There are two major holidays in the Chinese calendar – Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is the main one. This changes each year, but usually it falls sometime in January or February. The other holiday, so-called ‘golden week’, is now – the first week of October. This usually coincides with National Day holiday, which is 1 October. Last year, Mid-Autumn Festival, often towards the end of September (but again varies from year to year), fell at the end of the month, which created a bumper holiday. This year, golden week is a mere seven days, but even so, travel within mainland China – and at tourist sites – is not a good idea during this time. People often return home at Spring Festival, and do so during golden week too, but also (at least my students) are taking trips elsewhere.
Because of the travel chaos which is (likely) to exist this week, I decided that I would travel last week. Having the end of the week off (and not having to work make-up days of Saturday or Sunday), I decided I would travel from Thursday to Monday, thereby hopefully missing the crowds. The first issue was where to go? I have been to most of the places in Asia I would like to go to, though there are still a few places I am interested in. Returning to Japan would be nice, and I think Busan, South Korea would also be interesting. But I decided to visit Taipei.
Arriving at the airport in Beijing on Thursday morning, I was faced with many, many people, all in the line for Air China (who I also flew with). Not all of them were heading for Taipei, but I thought at the time perhaps I had made a mistake with so many people about. The queue moved reasonably quickly, though, so I made it to check-in in not too long a time. I also only had my rucksack, so no check-in luggage to deal with.
The flight was fine, and I landed in Taipei at Taoyuan International Airport. Arriving in the early evening about 17:00, it was pretty easy to get to the centre of Taipei. The airport is in another city (Taoyuan) which surrounds Taipei, so I took the Taoyuan airport metro to Taipei main station. From there, I had one change and one stop on another line, my hotel being about two minutes from the subway stop, if that.
The train was clean and efficient. There is an express train and a commuter train – I happened to get on the express. I arrived and transferred lines easily enough and found the correct exit. The hotel was much closer to the subway station than I thought. I checked in, and went and inspected my room.
Following this, I turned in for the night.
The following day, Friday, it rained. A lot. I decided to do mostly indoor stuff. I headed off to the National Palace Museum, Taiwan’s version of the Forbidden City. Getting there involved a subway trip and then a change onto a bus. In Beijing, I rarely take buses. This is usually because there is no English translation and the timetables (I find) are very confusing. Once, I was on a bus, and it said (in English) ‘the next stop is…’ and then followed up by saying the place name in Chinese. So, I was a little apprehensive about taking the bus, but the bus I got on had the museum as its final destination, plus the language was in Chinese and English.
The museum itself was reasonably interesting, full of porcelain, metal objects and other items. It was well worth the visit (and to shelter from the rain), though some things I am less interested in, such as Chinese calligraphy.
Following this, the rain had thankfully eased off, and I waited for the bus to arrive. Again, the bus was easy to use and whilst the subway stop was not the last stop, the driver told me where it was and also pointed across the road to the station. I thought the museum would take longer than it did, but was definitely sure that Taipei 101 – the big tower in the city – would be busy. I took the subway straight there. When there is a buffet breakfast, as in the hotel, it helps to stock up which I did earlier in the morning, so I was not really that hungry.
To access the tower, you had to go through a shopping mall, to the fifth floor, and then transfer to a lift. The mall was pretty quiet – it was early afternoon on a Thursday, but I was sure the tower would be busy. Actually, the tower was not so busy, at least not as busy as I thought it would be. There were people about but it was not heaving. I was told that the outside viewing area was closed due to the weather, but could stay in the inside bit. Ascending to the top floor in a very fast lift, I was able to see far and wide, including the clouds surrounding the building. You could also see the building’s wind breaker, which moves in the wind and allows the building to keep its form.
Still with some time to kill, following this I went to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial. The subway station is pretty impressive, and the memorial itself was also interesting. You can even go underneath it in a museum of sorts. There is the changing of the guards, who march in a weird way!
It was about 17:30, and feeling a little peckish, I decided to go in search of food. I ended up at a restaurant where I ordered the set menu. I thought it was chicken and soup, with a smoothie thrown in for good measure. But instead, the kept bringing out food. I got the chicken and soup and more besides (as well as an iced lemon drink, which was free, I think, and which, if I had known, I would not have ordered the smoothie). Not being very cultured in fine dining, when the first food appeared, potato salad, I picked up my spoon and started eating. It was only when the waiter came to clear away my empty plate that he also took the small fork that was on the table. Obviously, I should have used that to eat the salad, as he left the spoon where it was! The food, though a lot, was filling and I left satisfied that I was full. I am pleased I did not order a pudding though.
I headed back to the hotel, caught up with some TV viewing and turned in for the night.