Enroute to Bali, our China Airlines journey required two flights and an overnight in (well, near, anyway) Taipei, Taiwan.
By the time we’d flown 13 hours from LAX, picked up our baggage and cleared customs at Taoyuan Airport, it was 9 pm. Sure, we were exhausted, but still hungry to explore a (tiny) slice of this (huge) neon-filled city.
Taipei doesn’t really have airport-adjacent hotels and stopover travelers generally head 40 minutes into the city for lodgings; through Tripadvisor.com, though, I found the much-closer and comfortable Hotel Monarch Plaza. Only drawback: it’s in the nearby city of Taoyuan, not Taipei itself.
We visited Taoyuan during the Christmas season, and found it serious about Christmas. The sparkly Monarch Plaza was tricked out in about eleventy-five-thousand blue LEDs. In the lobby was a gingerbread diorama that had to be 5 feet across, with electric lighting and outdoor candy scenery. All of the hotel staff, even the bellhops, were clad in Santa hats, and everyone seemed very happy to see us. (Or maybe you just can’t look unhappy in a Santa hat.)
Out on the nearby streets, we went foraging in search of food. There was a wandering church group singing carols; it was oddly comforting to see that this was just as annoying to local people as it might be in America. The carol leader stopped us and asked where were from, and when we said Los Angeles, he had his entire choir sing to us personally. This was not at all embarrassing in front of a scruffy fish restaurant full of disgruntled dinner patrons; however, it was also sweet, endearing and a bit like getting a hug from a group of smiling strangers.
By the way, I would have been happy to try said fish restaurant for dinner, but the tanks of milky-lavender squid and huge, red and spiny crabs caused Adam to slowly back away. He preferred to seek out protein that couldn’t strangle us if given half a chance.
We turned back the way we’d came, towards the Monarch Plaza. Stopping into a tinsel-strewn convenience store to find an ATM (though it turned out there was one in the Monarch Plaza), we were entranced by chocolate bars from all over the Earth and non-dairy vegetarian drinks with the inexplicable logo of a cartoon cow. We must have been in there 20 minutes before we realized 1) we hadn’t purchased anything and 2) we were still really hungry.
Catty-corner across the street from the hotel (at Chuang Ching Road & Tungan Street), we sat down in a blazingly-lit white cubicle of a restaurant, surrounded by shiny photographs of the available dishes, and ate a great big, tasty dinner of steamed veggies and dumplings for the equivalent of $3 US. The short, skinny teenagers who took our order without emotion had acne, crunchy, over-dyed hair and the slow, exaggerated movements of those who have a better place to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a McDonald’s, but still — the vibe felt familiar.
Not long after, we dozed off in our clean, sparse room while watching a Taiwanese game show where everyone appeared to be some form of cheerful underground nightclub host, circa 1985. Taiwan boasts so many goofy, fabulous TV variety shows that, had we not had a plane to catch early the next morning, we might still be there watching right now…and this was years ago now.
Our departure the next morning was very early, and the Monarch Plaza was kind enough to arrange breakfast boxes for us with fruit, pastry and orange juice, as well as a shuttle back to the airport. Again, be-Santa-hatted employees cheered us on our way.
I only wish we’d had several days to explore the city, and another week for the countryside. I hear the food here is actually spectacular, there are hot springs everywhere, and a steam train that runs right through a mountain range…
TWT Travel Binder: Taiwan