Tl;dr – early taxi with man who laughed at everything, steamed buns are amazing, delayed flight to Taipei, long bus ride where we missed our stop, walk in the rain to the hostel, I have strong views on the mathematics of buildings
The day started somewhere between 3 and 4am for me. Due to inconsistent sleeping I had not been able to shake the jet lag so, as much as I was dreading the early start for our 7am taxi, it didn’t really matter in the end.
One day you will be able to get a Skytrain to Don Mueang Airport like you can to Suvarnabhumi but unfortunately it is still being built at present. So we needed to get a taxi all the way to the airport and, when we asked the hostel guy, he said our options were: a) a 5-10 minute walk along the canal, with our heavy bags, to the main road to try and flag down a taxi, then hope they would put their meter on which should end up costing around 400 baht but could be much more if they refused to use the meter and we were running out of time or b) pay 500 baht for a no hassle door-to-door service. The hostel guy seemed to think this was a 50-50 call but I think we made the right choice with option b. If people will pay £10 to board a flight a couple of minutes before everyone else I thought we could justify £2 (or nothing, or a mighty saving) between us to avoid all that.
The taxi was there waiting when we got downstairs at 6:50 so we chucked our bags into a boot that got closed with some bungee rope and hopped into our hot pink cab. We went to buckle our seatbelts but the driver said “no, no, no. Hahahaha” and set off, after buckling himself in. His driving was typical for Bangkok in that it was terrifying. Every now and then he would say something like “Don Mueang, hahahaha” or, point to his watch and then say “Hahahaha” and I would laugh too whilst, at the same time, feel certain it was all going to end in a fiery pile of glass and metal as he weaved in and out of lanes like he was playing Frogger.
At 7:40 we arrived at Don Mueang Airport without incident. Our driver laughed, we laughed and we went our seperate ways. We got to the check-in desk and prepared ourselves for the stress of the weigh-in. Kate only had a 15kg check-in allowance for this flight and so I had offered to take a thing or two because even though I knew my bag was over the 10kg limit, no-one ever weighs hand luggage. Kate put her bag down… 15.2kg. A few tense moments but it was accepted! All was well! But then, I was asked to weigh my hand luggage bag. Why now? Why me? I plonked it down… 12.4kg. All was not well. Kate’s hand luggage was 5kg so we were advised to swap some bits from mine to hers (which was visibly bursting at the seems). The Lonely Planet book came out – 11.5kg, toiletries out 11.2kg. As I contemplated which was heavier, 4 t-shirts or 9 pairs of pants, they gave up their pointless charade and said it was fine and we were free to go.
As it was breakfast time Kate went for the ever popular McDonalds breakfast item of Filet-O-Fish. I held out for something a little more authentic. What I got was pretty much an oriental Sausage & Egg McMuffin – a steamed bun stuffed with minced pork and egg. It was awesome, I highly recommend it! I had it alongside my equally authentic oreo cookies and cream frappé. We waited around watching the planes take off until ours turned up. We were flying with a Taiwanese budget airline called V Air. They will cease to operate come October 2016, which is a shame because it was a good airline and it’s mascot is a super cute bear that does a little dance when anything loads on their website.
We had been warned via email by the owner of our Taipei hostel that there was a chance of a typhoon. Luckily it remained largely in the south of Taiwan (Taipei being in the north) but we were nonetheless delayed as our flight path was altered.
After take off we were both able to catch up on lost sleep. As we approached Taipei we were then informed that there was lots of traffic waiting to land and it would be another 20-30 minutes. We started circling for a bit which allowed us to see great views over Taiwan.
Once we finally landed it was evident the weather was not being kind in the north, although apparently nothing compared with how it was in the south. We headed through the airport to the bus terminal to get us to Taipei. The 1819 bus was empty when we got on but it filled up within minutes. Once on our way it was a long, slow journey through heavy rush hour traffic and high winds to reach our destination. However, despite this, travelling over and between the mountains before catching a glimpse of Taipei City sprawling out before us was a spectacular sight.
I knew we needed to get off at the Ambassador Hotel and this was stop number 4, according to the boards at the airport, and the penultimate stop before the terminus at the city’s main train station. I watched and took note as the bus announced each stop in a number of languages, including English, before a loud buzzer went off and the bus would stop and let some passengers off. We came up to stop #3 (Taini (pronounced Tiny) Building – pretty memorable, which was good), but there was no buzzer before the bus stopped and no-one got off. This assured me that we would stop at every stop. Ambassador Hotel was announced so we stood up and walked to the front. Again, no buzzer went and the bus seemed to carry on for much longer than previously. I asked the driver if we had passed it and she apologized and said she didn’t know we wanted to stop, despite us standing right behind her. We sat back down and I looked for the source of the buzzer. Eventually I found a tiny red button with a bell on hidden overhead next to the much larger reading light buttons.
Thankfully the station was only marginally further than the intended stop so we set off on foot. Unhelpfully it was raining quite heavily. But, like in Thailand, Taiwan fully accept that it rains occasionally and put awnings everywhere (UK take note) so it wasn’t too bad. After 15 minutes or so we arrived at our intended street for the Taipei Family Hostel. I knew there was a squirrel drawn on the wall nearby, which we found, but we needed flat 2F. We searched the vicinity for signs of 2F, we even pressed some buttons, but to no avail. A few minutes later a man walked up and we asked him where we could find the hostel. He informed us it was on the second floor and he was going into the same building. We followed him up to the first floor and he went in the only door there. We continued but were confronted by a locked gate as we tried to continue up the stairs. I went to press the buzzer on the gate but we were greeted by the hostel owner, standing in the doorway the other guy had just strolled through. It was then that it dawned on me that 2F stood for 2nd floor and, in Taiwan (and all sensible nations), the ground floor does not exist (UK take note). A lot of people would disagree I’m sure and, in some instances, it makes sense to start counting from 0 (e.g with time) but if the top level of a 2 storey building is number 1, your system is flawed (pardon the pun).
I digress, we made it to hostel number 2 and we were soggy but relieved.
06:50 (GMT +7) Taxi from Baan Nampetch Hostel to Don Mueang Airport: 50 minutes, 500 baht (£10.82)
10:57 (22 minute delay) V Air flight to Taiwan Taoyuan (Taipei): 4 hours 18 minutes (38 minute delay), 7,420 baht (£160.52)
17:11 (GMT +8) bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station: 1 hour 25 minutes, 250 NT$ (£5.96)
18:36 walk to Taipei Family Hostel: 15 minutes
Arrived 18:51 GMT +8
Total time in transit: 6 hours 48 minutes
Total travel time: 11 hours 1 minute
Total cost: £177.30 (£88.65 each)