Day 4: Travel to Japan
Today is our last day in Taiwan and what I consider as a “travel day”. Travel Day is when most or all of the day is spent travelling from one destination to another. There isn’t much time for dedicated sight seeing in either destination and is more for reorienting ourselves from one place to the next. I am not a fan of these days because it feels like we are wasting precious vacation time, but I have come to learn they are very necessary, especially in a long, multi-destination trip like this one. While you can minimize the impact of these by picking really early or red-eye flights, they can take a big toll on longer trips. The travel day also gives us an opportunity to relax, take a step back, and rest up after three packed days in Taiwan.
After our final breakfast at the hotel, my mom and I went out to the local Carrefour (supermarket) to buy some Taiwanese delicacies. We always like seeing the prices of things at a new place to get an idea of what life is like for the average person and the cost of living here. At the supermarket, my mom wanted to buy some brown sugar ginger tea that we had sampled in Tamsui earlier on the trip. I also got some of those famous Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was close to noon. My dad was lying in bed, but fully dressed and had his shoes on. He said there was an earthquake a short while ago and the building was swaying, so he put on his shoes in case he needed to escape. What?? We were just in the supermarket and didn’t notice anything. Then on our TV, the breaking news started about the earthquake. The epicentre was in eastern Taiwan, not very close to Taipei, but people could feel it here. This is especially pronounced for people in higher floors, which was why my dad felt it. Needless to say we were glad to be flying out soon.
Once we got to Taoyuan Airport, we headed for the AirAsia X check-in counter. Air Asia is a low cost carrier (LCC) and actually the first one we’ve been on. LCCs have low fares but to make up for it, they nickel and dime you on everything else. Air Asia in particular had a very strict combined 7kg policy on carry on bags. In North America, most airlines allow 10kg per bag which we rarely exceed, so we never paid much attention to weight. Each of us had a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. While this is fine for the number of items, my dad’s backpack was really big and kind of obvious that he exceeded the weight. We were a bit concerned as we waited in line, but went ahead anyways and got our boarding passes from the counter. As we were about to leave, my dad asked, “Do you think our luggage weight will be okay?” I thought to myself, “What are you doing?! We almost got away with it!”. The attendant then took a good look at our bags and told us to weigh it. We didn’t just exceed the weight, we more than doubled it. Since we had 7kg each, we can bring a combined 21kg. Our actual total was over 45kg. We ended up checking in two of our suitcases for about $30 each. Initially, we were pretty upset considering we almost got away if my dad didn’t say anything. But at the gate it was obvious most people had to check bags in and it would have been very noticeable if we carried all our stuff onboard.
After we passed security, we headed to the Plaza Premium Lounge, which I have access via Priority Pass from my credit cards. There are several Plaza lounges at TPE, so we just went to the one closest to our gate. The lounge wasn’t very big, but wasn’t too crowded so there were no issues getting a table. They had a station with four made to order dishes. I got the beef noodle soup and chicken rice. I remember there was also a chicken soup and one other dish. There was also a small hot buffet, which had some really good unagi sticky rice and Japanese curry. Then there were the usual lounge spread of a salad bar, dessert, coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol. We got a Taiwan beer from the tap, which was light and refreshing.
At around 4pm, we boarded our Airbus A330-300 to Osaka. This was the second leg of a flight originating from Kuala Lumpur. Despite being a LCC, this was a wide body airplane and the seats were pretty comfortable. However as a LCC, there was no onboard service unless you ordered meals, nor was there in-flight entertainment. This was not a big deal since we just ate in the lounge and the flight was short. The 3 hour flight actually took just over 2 hours due to tailwinds, so we landed around 7pm local time in Osaka (with a 1 hour time difference). That early arrival went out the window when we saw the line at customs. Eventually we made it out and took the JR Train into Osaka Station. I’ve been to Osaka a couple of years ago and had stayed near Osaka Station before, so I knew what to expect. Osaka Station is massive, with most train lines in the Kansai region going through it. It has literally over a hundred exits and bleeds into many malls. It is very easy to get lost in this labyrinth. It took a little while to get our bearings, but we just kept walking in the general direction through the various malls until eventually we got outside and saw our hotel across the street. We stayed at Hotel Monterey La Frere, which despite being a 3.5 star hotel, appeared quite new, modern, and clean. Check-in was smooth and our triple room was quite adequate with everything we needed. The one draw back is that the room is tiny. I am surprised they fit 3 beds, but then again they took up almost all of the room to do so. But since this is Japan and we were visiting during Cherry Blossom season, there’s not much to complain about.
The room also came with a ‘Handy’ phone that had unlimited data on it. However, we couldn’t get the hotspot working and I already had data on my phone, so we didn’t get much use out of it. After we dropped off our bags, we went down to the 7-11 and got some food for the night. Simple, cheap, and delicious – oh how I’ve missed Japanese convenience stores.