When our Regent Seven Seas Voyager arrived in Keelung, the port for Taipei, Taiwan, it was too late to go out on the town. So we had dinner with two of the entertainment crew and stayed on board the ship. After dinner, we were entertained by a dance troupe from Taiwan that performed “The Lion Acrobatic Dance” in the ship’s theater. They were very entertaining.
The next day it was raining in Keelung, but as we headed for Taipei, we were told it always rains there and it would not be raining in Taipei and “sho nuff” it was dry. We headed straight for the National Palace Museum, which houses an astounding selection of Chinese Imperial Art.
It is a difficult museum to navigate. That is not to say it is not wonderful. It is. But it does have a reputation for being confusing for a first-time visitor. We saw some wonderful pieces but missed a lot.
This extraordinary collection began during the 10th century, when Chinese emperors seized art treasures for their own pleasure. Moved in crates from city to city to escape invading armies in the 20th century, the collection finally ended its journey in Taiwan. The museum holds an estimated 700,000 items, many dating back more than 4,000 years.
Then we saw the Martyrs Shrine, dedicated to the people who sacrificed their lives fighting for the Republic of China. Completed in 1969, this majestic shrine is an excellent example of classical Ming Dynasty architecture.
There is a constant military presence performing precise military salutes. The soldiers chosen for this honor carry rifles that were used by the Chinese Republic in World War II. We were fascinated by the fact that they are on duty for one hour at a time and they NEVER blink.
Then we had an incredible buffet lunch at the Grand Hotel, which was built by Madame Chang Kai-Shek. It was and is the showplace of Taipei. They had everything from dim sum, to incredible sushi, to roast beef, and scallops in the shell with the coral still attached.
The hotel had one gift shop and it sold only exquisite Franz porcelain made by a factory in Taiwan. Had to have a piece!
Then it was on to Taipei’s oldest temple and center for Buddhist and Taoist worship. More than 250 years old, the colorful Lungshan Temple is an outstanding example of classic Chinese architecture in Taiwan, embellished with ornate ceilings, intricate woodcarvings and paintings. The Buddha in the main hall is the main sculpture, the one to whom worshippers bow down.
Our last stop was at the striking National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, elegantly designed with an octagonal blue-tiled roof and pristine white marble walls. It is filled with historic photos and the odds (limousines) and ends of Chiang Kai-Shek. It shares the grounds with the National Concert Hall and National Theater.
On the way out of town, we saw the spectacular Taipei 101 skyscraper, currently the second tallest building in the world with 101 floors and topped by a 197-foot spire.
We got a royal send-off as we sailed from Keelung – drums and dancers on the pier sent us on our way. We spent the next day sailing the East China Sea and the day after that sailing the Yellow Sea on our way to Seoul and Incheon, South Korea. Where the two seas meet makes for one rocky night!
One of those evenings was devoted to musical entertainment planned and performed by the crew. It is always a highlight of the cruise because you become so fond of many of the crew; you interact daily with many, and some you have known for years from sailing with them.
They sing and dance to pop, rock and native songs and create their own costumes.
The next morning we arrived at Incheon and were stunned. It had been 10 years since we were last there. Inchon and Seoul are now big, modern and sophisticated. You cannot tell where one ends and the other starts.
We started off with a visit to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Yes, it is spelled correctly, and no, I can’t pronounce it either. This is magnificent and enormous and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The palace is like an onion: You peel back the layers and there is yet another Oriental fantasy of a palace. The palace was built in 1395. In 1592, the Japanese invaded, tore down the palace and built one of their own. In 1867, the Koreans reconstructed their palace, which included 500 buildings. During World War II, the Japanese tore it down again. In 1990, the Koreans reconstructed it.
We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard who have wonderful period uniforms and carry wicked-looking spears and even bows and arrows. After touring the palace grounds, we visited the National Folk Museum of Korea, their state-of-the-art cultural heritage museum.
Incheon is South Korea’s most important transport hub. In the 21st century, Incheon has transformed into a global business hub centered around the high-tech and the futuristic.
In modern times, Incheon became important because its location on an estuary made it a good harbor. When the port was founded in 1883, the city had a population of only 4,700. Incheon is now home to more than 2.5 million people and under the control of one of the two free economic zone authorities in Korea.
Incheon is regarded as part of the greater Seoul Metropolitan area due to part of it bordering the capital, and the fact that Seoul Metropolitan Subway and the Incheon Subway systems are linked.
Incheon is a major city in its own right and is a separate jurisdiction from Seoul. Seoul is the capital and has a population of more than 10 million, which makes it one of the largest cities in the world. The metropolitan area has more than 24.5 million inhabitants.
We went to a typical native restaurant and were served all sorts of things including a mushroom soup, a porridge-like soup, mung bean salad, lettuce salad, shrimp cakes, stuffed peppers, a vegetable and shrimp dish, all accompanied by several versions of the national dish, kimchee (fermented cabbage). Kimchee is much misunderstood by those who have not tasted it. It is a condiment and also at times an ingredient. It is good.
The main course came in a large individual bowl into which each of us stirred our own bowl of rice or noodles, a red sauce that was tasty and topped it with a minced hot meat that was bubbling on a little burner in the middle of the table. Desert was sweet pastries and fresh apples accompanied by cold raspberry tea, which is really not tea, and tastes like a noncarbonated soft drink.
After lunch we went to Mary’s Street for art, souvenirs and junk.
Friends went to the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. They were shown five tunnels the North Koreans had built to run thousands of troops through to take over the south. The tunnels were detected and that was that.
Then we headed to the ship for a 6 p.m. sailing across the Yellow Sea toward Beijing. To enter and leave Incheon Harbor, ships have to pass through a navigational lock. It was fun to sit on Deck 11 in the Observation Lounge, sipping a cocktail, and overlook the very front of the ship as it slowly made its way into the lock. It is not nearly as dramatic as the Panama Canal, but still fun. Then it was off to dinner and to joke and laugh with our favorite server who is from Romania.
We will arrive in Beijing the morning after a full day at sea. That is where we will disembark to spend four days at the Regent Beijing Hotel revisiting the sites of that wonderful city.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.