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.