Saturday, March 8, 2014

Taipei - Part 1

(This is the journal of my stay in Taipei, Taiwan, where I attended the Taipei Cycle 2014 trade show and spent two extra days chilling out in this awesome city)

A planned trip...

Onboard the MAS 737-800 on the medium-haul journey to Taiwan

I hardly travel to international trade shows.
My last was a gun and knife show in Las Vegas, USA. That was back in 2009 where I spent two weeks in the US with my wife.
We toured the Grand Canyon as well as parts of Arizona and Nevada.
Some months back, Joshua Hon of Tern Bicycles invited me to the Tern Social Ride at the Nangang Exhibition Hall in Taipei and I thought that it was a great opportunity to catch up with the man behind one of the most respectable folding bike manufacturer on this planet.
So, I worked on trying to source for a cheap return flight from Kuala Lumpur.
On the average, a Malaysian Airlines ticket would cost between RM1,300 to RM1,900 depending on the day you depart.
There was an offer on the Taipei ticket and I managed to score a return ticket at RM950.
But, there is a price to pay for this.
You leave on unGodly hours.
Nevertheless, I've secured my ride to Taiwan and what that was left to do, is a place to crash.
I am used to budget travel - especially when I have to boot the expenses myself..
So, I combed the internet for the best rates and was told by my colleague that "homestays" in Taipei are pretty affordable.
I gave it a shot by signing-up with Booking.com and found a cosy little place to bunk at the Ximending district.
This is said to be a lively place with food around the clock.
I booked a room for RM750 for five nights.
On the average, that's the price for a room for one night at any three-star hotel in Taipei.
With my airplane ticket and accommodation settled, its a matter of getting some pocket money and that was no real issue.
My flight departed from the KLIA on March 5 at 1:45am.
When I arrived at the Taoyuan international airport in Taipei, I was struggling with sleep deprivation.
The plane touched down safely at 06:15am and the slow process of reclaiming baggage and clearing Customs and Immigration begins to roll.
By 7am, I was on a bus bound for the Taipei City Terminal.


Sunrise over Taiwan
Rolling out from Taoyuan international airport
Lost in translation...

One of my biggest regret is not learning Mandarin.
That's the official language in Taiwan and it is a struggle for me to get about and around.
Lucky for me, my colleague Ng Kok Leong, The Star's Photo Editor helped out by getting me some brochures and an empty Easy Card for use with subway travel.
The rest was observing polite gestures and Taipei surprised me a lot. The people here are friendly and some do speak English.
I asked a train commuter on how to get to Ximending and was told to take the Bannan line and get out at the first station - Ximen.
From there, its locating the hostel that became another daunting task.
I walked around, trying to locate Xining Street. Nada.
Then, I asked a Taiwanese guy and was shown the right direction.
It took me about 20-minutes to locate the reception of the motel and once I got there, I was told that I could only check-in after 12-noon.

Loading up

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 
In the aircraft, I had some noodles and chicken. That kept me full till the wee hours of the morning.
There's no shortage of food in Ximending.
Plenty of takeaway stalls and streetfood made this the perfect place to crash.
I found a shop selling Goose noodles and ordered a bowl.
The man who served me asked if I wanted to NT Dollar 100 or 200 serving.
I opted for a larger serving since it was my first meal of the day and when the noodles came, I was rather disappointed. 
It was a bowl of soup noodles with a piece of meat in it.
"200 bucks and only a piece of meat?", I thought out loud.
Then came a plate of Goose which was a relief. The meat was really salty and I guess you are supposed to dunk it into the noodle soup and down it. So, that was breakfast...

Goose for breakfast

Soup noodles with lots of beansprouts - just love it!
Apart from small eateries, you can find food at any convenience store.
They serve Oden (Japanese Yong Tau Foo) and a typical hot bowl costs around NT60 (four pieces of fishball, beancurd and so on..)
There's family mart, 7-Eleven and some homegrown companies offering food and essential items around the clock.
In Ximen, there's literally one 7Eleven at every corner of a building block.

Shopping, shopping, shopping...

We Malaysians and shopaholics.
If you go on a tour and omit shopping from the itinerary, you will end up with a riot.
That's a fact.
Ximending is a open pedestrian mall and for a dinosaur like me, I am lost.
Plenty of shops catering for the hipsters rather than an adventure nut like me.
So, I didn't bother much with the shopping bid.
But I did explore the street opposite Ximen where there is a row of shops selling cameras.
And most of the goods are similar to what we have in KL. No big deal.
But if you are into portable electronics, there are some surprises in store!

The lucky cat

Camera street
I didn't explore much of the sights and sounds in Ximending.
This is purely a food and shopping paradise.
My first three days in Taipei was focussed on the Cycle Taipei show and when it's over on my part, I managed to check out at the Taipei 101 tower...
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