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Day 10: Taipei, Taiwan (Keelung port; 4th cruise day)

Taipei, Taiwan


Day 10: Monday, December 21st, 2009

4th cruise day: Taipei, Taiwan (boat docked in Keelung, Taiwan)

We had a wonderful but tiring day in Taipei! We had not thought much of Taiwan when thinking of the cruise, and would never have selected the country as a stopping point on a tour of Asia, so we are so glad the cruise included Taipei in the itinerary or else we probably would never have seen the wonderful sights of the city!

Our day started off early, waking up at 6am before our alarm and then laid in bed until our alarm went off almost an hour later. We finished breakfast in the buffet in time to grab our day bag and get off the ship when they cleared us for disembarkation right at 9am. We followed a nice couple in their late 40s from South Carolina off the boat and chatted with them for a bit. They left the port terminal to take a taxi and Hunter and I continued walking along the curved road to the Keelung Train terminal, which was no more than a 10 min walk down the road and up and down over a few overpasses. At the station, the ticket counter agent spoke English and gave us two tickets to the Taipei Main Station (86 TWD total) and even let me pay by credit card! The train was leaving in 4 min, so we timed it perfectly. I had gotten the train times from a local resident's post on Trip Adviser, so I knew the train left at 9:32am and so Hunter and I walked accordingly to get there on time.

The train ride was very nice. The cars were clean, the seats lined the wall with the rest of the car open for standing. There was light Asian bell music playing as you approached the next station which was cheery and upbeat. The ride took exactly 50 minutes and once off, we followed the clear signs to the MRT subway. We had wanted to buy a smart pass but we would have had to purchase 2 cards for 500 TWD each, and then get the money back in the end which would have left us with too much cash at the end of the day. So we opted for the single journey tickets which were actually small blue tokens that looked like blue poker chips. Just like in Okinawa, you look up the station of your destination on the map and find the total fare amount which is listed under the station (20-25-30 TWD). Then you select the number of tickets, put in your money and voila – the blue chips are dispensed. It was simple and fast. We hopped on the metro to the Shilin station, heading out to the National Palace Museum. We loved the metro! There were lines on the floor in front of the gates that opened to allow you onto the subway car, and everyone nicely queued up in those marked lanes before the train came. As the train approached, red circular lights on the floor would start to blink, indicating that you should get in line. Once in the car, electronic signs announced each station. The cars were very brightly lit and clean and ran very fast and smooth. The subway lines take you almost anywhere in the city, and hit all the major tourist spots, so it really was the perfect way for us to get around the whole day. We wound up riding it 4 times.

A 10-min metro ride on the red line took us to Shilin station where we got out and hopped in a taxi for a cheap (150 TWD) ride to the museum. It was a large museum of 3 floors and definitely a major focal point of Taipei. A lot of tour groups were there and families. We liken it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where very famous works of art are on display to be admired by locals, students, and tourists. Some exhibits were closed but we spent a good 2 hours walking through 3 floors and focusing on the exhibits that most interested us, which included bronze and jade artifacts, painting and calligraphy, and porcelain and gems. We saw some really old artifacts, some jade circles dating back 7,000 years to around 5,000 BC! And the jade still looked beautiful because it doesn't tarnish or deteriorate like bronze and other metals. The pieces were very basic, though, from that era, but it was cool to see how the works of art got more intricate as the centuries and decades progressed. We saw the “Mona Lisa of Taipei” which was an intricately carved jade sculpture of a bok choy leaf. We had rented audio tours to give us more background on the museum pieces, but it turned out we really didn't need it because the museum had all signs in Chinese and English with very good descriptions of the pieces.

We ran into some fellow cruisers in the museum. They had rented a taxi for 4 people for the whole day for the equivalent of $100 USD. We were happy we got there around the same time, showing that metro and taxi hopping could be just as efficient as taxi! And it turned out that we spent around $25 in transportation for both of us combined, so we did get the better deal. Overall, we liked the museum but didn't want to spend any more time there as we are not museum people. But we are glad we went because it is one of the most impressive collections of Chinese art in the world, and a big deal to Taipei.

We left the museum and hopped in a taxi back to Shilin station (120 TWD) and took the metro line to Taipei Main Station (red line) before transferring to the Blue Line east to go to Taipei City Hall. From there we walked SE towards the Taipei 101 building, the world's tallest skyscraper. As we walked, we ate the ham and cheese on mini bagel sandwiches that we had packed from the buffet this morning. Taipei 101 was attached to a new shopping mall and connected to two other large malls and a huge movie theater by a 2nd story walkway. We walked on the street level to the building, and on the walkway coming home. It was a really fancy complex and very nicely decorated with Christmas trees and other decorations, including a Tiffany & Co sponsored Christmas tree, decorated in ornaments of Tiffany's signature light turquoise coloring. Most of these shops were American brands, compared to the shopping malls in China which were predominantly European brands and designers. There were many American restaurants, as well, and the whole city had more of a friendly US feel to it than did the other cities we visited so far. We purchased the 200 TWD tickets on the 5th floor of the mall, after being assisted by a helpful man who approached us as we were looking at the shopping floor map to find the ticket booth. The man asked if we were part of the Princess Cruise tours and we explained we were with the ship but on our own, and he introduced himself as the cruise ambassador to Taipei 101 whose job it is to make sure the tourists have a good experience at this attraction. He led us to the elevator that went right up to the 5th floor.

Taipei 101 was very cool. At the time we were there, and for two weeks after, it was the tallest building in the world and offered 360 degree view of the city. The view was definitely not as impressive as the one from Jinmao Tower in Shanghai, but it still showed a very picturesque city. What I love about Taipei is that even though the skyline isn't that impressive as most buildings are small, the city is nestled among a beautiful lush green mountain range to the east. So not only do you see a nice cityscape, but you get the pleasure of the green mountains and Keelung river in your view as well. The building was well organized for tourists. There were 12 looking points and we got a free audio guide that offered some narration at each of the stations. We then walked up from the 89th floor to the 91st where we could walk outside to see the city from behind protective bars. We didn't last long as the wind was strong and it was still kind of chilly as there was no sun today and the temperature was only in the upper 50s. We then walked down to the 88th floor to see the “Damper” which is a stabilization ball and mechanism that protects the building from wind. It was a very weird display as we walked through a corridor with neon circle lights pulsing at us and odd reflective mirrors in some places. We don't know what we were supposed to learn in that exhibit, but we can say we walked through! The mascot of Taipei 101 is the “damper baby”, a cute cartoonish character that looks a bit like an alien.

It was almost 2:30pm at this point and I was worried we were running out of time, so we took the high speed elevator down (118 m/sec) and the escalators down from floor 5 to floor 1, observing the mall in the process. It was empty, especially compared to the busy malls of China, but it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. We then retraced our steps up to the 2nd floor to take the giant walkway that connected almost all the way to the Taipei City Hall metro station. We were really impressed with the walkway. It was covered and had lots of vegetation on the side railings, which was a nice distraction from all the concrete shopping buildings. This was definitely the “new” part of Taipei, and it was very welcoming and Americanized. There was a large store called “New York New York” and even a Gordon Biersch brewery! Hunter and I started to reflect on all these shopping malls. I used to think that people would be so overwhelmed by America and our huge malls and shopping indulgences, but now I realize that Asia has us beat hands down! Everything isn't bigger and better in America – it's bigger and better in Asia!

We took the blue line metro from Taipei Main Station to the Longshan Temple exit which led us out right across the street from the temple. It was beautiful! The temple was very similar to the Lama Temple we visited in Beijing, with all of the temples being outdoors and housing many Buddhas. These temples are where visitors and locals come to pray. Although similar to Lama Temple, the Longshan Temple in Taipei greatly surpassed it in splendor and beauty. The temples still had bright, fresh paint of a mosaic of deep reds, greens, blacks, whites and golds. There were many visitors all of whom burned a tremendous amount of incense candles and offered platters of gifts – fruits, candy, etc. There were also several people dropping wooden circles and breaking them on the floor, which must have been some ritual for good luck or some other form of prayer. The temple was much smaller than the lamastary in Beijing, so we weren't there more than 15 minutes, before we started our walking tour of the Wanhua district.

The walking tour, courtesy of a Taipei guide book I had photocopied in advance, took us down narrow streets that were old and had some decaying buildings, and then through “snake alley” which is also known as the “Taipei Tourist Night Market” – yes, they actually refer to it as a tourist market! The alley is a long street flanked with street vendors selling exotic food dishes, including, boiled snake! We didn't see any snake being cooked as not all of the market stands were open yet, but we saw squid, worm-looking things, and pre-cooked half chickens, and lots of large boiling vats of liquid that must have been some kind of soup or stew. We watched the cooks make the food and the people sitting down to eat it. There were surprisingly a lot of people actually eating meals around that time (~3pm). The rest of the walking tour took us past two smaller temples, which were amazing in that they were built sandwiched between two concrete, rundown, gray buildings. In the midst of the dingy street, beautiful gilded temples with pagoda-style roofs just appeared. None of the temples in Taipei had an entrance fee, which was nice for change.

We were running short on time (it was about 3:50pm) and we thought my next plan of walking to our final tourist spot, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, was too ambitious, so we flagged down a taxi. It was a good thing because it was a good 1.7 miles away, according to the taxi's GPS device! I was a little worried when we got in the cab and told the driver where we wanted to go and he repeated it like he didn't know it, and so we pointed to it on the map. He then stayed over to the side of the road and started to type the chinese characters into his GPS device. Chiang Kai-Shek is a huge tourist attraction – why did he need a GPS to tell him how to get there? The driver then got directions and started on the way and then turned back to us and in a loud cheery voice “Hi, How you doing?” and then said “English no good” and laughed. Then he said “I happy US!” and smiled some more, trying to indicate that he liked Americans. Then he reached for his cd player and started to scroll through and selected a US song – a Brittney Spears song – so we would feel at home! At one point he said “I, Pudong” which made us think that he is originally from Pudong and just moved to Taiwan, which is why he didn't know where the memorial was.

We were really impressed with the memorial. It sits on 62-acres and is composed of the main memorial hall (with museum exhibits below on floors 1-4) which is 89 steps up from the base (basically the 5th floor). It is an open-air pavilion with a huge bronze statue of a sitting Chiang Kai-Shek, in a pose similar to Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The room was all marble with chinese inscriptions on the walls of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Principles of Democracy. We got there right at 4pm and got to see the changing of the guards, which was just as formal and distinguished as anything you would see at a US memorial. From the top of the memorial you can overlook the rest of the grounds, which consisted of japanese-like gardens around the perimeter and two beautiful chinese style buildings, one the National Theater, and the other the National Gallery. Both were exquisite buildings on their own, and together the whole compound was just beautiful. We are so glad our timing worked out and we didn't have to skip seeing this.

After the changing of the guards ceremony, we took the elevator down to Floor 1 to tour the exhibit on the life of Chiang Kai-Shek. The exhibit had two of his armored town cars and a replica of his office and sitting room. There were large photos galore of the memorable moments in his life and we were amazed to see him in photos with six different US presidents! We really enjoyed the exhibit and wished we paid more attention in Asian history class to remember the details surrounding his exile to Taiwan.

By 4:25pm we realized we needed to head back to the Taipei Main Station and walked back through the gardens to the metro stop (red line) we saw when we were dropped off by the taxi (it is a good thing he left us off at that entrance so we knew where the metro station was). We didn't have to wait long for the metro and were in the Taipei Main station a little after 4:30pm. We had a little trouble finding the right ticket booth to purchase tickets back to Keelung, but Hunter asked someone who pointed us in the right direction. We got our tickets (86 TWD total) with less than 5 min to spare and walked up to the platform. We had no trouble with the train ride, which took only 40 min coming back. We were people-watching a group of young students who were all in different brightly colored track/warm-up suits and we realized that their school uniforms are warm-up suits! How practical! No stuffy blazers needed when you can wear comfortable pants and jackets to class. It was funny, though, to see a school crest embroidered onto a track suit.

As we were able to pay with credit card in so many places in Taipei (and even got a 10% discount every time we paid with a Visa card in the shops in Taipei 101), we had extra cash left over, about 400 TWD or less than 10 USD. We were thirsty and craving water (we are not doing a good job of staying hydrated) and stopped in a corner 7-11 to buy waters and sodas. Everything is so cheap we still had money left over and poked into another shop along the route back to the cruise ship and found a stationary store where we spent the rest of the money. At 6:15pm, we walked back to the ship and made it aboard before the 6:30pm cutoff. There was a chinese dragon dance performance going on at the pier, a show put on for the passengers of the cruise ship. I have a much better appreciation for the dragon dancers – I think I used to be afraid of them, but now I think they are cute and funny!

Back on board, we rested up and showered and changed for dinner. Connie and Tony were at dinner again tonight, but they too had skipped out the previous night because they were confined to the cabin because of the ship rocking. This has been their roughest sailing to date, also. We felt better that it wasn't just us that didn't have sea legs. We had a different waiter tonight as ours was sea sick, and we really liked the new waiter as he was fast and very attentive. The menu was Asian-themed again, so I ordered most of the courses off the “everyday” menu and had shrimp cocktail, fettuccine alfredo and the princess love boat dream chocolate mousse dessert. Yum!

We rounded out the evening with a stop up in the Tahitian Lounge where the 50s “sock hop” was going on. We got there just in time for the Twist competition, which we were pulled into and we didn't win, but we got a nice consolation prize of Princess wallets. We then rushed down to the Cabaret Lounge to watch Claude Eric perform. He has a beautiful voice and played all of my favorite songs – several Michael Buble songs, the Josh Groban song “You Raise Me Up”, a few oldies songs (Bobby Darin, The Drifters and the Commodores) and then ended with a Man of La Mancha number. It was great! We then walked back to the Tahitian Lounge to see what was going on and there were a few people still dancing, but we decided to pack it in for the night. The casino was busier than usual, but too smoky for us.

It was really a great day – very busy but productive as we saw all of the sights we wanted to see in Taipei and didn't feel rushed either. My legs held out pretty well as the body oils are helping, so I was able to do a lot of walking without too much trouble. We were very impressed with Taipei as the buildings were beautiful, the mountain range was picturesque, and the city was so accessible due to the efficient and modern metro system and the English-friendly signs and local people. And most places took credit cards! As I said before, we never considered Taiwan as a place of interest in our world travels, but we are so glad we got to go to Taipei as we would have missed out on a really great city.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 21, 2009 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Asia, Taiwan and Cruise

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Blimey girl, you can rattle on!

Then again Yanks tend to go on a bit.

Only had time to scan your writings, theres some useful stuff in there but its so hard to seek it out! Sounds like it was a great trip anyway, so well done.

if you want to be of help to others though it would be better to cut out all the stuff like " stubbed my toe today it hurt for 20 seconds" or "had 17 cornflakes for breakfast" and stick to bullet points about the places.

However I get the impression your main aim is to talk about yourselves ad nauseum,

Thanks

Coranna

permalink written by  coranna151 on February 2, 2010

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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