Our three nights in Taipei went by really quickly. We were flying out later in the afternoon and going to Singapore. We woke up pretty late and took our time packing up. Mom went to get us breakfast and made us some milk tea (which was really yummy). She had to go out for lunch with some old friends, so Tim and I were on our own.
Before we knew it, it was already 1pm! Originally we thought we’d go for beef noodle, but the places we had in mind weren’t that close to the apartment. We decided to go back to Tonghua Street to go for a quick lunch at Formosa Chang’s and grab bubble tea for later. We headed out without checking the weather, a jacket, or an umbrella (Tim: foreshadowing). While we were walking we felt a couple of heavy rain drops and knew it was going to be a huge down pour. We quickly got undercover and into Formosa Chang’s for lunch.
We walked really quickly back to the apartment to try to stay as dry as possible. Luckily we were both wearing clothes that would dry quickly since everything else was packed. We got back to the apartment and did the final pack up and waited for Mom to get back from lunch before heading down to meet Uncle Albert.
As mentioned in my last post, I’m a sentimental person so it was sad leaving Taipei. It has become the closest place we had to a home this trip. We have had a lot of good memories here with family and friends, so when we said bye, I obviously cried (but tried to hide it as best as possible…). Tim is touched that I showed so much emotion to his Motherland.
The drive out to Taoyuan Airport is around an hour from the city. It’s extremely kind of Uncle Albert to drive us back and forth from the airport so many times this trip. They are building an airport train line out from Taipei Main Station to the airport, but it’s completion has been delayed quite a bit. Hopefully the next time we visit it will be done.
We were flying Singapore Airlines (both for the first time) and we left out of Terminal 2 of the International Terminal. This was the first time we have been to this terminal and it’s really nice. They had a good selection of luxury brands, Taiwanese souvenirs, and duty free shops. Comparing the prices of Longchamps back at Taoyuan and Incheon, they are about the same. If the USD was stronger (like it was a few months back), than Taoyuan would be cheaper since their prices are in NT.
I was looking forward to flying with Singapore Airlines since I’ve always heard good things about it and it’s consistently ranked one of the best airlines in the world. After my first flight with them, I would have to agree, it’s probably the best airline I’ve flown. The flight attendants were all very friendly (and pretty), they gave you a hot towel when you sat down to wipe your hands/face (and we were in economy), they came around with drinks (great drink selection) more than 5 times on a 4 hour flight and their meals were good (you get Haagen Daaz ice cream).
The movie selection was also great – they had over 150 movies (those are just the Hollywood movies) to watch, including some really recent releases. I ended up watching “The Intern” with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro (I liked it!), 3 episodes of the “New Girl”, and Anthony Bourdain in Tanzania. There was no turbulence on this flight so it was more enjoyable than the flight a few days ago.
We finally landed at Singapore’s Changi Airport after what felt like a long flight. It was 10:20pm when we landed, we went through customs and headed for the SMRT to get us into the city. We packed an overnight day pack so we didn’t have to pick up our backpacks (they’re going straight to Melbourne) (Tim: fingers crossed).
We booked a hotel near the Chinatown SMRT stop through Expedia. It was $139 CAD a night and is in a relatively good location – about an 8 minute walk to a couple of the hawker food markets I wanted to go to. After a couple of transfers, it took us about 35 minutes to get to our hotel. We arrived at our hotel just before midnight. We checked in, washed up and relaxed. The hotel room is quite nice – clean, rainfall shower head, and a large bed.
Tomorrow we’ll have until about 7pm until we have to go back to Changi for our flight to Melbourne at 9:30pm.
We woke up earlier this morning to finish packing and clean up the apartment before we left for Seoul. Uncle Albert picked us up at around 10:15am and we headed to Taoyuan for our flight to Seoul’s Incheon Airport at 1:25pm. The airport is about an hour drive from central Taipei. Hopefully when we come back in a few years they will have finished the train line connecting central Taipei to Taoyuan Airport.
It was my first time flying Korean Air and Tim’s second time (he flew with them to Brazil). The flight wasn’t full as they moved us up about ten rows when we checked in at the counter. There were a lot of Americans on our flight as it was a code share flight with Delta and it seemed like a lot of people were connecting through Seoul en route back to North America.
We had about an hour to kill at Taoyuan before our flight boarded. We decided to have lunch, unsure if we were going to get anything to eat since the flight was only 2 hours. There was only one restaurant near our gate that served Taiwanese set rice sets and noodles. We shared a pork chop rice set and I got a drink from the vending machine since it was priced the same as outside the airport at 20 NT = $0.80 CAD.
Our flight went by pretty quickly and we did end up getting a meal on the plane – oh well, now we know. We landed in Seoul-Incheon at 4:30pm (South Korea is an hour ahead of Taiwan). Looking out the window, it was a sunny day but it was very hazy so it was hard to even see the mountains in the distance. We haven’t seen a clear blue sky in a while.
When we got off the plane, we had to take a tram to immigration and baggage claim. Once we got off the tram, we went to the immigration area and the line up for foreign passports was crazy. It took us about an hour to get through customs (I hate line ups!). After we got through and went to the baggage area, all the bags from our flight were already taken off the carousel. We found our backpacks and headed to the bus area.
The bus area was another gong show. We had to take bus #6015 to get close to our hotel which is in the Myeong-dong area of Seoul. We lined up to board the bus then and realized we needed to buy tickets from the ticket counter before boarding (tickets were 10,000 KRW each = $11.30 CAD). We ended up finally leaving the airport at 6:4opm. The bus ride into the city is about 70 minutes long – I fell asleep along the way and only woke up when the bus started to make stops. The bus doesn’t make any stops until you get into the city centre (which is after 50 minutes).
When I woke up, we were in the city and everything felt big, busy and bright. My first impression of Seoul is that it’s very modern looking and a bit overwhelming. Finally, we got to our stop, Namdaemun Market, and walked to our hotel which was about 3 minutes away. Yesterday, I watched the hotel’s instructional video on how to get from the bus stop to the hotel. It was really helpful and we didn’t even need to look at a map!
We’re staying at Hotel Shin Shin in the Myeong-dong/Namdaemun area. I found the hotel while looking on Trip Advisor as it has really good ratings and is one of the top hotels in Seoul that isn’t a branded hotel (and is very reasonable at $85 CAD a night). Our room is another two single bed set ups, which I picked because it was the cheapest room option (Tim and I are roommates again). The room is fairly small but very functional and everything in it is modern.
After we settled in and rested a bit, we went out to walk around and look for dinner. It was about 8:30pm and we were starting to get hungry. When we stepped outside, it felt like we were in Vancouver because of the crisp cold air (about 12 degrees Celsius). We decided to go to the Namdaemun Market to see if they had street food, but when we went there everything was closing. I think we took for granted that not all markets are night markets like in Taiwan. We walked around the neighbouring streets and mainly found restaurants filled with Korean businessmen drinking and smoking outside. It was interesting, there weren’t many women around at all and Tim kept asking if I felt uncomfortable (I didn’t). Seoul definitely has a lot more smokers than in Taipei – just based on walking around this area. It seemed like everyone was outside smoking. We looked at the restaurants that did have menus outside and noticed that the prices were a lot more than Taipei. The prices are more similar to Vancouver pricing for food.
We walked around for about an hour and then decided to go to this noodle restaurant we passed by closer to our hotel. It looked clean and had locals eating there so we decided to give it a try. The waitress was very nice and knew we didn’t speak Korean – we pointed to the pictures and ordered spicy noodles, fried dumplings and sweet and sour pork. When the food came, we were both surprised at how large the portions were (mainly the size of the dumplings). Next time we don’t need to order that much.
Everything was very good but spicy – even the dumplings. We drank all the water they gave us and Tim was sweating like crazy. I guess we’re not used to the Korean heat.
We came back to the hotel and washed up. We’re looking forward to exploring Seoul tomorrow, it’s always exciting to explore a new city together. So far we hadn’t encountered any issues with language barriers yet. I’m practicing saying thank you in Korean, “gomabseubnida”, so at least we can be polite tourists.
Step count will be updated tomorrow, Tim is sleeping already.
So we did what we said we were going to do. We woke up at 4:15am (without an alarm), got ready and left the apartment around 5:30am. It was about a 30 minute walk to get to the base of Elephant Mountain (which has the best views of the city and Taipei 101). As we were walking to the base, some food vendors were prepping food for the day. We noted which vendors to go back to for breakfast. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a lot of people start their days at 5am, I’ve just never been one of them.
We got to the base of the mountain around 5:50am. We read online that if you’re in good shape can get to the top in 15 minutes. I think if you’re in good shape you could actually get to the top viewing point in 10 minutes or even less if you sprinted up. We got to the top in 15 minutes, which, shouldn’t be that impressive because a man that looked like he was in his 80s with a cane was inching up on me as I was huffing and puffing up the stairs (Clearly I’m out of shape). FYI, we beat him up the mountain.
After taking a bunch of pictures at the viewing point we walked around other trails. There are a few other trails around Elephant mountain, called the Four Beasts Mountains. We didn’t do any of them, we just walked around a few other trails and saw a lot of seniors working out. The majority of them were super fit. This guy in his 70-80s was consecutively doing curl ups while chatting up the ladies close by. Another interesting thing to note is that there were a lot of old men who would perch on viewing points and yell. Then other men from other viewing points would “call back”. I wanted to join in too. I just “roared” at a squirrel that got scared and ran away.
After we made our way down from the mountain, it was about 8am. We went back to a fairly busy area called Wu Xing. We walked past a “rice ball” breakfast stall that had a line up. We decided to try it out and were not disappointed! This was exactly what I was craving while huffing up the mountain.
After we finished eating, we walked down “Wu Xing Square” which was an open market full of everything: meat, poultry, seafood, produce, dumpling makers, clothing, pretty much anything you can think of. This was place was bustling for 8am!
We walked up and down the block and decided to have “oyster vermicelli” soup. The soup is a thick starchy broth with thin noodles, oysters and large intestine. I mostly just drank the soup with noodles and oysters, Tim ate the large intestine. I really enjoyed the soup, I could probably do without the large intestine.
After resting at the apartment for a few hours. We decided to check out “Lin Dong Fang”, a beef noodle restaurant that was suggested on CNN’s Taiwanese food list (also vouched by other friends). It did not disappoint! I don’t have the same nostalgic feelings towards beef noodle as Tim does, so usually I don’t order it; but I have to say this one lived up to the hype. The noodles were nice and chewy (which is the way I like) and the meat was very tender. I ordered just beef and Tim ordered beef and tendon.
We heard from Uncle Albert that there was a lantern festival going on in Taoyuan and he suggested we check it out as it was ending this weekend. We decided to make our way to Taoyuan tonight so after lunch we walked toward Taipei Main Station to catch the high speed rail train.
On our way to the train station, we came across a huge Disney Tsum Tsum statue in front of a complex called Huashan Creative Park. We decided to check it out and saw there was an exhibition going on. We were lucky to have been drawn in to check out the area because we had no idea what this “creative park” was. It was a pretty unique place with different exhibits and independent artist boutiques and hipster restaurants inside old buildings. The feel of the area reminded me a bit of the Distillery District in Toronto.
We made our way to the Taipei Main Station area and ventured around the area with the intent to get back to the station around 4pm to take the train to Taoyuan. We were craving shaved ice since we haven’t eaten that yet. We found free wifi at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store, so we stood there for a while seeing if there was anything close by. Tim found a highly rated place on trip advisor that was about a mile away. We walked there only to discover it was closed. It was pretty disappointing. We’ll save that place for another day!
We walked back to the train station slightly disappointed (first world problems) and bought our train tickets to Taoyuan. Taoyuan is where Taipei’s international airport is, which is about 45km from Taipei. We bought the high speed rail ticket which costed $6 for a round trip and would only take 20 minutes.
As soon as we stepped outside the train station in Taoyuan, we were surrounded by the Lantern Festival’s exhibits. It was about 4:30pm when we got there so it was still bright out. We went to the food areas to eat an earlier dinner so we didn’t have to fight the crowds when it got dark. I won’t go into too much detail about the food, I’m getting a bit nightmarketed out. We had Taiwanese sausage, some BBQ’ed pork belly, squid and this drink with two scoops of this slushy ice in it. The drink and BBQ pork were my favourite. We went back for one more drink at the end of the night! We spent 275 NT or $11 at the food stalls for dinner.
We were planning on staying at the festival until the fireworks at 8pm. As soon as the sun set, the lights all came on and the whole area came to life. I loved all the hanging lanterns and I’ll share some of the lantern displays I liked the most.
We were worried that there would be a mad rush to get back to the train right after the fireworks ended so we made sure to stay close to the exit. We estimated that there must have been over 50,000 people there (the grounds were massive). After looking at the majority of the lantern exhibits (we didn’t look at all of them, there were probably hundreds), we were feeling pretty drained. It was 8pm and no fireworks came on, Tim asked one of the security guards when the fireworks were starting and he said they were cancelled for tonight but would be on tomorrow. That was let down as we were waiting until 8pm for the fireworks! Every half hour the huge monkey in the middle of the festival “came to life” and lit up and did a slow 360 degree rotation to everyone’s excitement (except mine, the monkey creeped me out).
I wished the festival was on for another few weeks, I think Nate would have really like it! This was the first time that we saw so many kids and strollers.
After discovering there were no fireworks we left and feeling more drained than ever. Luckily leaving the festival was super organized because at that point I don’t think we could’ve handled it. This was the latest we’ve stayed up since being here and we didn’t really even have an afternoon break! We both fell asleep on the train ride back to Taipei. When then had to transfer and take the MRT back to the apartment. We both decided that tomorrow is going to be a chill out day and my post will likely be a lot shorter. I’m finding it hard to be able to just relax and adjust to the fact that we’ll be here for a month.
Tim checked our steps for today, and it’s an all time high 44, 500. No wonder we’re beat!
The day has finally arrived! After talking about this trip for a few months now, it is finally happening! The last two weeks since being off work were quite hectic/stressful; moving out of our apartment and trying to prepare for our trip. We spent our last few nights in my parent’s basement – which is where we stored everything (thanks Mom & Dad!). We woke up early this morning (mostly due to nerves) to last minute pack and have breakfast with my parents. They drove us to the airport and we said our goodbyes. My Mom always makes me tear up when she says goodbye at the airport.
Travel days are always the most tiring, especially when your flight isn’t a direct one. As we were flying on Aeroplan points, our only option to get to Taipei was to fly through San Francisco. This increased our travel time by a few hours – both layover time and overall flight time.
We left YVR at 12:40pm and had about a 1.5 hour layover at SFO. This was enough time to get a bowl of Boudin’s clam chowder (my childhood fave when we visited our SF relatives) and check out the EVA Air lounge. Since we got to the lounge with only about 10 minutes until boarding, there wasn’t much (rather any) food left. We grabbed a pineapple juice and a bag of chips and went to our gate.
It was my first time flying EVA (Tim doesn’t remember if he did as a kid). I had no complaints, the flight attendants were attentive and friendly. They were, however, a bit stingy with the amount of juice they poured into your cup (they barely filled half). But I did appreciate that they had more “exotic” choices like guava juice and Calpis. The food on the flight was comparable to Cathay’s. I had the fish on rice and Tim had the western option of roasted chicken and potatoes. I think mine was better as Tim didn’t finish his. (I was right, Tim confirmed it was just “okay”)
The inflight entertainment movie selection was good – it had a lot of the Oscar nominated movies like, Brooklyn, Carol, The Big Short; and it even had Star Wars, The Force Wakens! I watched The Big Short, but fell asleep before it ended (a typical Kaitlyn move). We both ended up sleeping close to 8 hours which made the flight seem a lot shorter. I woke up as we were flying over Japan with only a couple hours left to go.
We arrived at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei at around 9:45pm. The customs line up for non-citizens was pretty long. We waited about 20 minutes but it didn’t seem so bad because there’s free wifi at the airport (I don’t take free wifi for granted at airports)! While waiting in the customs line, I thought the guy in front of us smelled (like a homeless type of smell), but after further investigation I discovered it was me. It was my Band-Aid I put on in the morning that was damp from washing my hands throughout the day…so gross.
By the time we got through customs our bags were already out. Tim’s Uncle Albert was waiting for us as we walked out. He drove us into the city and brought us to the apartment that we are staying at. Last time we were here in 2013, there was no wifi, so we were happy to discover that they now have wifi! (yay!) It’s around 1:30am right now and both of us are wide awake. Tim hooked us his chrome cast to the TV and was scrolling through Taiwanese Netflix, he was pretty pumped that they have “Better Call Saul”, which we don’t have apparently.
Looking forward to taking it easy tomorrow and exploring our surroundings in Taipei.