Day 0, 1 - Arriving in Taipei & Taroko National Park

I can't tell you how I feel, but I do
those things they say can't get to me, but they do
I don't see the sky as blue, as you do
should I fantasize?

Guess Who - Alabama Shakes

As written in the last post, there are things to write about this month because last week I went to Taiwan with mom and dad. What's with the interest with Taiwan as my mom asked. Well for the pitiful Indonesian who have to apply visa pretty much everywhere, you don't really have to apply a visa to Taiwan if you have a Schengen or American visa. I think if you have a UK visa that would work too. You just have to fill in an online form. The visa don't seem to have to be valid either, as long as it's within a certain time period, but don't take my word on that, please check for yourself. I happen to have a valid Schengen and US visa and I used the Schengen visa because it has less numbers to key in than the US visa. Mom and dad had to apply though and my brother took care of it in Jakarta. We flew separately with mom and dad having to transit in Hong Kong. My brother was worried about this, but my mom was confident. Honestly sometime we think life is unfair right, like why we're born in a certain country or a certain race and so on. I think if my mom had been born in my generation or in a situation where she had had more opportunity in life, she would have gone places because the horse (her chinese sign) that she is, she would have roamed free and be the working horse that she is. Anyways, our arrival time were just 15 minutes apart. I may have arrived earlier and as I was queueing at the immigration, I was looking out for them and I did spot them. By the way, to make it easy on life, please fill in the online arrival card in Taiwan before you land. My brother actually did that for both my parents, but then my parents may not understand the instruction that they also filled in the paper card. No matter, point is we arrived safely and all is well. By the way, when I was leaving in Changi, the officer asked many of us to use the automatic gates which apparently could accept all passports. I was nervous because I don't do fingerprint well, but I amazingly breezed through it without any problem. In Taipei airport, it took a bit more time to get a fingerprint from my left index finger, but it went through as well. Thank God.

So anyways, the queue for immigration in Taipei was long and by the time we got out, I got lazy so I decided to just take the taxi to our hotel. I told mom, if I had been alone, I would have roughed it and take the MRT / train, but with them I was using them as an excuse. She said we should have roughed it and took the train. It's laziness and also I didn't want to them to get agitated if I didn't get the direction right away after exiting the station even though I did prepare for this. I had googled map it and had direction in my phone. There's just so many times when after exiting a station in a new place, I got disoriented and having to lug my luggage during those times are not fun. I always figured my way out, but as I go older, I do get lazier. Anyways, after arriving in the hotel, I told them I need to collect train tickets at Taipei Main Station so we walked there. It's Sunday and I think since it's getting colder, there were many people just sitting on the floor hanging out in the open area inside the station. I thought it's not a big deal, but mom thought it was so messy and unbecoming. I started to queue at one counter, but the queue was long and that made me think twice so I decided to go to the information counter to ask where I could collect the tickets for the high speed rails. Interesting note, the information counter in Taipei Main Station has an Indonesian speaking staff. I guess it's because there are many Indonesians working there. Also interesting is, the MRT card top up machine in Taiwan has Indonesian language in there. I don't think even Singapore has that. Perhaps because in Singapore, they think the Malay and Indonesian language is close enough. So anyway, the Indonesian lady (I think she is though we spoke in English) in the information counter pointed me to the direction of the high speed rail section, so I went there. Found the high speed rail information counter, but they don't dispense tickets there. Instead the staff told me to use the machine or go downstairs to the ticket counters. I opted to try to use the machine. Before I left, someone told me that he tried to use one of this ticketing machine when he was in Taiwan and he got a bit confused. For me, it turned out to be easy and straight forward enough though the machine took forever to dispense the ticket. It's like I had to take out each printed one before they can print another one. No matter, task completed.

December being winter in Taiwan, the sun sets at around 5 pm so it's already dark when we got out. We decided to eat near the hotel. Parents found it to be cheap and agreable and so almost every night we were there, they got dinner from there. Then I told them I wanted to go check out the nearby Ximending night market and they went along. I don't know if it's crowded everyday, but that day being a Sunday, it's quite full of people and since I don't like people / crowd, I didn't enjoy it much. There were many sellers selling snack and I was quite interested on the sweet snacks, but since I didn't finish my dinner, I couldn't buy any, my parents would chastise me. We just walked and didn't buy anything. Told my parents that there's a temple nearby and we should visit it. I thought I was lost at some point, but with some luck I found the Taipei Tianhou Temple when I was about to give up. Talking about fate. It's not a very big temple and after we visited it, we went back to the hotel.

The next day (Day 1), we're making a day trip to Hualien where Taroko National Park is located. I tried my darnest to get the train ticket, but I couldn't. The train ticket is only sold 2 weeks in advanced and this being a popular destination, it's very hard to get the timing that you want, especially if you're making a day trip from Taipei. I made a mistake myself by using the booking online link in the site. I thought they would ask me to choose which train, but they just assigned the train and without checking I confirmed it. Realizing my mistake, I wanted to book new ones, but I couldn't because I exceeded some quota for a single person and I didn't note down the booking number of the previous booking so I couldn't cancel it. I should have tried immediately using one my parents' passport number (which they require), but instead I waited the next day and by that time the trains that I wanted were gone :( Moral of the story, book as early as the tickets are released and use the schedule option first to find the train and use the booking button that appears near that train to book your desired train. So defeated by this train thing, I did the second method that people recommended online, I took the plane. Booked it easy enough in Uniair website. It's easy, but do read carefully, there's different prices for the ticket so choose the cheapest one for Non-Taiwan resident. The plane costs like 3 times more than the train, but in perspective, it's still cheap or comparable to Indonesian prices. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels to me that train ticket prices in Taiwan is really cheap. It might be even cheaper than in Indonesia.

So anyway, plane departure time is 07:20 AM from Songshan airport which is located in the city, around 20-minute ride from the hotel. My parents being the early bird that they are, they woke up really early, their body clock just couldn't go after 6 AM I think. Dad annoyingly knocked at my room early in the morning, I think mom told him to. She likes to do that and very often if feels like getting raided. She did that again on our last morning *sigh* Anyways I was quite worried about being able to get a taxi in the morning, but we found one easily. We could have taken the MRT, but I was worried we would be cutting it close since it's written if we don't check in 30 minutes before departure time, our seats would be given to waiting list passengers. I shouldn't have to worry actually, there were a number of empty seats on the plane. It was a short flight, like 50 minutes and the view if you're sitting on the right side of the plane is very nice.

Arriving in Hualien airport, I have arranged a driver / guide to take us around Taroko National Park. I could have just joined one of the tour group, but I wondered if my parents would be able to keep up if the rest of the participants are young, so I opted for the private tour. I spent the day translating things and it's tiring. Arriving in Hualien, it was cloudy and I was worried it's gonna rain. Luckily it didn't rain, just cloudy the whole day. First stop after getting water was getting some mochi which were not bad. Then we went to this little beach. There was another small tour group when we were there. There's some fish washed ashore. Mom seemed to know what kind of fish they were.

Then it was to see Qinshui Cliff. Was I impressed? Not really. I guess because I've seen views like this a few times in my life. My picture don't do it justice either. I didn't take good photos in this trip. Sorry about that, I've seen many people taking better pictures of it.

Then we stopped at somewhere which I forget the name, but there's this old arch, I guess perhaps it's the center of the National Park. We also dropped by a visitor center where we watched a really beautiful clip about Taroko National Park. Then we went to see Eternal Spring Shrine which was quite interesting. The driver then drove us up to a small temple nearby and we prayed a bit there.

Then it was lunch. Had the best meal in Taiwan here. We had fish, clam soup, and 2 types of vegetable dishes. After that we went to the Swallow Grotto which I really enjoyed. So far that day the trip had been so-so for me, but walking this grotto was quite fun. You had to wear helmet because of fear of falling rocks. There were holes on the opposite walls where the swallows nest (I think). Below is a river. The rock wall below near the river have blue / grey stripes, while going up the rocks have a more reddish hue. I love walking there. I thought the walk there would be short, but it's not really that short. At the end there's a rock formation that looked like an Indian chief's head (that's what the locals call). See if you can spot it in the third picture below.

Then we went to Buluowan area where there's a resort run by the local tribe. They have interesting sculptures there. There's also an upper and lower terrace area you could walk on. It's not super interesting here for me, but mom did spot a monkey in the upper terrace area we walked on. Mom's eyes are sharp. After that it was to Shakadang trail which I was quite worried about if mom and dad could do it. They were fine by the way. The guide said, let's just do the 1-km hike. There's a bridge nearby this trail in which there are many little lion statues in different poses.

To start the hike you actually need to go down some stairs first. I don't remember how high it was, it seemed like 4, 5 - storey high for me which made me think, damn it's gonna be painful going back up later. Turned out my parents made it back alright, they even made it up without having to stop halfway. I was surprised because I was worried even for myself. Anyways, the walk in Shakadang trail was also great. This and the Swallow Grotto hikes are the things that I like most about this tip. There's a river below and at one point, the water was so still and clear that you're not sure if there's water at all. The pooling water also form a really nice blue colour. It was really nice.

Last stop was to Qixingtan Beach. It was super windy that we didn't linger. It's a stretch of beach with not many people. I just snapped some pictures and quickly got back to the car. For pictures from this trip, please go here.

We were offered if we would like to be dropped in the night market since we had time to kill before our flight back. Mom and dad decided to just wait in the airport. I also wasn't keen on traversing a crowded night market. The thing is, the airport is so small and there's not many flights in and out, so it's pretty much dead when we got there. Really there's nothing. We spent the time catching up, talking about family's gossip. Told my parents I really wish I could freeze my eggs, but no such thing exists in Singapore for women who choose to do this :( Dad was like, why make it so complicated, just get someone to get married with. Yeah, if only it's that easy, it's just not happening to me. Seriously the persistent them always try to question my singlehood *sigh* Anyways, the flight back was quite full, but it's even shorter. It's like just around 30-40 minutes. There were many turbulence though and I hate that. Arrived in Taipei, I decided to just take taxi again back to the hotel. In between not being that hungry but having to eat, we decided to get instant meal in Family Mart, a convenience store near the hotel. They even microwaved it for us. Got the Japanese chicken curry rice and porridge. I ate most of the porridge and was surprised to find real chicken with bone and all. So often with this instant thing, we get meat that look so generic that one wonder what meat it is, if it's real, but this instant meal in Taiwan look pretty legit. So that's the long day 1, I'll try to write the next one soon.

:) eKa @ 9:51:00 PM •


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