Saturday, August 19, 2017

7D6N: Taipei 101 - Raohe - Danshui - Shilin Night Market

After 2 days out of Taipei, it was time to head to the city for the next couple of days! Day 3 started in Taichung where we stayed over at Hotel Cube for the night to explore the famous Fengjia night market 逢甲夜市. Had breakfast and got the reception to get a cab for us to HSR station to catch the next train to Taipei. Taking a cab is so much faster and not so expensive in the day. If you remember the previous day’s post, we took almost an hour on public transport to get from the bus interchange to the hotel, and cab was super expensive at night because of the predicted jam. The cab fare in the day costed us TW340 ($15), not exactly cheap but it was the fastest and convienent way to the HSR station.  
By the time we had our breakfast, checked out of the hotel and traveled to the HSR station, it was already noon.  

Similar to what i did for Day 1, i got the HSR tickets prior to the trip from KKday! High Speed Rail train is the fastest way to travel from one city to another and getting the tickets on KKday means i get to save at least 20% in terms of fare and also save time since i don’t have to queue and get the tickets over the counter like everyone else! You should totally consider KKday when traveling and they cater deals in many countries such as Japan, Korea and even New York.  
As we had some time before the next train (and the breakfast at the hotel wasn’t amazing) we decided to grab Bento sets at the station and have them on the train! These bento sets above looked so much better than the ones we had on the first day! The journey from TaiChung to Taipei took us 40 mins.
Orange Hotel 
No. 166-2, Section 1, Zhonghua Road, Wanhua District, 108 Taipei, Taiwan 

Headed straight to Ximending to drop our luggage at Orange Hotel where we will be spending the rest of the nights at. My stay at Orange Hotel was really a pleasant one. Read my review - http://www.imandystorm.com/2017/02/my-stay-at-orange-hotel-ximen.html. Once again, thank you Orange Hotel for sponsoring our stay for this Taiwan trip. If you are looking for a cool and chic place to stay in Taiwan, do checkout their official website: http://www.orangehotels.com.tw for the locations of their hotels in Taiwan.  
Wasted no time unpacking since it was already afternoon when we arrived at Taipei. We headed out to our first attraction which is the Taipei 101 where we get to go all the way up and get a bird’s eye view of the city! Going to Taipei 101 should definitely be a must visit in everyone’s itinerary when traveling to Taipei.  Directions to Taipei 101: Blue Line to Taipei City Hall Station   

Once again, i got my tickets beforehand on KKday and saved 15% of the regular ticket price. All i had to do was purchase and print the voucher before heading to Taipei and when i arrived at the place, i simply presented the voucher at the counter and skipped the regular queue! Fuss free and easy. The main highlight of Taipei 101 is the view from the 89th floor and also the elevator which brings you up in just 37 seconds.  
A photo with the mascot which is modelled after the damper. In case you don’t know, Taipei 101 is stabilized by a huge 730-tonne damper a few floors below the observation deck.  
Located at Taipei 101 building is the famous Din Tai Fung which obviously we didn’t queue because we felt it was a waste of time. I heard about the food being nicer than the ones we have in Singapore but nah, it’s not worth the time imo. The place was so noisy and crowded, basically filled with tourists.  
As the night falls, we decided to head to Raohe Night Market 饒河夜市 to have dinner! Directions to Raohe night market: Green Line to Songshan Station, exit 5. The night market is just to the right across the street next to the temple. Raohe is actually one of my favourite night market in Taipei because there is 2 systematic rows to complete walking the entire market. Just go in from one way and u-turn back and come out from the same entrance. Of course not only that but also the street food this night market has to offer!  
The famous pepper bun (胡椒餅) which contains a scary amount of spring onions. I remember the previous time i came few years back there was a long queue and there is still a long queue for this bun now! Not a fan of spring onion so i didn’t try the previous time. Well, this time we braved the rain and queued for about 20 mins. The taste is surprisingly good and definitely very comforting in such a cold weather.
Other items we tried includes the above! Grilled mochi was not bad, the mini $1 braised pork rice was as good as how i remembered it as i tried few years back but… the flame grilled beef cubes was quite disappointing. I’m not someone who usually takes beef (personal preference) and i thought this highly raved street food will not disappoint but it was just meh. Not really melt in the mouth, slightly chewy and definitely not worth the price. Oh wells… 
As the night was still young, we decided to take a train down to Danshui 淡水老街 to take a walk and see if we can find anything interesting. We haven’t exactly had dinner so we definitely had room for more food. LOL Directions to Danshui: Red line to Tamsui Station, exit turn left and walk along the waterfront.  
I haven’t been to Danshui in the night but it’s definitely more bustling compared to the day. Danshui is famous for their “iron egg” 铁蛋 which is this black flavourful quail egg. We found a porter store along the way and since it’s much cheaper in Taiwan compared to SG, we got ourselves a porter bagpack each. Hehe  
One of my favourite street food in Taiwan - Peanut muah chee! These are not available everywhere and they are usually sold on carts which means they can be anywhere. Like one day the cart can be here and the next day you returned, they are somewhere else. These muah chee are so soft and chewy, each piece coated with thin layer of peanut powder. Oh my tians, i can eat it every day. Literally.
Other food we came across includes Fried Milk and Fried Quail Eggs. I love love love eating quail eggs, and the ones in Taipei are so simple yet delicious. We typically have it boiled but in taiwan, they dropped it into these little mould and fry them, still retaining their egg shape. Most of the time you get to self service flavour it yourself by “painting” the special sauce and pepper. Then again, as much as i love quail eggs, one cannot eat too much of it. Got high cholesterol. Zzz  
Another of Danshui’s famous food item, the sponge cake (现烤蛋糕) These highly popular sponge cake are baked on the spot and comes in either the original or cheese flavour. They are so popular that you usually have to wait for the new batch to be out of the oven. Then you see the chef use their long knifes to cut them into equal pieces before packing it into boxes for sale.  
We just decided that it was still early so we headed over to Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) Directions: Red Line to Jiantan Station, exit 1. Diagonally across the street to the left to enter the night market. What an eventful first day at Taipei hor? LOL 
I will not touch so much on what we did at Shilin Night Market since everyone should be quite familiar with the place or at least heard of the place plus i think i probably mention the place again in the next few post but what always interest me in this market are…  
…the games stalls. LOL 

You will definitely not miss the game stores because the interior is always decorated with all sorts of prizes and some of the prizes are really huge and expensive (which i think can never be won unless you spend a bomb) They have different games like prawn fishing which they will barbecue it right away if you manage to catch one, air gun balloon shooting, and the famous “mahjong-bingo” game which i think is the most interesting (it makes you think that you might win but it’s seem rather impossible, LOL

That pretty much sums up my third day in Taiwan and first day in Taipei! Pretty eventful isn’t it? 3 more posts to go for my Taiwan travelogue. As you are reading this, i’m actually counting down to my Japan trip in October! I’m currently still in the midst of planning the 2 weeks itinerary (which is giving me a headache and this is the reason why i have never start planning for Japan until now :|) 

Alrighty, till the next post!                          

Monday, July 31, 2017

7D6N: Cingjing - Sun Moon Lake - Taichung

Continuing from the previous post where i ended off Day 1 saying that the main highlight of Cingjing (or in fact my entire trip) was actually the Hehuanshan Sunrise tour (合歡山觀日出) which happened on the second day morning! Most people (if not everyone) who visits Cingjing will sign up for the tour which cost about NT400 per person and is usually offered by most minsu upon check in. The most difficult thing about this tour is actually the waking up part.
The bus will go round cingjing to pick everyone up at 4am in the morning, which means we have to wake up even earlier to prepare and put on layers of clothing because it can get really cold and chilly, like not kidding at all. Usually there will be winter jackets available on the bus itself but then again, it's better to prepare your own just in case.  
What I wore was inner thermal heat tech, long sleeve tee, layered with a thick jacket, and pants. I thought I could withstand the coldness with everything that I wore and not use the jacket they provide but no, i had to use it in the end. It was that cold. LOL Glad I wore a mask though, at least my face still feels warm. For this sunrise tour, they brought us to a several peaks at different altitude for the views and for photo opportunities. Note: Remember to take your breakfast or at least bring along some food with you because the whole sunrise tour can last for about 3 to 4 hours.  
Thank god the weather that morning was clear and as the skies gets brighter, I was so surprised to see that we were actually above the clouds. Next thing we knew, everyone was pointing to the mountain in front of us and our tour guide exclaimed, "你们看!" and we saw the sun rising up slowly from behind the mountains, and the skies were slowly changing to a beautiful orange hue. You just have to stand there and be amazed at what's happening right in front of your eyes. It would make you feel like the early morning wake will be totally worth it, at least it is for me.  
One of the photo spot where everyone will take a photo with, it's like validation that you have been there. LOL  
Is this photo like DP-worthy already! Stood there and stared at the rising sun and totally forgot how cold it was up there. The moment didn’t last for very long and soon, the skies were bright and sunny. A start of a brand new day.
Another shot before we head back to Spring Ground. Refreshed and energised.
Had a simple buffet breakfast at the Minsu, prepared by the owners. Very simple yet delicious. It was sweet potato porridge with lots of sides like salted egg, preserved vegetables, egg omelette etc. Very taiwanese style. After breakfast, we went back to pack our luggage, checked out and head off to our next destination - Sun Moon Lake!  
Getting to Sun Moon Lake from Cingjing. First we had to take the Nantou bus at the designated bus stop at Cingjing and the ride will cost NT115. There are a couple of bus stops along Cingjing, and we were lucky there was one right outside Old England Mansion which is right beside Spring Ground. Take note that it’s not a direct bus. The Nantou bus will bring you to Puli Main Bus Station (埔里客运站) where you take another bus to Sun Moon Lake (NT120)
The official way of getting around Sun Moon Lake is to get a round pass (link) but the moment we dropped off the bus, we were approached by some private tour company providing island hopping boat tour as well. Got it at a discounted rate, NT250/ticket. They even brought us to one of their store to place our luggage while we go for the tour!
There is actually not much thing to do at Sun Moon Lake. Basically just hop onto the boat at the piers and go to the different islands and visit their attractions, mainly at Syuanguang Pier 玄光码头 and Ita Thao Pier 伊达邵码头.  
Dropping at Ita Thao Pier 伊达邵码头, you will get to see streets lined with hotels, eateries and stores selling souvenirs. This is probably the only stop (out of the 3) where you can have lunch, the other 2 islands really got nothing much.  
Taiwan sausage, handmade mochi and this super delicious persimmon amongst all the different food items which we tried at Ita Thao! It was quite relaxing, sitting by the lake, munching on snacks with nothing much to worry about.  
At Syuanguang Pier 玄光码头, you can try the famous Jin Men Grandma's Tea Egg 金盆阿嫲香菇茶叶蛋. The taste is pretty much normal but it’s quite nice to have warm tea egg in the chilly weather. On this island, there is also a temple (Xuanguang Temple 玄关寺) at the top where you can get a really good view of the whole Sun Moon Lake.
The whole tour took about 3 to 4 hours and we got back to Shueishe Village. Catered some time to explore the area and decided to rent bikes to cycle around since it’s one of the recommended activities to do at Sun Moon Lake.  
Rental was NT100 each for a couple of hours. There is a designated route which allows you to enjoy the scenery along Sun Moon Lake. After which, we wanted to get bus tickets to travel to our next destination - Taichung but was approached by a driver who can fetch us to Taichung for NT200/person. 

Traveling by car means it’s faster, and we were dropped off at Taichung Bus Interchange. In case you don’t know, our hotel was located at the happening area of Taichung which is at the Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市) area, and it is not exactly near where we were dropped off. Uber was expensive, Cab was expensive and in the end, we asked for directions and took public transport with our luggage to our hotel. The ride took about 35 mins, quite a nightmare. LOL
默砌旅店 Hotel Cube 
No. 51號, Hanxiang North Street, Xitun District, Taichung City, Taiwan 407  

Chose this hotel because it’s located near Fengjia market, like just 10 mins away. The rate was pretty cheap too as it’s newly established (SGD$84/night) Best of all, they provide free to and fro Fengjia Night Market shuttle service!  
The famous Fengjia Night Market 逢甲夜市!  
Amongst all the night market i went to during my Taiwan trip, i would say Fengjia is one of the better ones. I had so much food that night.- famous cheese potato with toppings, fried egg pancake, sweet potato balls to name a few. I really enjoyed myself at Fengjia! It was a really long day considering we woke up at 4am that day! LOL 

I’m not too sure what else is there at Taichung but our intention of dropping by Taichung was to visit Fengjia. Maybe i can explore more of Taichung during my next visit. The following morning we had breakfast at the hotel and took a taxi to Taichung HSR station where we head back to Taipei via HSR. That’s pretty much how i spent my Day 2 in Taiwan! 


Till the next post,                                        

Monday, July 24, 2017

Completing my "Asia" tour - 80%

Ever since i took my first flight out of the country at the age of 21 (yes i know it took me 21 years to actually take a plane but that’s not the main point) If you have been following me on my social media, I’m now traveling at least 3 times a year to visit different countries, mainly around Asia for the past 6 years, covering one country at a time and if i were to do up a quick summary of the countries i’ve been to in an Asia map version, it would look something like this:
Other Asia countries i have been to that is not in the map above includes Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Japan will be up next this October! My friends and i are also planning for a trip to Cebu, Philippines next year! That would pretty much round up my “Asia tour” and time to venture out to the “ang mo” countries.

With that said, i will still continue to do short trips to my favourite shopping paradise like BKK and Hong Kong. In fact, there are definitely so many more places to explore within our nearby countries! For example, just simply in Malaysia, there are amazing places like Langkawi, Cameron Highlands and Kuala Terengganu that i have yet to explore and share with you guys! Oh no. I just got reminded that i've yet to complete my Taiwan travelogue and there is still Yogyakarta after that. Just 3 more months before i head off to Japan :|

Most of my friends had their “virgin” flight really young when their parents brought them together for an overseas trip. But then again, i’m not complaining though. I had my fair share of fun with my family when we traveled to Genting via coach. I mean if i were to go to amazing places like New Zealand at the age of 5 or 10, how much would i remember or appreciate the place compared to now if i did up my own itinerary and go to the places that i really want to go?
Trying to source for cheap air fares and accommodation was little harder back then. I remember sitting down in front of the computer, having to open multiple internet tabs of different airline sites and comparing them side by side to see which has a better timing to price ratio. For accommodations, i had to google online to read countless of reviews and recommendations and finally do direct bookings from their official websites which can be an hassle having to input your details again and again on the different websites. Now that times has changed, we have websites like Traveloka which gives you the cheapest deal and hotels in Southeast Asia at the same time with great savings just within seconds!
Long gone are the days where you have to compare fares and prices like what i did in the past. Traveloka helps you to compare cheap flight tickets and hotels with the most intensive search results. Simply search and book through their site via secure online transaction (All information is fully encrypted for data security, so there's no need to worry.) And if you need help, there is always 24/7 customer service via email, phone or live chat! Sounds really convenient and easy isn’t it? They even have this promotion page on their site where you can check out all their latest promotions and offers they have in collaboration with air lines partners, hotel accommodations and even credit cards deals for your travels.
One of the featured airline partners of Traveloka is Malaysia Airlines, the national carrier of Malaysia which is probably the best way to fly to, from and around Malaysia. MAS flies to more than 1000 destinations in more than 150 countries, and gives its frequent flyer members special access to more than 650 airport lounges worldwide. Fun fact, you can check out Traveloka to get awesome MAS online booking deals.
Recently they even had this special fare promotion starting from just RM319 for round trip flying from Kuala Lumpur to designations like Singapore, Bangkok Jakarta and even more. (I did a quick currency conversion, only SGD100!)

Times has changed. People nowadays are no longer like in the past where we book tour packages, forcing ourselves to wake up super early to join the tour group to go to places where we might not be interested in because it's part of the planned itinerary. Instead we do up our own itinerary and visit places that we really want to go, finding our own cheap flights tickets and accommodations and always keeping a look out for deals and promotions. Isn't it?

So now, the most important question is, where is your next destination?


Signing off,                                       



Monday, July 10, 2017

7D6N: Cingjing - Sun Moon Lake - Tai Chung - Taipei (Day 1)

It’s been awhile since i came back from Taiwan and i have always been procrastinating for the longest time to do up the travelogue (where got time…) while the photo folder just sits on my desktop since forever. I figured out if i don’t start, it will probably never happen so here i am, on the train furiously typing on my macbook before i lose the momentum.

This is also the reason why i bought my macbook at the start of the year - for sudden inspiration and to do work on the go at times like this. This is my first macbook (yes, i have no idea why people still thinks that i have been using a macbook my whole life) I read a blog article sometime back about maximising use of time on the go and it really inspired me (something along the lines on why waste time scrolling FB or playing games on the go when you can do something more productive) next thing i did was to research for a really affordable and light laptop that i can bring around and i ended up getting my very first macbook. So much for wanting “something affordable”, LOL But hey, i have been updating my blog more regularly all these while right? Guess it really paid off :) 

Oh gosh, i’m digressing so much. Trust me, i can go on and on about my macbook, LOL #applefan 

Back to my Taiwan travelogue, i’m guessing i don’t have the time to write a very detailed blog post, compared to last time in school where i had all the time in the world but still, i’m going to write my travelogue in chronological order, covering the places i went and a bit of extra details if i can think of any just in case you guys are using my travelogue as reference for your itinerary. Prior to the trip, i did some intensive research and decided to venture out of the “typical” taipei which i did in 2012. I even went to Taiwan Tourism Board at Raffles place to ask for recommendations and advice (not forgetting freebies), bought some attractions vouchers from KKday in advance, and collaborated with Orange Hotel for accommodation. I will definitely share more along the way as i write this travelogue.

It was not the easiest itinerary to plan because of all the traveling from places to places and i can’t really read Chinese. I have only been to Taiwan once and did not really venture out of Taipei so there wasn't much planning to do. This time is much different, directions were confusing and at the same time, i was searching for the shortest and cheapest option...
7D6N: Cingjing - Sun Moon Lake - Tai Chung - Taipei  

Bought the tickets from Jetstar almost 6 months ahead due to some promotion so it cost me about $280 per pax with 20kg check in baggage allowance. It was a “buy first think later” moment because we all know how Taiwan airfare can fluctuates. Decided on the midnight flight (1.15am) because it would mean we would reach early the next day (6am) and not spend the whole day traveling, wasting time.  Flight time was 4 hours and 45 mins in total.

But before that, exchanged my sim card voucher which i bought from KKday, really fast and super convenient. Just pick from the choices available (3, 5 or 7 days etc) from the website. Upon landing at Tao Yuan airport, head to the designated counter, in my case terminal 1, counter 1 and exchange your print-out voucher for the sim card. Just ask around if you are lost. Got the 7 day unlimited data card for $22 since i will be in Taiwan for a week. 
On top of the SIM card voucher, I also bought the High Speed Rail (HSR) ticket from KKday. Basically it's cheaper over the counter (20% cheaper), time saving since HSR is the fastest way and also much more convenient. What I really like about KKday is that you get to plan your travel way ahead even before you are at your destination. This way, you are very clear on your itinerary on the things you need to do or where to head to. Really very useful i would say.
Getting to CingJing is not exactly easy or straight forward. I had a hard time figuring out how to get there. So basically from Tao Yuan airport, you head down to the basement to purchase bus tickets to Tao Yuan HSR (it's not linked to the airport) then board the HSR to Taichung HSR station. From there, you can purchase the Nantou bus tickets which brings you to Cingjing. The entire journey will take you about 3 hours or so, which explains why I took a midnight flight.  
You can also purchase the train bento sets to consume on the train. These train rides can be pretty long despite being the fastest mode of transport to travel from city to city. The bento sets usually contain one meat with a couple of sides and an egg, quite delicious and affordable! I got mine from 7 eleven but the nicest one i ate was from this Japanese bento counter at the station which i got on the return trip back to taichung. Let me try to dig up the photo and post.
Nantou bus tickets can purchased at the basement of Taichung HSR station and it will cost about NT262/pax. On a side note, at the ticketing area, you will be approached by cab drivers who will ask if you would want to share the car with other tourists to save time. Of course, it will definitely be faster but you can also expect to pay more. Can't really remember how much but I think it's about NT450 per person, but we saved half the traveling time.  Quite worth it.
Arrived at our accommodation - Spring Ground Resort. There are several popular ones among Singaporeans like Misty Villa and Starry, and Spring ground was also one of them. Paid NT2160 (SGD97) for 1 night. Take note that weather can get really cold since Cingjing is quite high up in the mountains so do prepare your thicker clothing, especially if you are joining the sunrise tour the next early morning. Just be prepared for the chill weather...
The basic room has everything you need and one good thing about Spring Resort is that they will drive you up to Green grass land, the main attraction in Cingjing where it's literally a big piece of grassland and you get to interact with quite a number of free roaming sheep. One benefit of staying in Spring Resort is that you can just let the reception counter know that you wish to head up to GGL and they will fetch you there in their private car, and at the end, give them a call when you want to return so they can come and fetch you all the way back, the hosts are super nice!
What people usually do at GGL is to take a stroll, enjoy the scenery, buy some dry food and feed the sheep. Not forgetting to take awesome photos along the way. I think we spent about 2 hours walking the designated route, and ending up at another garden, grabbed dinner along the way and headed back to the minsu to rest after a long day.   
There is nothing much to do at Cingjing, really. Just relax and enjoy the place.   
Oh ya, there are some food stalls along the way at GGL. Do try their authentic taiwan sausage, their bamboo shoot rice or get a bowl of warm soup to warm yourself since the weather can get really cold up there at GGL.  The people in Taiwan are generally very nice and friendly! We had a little chat with a stall auntie and she kindly gave us a bowl of warm soup on top of the food items that we ordered because it was really cold that afternoon, so kind :)
On the side note, Spring ground resort is just located beside the famous Old England (老英格蘭) where it’s said to be one of the most luxurious and expensive minsu in Taiwan. (Did a quick check on Agoda and it cost on average $550 a night!) What tourists usually do to gain access to this mansion is to go for their afternoon tea set (about NT450/SGD$20) between 11.30am to 4pm. The exterior itself is already very grand, cannot imagine the inside...
There is also not much things to do in the evening or at night and there is only one area where you can get food and drinks (they have the famous bubble tea stall up there though) so it’s either you da pao food back for dinner and ask if your minsu serves dinner. Usually it’s steamboat but Spring Ground Resort dining area was still under renovation at that point of time… That's pretty much the first day of my trip in Taiwan.

The real highlight of going to Cingjing is the Hehuanshan Sunrise tour (合歡山觀日出) happening the next morning, which I will cover in Day 2 post. Most people that head to Cingjing will go for the sunrise tour and your minsu reception will definitely ask if you will want to join. To be honest, this sunrise tour was the highlight of my entire Taiwan trip!


Till the next post,