Saturday, December 26, 2009

25 Dec 2009 Day 14 CKS YongKang St Memorial Taipei Singapore

We leave for Singapore on Christmas day. This is the first time it has rained since we are in Taipei.

We checked out of Keymans and confirmed Jetstar's flight out of Taipei on their lobby computer. Keymans has internet access problem after midnight and this bugbear, rather than its hard bed, will make me consider CityInn next door next time ( comes with laundry facility ).

Military contingents (land,air and sea) were rehearsing foot drill formations in front of CKS Memorial ( called 自由广场 ), unexpected but totally entertaining to watch. Then we went eastward to 永康街 ( 20 minutes walk )intending to try Dingtaifung Dimsum. Hubby spotted 高记 from Yongkang St and since I am not particular about food, made a line for the closest source of food.

We had 小龙包, 叉烧酥, 肉包, 虾角, 烧卖 and a couple of other dishes, all for 1000NT! Everything is wonderful, except for the meat bun. The meat is so little, after dividing it into 2, you have to decided which half the meat should go to. The dough is thick and too yeastly.

( Footdrill by military men at CKS memorial hall / freedom square )

( GaoJi's food is excellent except for the meat bun. Chestnut paste pancake was so good we packed some back to Singapore for supper ! )

Now noon, it was an MRT ride from Guting, southwest of the restaurant ( 20 min walk ). Along the way, be tempted by more dim sum shops, clothing stores and craft stores. We ended up with 3 key pouches ( CARA cat original ) for 1000NT at the end of Yong Kang.

At Taipei MRT, we surrendered our EasyCards and got a full refund of our 100NT deposit and balance, a breeze.

Back at Keymans, we took a cab ( 1000 NT ) for a 40 minutes ride to Taoyuan Airport. It would have been cheaper to take the Kuo Kuang Bus opposite the road, but I have no idea what to do with the New Taiwan dollars . Anyway, my feet was protesting at the now much heavier luggage.

We redeemed our freebies after immigration at A1 area of departure hall. Limited items were available for redemption, a disappointment. Flight out of Taipei was on time but extremely bumpy until the last half hour to Singapore.

All in all, a wonderful trip. There are many firsts for me: meteor showers, encounter with snow in Hehuanshan, 5 ML earthquake in Hualien city, hitchhiking at Cisingtan.

If I can redo the trip, I will depart from Cingjing with a local driver/guide, easily available there. Lu was 2 hours late and talked on the phone from Taroko to Hualien thus no commentary.

Most hotels are within expectation, all excellent in their own ways.

Zaw Jung Taichung is near the train station ( via underground pass ) but breakfast a non event. Excellent internet connection but then everything else is reflected in its price. Poor sound proofing, you can hear conversation in the bath room next door!

云蒙仙境 offers sunset from the bedroom ( level 4 ), which means precious sleep after sunrise, good internet connection, easily accessible but a very steep climb to your room,not sheltered. My other grouse is that there's no heating (portable or not ) in winter nor bathtub ( shown in their website ).

不老的海洋 is good in all aspects ( free laundry, incredible breakfast ) except for the long walk to the major thoroughfare and flaky internet connection. For those with kids who must practice their piano, they have a Kawai in the living room. Sound proofing is good.

Keymans is steps from the MRT and offers many TV channels included x-rated ones, folks with kids beware. However, it offers zero views and poor internet connection after midnight.

Except for not being to see Taroko, a waste since we traveled through the gorge in the dusk, it's a trip worth doing again. A's family caught a cab at Taipei bus terminus to Taoyuan Airport for 500NT (5 people) on a Mercedes, cheaper than taking the airport bus! The thing is to leave some leeway for changes in the plan because something cheaper and better invariably comes along the way.

24 Dec 2009 Day 13 Beitou Danshui Bali Taipei 101

Because the hosts in 就要浆玩 made Beitou look like a food haven, we forgo Keymans' breakfast and braved the morning crowd to have breakfast in Beitou, 5 minutes walk from the station ( no maps, just ask the information counter girl. Pretty lass )

It was a hive of activity but we were clueless as to where to go so we ended with 油饭 (30NT) which was pretty good. Then it was Danshui, for the usual tourist experience at the old street.

I realized we could use the EasyCard for the ferry ride from Danshui to Bali ( 12.30pm ) too late and paid in cash,39NT , for a return trip. Bali is less crowded but still with the tourist kitsch. The view would be better if not for the haze and bike rental can be had for 100NT a day, a good idea had we not been so exhausted ( accumulated from the 2 weeks of walking around Taiwan ).

( Ferry point at Danshui, easycard accepted. Below : Danshui as seen from Bali, a 5 minutes ferry ride away. Costs NT20 one way )

We lunched at 17 海风餐厅 at 中正路, a 10 minutes walk at the right of the ferry terminal. The service was rather impersonal but the spread of flower clams, crabs, oysters, seafood fried rice more than made up for it. For about 1400NT, it was a good deal.

Next was a long MRT to Taipei 101 , City Hall MRT station. It was faster walking but we decided to get the free shuttle at exit 2, a long wait. PageOne at level 4 was having some discounts and we got Poincare's Prize for 300NT, a steal. Christmas eve dinner was at a Japanese restaurant on the same level. Hubby loves the sashimi but the afternoon's seafood lunch interfered with my ability to fully enjoy the dinner. Most surprisingly, the bill costing less than 2000NT for a sashimi set ( 5 course ), a sashimi set and tempura set in 101 itself took us by surprise.

( Danshui seafood restaurant which most forummers says have one of the best seafood. A spread of crab, oysters, fried rice, vegetables, clams costs around NT1000 !! )

Christmas day is not a public holiday but the road from Taipei 101 to the City Hall MRT was packed with lots of people enjoying the lights and music. But we hurried a little back to the hotel to catch the last half hour of the show 青梅竹马, a serial drama the other 2 members have grown to like.

( Japanese food at Level 4 Taipei 101 )

Thursday, December 24, 2009

23 Dec 2009 Day 12 Taipei National Palace Museum Martry's Shrine

( Martry's Shrine guards offers very impressive footdrills in the morning's fall in )

It's history day today, so we jostled with the morning crowd and took a train from Taipei Main station to Yuanshan MRT station. At the cul de sac at the end of the station, we hopped up bus red 3 heading east for Martyr's Shrine. All it took as 5 minutes to get there but it took
about the same amount of time to get across the road to the Shrine.

9am is a good time to watch the guards getting into action. The first batch of guards did a lot more fancy foot-works and drills before taking positions before the shrine, compared to the changing of the guards at 10am.

In between 9am to 10am, we learn the contributions of Taiwan's soldiers who had fallen in various wars, an interesting lesson for war fans.

We took a taxi near the shrine to National Palace Museum for 150NT and alighted at the foot of the NPM steps ( main entrance ) to take in the grandeur of the museum before heading to the 2nd hall for the exhibition " Legend of Italian violins". It was 1 1/2 hour differentiating between an Amati and Strad without much success but the free audiophones did a great job in expanding my musical horizon.

Lunch was an affordable set meal ( less than SGD10 ) at the restaurant behind the souvenir shop in hall 2.

Since we were given the free tickets ( by Taiwan tourism Singapore ) to hall 1's main exhibition, we thought a revisit would be a good idea. It was not. A thick treacle of tourists pushed us through the various halls and we did not see much. NPM must be one of Asia's most successful museum!

( Bus or taxi can be hailed from here )

3pm, back to the main entrance down NPM's steps, we took a bus from NPM to Shilin MRT then a train 1 stop down to Jiantan for snacks at Shilin food center, in 15 minutes . We attacked deep fried chicken, sausage wrapped with rice, mango ice etc we almost burst.

Then it was a long train ride to visit both book stores at Zhongxiao Dunhwa and City hall. There was no serious purchases but at least our mission to do some stationary shopping is accomplished for this trip.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

22 Dec 2009 Day 11 Keelung Jiufen

( Jiufen tourist kitsch )

We intended to head north to Jiufen and Keelung but the super hard beds ( harder than the carpeted floor ) at Keymans Hotel did not give us a good night's rest causing us to wake up later than planned. Neither was Keyman's overcrowded and tiny breakfast area cause for celebration. Or perhaps we were spoilt silly by Hualien's minsu breakfast and refused normal morning sustenance.

We took a normal train from Taipei to Ruifang, a decision that caused us an extra half hour of travel. From Ruifang, we followed signs to the taxi area, saw 1031 opposite the road in front of the convenience store and ran for the bus (bound for Jinguashih ). Actually, it wasn't necessary because the hoards of tourists took so much time getting up the bus we even had time to saunter up. The bus ride costs us 21 NT each to Jiufen.

Almost everyone disembarked at Jiufen old street and headed to the alleys for eating and shopping. It was mayhem as the entire entrance to the alley was clogged by tourists from all over. We immediately regretted coming because most stalls were selling cheesy tourist souvenirs.

( Shaved peanut ice cream wrapped in wheat crepe -> )

Still, to make our trip worth, we ate from every available stalls : peanut ice cream, tako balls, fermented tofu, fish ball soup, taro ball soup , coffee / passion tea. We trekked through the alley and a little over the tourist thoroughfare to residential areas where the real residents lived and soaked in the sea view from the hill side.

At 2pm, we took the bus bound for Keelung , opposite 7-11, with our Easy Card. From here onwards, we became ignorant of the cost of transport as we brandished our EasyCard like a wand. The trip took us 45 minutes and we alighted at Keelung terminus.

( Taro balls from this shop is surprisingly good, plus it offers sea view for almost nothing )

3.30-5pm, we lazed around the harbour and kept aspiring fisherman company and went to Eslite , a tiny single floor shop. 5.30pm and being makan time , we head for Keelung Miaokou , located near Macdonalds ( under the "statue of liberty ).

( Keelung harbor and boarded pesdestrian walk with some art installation )

Our culinary orgy started from the end of the food street and we systematically worked our way to the front, though our bellies protested at the torture of too much food. Within 1 hour, we ate : glutinous rice, frispy fish, crispy prawn, oyster balls, "tempura", vegetarian blood cake, fruit stick with caramel, red tea, Chinese red bean pancake. There's more but I am too shy to reveal my capacity.

We walked back to Keelung TRA station, caught the 7.30pm normal train and reached Taipei in about 40 minutes.

That's how we spend our second day, punctuated by food and more food.

( Keeling temple eats or Miaokou offers so much we have a hard time deciding which one to eat ->)

( Keymans Hotel in Taipei. At Huaining Rd )

Dec 21 2009 Day 10 Taipei Hsinchu

( Our last Hualien breakfast. I know thereafter meals will never be this good )

It's our last chance of a sumptious breakfast at the minsu. 100NT takes us over to Hualien TRA station and on schedule, we hopped on the morning Taroko Express for Taipei. Scenery was intermittently beautiful because it alternated between breathtaking sea views and dark tunnels.

We reached Taipei at 1pm, at the tail end of a cold front (12C), deposited our luggages at Keymans Hotel located at Huaining Rd, south of TRA ). Keymans is a good decision because it is 1 block right of Shin Kong ( Z6 exit ), beside NOVA, a perfect landmark. Ground level lobby also helps in its identification. I had used google earth in my preparation for Taipei and it is exactly as indicated.

( Keymans Hotel is famous for its superhard beds among forummers. You get to like it if you stay for 3 days or more! )

Lunch at LiangPing Beef house for 50NT each, we caught a train bound for Hsinchu, an hour's ride 970NT, for old times sake. We walked to ChengHuang Temple ( directions totally provided by the many people along the way ) and gorged ourselves with Hsinchu fried beehoon, meat ball soup, giant Hsinchu popiah, cold tofu soup etc, a feat completed in less than an hour ( about 200NT in all ).

Tea at level 2 in Sogo ( Aunt Stella tea ) and then it time to head back to Taipei for a rest for the day.

( Taipei beef noodle lunch place. Proprietor speaks a number of languages )

( Cheng Huang temple in Hsinchu. I have to let hubby know how good the ruin-bing and beehoon is. An expensive ride for a very cheap meal. Much worth it! )

Dec 20 2009 Day 9 Hualien 7 Star lake

( These are what made us come : the rocks. Cisingtan's beach only has pebbles )

We gave Cisingtan another go today. Took a cab ( 170NT) to the pebble beach for its unique scenery.

We walked along the bike track, passed 48 High Grounds and reached the halfway in 2 hours. We realised we had forgotten to backtrack at Cisingtan to the Katsuo Museum and a Taiwanese saw us studying the map and gave us a lift back to point zero, not after giving us a little tour in his car. What a fantastic experience with a hospitable Taiwanese!

A wonderful time at katsuo museum, some very expensive seafood lunch (970NT for 3 little dishes ) at a nearby restaurant, then we walked for an hour from Cisingtan towards Huasi Road. We caught a cab some point after the HL university ( 150NT ) and went downtown ( 85C) for tea break. Not yet defeated, we walked back to the minsu at Haibin Rd for a late afternoon nap!

( Cisingtan from 48 highlands )

By evening, completely refreshed, we went to the nearest Barbecue Shop and stuffed ourselves silly with satay and all grilled meat that cost half of our lunch, to reward ourselves for the day's walking.

Another great day today! Taiwanese friendliness is so refreshing I think they are the ones that make their landscape unique!

Our dinner place in Hualien : a hearty dinner at incredible price ->

Katsuo Museum

Seafood lunch near Cisingtan. One of the most expensive meals in Taiwan.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dec 19 2009 Day 8 Hualien Liyu Lake

( Timetable of buses out of Hualien to nearby towns )

We started off early. A sumptious breakfast of artistic French toast this time, we went to Haulien 总站, took the bus bound for Shoufeng 寿丰 , to 鲤鱼潭 in 40 minutes flat. We alighted 1 stop too early and started our walk from the first bike rental at Liyu Lake. Should have waited for the bus driver to call us.

( Perimeter of Liyu Lake or Carp Lake )

Anyway, we walked along the lake ( very beautiful ), past 池南 entrance and up the bike track. We did not try the boats due to the cold weather and since we had enough of biking yesterday, didn't try to cycle round the lake as well. Nevertheless, it was a nice couple hours of peace and tranquility before grabbing some lunch at one of the many 煮炒 stalls. Pretty good but it was not exactly cheap, not unexpected. I won't try any fish dish next time, they are full of bones.

( Lunch place at Liyu Lake. )

We waited at an imaginary bus top, near the entrance of the park's car park and caught the 2.40pm bus heading back to Hualien TRA ,52 NT, 50 mins in all.

Walked down to 王记茶庄 for some rather expensive tea and nice ambience ( 90NT per cup ) and chatted till late afternoon. Some more shopping along 中山路 before having pork rib noodle for dinner ( 3 noodles,1 veg, 1 tofu century egg, 1 贡丸汤 , 260NT). I can only give it 2 stars out of 5.

( Tea house in Hualien downtown. Food is so-so but ambience pretty good )

It could have been a quiet close to a very unexciting day when our room on the 4th floor rattled very violently and the room sway sideways for a couple of seconds. Of all the earthquakes I have experienced in Taiwan, this is the strongest and scariest. ( I had expected this in earthquake city, but it is still too much for me.

And no wonder, at 6.8ML on the Richter, the epicentre 25 km away from Hualien city, we were badly shaken. We wrapped ourselves up, took our documents and waited out for aftershocks in the lobby. Minsu's lady was summoned to sweep broken glass in rooms and collect fallen pictures.

What an end to a mundane day!

18 Dec 2009 Day 7 Hualien

Today's 18C, but it feels like 14C because of the strong wind.

The minsu serves a special breakfast : His and Hers breakfast , artistically presented and incredible in taste. The coffee is a to-die-for !

( A simple breakfast but it makes you feel like a king! )

10-12.30pm : We cycled using the minsu's bikes towards Cisingtan but did not make it there or even pass the 5km mark because of strong wind. Besides we were not enjoying it because of the cement trucks fighting for space with us near the harbor.

( Minsu's breakfast has spoilt us silly and set new standards for hotel breakfast )

Defeated ,we returned the bikes to minsu, walked to GongZheng BaoZhi 公正包子 and ordered 10 bao and dumplings each, 2 soup for 135NT. Pretty good. Wonder how they can ever make a profit at 5NT per bun!

( Bike trail is fantastic except for the stretch near the cement factory )

Walked westwards along ZhongZheng Rd towards Hualien TRA. To compensate for the day's lack of program , I bought a flannel shirt ( 319NT ) at Sansang, lots of interesting stationary items for a bargain at TONY's stationary. Pens go for 6NT, a steal!

( See the price list. Buns are so cheap it is incredible ! )

3.30pm-5pm. Had coffee,bubble tea and cake at 85C for 99NT. Limited seating, so we ate alfresco, brrr. Maybe we will try other cakes next time.

Turn back and headed for YeSiangbianShi 液香扁食 for Wanton shop. Many tourists were there. Food is overrated. Simply meat dumplings! I still prefer Hong Kong's Shuijiao anytime.

( Bianshi is actually wanton, meat dumplings. The stall sells nothing but this )

Had mango ice at Doufu huacheng 豆腐花城. 99NT. It's similar to ice monster's. Humongous ice moutain, so 3 of us shared. A little too sweet for my liking.

( Tofu shop where we had our mango ice. Tofu in syrup is actually pretty good despite its looks )

Shops are selling winter wear because of the cold front, everything's on sale as they are in a hurry to sell the goods before the cold front disappears after this weekend. H got herself a 100% cotton blouse for 660NT at Bossini to tide over the cold.

Went round town looking for the Haulien bus terminus. After a huge loop, found it deserted and dark, very near our minsu, which is way we missed it. Will take bus 1139 to Cisingtan 七星谭 tomorrow, heading for Shoufeng, alight at Cinan stop.

We called it a day and wondered what to do with our sweaty clothes. The minsu employee did our laundry and even hang dry for us, since we are the only customers today. This is a first for us. Really appreciate the extra mile.

( Hualien night scene downtown is rather happening )

Blankets are now replaced for quilts, since the weather has taken a turn tonight. We have to tuck in warmer tonight.

( Hualien bus 'interchange' near the old train station )

Thursday, December 17, 2009

17 Dec 2009 Day 6 Heuanshan Taroko Hualien

( The last morning at Cinging filled me with all sorts of emotions. The scene here reminds me of Jacob's Ladder. )

It started snowing in the mountains last night. The Hualian driver , Lu, has indicated no problems fetching us over from Cingjing to Hualien. At 10am, we checked out of Misting and spent almost 2 hours of anxious waiting for Lu who was stuck in the Hehuanshan jam.

( Can't imagine tourist playing in the snow with total disregard for traffic. Cliff is on the left )

We set off at almost 12 noon, when the fog returned and stayed this way until we crossed 小风口. The convoy comprising of A's family and us made a major stop at the Hehuanshan lookout point 合欢山庄 in -0.8 C. It was mostly slushy and slippery, esp worrisome because Lu's taxi has no snow chain. There was a thin layer of snow and rampant parking caused traffic woes , caused by people playing with snow.

( Hehuanshan no longer looks clear and lush, unlike 2 days ago. Fog and snow makes for queasy traveling, esp those prone to car sickness )

At Dayuling, we stopped for lunch and had a very hearty meal of wild boar, mountain cabbage, lily soup and rice. It was much fun eating in the cold among friends.

Lu was forced to slow down along the way down because J suffered from severe car sickness. We reached the major sights at Taroko late into the evening ( 4.30pm , almost dark because of heavy clouds ) because of the very late start. We could not make out most of the sights but persisted through the general "sight-seeing" in the semi dark. Generally speaking, the Taroko outing was a wasted trip though the snow viewing made up for it.

Lu did a mini orientation of our area before dropping us off at 不老的海洋. We would have to make do with bento and onion cakes Lu brought us to buy for the day.

( An unusual Taiwanese scenery. Many flock here when snow falls )

We have been much blessed with safety along the way. It was a fortunate thing we did the earlier Hehuanshan trip where we saw the mountain in its full glory. Today's scenery was nil, due to the mist, and this made the arduous journey in the mountains difficult to bear.

( This ghostly picture was taken in Taroko after sundown, with special exposure and a little help from taxi headlight )

If I can do it all over again, I will get a Cingjing based driver ( which are many there ) and set off from our base without travel overheads on the driver's side. And perhaps travel on a SUV instead of a taxi for the same price ( 5000 NT). Information of the sights was lacking because of the driving difficulty and the many phone calls that kept our driver busy.

( Suspension bridge in Taroko, shortly before sundown. Hubby met his colleague here, of all places ! Talk about a small world )

Win some , lose some. Life is without its compromise and what more so, a holiday. What's most important is I got the wiser from today's experience and figured what makes me tick .

Bulldog NiuNiu ( meaning little girl ) "guarding" Cingjing minsu 云蒙仙境. Looks ugly but it provided much entertainment while we waited for driver Lu.

Packed lunch of bamboo rice from Cingjing hawker stall ( Green pastures south exit ) was still warm when we finally ate it at Dayuling. Rating 3 / 5

Bet we are one of the minority who saw Taroko in the dark.The gorge was deserted by 6pm.