Layover Tour in Taipei, Taiwan – Get Out of the Airport on Long Layovers

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Chris on a Taipei Layover Tour

Sometimes your travel schedule works like a well-oiled machine. Connecting flights line up with Swiss precision and you move effortlessly from one flight to another without delays… sometimes. But on other trips you get more of a sense that “you can’t get there from here” and you are left waiting for 8 hours between flights. Such was my travel schedule last week which left me with a scheduled 7 hour 55 minute layover in Taiwan. I had never been to Taiwan. Rather than sit in artificial lighting, eating at the food court and hanging out on airport wi-fi, I arranged a layover tour of Taipei sponsored by Viator.

I had never done an organized layover tour before, but the idea seemed simply brilliant. If you have an 8 hour layover or greater this tour plans an itinerary that gets you 45 minutes from the airport, explores some of the major city sites and whisks you back to the airport in time to catch your next flight. The only catch is that you have to be functional after your first flight, in my case a flight scheduled to last 13 hours from San Francisco. I can sleep on planes so I was in great shape (check out my 10 Tips to Combat Jet Lag).

My flight arrived earlier than our 6am estimated arrival time. I cleared customs which I would not have had to do if I had just stayed in the airport, but then again I would not have gotten another stamp in my passport nor would I have counted being in Taiwan. I met my guide Mark Lu and my driver in the arrival area by 6am.

The first difference between trying to get into the city on my own and a private tour was obvious from the moment I saw someone holding up a sign with my name on it. I didn’t have to find the city bus or wonder where to go and I started learning about Taiwan on the way into the city. Mark’s command of English was great. He talked about the history of the island as it was colonized in turned by the Spanish, the Dutch, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Nationalist Chinese. Mark has only been a tour guide for a few years. Previous to that he was an officer in the Taiwanese Navy.

Bao-an Temple

Bao-an Temple

One problem with starting a city tour at 6 o’clock in the morning is that many things are run by the government and don’t open up until 9 AM. Fortunately the Bao-an Temple, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is privately run and opened at 6 AM. We toured the temple complex as Mark explained to me some of the details of the Taoism religion. The tour normally also includes a stop at the nearby Confucius Temple which normally opens at 9am but which was unfortunately closed the day of my visit.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

 

Our next scheduled stop was the changing of the guard at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall which happens on the hour starting at 9am, but we had to kill some time before that. While we waited we toured a local market and visited the Grand Hotel, the first international hotel in Taipei. The Grand Hotel was built by Chiang Kai Shek’s 4th wife and saw the site of the National Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum holds 696,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial art and artifacts, but it unfortunately also does not open until 9am.

Changing of the Guard at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Changing of the Guard at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

The massive doors of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall opened at 9am, ushering in crowds of tourist in time for the ceremonial changing of the guard. The figure of Chiang Kai Shek sits in a large marble chair reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial. Chiang Kai Shek looked on the guards displayed their proficiency with rifle choreography. The Memorial Hall also houses a museum that interprets the history of China and of Taiwan during the time of Chiang Kai Shek. The Memorial Hall sits in a large park-like area which also houses a theatre and concert hall.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

After a quick picture stop at the Presidential Office Building, we proceeded to Taipei 101, now the 4th tallest building in the world but still the home of the worlds fastest elevator, which climbs to the observation floor in 25 ear popping seconds. The view from Taipei 101 was intermittent because of heavy clouds on the day of my visit. The final stop of the tour was the famous Din Tai Fung dumpling restaurant in the same complex as Taipei 101. If there had been no view at all from Taipei 101, if there had been no temples open and we had missed the changing of the guard, the entire tour would have been worth it just for the pork soup dumplings alone.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

The return trip to the airport was slowed by an accident on the highway. It made my guide and driver nervous but I let them do the worrying for me. They are, after all, the professionals. And that was really the theme of the tour for me. Not everything went smoothly. Not everything was open the day I was there or at the time I was there. But the entire time I was comparing my experience to what it would have been like if I stayed in the airport. I recognized my seat mate on my flight out of Taiwan as someone who had flown in on the same flight as me from San Francisco. It was her first international trip and she was afraid to leave the airport. While I was seeing world class sites, she was trying to sleep on the airport floor. Mine was the better option.

this post was originally publish at Taipei Layover Tour

photos from Taipei, Taiwan

Layover Tour in Taipei, Taiwan Layover Tour in Taipei, Taiwan

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by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

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