My wife Natalie and I just completed an around-the-world trip! We began by flying 10 hours from LAX to London on those $1 (plus tax) American Airlines fares I wrote about so much in my deals newsletter. We then flew to the south of France where we went on a weeklong Uniworld river cruise along the Rhone with her mom. We then took the train to Paris, flew to Doha with Qatar Airways on their amazing A380, flew nine hours to Bali where we spent four magical nights at the St. Regis, and finally, flew five hours to Taipei for the last stop on our trip.
It was our first time in Taiwan (besides just traveling through the airport) so we were excited to visit. After clearing customs, we just followed the taxi signs. There was no line and the dispatcher spoke English (the driver did not). I didn’t have any Taiwanese dollars and luckily, I had asked the dispatcher for a taxi that accepts credit cards. I was on a trip for SPG Amex to experience and write about the fact that their credit card no longer has foreign transaction fees. Unfortunately, the driver didn’t accept Amex, but he did take my MasterCard, which is why I always recommend having a backup credit card.
Taipei Airport to downtown
The ride took about 45 minutes. I was told it would cost 900-1,500 NTD ($30-$50 USD) depending on the traffic, and sure enough it was $35. You don’t tip taxi drivers in Taiwan.
Thanks to one of my PR buddies, we got set up at the Regent Taipei, which is arguably the nicest hotel in Taiwan. It’s located in Zhongshan’s business district. It’s centrally located and a five-minute walk to the Zhongshan MRT station, exit 3 (MRT Danshui line) so the whole city is easily accessible.
Tai Pan Lounge
We had access to the exclusive Tai Pan Lounge on the 19th floor, which is open and staffed 24/7. You don’t see that very often! Natalie and I loved their daily breakfast buffet, afternoon tea and evening cocktails with heavy hors d’oeuvres. Be sure to try the fresh watermelon juice!
The rooms are really comfortable, too, especially if you like a firm bed. My favorite part was the heated toilet seat with built-in bidet. We also appreciated the free Wi-Fi, universal plugs by the desk and bed, deep-soaking tub with rubber duck, TV in the bathroom mirror, fluffy slippers, fresh fruit, and picture-glass windows. Natalie loved that there was lots of shopping nearby (in fact the Regent Taipei is connected to the Regent Galleria, home to 50 luxury fashion boutiques).
We were there on a Sunday, so we opted to have Sunday brunch at the hotel, which is so popular that it takes place on both of the two lobby floors. It was a little too crazy for us, so after our first trip to the buffet we opted to go up to the lounge to check things out there. There weren’t as many choices but they offered a few different dishes like eggs benedict. The food quality was better and it was much quieter up on the 19th floor.
Regent Taipei spa
I have to be honest: We weren’t expecting much out of the Regent Taipei’s Wellspring Spa but boy were we wrong. It’s no wonder they’re a leading spa in Taipei. They provide a variety of massages, body wraps, skin polishing services, and facials. The spa is located on the top floor and each treatment room has a bathroom, changing room, a deep-soaking tub (that was bigger than the mini plastic pool we had when I was a kid!), and a steamroom and shower. The spa’s Scandinavian design was so nice that I took a ton of photos in the hopes that one day, if I make enough money to have a spa, I can put one in my house. I loved that the therapists wore masks. (Why don’t therapists in other countries, especially the US, do the same so they don’t breathe their bad, germy breath on you?) Wha’s also unique is that the eyemask they use to cover your eyes while you lie on your back was fastened onto the pillow so it didn’t slide off while they gently move you around. Guests are able to choose one of four massage oils. I chose ginger and cinnamon while Natalie chose an orange-scented oil. Just as at the beginning, at the end they gave us the tastiest ginger lemon tea I’ve ever had. I wish I knew who made it because I can’t find it anywhere else. They also provided a little tray with fresh pineapple, blueberries and a red bean dessert.
Hotel pool and gym
FYI: The Regent Taipei has a year-round, fully-heated rooftop pool but it didn’t do much for us. They also have a hotel gym but sadly we never even looked at it, let alone used it.
A Tai Pan deluxe room with all Tai Pan club benefits, including breakfast at Brasserie for two, and Silks Palace’s signature National Treasure Feast for two, costs $388 and is available from now until December 26, 2015.
As I mentioned, Natalie loved that there was a mall on the lower level of the hotel with 50 high-end shops, perfect for window-shopping since everything was way too expensive for actual shopping. I loved the hotel’s location since we walked around a lot, both late at night and throughout the day. We were shocked that when we arrived on a Saturday night, there were movies playing at the nearby theatre at 2 am and all kinds of street vendors were open, selling local delicacies.
BTW: Since it was late August/early September, Taipei was humid and hot, and it rained pretty much every day. The good news is everyone dresses relatively casually so I didn’t feel uncomfortable wearing shorts. Just make sure to bring an umbrella.
Taipei night tour
We signed up for a Taipei night tour (you can book one on Viator.com for $52 US). Our tour started at 5 pm, when the guide picked us up from our hotel, and ended around 8:30 pm. The first stop was at a local restaurant inside an old building to have a Mongolian barbecue dinner. The restaurant was a little disappointing in terms of its atmosphere, but the rest of the tour is well worth it. After dinner, we strolled through the exotic night markets including the famous Snake Alley, where these days, there are only three shops that cook snakes—and none of them are permitted to kill the snakes in front of you, as was done in the past. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the turtles.
The highlight for me and one of my top three experiences in Asia was walking around the ancient Longshan Temple. It was a magical night since it was hot, humid and raining, so there weren’t a lot of people out beyond the locals. The temple was so beautifully lit up that it looked like a movie set. The temple was built in Taipei in 1738 by settlers from the Fujian province of mainland China, and it served as a place of worship and a gathering place for the Chinese settlers. You can read more about the history here.
Our English-speaking guide told us all kinds of interesting facts along our route, including the fact that Taipei means “North Taiwan” and that the island is made up of 70% mountains. He said Taipei is 370 kilometers north to south, a distance that a high-speed train can take you in 90 minutes.
Although it was a rainy night, I loved going up to the top of Taipei 101, which is the third-tallest building in the world. It’s located in the Xinyi district of Taipei, and in 2004, it was the world’s tallest and largest green building. It’s located in a beautiful mall and is 101-stories high. To go up to the indoor observation decks (88th and 89th floors) and the outdoor observation deck (91st floor), costs NTD 500 ($15 USD). The elevator alone is worth the price of admission since it takes only 39 seconds to go from the first floor to the 89th. It made the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s fastest elevator. You can walk around the whole building and there’s no shortage of shops—even at the top. Unfortunately, the outdoor observatory was closed because of the bad weather but I’m still glad we went up. Here’s more information.
Din Tai Fung
You can’t go to Taiwan and not have dim sum, so we went to a popular restaurant recommended by the concierge at our hotel. Din Tai Fung turned out to be fast, great and inexpensive. There’s even one in Washington, DC. Although I’m not a fan of chain restaurants overseas, I do love Din Tai Fung.
To get back to the airport we decided to try uberX. I made the mistake of not having the hotel doorman tell the driver which airline we were flying since he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Mandarin. So, I whipped out Google Translate and that solved our problem. You’ve gotta love technology. It was just a tad cheaper than a regular taxi but it was a positive experience. I loved how our driver’s car (as well as our taxi from the airport when we arrived) had a video screen in the mirror, recording the roadway for the whole drive. We should have that in America to prevent any more disputes about who’s at fault when an accident occurs.
EVA’s Premium Economy
The new Taipei Airport is really nice and features some fun stuff, like a Hello Kitty play area for kids and phone booth for adults. We flew back to LA on one of EVA Airways‘ 777-300. FYI: The name EVA was taken from the first two letters of the company’s parent company “Evergreen.”
We were in EVA’s premium economy, which is so much more comfortable than what US carriers consider premium economy. Our plane was supposed to have Wi-Fi, but it didn’t, so I didn’t get much work done. I was, however, able to sleep on the 11.5-hour flight. The only thing I didn’t like about EVA is the in-flight mapping system. It’s so annoying; all it does is loop the same flight path and it doesn’t tell you how much longer there is left in the flight. The worst part is that every minute or so it repeats an ad for EVA Airways.
What’s cool is that we took off from Taipei on Tuesday, September 1 just after midnight and landed in LA at 9 pm on August 31! We felt like time-travelers.