Seeing Taipei for Less (than 500 php)

In every country that I went to, I made it a point to see the city from a different point of view. This has resulted to me bringing my family to the observatories of the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, the World Trade Center in New York, the Tokyo Tower, and the N Tower in Seoul.

For my trip to Taipei, it would have been against tradition not to do the same, even with the absence of my family. But because I had no one else’s company (read no one to share expenses with), I had to think of ways to see the city without breaking my budget.

Good thing I found two solutions to the past dilemma: 1. Brave the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail and; 2. Reserve a spot for Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101. I’m proud to let you know that I completed both tasks. How’s that for extra?

The Elephant Mountaing Hiking Trail, also known as the Xiangshan Hiking Trail.

There’s a funny story behind my quest to reach the start of the trail. I have Google Map’s inefficiency to thank for it!

I planned for my second day in Taipei to be all about the touristy areas, which included the trail. You would think that, because so many tourists have gone to the mountain, Google Maps would also be familiar with it and show you the easiest way to get there. Big NO. GM, which I will henceforth call the app, showed me the directions on which way to walk to Elephant Mountain. And of course I, being the extremely reliant tourist that I am, followed GM without question. She had me walking for 30 minutes!

I’m making sure that the same won’t happen to you though. Instead of walking from  the Taipei 101 building, as I did, you will need to ride the MRT to reach the Xiangshan Station, which is the station right after Taipei 101’s. I should have known this, since the trail is apparently of the same name!!! But it wasn’t like I was looking at the MRT Line-Maps to know it that well.

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Once you get out of the station, proceed straight towards the pole where multiple bicycles are lined up. Just get to the end of the bicycle line and read the pointing signages from there. You can’t miss it.

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I’m really talking about this pole (haha):

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The pole behind the tree

You’ll see that the trail is just 580 meters away. Follow the road until you’ll get to a fork, with one road going uphill. Need I say more?

Trust me, you’ll know once you’re there (or see this sign:)

How to see Taipei for Less

Arriving at the very top of the trail can take a while, and since it was raining, I didn’t give myself the privilege of time. I wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind and ruin my camera! So make sure you check the weather on the day you choose to go to the mountain.

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less Budget

Fortunately for me, the hiking trail has a couple of baby viewing decks before the ultimate viewing deck. Like levels before you reach the end of a video game (lol). So if you don’t have enough time to finish the entire hike, or if you don’t need the work out, the first viewing deck should suffice. On it you’ll still see this beautiful view:

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I’m sorry if this picture’s overused, okay!! haha. Also, my camera died right after this was taken *tears*

The Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101

I’ve talked about this starbucks and how it’s one of the things I admire about the Taipei 101 building. But that post was a bit general and somewhat like an introduction to the basics: a 200 TWD minimum charge and a limited stay of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  On this one, you’ll know how you can get a spot up there!

By calling this number: +886 2-81010701 because guess what, getting into this starbucks is by reservation only. 

No need to worry since the representative speaks fairly good English – at least in my experience. Other bloggers have said that they had a bit of trouble talking with the representative.

Make sure that you call a day before your intended visit, because Starbucks won’t take on-the-day reservations. Although, there’s no stopping the daredevils from trying! Also be informed that Starbucks has a fixed schedule for your reservations, so you can only choose from 4 time slots on the weekdays and 3 on the weekends.

To make sure that you’ll quickly find your way to Starbucks’ designated waiting area, on the day of your reservation, it’s best if you enter through Door 7 facing Xing Yi Road or the door facing the SongZhi Street.

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As you can see, there’s a big 7 by the side of the glass doors

Once you enter Door 7, go right towards the security “round table.” Behind that is the waiting area, which is marked by a stand with this sign:

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You’ll see that Taipei 101 has a dress code, and even though I did see a couple of tourists wearing shorts and slippers, it’s still better to abide by the code lest you lose your reservation. You wouldn’t want that to happen because up there is such a good viewing point, that is if you get a good seat.

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all seats are taken – by bags! lol

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less

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I wasn’t joking. 200 twd is definitely worth this big a coffee
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and this beautiful a view.

Dude, where’s our bullet train?

As I looked up from the bottom of the stairs to the platforms, I died a little inside. How are we going to cover more than 20 steps in 5 minutes? Five minutes was all we had before our bullet train to Hamamatsu, Shizuoka left. I was with five other people, my mom, my brother, my sister, my uncle, and my mom’s friend, each of us carrying a luggage that weighed about 10 to 15 kilos each.

Our day started well, we heard mass, ate a hefty lunch, and finally left Keio Plaza Hotel at 1:00 p.m. in no hurry. We were to go from the Shinjuku train station to the Tokyo station and from there, ride the bullet train to Hamamatsu. Like a leisurely stroll in a park, the supposed 10 minute walk from our hotel to the station turned into 15. We had no time to keep up with – until we bought our bullet train tickets.

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After another 15 minutes of figuring out the maze that is Japan’s underground metro, we finally reached the gates to the JR Line. I asked an information officer how I could buy tickets for the Shinkansen (bullet train). She said that I could either buy it in the ticketing office next door, or buy it once we were in the Tokyo station. I chose the first option.

In the ticketing office, my mom and I were informed that the next train leaving Tokyo for Hamamatsu was at 2:26 p.m.

Time check: it was 1:45 p.m.

I asked if we had enough time to get to it, and he shrugged it off like 40 minutes was a life time. In retrospect, as a tourist, I never should have listened to a local who’s probably been living fast paced his entire adult life. But I did, and so we bought 6 bullet train tickets for 8,290 JPY each. That was including the fare from Shinjuku to Tokyo. We said our thank you’s and went back to the rest of the group waiting by the platform gates. I distributed the tickets one by one and, in a fuss, prodded everyone to move quickly into the electronic gates.

In my worry and hurry, I forgot to ask which platform the Rapid Line for Tokyo was on. This was the second lesson learned: never forget to ask. So we all stand there like a bunch of lost kids on a field trip, looking at the signs and directions for the rapid line. Alas, I find platforms 11 and 12 and, with hesitation, went down the steps hoping that I would read the word Tokyo on the walls somewhere below. You know the names of places that they usually put underneath the platform numbers to tell you which big stations the train will be stopping at? I knew Tokyo should have been on the list for 11 and 12. It’s a main stop, for crying out loud! But in my desperation at catching the bullet train, I still went down, hoping that Tokyo will be in the more detailed list of stops. What a joke. Third lesson: keep your common sense.

What’s even funnier is that we actually waited there for a minute or two until we asked two locals for other platforms of the rapid line. The first person was a young lady who spoke no English and wasn’t really sure which platform we needed to be in, although she was kind enough and made an effort of googling it. I would have so done that if I only had data or wifi, or if I even had the time to pull out my phone. The second person was an old man who spoke impeccable English and was very sure that we had to transfer to platform 8. I swear to goodness, those were the longest three minutes of my life. When we finally set foot on number 8, it was 2:00 p.m. only 26 minutes left till our train in Tokyo Station choo-chooed (zoomed? –modernization and all) away without us.

I was going crazy, thinking that we were about to waste a total of 49,740 JPY – or add another certain amount to it, like a fee for catching the next train. Then again, due to my lack of research, I don’t know how the system works in Japan. But I digress.

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As I sat in the train going to Tokyo station, I counted the minutes that passed between every station. Four minutes, then five, sometimes three. I believe there were about 4 stations until we finally reached our stop. But the craziness didn’t end there. We still had to navigate the underground chaos and we had to do that in under 10 minutes!

I remember going down some stairs, going out one gate and into another, and then asking two different station staff which platform our bullet train was in, you know, just to be sure. We could have saved 2 minutes If I hadn’t. But if I hadn’t asked the second staff, the train would have left us because there I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, thinking how we were all going to carry our bags up there in less than 5 minutes – until the staff pointed behind me. There was an escalator that I previously had not seen. No joke, it seemed like spotlights were shining on the thing, telling me what a blessing it was.

I didn’t expect the train to still be there once we arrived, but it was. The funny part is that I went in the number 7 cart and came back out because my brother told me that our seats were in cart 16. Outside, I was turning around on the spot because I couldn’t find the 16th cart until that same brother suggested that we just get back in and transfer carts inside. We could have already done that a minute before, but all my common sense just goes out the window whenever I’m in a fuss. So we went inside cart 7 once more and covered two carts until the doors of the train finally closed. How horrible would it have been if we were still outside running towards cart 16? I was finally able to sigh in relief and laughed at how crazy everything was. Trying to catch the Shinkansen, in under 16 minutes, was a great big adventure all on its own!

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Hostel Review: Travel Talk Taipei

Quite a number of people have expressed to me their surprise that I was only able to spend around 5,000 PHP during my entire stay in Taipei. Some have told me that they couldn’t believe that I only spent 1,925 on a 3 night accommodation. At that point I remind them that I stayed in a hostel.

I can’t say that this is generally true, but from what I see, hostels aren’t a Filipino’s first choice of lodging. We like to stay in comfy hotels, and we value our privacy. Because of our strict Catholic upbringing, and because of how we’ve always been told to be wary of other people, we’re not comfortable sharing rooms with strangers. So you can imagine my surprise when I was told that I was going to be in a two-bedroom with a man, even though I originally booked for a six-bedroom. In my head, security alarms went off. But thankfully, my roommate was just the sweetest Japanese tourist you could ever meet. I would give him a shout out here, if I only remembered his name. Haha. 

Generally, I loved my very first stay in a hostel, which is why I thought of making a review. The Travel Talk Taipei Backpackers’ Hostel will be reviewed in 4 categories: location, amenities, comfort, and cleanliness.

First up:

Location

Since I was traveling alone, I made sure that I could get around easily. I Google mapped Travel Talk Taipei and found that it was only a few hundred meters away from bus stops, and the Xingtian Temple Train Station. There’s also a temple 400 meters, away from the hostel, where we can look around to kill time before check in. The Lin An Tai Old House is also just a kilometer away.

Travel Talk Taipei is right smack in the middle of the touristy destinations. The Shilin Night Market and The Grand Hotel are 4 kilometers north from the hostel. Just a 20 minute train ride away. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, and Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail are just 3 km, 6 km, and 7 km south from the hostel, respectively. The popular Ximending District is 5 km also just south of Travel Talk Taipei. So I would say that the hostel is very conveniently located.

To top that, once you go out of the Travel Talk, you’re faced with a big main road and you’re already right next to a 7/11, massage parlors, and some restaurants. At the back of the hostel, there’s a mini night market, dessert stores, and boutique shops that one can just easily reach at night for when you no longer want to go out.

Location’s a 5/5 for me.

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Amenities

It’s a hostel, so it’s all about the basics, baby! Bathrooms, beds, and common room, I mean. There are about two toilet cubicles and two shower cubicles, together with three sinks, on the first floor. On the second floor, they have the main bathroom, a much comfortable space in comparison to the ones on the first.

The bedrooms are a bit small but have more space than what backpackers need. But what is the standard size for hostel bedrooms? I wouldn’t know; this was my first time staying in one. Lol. I personally had no complaints about the space since I only needed a place to crash in, not do jumping jacks. The only major downside is that when you’re placed on the second floor, you can hear people taking their showers in the main bathroom. You can hear noise in the first floor bedrooms too, but even worse. You can hear horns from the streets and people taking their showers in the other building. Between the two, the upper floor bedrooms are a better choice.

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

Inclusions in Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

I give amenities a 4/5 because all the necessary ones are there.

Comfort

To make up for the noise and lack of space is the fact that the beds, pillows, and duvets where surprisingly very comfy. I slept like a baby when I was placed on the second floor. It felt like I was still at home, in my own bed. And for the sake of comparison (also because I am currently writing this post on a hotel bed in another country that I will soon be blogging about), Travel Talk Taipei’s pillows are more comfortable than the ones I have now!

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But I unfortunately got transferred to the lower floor after two days. For that last night, I almost cried in the middle of it because, not only did I hear noise from the outside, I heard noise from the inside too! I’m so sure that one of my roommates grinded his teeth while he was sleeping. So it’s easy to say that I didn’t get any sleep, at all, during that one night.

But I give all the people, who run Travel Talk Taipei, all the credit for trying to make me feel welcomed while I was there. Even the other lodgers did their best to make small talk, no matter how awkward it was. Even that roommate, with the bad sleeping habit, made the effort to talk to me whenever the silence in the common room got overwhelming.

So comfort is still a 5/5 for me.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness could be debatable, depending on what’s important to you. The bathrooms were spotless. The trashcans were always emptied out, and they always had tissue paper. I would say that the bathrooms were pretty well maintained for such an inexpensive place. The bedrooms were the same, although they won’t fix your bed for obvious reason. It’s just that I noticed that whenever I went in barefoot, I couldn’t feel any grit on the floors. Lol!

The common room, though, needs a bit of tidying up. The floors are always swept and mopped, that’s for sure. I just meant that it needs arranging. The common room just doesn’t seem neat for some reason. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because of all the baggage on different corners of the room, and the notebooks, books, and papers just strewn on the tables.

The sofas are a bit old and needs redressing. To solve that, they cover the entire furniture with big cloths, which I had no problem with. I rarely used those sofas anyway. I just thought that it was worth mentioning, for the people who may be a little ma-arte on that area.

Cleanliness is a 4/5 for me.

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Conclusion

So the hostel’s not perfect. It has its cons, but I think that its pros completely override the negative. Would I stay there again? Definitely. In terms of overall experience, I’m rating the hostel a 5/5.

My mom’s passport was mistakenly reported as lost/stolen (Japan Edition)

So my family and I flew to Japan on May 7. At 11:30 a.m., I went through immigration without a hitch. Each one of us was checked by a different officer. My brother, my sister, and my uncle all went through smoothly as well. My mom didn’t.

She was brought in by another officer to that secluded room everybody knows about. So we waited in that area where passengers can loiter, behind the immigration booths. 10 minutes passed, no update. 20 minutes, nothing. I thought,  “Okay, so my mom didn’t tell them that she had people waiting for her? We couldn’t be talked to by these officers?”

When 12:00 came by, I decided to approach one of the guards walking around. He was nice enough to talk to the immigration officers for me. A pretty Japanese lady came out and informed me, in broken english, that my mother’s passport had been reported as lost (maybe stolen? I got distracted). Mama made no such report.

We were assured that, in terms of her rights and security, she was fine but they were still calling the Philippine Embassy in Roponggi District to clarify the report. So she had to be kept there until a staff from the embassy picked up. Apparently, after 30 minutes of trying, no one had. At 12:50 p.m. we were told to transfer to the waiting area that’s past customs and wait for my mom there. One airport staff was holding my mom’s luggage. Uh oh, this doesn’t look good, I thought. We couldn’t take it because “it wasn’t ours.” At this point, my mind was getting ahead of me. My mother is going to get deported!

So I asked if there was even the slightest chance this could happen, but they couldn’t give me an answer. Fine. We’ll transfer.

At 1:45 p.m. – a realization.

Today’s a Sunday. Is the embassy even open? So I kept calling anyone who needed to know about our situation -our travel agent, my aunt in Shizuoka -in case we had to wait there until the next day. Finally, my mother came out at 3 p.m. with news that she was cleared but that she had to go to the embassy the next day to straighten things out.

So here’s what happened the next day,

From the Shinjuku Station to Azabu-juban Station

Our hotel was in Shinjuku. We rode the train to Roppongi, where the embassy is located. We went down at the Azabu-juban Station, the nearest station from the embassy. We followed the arrows that directed commuters to the exit for the other Asian embassies. Once we exited, we asked for directions and were told to turn right up the hill by the stop light.

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By that stop light is the road going up hill on the right

Up on the hill

It’s about a 7-10 minute hike to the corner for the Philippine Embassy. There are alleys where the other embassies are. Like the Embassy of Singapore is in the very first alley that we reached since the start of the hike. We kept walking straight, thinking that the embassy will be in the other official-looking buildings right by the main road. By the time we saw a Snoopy Museum, that’s when we decided to ask around. Apparently, the Philippine Embassy is in the alley right after the museum.

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After this door/building is the road to the Philippine Embassy

In the embassy

Where is the Philippine Embassy in Japan Located

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Inside the embassy, we were asked to write down, in detail, our dilemma, the events that led to it, and the actions we took to solve the problem. And so we did. We gave it to the young man managing the door, as instructed, and waited for a little over 10 minutes.

Next thing I knew, my mom’s name was being called. She was given another piece of paper – a format for an affidavit, in which she had to state that she is the rightful owner of the passport that was flagged as lost/stolen and that it was mistakenly reported. She also put her purpose for being in Japan and how long she’s staying. Talk about stressful.

So what happens after your passport gets flagged as lost/stolen?

Apparently, the Philippine Embassy in Japan submitted a certificate to immigration, clearing my mom of any passport-related problem. So on the day that we left Japan, she went through immigration again without delay. But it was also suggested to my mom that she renew her passport once we were back in our country (even though she still has another year on her passport), because the flag is irreversible.

All that took less than an hour, even though the embassy was full with other Filipinos bearing their concerns. Now that we are actually back in the Philippines, and thankfully in one piece, what’s left to be done now is to renew my mom’s passport for our future travels!

 

 

Willia and The Town of Cats

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a dog person. Never in my life did I tell myself or my parents, that I wanted a cat for a pet. Cats scare me. Just look at those soul piercing eyes or the killer claws that could tear through all the layers of my skin. So it was quite a surprise that I had the courage (and energy) to go to the little cat village in Houtong.

I set out to the town of cats on my second day in Taipei, right after my vist to Jiufen Old Street. I took the 1602 bus to the Riufang Train Station, which is the main station that connects all the nearest towns to the big city. Once I arrived, I sought out the Information Center that’s right next to the station entrance. The lady working was such a darling for being so eager help. I was to go by the station’s platform gates and tap my Easy Card, that had about 60 TWD left, before allowing myself in. I slowly found my way to Platform 4 where the train to Houtong had already been waiting for a few minutes. I hopped inside, praying that I wouldn’t get smushed by the electronic doors. Thank God I still had a few more minutes before they closed!

I was in Houtong after about 20 minutes, a short but enjoyable ride. As I got down from the platforms, I immediately saw different kinds of cat decor on the ceiling and on the walls. I saw a lone cat inside the station, huddled around by three adults and one child with their cameras out. I knew, right then, that the cat village is as interesting as other people say it is.

And yet, that’s not to say that I was a bit disappointed. I expected cats swarming the village like in that facebook video going around. That wasn’t the case; seeing a big number of cats at one time is quite a rare sight in the village. But don’t let my disappointment ruin your interest because Houtong has quite a story.

Town of Cats Taipei Taiwan

Houtong used to be a small, but extremely rich, mining town producing about 220,000 tons of coal per year, which made it the largest distributor in Taiwan. This industry attracted thousands of tourists and immigrants leading to the formation of at least 900 households and a number of around 6,000 residents. But for some reason, that didn’t stop the industry from falling, which eventually led to the decline of the population.

Then in 2008, thanks to some volunteers who decided to take care of the stray cats together with the power of the internet, Houtong slowly became a talked-about tourist attraction to what we now call the Cat Village. Because of this influx of tourists, locals are now making cash by putting up cat-themed cafes and souvenir shops. In literally all the stores I went into, I did not fail to hear songs sung by “cats.” It was mostly songs sung, not in lyrics, but in meows, which truly emphasized the uniqueness that this area has.

Cat Souvenir Shop Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

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Houtong Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

Tourist Center Houtong Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

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The Houtong Cat Village is truly not one to miss! For more info on costs and how to get there, don’t hesitate to send me a message on my contact page, or leave a comment below! 🙂