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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dashui Old Street in Taipei, Taiwan

First Day in Taipei ( July 2015 )

I've never imagined myself to be traveling in Taiwan, let's just say I'm more delighted with tropical beaches. However, my friend persuaded me to join her and the taste of another adventure tickles my wanderlust feet. When I got the chance to land on a promo fare ticket bound to Taipei I did a little research about the country I'm heading next. I had a hard time doing my research because I was still spellbound by my paragliding experience in Jakarta a few weeks ago and getting off the high of flying was hard for me to let go. During my research I discovered that Taipei offers a variety of activities , it's not only for sightseeing enthusiast but also for adventure seekers like me. I got my eye on Hualien where there's a hiking activity and a river trekking. What attracted me most with this activity is the river trekking where they highlighted waterfalls jumping on the webpage. Immediately my high hopes for another adrenaline rush adventure in Taipei exhilarated my traveler's soul. I have to give credits to all the blogs I've read about Taipei, it inspired me and more importantly guided my Travel Itinerary.

I'm holding a Philippine Passport and we're advised to get a visa through the Taiwan Consulate in Singapore. From the MRT take the yellow line, Alight at Labrador Park MRT and exit going to ARC Mall.

Taipei Representative Office in Singapore
Address: 460 Alexandra Road #23-00PSA BuildingSingapore 119963
Traffic Route: Bus Services:(PSA Bldg) 10、30、30e、51、143、175、176、188、188e, Bus Services:(NOL Bldg)51、57、61、93、97、97e、100、166、175、963
Nearest MRT Station:CC 27 Labrador Park
Telephone: (65) 6500-0100

During the processing I've prepared all the needed requirements below as stated in their webpage. However, during the submission in the counter they only took a copy of my IC/employment pass ID, Passport and the Printed Online application form in the website. It's better to come prepared and provide all the documents as written in the website. I've provided a 3 months transaction copy from my bank and even with my payslip. 

Visa Processing in Singapore: 
✔️bank statement 3 months
✔photocopy ️ of contract with 3 months payslip
✔️photocopy of IC/ employment pass ID and passport
✔️ Taiwan Itinerary 
✔️ Accommodation print outs 
✔️ Printed Online application form (go to the Taiwan embassy website and complete your form application with your correct details)
✔️ Passport picture (3.5 x 4.5 cm) glossy with white background
✔️ SGD 65 Processing Fee

I arrived early in the afternoon in Taoyuan Airport and my friends were coming late at night. I didn't intend to wait for them all afternoon, so I did my research and had my first tour of Taipei on my own. The airport is not connected to the MRT , taking a cab or the bus is the only option to the city. No need to worry there's a shuttle bus from Taoyuan Airport that goes straight to the Taipei Main Station. Make sure to buy your Easy Card, its equivalent to EZ link in Singapore and Octopus card in Hong Kong. The easy card will get you conveniently around the city, it will serve as your transportation fare when taking the bus and the local train except for the high speed railway trains. Loading stations for easy card can be done in 7'11 outlets, bus, train station and most convenient stores in Taiwan. The easy card is avaialble right in front of the arrival exit in the customer service counter inside the airport. You don't need to go far as it is situated in the center of the arrival hall. Purchased one if you're planning to go around Taipei City. 

Easy Card : NT 100 (non-refundable)
Top-up at least a minimum of NT 300 for the train and bus fare. The remaining balance for the easy card can be converted into cash, we had our credit balance exchange in Taipei Main Station Customer Service. 

After purchasing my easy card I was off to Taipei Main Station. Take the escalator going down from the arrival hall and follow the sign to the bus terminal. Before you head out for the bus purchased your bus ticket bound to Taipei Main Station in Counter 7. Fare ticket NT 125. I used my Easy card for the transaction or you can pay cash too. 
How to get there:
Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station
Take Bus 1819 from the Bus Terminal outside the airport,Row 5. 
Ticket Fare: NT 125 
Travel time: 40-80 minutes (depending on traffic)

I alighted at Taipei Main Station and immediately look for the storage locker for my bag while maneuvering my way inside the station. I spotted the lockers but I don't know where I was. The signs were all over the place so if you're heading to the MRT, just follow the signs. Unfortunately, I'm don't have the gift of knowing where I'm heading, Left and Right didn't make sense to me once I was inside the building. In the end I wasn't able to rent a locker because it needed coins and I was afraid I won't be able to find the lockers when I get back to the station. According to my research there's a minimum charge for the storage locker, NT 25 which will last for three hours. The maximum time allowable for storage is up to 3 days (72 hours). 

Visit DanShui Old Street and buy a Jumbo Ice Cream

Bare in mind to keep Following the Signs, if all else fails ask store personnels or nearby station counters. There are plenty of tourist going around the station so its better to ask the stationed employees around the area. I spotted the MRT station and boarded the Red Train Line to Tamsui-Xingyi Line and got off at Tamsui (also known as Danshui) Station. Once you get out from the station turn left where you can see the river. 

The 7'11 outlet served as my starting point for two directions: you go straight and there you have a panoramic view of the river, turn right for the Danshui Old Street. DanShui Old Street offers shopping and food trip experience. I wanted to see the river first and planned to just sit around there munching some snacks. The place is quite famous with bloggers especially for their Jumbo Ice Cream, the outlet is just facing the river, along the street that sells variety of street foods. The street also leads to another way to the Danshui Old Street. 

I bought the Ice cream as recommended by a few numbers of bloggers. However, it melted in seconds, i just took one picture, walked 5 steps away from the store and it started to drip endlessly. Maybe its the weather or its really the ice cream itself. You have to be fast and furious or you'll end up with a stained pants and a messy hand. The taste isn't that satisfactory considering that I'm an ice cream lover and worst I can't even say its ok. But of course don't let my bitter review stop you from feeding your curiosity and just try it out. 

I also bought a Chinese Lumpia with Chicken meat paired with salad and a Soy milk drink beforehand from Tapei Main Station, it was a set meal for NT 99. Not bad for my first meal in Tapei. I waited for the sunset and then headed back to Tamsui Station.

I took the red line train back to Taipei Main Station and this is where the fun begins. It was already drizzling therefore I decided to skip the night market and go back early to Taoyuan Airport to meet my two friends. I was  trying to find the Taipei West Bus Terminal B, Oh boy Wohooo! all the signs didn't make sense to me, I asked passerby's and they seemed unwilling to help and some are even confused. There were a few of them who helped me but some of them pointed me to the wrong direction or I just didn't figure out correctly the sign language. 

Good thing a policeman , a storekeeper and a fine lady pointed me to the right direction. In the end, I still had to figure out my way and it wasted a lot of my time. I'm so glad I didn't leave my bag in the locker around the station, or maybe I should have, the weight of my bag kept pulling me down straining my neck and my shoulder thus resulted to poor cognitive process ahahaa. Important thing is I made it to the Airport.  

How to get there: 
Taipei Main Station to Taipei West Bus Station
Look for signs: Shinkong Mitsukoshi/Zhongxiao W. Road and Station Front Mall
First Option: Find K-Underground Mall and Exit from K12.
Second Option after exiting the MRT: In Basement 1, Exit from M5, go to the underground mall and go to Exit Z3. It will take you to the street, turn right and don't go far because that little door a few steps away from you is the terminal you're looking for. 

The first option took me to Taipei West Bus Station because I came out from the MRT after I took the Red Line Station. Proceed to the nearby ticketing counter for the Airport Express Bus to Taoyuan International Airport. Take the express bus to the airport if you're in a hurry, or you if have ample of time take Bus 1961 for NT 90. 

Taipei West Bus Station to Taoyuan Airport
Ticket fare: NT 125 
Buses departs every 15-20 minutes 
Travel time: 40-80 minutes (depending on traffic)

I waited for my friends in the airport, they have a waiting lounge outside the arrival and departure area. There's a wifi connection around the airport and my favorite food outlet Subway was there to keep me company too. The food stations in the airport is not 24 hours and the Subway outlet closes around 11pm. One of my friends arrived late yet we've still managed to take a bite in Subway and purchased a few snacks in the convenient store inside the airport. The 24 hours convenient store we've found is a corner away from the bus ticket counters before heading out to the bus terminal. The bad news came early for this trip my other friend didn't make it to her flight not because she was late or due to immigration problems. The staff in the check-in counter of Cebu Pacific in the Philippines told her that her visa was not valid. It was an online application. She was allowed to do so because she was holding on to an employment pass visa in Japan. We tried to help her out by asking the immigration office inside the Taiwan Airport, we have a copy of her online visa which she managed to sent by email. The officers printed it out and confirmed that the Visa is valid to travel to Taipei. They were even confused why the check in counter wouldn't allow my friend to board the train. The immigration officer inside the Manila airport should be the one to decide whether the visa is valid because they're more familiar with the subject. The check in counter staff of Cebu Pacific mentioned that they have emailed the Taiwan Embassy regarding her online visa and they implied that the Taiwan immigration office replied that it wasn't valid. We told the Taiwan immigration officers about the email and they confirm there was no email received from cebu pacific and no reply email was sent as well. It was disheartening to know that my friend wasn't able to get to her flight, even if she files a complain letter to the airline company the travel experience we've planned together already dispersed into thin hair. Wasted money for booked accommodations, tours and train tickets, wasted time for research and wasted effort for everything with the trip. I hope our experience won't happen to anyone but it's quiet common in the Philippines. Even if you have provided the right and valid documents some people will still try to pull you down and destroy what you've long and planned for. Period. A lesson learned. Moving on.

We didn't booked a room for the night so slept in the airport and woke up as early as 3:30 in the morning to purchased our bus ticket in counter 7 to Taipei Main Station to catch our 7 am train ride to Hualien. Good thing they provide 24 hours bus service from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, Bus 1819, Ticket Fare is NT 125 and Travel time of 40-80 minutes (depending on traffic). If you're catching a train in the morning please ensure to be in the train station at least 1 hour before time especially if you're a clueless tourist like us. The trains are efficiently on time and leaves a minute after the arrival. An hour early gives you plenty of time to get lost, be in the correct platform, , figure out that you have to be in right car train, refund a ticket, have some snacks and most of all have a relaxing waiting time for the train. 

We booked our train/TRA from Taipei to Hualien online. Fare Rates  NT 340 - NT 440, depending on the express train you choose. During the online booking don't be alarmed if you don't see Taipei as the starting point, Shulin is another station before Taipei, it means it will pass by Taipei for other passengers. At the same time don't be alarm If you don't see your destination as the last point during you're online booking. It only means that you're destination is not the last stop, it will drop by to your desired place and will keep going to other stations as well. For online booking you can have your train tickets printed at most convenient stores like 7'11, at a fee of NT 28, or have it printed in train stations for a lesser fee. 

Chu-Kuang Express
Shulin-Hualien ( 7:08 am - 10:03 am )
2 hours and 55 minutes
Discounted Rate: NT 969 / SGD 43 ( 3 tickets ) 

Hualien here we come! 

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