Flight to Taiwan, bus to Taichung [YQasia Day 12 Oct 7]

to taichung

Location: Shanghai, China -> Taipei -> Taichung, Taiwan

Background: My flight to Taiwan was cancelled yesterday because of typhoon. However, the airline company gave us each a bed in a nice hotel far away from the airport.

I set the alarm for 4:15am since we needed to check out at 5:00am. But I woke up before the alarm and spent 15 minutes lying in bed, not willing to get up before the alarm. Is there a word for this situation?

The hotel lobby was dark when I went down to check out. It wasn’t until 5:32am when the shuttle bus came to pick us up to the airport. Yesterday, there were 2 buses which brought us to the hotel. Today there was only one as many had probably left for their home in Shanghai.

Shanghai Airport

When we arrived at the airport, only one regular counter and the first class counter was opened. The queue snaked out of its boundaries. Soon, someone managed to put the queue in order.

As I was reaching my end of the queue, a lady with a ponytail went to the counter and made a loud fuss. Between her fake-like, dry crying, she asked the airline employee to “please, please let [her on]” since she wanted to “bring [her] kid home”. Then she dropped to her knees and started really begging him for help.

The airline employee looked uncomfortable and replied that he couldn’t help her if she did not bring her identification with her. Hearing this, the woman let out a loud moan. In the end, the employee said he would see what can do.

In the end, I did see her and her kid at the boarding lounge. So thankfully for that.

Another flight delay

When we were all gathered at the boarding lounge, we were still not asked to board the plane. I overheard that the flight would be delayed yet again. This was confirmed when the airline folks asked us to queue for our breakfast since the flight would be delayed again.

I never say no to free food.

I ate some of the biscuit and drank all my Coke and waited. Suddenly, we were asked to queue up for the shuttle bus to the plane. Hurray!

My seat was in the middle with four seats in the row. My seat mate was on the other end of the row so I sad comfortably.

For breakfast on China International Airlines, there was a choice of Chinese and Western breakfast. Chinese food was porridge while Western was eggs with one sausage.

I fell asleep for most of the flight so the 2-hour flight so it was very fast.

Back in Taiwan!

The last time I was in Taiwan was in 2010. It was a business trip so I didn’t enjoy a lot of the island. This time ’round, I will be joining my mom on a 9-day trip where we will see a lot and eat a lot.

Buy your 3G SIM cards at Chunghwa Telecom booth at the airport

Mom was already at the airport when I arrived. We headed to the mobile company booths on the left corner of the arrival doors. Here, we each bought a SIM with unlimited 3G internet for 10 days at a cost of NT$500.

We bought bus tickets to where we would meet our aunt. The bus journey was long and I even caught a few winks.

My aunt was waiting at the bus stop when we got there. We went to her place and settled our luggage before taking the bus to central Taiwan–Taichung.

Since I didn’t need to do any travel planning, travelling from Taipei to Taichung seemed easy. We went to the bus company and bought tickets for the bus leaving in 10 minutes.

Off we went to Taichung. Of course, this is also the best time for napping.

Tong Lian bus company

Let's go pray with incense

Miyahara ice cream in Taichung

Miyahara Eye Specialist Ice Cream

When we reached Taichung, my aunt brought us to a famous ice cream place. The building was previously a hospital but now it’s a really beautiful place selling ice cream and biscuits.

We bought three ice cream flavors (82% Ecuadorian chocolate, “half-dreaming-half-awake” and local guava) on a wafer bowl. With three flavors, we got four free toppings including cheesecake, pineapple cake, pumpkin seeds and caramel.

The shop also has a lovely space selling all sorts of wedding cookies. However, these cookies are packaged like books and are arranged on shelves.

Miyahara Eye Specialist cookie store

After desserts, we took the bus to the National Museum of Natural Science. While we were there, there was a promo for paying bus rides using payment cards. The first 8km of the ride was free when you use payment cards. Luckily, Taipei’s prepaid cards work here too.

Public bus in Taichung

National Museum of Natural Science holds fond memories for me. The museum was a place my mom brought my sister and me to frequently when we were in Taiwan as kids. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on Monday so we ended up sitting at the garden behind the museum.

Dinosaurs

After bumming around in the garden, it was time to meet my uncle. When we got on his car, we found a walking sticks. Turns out he was knocked down by a motorcycle on his way to take the bus. He added that he rarely takes the bus.

Since my uncle could not walk far, we chose to eat inside a shopping mall. Our meal for the night was Hunan food, a bit funny since I just came from China and ate a lot of Chinese food there.

After dinner, we head back to uncle’s place.

Have you been to Taichung? Do you have a favorite sightseeing spot?

Onwards to LA for my transit to Hong Kong [YQrtw Day 124 Aug 12]

Location: San Salvador, El Salvador to Los Angeles, USA

After two months in Spanish-speaking countries, I’m finally leaving for Asia. But first, I need to head to LA for a transit.

In the morning, I was surfing Facebook and I realized that Cathay Pacific had a typhoon warning for the 13th and 14th on its Facebook page. The airline added that we’re allowed to change our flights for free.

I thought that it would be a great chance to extend my visit in the US and BUY ALL THE THINGS WITH MY CREDIT CARD.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get anyone from Cathay Pacific on the phone. In the end, I decided that I would wing it at the check in counter,

After checking out my hostel at 10am, I headed out to the post office and for breakfast. The weather was hot and I was sweating like nobody’s business as I walked around.

When I got back to the hostel, I waited patiently for my taxi at 12 noon. No car came during that time so I had to remind the hostel owner about the cab. She hurriedly made a call and a cab came after 5 minutes.

The ride from the hostel to the airport was US$30. It’s kind of expensive for El Salvador but the airport was 37km away from the city and about 45 minutes drive away.

When the cab sped to the airport, I admired the landscape. El Salvador’s hills and random jungles by the road reminded me a lot of home. I was glad to come and visit since it was a good buffer from the harsh Peruvian landscapes.

San Salvadorian sky
San Salvadorian sky

Felt up by airport agents TWICE!

I reached the airport around 1pm and checkin was smooth. What wasn’t smooth was when I got to my gate.

Turns out, passengers to the US require strict inspection. There were rows of table to inspect the contents of our carry ons. My purse, laptop case and electronic cases were zipped open and closed.

Next up was the body check where the officers felt everyone once in the front and once in the back.

The last inspection was the most ridiculous. There were several chairs and everyone had to take off their shoes. The shoes were then felt up. Luckily, I was wearing my most horrible pair of flip flops. The airport agent wasn’t too happy when she bended my flip flops around.

The flight from San Salvador to Los Angeles was alright. I watched Iron Man 3 and a couple of sitcoms during the 5-hour flight.

Thank Hermes for USB chargers on planes.
Thank Hermes for USB chargers on planes.

At LAX, I had to grab my luggage from the carousel and check in at the other terminal. The custom officers were lenient since I was only doing a transit.

However, at the luggage check for flights, I was singled out again when the metal detector flashed. Seriously, the only metal objects on me were my glasses screws and my teeth filling.

The TSA officer asked me to put out one foot. She felt up my leg and asked me to put out the other foot to feel. Do they think I was Resident Evil’s Ada Wong with some metal strapped to my thigh? I was wearing a maxi dress and look positively pregnant with my flabby stomach.

Anyway, I think it’s funny that I had to go through the legs check ups. I can now tick [] Felt up by TSA officers off my list of “Things I Do Not Want to Happen to Me”.

No shopping in LAX?

LAX waiting area
LAX waiting area

Now I’m in my LAX terminal. I’m a bit disappointed by the duty free shopping here (almost non-existent). Where are the Coach and LeSportSac shops? I have a shopping list for my family and myself. Tsk.

OK, I have about three hours to go before my flight. I’ll look for things to amuse myself before my flight.

Here’s something interesting about my flight. I will be flying around midnight of August 13 but arrive in the early morning of August 14 because I’m crossing the international date line. This means my flight is about two-day long and my August 13 only lasts about 7 hours. That’ll be fun!

I’m very excited about Hong Kong

While on the plane. I read Wikitravel entries on Hong Kong and I realized that I really really really want to be there for the food.

If this was a regular straight-to-Hong-Kong trip, I might not have been as excited. But I’ve been away from good Asian food for so long that I think I might cry when I eat the first siewmai that I meet.

End of the Orient Express [YQrtw Day 58 Jun 4]

Cagaloglu Hamami ceiling

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

West end of Istanbul tram line
West end of Istanbul tram line

I was listening to one of the podcasts from Rick Steves. One of the callers to the radio program asked if they could take the Orient Express while in Istanbul.

The answer was that any train that went to the east was considered the Orient Express.

For me, my oriental journey is at its end and I’m heading to South America. I actually do not know what to expect, except the cold winters.

This morning, I had the breakfast provided by my hotel. It’s the usual Turkish fare: bread, olives, cheese, fruits, tomato, hard boiled eggs and drinks such as tea, coffee and artificial lime juice.

Turkish breakfast
Turkish breakfast

There is something about hard boiled eggs in Turkey. They are too tasty for their and my own good. I limit myself to only 2 eggs each day but feel like eating another 2 after I finish them.

After breakfast, I still had to pack my backpack. Since it will be winter in South America, I had to make sure that things such as swimsuit are at the bottom of the pack.

Packing seemed a lot easier these days. I managed to tidy up everything before check out time.

Getting scrubbed at a Turkish bath

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I still had Turkish bath on my list of To-do. On Foursquare, I found a hamam near my hotel so I walked to the place after checking out.

I saw the ladies’ entrance to the hammam. The real entrance inside was hidden behind a screen. After I stepped in, I was too embarrassed to step out even though the pricing was higher than what I wanted.

1,000 Places to see before you die
1,000 Places to see before you die

In the end, I reasoned that I was going to take a bath in one of the 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die. So I paid my 108 lira and steeled myself for an exfoliation session with an attendant who looked very much like Rebel Wilson.

I’ll talk more about the bath in a future post so stay tuned!

Aimless walking, training around

Istanbul post office
Istanbul post office

I didn’t actually cross “Eat Turkish delight” off my list since I didn’t have much cash left in my wallet after the bath. Instead, I took the tram from the west to the east and back to the stop nearest to my hotel.

The train took about 1 hour to reach the west to the east. I didn’t really look out the window all the times since I fell asleep.

Passing the neighborhoods, I felt sad that I was leaving the city where I’ve spent 4 days. Yes, just 4 days but the store signs were already familiar to me.

Of course, my time in Istanbul had to end. I boarded the airport shuttle (6 euro) off to the airport for the third time.

Viagra boxes on the street
Viagra boxes on the street

This day last week…

I was on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia and it was pure awesome.

How to book AirAsia Free Seats

airasia free seats

It’s that time of the year when AirAsia has its “Free Seats” sale. This time, the sale will be held on the coming Monday, Oct 29 at 0:00 GMT +8.

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to book those Free Seats because I am still travelling at the start of the sale.

However, I’ve whipped up a few tips so you can successfully book those Free Seats* (airport tax and service charge not included).

Before you go around saying, “Hey, why do I still need to pay if it’s a Free Seats sale?”, remember, the plane ride itself costs nothing but you pay the usual airport tax, service charge. You can beat secret extra charges too if you know where to find them.

These RM0 sales was once a really rare event. But AirAsia had two of these Free Seats sales just this May and September. It’s great that it’s getting more frequent. This also means that if you cannot book your flights in this round, the other round will come soon.

Are you ready to book those Free Seats? Let’s go! (PS The following tips are adapted from a guide by AirAsia. Even if you have read the guide, I have a few tips based on my booking experience so please read on.)

Preparation before sale day

You should prepare for the sale by following the list below a few days before the sale. Doing it on the day of booking will cost you time and even make you lose your Free Seat.

Step 1: Sign up for an account
Even if you will only book from AirAsia once, sign up for an account as this will cut down the time you make bookings later.

You will be able to save your travel information (such as passport number, passport expiry date, phone number etc) to the account as well. You will need these information when you make the booking.

Step 2: Register your Family and Friends list
Once you have an account, register your travelmates’ names and travel information in the Family and Friends list.

This list saves the travel information of your Family and Friends so you can add them into your booking with only a few clicks. (Similar to Step 1, you will need the personal information of those travelling with you.)

Tip: If you or your travelmate’s passport is expiring around the dates you want to book, just give a pretend expiry date. You can change the passport number and date later after you’ve made the booking.

Step 3: Figure out the routes and dates you want to fly
There are only a few “Free” tickets for each flight so if those RM0 tickets are snatched up, you will get slightly more expensive tickets. This is why you need to be quick and plan really far ahead.

As the tickets are usually for dates that around half a year earlier, you have to figure out which are the best dates to travel. This includes finding out if there are long weekends or public holidays which you can take advantage of.

Also, it’s not worth going on trips where you reach too late or leave too early because you will waste half day’s leave (or your precious holiday time) going to the airport or flying back.

Step 4: Have two or three backups
Even if you are clever enough to plan your trip around public holidays, other buyers are thinking the same. That’s why it’s important to have a few backup destinations or dates.

Without backups, changing dates while booking might be easy if you are a solo traveler. But if you are travelling in a group, make sure everyone is fine with the backup dates.

Step 5: Familiarize yourself with AsiaAsia’s booking system
Practice makes perfect so go ahead and pretend to book a few tickets until you’ve reached the page where you actually need to pay money.

This way, you will also see where the tricky extra charges are laid out. My post on how to beat AirAsia’s b***s*** charges tells you how to avoid those fees.

AirAsia also has a nice guide on how to book tickets for novice bookers.

On the date of the sale…

Tip 1: Book early or at a weird timing
I don’t think I’ve been lucky enough to book a Free Seat in the first hour of launch because the servers are usually too busy.

But I’ve had success booking at strange timings like early in the morning, in the office (don’t tell my boss. Shh…) or some days after the initial craze.

For the last few sales, AirAsia has implemented a “Waiting Room” system where you wait for the servers to be less busy before you are brought to the booking page. Make sure you have enough time to wait for your turn when making the booking.

Tip 2: Book through mobile site
There was a year when I booked my free seat through the mobile site and managed to snag one or two free seats. Unfortunately, I could only pay by credit card so there was the extra credit card processing fee.

Tip 3: Be patient!
This tip is actually targeted at myself. I run out of patience when trying to book and that doesn’t really help with the booking experience.

Do you have any tips to share?

That is all I have for now. I’ll update this page if I think of any new tips. If you are a AirAsia veteran, please share your tips for booking Free Seats.

Until my next post, have a safe trip.

Further reading: How to beat AirAsia’s secret extra charges