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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Taiwan Diary 01/12/2017 - 11/12/2017


2 days back from Taiwan (started writing this on the 14th Dec 2017) and still reeling in my memory. Taiwan easily tops the countries I visited and I would really love to visit it again even in the near future.

An assorted array of street food, marauding in the night markets, taken aback by their nature beauty, and a city with convenient public transport for cafe hoping and pastry hunting, Taiwan checks all the checklist of a good country to visit. So let us revisit my memory while they are still fresh

30/11/2017: Prelude
Took half day AL to finish off some last minute packing. The night before I did a rough recon on what to do while waiting for my relatives to arrive (they landed at 9pm while my family landed at 1245pm. Plenty of time to kill). Briefly noted down some key places to visit and to eat food around Xi Men Ding area.

Landed at KLIA 1045pm. Baffled that the lounge is only accessible after checking in. Cashless in Ringgit and with an old Maybank Card, I ended up paying RM30 for Paparich Nasi Lemak with my Singapore UOB credit card. :(

Spent the night sleeping and waking up time to time on the steel benches. Damn KLIA is darn lousy

01/12/2017: Xi Men Ding Awaits
Met up with family at 530am. Plane took off at 7am. Slept through out the whole journey, waking up for food (oh darn Malindo's air meal sucks max).

Landed at Taoyuan airport at 1245pm. Stunned by the crowd. Managed to only clear customs and get luggage and left airport by 2pm. Bought our Easycard (Ezlink or Touch'nGo equivalent card) and caught the subway to head to Taipei.

We took the Bannan line (Blue) which was a mistake but went up since it arrives first. But due to the many stops we got off at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and waited for the next express line (Purple) that brought us straight to the city by 3pm. We changed to the Songshan line Beimen station (Green), which was one stop away from Ximen.



                     Finally arriving at Xi Men Ding!

Upon checking in and unloading some stuffs, it was nearly 430pm. We were so late that we missed visiting some museums I plan to cover. And we were hungry. Darn hungry. So the street food hunt began


Black Pepper Buns. Crispy pastry stuffed with black pepper seasoned pork, bell peppers and chinese pickles. Oh darn they tasted good!


One of the streets in Xi Men Ding filled with street food


Cheesy Potato!


The famous Ay-Chung Vermicelli Soup


Heaven in a bowl!

02/12/2017:Taipei to Taichung via HSR
Early morning after breakfast at Kingshi Hotel, we left to the central to catch our HSR to Taichung

Slightly wet morning on the Shibuya style crossroad crossing in Ximending


Noticed that gaming ads are quite popular in Taiwan

Long story short, we arrived at Taichung at around 11+am


Castle made of cupboard


Taichung was sunny. And yes it was surprisingly hot!


The Tai Chung old train station front entrance


Walking to our hotel for the night

For that day we booked a day tour around Tai Chung. Nothing much though. We visited the theater center and just had a simple walk around.


Buildings around the area

After that we went to the rainbow village





Then the wetlands of Gaomei. This place is beautiful (for wetland standards). We stayed there until sun set







Night time we ventured into Fenjia night market. The pepper buns here are to die for




Scallions rolled with generous portion of seasoned pork


Darn nice!

Ended the night with ice cream at Miyahara



03/12/2017: Alishan awaits
Met up with our driver of the trip, Ah Fu. Before setting off to Alishan, we stopped by Chiayi for lunch, which is famed for its turkey rice.

Turkey Rice omnomnomnom

After that we went to Longyin Temple, which is to enshrines Ji Gong. We were in luck to catch multiple temples coming to pay respects and show of strength.





Not to forget the famed Tian Chang Di Jiu bridge



Walking through the suspension bridge


Ji Gong


The view from top of the hill, which has another shrine


Lovely garden on top of a short hike

After that we travelled on to Fen Chi Hu town, which is one of the nice rustic villages that I really like. There is a bamboo forest, and the small town has a small photogenic train station

Bamboo forest. The bamboo are actually square in girth!


Rustic looking train station


Once the train went off, the tracks are free to be used for photographs. So cool!


Fen Chi Hu Station


My clickpack pro on the tracks. Looking photogenic indeed


Strolling around the small village. Those lanterns look so good indeed


The train station bento. Very satisfying combination of pork chop, drumstick. Taiwan cuisine uses plenty of bamboo shoots and pickles. I grew accustomed to them during the journey. Was not a fan of Chinese pickles.


Mochi


Rustic looking hotel. In Taiwan hotels are called "Fan Dian" instead of the normal "Jiu Dian". I was wondering how come they are called restaurants when I first arrived.


Rustic and nice




Sakura tree outside the village

We reached Alishan in the evening. It was winter so the days are short. It was dark when we reached
.


The only parking lot in the village


Chic looking tea shop


Alishan entrance with the moon looming behind

What more better than to have steamboat on a chilly weather? Pair it with some whisky and oh so perfect!



That is a cool looking post office

04/12/2017: Sunrise on Chushan, Sun Moon Lake and Qingjing

Woke up at 4am. We had a train to catch to go up to Chushan to catch the sun rise. Tickets are limited so yeah please wake up early to buy the tix.


Lucky us!

Compared to Kinabalu, this observatory site is rather commercialized. You take a train to Chusan, and there are food and drinks stall here. Weather is cold but a little nibble should be ok to keep you warm. We had to wait for 1.5 hours for the first glimpse of the morning rays


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The food stalls up here. Which are still reasonably priced.


Back at Alishan village. That mountain range reminds me of Kinabalu


Alishan train station




The carpark in the morning


Post office in the morning


Cool train model

After that we went to the Shouzhen temple.




Very nice joss paper burner


Nearby lake

Here is also a forest of red cypress trees, which some are few thousand years old. They emit a fragrance said to keep termites away. And they are strong. Some of the buildings posted above use red cypress as building materials


Red cypress forest


Mesmerizing. Beautiful


Gigantic!

And then we walked one round back to Shouzen temple to catch a puppet show


After that it was time to leave Alishan for our next stop. Sun Moon Lake beckons!


Alishan arrival & departure gate

Being a Taipingite, for almost all of our early years we see the Taiping Lake Gardens almost on a daily basis. Sometimes you come across lakes that re-define your definition on what a lake should be or look like.


Sun Moon Lake, is one of that lakes that opens your eyes


The lake is so big that you have actual ferries on them


It looks more like a sea from some perspective. And it is aquamarine blue! Not green!


Xuan Guang jetty, which you can visit Xuan Guang temple and...


Ah Ma herbal egg!



Sun Moon Lake is also a small township, and since it is in the middle mountainous regions of Taiwan, agriculture products are of importance. You can get "Ai Yu" - jelly made from a small type of corn, tea and tea products.


The type of corn I was referring to


Tea flavored ice cream


Sun Moon Lake's night market


More street food. Boneless chicken wing stuffed with rice

After that it was a drive straight to QingJing.


The famous Star Gazing Villa, sits atop a hill


where you can gaze down to the small town below

05/12/2017: QingJing Green Prarie, First Snow, Taruko Gorge and Seven Star Lake

Morning was pleasant. It was at 4 degrees since we were high up in the mountainous regions of Taiwan. At that moment I was wondering how peaceful Taiwan, particularly QingJing can be. There are farms here, reminds me very much of Harvest Moon game series (maybe the Japanese did actually invented the game after getting a taste of the farming life here?)


To be able to wake up to the cooling weather, overlooking ranges of mountains. I can do this for months!


Star Gazing Villa in the morning


And they have this large space right in front, where you can sit down and sip coffee and tea while enjoying the morning breeze. Plenty of plants and a greenhouse too!


QingJing town from Star Gazing Villa


Hearty breakfast included in our B&B deal

After that we headed to the QingJing farm

Lots and lots of sheeps!


Usually farms are smelly and dull looking. This one looks really like a touristy place with beautiful scenery


Darn pretty


Rays of happiness


Apart from the occasional dung (it is still a farm), this really is a beautiful place


The sheep castle, one of the attractions in the farm


The farm looking side


There is also a part which allows you to ride horses and see horse show performances


Street food vendors


There is also a small bee farm where you can visit

After that it was a journey to the Eastern coast of Taiwan, Hualien City. Before that we have to make our way up to Hehuan mountain to go the other way down


It was a misty journey


SNOW! FINALLY SNOW!

At the peak of Hehuanshan, it had previously snowed. It was the very first time I had seen snow.

How it looks like up close


Your mind starts to freeze as you first encounter snow. A sight to behold




Tiny bits of snow still falling down


Winter wonderland

Trust me, get a pair of water proof shoes. Melted snow with soil is no fun


If you are a scenery person, you would definitely want to drive along the roads of Taiwan. Endless breathtaking scenes

After going down Hehuanshan, we reached Taruko National Park. The Swallow's Grotto awaits

Pretty much brings you to a magical world. Natural cliffs carved out by the centuries of wind


Swallow's Grotto plague


The typical water, mountain all in one natural landscape








After bidding goodbye to Swallow's Grotto, we made our journey to Hualien City


The night market of Dongdamen


Large sausage on skewers


Exploding Chive Pancake


Conquered the much shuddered pig blood cake. Easy peasy but filling


The famous coffin box toast

After a hearty meal we reached our hotel. Checked in and after unpacking went for a walk by the beach


Rock stacking at a beach full of pebbles


06/12/2017: Seven Star Lake, Su'ao, Ka Va Lan Distillery nad Jiaoxi

Our hotel has free bicycle borrowing services. So we went for a morning ride along the coasts of Qixingtan.




Lots and lots of stones


Rocky beach. Still has its allure


Bike friendly path along the coast


Simple. But enough to make me fall in love

After bidding goodbye to Hualien, we continue our journey north, along the coast to Yilien. We stopped by a few scenic places for photographs


Qingshui Cliffs


Railway tracks beside the cliffs




I love the blue of the sea. 3 Shades of it

On our way there was a landslide, which impeded our journey. To facilitate clearance of the debris and not impact traffic, there were only a certain time where traffic was allowed to pass by that stretch of road. We were caught waiting 2 hours for the next slot of traffic to pass by. For the guys we got the chance to answer nature's call by doing it with nature


The jam. Standstill jam. Car engines are off


Stretches way back


Where my piss became one with mother nature

Finally! We reached Su'ao, a small fishing village between Hualien and JiaoXi. Had lunch at a shop recommended by our driver, which serves us one of the freshest seafood dishes


Lurou Fan, Minched Pork Rice


Fresh Fish Soup. Never a fan of fish soup but this changed my perspective


Steamed cuttlefish


The humble shop that we had our lunch


Streets of Su'ao. Reminds me of Kuala Sepetang.


Plenty of dried sea products can be found in these shops


The pier where all the fishing boats are parked

After buying some dried sea products, we continued our journey to Ka Va Lan Distillery. If you aren't familiar Ka Va Lan was one of the whisky brands that shook the world with their award winning whisky


Large distillery


Reminds me of Nestle factories but this looks very touristy




One of the distilleries


The Whisky Castle




The humble barrel where the flavor explosion generation takes place




Malt barley, the key ingredient in whisky making


Yeast, to breakdown the starch in the malt barley


Copper distillery, where the alcohol is intensified


Barreled whisky in warehouse






Help yourself DIY memorabilia - chop on corrugated paper board


Whisky tasting



After buying loads of whisky, we headed straight to Jiaoxi


Jiaoxi streets


Dinner at Babaodongfen


Small dishes. Black Fungus, shark meat and duck meat


Another street shot of Jiaoxi

Jiaoxi is a town famous for hot springs. According to my driver the Taiwanese government originally wanted to have a geothermal power plant in Jiaoxi. But the heat wasn't effective to generate electricity hence it somehow was converted into a tourist attraction


One of the public hotspring

07/12/2017: Jimmy Park, Meihua Lake and Back To Taipei

This was one of the few mornings that we need not wake up early for sunrise or cycling. We woke up for breakfast and then driver picked us up for a quick stroll at Jimmy Park and the Yilan train station


One of the pre war Japanese themed buildings


Jiaoxi streets in the morning


Yilan Train Station


Part of the Jimmy Park deco


Intriguing old tree

After bidding goodbye to Yilien Jiaoxi, we jetted off to Meihua Lake



Plenty of ducks and carps. Beautiful setting with hilly landscapes against a tranquil lake


The one that posted for solo

Haha. We actually went back to Jiaoxi to grab the famous chive pancake



Customers need to self service to brush on their sauce. That means you add as much as you can for flavor explosion

We had Weng Yao Chicken (甕窯雞) for lunch. It's special as the chicken gets marinated in cumin and spices before roasted in huge earthen ovens

 
Roasting in action


The chicken. Super hot from the oven

After lunch it was really time to say goodbye to Yilan. Heading back to Taipei!

The first stop back Taipei was the Liberty Square, Unfortunately it was raining




The National Theatre

3
The National Concert Hall. Ugly tent work in progress


Tried to take an image without the tent works

Since it was raining I think the exploration mood went down significantly. And the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall also had some scaffolding work in progress. We left for some dimsum and Hangzhou Xiaolongbao


The perfectly caramelized golden brown Wotie (pot stickers)


Xiao Long Bao and Dumplings

After checking in our AirBnb, we headed down for dinner

This is a famous hotpot where they start the hotpot by frying stuffs. Then only broth is poured over to make it a flavorsome hotpot


No joke. This was the same pot that the lady was frying stuff with. Must Try!

I ended the night with a too full stomach and had to went to bed early while the others walked around Xi Men Ding


08/12/2017: Shifen, Jiufen and Keelong City

One of the main touristy area of Taipei is the un-missable Jiufen and Shifen. We started our day with a trip to Shifen after a breakfast of Taiwanese Instant Noodles (oh this is a must try)




Used to be a small village with a railway track in the middle. But out of a sudden it became so famous


But yeah it is indeed a beautiful town


After writing our wishes on the lantern, ready to light it off


Up up up it goes


Taking the default photos on railway tracks


Would I visit here again! Definitely. Hopefully with my future girlfriend


The famous ice cream peanut roll dessert

After that we went to the Shifen waterfall

This is just the stream. Not the waterfall


The small but not the big attraction waterfall


Chinese New Year vibe. Actually these are wishes where people tie them onto the trees


The Shifen waterfall

After Shifen we went to Jiufen. Also another touristy place up on a hilly setting


The hillside area overlooking down to Taipei City


Entrance to Jiufen beside the 7-11


Crowded!


Surprisingly I like the place although it being crowded


Famous Ahpo Taro balls


The famous Grand Tea House that inspired "Spirited Away"



After snacking around, we left Jiufen and headed for Keelong City. Keelong Night Market is one of the night markets I would really recommend


Keelong City streets


Keelong Night Market


Walking into the night market


Temple


Pork soup and Luroufan as starters


Sky darkens


Seafood porridge


Guabao and pig intestines soup

After filling our tummies we headed back to Taipei to visit the famous cafe


That night Xi Men Ding was exceptionally busy as there was a procession for Taoist Gods. According to my driver these processions can last a few days and can be merrier than Chinese New Year


Procession




Costumes

09/12/2017: Yehliu, Tamsui & Shilin Night Market

Yehliu is a seaside town just 30 minutes drive from Taipei. It hoses the beautiful rock formation Yeliu National Park.


It was rainy when we went to Yeliu


Strong waves


Intriguing stone formation. All naturally formed


Spot the slipper


Cross the red line at your own peril


Since it was raining and the waves were quite strong, I just timed my photos to capture wave photos


One of the small small coves where sea water flows in


Fishing enthusiasts fishing


It is actually crowded

We had probably one of the best seafood lunch I have ever had


Fresh seafood outside the restaurant


Steamed prawns. Super fresh


Sauteed clams. Super fresh


Steamed abalones. Super fresh


Steamed crabs. Super fresh


Steamed spotted crabs. Super fresh

I love it that the freshest seafood needs no seasoning, According to the chef, the freshest seafood needs no seasoning. Complicated overdoing actually spoils the sweetness of the seafood. Wholly agree. Less is more!


Name of the restaurant


The fishing village at the back of the restaurant. You do not need any assurance on how fresh the seafood are with the sea just behind you

We left Yehliu and headed to Tamshui. On the way there, passed by an interesting arc and went for some photos




It is a rocky beach made up of seashells and rocks. But it is still a pretty beach!
Fishing enthusiasts fishing at the rocky slopes




How did he get there?

Finally arrived at Tamshui


Another ray emitting photo


The bridge at Tamshui Fisherman's wharf


One of the nice shots at Tamshui


The bridge shot from the side


Lucky shot without the people :)

After that, we headed to the Tamsui night market.


Tamsui night market


Tamsui specialty. A-Gei, which is a rice vermicelli covered with tofu and served with sweet sauce

After a breif walk around, we headed to Shilin Night Market




Rows and rows of shops. Food shops


The famous sponge cake laced with molten cheese

Hearty meal yet heavy heart. As going back to reality etched closer ever. Today was the last day our driver Ah Fu will be chauffeuring us around. For those in need of a Taiwan tour guide and driver to hit the link below for my tour guide!

Ah Fu Taiwan Tour Guide


10/12/2017: Maokong Cable Car, Taipei 101 and Raohe Night Market

After yet another breakfast of Taiwan instant noodles, we left for Maokong cable car ride. Without Ah Fu we traveled via the MRT

Maokong is one of the cable car stops on top of a hill. In the middle part before reaching Maokong the Taiwan zoo is accessible. Too bad time was not on our side we decided to give the zoo a pass.




Up up up we go


Maokong station


One of the grassy hillside of Maokong


The fields are planted with lupins. Too bad it was not the blooming season


Lupin field

On the way down we chartered the glass floored cable car


Yes this is how it looks like on my feet

After that we took a bus ride to Taiwan 101, which is quite near to Maokong


Majestic


At the foot of the tower


One trip up the Taipei 101 tower observatory floor was roughly SGD23 (via KKDAY)

Too bad it was pretty cloudy. Scenery on top was not in its best

Came back down. Streets around the Taipei 101



Raohe night market is just a walkaway from Songshan MRT



Ci You Temple


Entrance to Raohe Night Market


The tasty black pepper buns


Pork rib soup


Shellfish (forgot which kind)


Cool chess set



And that wraps up the last night in Taiwan for me.


11/12/2017: Back to reality

Left for KLIA at 12pm flight. Arrived at 6pm and almost missed my flight back Singapore. Luckily my SG flight got delayed and I boarded flight at 10pm.

Overall Taiwan has been a memorable trip, and definitely one of the places I will visit again!

-THE END-

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