Thursday, 14 January 2016

Taipei 4-Day Itinerary: Day One

Read Day 1 here - Ping Xi, Shifen Old Street, Raohe Night Market
Read Day 2 here - Wufenpu, Xinyi area
Read Day 3 here - Wanhua, Yehliu Geopark
Read Day 4 here - Elephant Mountain, Yangminshan

After two years I finally went back to Taiwan! This time I flew from Japan instead of Canada. My trip started the night before my departure flight from Kansai International Airport. Since it takes me more than 3 hours to get to KIX and the earliest train isn’t early enough for me to make it, I stayed at the airport the night before.

I found a budget but comfortable option to spend the night hours before my 7:50am flight. This requires a bit of preparation beforehand but it is very easy! First, I registered for the free KIX card online before my trip and printed out the confirmation slip. Second, when I got to the airport I handed the slip to the KIX card counter next to the information counter lady and she gave me my card.

Using this card, I went straight to the KIX Lounge where I was able to use the facility for 50% off simply by using the KIX card. I was there about 11:00pm and the private booth seats were all full at that time but I was lucky because about 10 minutes later a booth opened up! The open area is cheaper but much less comfortable for an overnight stay.

Booth at KIX Lounge
The booth included a plush armchair, a computer with headphones, internet access (of course) and TV function, a small safe and a hanger for your coat. You can also get blankets and slippers packaged in individual plastic bags after cleaning from a shelf. The price included a complimentary drinks bar with coffee, tea and corn soup. Less than 3 minute walk from the lounge is a convenient store where you can buy food to eat along with the free drinks. The meals you can buy at the lounge are not expensive either if you would rather not leave. But there is an entire food court with great choices, again less than 3 minutes walk away, if you’re there during its opening hours.

Anywho the washroom was clean, there was a powder room, and a section with many reading materials from magazines, newspapers to manga. When I first checked in to the lounge, I booked my shower time slot for 5am in the morning. Arriving at 11pm, the next time slot available was 1am so I did not want to wait. Using the shower facilities requires registering at the front desk so be sure to do that if you are planning on using it!

I put on some ear plugs and was able to get decent rest. My 7.5 hour stay at the lounge including the shower (not included in 50% discount and costs 500 yen) only came to 2500 yen. I think this is a great price for staying the night at KIX with good facilities, friendly staff and superb convenience to the terminal. Hotels in the area easily cost $150+ per night and accommodations outside of KIX require a train ride into the airport early in the morning. For my 7:50am flight, I was able to sleep until 5am and still have time to shower, get ready and eat breakfast, then check-in and go through security. I probably would have to wake up at 3 or 4am if I didn’t stay at KIX.
My 3 hour flight to Taiwan was smooth. At the arrival hall I exchanged money and looking back it was a good decision. This Bank of Taiwan exchange counter was before the immigration line and while everyone was rushing over there, I decided to exchange my money and it was done in 5 minutes. I didn’t have to wait long in the immigration line either because they opened more counters for the mass of people from the arrival flight. I saw that there was a long line for the money exchanger at the arrival hall.

I took the escalator down (follow signs for the bus) and bought a Kuo-Kuang (國光) bus ticket for Taipei Main Station (NTD 125). The vehicle was the tour bus kind and took an hour from Taoyuan Airport to reach Taipei Main Station.

I met my friend, locked my bags in the coin lockers and we went to buy tickets to go to Ping Xi (平溪). To get to Ping Xi we had to transfer at Rui Fang (瑞芳). So we got a ticket from Taipei Main Station to Rui Fang (NTD 50) and another ticket for unlimited day pass of the local train in the Ping Xi area (NTD 80). These are amazing train prices given what I am used to in Japan! However, take note that the trains for the limited day pass are quite infrequent. They only come once an hour and is a slow local train.

When we reached Rui Fang there was about an hour before the Ping Xi train so we browsed Rui Fang for a bit. It was quite a small town and is known for its Old Street.

Shifen train tracks
On our second train, the Ping Xi train, we got off at Shifen Old Street (十分老街) and it had a great atmosphere. It was crowded and people were walking on the train tracks since it came so infrequently. There were food stalls and souvenir shops on the sides plus many paper lantern shops because that is what the area is known for. People were busy scribbling their wishes onto the large paper lanterns and setting them free. When we went it wasn’t quite night time yet so it wasn’t dark enough to have the same glowing effect you see in lantern festival photos of Taiwan but it was still nice.

We waited awhile for the next train to Jing Tong (菁桐) which my friend said is similar to Ping Xi anyways but less crowded. Jing Tong seemed similar to Shifen for me so after 10 minutes we hopped back on the train because it would be an hour before the next one. The train was parked there because it was the last stop.

Raohe Night Market
In the evening we took the MRT (subway) to Song Shan station to go to Raohe Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市). It was super crowded on this Saturday night. We tried the famous Black Pepper Pork Pastry (福州世祖胡椒餅) and I have never seen a line for a food stall at a night market this long. I have also never seen 14 people working at one food stall before. It was definitely famous and definitely delicious. It came piping hot and only cost NTD 50.

Popular food stall
We also had pork rib herbal soup at an upstairs place that I wouldn’t have known of if a local didn’t bring me. Later I found out that they had a food stall in the night market but it was much more comfortable to eat in the air conditioned section upstairs.

It was a bit tiring since I woke up so early this morning but I had a wonderful first day. It’s always a good time in Taiwan.

Read Day 1 here - Ping Xi, Shifen Old Street, Raohe Night Market
Read Day 2 here - Wufenpu, Xinyi area
Read Day 3 here - Wanhua, Yehliu Geopark
Read Day 4 here - Elephant Mountain, Yangminshan
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