Taiwan seemed to be the natural place to pick for a solo trip since it was relatively safe and manageable.
For $490, I’ve settled the return tickets, insurance, extra baggage (of course!) with Scoot and started planning my travel itinerary for my first solo trip in Taiwan.
Yes, I stupidly bought a meal on the return flight. It was horrendous. The seat request was a joke too, because my seats were right next to the plane wings which I intentionally avoided when choosing.
Three months forward, my Taiwan solo trip began! Okay, mostly solo. My cousin and her boyfriend were headed for Taiwan at the same time so begrudgingly, this became an assisted solo trip, which proved to be a good idea on some occasions! I will be penning down my entire Taiwan trip on the blog, so here’s day one to start the ball rolling:
- Taoyuan Airport
- Taipei Main Station
- Star Hostel
- Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA)
- Bellini’s Pasta Pasta at Q Square
- Ningxia Night Market
- Zhongshan Underground Mall
Hobo-ing at Taoyuan Airport
My flight landed at 5:05 AM but I had to wait till 8:00 AM to get SIM cards from the airport.
With a generous amount of time to spare, I took my time to collect my luggage and wash up. I decided to recce the place a bit so that I can dash off immediately after getting the SIM cards.
Here are the booths selling the SIM cards. They are conveniently located after a right turn from the arrival hall. The SIM cards are all priced similarly so don’t bother comparing.
An escalator down leads to the bus terminal, with buses to various parts of Taiwan.
There are buses that will take you to Taipei Bus Station (next to Taipei Main Station) for NT100+ but I decided that the High Speed Rail (HSR) will be faster and more comfortable.
Taoyuan HSR station is not walkable from the airport and you need to take a bus.
Here’s the ticket for Ubus 705 to Taoyuan HSR station. The total cost from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei, together with the HSR ticket that I booked online, was about NT400.
In case of hunger, there is always the convenience store on the same level as the bus terminal.
I settled for an onigiri because you don’t really get them in Singapore. And a sponge cake, which was unbelievably soft.
At about 7:45 AM, I realised the Fareastone booth had sneakily opened and I scrambled to join the queue.
After getting the 10 days unlimited data plan at NT500 for myself, I hopped over to the Chunghwa queue to get the same package for my cousin so they could use with their mifi.
Only one SIM card per telco is allowed per ID. Tourists will also need their passports and a photo ID to purchase the SIM cards.
I initially wanted to see if I could purchase the SIM cards elsewhere but was advised against it by the lovely authors of Travel.Snap.Stories through a comment I left on their post.
On hindsight, I’m glad I purchased the card there because I wouldn’t survive even a minute outside the airport without internet.
Making my way to Taipei Main Station
After getting the SIM cards, I lugged my four wheeler down to the bus terminal and hopped on Ubus 705.
Don’t expect too much for a short 15 minutes trip. You could also cab down for a few hundred NT. It would only be slightly faster.
As I purchased my HSR and TRA tickets online, I could self-collect them at the automated machines which was really easy to use. You do need to have the booking number and the last four digits of your ID on hand for the collection. All hail, internet!
Realising that I was more than an hour early in my itinerary, I went over to the counters and they kindly changed my ticket to an earlier timing.
The train ride only took 20 minutes.
I got off the train and found myself in the bustle of Taipei Main Station.
The area was extremely confusing because the building housed the:
- HSR – high speed trains with stations in the more prominent parts of the country
- TRA – normal trains that traverse many places in the country; and the
- Metro station (Taipei Main Station)
You can also find the bus station in a connected building.
As I was joining my cousin and her boyfriend in Taichung the next morning, I booked myself a bed in an all-female dorm at Star Hostel for its proximity to the main station.
With about 3 hours to spare till check-in at 2:00 PM, I decided to deposit my luggage at the lockers. There were lockers big enough to fit my huge luggage, which was about 26 or 29 inches.
After reading the instructions, I plopped the locker fee of NT70 into the machine and nothing happened. I slammed the locker door a couple of times to give it the impetus to lock. No reaction. I hit the buttons a couple more time. Still no reaction. And so I gave up on the idea.
Lockers at Taipei Main Station, you’re banned forever.
I rung Star Hostel up and they welcomed me to keep my luggage with them till check-in time.
I followed the instructions on their website to locate the hostel and to my delight, the hostel was really as near as they claimed. It will be even nearer once you’ve gotten a hang of the area and its shortcuts.
This is the street that leads to the hostel and is diagonally across the junction from Taipei Main Station.
Unlike some hostels and minsus (民宿 – homestays) which are operating unregistered and cannot put up official signboards, thus making them elusive, Star Hostel has a pretty wooden sliding door to their lift lobby which can be easily spotted.
After depositing my luggage, I went back to Taipei Main Station and collected the rest of my pre-booked HSR tickets and TRA tickets for travel to Taichung and Hualien. TRA tickets were collected at different machines, such as this one below.
I also purchased a EasyCard (悠游卡) for travel on metro and buses over the counter for NT200 (NT100 worth of credits).
And I’m all ready to explore!
Visiting MOCA – a gem of a museum
I first hit the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) as I was attracted to the ongoing Kuo Wei-Kuo’s Garden of Spirits exhibition (万圆有灵- 郭维国).
His exhibits were morbidly quirky. Very interesting, I must say.
Overall, MOCA is a small but interesting museum worth a visit. The exhibits are not as profound as fine arts and can easily be enjoyed by even the amateurs (like myself).
Lunch at Bellini’s Pasta Pasta
There were some eateries along the way back to the train station but I was determined to try Bellini’s Pasta Pasta which was recommended by native food bloggers. Coincidentally, there is a branch in Q Square, just next to Taipei Main Station.
To get there, I opted to walk through Zhongshan mall instead of taking the train. The mall connected Zhongshan station and Taipei Main Station. Almost half the stores were closed and there were little people, which made for a very relaxing, albeit boring, walk to Q Square.
It was lunch hour by the time I got to Q Square.
I ordered a creamy mushroom soup and Margherita Pizza because their other main courses came in servings for two to three. Why the discrimination to solo diners? I was super disappointed as I wanted to try their pastas (which I later did on a starving stomach!).
Their soup was very creamy but I wished it was slightly saltier.
The pizza was flavorful but the crust was not as crispy as I wished it was.
Service, however, was top-notch. Their waiter would remind customers that the soup is hot when serving it, for every table he went to. I was also apologized to by different waiters because the pizza was taking quite a while and they even offered me a complimentary drink.
And the best thing, I didn’t find the waiting time long at all.
The meal set me back by NT500, about the same price in Singapore but you can save a lot more if you go in a group.
Back in Star Hostel
It was past 2:00 PM so I headed back to the hostel to check out the place and my bed.
If you’re wondering what this is, it’s their shoe cabinet for the guests.
I also passed by the lounge area, which was what attracted me to book Star Hostel in the first place.
My room was a staircase up. No concierge, of course, so I had to lug my luggage up the stairs but at least it was only 11kg, pre-shopping.
There wasn’t anyone in the room so I couldn’t start making friends. Everyone says it would be easy to make friends when staying in a hostel on solo trips. I later found out that this was not always true.
My plan was to head to Ningxia Night Market (宁夏夜市) next but the night market only starts at 6:00 PM.
So, I made myself comfortable and napped in my capsule in the meantime.
Travelling solo means I get to sleep whenever I want to.
Walking to Ningxia Night Market
It was almost 6:00 PM when I headed to Ningxia Night Market. The night market is in between Zhongshan and Shuanglian station. I presumed it was almost peak hour so I walked through Zhongshan mall again to exit through Zhongshan station to avoid the crowds.
I got instructions off the net to walk along Nanjing West Road from Exit 2 of Zhongshan station. But I realised that Exit 5 or 6 will be nearer.
It was almost 20 minutes later that I saw the signboard to the night market.
Ningxia Night Market is very small compared to Shihlin but it is known for serving authentic Taiwanese food. There were only about 20, 30 stalls.
Unfortunately for me, most of the food stalls were selling seafood and gizzards, which I didn’t take. I settled for a refreshing cup of sugarcane juice with lemon and some cheesy potatoes (Shihlin one was better though).
If you are looking for more filling meals, there are proper eateries behind the stalls. One of them is Formosa Zhang (胡须张) which sells braised meat rice (鲁肉饭) and other Chinese dishes.
I exited Ningxia Night Market from the other end and headed towards Shuanglian station. If you are still hungry, there are even more eateries and restaurants along the way.
Taking an evening walk through Zhongshan Mall
The plan was to take the metro from Shuanglian station back to Taipei main station but I realised that Shuanglian station was connected via the same Zhongshan underground mall! So to avoid the metro crowd, I opted to walk again.
The stretch was pretty interesting. There were lots of graffiti-like artworks by MOCA and also a couple of bookstores.
I exited via R2 of the mall to Hua Yin street, where the hostel is.
There were more cafes there, which I love to try in the future, like this one:
That’s beer bottles on the lamp.
It gets dark really early during winter/early spring. As I was travelling solo, I quickly headed back to the hostel. Safety first!