Day 2: Taipei
After a fantastic business class flight on EVA Air, we were ready to explore Taipei. First, we had to exchange some money to buy the train tickets to the city. Our first hotel in Taipei was near Taipei Main Station, so it was very convenient to just take the Airport Express directly into the city. The express service only has 3 stops before reaching Taipei Main, which took about 30mins. There weren’t many people on the train at this hour (between 6-7 am) and those that were all wore masks. At the time, masks were mandatory on public transit in Taipei. After reaching Taipei Main, there was a bit of a walk through the huge underground transportation hub before emerging outside. I tried to pick the closest exit to our hotel, which was a 6min walk away. There was some light rain so we walked as fast as we could with our luggage. Finally, we reached our first hotel, Sheraton Grand Taipei.
As we checked in, we were required to have temperature checks and fill out a health declaration to confirm we had not visited any of the hot spot countries recently. Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready yet, which is not a big surprise given that it was 7 am. We were welcome to freshen up at the spa and after a long flight, it was sorely needed. The spa facilities were quite large and expansive, configured more like a Japanese onsen than what you would see in the west. There were several pools of varying temperatures, a sauna, steam room, showers, and a relaxation lounge. After that, we went to the main restaurant for breakfast. Those who have read my other trip reports will know that I’m a loyal Marriott customer and Platinum Elite member. One benefit of this status is executive lounge access at their hotels. During COVID-19, Sheraton Taipei moved its executive lounge breakfast down the main restaurant, so even though we weren’t checked in, we could still partake in it for free. This also meant we got free breakfast for two days even though we were just staying one night – a value of $100 USD (for 2 people).
The spread was quite excellent (this was just one of several rounds). We both love the breakfasts at Asian luxury hotels, which have a lot more variety and contain not only breakfast foods but lunch dishes as well. Some of the highlights include the egg white omelette, congee, noodles, the famous Taiwanese bamboo shoots, and the super sweet pineapple. The main restaurant is in the large hotel atrium and there weren’t many guests so no issues with social distancing.
By now it was around 9:30am, so we decided to head out. Our first stop was the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, which is a collection of quirky and aesthetic stores about a 10min walk away. It was still early so we walked around the nearby area until the stores opened. Our main goal was the Wooderful Life flagship store. Wooderful Life makes these wooden music boxes and this store lets you customize your own. After going through the endless options we made a small picture holder in the theme of a house and a pretty funny penguin ring holder.
We then explored the other shops in the park, picked up some local postcards, and then headed back to the hotel after I got a notification that our room was ready. For this trip, I decided to use Google Fi as my SIM card of choice. Instead of buying SIM cards for every place I visit, Google Fi works in almost every country. There was a base $20 for calling and texting, plus $10/GB of data. Initially, the connection wasn’t very good – at the time Google Fi was in beta on iPhone. However, I found the issue was that not all local carriers work well and after figuring out which one had the best connection, it was all good. I actually got the notification that our room was ready around 10:30am but by the time it actually connected, it was past noon.
As a Marriott Platinum, I get free upgrades to suites at most hotels when checking in, depending on availability. In practice, it is pretty hit or miss depending on the city, the day, and how many other elites are staying there. To help secure these upgrades earlier, I also get 5 suite night awards that I can use to confirm a free suite upgrade 5 days before my stay. While occupancy was pretty low and I probably would have gotten an upgrade regardless, I used one of these awards to lock in our Diplomat Suite, which is one of the best in the hotel. When I saw the double doors to our room, I knew we were in for a treat. The suite wasn’t the biggest I’ve stayed at, but the layout definitely made it seem quite grand. There was an entry lobby with a guest bathroom, a full living room, a long hallway leading to the master bathroom, and one of the largest beds I’ve ever seen.
It always feels good to pay for the cheapest room but stay in the best. The hotel itself is quite old, but is well maintained. While this is a five star hotel, it stays true to the Sheraton brand with modest but functional furnishings. The outside hallways wrap around the central atrium, which is pretty cool especially when going up and down the glass elevators.
After a bit of a rest, we headed out to Taipei City Mall which is underground of Taipei Main Station. Unlike train stations in the west, these mega stations in Asia often bleed into several shopping malls and the tunnels themselves are lined with shops and restaurants. My fiancée was interested in the several sticker vendors that lined the underground mall. She got a ton of custom stickers for her and her fellow teacher friends. We actually had a good conversation with one vendor that we ended up coming back to for more stickers later on.
By now we were pretty hungry, so we checked out the food court in one of the malls. There was a large variety of restaurants and all looked really good. We both ended up getting food from a Japanese curry stall. I was craving omurice and this really hit the spot. My fiancée got curry with a fried whole squid. Both dishes combined was only $12 – great value and very delicious.
Afterwards, we did some more shopping in the upper floors of this mall. By now we were getting pretty tired and the jet lag was starting to catch up with us so we headed back to the hotel. I went back to the spa to relax after a long day of walking. Initially we thought about going to the Rilakkuma Cafe for dinner, which my fiancée was a big fan of; however, we were both too tired to go out again so we went up to the executive lounge for dinner. Again, in western countries, these are more like evening appetizers, but luxury hotels in Asia do a pretty solid dinner service in their executive lounge. The Sheraton Taipei was no exception, with a good 6-7 dishes and some tasty desserts too. I know there’s like a million great restaurants in Taipei, but there’s something nice about being able to stay in after a long day, especially with free food.