The need to go to BKK came once I was already in TPE. Since I already had a TPE-CDG flight departing at 23:50 from TPE, I requested Flight BR76 (landing in TPE at 20:25) to my company’s travel agency, unless they could link both PNRs, in which case the later Flight BR68 (landing in TPE at 21:45) would do.
I received a reservation on Flight BR68, but I was suspicious and asked confirmation that both flights were linked.
The travel agency answered this: No, we would have had to issue a new BKK-TPE-CDG ticket, costing as much as the initial CDG-TPE round trip ticket. To check in all the way to CDG, request it at the check in counter showing both tickets. If the check-in agent refuses to do it, you will still have time to check-in in Taipei. The recommended connecting time is 40 minutes and you have 2h05’
This travel agency staff confused the MCT and the time needed in TPE to go through immigration, recover my checked luggage and check in landside on the next flight ! I swore, sent a strongly worded to the travel agency with copy to my company’s Travel Manager who understood very well that there were thousands of euros at stake in case of a delay of the BKK-TPE flight if I could not be checked in to CDG. The reservation was modified in no time to Flight BR76.
But when you change travel plans late and book a flight in Economy on a Friday early evening, you cannot expect to find an aircraft which is as empty as on the previous segments which were in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. Not a single window seat was available: my best choice was 64D, one of the few remaining aisle seats.
On D Day, the traffic is somewhat heavy at noon towards the airport, but is not a disaster either. The dashboard seems to show that the driver liked planes.
Arrival in BKK
The taxi driver spontaneously fetches a luggage cart for me, and after loading the luggage has me check that there is nothing left over in the trunk or at my seat. It is not much, but I do not remember this level of service in any other city.
There is no dearth of luggage carts
A policeman riding a Segway
One of the wings of the terminal
Even if Flight BR76, I prefer spending three hours in TPE’s lounge rather than landside. I had been careful not to check in on line on these two separate reservations, but there is no manual check-in counter in BKK.
It was not crowded at the luggage drop either, which made things easier
The absence of manual check-in counters did not change much, since there was an employee per self-check-in machine, and I subcontracted the whole process to one of them, handing her my passport and the printouts of both tickets. She would presumably do it better than I if there was a trick needed to check my luggage all the way to CDG.
A staff at the Business class counter waved at me when my turn came, and not only she checked my luggage all the way to TPE, but made a very decent proposal:
You are in Economy on this flight, but in Business on the connecting one to Paris. If you want, I can give you a seat in Emergency row on this flight.
It was a nice gesture to improve the comfort during the approach flight (in Economy) of a passenger flying long haul in Business onward. My readers know that I do not care much for exit row seats (because they have little or no window view, and the requirement to place all hand luggage in the overhead bins during take-off and landing reduces my laptop use time, especially if the flight’s departure is delayed). But there, it was a matter of changing an aisle seat with no advantage other than an aisle access for a seat with an even better aisle access : I could not refuse the deal.
There was no nitpicking about the weight of my checked luggage which was slightly above the 30 kg limit applicable to the BKK-TPE segment in Economy, and they were duly checked all the way to CDG with a priority tag since the TPE-CDG flight would be in J.
One of the twelve giant demons located after the check-in counters – they used to be at the Arrivals level initially, but the airport personnel protested because these statues brought them bad luck.
The escalator behind this one leads to an observation platform. I had time; it would have been a shame to not go up and have a look.
Panoramic view of the check-in area
The escalator, and then stairs reached an empty space at the top, where it was very warm, because hot air rises and there was presumably no air conditioning at that level.
It was so quiet that a man was sleeping there, oblivious to the view that I had come to see through the windows.
Tiger Air A320
Sri Lankan A321, El Al 767-300ER, Etihad Airways and Philippines Airlines777
HS-JAK, a 767-200ER belonging to Jet Asia Airways, a Thai airline whose fleet is made up of three aircraft like this one.
Sri Lankan A321
Qatar Airways 777-300ER
Korean Air 747-400 and Ethiopian 787-8
It took me 18 minutes to be airside from the last picture at the observation platform, going through hassle-free security check and passport control : not a completely fluid process, but nothing to complain about. No passenger can avoid the famous sculpture representing the churning of the sea of milk, when arriving airside.
Next, I had to walk past endless (and useless to me) luxury duty-free shops.
… before reaching Gate G3. Good news; the crew for my flight was on time.
This was the overall view of this wing of the terminal, taken from stairs (reaching lounges or restaurants ? I forgot). As long as pre-boarding has not begun, the passengers are limited to the area down these stairs; it is wide but much too far from the windows far left for taking decent pictures of the planes on the tarmac. Even worse, these windows are covered with their dreaded black dots which blur mercilessly any picture.
It was somewhat frustrating to see this Mahan Air A340 so poorly.
Air China 738
Japan Airlines 787
Ural Airlines A319
In such conditions, I could not do any better when the Star Alliance livery Eva Air 777 arrived
A 737 of Regent Airways (Bangladesh), made difficult to identify by the black dots on the windows.
There was a single set of power ports for passengers in this wing of the terminal
All the AC power ports, on both sides, are for decoration purposes only: I could not get a single electron from any of them.
When the time for boarding approaches, the passengers can go down to a pre-boarding room downstairs
We were then much closer to the windows than from the general airside area (right, below), but the surface of the windows remained out of reach, which meant that the window frames and reflections were still a nuisance. The distinct advantage compared to SIN was that these windows were not tinted.
Free internet access screens and a bi-level water fountain.
Another set of highly decorative unpowered power ports.
There was no electric current, but there was water current Since the view was limited to very small part of the apron, plane spotting was limited to three aircraft. Finnair A330
Oman Air 787
And the Eva Air 77W which will operate my flight, but it is masked by the catering loading truck.
Three priority seats
Like about everywhere in this country, Buddhist monks are added to the usual categories of people who can use these seats.
Boarding was per zone
Using signs recycled from the boarding of an unrelated flight.
A Royal Jordanian 787 seen from the jetbridge
Plane door shot
Want Daily belongs to the Want Want Group, rated as leaning towards the Kuomintang party and to the tightening of the relationships with Mainland China.
However, it could not avoid the hot topic of the unilateral setting by Beijing of a new air route, called M503, skirting the unofficial border between Taiwan and Mainland China. This was another example among so many of China’s continuous harassment of Taiwan, which increased significantly after two new leaders much less inclined to compromise arrived to power on both sides of the Straits. In this issue, Taipei had the support of its public opinion, despite the impact on the family reunions during Chinese New year, and warned that it would reduce the number of landing slots to any airline using M503. (This kind of conflict between two countries is usually settled at the OACI, but Mainland China blocks the adhesion of Taiwan.)
Going through the business class cabin which would be for next flight.
The Economy Premium cabin : it won’t be for me this time.
And the three exit row seats of the Economy cabin, where mine was far left, a more or less a window seat.
It was actually essentially “less a window seat”, because I had to hold my camera at arm’s length to take pictures through the window during the phases when my seat belt had be worn, and this window was overwing too. In this regard, it was better than an aisle seat, but only slightly so.
I consequently took these pictures without seeing the scenes myself – I could not even see the screen of my compact camera : a Japan Airlines 787 in front of the Air Mahan A340.
And the condensation due to the pressure drop in the air saturated with humidity passing above the wing at take-off.
I liked the design of the cloth of these seats
The leg space was of course so gigantic that it was not worth measuring it.
The width between armrests is very satisfactory too : it is all the difference between a 3-3-3 layout like this one and the 3-4-3 layout of many other airlines.
The passengers in exit row received the standard prep talk. This FA asked if she could talk in but my neighbors spoke Chinese only and this FA made no mystery of her displeasure at doing the same tiny piece of work twice. A half demerit for.
(I voluntarily took this picture precisely in the axis of a partition wall facing the center three seat set; trolleys were stored in flight during the meal service in the space in front of the partition, which was not very eye-pleasing)
And like in any other aircraft, the standard safety card is completed with a specific exit row one (it was bilingual, English on one side, Chinese on the other)
The pictogram for child care in female like in all aircraft in BR’s fleet, including for Economy Premium passengers whose toilets I could see when the curtain was not drawn.
A FA deployed the screens of the passengers in exit row, without a word.
The table tray was stored in the width of this partition between the seats
The FAs had put on an apron to protect their uniform.
The meal is served like this
I addressed "my" FA, the one who baulked at doing her work in a bilingual version.
- 請給我水 Give me water, please - ??
then: - 有沒有咖啡? Is there coffee? - ??
No way, this FA did not understand me. This was a phenomenon which happens to me from time to time in the Far East, in Chinese and in Japanese: her brain switched off automatically the Mandarin channel when facing a Westerner because her brain had registered that no Westerner can speak her language.
It happens very seldom though ; actually, another FA who came to propose my white wine understood me very well :
可不可以拍教? Can I take a picture?
And so did a third one, who reassured me on my level in Chinese, if I needed that after spending three weeks in Taipei.
- 您書要咖啡嗎? Do you want coffee ? (to all three exit row passengers) - 請給我咖啡阿! Sure, please give me coffee, please! - 請停一下,您沒有杯子呢? Wait, you don’t have a coffee cup ? (she had not seen my tray on the floor at my feet) - 有! Yes I do !
And this is the coffee (she also understood very well that I wanted to take a picture of it).
“My” FA received therefore one more demerit, to which another half point would be added for her visual expression which gave me the impression of being completely transparent when she was sitting in front of me on her jumpseat, with a bland stare expressing at best utmost boredom. The only time when she was expressive there was when passengers rose too soon after take-off and landing, efficiently yelling “Remain seated!” to the offender - I don’t blame her for doing that.
Let’s go back to the lunch after unwrapping it
I don’t have all that much memory about it, other than it was good and plentiful.
The sun set
Since I was in exit row and could move around, I did.
The offering of magazines in the back of the cabin
It is very unusual to find The Economist in such a selection in Economy.
The rather subdued uniform of the female FAs
Door shot – inside version
A floral decoration in the toilets, duplicated by the mirror
It is artificial and not the most artfully made, but it is better than nothing, and worth noting.
The supplies in the toilets
The floor is made of a fake wood material which I find much more eye-pleasing than the dark grey plastic dots usually found there.
To the health of amateurs of exit row fans !
The plane flew along the west coast of Taiwan, but it would require flying on daytime to see any landscape.
The Economy Premium cabin seen during landing
But as soon as the plane had touched down, the FA who was there closed the curtain to stop commoners like me from intruding into the space of the higher classes.
Arrival at the gate alongside a BR A330
Going through the Premium Economy cabin while deplaning.
Next would be BR’s Infinity Lounge and the flight to Paris in a Hello Kitty jet, to be found here.
Meanwhile, although TPE is somewhat far from Taipei, I offer you a bonus on this city, or rather on what changed in this city in the past five years.
Bonus : Click here displayhide
I could not help but visiting again the neighborhood where I used to live in Taipei. You needed to be local to know the crooked and so narrow lanes hidden in the former Japanese neighborhood, and I had the pleasure to see that according to the criterion, I was still local.
Seventy-five centimeters wide here : this lane is not wide
That lane is not easy to spot from the avenue, but the next one in front is even more difficult to detect.
Do you see the red sign of the shop selling in particular handmade buns (手包子) ?
Another secret passage starts from there to the left.
It is relatively wide
There was even space to park a scooter below the request請勿停車 ("Do not park a vehicle" ) probably spray-painted by the owner who privatized informally this space.
On the other hand, in this other lane in the city center where it was also forbidden to park a scooter, the police had removed some earlier and written with chalk the registration number and the phone number to dial in order to know where to recover it.
No car driver would venture in these narrow passages, but when they park really illegally somewhere, they take a risk of finding only a phone number written with chalk when they return.
Let’s go back to my route : you need to turn right to find an even narrower lane which zigzags in the background.
Fifty-seven centimeters at the narrowest spot ! You can’t deploy an umbrella there when it is raining.
This was part of my daily commute, until here, a few steps away from a subway station, next to a small temple.
Nothing changed ? No quite : the first secret passage in my daily walk from home has disappeared together with the building around it, leaving space to a future set of buildings which will offer apartments ranging from 45 to 85 ping 坪 . A ping, or tsubo in Japanese, is a surface measure unit inherited form the Japanese colonial times which is equal to 3.3 m², i.e. the surface of two tatami mats, but beware : in Taiwan like in Mainland China, the surface includes a share of common areas using rules privy to real estate professionals only. I have never determined how you could reach such an optimistic total surface for my successive apartments in Beijing, and even more so in Taipei.
There goes slowly the identity of a so picturesque neighborhood, and I now share the melancholy of a long-time resident I met when I moved in there.
Some things change for the better though, here and there.
The Kishu-An 紀州庵 , a Japanese restaurant, was a focal point for the literature world in Taipei in colonial times. It was but the shadow of the shadow of its former self when I lived in this neighborhood : a sad wreck under a hangar to keep from disappearing forever. But one day, when I was soon to leave, I saw construction gear and carpenters arrive there.
Five years later, the cocoon with a shapeless content has become a beautiful butterfly, once more dedicated to literature under the rather strange name of Kishu-An Forest of Literature 紀州庵文學森林.
On the other hand, nothing changed here : the young Taiwanese, boys and girls alike, love street dancing in formations and rehearse endlessly wherever there is space for that, like here on the grounds of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Memorial Hall, renamed Freedom Square自由廣場 after the fall of the dictatorship, written in an unusual modern left to right way on the main gate in the background.
Chiang Kai-Shek has an ambiguous place in Mainland China’s official history, because on one hand he has fought against the Japanese invader, but also against the communists, before retreating to Taiwan and making it an anti-communist stronghold. On the other hand, Sun Yat-sen is honored in a similar manner on both shores of the Straits of Taiwan, as a founder of the Republic in China, which both countries claim to be heirs. His mausoleum in Taipei is therefore much more consensual.
The building behind it is much less consensual: it is the unfinished Taipei Dome, stopped by the current mayor as soon as he was elected because this project had been tainted by massive frauds and administrative irregularities. Nobody knows today what to do with this empty shell.
Many Chinese tourists in Taipei come to the politically correct Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum, and like all major tourist sites patronized by Mainland Chinese tourists, find close to the entrance propaganda denouncing the persecution of the Falun gong movement, with alternatingly angelic meditation pictures and gore pictures of the bodies of slain victims of the repression.
The supporters of the return of Chinese rule in Taiwan are a tiny minority, but they make full use of the freedom of speech which does not exist in China. These demonstrators in Ximending, a popular shopping area in the center of Taipei, posted next to each other the portraits of Sun Yat Sen and of Xi Jinping, the current leader in China.
I am Taiwanese and I am Chinese too
Hypothetical demonstrators in Beijing in favor of the independence of Taiwan would be instantly nabbed by the police.
The creativity of the Taiwanese is boundless when it comes to pictograms : I made it a routine to record all those I would come across in my daily life there five years ago and found over 170 with different meanings, excluding of course the countless purely graphic variations.
I was not surprised to discover new ones this time: will you guess their meanings before I provide the solutions at the end of this bonus?
The Qingshan 青山 hiking trail in the mountain between Taipei and the north shore is easy, but you your own means of transportation to reach it.
You can buy fruit and vegetables at makeshift stands at the entrance of the trail and further up. For some hikers, buying stuff there is a kind of civic duty to help support local people make ends meet in isolated areas.
The main goal for this hike is Qingshan Waterfall which attracts lots of people in summer, at times of searing heat in Taipei.
The hiker receives a reminder of the history of Taiwan further up along this trail, from this monument in memory of a Japanese Navy plane shot down here by American fighters at the end of WWII. (Taiwan has been a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945, but saw no fighting on land and relatively little bombing because its geographic position was not strategic during this war).
There is no need to go far to remember that Taiwan’s past has not been always peaceful.
Japan took control of Taiwan from China as part of the treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895, but the transfer of sovereignty was not only paperwork: by October of the same year, Japan had crushed the Formosan army, but it took many years to wipe out a residual guerilla. This little known monument in Chih shan yen 芝山岩 Park commemorates the beheading of six Japanese teachers of the local school on January 1st, 1896 by Taiwanese rebels.
Chih Shan Yen Temple is close by on the same hill.
Did the younger generation lose that much its religious culture that signs are needed to remind that one enters a temple through the right door and leave through the left one ? I have never seen anywhere else these signs on the doorframes of a temple front doors: “Tiger Gate (exit)” on the left and “Dragon Gate (entrance)” on the right. (The central door is for the gods only.)
This young Taiwanese girl prays in front of the god of fortune – note the giant old Chinese coin in front of her.
… but I did not omit paying a visit to this secondary altar dedicated to Matsu, the goddess protecting sailors.
Let’s go back to the north coast. There are a plethora of establishments in China and Taiwan whose name or phone number contains the number 168, like this honorable seafood restaurant on the north coast of Taiwan. It is a typical Chinese pun: the pronunciation of 168一六八 (yīliùbā in Mandarin) is close to that of 一路發 (yīlùfā) which means “a road to prosperity”.
Shimen (石門, literally the Stone Gate) is an isolated natural arch on the shore nearby, mentioned in all tourist brochures on the area. The top of the arch provides a panoramic view of the rocky shore which reminds me of those in Brittany (except the religious buildings, of course), and this temple at the far end.
This woman sells snacks (off camera), drinks and flip-flops
… which may well join sooner or later the rubbish strewn on the coast, just before a much needed cleaning campaign.
What are these arches on the seaside ?
The Shimen Wedding Plaza石門婚紗廣場 is a decor for wedding pictures which opened in March 2008, in an effort to develop tourist attractions on this coast.
What could be more romantic than these vaguely Greek white arches off a blue sea background ?
The creators of this décor probably did not imagine that ten years later, the Constitutional Court would decree in May 2017 that same-sew couples should have the right to marry, giving a two year delay to the Parliament (the Legislative Yuan) to revise the laws accordingly.
Unless another country sprints ahead before that deadline, Taiwan will be in 2019 the first country in Asia which has legalized same-sex marriage. In the meantime, only mal couples were having pictures made in this Wedding Plaza the day I visited.
The few beaches closest to Taipei are on this North coast, but that is not enough to make it a resort area. Not only the Taiwanese are not beach-oriented (the women protect themselves as much as possible from the sun to avoid any tanning), the north coast has a very humid micro-climate: you are never safe from a drizzle even if the sky is cloudless in Taipei. The result is that this housing resort in front of the beach in Shimen has been a total failure.
The right end of the building appeared to have been gutted by fire, and the rest was an empty shell which rots slowly.
The theater of the famous Yunmen 雲門 (“Clouds’ Gate”) dance troupe has been gutted by a fire too, but the City of Danshui offered the ground and thousands of donors the funds to build this superb building, with a cloud-shaped roof, near the mouth of the river.
The square is decorated with sculptures by Juming朱銘, a famous contemporary Taiwanese sculptor whose unique style for representing life-sized humans is instantly recognizable.
It was not the best place to watch the sunset, though.
Better climb Elephant Mountain (象山 in Chinese : these are the characters used by the design of these seats next to the stairs up the mountain)
This is the best spot for a free panorama of Taipei by night and by day (because the view is to the north, avoiding backlighting issues), and it has become all the more accessible that it is now served by a homonymous subway station. There was nearly nobody at the station when I returned that night, but crowds entered the train at the next stop (Taipei 101), because the tourists obviously prefer paying the lift to the observation platform of the Taipei 101 tower (below), rather than climb for free the stairs up Elephant Mountain.
PS : The pictograms mean from left to right: - No, this sign does not forbid a man to harass a woman, but a female employee of a shop in a commercial mall to harass a male passer-by with promotion offers. - No smoking on the pavement surrounding a school - No selfie sticks - No drones (they were still a rarity five years ago) - No perfume (in a coffee shop which wants to preserve the aroma of its coffee for its customers) - I do not have the exact meaning of the last pictogram which was on the door of the toilets of my hotel bedroom, but I feared the worst about their breakfast offering when I entered the room in the evening!
Bangkok - BKK
Taipei - TPE
I do not like much the seats in exit rows because of their constraints (no hand luggage during take-off and landing, no or nearly no window), but this time, it was that or an aisle seat with even less of a window. Bad luck for Eva Air: the only Taiwanese who did not understand my Mandarin after three weeks in Taipei was the FA assigned to my area on this flight, and she did not try to compensate her linguistic handicap either. The meal was good and copious, and overall above usual expectations in Economy on a flight of that duration.
Fluidity was nearly OK at the security and passport check in BKK. Even though I value an exit row seat less than most passengers do, proposing it was appreciated and worth highlighting.
Much like when I landed in TPE, the walk after deplaning was longish ; on the other hand, there was no waiting at all at the security check.
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