Friday, May 18, 2018

Kinmen Island, Taiwan – Violent Past, Preserved Beauty

Kinmen Island is closer to the mainland of China than Taiwan (you can see China on a clear day). Kinmen consists of two islands, the large dumbbell shape island also known as Quemoy and a smaller one, Lieyu, referred to as Little Kinmen. The two islands have been slow to develop compared to the rest of Taiwan due in part to its violent past.  Being near China made it an easy military target during the dispute with the communists on the mainland.  The island experienced an invasion in 1949, then artillery bombardment occurred in 1954-55 and again in 1958 and lasting at a decreased and less lethal rate until 1979. So obviously the government on Taiwan was not encouraging civilian economic development while this was occurring. Only when the cross-strait tensions decreased was the military reduced and thought was given to economic development and tourism.

Kinmen is close geographically to Xiamen Island (part of the Peoples Republic of China). Both islands became important in maritime trade in the early 17th century to compete with the Dutch East India Company. During the second half of the 17th century, Koxinga (General Cheng Cheng-gong) confronted the Qing Dynasty rule on these two islands on behalf of the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The islands then served as a military base for launching his attacks on Dutch occupied Taiwan in 1661. The islands were eventually incorporated into the Qing Dynasty and important trade routes were established along coastal China and into southeast Asia. Xiamen being nearer to the mainland, began serving as a free port to the world and gradually became the economic center of southern Fujian Province. The two islands, because of their proximity to the important trade center, became the homeland of many wealthy overseas Chinese who brought western influence to the houses they built.

The two governments across the Taiwan strait took different strategies in the development of their corresponding islands in the 1980s and 90s. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China designated Xiamen City on Xiamen island as a special economic zone resulting in large foreign investment and a building boom in factories and high-rise buildings.  The Taiwan military administration of Kinmen ended in November 1992 and there were political pressures to lift all restrictions on development. However, the lack of economic development when Kinmen was under the military administration preserved the islands of Kinmen with traditional villages and an ecology largely untouched. Seeing this unique asset, conservation groups formed to sway public opinion for the protection of the island’s biodiversity, natural environment, and unique historical and cultural heritage. The result was that a large part of Kinmen and Little Kinmen became a national park and the government began the restoration of old traditional houses and buildings.

The preservation of Kinmen has created a tourist destination like no other in the world. Where else can you walk in a bird sanctuary, stay in a Ming-era homestay, visit some war relics (tunnels), then relax with some kaoliang, the local liquor made from island sorghum!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What’s an ‘Evergreen’ Museum?

I am in Taipei on a mission to find other museums besides the well-known National Palace Museum and came upon the Evergreen Maritime Museum. The name comes from one of the largest container shipping companies in the world. If you have ever been to a large container port, you would have seen green containers with the word ‘EVERGREEN’ on the side.  It was founded in Taiwan by Chang Yung-fa with one used ship and now has grown into a huge conglomerate that not only includes shipping but an airline (EVA Air) and hotels.

The Evergreen Maritime Museum is located in a building that was the former headquarters of the KMT political party but was sold to the Chang Yung-fa Foundation in 1996.  This landmark building is across from the East Gate and near the Presidential Office Building and is on some prime Taipei real estate.

The maritime museum encompasses five floors. There is a small entrance fee which is payable in the gift shop on the right when you enter. The recommendation is that you start on the fifth floor and work your way down.

The fifth floor contains a chronological construction history of ocean-going ship models starting from the earliest and ends up on the fourth floor with the modern ships such as the container ships that Evergreen uses.

The third floor is an art floor of many paintings where a ship or the ocean is the subject.

Modern container ship

The second floor is where one learns about the skills needed in ocean navigation with a few hands-on displays for kids.

Learn how to tie knots

Overall a well-done museum related to commercial shipping. Well worth a rainy morning or afternoon.

Museum website: Evergreen Maritime Museum

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wait! What? There are Other Museums in Taipei Besides the NPM?

If you are a new visitor to Taipei, Taiwan, you have heard about the treasures in the National Palace Museum and hopefully that is your first stop on a visit to Taiwan. Let’s say you are returning to Taiwan after seeing all the first-tier tourist sites, what will you see now? That was my mission on my last visit to Taipei and what I found were lots of museums. Of course, they are not as spectacular as the NPM, but most are interesting, some are “why is this a museum?” and at the least they can be a reprieve on a rainy day.

In the next few blogs I will highlight some of the better ones I enjoyed. The more I look for museums in Taiwan, the more I find. There seems to be a fascination with little museums. Hopefully, in future dates I will visit more. Please post in the comments below museums you have visited in Taiwan and what you thought.

This blog will focus on the Museum of Drinking Water in Taipei. Okay, you are thinking, seriously a museum on drinking water? Yes, but it is more than that. By looking at the building you would think it should incorporate a Roman bath.

It was built by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan to supply clean drinking water to Taipei. It’s not used for that purpose now, but there is a video inside (with English subtitles) that explains how it was done.  Very ingenious.

Besides the architecture, why else should you visit this museum? Inside are the preserved pumps and machinery that pumped water out of the river and into water filtration basins then into a storage reservoir up on a hill to feed Taipei clean water by gravity.

It is amazing to find something this intact from this era as much of the Japanese machinery was taken to mainland China (the Republic of China’s stay on Taiwan was supposed to be only to be temporary) or scrapped.

Inside the pump house are motors built in the USA and Japan. And it is great you can get up close and even touch this old machinery!

Japanese motor

Motor made in USA

Motor and pump

Around the Museum of Drinking Water are pretty gardens and nearby is the seasonal water park. Apparently, this is also a nice spot for wedding pictures.

How to get there. Take MRT Green Line to Gonguang Station and walk about 10 minutes to the museum.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Flying to Taiwan

You have read about all the wonderful things to do and eat in Taiwan and have decided to visit. There are many international air carriers that fly into Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.  If you are in North America, there are two Taiwan airlines that have many flights to Taiwan, China Airlines (not to be confused with mainland China’s Air China) and Eva Air. In 2017, Eva Air was rated the world's 6th best airline.

China Airlines with pink plum blossom on tail

Most of the flights leave from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada or from JFK in New York City. Eva Air has additional departure cities of Houston, Chicago, and Toronto.

Eva Air's North American routes

Asian air carriers constantly get high reviews of their exceptional service and I can attest to that from my experience on Eva Air. The Taiwan air carriers also fly to many other Asian countries, such as Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam, and China. If you are taking one of them to another Asian destination, why not increase your layover in Taipei and see some of amazing Taiwan? The Taiwan Tourism Bureau even has a free tour of Taipei if you have a layover of 7-24 hours.  Check out this website:

Eva Air Asian route map

There are three classes on both airlines, economy, premium economy, and business. The premium economy class would be similar to the first class on a domestic route in North America. The business classes offer lie-flat seats and are called Royal Laurel with Eva Air and Premium Business with China Airlines.

Both airlines booking sites leave something to be desired, but I find Eva Air’s booking website a little easier to use than China Airlines. Once you put in your requested dates and cites, you are presented with a range of prices with names such as Economy Super Saver, Economy Semi-Flex, or Premium Super Saver, etc.  I counted six different economy prices on China Airlines. The main difference between them is how many miles you will accumulate in the airlines’ rewards program and how much you will pay for a ticket refund. The Economy Super Saver, while the lowest price will not accumulate any miles and will have a high refund penalty.

All the different economy options on China Airlines

I have been using Eva Air on my trips to Taiwan and have never been disappointed. Eva is one of the few airlines flying the B777-300ER with 3-3-3 configuration in economy which gives you about a 1.5 inch wider seat than rivals flying a 3-4-3 configuration in economy on a B777. Eva Air’s seat pitch in economy is a very generous 33 inches.

For the Premium Economy class on Eva, it gets even better. Seats are configured 2-4-2 with 38 inches a pitch. In Royal Laurel or business class configuration is 1-2-1 and the seats are the lie-flat type.

Eva Air also has themed planes like Hello Kitty. Here was the Points Guy’s experience in economy:

Below are some pictures of the food I have experienced on Eva Air.

Premium Economy breakfast menu

Premium Economy dinner menu 


Amenity kit in Premium Economy

Eva Air dinner in Premium Economy

Starter in Royal Laurel

Main course duck in Royal Laurel

Dessert in Royal Laurel

Snack between dinner and breakfast

First course in Royal Laurel breakfast

If you have a U.S. Global Entry number you can use the Taiwan E-gate quick immigration system, however, you first need to complete an on-line application, pay NT$3,000, and schedule an in-person interview at the Taoyuan airport. If you are not a frequent traveler to Taiwan, it probably does not make sense.  I have never waited very long in the non-Taiwan citizen line at the airport immigration.

So now you are in Taipei’s Taoyuan International airport after a long overseas flight. You feel like you need a shower and you don’t belong to one of the lounges that have a shower. Not to worry, the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport has you covered if you are making connections or you are staying in Taiwan. In terminal 2 in the upper floor where all the airlines have their lounges, you will find free, clean showers as you walk to Mos Burger. Use this if you have a layover. Towels are not provided so bring your own or rent one at the spa next door. There are also showers in the Business Center on the same floor.

In T2 upper floor walk toward Mos Burger and
the shower will be on your right.

Very clean!

Room for luggage. No towel though.

Water lasts for only 15 minutes.
If you are not connecting, there are free showers in the baggage claim areas. If you want to use them, don’t exit the baggage claim into the Arrival Hall. You cannot get back in. For location on a map, visit the Taoyuan International Airport website:

Eva Air has four lounges at the Taoyuan International Airport for their different levels of Mileagelands reward card members or those holding Royal Laurel business class tickets. The different lounges and who can use them are:

The Club – Silver member and booked Premium Economy
The Star – Gold members and Star Alliance Gold members
The Infinity – If you book the Royal Laurel business class
The Garden – Diamond members

Lounge map in T2 upper floor

Eva Club Lounge

Inside Club Lounge

Eva Garden Lounge

Eva Star Lounge

China Airlines also operates its own lounges at Taoyuan International Airport and if you are a Priority Pass member you also have access to the Plaza Premium and More lounges.

For Priority Pass members

It seems like most of the flights to Taiwan leave around midnight on the west coast which means you arrive around 6:00 am Taiwan time. My suggestion would be to ask your hotel for an early check-in. In my case, the hotel charged me half of the room rate and I also got their buffet breakfast. Being able to shower, change, and eat made me ready for exploring Taipei!

Welcome to Taiwan!

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