It was a bitter sweet feeling needing to pack our suitcases after breakfast, the Ibis North Point again having been a good place to stay and Hong Kong being a much loved destination. After pulling our luggage along to the step free entrance of the MTR station we rode the metro for the final time this holiday on our way to Central station where we deposited our luggage at the Cathay Pacific desk of In-town Check-in after purchasing tickets for the Airport Express train. Tickets cost HK$100 each from the machine but if passengers go direct to the Customer Service desk and ask for a ‘Group of 2 Ticket’ the combined price is only HK$170.
Free from our luggage, we strolled across to the iconic Central Pier for a ride across Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry, remembering to sit on the right hand side for the finest views. This morning we opted to sit on the lower deck as, with its open sides, it’s easier to take photos and is slightly cheaper too!
Wandering along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade one last time we admired the old Kowloon station clock which was erected in 1915 as part of the Kowloon – Canton Railway terminus. The station was demolished many years ago but this colonial red brick and granite tower remains as a reminder of the age of steam.
Continuing along Salisbury Road we passed the elegant Peninsula Hotel and slightly further on, the former Marine Police Headquarters which were completed in 1884. This is one of the four oldest surviving government buildings in Hong Kong and is now known as Heritage 1881, the stunning colonial building now transformed into a heritage hotel and deluxe shopping arcade. Several brides were using the backdrop of this beautiful building for photo shoots, the nearest register office being just across the road.
Also located here is the Signal Tower, commonly known as the Round House. It was constructed to provide time signals to ships in the harbour, the ball dropping at exactly 1.00 p.m. each day. Its use ended in 1907 when the time ball apparatus was removed to Signal Hill, Kowloon.
Before taking the ferry back to Central we treated ourselves to a sweet potato and vanilla ice cream cone, sitting on a bench to savour this new flavour – and our verdict, delicious! A few minutes to spare so a quick glance in the Harbour City Mall before boarding the Star Ferry, this one being called Day Star, for our final glimpse of Victoria Harbour.
Then all that was left to do was to obtain refunds from our Octopus cards, less a HK$9 admin charge. The Airport Express train takes just 24 minutes to reach the airport and comes complete with personal speakers in seat headrests for passengers who may wish to view the video screens.
As we’d already checked our luggage in earlier in the day we proceeded straight to security and passport control. Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong International Airport is spacious and we stretched our legs browsing the shops and duty free outlets before settling down for a coffee and a few fries in McDonalds. As it was crowded we shared our table with two people who, by chance, were from Taipei so it was interesting chatting to them about our forthcoming plans and hearing a few suggestions of additional places to visit.
Boarding for our short (90 minute) Cathay Pacific flight to Taipei, again on one of their new A350-900 airliners was well organised. We had selected window seats on the right hand side of the aircraft as we’d heard that we might get some good views of the Taipei coast just before landing. Passing the time on the flight I was able to finish watching the film Bridget Jones Baby that I was part way through at the end of our previous flight. Attractive meal bags were provided with a plentiful supply of food for such a short flight. The snack included a Portuguese style chicken lattice pastry, an Anzac biscuit plus a carton of lemon tea. Other drinks were available on request but we were happy with our lemon tea.
Descending into Taipei, thick cloud prevented photo opportunities but we were soon disembarking at Taoyuan International Airport where baggage reclaim was efficient and finger printing was taken at border control with this taking several attempts until it worked successfully. Before leaving the airport we registered for free Taipei wi-fi at the information desk, needing to produce our passports to enable access. It’s not that we are obsessed with being online but thought it would be useful for such things as looking up train schedules and checking in for our inbound flights if we are not in our hotel. Other essential tasks were to obtain some NT dollars from an ATM and purchase EasyCards for the travel system. These travel cards cost NT$100 (£2.50) and give a 20% discount on each journey. We topped up each card with NT$500 to begin with.
Ready to go, we boarded the new Taoyuan Airport MRT into the city centre. This had only been operating for two weeks with fares at an introductory rate of NT$80 each (half the normal rate).
From Taipei Station we needed to change to the MRT. In case you might think I’ve made a typing error, in Taipei the metro system is known as the MRT whereas in Hong Kong, their system is known as the MTR. Negotiating our luggage on the MRT was easy as all stations have at least one exit with step free access and within a few minutes we were exiting Sonjiang Nanjing station which was only about 5 minutes walk from our hotel, the Green World Hotel Grand Nanjing. This Taiwanese owned, Japanese style business hotel has only been opened a few months and our first impressions of a bright, modern reception area were good. Check-in was speedy and efficient and we were soon taking the lift to our 10th floor room (1010) our home for the next seven nights. The room was luxuriously appointed with every comfort imaginable including a cosy window seat enabling us to view the city life of Taipei.
The huge bathroom had both a large shower cubicle and deep bath tub. The bath having an LCD television with a built-in remote control. Another feature new to us was the Japanese toilet complete with side control panel with numerous options available including a heated seat.
Yet another interesting device that we hadn’t come across previously were buttons to press next to the key card holder indicating that we would like the room to be cleaned or that we did not wish to be disturbed. I wonder how long it will be before such a device is commonplace, moving on from hanging out a piece of cardboard on the door handle!
Resisting the temptation to fiddle with all these gadgets, we headed out to experience our first Taiwanese night market. Hopping back on the MRT was so much easier without our heavy luggage and navigating the Taipei metro system seemed relatively easy. We headed for Taipei’s famous Shilin Night Market which was a feast for our senses with the heady aroma of cooking spices drifting by.
Taiwanese cuisine incorporates Chinese, Japanese and local influences with noodle dishes, dumplings, pork and seafood seeming very popular along with locally grown freshly squeezed fruit drinks. The evening was warm with light drizzle but that didn’t spoil our fun as we munched our way through cuttlefish balls, chicken skewers and Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork belly buns in a soft dough) which melted in the mouth and tasted divine. I can already predict that our week in Taiwan will focus on much street food eating!
At almost midnight we returned to our room and we were both sound asleep the second our heads touched the pillows in our exceptionally comfortable bed.