Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cruise to Taiwan - Part 2

So where were we now? Oh yes, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, heading from Hongkong to Taiwan!! First stop - Kaohsiung! What now, where are we going? That was my first reaction when I saw the itinerary - although, to be fair, the only city I actually knew in Taiwan was Taipei. Turns out that Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan - and the largest port!!

The ship wasn't due to reach the port until 1pm and I was looking forward to enjoying some time in the pool - but incredibly, the waters were really, really rough, putting an end to all onboard activity!! On the upper deck, found a deck chair, and tried to remain as still as possible - the fresh ocean air helps, in any case! They had to eventually shut down the pool - the water kept sloshing out, and the roller blade rink and the rock-climbing wall were closed because of the high winds too!! We did spend some time at the miniature golf and basketball courts - not many people there this morning!!

Currency exchange and taxis were available right at the port, ready for our Kaohsiung adventure!! I was hoping to go to Fokuangshan - which is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, and also has a 108m high seated Buddha - I've always been partial to the huge Buddha statues in this part of the world - but that would have taken up almost all day!! Instead, we took a taxi to the Lotus Pond scenic area - highly recommended by our driver! The Dragon and Tiger pavilion are a major attraction here - and it was certainly quite spectacular!! From the top of the pagoda could be seen the Confucius Temple and the Spring and Autumn pavilions - and the entire Lotus Lake, of course!!

Dragon and Tiger pavilion

Lotus lake

View of the Confucius Temple

Our token sight-seeing done, we were ready for some retail therapy!! Just needed to find where to go - our earlier taxi driver spoke a reasonable mix of English and Mandarin, so clearly, another taxi was needed!! Of course, we could barely communicate with this driver - and after a few exasperating dead-ends, he finally dropped us off at a huge mall - not quite the shopping we had in mind!! Luckily, we ran into a couple of Taiwanese, who were quite eager to strike up a conversation and try out their English!! They gave us directions to the Liuhe night market - and another Kaohsiung must-see - the Dome of Light located in the MRT's Formosa Boulevard station! 'Dome of Light' - a huge stained glass ceiling right in the middle of a Metro station - and it is the largest public glass work of art in the world!! Glad to get that off my bucket list!! No, jokes aside, it is actually quite beautiful - and you can sit down and enjoy a mojito - yes, right in the middle of the station - while admiring the artwork!!

Dome of Light

Mojito time!!
The Liuhe night market is located at one of the exits from the Formosa Boulevard station - it was still evening, though, and the 'night' market was just waking up!!! Lot of food stalls with exotic wares - I'm quite surprised to find that our years in China have made us quite immune to a lot of the 'food' for sale - and few souvenir stalls!! A little browsing, and then we took a taxi back to the ship - gorgeous views of the lighted entrance gate to Kaohsiung, and also of the ship!! Back on board, after a relaxed dinner and show, we spent the evening on our little balcony - watching our ship pull out of the harbor, past so many other barges and container ships - all our furniture must have been transported in a similar manner!!

A bite of cobra?!

Liuhe Night market

The seas weren't any calmer the next day - and it was a relief when we pulled into Keelung port!! Here it was - Taipei, barely an hour away!! We still took our time to leave - once again, spent the morning on the deck - rock-climing still not available, a little disappointed with that!! Once we left the ship, we did have to spend some time trying to figure out a way to get to Taipei - there were a lot of taxis available, but not metered, and the flat rate of 100 USD each way was very clearly a tourist trap!! In any case, there seemed to be no other viable option, so we had to shell out!! The hour drive to Taipei was reminiscent of the Mumbai-Pune expressway - the scraggly shrubs, the little villages, the hills, the bumpy ride!!

First stop in Taipei - the Taipei 101 building, of course - and I have to add, this is probably the most unimaginatively named building ever!! Briefly the world's tallest building, the Taipei 101 has a very unique architecture - a very graceful, pretty structure, almost like a multilayered cake! Next, the Sun Yat-Sen memorial hall - is of course, a memorial for the founding father of the Republic of China! It was too late for us to go inside, but the gardens are very well landscaped - perfect place to sit down and relax!! I did want to go see the National Palace Museum - which holds artifacts from the Forbidden City in Beijing - but half a day is just not enough!!

Taipei 101 - looking up...

Taipei 101 - from a distance

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial

As we walked around the city blocks, we stumbled upon the Taipei bus depot - literally minutes away from the Taipei 101 - and surprise, surprise, buses to Keelung every half hour - and the price of the ticket? - less than $2 per person! And not only was the bus really fancy, we got dropped off exactly where our ship was - was right about that taxi tourist trap!! We still had some time to walk around Keelung's busy night market - the most important stop was at a Burger King - not for the food, but the Wi-fi - the one thing that the ship does not provide on board!! And while it is good to be offline for a bit - it was great to get a Facebook fix!!

Keelung night market

Inside the bus..
Last day of the cruise - sailing back to Hongkong - an entire day to spend on the ship! A lot of the onboard boutiques had blow-out sales - designer purses and watches for the connoisseurs! The spa had a sale too - so I decided to go in for a Ionithermie detox treatment - guaranteed to take inches off!! Was quite interesting - I was slathered in a mixture of seaweed and cleansing mud, and then hooked up to electrodes to stimulate the muscles - the feeling was similar to doing a lot of ab crunches rather quickly. And while the spa lady assured me that the detox works on a deep internal level, I'm sorry to report that there was no visible loss of inches - no shortcuts in life, people!! Last night on the ship is also a formal dress-up dinner, which was followed by a parade of Madagascar characters through the atrium - the best for the last!!

A cruise is not the most ideal means to go sightseeing - being on the cruise is obviously the main attraction, the ports of call secondary. So this was more of a "Glimpses of Taiwan" than anything else! And as I've said before, Royal Caribbean has never disappointed us - but I wouldn't really recommend this particular itinerary for first-time cruisers - 4 days is quite short, and the company left much to be desired. There are a ton of other cruises available though - so what are you waiting for - I'm already looking for our next cruise vacation!! 

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