My brief holiday in Taipei last month was the scene of some notable firsts. For one thing, it was my first time in Taiwan, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last!
Secondly, this was the first trip I documented using only my mobile phone camera, without toting the larger interchangeable lens camera that I usually bring along whenever I travel. Call it an experiment at lighter, leaner solo travel. (^_^)
First, a few preliminaries (which those planning a similar trip from my corner of the world might find useful). Taiwan allows passport holders of about 50 countries and territories to enter the island without a visa, or grants them visas upon arrival. Unfortunately, the Philippines isn’t one of those lucky few, so this was something I had to sort out before setting off.
Fortunately, they’ve made things a lot easier by allowing qualified passport holders to apply online for an authorisation to enter and remain in Taiwan for 30 days, effectively granting visa-free access to such travellers. Since I was qualified for a permit under the criteria they’ve set, all I had to do was fill in an electronic form and I received a permit almost instantaneously, which I then printed out for presentation to the relevant authorities.
Of course, your eligibility will be rigorously checked at the airport so there’s no cheating the system. If you don’t meet the qualifications for this type of travel permit, you’ll need to apply for a standard visa sticker – refer to the TECO website for more details.
As for transportation, I booked a round-trip ticket on Cebu Pacific for the measly sum of PHP 5,829.78. (If I didn’t add luggage, food, and travel insurance, the ticket price would have been substantially lower.) You can read my review of the outbound journey here, and I may eventually write a similar review covering the return journey.
All right, I think we’re all set. Let’s go.
The journey began at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. My flight – click here to read more about that – was assigned to depart from Terminal 3, the newest of the airport’s four terminal buildings and (after years of labour) still something of a work-in-progress, with parts undergoing completion work or repairs.
Perched on top of a black stone pedestal, the bronze bust of a certain bespectacled statesman gazes over the airport that bears his name.
This glass-and-steel divider is all that separates us international travellers from the terminal’s domestic wing.
If it looks like a flimsy last-minute addition, that’s because it probably is. The entire building was originally designed to handle only international flights – a role to which it might revert at some point in the future – so splitting it into two parts to cater to different routes came as something of an afterthought and didn’t demand a more radical solution than setting up a few barriers.
The secure area after immigration is pretty dry and soulless, with a shortage of good shops and restaurants. That will (hopefully) change in the coming years as more businesses move into the long stretches of boarded-up retail space lining the corridors of the terminal, but for the moment, don’t expect anything sophisticated.
Then came the flight itself, and the next time I set foot on solid ground it was in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The passengers on our flight were funnelled into Terminal 1, the older of the airport’s two terminal buildings but also the beneficiary of a recent facelift.
From the airport, I took an express bus service (TWD 125 one-way) to Taipei Main Station. The journey takes about an hour. Those in a hurry might consider taking a taxi or arranging a private car, but this will likely shave just minutes off the time required.
A brief note on the commute: if you’re hoping to catch a train directly from the airport to the city, you’ll need to wait a bit . . . like a good 12 months. The metro line project that’s intended to link Taoyuan Airport to Taipei is running years behind schedule and isn’t expected to open until December 2015. (An indirect rail link via the THSR network currently exists, but casual travellers may find that it’s not worth the added expense and the hassle of an extra transfer.)
My home for the night – on Huayin Street, northwest of Taipei Station – was only a few minutes’ walk away from the bus stop.
And here we are – my simple accommodations in the Taipei Station branch of Hotel Puri.
I only booked one of my two nights in this hotel. I was actually planning to stay at a certain hostel for the whole trip, but the hostel’s reception desk closes before midnight and I didn’t want to run the risk of turning up to a locked front door. Special arrangements were possible but I didn’t want to bother – and as you’ll see in a future post, transferring to the hostel posed almost no difficulty.
Time check. Mm, it was well past 10 PM by the time I got to my hotel room. Probably just the start of the day for night owls, but a long way past my usual bedtime.
Good night chaps. Our agenda for tomorrow: a walk through the historic district of Tamsui, north of central Taipei.