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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Tantalizing Taiwan - Taipei Tour

I could not believe that it took years of persuasion for me to decide that I should visit Taiwan – prior to the invasion of Taiwanese dramas in Singapore, I had thought that Taiwan was just another Chinese country with lots of temples and mountains – at least all the photographs I’d seen of Taiwan were of such!

My only experience with Taiwan so far is restricted to its capital city, Taipei, but it was such a lovely trip filled with different activities to try, very hospitable people and delectable food that I am looking forward to explore more of Taiwan, for sure.

So, what did we do in Taipei, Taiwan and what did we miss out on?

We got busy the moment we reached Taoyuan International Airport. Transport in Taipei is very accessible, does not matter whether one chooses to travel by taxis, train (Metro) or buses.

We visted the popular Ximending – a neighborhood shopping district that is the ultraconsumerist heart of Taipei’s youth culture. Our hotel was nearby, the Look Hotel that was situated neatly at the Citibank Building, was new, and boosted of very friendly service. 

So we combed the bustling streets, stepping into select shops but bought nothing as everything was too “young” for our taste. We tried the Fried Chicken Cutlet and Beef Pie there, both from street stalls. The street stalls were clean and situated along the Ximending pedestral streets instead of along the roadside like other countries’, which was also why I had no qualms about giving the food a shot.

Sad to say, I preferred the Fried Chicken Cutlet in Singapore – crispy and boneless. The one I tried here was rather greasy and I found the bones cumbersome to remove. The Beef Pastry was tasty though – a dough roll filled with tender minced beef patty and best of all, the piping hot soup within the bun, like a giant Chinesee Xiao Long Bao! We also got to eat the famous Ah Zhong Mian Xian (vermicelli with oysters) - it was very tasty - piping hot, delicious vermicelli with big white succulent clams and chicken meat.

We took in a couple of museums, namely the National Museum and The Palace Museum. I love museums overall - they help us to understand the country's cultures better, and also showcase interesting stuff that we would otherwise not be exposed to.

The National Museum comprised mainly of Taiwan's cultural and historical exhibits, some arts and paintings as well. I thought it was not unlike national museums in other countries, but then that's the general purpose of museums.

The Palace Museum displayed mainly more ancient, historical Taiwanese artefacts and exhibits. We were fortunate to catch the Louvre Exhibition when we were there, and that was more fascinating.

Night Market (Ye Shi)
We visited a couple of night markets – Shilin and Shida, basically for food and bazaar-style shopping.  Within the night markets , it is typical to find food stalls selling hot, palatable-looking homely food items such as Oyster Omelet, Hotplate Beef Pasta, fried chicken cutlets, braised meat rice (Ru Rou Fan) and a variety of other interesting dishes not found in Singapore. We also tried the Pig's Blood Cake (Zhu Xue Gao) and Bing Tang Hu Lu (strands of preserved fruits on long wooden sticks).

I had been expecting the stalls to resemble the ones in the Taiwanese drama – tiny stalls with makeshift tables and chairs for eating on – but Shilin had been converted to a hawker-centre style food spot that was no doubt more hygienic looking.

So we tried the Oyster Omelet and Hotplate Beef Pasta . The omelet was not nice at all in my humble opinion – the eggs too soft and tasteless, and the chilli sauce was not spicy – I was still more accustomed to the typical Singapore-style oyster omelet with crispy omelet and spicy chili flavors. The other dish was  sumptuous though – tender beef sizzling on hot plate, drenched in a delightful black pepper sauce, served with fusilli.

Then the bazaars where there were myraids of stalls selling clothes, accessories, ornaments, shoes etc to entice the patrons. The items were cheap but I did not buy much. It was bustling with activities and chatter, a very heartwarming sight.

Hot Springs
Trying out the natural hot springs in Taiwan is a must, so we worked it into the itinery as well.  We ditched our original plans to travel all the way to Beitou (famous for its hotsprings) and instead settled for the one at Yangming Mountain.

We took the private hostprings – so we had a room with our very own hotsprings tub. Wewere told to fill up the tub, soak no more than 5 minutes; change the tub and repeat the process. While immersed in the water, the water level should be below chest level. The boiling hot water was invigorating, and felt very therapeutic once the initial shock of the heat was over.  The minerals from the hotsprings were supposed to contain healing properties, and good for our health and skin.

Mountain Trips
First, we hiked up onto Yangming Mountain (Yangmingshan) – a long two-hour non-stop walk amongst trees and smooth tracks. The sole reason was really because we were trying to hunt for those traditional-looking shack-like teahuts I’d seen in the shows. I thought it would be rather  atmospheric to sit in one sipping hot flavored tea from tiny teapots. Sadly, we did not find any – well, none that were opened anyway.

The next day, we headed up to Jiufen, an ancient site filled with rows of old-fashioned shopfronts housing cafes, and selling food and souveinirs. It was lovely, made one feel trapped in time,  in the olden days of the pugllistic era – cobbled stone paths, red lanterns hanging at the front of the shops, wooden doors etc. 

We bought Taiwanese snacks such as the Sun Cookies and Pineapple Tartlets, and tried their Beef Soup Noodles – it was raining heavily, so the steaming hot soup provided solace, and the noodles were yummy. We also shared an ice-cream wrapped in sheets of flour (popiah skin) with sprigs of spring onion and ground peauts tossed in. It was an amazingly tasty concoction, albeit its deceptively simple ingredients. We chilled out at a tea hut where we snagged an alfresco seat, drank hot teas and took in the breathtaking mountain views from above.

Shifen had been on the agenda – another mountain site where one could put up the huge lanterns (named “Tian Deng”) – sending them into the sky inscripted with our wishes or desires written onto them. Sadly, it rained for the next few days so our plans were thwarted.

Other tourist spots
Taipei 101 – a distinctly tall tower in the heart of Taipei, housing an observation deck offering amazing night views of Taipei, restaurants and boutiques.

We did not get to go to Wu Fen Pu (the largest garment wholesale market / square in Taipei, and the scenic Fisherman's Wharf where we could take in lovely views over a meal or coffee. Also, we did not head to Sun Moon Lake (Ri Yue Tan), a place I heard offers enchanting views and romantic ambience.

Besides the savoury food as mentioned above, and the Taiwanese snacks, we also tried an assortment of pastries (some friends had raved on and on about Taiwanese pastries) - chocolate tartlet, pudding in egg shells etc. The bubble teas are must-trys as well.

Overall, I enjoyed my Taipei expedition, and will be back for more fun.

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