Friday, December 8, 2017

When in Taiwan, Stay Like a King without Paying a King’s Ransom



Grand Hotel Taipei


Hotel stays in Taiwan represent an excellent value, especially compared to hotels in the USA. I would highly recommend all these hotels I stayed at during my 2 weeks around Taiwan.  I also stayed at three exceptional homestays which is a wonderful way to get closer to the locals.

My hotel selection goals were that the hotel should be new or newly remodeled. If not new, then it should have a reputation for being very clean. It needs to be located near the train station where I was arriving since I was going around Taiwan on public transportation. And lastly, it should have a unique aspect whether it’s location or being a boutique hotel. My price target was US$150 with taxes.

An added benefit of hotels in Taiwan is the breakfast, which usually is included or can be added at the time of booking for very little additional cost. We are not talking the lame Hampton Inn type of breakfast, but wonderful Chinese and Japanese offerings along with items that will please the western palate; made to order eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, and fresh coffee from fancy latte cappuccino machines. In other words, a cornucopia of good things to eat and drink.

Breakfast offerings at 1969 Blue Sky Hotel, Taichung
How do you want that coffee?

I found the best prices and ease of booking on the agoda.com booking web site. The search function on the website is easy to use and all the room size options are presented with all the costs clearly spelled out. The pay-in-advance option was not that much cheaper than the free cancelation options, so I only chose the free cancelation option in case my plans changed. The cancelation policy depended on the hotel property. Most were free cancelation one day in advance, but some required any cancelation to be one week before the stay so as not to get charged. Also, Agoda did not charge my card until the end of the free cancelation period. In a couple cases, I paid the hotel directly.  This is all spelled out in the booking voucher. To finish my decision process, I looked at the user reviews on Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and Agoda.

The Taiwan hotels I stayed at had these welcomed perks: I always had at least two FREE bottles of water every day. WIFI is FREE and always a good speed. Every room had a mini-fridge (some were stocked with FREE items). The staff are so pleasant and helpful. No crazy taxes and fees that you see added to US hotel stays. Oh, did I mention the great breakfasts!

A FREE mini-bar at Taipei Fullerton - North

Below are listed, from highest price to lowest, those hotels I stayed at. All included breakfast unless noted.


Above US$300

Silks Place in Taroko Gorge. Yeah, I splurged on this one, but how could I pass-up staying at a great location within Taroko Gorge National Park. Wonderful hotel with rooftop pool and many activities.

Rooftop pool at Silks Place. Bring a swim cap. Even required for men.

Some of the breakfast pastry offerings at Silks Place


US$200-250

Gaya Hotel in Taitung. This is a new hotel in the center of Taitung. Boutique type with a rooftop pool. Of all the hotels I stayed at, the breakfast at this one could have used some improvement. Since train station if far from the hotel, they have a free shuttle.

Order in the Gaya Hotel, Taitung


The Grand Hotel in Taipei.  An icon in Taipei. Not very convenient to get to (better now with MRT nearby), but if you want to start your trip being immersed in Chinese culture, stay here. The hotel has two breakfast locations, a large one on the main floor and the Muslim one on the 10th floor. If you don’t need bacon for your breakfast, go to the 10th floor and you will be rewarded with a view. The Grand Hotel also has an annex called the Chin-Lin annex.  If you want a room in the main building don’t choose the annex.

Interior of the Grand Hotel, Taipei


US$150-200

Union House in Lugang. When I stayed in October 2017 this hotel had just opened. Excellent luxury facilities and close to the things you want to see in old Lugang. I wish the outside architecture could have blended in better with the old town buildings. No train station in Lugang (which is why it stayed old and not developed) so I took the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus from Taichung HSR station.

Union House, modern luxury in Old Lugang

Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Tainan. A luxury hotel by the train station with a rooftop pool for just over US$150 all-inclusive. Wow! The room I was in was a little dated, but the huge breakfast spread made up for it. Go to breakfast when they open to get a table by the food. A bus stop in front of the hotel takes you to Anping area.

The food area is so huge that you need a map!


Taro stew with coconut cream, divine!






An "egg" roll actually rolled with egg!


Colorful salad area.


This will not happen when you are done with breakfast at the Shangri-la Far Eastern Plaza Hotel!



Taipei Fullerton Hotel – Maison North in Taipei. There are a couple Fullerton hotels in Taipei. This one is near Songshan airport with the MRT nearby. There are lots of good hotels in Taipei. It all depends on
which area you want to stay. I have to say this hotel had the coolest toilet (how do I flush this thing?).


Large soaking tub at Taipei Fullerton - North



US$100-150

Inhouse Boutique in Taipei (Ximending). If you want a great hotel in the heart of the exciting Ximending district, this is it. A little funky but not over the top. Western type food in the main floor restaurant.


In the heart of exciting Ximending!


Brother Hotel in Taipei. I love the Brother Hotel because of its location. Centrally located next to the Nanjing-Fuxing MRT station with two lines that can go in all four directions in Taipei City. The hotel is very clean and offers a good value.



All hotels have a hot pot, but some are starting to have Nespresso machines.

Cool desk lamp, Brother Hotel, Taipei



US$75-100

Maison De Chine Hotel in Chiayi City. Need a nice place to stay before taking the Alishan Railway in the morning? This fits the bill nicely. They have a free shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off at the train station.


Nondescript on the outside, but very nice in the small city of Chiayi.


Rido Hotel in Taipei (Daan District). This hotel caught my eye because you can get rooms overlooking Daan Park and the d├ęcor looks old China. With the mirrored ceiling and a condom on the bedstand, I wondered what kind of hotel this was. However, it was clean and comfortable. I did not try breakfast since I had to catch an early flight.



Dark elegant in the Rido Hotel, Taipei


1969 Blue Sky Hotel in Taichung. This probably represents the best value among all my hotel stays this trip. It is a wonderfully designed new boutique hotel a short walk from the train station with so many cool design features. Check out that front door. For US$80 including everything, I think I got a steal.  This hotel gives me a reason to come to Taichung again.



An old power station? No, the cyber cool 1969 Blue Sky Hotel in Taichung.



Key sensor


Let's repurpose an old boiler.



Be assured I have not received any compensation from recommending these hotels.

I’ll report on the three wonderful homestays I stayed at in another post.


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Friday, December 1, 2017

My Taitung Visit was too Short


Amazing Taitung



I am now on my fourth day traveling around Taiwan using public transportation as a solo traveler who cannot speak Chinese. So far it has been wonderful with no major problems. Trains are leaving and arriving on time and the station platforms are well marked. I had a problem in Luodong explaining directions to a taxi, but the driver asked another person and I got to my homestay with no problem.

National Museum of Prehistory

Yesterday I was with friends and we went to the Luye Highlands and biked around the rice fields in the most picturesque around Chishang. As they were heading back to the Taitung airport they dropped me at the National Museum of Prehistory In Taitung. This is a very large museum with the purpose of exploring the natural history of Taiwan, the pre-history of Taiwan, and the indigenous people of Taiwan. The museum came about when excavation was being done for a new railway station nearby and in the process, it was discovered that the area was a prehistoric burial site. A museum was proposed near the site to properly show the archeological finds and for education. After eleven years of planning, the museum officially opened in 2002. It is a large multi-floor museum with life-size humans and animals in displays showing how they might have used the articles found in the archeological excavations in the area. It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon with the only negative being transportation if you don’t have a car, as it is a way from the city center. Luckily, the information desk was very helpful and called a taxi for me so I could get back to my hotel in the city center.

Rice souvenir The Gaya Hotel

 
My hotel was the new Gaya Hotel. I would call it a large boutique hotel if I can use those two adjectives together. The staff was very polite and helpful. The room I had was somewhat small but very well appointed.  It even had Taitung rice as a souvenir in a decorative package. The rooftop infinity pool had amazing views and included a rooftop lounge, which was closed possibly due to the rain. The next morning’s breakfast buffet would be considered average. Many hotels I have stayed at in Taiwan seem to take pride in their breakfast offerings. This is one area where the Gaya Hotel can improve.

Infinity pool with a view


The hotel was in an excellent location downtown near restaurants and bars. It is also next to the Railway Art Village which seems to have activities going on frequently. If you like nature walking or biking, Taitung has the parks for you.  Next to the Gaya Hotel is the Liyushan Park with many nice trails, a temple, and a pagoda.

Even the rain didn't stop vendors at the Railway Art Village

Good hiking on the Liyushan trail behind the Gaua Hotel

Coming out from the Railway Art Village on the old railway trackbed is a nice wide wooden trail that would be great for biking or even walking. I didn’t have a chance to get on it this trip, but next time I’m in Taitung I’ll check it out. Another park for biking is Taitung Forest Park. You don’t need to bring your own bike since bike rentals are available in the park.


Entrance to Liyushan trail

Boardwalk over the old railway bed



My visit to Taitung has been too short. I must come back soon, but for now, on to the southwest coast of Taiwan.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Luye Highland and Biking in Chishang

Third Day on Trip Around Taiwan

Very famous tree
I’m now on my third day as a solo traveler around Taiwan using public transportation and as someone who cannot speak any Chinese. My second day was spent in Taroko Gorge with a night at the very nice Silks Place resort hotel. Today will be a little different as I am meeting up with friends at Luye about 2 train stations before Taitung and they will have a rental car. Even though we had a car, many of the places we visited are reachable with the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus.

From Silks Place in Taroko Gorge National Park, I took a local bus to the Hualien train station. Not a pretty station and it appears they are doing construction to enlarge it. I got a reserved seat on one of the express trains going through Luye. Since this was a holiday weekend, I had my friends purchase the train ticket in Taipei about 2 weeks before. Taitung seems like a very popular place with local tourists during holidays and weekends.




The favorite pastime for locals on a nice holiday weekend is to enjoy biking on paved farm lanes among the recently planted rice fields around Chishang about 30 minutes north of Luye.  But not any ordinary bike will do, these had to be quad electric bikes! The experience was unlike one I have ever had. Effortless biking on smooth roads where all around are lush green fields with stalks gently swaying in the wind and mountain ranges in the front and back. It was beautiful, serene, and culturally very interesting because there were a lot of us.  Most the locals were young couples having a nice “date” among the pretty fields. 

Apparently, this area became very popular after Eva Airlines used a scene in one of their commercials and my understanding is that the model was a famous movie actor. That explains the large crowd taking selfies around a large tree used in the commercial that unfortunately was badly damaged in a recent Typhoon. That one tree is worth many thousands of tourist dollars, so everything is being done to keep it alive.

Spot where Eva Airlines "I See You" commercial was filmed

Right here was the shot



After the wonderful “bike” ride in our electric bikes, we headed to the Luye Highlands which is a flat plateau where Taitung has their hot air balloon festival. Our October visit was too late to see the festival and the balloons, but we had fabulous views from the plateau to the valley below and the Central and Coastal mountain ranges. To calm a morning chill, we had coffee at a little shop on the Highland called Lao Wang Coffee. The homemade pastries also hit the spot.

Too late for hot-air balloons, but beautiful none-the-less

Let those kids run and work off their energy!

Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus comes up to Luye Highland

Camping on the Luye Highland

Nice place for a cute coffee shop


Later in the day, my friends dropped me off in Taitung before they headed back to Taipei. I stayed at the new Gaya Hotel in downtown Taitung. Somewhat of a boutique hotel with amazing views from the infinity pool on the roof. My next post will be what I did on a rainy day in Taitung. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Luxury Resort Hotel within Taroko Gorge National Park, Taiwan



Silks Place, Tianxiang, Taroko Gorge National Park, Taiwan

Taroko Gorge is an amazing natural wonder and why would you not want to stay there, at least for a night? At the junction of two rivers in Tianxiang, 18 km from the Taroko Gorge National Park entrance is the Silks Place resort hotel, a historically significant hotel built supposedly at the insistence of Chiang Kai-sheks son, Chiang Ching-kuo.




There are many options to get there, car, taxi, the hotel’s shuttle from Hualien, Taiwan Tourist shuttle bus, or what I did, the local bus from Xincheng, the closest train station to Taroko Gorge National Park. After an exciting and not too long of a ride on the narrow Taroko Gorge road, we arrived at Tianxiang right in front of the Silks Place hotel.



I arrived too early to check-in, so reception took my bag and said they would email me when the room was ready (amazingly, I had a strong 4G in Tianxiang).  It would have been nice to wait in a lounge and have a drink, but I did not find one, so I got my Taiwan beer at the stall across the parking lot. With time to kill, I decided to climb to the Tianfeng pagoda and when finished there I found a park and some other trails (uphill) behind Tianxiang. When I was totally exhausted from climbing and hiking, I got an email saying my room was ready.




What would a resort hotel be without a great pool? Silks Place has one. It’s a large outdoor rooftop infinity pool or check out the indoor pool which is more kid-friendly. Near the outdoor pool are several hot tubs for soaking. A rooftop tennis court is also available.

Daily activities

Locations of the different facilities

Need some pampering, then leave the kids at the Kid’s Club and head to the spa. Afterwards, in the evening watch an aboriginal performance and a movie.



I reserved the Garden View King room. It was a good size with a nice view of the river. Like most Taiwan hotels there are different room sizes. When you book just specify what you want.



There were some snack biscuits and the mini-fridge had a couple of free items in it including a facial mask. Nice little details. The room is somewhat dated but still shows nice.  I had wished the bathroom would have contained some marble from the area but instead had a pinkish color tile.

Facial mask



Since there is not an abundance of good restaurants in Tianxiang, I highly recommend you book the hotel’s available dinner plans. I purchased the “Western” dinner package which was a very abundant buffet consisting of many stations which I thought was reasonable for NT$880 including service fee. There is a Chinese dinner available which looks to be off a menu.  

Chinese restaurant

"Western" dinner buffet

Dinner fruit station

Beautiful desserts


Breakfast was also a buffet with many stations. If the weather is nice and you are one of the first ones to arrive, you will be asked if you want to sit on the terrace. DO IT! What a treat.

Breakfast outside on the terrace

Breakfast bread station

More bread and pastries

The abundance and freshness are even more remarkable given the location where the hotel is and how food needs to be transported to it.

Not sure the purpose of scales, maybe just decoration

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel within Taiwan’s natural wonder.