Monday, April 21, 2014

Taiwan Day 3: National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, Sadahara Aoki, Wu Fen Pu and Raohe Night Market

Day 3 in Taipei begun with a trip to the National Palace Museum, a must see museum in Taiwan which houses one of the biggest artifact/ treasure collection from China. One can easily take the MRT to the museum (stop at Dazhi station and then take a bus there. I took a couple of extra minutes to read to bus stop's sign boards to make sure I get off at the right stop. Inside the bus, the bus driver will announce when it arrives at a particular destination. Easy!). 

The museum opens daily and there is a small entrance fee for visitors. No cameras allowed inside, unfortunately. On the particular day that I was there, the museum displayed a lot of art pieces that were well maintained since the earlier Chinese dynasties. For an anything-history fanatic, I was impressed and would have liked to see their entire collection of artifacts, if possible. Sadly, I doubt that I had a look at 80% of their other collection. 

 After spending the morning at the museum, we adjourned to Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. We decided not to head up the building because it was a cloudy day and we were not too keen on the view from above. Nonetheless, it would be an interesting place to go for kids though (apparently the lift travels at the speed of light!).

 Ate at Taipei 101's food court, nothing much to shout about, especially when the prices are slightly higher than other places. I did not shop in the CBD area, mainly because the prices did not agree with my wallet and for the fact that I will be heading back to Kuala Lumpur aka shopping heaven.

Affordable clothing brands there include Zara, Mango and Pull and Bear whilst the higher end brands include LV, Tiffany and Co, Prada and so forth. Not many locals here, that's for sure.

 One of Taipei 101's highlights would be a having Jean Paul Hevin's chocolate shop cleverly located at the highest floor of the shopping building. The sister and I chose one aud$5 macaron each and thought it was one of the most yummilicious macarons we had. Even the mother agreed.

Afterwards, we headed to Bellavita, to a patissier shop that I have been dying to go to for the longest time. First impression of Bellavita? Classy building with an impressive array of international food products in the lower ground floor. Now I know where to go if I am rolling in NTD.

So anyways, we brought ourselves to Patisserie Sadahara Aoki, a famous patissier that I have read so much about but never did had the opportunity to come close to anything he made. Well, I am still far from it but at least I am one step closer!

 I ordered a matcha glace which tasted quite refreshingly sweet and was not overly bitter. In terms of prices here, it is rather comparable to the cost of eating desserts in Adelaide so I did not feel the pinch too much.

 Ordered (from memory) green tea bamboo, cassis cake and valencia. Each slice of cake had very defined layers and was well constructed, admittedly. We then ordered one of their massive macarons (because I never had one before haha!) and it was good. Wished I could have tasted their other pastries but that will have to wait till I get to Paris for a better comparison, that is:)

 We ended the day by heading to yet another famous night market to feed ourselves for dinner and visited Wu Fen Pu, a famous shopping district that has the most clothing shops mushroomed around an area. I went there on a Monday and true to what was mentioned by other bloggers, shopkeepers don't really have time for you as they are busy doing stocktaking. Not that it bothered me, I prefer to shop without the shopkeeper stalking me.

 Did not buy anything at all as the prices did not agree with my wallet and as mentioned before, Kuala Lumpur is where it is at!:) Went to the MRT station to find the good ol'trusty signboards to point us in the right direction and soon after, we are at Raohe Night Market, one of the places recommended by my Taiwanese friend.

 This was the famous peppered pork buns which tasted alright and in our opinion, if you are in a hurry, you're not missing out much from not waiting. The food selection here is definitely smaller compared to Shilin's but you do get less people here and probably slightly cheaper fares.

 Randomly walked into one of their many shaved ice shops for a break and had mango shaved ice and red bean and green tea shaved ice. I reckon it was about aud$6 per bowl and it was sooooo huge. Pay upon exit and be spoilt for choices:)

After walking further, we stopped at this beef noodle shop which appeared to be endorsed by many celebrities and did our best to interpret the Chinese menu. I could recognize a few words which lead us to what you see above; a decent bowl of beef noodle soup which was so good. Arrived on our table piping hot and it was slurp-tastic.

Oh, we also nibbled a bit at Farmosa Chang, a random shop that was not excessively crowded with people. Gave us some space and time to breath!:)

Be on the lookout for Day 4, coming up sometime this week:))

Friday, April 18, 2014

Taiwan Day 2: Jianguo Holiday Flower and Jade market, Longshan temple, Ximending, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and Shilin Night Market

Day 2 begun bright and early in Taipei despite a cloudy start that did not hinder our mood at all. When in Taipei, do purchase a MetroPass for ease of transportation. The card costs NTD100 which is refundable if returned to the MRT service desks or at selected convenience stores. Top up as much as you like and from memory, you can use this card to make purchases at 7-11s as well (a bit like Hong Kong).

We headed off to the jade market for a quick look and despite not buying anything, it was an interesting sight. Nobody haggled us to buy their items and best part was taking pictures were not a problem. This place was not difficult to find but bear in mind that you have to walk past the no-photography flower market zone prior to arriving here.

Nothing that we were keen on so we took the MRT to Longshan temple. Lots of signboards pointing us to the right direction. And you know you are within a temple zone when you see heaps of traditional temple items being sold in shops (items for praying/ offerings to the temple) and of course, traditional displays like red lanterns, deities and so forth.

There are a few restaurants to drop by for lunch but we were probably more drawn to nibbling some Taiwan made baked goods. The astonishingly huge size of each bun was a rare sight and it was cheap too. Kept us filled until dinner time, only wished I could have tried more flavours :9

Longshan temple was built in 1738 by Chinese settlers for worship purposes and have since then, survived war periods and constantly undergoes renovation to maintain it's glory. The carvings on the walls were extraordinary and until today, a lot of religious activities are still conducted in this temple. Definitely worth a visit for a glimpse of the past.

Up next, we took the train to Ximending aka Red House Theater, another historical site but this time, established by the Japanese for theater purposes. There is a mini exhibition inside the building, free of charge:) Ximending is also known to be a popular place for shopping and from personal experience, it appeared to be a trendier place for the younger generations to hang out in. Even my Taiwanese friend's friends frequented this place for the latest fashion trends and unique food outlets.

However, there was nothing that appealed to me that time (and the fact that I am heading back to Kuala Lumpur for a massive shopping spree) and so, we headed off to our next location, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

Again, this place was not difficult to find thanks to the wonderful signboards in the train station. Coming here on a Sunday afternoon was probably not a good idea, as you can see. The place was packed full of people!

We wanted to watch the changing of guards service which happens on an hourly basis but sadly, a large crowd of people beat us to it so we could barely see anything. Not that youtube doesn't have it so don't be too disheartened if you don't get a view. On the flip side, the view from the top is pretty breathtaking:)

For dinner, we headed to Shilin night market for a taste of Taiwan. Yet again, this place was packed full of people during the weekends. I was told that this market had transformed into a more touristy outlet and prices are slightly more expensive compared to other night markets around Taipei. Nonetheless, it was a good first impression of the popular night market scene.

A lot of food stalls to choose from and each of them look equally tempting. We walked around the place and bought whatever we felt like eating but be warned, most of the food served here were deep fried/ fried although you can still find some healthy options around the market. It is a very big place, trust me.

One cannot go to Taiwan and not taste their fried chicken (I reckon it's a big fillet of chicken) which is deep fried and then tossed in some garlic and chilli powder, ready for consumption. Food packaging here is surprisingly neat despite the hustle and bustle happening all around. No spillage at all! Also worthwhile trying here would be their oyster mee sua noodles. Pretty yums for a cheap price:)

Take the stairs down the market and you will find another dimension of food stalls but this stalls provide seating for diners. Customer turnover is pretty quick although shop staff don't rush you to finish off your meals like in busy Hong Kong enterprises. The food tasted pretty much the same between every stall, it was just a matter of finding one that has comfortable seating for us. To sum it up, the food was edible but wasn't too yums for my liking.

So after a little feast in the night market, the gang and I headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest. Will  blog about day 3 soon!:) Happy easter, folks!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Taiwan day 1: Airasia and Fu Hau hotel

For my first blog post about my trip, I think it would be wiser to dissect it down to what we did on a daily basis so that I can provide more detail about the trip rather than rush through my narrations. So let's begin...

I booked my flight tickets through AirAsia as it offered a good price for travelling from Adelaide to Taiwan, despite having to transit over in Kuala Lumpur for at most 40 minutes. The seats were comfortable and there's plenty of leg space for the sister and I. Ordering our food when we booked the tickets saved us a few dollars and we figured, might as well have a bit of food onboard rather than starve throughout the journey.

No entertainment or blankets provided on board but you can easily purchase it from the flight attendants. Alternatively, bring a reasonably thick cardigan and wear long pants/jeans to prevent yourself from freezing on board. A few passengers brought their laptops/ ipads to keep them entertained. The sister and I spent our time chatting to pass time.

So if you are wondering how's the food like on AirAsia, it's pretty yummy despite costing a bit more than what you get from your favourite restaurant/ cafe but mind you, it will stop your hungry tummy from grumbling. Also comes with a small bottle of water. We have upgraded our meal and had an additional slice of brownie and apple juice but it's not necessary.

Picture above is chicken briyani. Was yummy for something that's being served thousands of feet up in the sky.

Chicken teriyaki, on the other hand, was decent but after tasting the other dishes served on AirAsia, it's probably not my first pick :p

Nasi lemak is a must have. Been recommended to try it out by my friend and after sampling it, I give it my stamp of approval. You get a few pieces of chicken, sambal, half a boiled egg, peanuts and fried anchovies on fragrant coconut rice. Order this and you will not regret it!

Whisking through Taoyuan's international airport was a breeze. Clean and efficient probably best describes it. After picking up our luggage, we caught a taxi to our hotel, Fu Hau Hotel. Not all taxi drivers understand English so I would recommend obtaining the chinese characters for your hotel's accommodation or anywhere else you intend on going, just in case. Pronouncing it differently can worsen the situation.

From memory, the three of us paid NTD1,300/ $aud48 but you can definitely save cost by catching the train. At 11.30pm, we couldn't be too fussy though :/

Fu Hau's hotel receptionist was very accommodating and spoke good English so it simplified our check-in process. Got to our room and admittedly, it is smaller than expected. Beds were fairly large for us and snacks and bottled water were provided. Gotta love their attention to detail:)

Not surprisingly, the sister was starving after our long flight from Adelaide to Taiwan and she insisted on exploring the nearby 7-11 convenience shop downstairs. Most 7-11s serve ready made food that one could easily pick and go as well as a wide range of instant noodles.

So that was day 1 in Taiwan. Will be blogging about the next day soon;)