The first day into Taiwan, a country with a different language and culture couldn’t be crazier. I have to write out this blog for you to get how mad it was & hopefully share some useful info as well.
It started fine….My flight from Kuala Lumpur landed just 20 minutes late. Since I was coming from Melbourne, I had started at 6pm last evening. And was now in Taipei at 3pm – so last 12 hours with improper sleep and not much food. I ate at the airports but Air Asia flights are not very good for vegetarians. I would have still bought some stuff, but they only accept Malaysian currency.. Or dollar notes but in mint condition. Not crumpled notes. They don’t accept cards either (yea I don’t know what that is about). Anyway so due to these difficulties I hardly ate anything. I was hoping to get a cafe at Taipei airport.
1st small mishap: flight late. Delay: 20 mins
First things first – I had to get through immigration before I get to any cafe. The line took easily 30 minutes and when I reached the counter he insisted on a hard copy of my Taiwan Authorization letter (visa). Damn bugging cause I had double checked with Air Asia crew in Melbourne and both times they said hard copy not needed. I could see that the crew didn’t really care much from their demeanour but I didn’t know they would misguide me. But clearly they had.
So I had to find an Air Asia person at Taipei airport to get a print out. Sounds easy. But wasn’t! Because the closest ground staff of Eva Air (the company looking after Air Asia customers) was in the other terminal altogether. Getting to them took me 20 minutes!! There were multiple desks they should have been at on the way – but they weren’t!
When your flight passengers are still going through immigration shouldn’t at least one staff person of the airline be there?! There was none all the way to the other terminal – 20 minutes away!!!
So getting that hard copy of visa took me 45 mins. Thankfully I didn’t stand in immigration line again.
Once I had the hard copy of my visa I got through immigration in a few minutes and they returned me the visa copy anyway – so why they want it I don’t know. Time to accept soft copy Taiwan – let’s not waste paper printing stuff unnecessarily!
So this was Big mishap 2: Needed visa copy, No Air Asia staff to print out visa copy
Taiwan airport so far was really nice though. Well thought out, spacious and immaculately clean. Instructions everywhere in Chinese and English.
There was Free WiFi – but flaky had to keep reconnecting. Mostly everyone spoke English or would make do with mime so communicating at the airport isn’t really difficult, one only needs to work with the accent difference.
There were counters for foreign exchange and pre-paid sim cards. I didn’t get any yet, because I was keen on seeing how my cycle had come through. Because (I will be writing a blog separately) I transported my cycle using just a bike cover and NOT a bike box.
Note: the airport is the best and one of very few places to get the prepaid SIM, so I suggest you get it from here. Also regard currency I had no money to “exchange” 😀 there was an ATM outside where I withdrew NTD. I hadn’t even checked the forex rates but I got a decent 1NTD = 2.2INR
Luggage & Fixing the Cycle:
As I got out of immigration of course there was no indication of where my luggage would be because it was already an hour late so most everyone else would have taken their luggage and gone. None of the baggage ramp indicators showed my flight. So again asked around but thankfully an Eva air person was at the counter, so she informed me about the right belt number – where the luggage should still be.
My panniers were still making rounds on the belt for the umpteenth time. They were in good condition.
And then I saw my cycle!
This was the first awesome thing for the day! All in all it seemed to have arrived in good shape.
I got on to re-mantling the bike so I can mount all the luggage and take it with me. I had earlier planned to ride part way to city but now due to the flight delay and immigration mishap it was much later than anticipated.
Anyway took me about 20 mins to get the bike up and ready – straightened handle bar, filled air in tires, got the chain back up and put the pedals on. Another 15 minutes to mount my luggage.
All the time one luggage staff kept watching and even tried to help a bit but it wasn’t necessary. After I was done he insisted I have some water. So he took to a nearby water cooler and then showed me to the toilet for washing hands. Earlier he even got me paper napkin when he saw how greasy my hands got fixing the bike chain.
Thanks old Chinese friend!
Finally when I headed off it was 6pm already. By this time the terminal was really empty and everyone was looking very inquisitively at me strolling out with my bike & luggage in tow. I guess that it is still a bit uncommon, most people get their bikes in boxes.
Taoyuan Airport to Taipei City
I had earlier considered taking a train into town, but my AirBnb hostess said the shuttle bus also accepted bikes so I could take that too. So went with the shuttle bus – we get these buses right from outside the arrivals terminal. The High Speed Railway terminal is a distance away and one needs to do a shuttle bus, taxi or bike their way there (I think).
Shuttle Buses from Taoyuan Airport: I assumed these were government buses and would be a standard company running them. But it is not so, I was surprised to know that there were couple of different companies running these. I didn’t really compare the fares and stuff cause I wanted to get going. So went with the option that the tourism counter guy has suggested – I don’t know if this was best option for me or for them (as in whether they get a commission on it).
It cost me $165 : $125 for me plus $65 for luggage (cycle). Much cheaper compared to a taxi which would cost me more than $1000.
Small Mishap 3: the bus wasn’t exactly equipped to carry a cycle… What they did was slide the bike into an empty luggage compartment Horizontally. So it wasn’t like a real bike space but a make shift arrangement. While it is OK for just a bike by itself – for a bike with luggage this means it lands on one of my panniers and the pannier could very easily get damaged. But it all happened in a jiffy and I had already taken the bus ticket so I figured OK let it be. In hindsight I feel I need to be more careful about this. The ortlieb panniers are amazing and sturdy but I must take care of them.
No delays due to this mishap but it has consequences later on.
Mishap 4: bus broke down on the way to the city.
Yes, the bus broke down!! On a very busy highway, which meant there wasn’t really proper space to remove my bike even.
So, the driver did arrange for a replacement bus because this was in the middle of nowhere. So a delay of another 30 – 40 minutes.
The bus driver assured me he would take care of my bike. “All good. OK”. I asked him a few times that I could help… But I think he was embarrassed, he was apologizing so many times… So I figured this is part of this culture. The staff at least tries to provide a good experience to people.
He didn’t know much English.Thankfully couple of passengers knew English in the bus and they kept my appraised of the situation.
So finally the replacement bus arrived and by that time the driver had already removed my cycle outside
I don’t know how, probably by dragging it on my one pannier. (Ouch!!). Part of my luggage was falling off. And the guy kept trying to pull the luggage off – as if it won’t be secured well with ropes and shit!!
Just call me can’t you, before you start tampering with stuff you don’t get. Anyway so as we started to move into the next bus, it started raining. Oh yea!
Thankfully, I had my rain jacket on hand. And I waited because I have to see how my bike is transported. Anyway so I saw the luggage was falling off, and just took charge of MY bike with the driver frantically trying to pull luggage off it in the rains! The new bus didn’t have the same space for the bike… !!
We had to haul the luggage in pieces and the bike on its own – right up into the bus deck! Usually this was done with a ramp in the new bus but there was no space to open out the ramp on the highway!! So anyway once it was up it had a good bit of space and was tied too.
What a shocker!! Could have been better managed if the driver had just included me in handling MY bike with luggage – a setup that he wouldn’t understand.
And it has to rain at the same time!?
I was so shocked.
So this was Big Mishap 4 : bus breaks down & shifting
Delay: 1 hr
Finally we were all settled in the new bus. One Taiwanese guy was interested in my cycle plans and he gave me a reference for a weather app I could use, because there are Typhoons here.
I was quite calm and felt OK about things. The driver had panicked earlier, but it’s Ok I think, it was a cultural thing where he had to take ownership and not trouble his customers.
All would be well now….
But no. There is more – it is not over yet….
We were arriving towards Songshan Airport, our earlier bus ended here. So we were all relaxed. But before we knew it, songshan airport had gone behind and we were hurtling towards some completely different section of the city!! The other passengers from the earlier bus got concerned and started talking to the bus driver. Annddd…. Apparently this was a different bus route and they didn’t really bother to stop at Songshan airport nor inform any of us that it won’t be stopping!!
Big mishap 5 : wrong bus stop, further from my destination!
So finally everyone got off. My Taiwanese friend really got pissed because I think he could understand my plight… I didn’t know the language, nor did I have internet (cause I didn’t buy prepaid card at the airport) and we were in the middle of nowhere! As in, there were no metro stops nearby (I could still use GPS, so I saw the next metro stop was quite a bit away and it was a line I hadn’t planned to use at all).
Anyway I insisted to this bus crew who had forgotten about us altogether to get my luggage down. Cause I was worried that while I am standing on the street they may just drive the bus off with my luggage!
And finally I had my bike and all luggage on the street. My Taiwanese friend was furious and he would be complaining to the bus company. I plan to write them an email and ask them for refund ticket money for mental stress.
So I started packing up, actually to be honest while I was quite bummed and felt really dumb about the situation, I realized that this was karma. The series of delays one after the other from every side – it is just that. And I just relaxed in acceptance of the situation. There is nothing else to do. Also I guess being on the road for a while, I do understand that such stuff happens. And especially with cycle touring – I am usually fairly vulnerable and it is very much part of the experience.
More importantly, I saw the neighbourhood and I felt safe. I believe that is the most important thing in all traveling.
At this time it was about 8.15pm. So not drastically late, I felt I had an hour to get to my hostess.
So that brings up the question – how do I get to my AirBnb?
I don’t think it was more than 10km to the stay place. But my cycle had a flat… I was not sure I would be able to ride it. Also I had not eaten since morning 6 am at the Kuala Lumpur airport – so I didn’t want to ride.
The Taiwanese friend (didn’t even ask his name) was all agitated and he wanted to help. Of course he can and should help. I needed to get to Taipei Arena or Nanjing Fuxing metro station.
Anyway I was feeling quite woebegone and felt that the world wanted me to slow down so I figured I would just walk all the way. I just needed sometime to go in my shell but this Taiwanese friend was all concerned. He was not able to understand how I can transport my bike – of course non cycle tourers won’t get it.
Then I glimpsed the local city buses – AND they are so ready for cycles!! I don’t know whether they generally allow cycles but they are totally equipped for it!
So there was my transport, I told him, I can take the bus as it will carry my cycle , just find me the right one. The instructions at the bus stop were all in Chinese.
Just to note: if this guy wouldn’t have really wanted to help, if he would walk off as the other passengers did then I would have asked someone else at the bus stop to help me with the right bus number.
But this guy went and spoke to the locals at the bus stop, found the right bus for me. They even found out that it is coming in 2 mins, even instructed the driver to let me know which stop I had to get out (because I don’t know Chinese – though buses anyway have English stop name announcements) & they paid my fare!!
The guy bade me farewell by saying ‘this is Taiwan hospitality’. 😀
I know how he feels, I feel the same about Mumbai. I want everyone to have a more lovely and homely experience in the city – but I know it is not possible at least for now because it just too congested, rushing and chaotic. The city needs to get a bit more settled with its people, life and infrastructure to be able to ensure basic goodness for all.
Don’t worry Taiwanese friend, I haven’t got a bad impression at all about your city 🙂 and you maybe be surprised but I wasn’t overtly panicking you know…. I actually like Taipei, a lot so far. 🙂
Anyway, this way I finally made my way home. The bus route was really good for me, it came so close to my stay place. I disembarked and made my way to find the specific house. A bummer that I still had no internet.
Note: G maps automatically pulls my AirBnb reservation data and marks it on my map. This is what helped me immensely, because despite no internet I could navigate to the place using GPS on G maps.
So finding the house was easy enough, decent lane marking system with boards in English and Mandarin. Asked couple of people to help, both did.
And I still had this ongoing feeling that this place was safe and people are decent.
I still have this feeling about this city. It is unusual, because I haven’t really experienced the place much. But I think it is from subconscious cues – seeing people’s body language, thoughtful city layout, apart from few people who erred others were helpful etc….
I think one other factor was the weather – it was a warm 30C! I was feeling so good about it. The rains had stopped a while back and after spending a month and half in Melbourne with under 15C temperatures, where nights became a ridiculous 6C. I felt good in 30C. I can walk for an hour in this weather without any food even.
So all in all arrived at my hosts place and surprisingly I got free internet right by the house so I connected to AirBnB, pinged her and then everything was good. 🙂
If I hadn’t gotten free internet then I was a bit stuck because I didn’t know how to actually contact her specific apartment. But Taipei is like Europe that way, keep roaming in the city and randomly here and there you get free internet. Some are government provided some from malls, events etc…
I finally reached my home stay by 8.45pm. Not too late actually but for the first night in a new city/culture/country, it is late enough I think.
Warm Taipei. <3
I could go down to eat but realized that I hadn’t done my yoga in the madness of the day – so after the house tour from my hostess I did my yoga.
Watched a bit of movie with her and her roomie (they had it on projector!) and munched on peanuts. Yea no real dinner, would have to make do with awesome breakfast next day.
They have a massage chair – and so I had a hot bath and massage before turning in
All crazy and shit, but ends well 🙂