Friday, September 26, 2014

Travel: Taipei Main Station, Getting TWD, MTA EasyCard, Train to Hualien

I'm back from my 2.5 week honeymoon to Taiwan, Singapore, and the Maldives! I decided to blog about the trip, so hopefully this is somewhat interesting to read! I think I'll post day by day overviews, with more thorough posts on restaurants, attractions, etc.

Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) to Taipei Main Station

I was surprised to learn that there was no subway connection between the Taoyuan Airport and Taipei Main Station. Instead, they have various bus companies that go to different destinations. We took Kuokuang Line 1819 to Taipei Main Station, and it cost approximately 125 NT per pax (my new favourite word from this trip!) and took around 45 minutes. They accept credit card at the bus ticket counter in the airport.
The little TV on this bus was the only TV we watched on the entire trip! TBH, the Taiwanese dramas did not look that great. LOL.

Taipei Main Station

At 6:30 am on Mid-Autumn Festival, this place was DEAD. Only the 7/11 kiosks were open.
Exterior of Taipei Main Station - looking a bit worn!

The main lobby area, which is pretty impressive looking

About 3 hours later, the main lobby fills up with passengers sitting on the floor.

Getting some New Taiwanese Dollahs (TWD)

Out of the three banks we use, TD Bank had the best foreign ATM withdrawal conditions ($3 per w/d, no forex).

These ATMs did *NOT* work with our TD Debit Card:
Standard Chartered - FAIL

Cathay Bank - FAIL

The Post Office ATMs didn't work either (I forgot to take a picture of it). Basically, none of the ATMs in Taipei Main Station worked with my TD bank card.

Finally, we decided to search for a regular 7/11 or Family Mart outside the station (as we had luck with ATMs in these convenience stores in Japan).
Fubon Financial - SUCCESS! Click the "Plus" network if your debit card has the Visa symbol.

Make it rain, make it rain!

Taipei Metro (MRT) Reloadable, Contactless Smartcard

Get yourself one of these if you plan to use the MRT frequently... but don't load too much on it. We guessed 500 NT per person, and only ended up using around 200 NT over 4-5 days. You can get a refund (less a small deposit), but we didn't have time to do so.

Like most contactless metro cards in other cities, you can use it to pay for purchases at convenience stores, vending machines, etc. I also saw some taxis accepted payment from EasyCard, but not all.

I still don't understand how NYC MTA does not use Contactless Smartcards yet. It's 2014!

Breeze Taipei Station - 2nd Floor

We ate lunch on the 2nd floor of the Taipei Main Station, known as "Breeze Taipei Station", but be aware that they do not open until 10 am! We basically sat around the station for 4 hours before we could eat anything (other than McDonalds or Mos Burger which opened at 8 or 9am).

I'll have a separate post on this floor, as well as where we ended up eating.

Lunch Boxes

If you're in a hurry, there are several outlets in the station for packed lunch boxes. We saw these two:
"No.1" -- seemingly not related to a rating system, but rather just a numerical designation to identify which shop it is

"No.3" -- this was in the basement level

Random Pictures
Papaya Milk - Very tasty, but I couldn't finish it (a lot of calories in it too). No funky "fresh papaya" taste.
We did not try these local McDonalds burgers...
I'm so glad they got rid of these in North America a long time ago. I forgot how scary they are.

Sweet, Classy Restaurants?! Sign me up!
A couple treats to pass the time: Beard Papa's and Kozujaya parfait (yep, those are cornflakes at the bottom of the cup)
Here's the Kozujaya stand. They had some nice looking waffles and other treats as well
It took an incredible amount of willpower not to purchase these Hello Kitty nail stickers! I had to tell myself I'd never wear them.
Cute Peter Rabbit tins
And bears

Train to Hualien

We purchased our tickets in advance online, since we were traveling on a big holiday in Taiwan (also the reason why we were on an 11:30am train instead of earlier, as the two earlier trains had already sold out 2 weeks beforehand!). We exchanged our confirmation print out page for our tickets at the main ticket counters, but later saw this side-counter specifically for pre-paid tickets.

We went to our platform close to our departure time:

It's probably useful to know the Chinese name of where you're going so you can double check you're at the right platform!

There's a variety of trains coming through the station, including very old/retro looking ones such as this one

to more subway like trains

to our ultra modern Express train (which was the same train as the Narita Express, as far as we could tell

We ate our Beard Papa cream puff on the train - it was black sesame filling. Tasty!

Scenery from our train Ride

Despite the dull weather (hot, humid, and cloudy/rainy), it was obvious that Taiwan was going to be a beautiful trip!

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