i had almost 10 hours between my Hello Kitty flights. given transport times from and to the airport and getting back early enough for a shower and a bite to eat at the lounge, that left about 5 hours total in Taipei proper. what’d i do? why, mostly eat, of course!
getting to town
my flight landed a little after six. customs and immigration were a breeze. i dropped my bags off at the left luggage counter in Terminal 2 (walk left after you exit to the arrivals hall). it cost NT$200 (about US $6.71) to leave my rollaboard and backpack for 7.5 hours, pay when you pick up.
on the other side of the arrivals hall is the bus terminal. i stopped at the visitor information desk to ask how best to get to the city and i was told to take a bus to Hsingtien Temple, one stop on bus number 1840. that one stop is long, though, about 40 minutes.
warning check the departure monitors to see when the next bus is and go ONLY to that company’s ticket counter. i was waiting in the Kuo-Kuang line but the lady at the next window (FreeGo bus, i believe) called me over. i bought a ticket through her and noticed it didn’t leave until much later (7 AM vs. 6:28 AM) and cost NT$25 more! i ended up buying another ticket directly with Kuo-Kuang since i didn’t want to wait that extra half hour. things to do, foods to eat!
i wanted to get to Longshan Temple so i made my way to the closest subway station thanks to Google Maps, via the free wifi that you find throughout the city.
sidebar: TPE-Free the city-wide public wifi requires preregistration, either online or at the visitor information centers located throughout the city. there is NO REGISTRATION CENTER at the main airport, TPE, and the city locations do not open early. because of this, i opted to do it online. during the registration process, you are supposed to receive an SMS so they can verify your phone number (which you use to log in), but i never got one. i had to email them (address given on their site). they got back to me after about 24 hours with my confirmation code that i used to continue the sign-up process. there were TPE-Free hotspots almost everywhere i went and for the most part it worked flawlessly. remember to check the option to automatically log you in when you sign on for the first time in Taipei; it’ll save you time when you connect to new hotspots.
taking the subway
the Taipei subway system is easy to use. for a short visit, there’s no point in getting a reloadable card. vending machines dispense RFID tokens (tap on the turnstile to enter, drop into exit turnstile to leave). most of the trips i took were NT$20 (about 68 US cents), one was NT$25. also, most subway stations are TPE-Free hotspot locations. note the lines on the platform that direct you how and where to queue. there are signs either above the track or on the wall behind the track that show which stations are served by each side of the platform.
what was going on here? there were people dressed in black robes walking in a long snaking line through the temple and parking lot, chanting. a monk had a leafy branch he dipped in a cup of water which he then sprinkled people with. (click the following picture for a video)
while the crowd inside continued to sing and chant, firecrackers were lit outside and several pickups with large religious artifacts (i’m assuming) started a slow procession led by a small band.
i caught a cab outside and headed to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. it cost NT$100 (about US $3.38) for the short ride. i could have taken the subway but wanted to maximize my time out and about.
chiang kai-shek memorial hall
this hall is actually quite imposing! by the time i got there it was around 8:30, but i didn’t have time to wait until it opened at 9 to go inside. i walked around the grounds which include the National Theater and National Concert Hall. as promised in everything i read about mornings at the hall, there were groups of people doing tai chi!
i spotted an 85°C Bakery Cafe while in the cab and looked up the nearest location to the memorial hall — turns out there’s a small corner one a block away! (i knew about 85°C from their branch in Irvine, CA, which is near where we normally stay in SoCal for the holidays, and fell in love with their sea salt coffee.) word to the wise: order a large because a medium, with all that ice, is not enough!
the original din tai fung
this is probably every foodie’s main reason for coming to Taipei. while i’m not a foodie, i’m a big fan of xiao long bao (or xlb) so i had to stop. it’s a pretty quick walk from the eastern end of the CKS Memorial Hall (about the same distance as the entire hall park itself), near the Dongmen subway stop.
i had read the location opened at 10 AM, but today (a Sunday) it was open at 9:35 when i got there. there was a minimal wait for a table at this time. as expected, it was amazing. i got 10 xlb (5 pork, 5 crab) and 5 shrimp dumplings. the total cost was NT$478.50, or US $16.76 (including 10% service charge).
i was not hungry but in the mood for dessert. some quick googling (thanks again, public wifi) told me that the best place for shaved ice, or baobing) was a place called Ice Monster, near the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall station. order at the cash register and then you’ll get seated. there is wifi (ask for the password) here (i couldn’t get TPE-Free to work inside the building), but i was seated by the front of the restaurant and the signal was too weak to use.
needless to say, i could barely finish the order i got — which, by the way, was boba flavor (with piping hot boba balls to add in!). the mango flavor seemed to be very popular by other patrons (i don’t like mango).
heading back to the airport
it was a little after 11 now and the high speed rail train i booked was at noon. check a previous blog post for information on how to take high speed rail.
i’m glad i was able to fit all this in, especially the food. i had planned on going to Din Tai Fung but forgot about 85 and shaved ice, both which are, at least to me, very typically Taiwanese. not a bad way to spend six hours, eh? and yeah, i’m still full 10 hours later…