19
Aug

Continuing on with recollections of our trip to Taiwan - Monday 7/11 – Friday 5/15

Monday 7/11 – tour begins

After researching various tour options, I settled on booking with Edison Travel Services, mainly based on comments on Tripadvisor. If you have a business with negative comments on the internet, you’re in trouble. The itinerary seems  to be the same among the tour groups, so base on price, feedback, and website appeal and email responsiveness, I went with Edison.

Promptly at 7:30am, the bus came to pick us up. We were the first to be picked up out of a total of 37 people. I chose the front seat to avoid motion sickness. However, after we picked up the rest of the group, the tour guide Alan announced that to be fair we will rotate seats daily. Not everyone was a rule abiding citizen, leaving me without a seat on the last day. I will tell that story later.

We signed up for the 5-Day 4-Night Round Taiwan Island Excursion, the option without the bullet train (cheaper) which meant a lot of time on the bus. Today we drove to Sun Moon Lake. Every 1 1/2 hour we stopped for the “toilet”. We saw a bunch of Shrines and Temples along the way, which I did not find particularly interesting. They are neither fantastic in architecture nor historical significance. The weather was rainy and foggy, so we did not get the best views of Sun Moon Lake. In fact, when we stopped there for lunch, it was pouring.  It was the only day that I left my umbrella in the luggage stored away, which was no use to us there. (I borrowed an umbrellas from the bus driver.) But I love tropical rain because it’s not cold. So it was a fun adventure splashing around.

To be honest, if you’ve been to Canada’s Lake Louise and other nice lakes in Banff where we were last summer, you don’t need to see Sun Moon Lake. But since we’re here to see Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is part of the cultural experience. I don’t recommend you put it on your bucket list if you haven’t been here. ( Lake Louise is worth being on your bucket list; it’s fantastic.)

We had lunch with a couple of men on our tour group who are from Copenhagen. Their wives are teachers leading a group of students in some kind of academic competition in Taipei while they tour the island. We didn’t develop a friendship with them, not even FB friendship, but it was a nice cultural exchange.

When we arrived at the Fleur de Chine Hotel at Sun Moon Lake, we were thoroughly impressed. The view of the Lake was beautiful, the hotel rooms included cookies and fruit, and each room had a hot springs tub in addition to the general hot springs pool. If you are ever in the Fleur de Chine and want to enjoy the hot springs, make sure you bring a swimming cap or you’ll be forced to buy one there for $100TWD. The pools were beautiful but the ones in the Japan hotels were better. And no caps were required.

For dinner, we ate at one of the restaurants in the hotel, and ordered fried shrimp, thinking it would be battered and fried tempura style. It turned out to be a plate of small shrimps with the heads on. We didn’t eat much of it.

In spite of the amenities of the hotel, I had the worst sleepless night of the entire trip. I broke out in a rash (was it the shrimp?), even the Benydryl didn’t seem to work. But I thank God it didn’t get worst.

Tuesday 7/12 -

After waving good-bye to the hotel workers who lined up to bid us farewell, we were on our way to Tainan city, making several stops for more shrines. Along with describing the sights, the tour guide Alan gave us an informative history lesson. I know nothing of Taiwan. I didn’t even know that Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese, and only in recent history gaining rights to be a country on its own.

I was hoping to have some time in Kaoshiung to depart from the tour and see a bit of the city on our own and to visit an orphanage there. But we arrived in Kaohsiung late in the afternoon and didn’t have time to do so. We walked around the Love River, and had dinner in the Liuho Night Market. The market covered only 2 streets, nothing compared to Shilin Night Market. But then nothing can compare to Shilin. Alan suggested an eel noodle place for food, and we were disappointed that the stand wasn’t there. We did enjoy a papaya milkshake, breaking my vow not to drink anything with ice from the street. Lo and behold, nothing bad happened to me from that milkshake.

Wednesday 7/13 -

I may have to fill in the details another time as I don’t remember much from this day. It’s lost in the blur of my memory cells.

In the evening at the Formosan Naruwan Hotel in Taitung where we stayed, there was a little band that performed with mediocre proficiency. We left before they finished but went back later to give them a tip because we felt sorry for them. :)  We also won the raffle they had, a small stuff animal tiger which we gave to the boy in our tour group.

We had some time to walk around the town, small, not much to see. I imagine it’s like a tour coming to Rowland Heights near where we live in the US. I see tour buses there and wonder why a tour group would come to this small town. Well, now I know. It’s a convenient stop and it’s a way to see life with the locals.

Thursday 7/14

Today’s tour is a long bus ride up the eastern coast facing the Pacific Ocean. Alan jokingly said the North Americans in our group can swim home from here.

We stopped by several beaches, one was pebble beach that was full of nice smooth rocks suitable for my yard’s landscape. Too bad I couldn’t take home a few bagfuls. We stopped at another beach that required a hike of a trillion steps. In a hot humid day, I was quite proud of myself for making it without having to call an ambulance.

The ocean water is warm on this side of the Pacific, and if we were here a while, it would be fun to swim here.

The Chateau de Chine Hotel has a fancier name than the actual facilities. However, if my memory serves me correctly, there was an entire floor of entertainment – an exercise room with machines and Kinect, and a room with pool tables and ping pong tables, and an arcade.

We went into the exercise room in our sandals to play Kinect and was asked to leave because we were not wearing shoes, for safety reasons. We didn’t think Kinect was that intense, but ok, we complied. Then we went to play ping pong in our sandals and there were no rules about that, which was ironic considering there was much more footwork and potential for injury playing ping pong than Kinect.

Friday 7/15

So here’s what happened with the seat rotation on the bus. Everyone was suppose to move clockwise 2 seats each day. On this last day, by the time our family got on the bus, there were no empty seats, only a seat here and there to share with others in the group. Now, I don’t mind sharing a seat with someone other than my own family member, but some people did  not abide by the rotation system or this wouldn’t have happened. After standing there with awkward silence for a few moments, a couple of nice Australians traveling by themselves offered their seats so our family could sort of sit together. Apparently some people didn’t want to move as they were suppose to which of course defeats the whole purpose. I didn’t want to move from my initial front seat but I did so to accommodate. Alan later apologized to me, but of course it’s not his fault, and it wasn’t a big deal. The system is only as good as the people’s willingness to cooperate voluntarily. If some don’t play by the rules, it’s no fun.

We made friends on both our China tour and our Japan tour with everyone sharing and talking. This is our first experience with a tour that had rather unfriendly and uncooperative people. Unlike the other tours comprised only of Americans, this group had only us and another man from Georgia from US. Perhaps there’s some kind of cultural dynamics going on here. We found the Australians and Canadians most friendly. I won’t say anymore than that.

Other than that incident, we had a full day of wonderful weather and lots of walking in Taroko Gorge and Swallow Caves, seeing the marble mountains, and walking up to the Eternal Spring Shrine.  The ride down from the mountain was winding and long, and I seriously prayed that I wouldn’t get sick. For the sake of those on the bus I’m sure, God answered my prayer. When we got off for a “toilet” break, Alan saw my plight and offered me his seat in the front with the driver. The rest of the way down was much better for me. We went through the Su Hwa Highway tunnel that was said to be an engineering feat to construct through the mountain.

We were the last ones to be dropped off at our hotel, it was sad to say good bye to Alan. He was an excellent tour guide, and I hoped everyone tipped him well.

It was pouring rain when we got off the bus. Alan also took his luggage and said his motorbike is parked close by and will be driving home. He’s Taiwanese and used to driving in a rain storm I’m sure.

Our hotel was the Royal Inn in Taipei that took up the 7th, 8th and 9th floors of a building. It was the first time I saw a hotel with the lobby not on ground floor, with other businesses occupying the other floors. We were less than a block from the MRT station, in a busy area with food and stores close by, an excellent location for tourists. It worked out well for us staying here both Friday and Saturday nights.

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