February 2010
Part I

If you want to skip directly to the next part, then just hit
Part II


This is an abridged description of a trip to Northern Taiwan (see map below) in February 2010. The intention is just to give a firsthand personal experience of how I traveled to and around that place. This time I booked in advance not only the flight but also the accommodation in Taipei.

How to get from Berlin (or Frankfurt or Manila) to Taipei

There are many ways to get there. It all depends on whether Taiwan is the main destination for the whole vacation or part of an itinerary or just a stop-over. For me it was just a short hop (two hours) from Manila to Taipei with the national carrier Philippine Airlines. I booked the trip online. The roundtrip total air fare was 137 USD (100 Euro at that time). That time it was also cheaper than flying with Cebu Pacific.

Arrival in Taipei

The plane left Manila at 8 a.m. and arrived at 10 a.m. at the Taoyuan International Airport, 50km west of central Taipei. A very convenient arrival time. Not many people around. No lines anywhere. Passport Control was swift. Received a visa for 30 days without any fee. Changed 100 USD to get some 3200 NT (New Taiwan Dollars). Then I bought a bus ticket for 125 NT (2.90 Euro) at a counter close to the exit.

Ok, from here on I will only state the prices in Euro for simplification. I took the average exchange rate of 43 NT (New Taiwan Dollar) to the Euro valid at the time I went on this trip.

It looked like the bus driver was just waiting for me. I joined another passenger and off he drove with an almost empty bus. Am I in the right bus? Going to Taipei? Are all traffic signs in Chinese only? Not all. So I was in the right bus.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

From the airport to Taipei city
In less than an hour we arrived at the main railway station in Taipei. Now, where is my YMCA? According to the directions on my booking confirmation, it is directly across from the "Taipei Main Subway Station". Also, according to the map of my guidebook, it must be at the south side of the station. But there was none.

Also people I asked didn't know the meaning of WHY-AM-SEE-EYE or couldn't understand English in the first place. This was my first encounter with the foreign language illiterate Taiwanese. Not all but most of them. What a great challenge again, but not comparable to my China trip in the year 1988. So I took my fate in my own hands and just walked south to the next parallel street.
From the Main Railway Station to a small old side street
And there it was. But why staying at the YMCA? Because I always liked to stay there, whether in Singapore or Yangoon. They aren't necessarily much cheaper than other mid-range hotels but always located in the middle of everything. The address is as follows:
Taipei YMCA International Guest House
19 Xuchang St
Tel.: 886 2 2311 3201
Because of the Chinese New Year festivities during my stay, I made reservation two weeks before at www.hostels.com for 42 Euro the night. Only 10% I paid (with Visacard) as a deposit for the number of nights booked plus a small service charge of 1.50 Euro.
The YMCA in the front not the building in the back
My room was on the 9th floor and had a window to the comparable quiet street. The aircon I used only on the first day, when it was 25 degrees, outside. On the second day the temperature dropped to 10 degrees combined with a lot of rain. All that didn't change much until the end of my stay, unfortunately. (A Chinese couple I met and talked to in the restaurant, during my first day lunch, already warned me about the approaching cold front. They couldn't care less, because they were flying back to California next day).

The heating system somehow didn't work, but I did not complain. First thing in the evening was taking a hot bath and then getting to bed with several blankets and reading or watching an English movie on Cable-TV until falling asleep.

Every morning I had my hot American breakfast for 2.80 Euro in the "Royal Host" restaurant located in the same building as the YMCA. The waitresses and waiters didn't speak much English but the pictured menu was both in Chinese and English and the prices were reasonable. On my arrival day I had a three course lunch for 4.40 Euro. On the other days I always ate someplace else.

28-2-Peace Park

My first sight-seeing trip was still on my day of arrival and the weather was dry and hot, so it was nice just to walk around to explore the vicinity without using any means of transport.

Just 500m down south from the YMCA I hit a nice park with nicely cut bushes and trees. One alley was dotted with colorful tents of vendors selling all kinds of dried stuff, spices and herbs.
A beautiful park close by with herbs vendor stalls
Everything looked so peaceful. Yes, this park is called the Peace Park, or better 28-2-Peace Park, named after the massacre which took place on that day in 1947. Not such a peaceful incident. In the middle of the park stands the memorial to commemorate that event, a sculpture surrounded by three cubes.
The 2-28-Memorial inside with water cascades
It is probably compulsory for school children to visit this place to get a history lesson, especially in the Memorial Museum itself, which is also located in the park. Look up the guidebook or check the internet if you want to learn more about that massacre. There is also the National Taiwan Museum in the same park.
Visited by little school children also the 28-2-Museum in the back
Forget the massacre, enjoy life also the squirrels have a good life
There is even more to see. Other sculptures and the mandatory pagoda. And flowers, flowers flowers. This peaceful place seemed to be far away from the hectic city.
Sculpture Pagoda
From the puppet being sold in the Peace Park to the Presidential Building was just a short walk. But no puppet president resides here, even if the communist Chinese may call him that way, because according to them all of Taiwan still belongs to mainland China and it has no right of an own president. He seemed to be very well protected by the military. I was not allowed to take a photo of the building itself. Maybe they thought I was a communist spy.
Doll for sale in the Peace Park Soldiers guarding the palace

Other Sights of Taipei

So I took a photo of the opposite direction leading to the Taipei 101 building, with 508m the highest in Taiwan (get to that later on). The broad alley looked like a marching ground for parades leading to the presidential building. The area was neat and clean with new condominiums and office buildings.
Far away: Highest building Close: Modern building
I continued my walk south to where I saw a huge pagoda but didn't know what it was. And I still didn't find out what it was: Just a building in pagoda style, not worthwhile to list it as a tourist spot. Behind was another building, which looked like a theater, but was also not listed in my guidebook.
New temple? Old theater?

National Museum of History

But the adjacent building was something special and very well known: the National Museum of History. But here the name was misleading, because it didn't display historical artifacts but local art and culture. But even that was not correct because also a Van Gogh was exhibited beside Tang and Shang.
Front of History Museum Back of History Museum

Botanical Garden

And behind the National Museum of History was the famous Botanical Garden. Nice to walk around between the trees, plants and ponds. This very tranquil place also seemed to be far away from the city. Even seldom birds are supposed to roam around here.
An island in a pond A bird in a pond
Where is the way out? Not through the nicely painted doors but all the way back where I did get in. The feet weren't actually killing me, yet, so I also walked back to my YMCA.
A pair of priests? A pair of guards?

Shilin Night Market

Couldn't afford to rest, because I wanted to see and experience as much as I could. Also eating Chinese food I would, because it was also almost dinner time. And the best place for that is the famous Shilin Night Market.

How to get there? It's easy. First I looked up my guidebook and found the nearest subway (MRT) station, which was Shilin. The entry to the subway was just around the corner from the YMCA. It was the M8, one of many entrances (or exits) of the vast underground labyrinth of the Taipei Main Station, where all kinds of trains are leaving from, beside many eateries, shops and stalls.

Easy to get lost despite many direction signs and maps. I found the subway section with the ticket machines. Just touch your destination on the screen and you are told the amount to pay (six station to Shilin for 0.70 Euro) in order to get the chip to be used at the turnstile.

And then I experienced one of the most modern subway systems in the world (beside Singapore and Hong Kong). The platform is separated from the tracks by a glass wall, though not as high as the one in Singapore. An approaching train is signaled by flashing lamps built in the platform edge. As soon as the train stops, portion of the glass walls are opening in sync with the doors of the train. People are already standing in line at each side of the doors on marked arrows and have to wait until there are no more exiting passengers.

The inside of the train is spic-and-span. No drinking or eating is allowed; no smoking anyway. The name of the approaching station is shown on banners running above each door, in Chinese and English.

After getting off at the Shilin station, I had to walk a little south to get to the small streets where the market is taking place. Now, what to eat? No English menu. The only English I could read was Frog Eggs. Not my thing. But no problem. I did not starve. Just look into each pot and choose what you want. I had a delicious noodle soup with a lot of tender beef for 1.80 Euro. A seafood noodle soup did cost the same.
Frog eggs for dinner? Or better fruits and veggies
The sausage looks delicious but too big Also here: You never know what's in it
Many cooks Many eaters
There are not only eateries but a lot of other stalls and shops selling all kinds of goods, also for tired feet a pair of Birkenstocks.
German Made or Chinese Fake Also in boots girls were walking
Marching Strolling
In the middle of it all there was a temple to get some rest and to pray and to get the food (not the foot) blessed.
A visit to the temple on the way Burning some incense and pray

Trip to Keelung

Next day getting up early. It will be a long day again. But oh my God, or better: oh my Weather God. It was cold and rainy. The temperature dropped 15 degrees overnight. I actually was warned that the medium temperature in Northern Taiwan at this time of year was around 15 degrees, so I brought warm pants, sweater and jacket. The weather on the day of my arrival was unusually hot with 24 degrees, as mentioned before.

Anyway, today I wanted to get out of Taipei into another town or city close to the sea and to try the train system this time. Walking to the same subway entrance M8 and then moving through the underground and then up to the Taipei Main Station hall. There was a Tourist Office, where I was furnished with a lot of brochures and maps.

At the adjacent railway information booth I inquired about a train going to Keelung, just around 40km northeast of Taipei. The one-way ticket did cost 1 (yes, one) Euro for the 40 minutes ride.

There was a lot to see in Keelung according to the Tourist Office located a few meters from the station, but this kind of weather spoiled any "scenic lookout".
Keelung station Keelung harbor
As the second largest port city Keelung had more to offer: excellent seafood. But where. I had to ask around until I found the Miaokou night market (it was also a day market) in some of the back streets around the Dianji Temple.
Better eat some fish or any other sea food
From the many stalls around the Dianji Temple
No fruit dessert but offerings
To be blessed by the gods

Shuangcheng Street Food Market

Not much else to see and to do in Keelung. I took the afternoon train back to Taipei to try some food, now for dinner, at another night market, the Shuangcheng Street Food Market. This market is close to the former "Combat Zone", where American soldiers came here on R&R leave from Vietnam in the old days.

Some pubs are still there, like the B52, but no way to compare with Patpong in Bangkok, for example, anymore. If you want to find out yourself then just hop off at the MRT station Minquan W. Road and walk along that road to the east until you reach the Shuangcheng Street and then turn left.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial

Next day another rainy day. No way to see outdoor country side but rather indoor city life. The first building I visited was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Dr. Sun was the founder of modern China (after Imperial China but before Communist China), and founder of the Nationalist party Kuomintag (KMT), followed by Chiang Kai-shek, who was driven out from Mainland China by Mao later on. Look up the internet to learn more about Chinese and Taiwanese history.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Sun Yat-sen statue

Taipei 101

I didn't wait for the changing of the guard (similar to the spectacle at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial later on) but continued to the second highest building in the world (the first stands in Dubai now). But still: it's 509.2m high and has 101 floors.
The second highest in the mist But it could not be missed
Passing small Taipei City Hall to get to the base of Taipei Tall
This building with also the house number 101 is the Taipei International Financial Center, but it also houses a five floor fancy mall including a food court in the basement.
The 101 shopping mall also looks a little tall
But why to come here in the first place? Not to shop but to climb to the top or take the fastest elevator in the world (with 60km/h)? Neither did I. Walking was not allowed and a long line was already waiting in front of the elevator and it was already close to closing time and the view would not be that spectacular because of the misty and rainy weather.

The admission price was around 9 Euro for the observation floor and almost 50 Euro for the outdoor deck, which was closed anyway, because of the weather and I may not have paid that amount either. Maybe I could come back if the weather turns dry and sunny to get a clear view all over the city and the country.
Shall I go up to the top, too and spend money for no view?
Rather eat a cheap meal that's a better deal
This time, KFC was no good and any sweets I withstood
Oh yes, today is Chinese New Year Eve. I almost forgot if there would not have been the 101 calligraphy artists painting good luck posters. But where can I watch all the celebrations? If there are any? Or is that more a family affair?
Have your good luck poem painted for the New Chinese Year


From the 101 I took the MRT to Ximending. This area was supposed to be a little like Tokyo's Ginza. Many small pedestrian streets lined with a lot of shops, cafes and restaurants for the young and trendy. But unfortunately the street looked almost deserted. I did not see much of the youth culture. It looked like Christmas Eve instead of New Years Eve.

Snake Alley

Where can I see some kind of a celebration? Whatever. Maybe at the Snake Alley? Sounds interesting. The MRT station is called Longshan Temple. No problem to find the Snake Alley from there. But where are the snakes?

The good? old times are no more where snakes have been skinned while still living and the bile and blood mixed with liquor offered to tourists to drink. Snake meals may be still ordered in some restaurants but I declined when I really was one offered.
Here dine the rich in the best restaurants
The selection is huge But what to choose
There were not only restaurants but also many stalls to look for other aphrodisiacs than snake blood. No need now but something for my feet, so I had a good one hour foot massage for 10 Euro in one of those many massage parlors around.

Longshan Temple

With new feet I could walk like on cloud nine again. Also getting enlightened in one of the most famous temples in Taipei, the Longshan Temple, where just a big New Years Eve celebration was in full swing and the Year of the Tiger was soon to begin.
Waiting for the New Year The Year of the Tiger
Celebrating Praying
Offering Blessing
A little bit kitsch here and there
What is it they pray for?
Asking for blessings for all endeavors
It's not easy to understand what all those 165 different gods, or better deities, stand for. Not that it happens that you address the wrong one and your wish is not fulfilled. For example, praying to the god of scholarly pursuit for a save trip abroad may not be granted. But I know now, that the goddess Guanyin is also responsible (beside being the goddess of mercy) for all my air travels and that she has saved me from any plane crash up to now already.

There also may be a god for the homeless, otherwise there would be not such a good shelter under the arcades in the opposite park where hundreds have settled down for the night. I do not know whether the homeless are praying to such a god for not to be homeless again, then the god would make himself obsolete. Wouldn't he?

I know that many homeless have chosen their street live and fate (and freedom?), especially in Germany where they actually could get enough support from the government to live in a home. One homeless I talked to couldn't believe it and he told me (in surprisingly good English) that in Taiwan there is not such a thing and that for many there is no other choice than living in the street, if he is jobless or too old without enough income or savings.

The gods provide running water and for the homeless shelter


Another rainy day. I will try the seaside again. Another harbor town: Danshui. Just an eighteen stations ride (and 35 minutes and 1.20 Euro) from the Taipei Main Station. Almost every Taipeinese seemed to have the same idea because it is a preferred excursion destination and it was a holiday for the families to celebrate the Year of the Tiger.

The whole town was like a beehive. Throngs were squeezing through the narrow side streets and on the boardwalk, queuing up at every food stall, eatery and restaurant.

All of a sudden I was craving for a potato, when I encountered Mr. Jack Potato. I queued up, I ordered, I paid and waited for my call.

After having had my cheap hot potato there was no need to dine in an expensive restaurant: the Red Castle of 1899.
Danshui, a beautiful town but not in the rain It has much to offer: The Red Castle of 1899
A lot of money is spent by the Chinese. They are also after it by any means. They believe the more they burn the more they will earn, while cheating the god of Mammon by burning worthless paper is common.
What are you doing, honey? Get closer: she is burning money
I not only burned but I also didn't spend any more money, but walked away from the boardwalk with its many temptations and soon I was out of the crowd and saw more interesting locations.
Something colorful: A painted house and flowers in front Old brick church with a tree in full blossom in front
The town had a lot to offer. I wished I could have skipped eating my potato for the much more rewarding visit of Fort San Domingo, but I came to late, because it was already closed. But up the hill I visited the Oxford College and the Alethia University, founded by a Canadian missionary.
The old Oxford college. Yes, the English were here A Canadian built this University called Alethia
There was a lot more to see but I was looking now for a pee. I went back to where the action is and did my business and then passed at something weird and according to the guidebook worthwhile to see: "Believe it or not" in the Gongming street.
A turtle with a double head A headhunter's shrink head
This snake is nothing special but more so this monster crab
A furry but blurry animal with two heads This "dragon" really looks dangerous
I didn't lose my appetite after these sights. As soon as I returned to the Taipei Main Station I tried one of the restaurants on the second floor: a Vietnamese restaurant where I had a fantastic chicken veggie soup curry for 4 Euro. It was so good that I came here another time.


Another rainy day. Actually, to the rain god I did nothing sacrifice. Praying to the weather god may do it either way. I decided to visit one of the most interesting places anyway: The limestone cape with the name of Yeliu.

To get there I wanted to join a daily sight-seeing tour because I saw some pictures in a travel agency's brochure. But the Tourist Office in the Taipei Main Station could not book it for me in advance for the next day. They recommended just to take the public bus.

So I went to the bus station close by where a bus was supposed to leave several times a day to Jinshan via Keelung and Yeliu. The fare was 2.40 Euro for the 60km. The tour bus would have cost 24 Euro, though return, with an additional stopover in Keelung, where I have been before anyway.

The driver let me off at the intersection leading to the harbor of Yelsu. No problem to find the visitor center, just walking with the crowd. And what a crowd. Thanks God I didn't came with a tour bus and being chased and pushed around in order to get to the next sight.

I first relaxed and sat down with a drink in the visitor center to watch a movie about the formation of the limestone. Then I was offered by a nice English speaking tourist center girl to show me around, but I declined because it is my way to leisurely walk around all by myself. What I did while avoiding the crowd as best as I could. You can accompany me and take a look yourself at all the wonders of nature.
This looks like a dragon fossil This looks like a head of a crocodile
This may be a whale's head But what kind of fossil is that?
And who made the giant shit which became stone all around?
But why can it pile up and stand forever?
And who stepped around and left all those foot prints?
Who has carved out this vulture? Who has carved out this woman's head?
All shapes have been carved by the power of wind and water
There really was no need for a guide to explain each rock formation. The brochure I received from the Tourist Center explained everything and the rest was phantasy anyway, whether a formation looks like shit or mushrooms, whether candles or ginger, whether footprints or potholes, whether honeycomb or bean curd, whether crocodiles or dragons, whether a vulture or a woman's head, depending on the angle you look at it.
Man can do little to stand nature Will a lifesaver ring be enough to survive
The sea is not safe for swimming Maybe in the lagoon under the bridge
More and more people are coming I better have to get out of here
And it was easy to get out of Yeliu. The same way I came in, of course. The visitor center even handed me a map with all the information at which stop which bus with what number for what price is going to the other places around. It was too late to go somewhere else (for example to the beaches of Jinshan), so I took the bus No. 1815 back to Taipei.

While getting back to my YMCA I passed a dancing puppet show in front of a department store. Couldn't make out the meaning but it definitely was part of the "Year of the Tiger" celebration.
Back in the streets of Taipei with a year of the tiger show
If I would come to Taiwan again I would not have my hub in Taipei again but travelling around on my own and stay in another guesthouse or hotel every other day and in every other town or countryside. That is actually the way I was used to do. Taiwan has much much more to offer than just Taipei and around. And still something more you will see in the next part.

If you want to skip now to the next part, then just hit
Part II

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