My first vacation this year (2012) brought me to Taiwan.
I had to consider a place close to the Philippines so I can bring family along, whose entry requirements are manageable and that it should be somewhere I have never been to before. Not to mention that the projected expenses should be within my budget 🙂 My options were Indonesia, Taiwan and Myanmar. I did not feel like going to Indonesia that time and I was not sure how easy and quick it is to process Myanmar visa… So I was left with Taiwan!
I began my research immediately. Having a valid US Visa, I found out that I am not required to pre-obtain a Taiwanese entry visa. I just needed to register in this website https://nas.immigration.gov.tw/nase/ and print the Entry Permit Authorization which allows me a 30-day stay. I also began checking for places to include in the 8-day DIY gallivanting, hotels to stay at and build-up my food must-try list 🙂 Yey!
I had my day-to-day schedule all wrapped up, hotel bookings and all, when an earthquake shook Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I decided to cancel my trip there and stay in Taipei instead, never mind that a 1-night hotel booking wasted 😦 I was thankful though that the earthquake did not happen when I was supposed to have been there. I wouldn’t have known what to do, moreso that I was travelling alone.)
My 17-hour Singapore Airlines flight including connections was uneventful. I arrived in Taipei at ~1pm. I exchanged currencies at the airport close to the immigration counters. I thought their rates were good enough.
About 95% of the people in the queue were Chinese. Oh my! I immediately sensed this was going to be a problem for me. I speak zero Chinese, well, except for Ni Hao. Immigration procedures was a breeze. I showed them my valid US visa and my entry permit and was not asked any more questions. Right after Immigrations by the escalator, I got maps and brochures that will help me navigate the city.
I went straight to the bus station located at the back of the airport. Finding it, I had my next OMG!!! moment. There are several stalls selling bus tickets for different destinations. Bus timings were written in Chinese and the ticket sellers were not too conversant in English. What they do, they ask for your hotel and tell you which bus to take. My hostel provided fairly clear directions but just being in a place where you can’t converse with locals well could sometimes make you feel doubtful. Praying that I am getting the right bus, I bought a ticket that will take me (hopefully) to Taipei Train Station East Side. I joined the queue outside still unsure whether I was in the correct line. Hehe… It took around 30 minutes before our bus arrived.
Taipei Train Station has a typical Chinese architecture and is HUGE! There is a taxi stand right outside the East Side of the station. My hostel is supposed to be “walking distance” from the station, but since I had a lot of stuff, I chose to ride a cab instead. Besides, nobody could tell me how to get to my hostel 😦 I was in the taxi station for a long time asking for directions. None of the taxi drivers know where my hostel was and even the pedestrian police was already helping me out. What I appreciated most that time was that the people were very helpful and nobody took advantage of me being female travelling alone. I could see how they were genuinely doing their best to help. I asked one of the pedestrian police if she can call my hostel and ask for directions, and she willingly did. She informed the taxi driver where I was going and I was off. It turned out that my hostel was really close to the hotel. It could have been an easy walk if I had known where I was going and if I had no luggage in tow. Oh well, now I know 🙂
I had late lunch at Yoshinoya and spent the rest of the day just walking around the neighborhood. I did not explore yet as I wanted to rest from the long hours of travel and prepare myself for going around tomorrow.
I found Taipei to be a low-key and laid-back but clean city. I also found Taiwanese people to be more hospitable and friendlier than the mainland Chinese. But, more of my views of the city on my next blog!