Arriving in Taipei, Taiwan / by Mark Boyd

The sun was rising as I departed The Bunc hostel in Singapore.  The ground glistened under the film of overnight rain that coated the roads and pavements.  I sat and waited in the subway station for the first MRT train to Singapore International.  Forty five minutes later I was checking in.  I walked to the gate that was marked on my boarding pass, and then found a nice spot to lie down and rest.  My flight was at 8.30am and it was only 7.15am.  I had plenty of time to grab some z's.  At 8.07am I wandered over to the gate and then realised there was yet another security check before reaching the holding area.  Ooooops!  Five minutes later I was popping my hand luggage on the scanner.  The lady took my boarding card.  'Taipei?'  She said.  'Yes.' I replied.  She went on to say the gate must have been changed, then she made a quick phone call then told me a needed to be at gate F17.  She then told me I needed to hurry, as gate F17 was a 20 minute walk.... Oh God!  I was going to miss my flight to Taiwan.  I kicked up my flip-flopped heels and charged through the airport.  After what seemed like 20 minutes of running (probably 5 minutes) I flagged down an electric cart.  I explained the situation and then jumped on.  Without this cart I most certainly wouldn't have made the flight.  The gate was just closing, all the passengers were on and ready for take-off.

 Tiger safety??!!  Surely this should have been issued in the jungles of Sumatra!

Tiger safety??!!  Surely this should have been issued in the jungles of Sumatra!

I made it by the skin of my teeth!  Two hours in to the flight I suddenly had a terrible thought... No not that the plane was going to crash.... That's standard for me... And this flight was as it happens 4 hours of pure turbulence!  I suddenly thought that I may well need a pre-approved visa for Taiwan.... Oh no.... I didn't even think about it.... Because every country I'd visited had been visa on arrival (apart from Myanmar at the beginning) I had simply forgotten to check.... Hmmmmm.... I was now concerned.

I lined up and awaited my fate....

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Thank heavens it was visa on arrival... Phew!

I took a bus from Taipei Airport to a stop somewhere on the outskirts of the city.  I checked MapsMe on my iPhone and then walked to the subway station.  As I stared at the screens in the station, trying to work out how I was going to get to Taipei Bridge Station an elderly gentleman approached me to offer assistance.  A couple of sentences later and Mr Lee was helping me get to 'Hey Bear Capsule Hostel' near Taipei Bridge.  Perfect.  We boarded the subway and then a minute or so later Mr Lee realised he'd took us on the wrong train (in 3 stops the line split).  'Bad guide.' he said with a smile as we dismounted and headed back to where we were.  

 Checking directions to my Hostel. 

Checking directions to my Hostel. 

This time we got on the correct train.  Mr Lee told me he was 76 years of age and used to be a taxi driver around Taipei.  His English was good.... broken a little... but a lot better than my Chinese!  He offered to show me around that evening.  It was 4pm and I was a little tired.  It had already been a long travel day.  He suggested we eat once I'd checked in.  This was a great idea.  And the least I could do was take Mr Lee for some food to thank him for getting me to my hostel.  He waited whilst I checked in and dropped my bags in to my capsule (more about the capsule later).  We walked along the street.  He suggested we have a beer, but where he had in mind didn't sell beer.  We stopped at a 7/11 store.  Mr Lee grabbed two cans of local beer.  I handed the money over the counter but Mr Lee wouldn't have it.  A few doors up the street and we were ready to eat.  We sat down at the long metal counter whilst the cooks prepared an array of dishes.  Mr Lee had ordered some sort of banquet which included seafoods and steak.  At £16.00 I could see we were celebrating my arrival in Taiwan in style.  We ate and chatted.  Mr Lee requested the bill.  I already had my Taiwanese dollars at the ready.  He wasn't beating me this time.  As I attempted to pay for our meal Mr Lee intervened, he was adamant, and became upset at my wanting to pay for our meal.  Once again he wouldn't have it and I didn't want to offend him.  

This lovely Taiwanese gent had met me less than an hour ago, and here he was taking me out for a late afternoon meal.  We walked along the street for 10 minutes, then I headed back to my hostel whilst Mr Lee grabbed a bus at the side of the road.  I took his number and hoped to take him for a meal later in my trip.

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I held my key card against the sensor in the elevator to head up to the 9th floor of Hey Bear Capsule Hostel.  The key card provides access to the room, capsule and bathroom facilities.  The capsule itself is wonderful.  A sliding door provided access to the personal space age style living quarters.  A large TV at the foot end of the bed provides entertainment via movies.  A large lit mirror along with various reading lights and back lights provides illumination along with a small safe for ones precious items.  I love this capsule!  And for £8.00 per night it was just within budget.  

Tomorrow I'll explore Taipei and source a scooter to explore Taiwan!

 The morning view from Hey Bear Capsule Hostel.

The morning view from Hey Bear Capsule Hostel.

I rose early, just ahead of sunrise.  I wandered down on to the still streets of Taipei.  The air was cool.  My skin was sensitive to these lower temperatures.  12 degrees Celcius was feeling more like 8 degrees!  My feet took me in the direction of Taipei bridge which spans the huge river.  I watched the sunrise over the river and the city roads come to life with mainly two wheeled forms of transport.

Looking at the early swarms of well wrapped motorcyclists made me realise that scooters and bikes were the mode of transport to have in Taipei.  

 Ride the shoot?  Or walk down?  I agree with this guy!

Ride the shoot?  Or walk down?  I agree with this guy!

 The Box Man of Taipei..... Probably....

The Box Man of Taipei..... Probably....

Mid morning I headed down the street to source some breakfast.  I spotted a lady tending to a huge cauldron of bubbling 'something'.... with 'stuff' floating in it.  I pointed at it (hardly any of the older people spoke any English whatsoever) and smiled.  I sat down.  A minute later a huge bowl was placed in front of me.  

I didn't know for certain what the hell I was eating, but I have a fair idea.  Guts, glands and entrails.... in a hot spicy broth.... with a few pieces of vegetable and some freshly made rice noodles.  As long as I didn't think about the contents I was able to fully appreciate the flavours.  Let's be honest, it was far healthier than the KFC on the corner and the McDonalds down the road.

That evening I took the subway across the city in the direction of Elephant Hill.  I reached my final rail stop and then walked for around twenty five minutes to reach my viewpoint.  The viewpoint I'd stumbled upon was not one of the marked vistas on Elephant Hill.  I noticed a gap in the bushes and the faintest of tracks.  It was just me and my camera gear.  

There were many places to watch the sunset over Taipei and the infamous Taipei 101 building.  At 509 metres and packing 101 floors within it's walls it really is a sight to behold!  Prominent?  Yes.  

I watched the city sky darken as the sun disappeared below the horizon.  Spots of light morphed to replace the previously dull windows and doors of the building below.  Taipei 101 and it's surrounding business buildings sparkled brightly bringing Taipei city to life.

 Taipei in it's night time glory.... Eat your hat Blackpool Illuminations!

Taipei in it's night time glory.... Eat your hat Blackpool Illuminations!

During the transition from light to dusk Jennifer, a local school teacher spotted me at the back of the bushes.  She walked down and introduced herself and her four students.  We got chatting.  Jennifer invited me to the visit the school when I returned from my Taiwan moto-tour.  We took one another's details and planned to make contact in 10 days time.  Once the sun had settled the girls and their teacher continued down the hill.

At 7.20pm I packed down my tripod, popped my headlamp on and walked back down Elephant Hill.

I grabbed the MRT (monorail) and headed back to Taipei Bridge.  As I crossed the busy road from Taipei Bridge Station to Hey Bear Capsule Hostel I stopped midway to grab a couple of long exposure images of the traffic and ghostly images of people in motion.

Then I wandered down the street and found an open eatery.  I pointed at a couple of things, one known as 'stinky tofu', smiled a lot and sat down.  

Two minutes later a feast lay before me, and what a delicious feast it was too.  The rubbery consistency of the tofu was strange but satisfying.  The huge bowl of noodle and vegetable soup was an absolute delight!  I was fit to burst by the time I'd finished.

Tomorrow I pick up my scooter from Jeremy, at Bikefarm Taipei.... I'll hire for 10 days and see where the wheels take me.  I have a loose plan.... as usual!

 An illuminated pathway leads from Elephant Hill back towards the edge of the city.....

An illuminated pathway leads from Elephant Hill back towards the edge of the city.....