Formosa Taiwan ~ Fun & more fun

23 02 2012

It all started with the Singapore Airlines promotion. Yes, it sounds lame but the return airfares on my favourite airlines to Taipei is just too tempting for me to resist. I must admit that I have no clear idea what Taiwan has to offer for touris. I have heard many comments from people that there’s nothing much to do in Taiwan, that Taiwan is not as scenic as China, etc. However, I still decided to grab the good deal, more with an intention to indulge in food at its famous night markets, shopping and more food and shopping.But surprising to say, on my first day in Taiwan, I already love the place. Yes, I do not disagree that China has much more magnificent scenery than Taiwan. But the “feel” in Taiwan is very different from China (ie the culture, the interesting night market, the shopping and the FOOD!!). As I walked around Ximengding and other night markets, I felt as if I was in one of those Taiwan variety shows roaming the streets while “introducing” the food and shopping deals to my imaginary audience. Maybe, I have started the whole trip “right” with food and shopping at Ximengding followed by more shopping (and eating) at 2 night markets – Huaxi Street Night Market (at Longhua Temple MRT station) and Shida Night Market (at Taipower building MRT station). As it was just passed Chinese New Year, Longshan Temple near Huaxi Street Night Market is also pretty charming with its beautiful Chinese lanterns hanging throughout the temple. To all who are planning a trip to Taiwan, I strongly recommend that you devote day 1 to shopping. Most shopping areas open till 10pm with night markets opening till mid-night so it doesn’t matter if you are arriving late. If you arrive early, it means you have more shopping (and eating) time. Isn’t shopping and food indulgence the best way to kick start a trip? 🙂

Longshan Temple

I slept well that night and woke up fresh the next morning, recharged and ready to see more of Taiwan. Since the Yangmingshan flower festival has just started on this day, I decided to make a trip there. However, I ended up unintentionally at the Taipei Flower Expo (at Yuanshan MRT station). The flower expo is nice to someone like me with a “flowery heart” hahahha. The only complain that I have is that only 2 exhibition halls were opened hence there’s not a lot of stuff to see. So my “flowery heart” was still not satisfied after the expo visit and I decided to make my way to Yangmingshan for the Flower Festival (yes ultimately I still went)! But unfortunately, it started to rain while I was up in Yangmingshan (all thanks to the cold spell that falls upon Taiwan which caused the temperature to fall drastically and brought lots of rain). The coldness coupled with gusty wind forced me to “abort” the place once I snapped a few pictures (including a walk to the clock tower). However, this was also a blessing in disguise as with the “extra time” that I had, I managed to spend more time for “cultural immersion” at the National Palace Museum which is one of the world’s best museum.

Flower Expo


Yangmingshan


National Palace Museum

Danshui, famous for the old street and its nearby Fisherman’s wharf is also another popular tourist spot. My arrival timing at Danshui was just right and I managed to catch the sunset at Danshui which is really beautiful. As night falls, the little town with its illuminated Fisherman’s wharf has a pretty romantic ambience and a great dating place. In terms of “sightseeing”, the nearby Bali is said to have slightly more stuff to offer compared to Fisherman’s wharf. But anyway, I guess it is a “check the box” thing to visit the Fisherman’s wharf since it is one of the tourist attraction. Danshui Old Street at night is quite similar to the other night markets but a good thing is it’s much less crowded. After eating some of the “must eat” food, I went on for round two of feasting at Shilin Night Market.

Fisherman’s wharf at Danshui

Many friends have commented that Yeliu, which is located outside of Taipei city, is not worth a visit and I should just stay in the city itself. But I was really glad that I still went ahead. Yeliu is actually pretty nice with the blue sea and many rock formations caused by the sea waves and the wind.

Yeliu

 

Jiufen, a small town built on the hill with its old street and nice view of the coastline, is a nice little town to visit. After satisfying my stomache at Jiufen, I went on to Jinguashi which used to be a gold mining town near Jiufen. There are old Japanese houses, shinto and the gold caves there and I will say the place is pretty nice to visit. After these, I headed to Keelung for the famous Keelung Night Market, seeing the Gold waterfall and the sea of two colours on my way to Keelung. One word to describe the whole route ~ amazing!

Clockwise: Jiufen, Gold Waterfall, Sea of 2 colours, Jinguashi


Keelung Night Market

Taipei city itself also has some must-see attractions such as the Matrys’ Shrine, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. Every hour, there is the changing of guards which I find pretty interesting to watch. The view from the top of Taipei 101 is also amazing. I managed to cover all these places within a day and ended my day with shopping at Wufengpu =)

Overall, I really enjoy Taiwan (or more accurately Northern Taiwan). I have put on some pounds from the trip and ended up with a slimmer wallet (how nice if it’s the other way round). But no regrets. The food, the shopping, the Night Markets and the culture/Taiwanese people are just fantastic, so much so that I hope I can go back there again pretty soon. The photos that I have shared with friends have also gotten some of them excited and tempted that they too planned (one of them actually booked) a trip to Taiwan! If you are also tempted and want a copy of my detailed itinerary, drop me a note and I will gladly share it. Maybe I can recommend myself as the Taiwan tour ambassador and get myself free trips to Taiwan….. in my dreams hahahahhaha ;p

Tips:-
– Getting to/from Taipei Taoyuan airport: There are 2 ways to commute to/from the airport:-
(1) By taxi which is convenient but cost around NT$1000, or
(2) By bus – Depending on where you are staying, you can take Feigou to Zhongxiaoxinsheng MRT station (NT$140) or Guoguang to Taipei West Bus station which is near to Taipei Main Station ($125).
Personally, I prefer the Feigou as the walking distance to the MRT station is much nearer than the Taipei West Station (which is around 15 minutes walk to the MRT line). However, the journey by Guoguang is slightly faster (and cheaper) so take your pick 🙂

– Unless your whole intention is to shop (and eat), I will suggest leaving the shopping till the sunset as most shops open till pretty late (with Night Markets opening till mid-night). During the day, you can do the sightseeing. This will help you maximize your limited time in Taiwan.

– Public transport is pretty easy to use to get around especially in the cities. MRT is the best way to commute. Buy an Easy Card which enables you to store value in the card (hence no need to keep coming up with an exact change for the fares) and gives you some discount for the trips. If you are looking at doing an extensive travel on the public transport, you can consider the tourist day passes (1 day, 3 days, 5 days) which give you unlimited ride on MRT and buses.

– Check with the Taiwan tourism board whether they are giving any freebies in your country. For Singapore, Taiwan tourism board does give travelers freebies (eg free Easycard, National Palace Museum Ticket, etc depending on what is the promotion then). All you have to do is bring a copy of your e-ticket and hotel booking to their office at Cheveron house to redeem the freebies.

– Taipei 101 is a 15 minutes walk from Cityhall MRT station. However, if you do not want to walk, there’s a free shuttle bus at exit 2 of Cityhall MRT station which will bring you to Taipei 101 (and back to Cityhall MRT station).

– Yehliu is pretty out of the way. There is a bus from Taipei city to Yehliu (Kuo Kuang bus at Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A near Taipei Main Station – “Jin Shan Youth Activity Centre” route). The bus journey takes around 1.5 hours. The bus stops at the main road and you have to walk around 15-20 minutes to Yehliu. From Yehliu (the opposite bus stop from where you alight), you can take the Keelung or Danshui bus to Keelung Railway Station (around 1 hour journey). There’s a bus from Keelung Railway Station to Jiufen and Jinguashih (same bus with sign showing “Jinguashih”) which takes around an hour. The whole bus journey (to and fro) will cost in total around NT 500 per person. If you are looking at doing Yehliu, Keelung and Jiufen in a day, do note that taking buses to visit these places can be time consuming. If time is a concern to you, I will strongly recommend (especially if you have 2 to 4 people) to take a taxi as it can also take you to places not accessible by bus (eg the Gold waterfalls near Jinguashih and the sea of two colours). The taxi cost around NT 3000 to 3300 for a day and can bring you to attractions around the region. There’s no need to book the taxi with the hotel as it is more expensive. Just flag down any taxi on the street and ask them if they can bring you to Yehliu. They will sure ask you whether you want to book the taxi for the day and you can start bargaining with them on the price.

– If you have more time, you can consider going to Bali in the late afternoon as it is short ferry ride from Danshui. I have not been there but I heard it has some nice food that you only get in Bali. You can get back to Danshui or Fisherman’s wharf to view the sunset. Fisherman’s wharf is best seen from sunset onwards.

– Note that MRTs and buses have “special seats” delicated for Elderly and those in need (seats blue). Don’t sit in them even though no one is sitting.

– Keep right to the escalator. Left is meant for overtaking.

Food:-
– Do try the original shop of Dintaifeng located at Xinyi Road Section 2. The waiting time is usually long (45 minutes or more) but a good time to avoid the crowd is a late lunch (after 1pm) or a late dinner (after 8pm). By the way, there is another shop at Taipei 101 which is still better than most of its overseas outlets as they skin is much thinner and the food is tastier. So if you can’t make it to the original shop, this outlet may be a good option. 

– Ximending: Do try Ah Zhong Rice Noodles. You can buy a small bowl (NT$45) and if you like it, the next time you can get a bigger one (NT$60). If you don’t like pig intestines, you can request them not to add in.


– Shida Night Market: I feel that this is by far the best night market in Taipei city. Do try the Xuji fried buns at No 24 Longquan St, Ah Luo Kelibing, Niumowang Steak, Dancing cow ice cream, peanut soya beancurd, etc. Usually if the queue is long, it means that the food is nice. I will recommend that you set aside 2 nights here to eat the popular stuff.

– I love the little cafe like eatery “yi pin huo xia” (一品活虾) where the shop’s speciality is all sorts of ways to cook prawns. The eatery is a pretty local setting and served super yummy prawns! There are a couple of chains in Taipei so google for the nearest one near you.


– If you like steamboat, Taiwan will be heaven for you. Some nice steamboat places that I like include 这一锅 (ze yi guo) and Giguo Hokkaido Konbo hotpot (at SOGO Taipei  zhongxiao hall).


– if you feel like indulging, try out Yen Chinese restaurant at W Taipei. This restaurant is rated number 1 on TripAdvisor and deserves it. Must try is the Peking duck!


– If you have evn deeper pockets, try out Ding Xian 101 at the top of Taipei 101. This may be a nice place to go instead of just going up the 101 as you get the view and good food. I must warn you that there is a minimum spending though of $100+ per person and window seats have a higher minimum spending than non-window ones.


– Grand Hyatt Taipei also has one Chinese restaurant that serves pretty good food though the price is not cheap. Must try is the sour fish.


– If you are a Japanese cuisine fan, Taiwan is the place to enjoy authentic and cheap Japanese food. If you are staying near Taipei 101, you can head to ATT4Fun where there is a Japanese restaurant called 八板井屋 (ba ban jing wu). The sashimi is fresh and food is cheap and good! So far none of the Japanese restaurants that I went to disappoint me. 


– Danshui Old Street: Must try is Danshui specialty – the Ah Ge (fried beancurd stuffed with glass noodles).


– Shandao Temple MRT: To try Huhang soya bean located on Level 2 of Huashan Market. The queue is usually long and it’s sold out generally before noon. You can try the salty version of the soya bean drink (very different from the sweet version that you may be used to) and also the youtiao. I particularly like the youtiao wrapped with omelette. Do note that the shop is closed on Monday.


– Jiufen: Must try the yam balls dessert. There are a couple of stores selling it but the most famous one is located at the top of the hill (walk all the way to almost the end, when you see Nai Ah Po store, take the steps after that up and you will see a shop selling the yam balls). The shop has a great view of the coastline too! Before going up the steps, there is this shop selling braised food (just by the stairs) which is pretty famous as well. The Nai Ah Po stall is also another famous store at Jiufen so do try it.


– Keelung Night Market: Do try the BBQ Octopus (you can only get it here), the Nutritious Sandwich, the crab meat soup, the Taiwan sausages, etc.

– Shilin Night Market: It is the most touristy amongst all the night markets. The must try food are the Taiwan sausages & the oyster omelette. But I somehow find that the food at this market is not as nice as the other night markets.

Shopping:-

– For clothes, head to Wufengpu which is a wholesale market for clothes. It’s a short walk from Houshanpi MRT station (just follow the crowd and you will reach there). Avoid Monday as it is meant for wholesellers so the sellers may not entertain you.

– If you are looking for bags, head to Huaying Street at the back of the Taipei Main Station which is a wholesale market for bags.

– Shida Night Market (near Taipower Building MRT station) is a great shopping area for the younger crowd. The stuff here are more trendy due to its proximity to the university.

– Ximending area (Ximen MRT station) is another popular area for the younger crowd to “hang around” and shop.

Hotel
– I stayed at Hotel Puri which is in Ximending. The location of the hotel is wonderful, just 3 minutes walk from Ximen MRT. As the hotel is only renovated in 2011, the furnishings are pretty new and clean. You can get food just round the corner (and shopping too)! One downside of the hotel is that its bathroom and toilet (yes they are separated) are pretty small with frosted glass doors. There are also no clothes hangers in the bathroom so you have to put your clothes outside of the bathroom. It will not be an issue for couples, but if you are sharing room with someone you are not close with, it can be slightly awkward seeing a shadow moving in the bathroom and having to come out naked to put on your clothes. But overall, if you are travelling with your loved ones or close friends, I will still highly recommend this hotel if you are looking for a good yet affordable stay.

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