the election day. Alex wants to use the facilities and the map shows Dadaocheng Wharf across the road. Sounds touristy, so I take a punt that there might be restrooms.

Through the flood barrier and under the motorway there is a concrete and park area besides the Tamsui River. This was previously the port for Taipei, but now is just a quiet ferry terminal. There were some demountable toilets, a bike hire shop and a mobile cafe where I bought a pluto pup/dagwood dog that Alex “steals” in preference to the fried chicken B purchased.

Aircraft drift down towards Taipei’s Songshan Airport through the grey sky, the river almost entirely clear of traffic. A few bikes ride past, a couple of other tourists pose for photographs and the wind rustles through riverside reeds and bushes.

Wearily we decide to head back to the hotel, strolling alongside the river until we arrive at another opening in the flood barrier, past a fitness park and playground. We are soon back walking along Chang’an Road, leading straight to the hotel. Fortunately, we can now check in, but there has been an issue with the triple room we booked and we are split into two double rooms for the next couple of nights.

Exhausted, we shower and change and collapse into bed for the next few hours.

When we awake B is hungry. She sees the Fuda Shandong Zhengjiao Dawang (福大山東蒸餃大王) dumpling and noodle restaurant on the Internet, insists we go there for dinner. Fortunately, it is only a short walk away.

It’s a busy little place and we have to wait in a queue for three seats. We order some noodles, soup and dumplings. They are okay, but there is not enough for all of us, and my upset stomach doesn’t really want some of the flavours right now.

Walking up a bit further we are back on a very busy section of Nanjing West Road with department stores, fashion chains and a lot of neon. It’s almost like being back in Japan.

Over Alex’s protests B hunts for some clothes, buys toothbrushes at a Daiso outlet and fails to find anything at UniQlo while Alex amuses himself at an outlet selling Apple products.

As we arrive back near the hotel I begin feeling a bit hungry. There’s not much open now and I succumb to laziness in entering the KFC opposite. I feel like some kind of traitor to good travel. There’s some sort of Chinese New Year box on sale with cheese sauce over the chicken. Well, that’s something you don’t get in Australia, so I order it, sharing the popcorn chicken and chips with the others.

Another thing KFC don’t sell in Australia are egg tarts for dessert. Wow. The KFC ones are nice. Haven’t had one from them since a peach tart in Guilin in 2007. I’ve had much worse at some big name yum cha restaurants in Sydney.

Once we get back to the hotel you’d think we could catch up on that missed sleep from the flight before.


There’s washing to be done. And it never takes as long as it’s supposed to. Always much longer.

I’m up until 3 AM.


Filed under: