Wednesday, 24 March 2010

My Take on Taiwan

Although not as beautiful as Japan, I like Taiwan and will definitely go back. It's an affordable alternative to expensive Japan if you want to visit a Sino-Japanese country. Taiwan has many Japanese influences because of their history and many Taiwanese speak Japanese too. The architecture and scenery is Oriental but the people have the grace of the Japanese.

Taipei's weather is very erratic. It can be super hot one day and the next, freezing cold so for tourists, packing is a pain. I suggest packing a jacket for cold weather and just wear something normal inside. Layering is a good way to avoid baking to death in hot weather because you can remove the outer layers. For some funny reason, Taiwanese girls all like to wear long-sleeves even in hot weather so I was the odd one out in short sleeves. even if they wear short sleeves, they'd wear a long sleeved top inside and the short sleeved top over it... They also don't really wear shorts without stockings. According to Grace, it's because they're conservative and also they don't want to get dark.

Quite beautiful although not as nicely developed and designed as Japan. For example, the flowers in Yangmingshan were very nice but the landscaping is just not as artistically sculptured.

Getting Around
Definitely cheaper by taxi here than in Japan which will cost an arm and a leg >.< but Japan has the advantage of a very well-connected train system and up to date one stop website where you can check train times, platfom etc. We felt safe travelling around as in we didn't feel like we will get conned like in some other asian countries (i won't say which one). The taroko express is modelled after JR kyushu k, don't play play... the leg room is so much better than SQ. It's more like business class type of leg room.

If you can read traditional Chinese you should do fine but i had difficulty navigating and ordering food >.< i love the way the Taiwanese speak Mandarin... it sounds so melodious and poetic. For example, i called the front desk to ask, "请问水龙头的水可以喝吗?” (can the tap water be drunk?) and the girl replied, “水龙头的水可煮来饮用。” (you may CONSUME it after boiling) wa... i say 喝 (drink) she say 饮用 (consume)... more elegant hor? and the guy who langahed our car kept apologising to us,“很抱歉耽误了你们的行程,为你们造成了困扰。”(i am very sorry to have delayed your schedule and caused distress) it's the way they speak it la... like singing a song hahaha

I can understand why Grace loves taiwan so much. The taiwanese we met are generally very helpful, polite, sincere and honest. Pris felt the same way too. She said their Taiwanese friends went out of their way to make them feel welcomed. they're also very civic-minded and environmentally friendly. No spitting and blowing snort out (i won't say which country does this) and they will switch off lights, not waste food (unlike Singaporeans who go for buffet...) etc.

I'm sorry, some of the local food is just not too my liking. i don't know how to decribe it... it's just something not right. for example, i ordered 芹菜 which i believe means spinach but they served us some unidentifiable veg we have never come across which tasted like leaves... and the 白斩鸡 steamed chicken had very bloody centres >.< and i CANNOT stand stinky toufu. if you go to the night market, it's EVERYWHERE!!! when the pong hits you, you feel nauseous and giddy and lose all appetite. but the beef noodles and mango ice are very nice la. fruits are very fresh and sweet too.

The place is not as clean as Singapore and Japan but it's still generally quite clean. most parts we went to (with the exception of the city centre, shopping areas and business districts) are rather run-down... not well- maintained. public toilets in city areas are ok but in the more rural areas... hm... got smell but i didn't see anything offensive... acceptable la.

Keeping to one side of the escalator is the norm here. there's one thing i cannot get used to and think is quite disgusting... they throw their toilet paper in a bin beside the bowl instead of flushing it down >.< ya, so you wipe your behind then you throw the stained paper in a bin and not all bins have lids k >.<||| no wonder in Japan they have signs in their toilets that say, "please flush toilet paper." cos i guess they get a lot of chinese and taiwanese tourists. some toilets that are shared have a urinal for guys which is separated only by a curtain so you could be peeing in the cubicle and an uncle comes to pee at the urinal so that when u emerge from your cubicle you can see his backview >.<

well, tea and tea pots are good here. Alishan Oolong is the best buy if you don't know what to buy. 天仁 Ten Ren teahouse is everywhere (there's one near Din Tai Fung). and you feel safe buying because they won't cheat you and tell you it's 紫砂 zisha teapot when it's actually some toxic mud and the oolong is really oolong, not some inedible dried leaf or worse, cardboard scraps (i won't say which country does this). bring passport if you intend to buy teasets cos can get tax rebates. clothes are cheap though may not be the best quality. it's like This Fashion prices. chris bought two shirts for SGD$5 each. priscilla says contact lenses are cheap which is true. one box of 30 daily disposables in Singapore costs about SGD$50 but in taipei it's NT620 (about SGD$30) so can you imagine you buy one year's supply how much you will save?? two boxes for one month that's savings of about SGD$20, times 12 that's more than SGD$200. chris bought two boxes cos he uses them when exercising (which is rare).

luxury items are very expensive though.

The Day Our Car Got Langahed

We were at tanxiang in taroko gorge and parked the car at the car park in front of silks place hotel to check out the surroundings but on our way back from lunch, we saw a policemen near our car so chris went to kay poh. It turned out that a local guy (about our age) reversed into our car in our absence so the front left side was a little warped. An honest guy, he made a police report and insisted on paying for the damages with his insurance. The funny thing is he was with his Singaporean friend and the friend told us “people usually just chao off but my friend says he cannot do that."

So we went to the tianxiang police station to take down our statement, sign our name and even put thumbprint. The policeman gave us a slip of paper to pass to the car rental company to prove that it's not our fault. The guy offered to speak with the car rental company to explain that it's not our fault. Initially, the rental company wanted us to pay first then reimburse us when they get the payment but the guy insisted that they cannot do that and that he will definitely settle it with his insurance.

We really thank God that the guy who knocked the car is so honest and sincere in helping us and that we happened to come back at just the right time. If we had been back later and missed the commotion, we would not have realised what happened and may have had to pay for the damages because we wouldn't have the police's record. The police even offered to drive us back to our car.

Really thank God. One lesson we learnt is that it's better to take the hotel's day tour in taroko gorge =PP

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hotel Review: Leader Village Taroko (4*)

Budget travellers will stay at family-run accomodations called Min Su 民宿 in Hualien or Sincheng (which will be quite inconvenient cos if you intend to explore 2 days you have to drive in and out of the gorge) while most tour group-type tourists will stay at the only 5-star hotel called SILKS PLACE at tianxiang but Grace recommended this unique hotel in Taroko Gorge because she stayed here when she visited and liked it very much. Located in Buluowan 布落湾, about 10 mins from the entrance of the gorge, this hotel is nestled among mountains and clouds =) very very scenic and lovely view =) the air is so fresh and everyday you can hear birds chirping...

Hotel entrance. There is an area in front of the entrance where you can lie down and see stars (provided not too cloudy)

Each hut has two rooms and the interior is semi-Japanese, with a platform and mattresses. Amenities are basic (no conditioner!! my hair was so rough after two nights of no conditioner >.<)

toothbrush and toothpaste
shower gel
shower cap
tea and coffee
FREE UNLIMITED WIRELESS INTERNET!! (which surprised me given the location... not high speed like in the citis but decent la)

there's a path from the hotel which leads to swallow's grotto trail.

all staff in the hotel with the exception of the manager and assist manager are aborigines as in they are from the same tribe. they look normal like us, no tatoo-ed faces la... there was supposed to be an aboriginal performance at night but when it's off-peak season and the occupancy rate is less than half (like the two nights we were there), the performers are the staff LOL but they performed with so much sincerity (even the wash plate aunty and the cook came out to perform) that i felt touched and enjoyed myself. they basically played aboriginal instruments and sang aboriginal songs. There was also a night trail in the hope of catching some flying squirrel action but we didn't see any. there were toads, frogs and other nocturnal insects though. quite interesting. and we ended the tour with a loud holler towards the mountain to hear our echo because buluowan means echo in their language. what's amazing is that they're Christians!! i guess when the village head gets saved, the whole village is saved too hahaha...oh oh, the assist manager has a master'd degree in tourism and hospitality and speak English...

meals are traditional Taroko tribe food which wasn't quite to my liking on the first night. The dinner was called "When Wild Boar Meets Eiffel Tower" i don't know why... i couldn't identify the "eiffel tower" hahaha... the roasted wild boar fatty chunk reminds me of German pork knuckle... chris liked it but i found it too fatty =P i think they should call it "When Wild Boar Meets Hitler" maybe more apt... the second night's food was much better. grilled beef =)

i do recommend that you stay here one night if visiting the gorge because the surrounding nature is really beautiful =)

NT$4300 (about SGD$200) per night inclusive of breakfast and dinner. i advise taking the package with dinner because there is absolutely NOTHING else to eat in the vicinity hor. the next nearest place with some form of civilisation is tianxiang (where the 5-star hotel is) and the town outside the gorge (can't rmb name). So people plan their trip around the gorge to target having lunch either here or at tianxiang. if you're staying two nights, you can probably stay one night here and one night at silks place for more variety. But silks place is just a typical modern 5-star hotel lor. this is more interesting =) silks place is also much more expensive at NT$7000 a night.

Location (View): 6*
Room: 4*
Food: 3*
Service: 4*

Monday, 22 March 2010

Hotel Review: Fullerton Taipei 315 (4.5*)

Chris stayed at Fullerton Taipei 41 the last time he was there for business trip which is in a better location. It was fully booked so he booked this one instead. This hotel is not near the main activity area in the city centre but neighbouring sights are equally accessible from here by taxi. Taxi in Taiwan is quite cheap, like Singapore prices without the 35% surcharge, so we kinda took taxi most of the time =P Mostly Causasians, Japanese and some Koreans. Just a short walk from here is a food street so meals is not a problem. There's a bank just right next door so getting extra cash is also very convenient.

Breakfast is buffet style with an egg station (sunny-side up, omelette, scrambled). Typical of small boutique hotels, the range is just adequate. The restaurant is cosy and quiet, no noisy tourists like some large-scale hotels.

Complimentary coffee (percolated) and tea with biscuits at the lobby every afternoon.

The room is nice and cosy with all necessary amenities and even fruits. No bathtub though. Grace says most Taiwanese hotels have no bathtubs because they are avid environmentalists. It does have a nice gym with a tiny outdoor garden and Japanese style sauna and public bath (no pictures for obvious reasons). Not much view la... beside a road.

toothbrush and toothpaste
shower gel
body lotion
sewing kit
shower cap
bottled water
cabled internet (free, unlimited)

One of the staff provided really good service. At first joked about his name...

Chris: that guy who handled our luggage has an atas name... ARTHUR! oohh...
me: maybe his name is ah de 阿德??
chris: -.-

turns out that i was right!! LOL his name is really ah de!! ah de would always welcome us back with a warm smile and was always ready to offer suugestions for eating places as well as help hail a cab. On the last day, our flight was 7pm so we had to leave by 4:30 and by the time we reach Singapore, it's midnight so I asked if i could shower at the public bath. The opening hours are actually 4:30 - 7pm for ladies and 7-11pm for men but he opened it specially for me and even asked if i wanted cold water (usually people drink cold water after sauna or hot bath). He wanted to help me turn on the sauna and hot bath but i declined because i didn't want to bother him too much. Such a helpful guy... we gave him a tip before we left.

One of the friendly taxi-drivers recommended us another hotel which we will probably try the next time =)

So overall,
Location -3*
Room - 4.5*
Service - 5*
Amenities - 4.5*
F&B - 4*

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Taiwan Video =)

Snippets of our Taiwan trip with the 7D... sorry some parts were v crappy... I couldn't figure out how to focus =P cos i'm still getting used to the video function =P

Taipei Day 6: Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正纪念堂)and Old Chang Beef Noodles (老张牛肉面)

On our last day, we had the morning to walk around so we visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正纪念堂)which was holding 2 exhibitions: Dinosaurs and Da Vinci, the genius. I liked the Da Vinci exhibition a lot. He was really a genius =) and i learnt something new... i never noticed that Mona Lisa had no eyebrows and eyelashes!! it is probably due to aging of the colours. And for the last supper, did you know that all lines in the room converge towards Jesus? coolz... =)

This is the gate you go through to enter the memorial hall and i like the architecture of the building =)

When i showed Priscilla the pictures, she said she was there a week ago to take wedding pictures! haha... it's become so common for wedding couples to go overseas to take pictures and Taiwan is a popular place because of the nice sights, flowers, architecture and most importantly, affordability. Chris and i are also considering taking photos overseas for our 10th anniversary which is in 2 years ^^ Pris is very cute la, brought the whole family along... her parents and James' parents so it was kinda like a family trip too haha... nice, i like family trips... maybe next year can come here with my kor and mum.

The interior had a slendid display of paper lanterns. I'm not sure whether they're always there or because it was post CNY cum spring.

After viewing the exhibitions, we walked over to Yong Kang Street for some famous beef noodles. The one we went to is the main branch and in it are photos of celebrities such as Fei Ge 菲哥 and Jackie Chan etc who have been to the shop...

I ordered the tomato beef noodles while chris had the spicy variant. i like beef with tomatoes =) because they compliment each other very well... think of bolognaise, lasagne and when cooking beef stew you add tomato paste too right? the noodles tasted handmade, kinda like the you mian at ban mian stalls. The beef was vey tender =D although it came in huge chunks, you can rip it off lightly with your teeth =DD The soup tasted like a thicker version of hock lam beef soup with a tinge of minestrone... nice =) The side dishes were very tasty too. i especially liked the bitter gourd (top left of beef noodle bowl)!! so nice and crunchy i finished one whole plate by myself =P

English Menu available.

Right outside the restaurant was this banner which reads "Jesus said,'I am the way, the truth and the life.'" nice =)

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Taipei Day 5: Imperial Palace Museum (故宫)and Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)

After coming back from Taroko Gorge, we had about half a day so we went to the Imperial Palace Museum where some of the most exquisite antiques, paintings and calligraphy are on display. The building itself is very grand but they planted many plants in front of it so in the photos, the building like kena blocked -.- to take a proper pic of this place, you'll need to sit helicopter -.-

very crowded with many tour groups... almost like the lourve in Paris >.<

We had tea at Level 4 of the musuem... looks very pretty with gold leaf even but doesn't taste nice. you're better off just ordering alishan oolong and skip the high tea set =P minimum expenditure of NT$120 per person expected. one pot of tea is about NT$160 (about SGD$8) so it's ok la. nice view and quiet place, no noisy tourists. good break from the crowds =)

Admission to the garden beside the museum is free if you bought the tickets for museum entry so you can go there to jalan jalan abit. Chris bought some fish food to feed the koi and carps =D

Shilin Night Market is the biggest and most famous in Taipei so if you only have time to visit one night market, make it this one. Do steer clear from the stinky beancurd stalls because the stench is so repugnant it will spoil your appetite. It's a cross between garbage and faeces... it's unimaginably smelly.

I like oyster omelette but only eat the egg =P

me: dear, will they think i'm weird if i order and tell them not to put oysters?
chris: you say leh?

so we had teppanyaki =) for less than SGD$20, we had cod fillet, chicken thigh, omelette, prawns and squid with celery, spinach, bean sprouts =) nice =)

I also bought some stuff for my nieces =D hope they can wear the shoes. if not, wa, so sayang...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Taiwan Day 3-5: Taroko Gorge (太鲁阁)

About 2 hours train ride from Taipei on the Taroko Express is Hualien and from Hualien, it's a short car- ride to Taroko Gorge National Park, a nice getaway from the city. Hikers will love the many trails here. If you don't like to walk too much (like us), don't fret, you can catch tours, rent a taxi or car and explore the area =)

Take note that it's mountainous terrains and you'd be driving by the edge of a cliff so if you don't have the guts, it's better to join a tour. and although renting a car gives you greater flexibility, be aware that some of the trails are one way (as in not loop) so you got to walk back to your car. For tours, they let you off on one end, you walk all the way and they pick you up from the other end.

To truly explore the sights, I suggest staying at least 1 night in taroko gorge itself. By the time you reach Hualien, it's almost afternoon so you can probably do a half-day tour and another half-day tour the next day (if you stay one night) OR a half-day tour followed by a one-day tour (if you stay two nights).

Baiyang trail is the one i was dying to see cos you can apparently see some waterfall curtains but it was CLOSED >.< sighs... very bang...

some of the spots we visited are

Clearwater cliff (清水断崖)which faces the Pacific Ocean. This is actually outside of Taroko Gorge but is just a short 15 mins drive along the edge.

Eternal Spring Shrine (长春祠) I am very upset that the pic is OOF =( anyway I was very pissed cos it was very crowded with tourists (I won't say which country) and they smoked, spit and talked so loudly it kinda disrupted the senerity of the place >.<

Swallow's Grotto Trail (燕子口)There are two trails here but one of them was closed so we used the one near our hotel. We were deceived by the "400m" printed on the sign... going down was easy but the ascent was =PPP a workout!!! =PPP although 400m, we felt like we ran 2.4 km!!

Experimented with slow shutter speed, thanks to my CP filter and tripod =) I wanted to get an ND filter but they ran out of B+W so I didn't buy...

There was a suspension bridge which I was interested to try crossing but apparently, you need some form of permit to cross it... hm...

Cimu Bridge (慈母桥)two nice pavilions here to rest and take in the sights =)

tripod boy (^^)V

The fact that they have to put up this sign means someone must have defecated here... super gross >.<

Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞)We didn't finish walking the entire 1.2km cos we were too lazy =P

This means "(The gorge is) like the twists and turns of the intestines and the meanders of a river. But sheer human determination triumphs over nature to open this path." I feel it's so beautifully said =)

I didn't really want to wear the helmet cos i didn't know who wore it before me, whether the person had oily hair or got put brylcreem or got kootoo or what right... but no choice, between cleanliness and survival, better choose survival >.<

Tanxiang (天祥) is probably the only place you can get some food for lunch but be warned that the eateries here sell buffet-style meals and according to the guidebook, you take whatever you want, they weigh it, charge you and pop it into the microwave oven >.<

so we ate this 5-star hotel, the only 5-star hotel in the area calld SILKS PLACE. not bad and not too expensive la. like $15 for fried noodles lor. Most tourists will actually stay here but we chose the more exotic Leader Village Taroko which I will blog about later =)

This was also the place where our rental car kena langah by a local =(

There are other trails like Shakadang trail which we didn't explore la. At first when you enter the gorge you go WAH WAH WAH!!!! cos it's so nice and you feel like you're in one of those period dramas in search of a martial arts exponent (usually with long white eyebrows that flutter in the wind) to learn some secret kungfu but after a while, they all look the same liaoz hahaha... cliffs by the side, rivers at the bottom lor. fall down will prob die kind lor...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Taipei Day 2: Yangmingshan Flower Festival (阳明花季) and Taipei 101

We wanted to catch cherry blossoms at yangmingshan and according to grace, the later in mar you go, the less you will see so although the guidebook advised AGAINST going on weekends, we went there on sunday anyway because the weather seemed fine that day (the weather in taipei is really unpredictable... weather good better go... if not if it rains and washes them all away, you'd cry man)

anyway, i kena saboed by grace and the hotel reception... they told me that yangmingshan will be COLD so i brought my trenchcoat (which grace also advised me to bring)... -.- it was FREAKIN HOT!!! i was the only girl walking around in a t-shirt (i layered so i too off the outer long-sleeved top). i don't know what's with the taiwanese girls -.-??? it's so freakin hot and they wear jackets!!!! cardigans, longsleeves... and some even wear thick thick down jackets *mouth wide open* grace says it's because they don't want to get dark... ok, my arms are dark and i have the watch print hahaha

we took bus RED 5 to the yangmingshan bus station and made the big mistake of going to the tourist information centre cos it's a 20min UPHILL HIKE!!! -.- and we were told that we should have started from back down there #@$@%$#^@#%$ ok, i didn't really do a lot of research for this trip so we kalang kabok abit lor haha rmb ha, DO NOT GO TO THE TOURIST INFO CENTER unless you desperately need maps for serious hiking

we did manage to see some spectacular cherry blossoms at hua1 zhong1 花钟 (flower clock), albeit sporadic rather than masses. they were really pretty =) i can totally imagine how awesom it looks in full bloom in JAPAN

vireya blossoms 杜鹃 Du4 Juan1 were in bloom too =)

we saw a cute squirrel on a tree ^^

other random shots

at zhu2zi3hu2 竹子湖 (bamboo lake... there's no lake here k... it's a dried up lake), calla lilies were in full bloom and for a small fee (i think it's NT100 which is SGD$5, you can pluck them and bring them home =) we didn't go and pluck la... how to bring home???

taiwanese love to bring their pets out =) there were many cute doggies =)

but because it was a weekend, the traffic was REALLY bad... the roads are so narrow and there was a bad jam at zhuzihu so the Q for the bus was SUPER long... and when we got on, we had to stand all the way down >.<


before leaving yangmingshan, we stopped by at landis resort 中国饭店 for a hot spring cum light meal. we felt it was a little expensive at about NT$1000 (about SGD$50)person because the hot spring wasn't all that great (compared to japan). the brochure described it as LUXURY. it is not really luxury la. it's ok only. in japan, the day use public hot springs cost about SGD$10 only... and it's outdoor somemore. i find that taiwanese don't have v good hot spring habits. not all of them shower before soaking, which i find disgusting. in some hot springs, people actually wear SWIMSUITS!!! *gasp!* that is utterly disgusting. so we're not hot on hot springs in taiwan =P

there was a garden with a nice cherry blossom tree though =)

at night we visited taipei 101. it's just a very tall building lor. and we went up to the observatory at level 91. oh oh oh, the elevator is SUPER fast!!! it's the fastest in the world... within seconds, we went from 5th to 88th level... coolz! but taipei is quite polluted and the skies were v misty so although we could see, i didn't bother to shoot. anyway, the open air deck had so many spooks (to prevent people from falling) that it was difficult to shoot.

oh, it had this damper that is supposed to counter any wind effect or something like that. cool teknologi!