[Trip Report] – In Taiwan, Mandarin Airlines, and EVA Airways | Part 2 of 2
After landing in Taipei, we took a (rather expensive) taxi from the airport to the Wanhua district. The Wanhua district is the “old town” of Taipei, and I found it quite charming. Our hotel, the Hotel In House Hotel, which was well-priced, comfortable, and quite classy for the price paid (had l’Occitane amenities, bottled water, and was beautifully decorated), was situated right on a busy square with lots of high-end shops and bubble tea stores. We were jet lagged and only had one day in Taipei, so we spent it wondering aimlessly around the square and the temples in Wanhua, which are stunningly decorated.
The next day we took a public train to Hualien, which was a comfortable and economical option. Hualien was quite different than Taipei – smaller, far fewer people, and it had almost a desolate, “North Korean” feel to it. It’s hard to describe, but it was quite surreal. Our hotel, Hotel Hualien Chateau de Chine Hotel, felt like a hotel that was a luxury hotel in the 70s, but hasn’t been updated since. The hotel had that yellowy incandescent look to it, with pinks and reds throughout. Although it wasn’t the most visually appealing hotel, it was well located and comfortable. We spent the evening walking around Hualien, finding an incredibly delightful and high quality cafe (besides travel, my other hobby is coffee).
We dined at Kali Laska, a down-to-earth Belarusian restaurant. There, we had our first encounter of Taiwan’s obsession of bringing dogs into restaurants. At almost every restaurant for the remainder of our trip, people brought dogs into the restaurant. These aren’t support animals, rather pets that are dressed in people clothing (poor critters…) and are not delightful companions in restaurants. At Kali Laska, at the end of our meal, the dog shat all over the floor, which really ruined what was otherwise a great meal. I don’t care where in the world you are: unless it’s a support animal (which are well trained and behaved), DO NOT BRING A PET INTO A RESTAURANT. It’s disgusting, and oftentimes the animal can’t contain itself from barking or otherwise doing what doggies do.
The next morning, we woke up to our hotel shaking around 4AM (we were at the top floor). You see, I’m not very good at reacting to earthquakes. I freaked out and ran to the bathtub (like that’d help me!). After about a minute the earthquake ended, which we later learned was a 6.1, which on the Richter scale, is a “moderate” earthquake.
That morning, we hired a cabbie to take us on a tour of Taroko Gorge, which is stunning. The temples in the area, like the famous Eternal Spring Shrine, were actually pretty ‘meh’ and modern. However, the scenery in the area was great, and the hiking was pleasant and to our surprise, absent from others.
Later that day we caught a flight from Hualien airport to Kaohsiung on Mandarin Airlines, which is a subsidiary of China Airlines. The Hualien airport was surreal: it was huge, with incredible amenities, bright and airy, but yet, there was NOBODY in the airport. It seems like the government invested tens of millions of dollars into it, but nobody wanted to use it. Apparently, the area is shared by a military base, and flights would often have to be cancelled last-minute because of Chinese military exercises. Airlines pulled out of Hualien due to unreliability and a lack of demand. So now there’s this massive airport that’s configured for substantial international travel that serves only a few flights a day.
Mandarin Airlines was perfectly comfortable, and they even had a non-alcoholic drink service for the short flight. Before the flight, I tried to get my China Airlines FFP added to the reservation, but the agent wouldn’t do it. I don’t know why, as Mandarin Airlines flights should accrue miles with China Airlines FFP.
Once in Kaohsiung we took a three hour bumpy bus ride to Kenting. Kenting is sort of like the Miami of Taiwan, with beautiful beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. Once we arrived in Kenting, there was a huge night market, which happens daily. It was absolutely mobbed, and you could buy all sorts of treats: octopus on a stick, deep-fried milk, and my favourite item, delicious mojitos (apparently ‘Mojitos’ is an institution in Kenting). We stayed at a guest house that was perfectly comfortable if not a little run-down.
For our trip back, we had a flight booked on EVA Airways business class using Aeroplan, from Taipei direct to Toronto. Kenting, which is at the very tip of the country, is quite far away from Taipei. Our flight to Toronto left in the evening, and we had a flight booked from Hengchun to Taipei. There were no other flights to Taipei that day at any airport within three hours of Kenting.
I was nervous about the flight from Hengchun. Hengchun Airport, which is a twenty minute taxi from Kenting, has two flights a week operated by UNI Air (an EVA subsidiary). The airport used to be more popular, however, most flights left half-empty, and even worse, dangerous winds in the area made last-minute cancellations a common occurrence. And of course, T-4H from our flight, I got a phone call saying our flight was cancelled. This was an issue, as you see, we HAD to be in Taipei by that evening, and there were NO flights in the area back to Taipei. Our last-minute plan was to take a two hour taxi to Zuoying HSR train station, then train to Taipei. That got us there on time, however, my poor insurance company has a hefty bill. Sorry guys!
I’ve flown EVA Business a number of times, and have reviewed them here before. I won’t talk too much about the flight. The seats are very comfortable, the drink is excellent, and IFE is pretty good, and for the first time that I’ve flown EVA, the food was good. It was a nearly empty fight in business class, so I hoarded a bunch of duvet blankets and pillows and nested into my seat. I slept and drank, and we arrived on-time in Toronto to catch a Megabus back to Kingston.