After my planned trip to Chile wasn’t supposed to happen, I quickly changed my mind and bought a plane ticket to Taipei, Taiwan, without knowing much about that country. I made trips, which I liked a lot, to South East Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Borneo and Indonesia) before, but East Asia was unchartered territory. Travel blogs wrote positively about Taiwan and maybe it wouldn’t be that different from let’s say Singapore, Penang or Sabah, which also have a strong element of “Chinese” culture. Of course Taiwan would be very different than everything I saw before, but more about that in other posts.
Some years ago travelling to Taiwan from Europe was not so easy, due to very strict Chinese airspace restrictions. After the “Cold War” between China and Taiwan ended, travellers have more and better options to reach the island in the East China Sea. There are direct flights by China Airlines and Eva Air, but also many connecting flights via Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore or Seoul to name just a few. I chose Star Alliance member Air China for my journey as they offered the best fare and a decent product. Of course you can’t compare Air China to Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines or Emirates in terms of quality, but I opted to save over € 300 instead of choosing a more luxurious airline.
Thanks to the liberalization of long distance travel in Germany this year I was able to take the newly established “Mein Fernbus” from my residence in the Black Forest to Munich (an airport which I only used once before). The four hour bus ride was cozy and offered some nice views of the Lake of Constance and the Swiss Alps:
Munich Airport was clean and efficient, but security personal was grumpy and unfriendly. Not a good thing if you want to promote tourism and a friendly, warm image of Germany. Many airports in Europe should learn from Asian airports in this field.
I didn’t have to wait long to board Air China Flight CA 962, an Airbus 330-200.
As the plane was not fully booked, I got two seats for myself. Even if the aircraft was not perfectly maintained, the Inflight Entertainment worked well and I had more than enough space despite flying Economy Class as usual. As we were flying East, it got dark quickly and I was only able to take a couple of decent shots before the long night started:
While some people in aviation forums complained about bad food on Air China, I enjoyed dinner and breakfast:
Sadly I hardly caught some sleep, but this is pretty normal when flying East on a afternoon flight. The body just isn’t tired enough to sleep. So I watched a Taiwanese romantic film (“when it snows in Taipei”) and a lousy Hollywood production (“Thor”) while passing silently over Eurasia into Sibir:
We arrived in Beijing on time early in the morning, but my connecting flight wasn’t scheduled before early afternoon. Air China provides you with a free stay in a little lounge for such stopovers. The lounge was ok to get some rest (I was the only guest), but don’t expect a lounge like you get as Business Class passenger.
The flight from Beijing to Taipei went on time and as I hardly slept since I woke up in Germany, I quickly fell asleep in the huge Boeing 777-200ER. The only photo I took on this flight was the meal which was served immediately after take-off:
In general flying Air China meant no thrills and there were no real reasons to complain. The crew was friendly enough and it was not a bad journey.
Taipei Taoyuan International Airport was as effective as Singapore Changi: Luggage arrived soon and immigration was done quickly with a huge smile. It’s a big difference when the immigration personnel wishes you a nice vacation instead of barking at you treating you like a criminal (yes, I mean you Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and Beijing Airport).
The best and in my opinion cheapest option from Taoyuan to Taipei is to take the bus. It’s an one hour ride from the airport to downtown and a taxi is not much faster, while costing much more. In near future the airport will get a High Speed Rail (HSR) connection, which is going to be an even faster connection.
The airport is well sign-posted, but to buy the bus ticket you need cash. The easiest and most expensive option is to exchange money. The other option is to find an ATM to get NT$ (New Taiwan Dollar). The ATM option is not as easy as it sounds as not every Taiwanese ATM gives cash to non-Taiwanese credit cards. For example you won’t get cash at Taiwan Post (Chunghwa) and a number of other banks ATMs. A safe bet to get cash is Chinatrust Bank, whose ATMs are usually located in 7 Eleven outlets. Once you get cash buy a bus ticket, find the right exit (memorize the number of the bus line) and wait for the bus. If unsure ask at the ticket booth – many bus drivers don’t speak English.
Keep always enough coins, you will need them for metro or bus tickets during your stay!
Once you arrive at Taipei Bus (or Train) Station orientation might not be easy for first time visitors who can’t speak or read Chinese. It took me almost an hour to find my hotel which was only located four minutes from the bus stop. If unsure take a taxi from the bus station to your final destination. The next day (with daylight) orientation was much easier as there are maps with English labels.
So my journey from the Black Forest went like this (in CET):
07:00 – 11:20: Bus to Munich
11:35 – 12:35: Train Munich – Munich Airport
14:15 – 00:10: Flight Munich – Beijing
07:00 – 10:15: Flight Beijing -Taipei
11:00 – 12:00: Bus Taipei Airport – Downtown
13:00: Arrival Hotel
The next day I started exploring Taipei, thankfully jetlag was not a big problem this time…