Taipei Day 5 (4 May 14) – Farewell Taipei

Leaving any place is always the tough part, especially when one enjoys the place and feels more can be done there. This is the feeling we got today. There are simply 2 things on our list today, get to the airport and make sure we board the plane on time (though there is always the hope that we will miss our flight and get to spend another day here). We woke up later than what we planned today, partly due to the fact that my friend and I stayed up till 5am the night before to pack our luggage, and perhaps partly due to we simply don’t feel like going home, going back to reality.
Realising that we are already late, we hurried to prepare ourselves, did a few scans in the hotel room to make sure we did not leave anythings behind, and proceeded to the lobby for checkout. By this time, our airport transfer is already waiting for us. The ride to the airport is uneventful. Once at the airport we quickly proceeded to check in (we were the last passengers to check in), and made our way through the immigration. We boarded our flight back to Singapore.
Rushing to the airport
The empty counters means all checking in has been completed
DFS shopping in Taipei Airport
DFS shopping in Taipei Airport
Throughout our stay in Taipei, I feel we are a little too ambitious. Given 4 days (well today can’t really be counted), we did 2 day trips resulting in sights in Taipei were missed. With this little amount of time, 1 day trip is just nice. We also did not cater sufficient time for Taipei 101, underestimating the amount of visitors the once titled tallest building in the world would receive on a daily basis. The subway in Taipei is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around Taipei. It is fast and comfortable, and also allows us to rub shoulders with the locals. If anyone has only time for one night market, Shilin Night Market is the one to be at. With its shear size and the amount of merchandise and food on offer, it is really a one-stop night market for all. Night market is part of the Taiwanese lifestyle and should not be missed. I will definitely return to Taipei again, as I had so much fun in Taipei. The locals are hospitable, the food is fantastic. The next time I return, I will cater more time for Taipei, as for now it is  just a matter of when I will come back.

Taipei Day 4 (3 May 14) – Roaming around Taipei

We started our day early today. We wanted to visit a number of sights around in Taipei, one of which is the iconic Taipei 101 building along with a couple of monuments where there are change of guards. We took the subway to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, which is just a couple of stations from the hotel where we were staying. Exiting the subway station, navigating to the memorial hall is a breeze. There are no lack of signage around point to the monument. Dr Sun Yat-Sen, also regarded as the national father in the eyes of the Taiwanese, fought for the independence for Taiwan in its early days. His contributions to Taiwan is so great that the local government carved out a huge plot of land in central Taipei and dedicated a monument to him.  Most of Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (國立國父紀念館) is dedicated to garden space, however the building is also rather huge.  Prior to entering the building, my friend and I took some pictures in a quieter corner of the gardens where one of the several statues of Dr Sun is located. While taking pictures, I saw some youths practicing their dance movements in one corner. It seem that Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is not just for the visitors to get to know the history of Taiwan, it is not just for the locals to pass down to their next generations on the contributions of Dr Sun for Taiwan, it is also for the locals to hang around, interact with their friends and do something them feel passionate for.
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Me at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Me with statue of Dr Sun
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall from the gardens
Me with another statue of Dr Sun
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is located right in the centre of the gardens. The building has a very traditional Chinese architecture. The grey building with yellow roof sits solemnly on the memorial grounds welcoming visitors daily. As we enter the building, it seemed that we were being transported back to the 60s when the building was first built. Despite the age, the building, both inside and outside is still very well maintained. There isn’t any signs of ageing. The building seem to serve more then remembering what Dr Sun did for Taiwan, there seem to be an office and some conference rooms. My friend and I headed to a couple of the exhibition halls, which exhibits the teachings, scrolls and texts from Dr Sun. There is also some Taiwanese currencies on display with the picture of Dr Sun on it. The next hall exhibits the road to independence and the efforts of Dr Sun and his comrades in their fight against the Japanese during World War II invasion. As it is about time for the change of guard, which happens every hour, my friend and I headed to the main hall.
Exhibits in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Me with yet another statue of Dr Sun
Teachings of Dr Sun on display
Portrait of Dr Sun
Exhibits on display in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Exhibits on display in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Freelance guide explaining history to guests
In the main hall, a gigantic statue of Dr Sun is the centrepiece of this hall, very similar to the statue of  Lincoln in Washington. There is an area being marked out by velvet strings to prevent visitors from getting into the way of the guards, who will be matching in from the sides for the change of guards ceremony. It is a good idea to arrive at this hall around 10 mins prior to the hour to secure a good spot for the ceremony. It was soon the hour, we witnessed the guards matching out in synchronised timing like toy soldiers. The crisp tidy uniform marks a certain level of discipline and respect for Dr Sun. As they were matching out, cameras clicked off from the horde of visitors gathered around to watch the ceremony. The command from their leader was clear and loud, and made through the clicking on the cameras and the whispers from the visitors. The whole ceremony took around 10 mins. After watching the ceremony, my friend and I left Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall and headed to our next destination – Taipei 101.
Statue of Dr Sun
Statue of Dr Sun
Inside Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Change of guard ceremony in Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Main entrance to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Me at the main entrance to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Me with Taipei 101
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Taipei 101 is within walking distance from Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. The journey towards Taipei 101 will pass through the City Hall and some governmental office in Taipei. We had to go through a shopping mall – Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越to get to Taipei 101. Since we were already at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi  my friend and I decided to walk around a little. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi essentially is a mega shopping area, consisting of a few blocks of shopping malls, each with 7 storeys. There are practically every for everyone here. There are also several open spaces, where we saw a few events ongoing at the same time. Shoppers would need to cater for at least half a day to shop to their heart’s content here. Well as for my friend and I we were merely passing through.
Walking towards Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi overlooking Taipei 101
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi

Diagonally opposite Shin Kong Mitsukoshi is Taipei 101 (台北101). The iconic building is designed based on the bamboo and of course consist of 101 storeys. To get to the observatory deck of Taipei 101, one would have to get to the 5th floor, where the ticketing counter is. One would have to cater at least half a day for Taipei 101when visiting. Most of the time is spent on queuing. One would have to go through 3 queues during their visit to Taipei 101. One for the ticketing, which fortunately is the shortest one. On the ticket printed the time when we will be allowed to queue for the lift to the observatory deck. This is the part where we wasted the most time waiting for our turn to enter the lift. We spent around 1 hour waiting for our number to be displayed and another 30 mins to get into the lift. The lift towards the observatory deck is very fast. Within seconds we arrived at the observatory deck. The 360 deg observatory deck allows one to see the whole of Taipei City and beyond. We spent a considerable amount of time looking around the Taipei 101 from this deck. Only here will one feel Taipei is actually a huge city. We were even able to see the mountains outside Taipei City. As we were heading towards this room where the tuned mass damper was placed to stabilise the building in the event of an earthquake or typhoon, we spotted an entrance that seem to be leading upwards. We realised that this is the way to the outdoor observatory deck located on the 91 floor of the building. My friend mentioned he did not been to this part of the building during his last visit as it was closed then. Once outside the outdoor observatory deck, I feel a sense of freedom! I was able to see far into the horizon without being cocooned inside the confines of glass and steel. Though it is chilly at the outdoor deck, the breeze is welcomed! My friend and I spent more time here then indoors, looking around where our hotel is, where we were at and where we are heading next.

 

Taipei 101
Taipei 101
Me at the entrance of Taipei 101
At the ground floor of Taipei 101
Heading up to the ticketing counter
Tickets to the observatory deck
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
Me in Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
Me at the outdoor observatory deck
The top of Taipei 101
My friend and I at the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
Inside Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
View of Taipei from the outdoor observatory deck of Taipei 101
As it got too chilly for us to bear, we headed back down towards the floor where the damper is located. The damper looks like a huge metal ball. Its appearance looked more for ornamental purposes then what it is designed for. This is where most of the visitors to Taipei 101 will stop before heading down. We then decided to head to our next destination. The exit lifts are located one floor lower from the observatory deck. This is the 3rd queue one would have to go through as part of visiting Taipei 101 – queue for the lift to the entrance levels of Taipei 101. We were rather put off when seeing the queue and decided to rest a little. My friend and I ordered coffee and a slice of cake to relax while hoping for the queue to subside. After eating our cake, we returned to the queue. As though the queue have never moved! At this point we saw another queue for lifts that stops on level 5 instead of level 1. This is a shorter queue. We opted for this lift instead.
The damper in Taipei 101
Me with a mascot of Taipei 101
Me with a mascot of Taipei 101
Me with a mascot of Taipei 101
“High” Tea time in Taipei 101
“High” Tea time in Taipei 101
“High” Tea time in Taipei 101
Around Taipei 101
We had planned to visit Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall to observe another change of guard ceremony. However we visiting Taipei 101 has taken up too much time that Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was about to close by the time we reached the ground floor of Taipei 101. Instead of rushing, my friend suggested to visit Danshui (淡水). I was told that there is another night market at Danshui. We headed for Danshui on the subway and arrived in no time. Danshui is a coastal town, famous for the Fisherman’s Wharf. As we arrived at Danshui in the night, there is little point for us to take the ferry across the river for Fisherman’s Wharf. Instead we stayed at the area near the Subway station, where the night market is located. My friend and I headed to the river side, where there are some shops selling goods ranging from clothings to handcrafted keychains. There are also snacks and restaurants in this area. We strolled along the river banks, enjoying the night breeze from the river, after which we headed for the night market. Danshui night market is small in scaled as compared to Shilin and Shida night markets. We walked along the street to see if there are some food or souvenirs unique to Danshui. However to our dismay, the merchandise on offer is similar to those that are offered in other night markets. After a short 15 mins stay at the night market (the shops seemed to be closing anyways), we left Danshui and headed back to Shilin Night Market, after all this is our last night in Taipei.
Danshui harbour at night
Me at Danshui
View of Danshui at night
View of Danshui at night
My friend in Danshui Night Market
Me having a bite in Danshui
Danshui Night Market
Danshui Night Market

Shilin Night Market is just a few subway stops away from Danshui, we arrived in Shilin Night Market within minutes. This is our second visit to Shilin Night Market during our short stay in Taipei. Despite having been here just a couple nights before, Shilin Night Market never fail to impress me. The shear size of this night market is befitting the title of Mother of Night Markets. Despite being rather late in the night, most of the stalls remain open. We walked along Shilin Night Market, grabbing snacks along the way, buying cloths and getting some last minute souvenirs. The food being sold here is enormous!! One will never walk around Shilin Night Market without a bite on one’s hands. My friend and I even tried our luck at some of the carnival games and won ourselves some prizes. We continued to stay at Shilin Night Market until it closes. This is our cue to heading back to our hotel.

Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Food offered in Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Carnival games in Shilin Night Market
Me in Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Supper time in Shilin Night Market
Supper time in Shilin Night Market
Supper time in Shilin Night Market

 

Taipei Day 3 (2 May 14) – The Waterfalls and Hotsprings

Soaking in hot spring popped up when I was planning for this trip. There are several places near Taipei where one can enjoy hot spring bath. The 2 nearest to Taipei are Beitou and Wulai. I was recommended Wulai by one of my friends to visit the ones in Wulai, as Wulai has more then hot springs. There are scenic views there, particularly the waterfall. True enough most visitors to Wulai are here for the waterfall and the sceneries. I did a little research and found out that Wulai is actually where the aborigine tribe of Atayal traditional inhibits. There are several ways to Wulai, of course the more convenient way is to hire a driver to take one straight to Wulai. This is option will save a lot of time for visitors to Wulai. The other option would be to take the subway and then transfer to a bus to Wulai. This is a cheaper option and allows visitors to rub shoulders with the locals.

As we were heading towards the subway station in Xinyi from our hotel, my friend and I witness a parade along the roads. The main street was partially closed for the parade, which celebrates the birth of Goddess of Heaven, a deity in accordance to the Taoist religion most Taiwanese subscribe to. There are locals, part of the parade, dressed up in traditional costumes of Taoist deities and demons walking down the road. There are firecrackers being set off by some of the parade staffs along the road. It is a scene of celebratory. As we were taking pictures, some of the staffs stopped by and volunteered to take pictures with us. This truly shows the warmth and welcoming nature of the Taiwanese. After the parade past by, my friend and I headed towards the subway station.

Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Me at the street parade
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Me at the street parade
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 
Street parade celebrating the birth of Goddess of Heavens 

We took the subway to Xindian station, where we will be changing to a bus, which will take us to Wulai. As we were waiting for the bus, my friend saw a restaurant selling traditional Taiwanese food.  The food offered in the restaurant is very tasty and is at the right amount of saltiness, sweetness. We had the braised pork rice. The pork was tender and well braised, coupled with the rice, it is heavenly. Do pop by this restaurant should one travels to Wulai via the subway.

Street view around Xindian Station 
This is a must try when in Xindian area

After lunch we proceeded to the bus stop to wait for the bus to take us to Wulai. The bus was regular and we did not have to wait for too long before the next bus heading to Wulai comes. As this is the only bus to Wulai, many visitors and locals alike boarded the bus. The bus goes through city roads and windy mountainous routes and finally reached Wulai in around 30 mins. For visitors to Wulai, the final stop for this bus is at Wulai bus terminal, which is located within 5 mins walk to Wulai Old Street. When we alighted from the bus, My friend and I were captivated by the scenery just by being at the bus terminal. This is where the greeneries from the mountains meets the blues from the river running down from the mountain. We saw a number of locals enjoying themselves by the river banks. The water in the river contains natural spring water, it is well known for its benefits by the locals. From the bus station, we spotted a suspension bridge which links to a temple across the river. My friend and I hurried to the suspension bridge to see if we could get a good spot to take some nice pictures of the surroundings. True enough, the best spot to capture the mountains, the valleys and the river would be on this bridge. After taking some pictures, we headed over to the temple on the other end of the bridge.

Bus ride to Wulai
View of the suspension bridge from the bus terminal in Wulai
View of the valley from the bridge
View of the suspension bridge from the bus terminal in Wulai
View of the river from the terminal
Closer view of the bridge and the river
Me at the base of the suspension bridge
Me on the bridge
View from the bridge
View from the bridge
Me on the bridge
Me on the bridge

The single storey Taoist temple, despite being modest in size, is by no means modest in the decorations and the carvings on the temple building. We spotted the traditional dragon carvings on the roof and the walls of the temple. Since we are already here, my friend and I proceeded to the temple to offer our prayers to the local gods, after which my friend and I headed to the front of the temple, where one can get a nice view of Wulai. We were mesmerised by the scenic view from the front of the temple into Wulai and started to snap our camera away. From here, one can glimpse into the vast landmass in Wulai, views of the river and the town, with the surrounding mountains as the backdrop. As the temple wasn’t crowded at the time of our visit, this makes a great spot to take undisturbed scenic pictures of Wulai.

Inside the temple in Wulai
Me inside the temple in Wulai
Me inside the temple in Wulai
View of Wulai from the temple
View of Wulai from the temple
View from the temple

We headed towards Wulai town via the suspension bridge. From here, one would have to walk pass the bus terminal. Wulai town is accessible via foot within mere minutes. Soon we were at the Wulai town, at the beginning of Wulai Old Street. There is a Atayal Tribe museum on the right, located at the start of Wulai Old Street. The 3-storey museum is open to public at no charges and gives visitors an in-depth understanding of the culture, the way of life and the beliefs of the Atayal Tribe. There are also exhibits on the equipment, both hunting and for daily livelihood, on display here. There is a small shop in the museum for visitors to pick up some traditional tribe souvenirs. This is a great place to explore and one can be expected to spend at least an hour to understand the way of life of the Atayal Tribe.

Display inside Atayal Museum
Display inside Atayal Museum
Display inside Atayal Museum
Display inside Atayal Museum
Display inside Atayal Museum
Me inside the Atayal Musuem

Exiting the museum, my friend and I wanted to head to the waterfall next. In order for one to reach the waterfalls, one would have to walk through the Old Street. Walking through short Wulai Old Street (as compared to that in Jiufen), we saw shops selling a variety of merchandise ranging from local delicacies to snacks to souvenirs. Nothing here is unique to Wulai and one can easily grab these from Taipei city itself. My friend and I merely browsed through the goods on offering and headed towards the waterfall. There are 2 ways to get to the waterfall. One can either choose to walk to the view point by foot, through the Lover’s Walk (a street that is famous for couples to stroll while admiring the scenic surroundings), or take the Wulai Log Cart towards the waterfall view point. We opted for the Log Cart ride as it sounded refreshing. The Log Cart ride is essentially a tram system that brings visitors to the view point station. It is a relaxing way of absorbing the scenery whilst allowing the breeze caused by the log cart ride to caress one’s face. The ride took around 5 mins soon the waterfall is before us. My friend and I hurried to the view point and took some pictures. At this point we realise there is a cable car going up to the waterfall. As it is already late, we were sceptical that the cable car is still working. Nonetheless, my friend and I headed to the station via a series of stairs to check it out.

A stall in Wulai Old Street 
Heading towards Wulai Old Street
View of the river in Wulai
Map of Wulai
Wulai Old Street
Wulai Old Street
Wulai Old Street
Wulai Old Street
Wulai Old Street
Me in Wulai
At the Log Cart Ride Station
Waiting for the log cart
Me on the log cart ride
Riding the log cart
Riding the log cart
Riding the log cart
View from the log cart ride
Wulai Waterfall
Making our way up to the cable car station

It must have felt forever to reach the station. We headed to the ticketing counter and checked with the staff if the cable car is already closed for the day. We were delighted to be informed that the cable car was still in operation till 9pm. We spared no time, got our tickets and headed to the platform for our ride up to the waterfalls. We spotted a cable car (must have been waited for awhile) and hurried to board the cable car. The staff operating the cable car must have been waiting for visitors before operating the cable car. Soon we set off for the top of the waterfall in the cable car. As the cable car ascend to the top of the waterfall, we were able to see more and more of the valley and finally the sceneries afar from the cable car. The ride to the top took about 10 mins. The view of Wulai from the cable car and the top of the mountain is certainly refreshing and different from that from ground zero. It is recommended for visitors to Wulai to head for the cable car to the top of the mountain to absorb a different view of the area. As soon as we alighted the cable car, we headed straight to the view point. From the view point, we could see the whole valley and even traced to where the beginning of the waterfall is. As it was getting late, my friend and I decided not to venture further in and remained near the cable car station.  The area felt abandoned and there did not seem to be lighting in the area. It was very serene from the view point, perhaps due to the time of the day, when the crowds thin. We stayed for a few more minutes to enjoy the tranquility and the vastness of the place before heading back down and search for a hot spring, the very reason we came to Wulai for.

View of Wulai from the cable car 
Me about to board the cable car
View of Wulai Waterfall from the cable car station
Riding the cable car
At the top of the mountain
View of Wulai Waterfall from the top of the mountain
Riding the cable car
View of Wulai Valley from the cable car
View at the top of the mountain
View of the waterfall from the cable car
My friend in the cable car
View of the valley from the cable car
Riding over Wulai Waterfall
View of Wulai Waterfall from the cable car
View of Wulai Waterfall at the viewpoint
Me at Wulai Waterfall
Wulai Waterfall

Soon my friend and I reached to base of the cable car station. As the log cart ride has ceased operation for the day, we took a hike to the town. As I read from the map, there is a Hot Spring Street at the end of Lover’s Walk. My friend and I took a stroll back to the town, appreciating the serenity of the surroundings and the fresh air the mountains produced. There are paintings of the Atayal idols along the street, onto the railings that prevents visitors from falling into the river. It is not tough for one to spot them. It must have took us 10 mins to reach some form of civilisation. Before we knew it, we have arrived at the Hot Spring Street, where one can find heaps of Hot Spring Baths.

Walking towards Wulai Town
Atayal paintings along the road
Me at Hot Spring Street

The moment when one enters Wulai Old Town, there are no lack of Hot Spring Baths. Most of these establishments doubles up as hotel for weary guests to spend the night in. According to our research, one can only check into the hotel at 10pm and have to check out the next day at noon time. It is not worth staying over in these hotels, a day hot spring trip will suffice for a great time in Wulai. Most of the Hot Spring Baths are located along the Hot Spring Street, there are no lack of choices for visitors. Perhaps due to the season, it isn’t particularly crowded. As we were walking past the first Hot Spring Bath, we were welcomed by their staff. The friendly staff promised no pressure and invited us to take a look at their price. And we did. The price the quoted was way lower then what we expected to pay, best of all, the package came with a drink and desert to be consumed after the session. My friend and I spared no time and went for this establishment. The friendly staff showed us to our private room and left us to enjoy the scenery. This bath has rooms that overlooks the river and the mountain surrounding Wulai. There is even a TV inside the room for guests to enjoy whilst soaking in the heated spring water. My friend and I enjoyed the hot spring bath for about one and a half hours before calling it quits. After the hot spring session, the friendly staff checked with us how was the hot spring and served us the drink and desert. This Bath has really great deserts, fragrant and yet not too fattening. This is indeed a great way to end the session.

Enjoying Hot Spring in Wulai
Enjoying Hot Spring in Wulai
My friend in front of the Hot Spring Bath we just visited
Me and the very hospitable staff of the bath house
Snack after our Hot Spring session

As it was rather late at night, we wanted to try out the Atayal tribal food. I read that there is a renowned restaurant in town and proceeded back to Wulai Old Street and searched for this restaurant. It did not took us long to locate this restaurant. I was particularly excited to try some Atayal Tribal food. However my excitement was proved to be short-lived. The food is rather bend and the chicken is dry and tough. I guess it wasn’t to our liking and did not finish the food we ordered. As the night has fallen, my friend and I decided there isn’t much to see in Wulai and headed back to Taipei City.

Traditional Atayal tribe food
Traditional Atayal tribe food
Traditional Atayal tribe food
Traditional Atayal tribe food

As we were heading for the subway station in Xindian, my friend suggested to head for Shida Night market. Since the night is relatively young for Taipei, I agreed and we quickly searched which station we needed to alight and made our way there. It did not take us too long to reach Shida Night Market (師大夜市). The night market is located near a university and the crowd is relatively young. Despite being at night, the night market is still bustling with life. This is testimony to night market being an integral part of Taiwanese. Compared to Shiling Night Market, Shida is relatively smaller, however it is still sizeable for one to spend hours exploring the shops, the food being sold at this market. As this market caters mostly to the young, there are no lack of clothing and accessories shops. Even the food on offer here consist of mainly fried stuffs. My friend and I walked through alleys and alleys of shops, occasionally queuing up for snacks to be eaten as we walk. This is how we settled our dinner in the days we spent in Taipei. As we were walking up and down the night market, we realise the crowd started to thin. This is sign for us to depart the night market as it seem that the night market is calling it a night. We headed back to our hotel via the subway getting ready to explore Taipei City the next day.

Shida Night Market
Oyster Omelette we ate in the night market
Shida Night Market
Shida Night Market

Taipei Day 2 (1 May 14) – The Old Towns and Sky Lanterns

Today my friend and I woke up late today. Perhaps it is due to the tiredness we were still having from the overnight flight the day before, plus we turned in pretty late last night. We skipped breakfast and planned to grab something to bite whilst on our way to Jiufen. Jiufen  is located some 50km from Taipei. There are several options for us to get to Jiufen. As my friend has never ridden on a train before, we opted for a train ride to Jiufen. Originally we planned to catch a train from Taipei Main Train Station, according to the map that we had. As we were checking with the staffs in the hotel, we were informed that there is a train station, Songshan Station, nearer to the hotel then the Taipei Main Train Station. The hotel staff advised us to catch a cab from outside the hotel to the Train station, which would take us only around 5 mins. I was glad that we heeded the advise from the staff and we were at the train station in no time. As soon as we were at Songshan Station, my friend and I proceeded to get the train tickets from the counter. I read about the train bento from travel magazines and asked the staff at the ticketing counter if we will be able to get a set onboard. Sadly we were informed that the trains do not sell train bentos, only trains serving interstate sells those onboard. However we were directed to a shop round the corner, which sells bentos and we were advised that we can consume our bentos onboard the train.

Songshan Train Station
Me at the entrance of Songshan Train Station
Inside Songshan Train Station
At the ticketing area of the train station
Map of where we will be heading
My friend and I getting our train tickets
Our ticket to Ruifang

Feeling excited, my friend and I looked out for the shop, according to the directions provided by the ticketing staff. The shop that sells train bentos is in the shape of a train and it is situated in the middle of the pavement. As we were deciding which bento set to purchase, a local passed by and recommended us a set that is exclusive to Songshan Station. My friend and I spared no thinking and bought the set, which was recommended. As we still have some time to spare, my friend and I decided to take a look inside the train-shaped shop. This shop not only sells bentos, it is also has a mock up of the train cabin, as well as the train memorabilia. After taking pictures on the seats of the mock up cabin, my friend and I decided to proceed to the platform and await our train.

The Train mock-up shop that sells Railway Bento
Deciding which Railway Bento to buy
Still deciding….
Finally bought these
Merchandise on sale inside the shop
Inside of the mock-up train shop
Taking picture on the mock-up train

To get to Jiufen, we would take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳火車站) and switch to a bus which stops at the entrance of Jiufen Old Street. The train that would take us to Ruifang Station pulls in punctually into Songshan Station. One thing to note when taking train rides in Taipei, the ticket would point out which train cab and the seat number our seats are located. However at the platform, there isn’t any signs that signals which cab would stop at which location. This has caused my friend and I to board the wrong cab and walked from cab to cab to our allocated seat. Having said that, it is rather refreshing experience for my friend to transit from cab to cab looking for our seat as this is the first time he has taken a train. We found our seat and consumed our bentos shortly. I find the bento not as tasty as I would like it to be. There was a lot of braised dishes packed into a reasonable sized container. However it is certainly refreshing to eat the bento while watching the sceneries zoomed by before our eyes. The ride to Ruifang takes around 30 mins and soon it was time for us to alight and switch to our bus ride to Jiufen Old Street. Prior to exiting the station, we confirmed with the staff where we should be boarding our bus.

 

Me and Songshan Train Station
My friend with the train pulling into the station
Me posing with the train
My friend and I onboard the train that took us to Ruifang Station
Enroute to Ruifang Station
Enroute to Ruifang Station
The bento that I bought
Enroute to Ruifang Station
Me with the Bento
Arrival at Ruifang Station
My friend at Ruifang Station

The bus ride from Ruifang Train Station to Jiufen Old Street took around 30 mins. Jiufen Old Street is situated on the slope of a mountain. As it was raining, the low cloud in Jiufen Old Street gave it a mysterious feel. After alighting from the bus, we headed for the entrance of the Old Street. It is not hard to locate the entrance to the old street, despite shortage of signage. One would just have to follow the crowd to the entrance, after all this is where visitors come to in Jiufen. The entrance to the Old Street is a narrow space that would fit only 2 people walking side by side. Once inside the entrance, rows and rows of stalls open up to the sight of visitors on both sides of the street. There are no lack of food, as with any night markets in Taipei. Here one can find snacks as one walked along the windy and sloping street. The Old Street sloped upwards as one enters and then downwards as though one is walking through a roller coaster of food to suit all pallets. My friend and I were intrigued by a stall where we saw a staff shaving something off a big brown block, upon seeing our curiosity, the staff shaved a little off for us to sample. It is actually peanut!! We proceeded on the “processing line” to see what was on offer. What we saw next was staffs preparing a pancake folded in half topped with vanilla ice-cream and the peanut shaving. The combination was delicious and certainly refreshing. As with this store, most of the food we saw on the Old Street were prepared a la minute. As we walked through the Old Street, more food options, usually in the form of snacks are made available. Walking through the Old Street ensures that one do not feel hungry as one will be busy munching food as one walks up and down this sloppy path. The Old Street opens up to a scenic view near the end of the street. In a clear day, one will be able to see the coast line from the viewing platform, after all the Jiufen Old Street is built on a slope. It is a shame that when we visited, the low clouds did not manage to allow us to catch a glimpse of the coastline. After the viewing platform, one will be able to find tea houses spreading along the street. To get back to the starting point, my friend and I headed back to where we came from and shopped for items that we have missed out.

Outside Ruifang Station
We boarded the bus for Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Arrival at Jiufen Old Street
My friend and I at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Me at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Me at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
My friend at Jiufen Old Street
Shops selling snacks Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Shop in Jiufen Old Street
My friend and I at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
End of the Old Street
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street, with KeeLung Mountain at the background
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street
On a clear sky we would  have been able to see the coastline
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street
Me and my friend at the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street

Before we headed to our next destination in Shifen, we stopped by a temple that we saw before we hit the entrance of the Old Street. This 2-storey temple is tucked in a quiet area of Jiufen, though there are crowds flogging for the Old Street, few actually step foot into this temple. The red and grey temple with carvings of the Chinese dragons on its pillars sits sombrely on the slope, overlooking the coastline. My friend and I headed inside to offer our prayers to the gods that were worshipped here. We proceeded to the 2nd floor, where there is a balcony that looked out into the coastline in a clear day. As with any other Chinese temples, there are elaborate carvings on the walls and pillars. We left the temple soon on a cab to Shifen.

 

The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
Entrance to the temple
Me inside the temple
Me inside the temple
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The reason why anyone would come to Shifen is for the sky lanterns. The locals believed that wishes written on the sky lantern release into the sky will come true. After around 30 mins of windy drive from Jiufen, we arrived at Shifen. Before getting our lanterns, my friend and I explode the area a little. The Old Street of Shifen is rather small, approximately 200ms. One can find shops selling sky lanterns on either side of the railway track. Other then selling sky lanterns, there isn’t much on offer in this area. We stumbled upon a suspension bridge between the shops selling lanterns and the railway station. On the bridge we saw bamboos being hang on the railings as well-wishes cast their wish on the bamboos and have them hung here. My friend and I then proceeded back to the purchase a sky lantern. Don’t bother hunting for best bargains as the price is the same no matter which shop one purchase the lanterns from. The staff will be happy to help well-wishes to light up the lantern and take pictures for visitors as one releases the lantern into the sky. The sky soon turned dark and we headed back to Taipei on rail as the way we came.
Arrival at Shifen
Shifen Old Street
My friend and I at Shifen Old Street
Walking along the railway track at Shifen Old Street
Me with the suspension bridge in Shifen
Shifen Old Street
Train pulling into Shifen Station
Shifen Old Street
My friend and I releasing sky lantern in Shifen
My friend and I releasing sky lantern in Shifen
There goes our sky lantern
There goes our sky lantern
My friend and I on the suspension bridge in Shifen
Entrance to the suspension bridge
Me at Shifen
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
Night view of the bridge
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
View of the suspension bridge
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
Me hanging bamboos on the suspension bridge
Me at Shifen Old Street

 

Waiting for our train at Ruifang Station
Me at Ruifang Station
We got back to Songshan Train station at around 9pm. My friend told me that there is a night market nearby the train station. As we were carrying a lot of stuffs we bought from Jiufen Old Street, my friend and I headed back to the hotel to put down the results of our shopping spree today. We rested for an hour and took a cab back near Songshan Train station, where Raohe Night Market is located. I was initially excited to shop around Raohe Night Market, however my excitement is short lived. Raohe Night Market is a one-street night market, very much different from Shilin Night Market that I visited the day before. This night market looks empty, other than the shops, there are very few make-shift stalls, which would otherwise occupy the centre walkway of the street. Perhaps it is due to the rain and perhaps it is due to the time (almost 10pm when we reach Raohe Night Market). There were still a number of stalls selling mostly food, however the number of stalls opened pales in comparison with Shilin Night Market. My friend and I shopped a little and got some street food before realising we have hit the end of the street. At the end of the street, we spotted a rather colourful temple. This is the temple of the Heavenly Mother. It was however closed due to the time we were there. As with most Chinese temples, this temple is decked out in red and grey colour. The number of carvings on the roofs and pillars did not lose out to that in some of the bigger temples that we saw so far. As we have reached the end of Raohe Night Market, plus most of the shops and stalls are closing, my friend and I decided to head back to the hotel to rest for the night. As we need to wake up early tomorrow for our day trip to Wulai.
Raohe Night Market
Me at Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market
Street scene at Raohe Night Market
We had osyters
Temple at the end of Raohe Night Market
Me at the temple

Taipei Day 1 (30 Apr 14) – Hello Taipei

It was 5am. The city of Taipei is still sleeping. As I deplaned from a 4 hour overnight flight, walking out of the aircraft a sleepy and quiet airport terminal greeted me. There was hardly any souls around. It is hard to believe this city inhibits nearly 3 million people. This is my first trip to Taipei, though I have been to Taiwan before on business trip some years ago, I did not have time to really explore the country. Moreover I was in Tainan and not Taipei. I have seen so much on TVs from Taiwanese serials to Travel Programmes about Taipei. I was traveling with a friend whom has traveled to this city umpteen times. However his stays was usually in Taipei city itself. We planned to be ambitious and wanted to explore more then Taipei during this trip, given that we only have 4 days here. Clearing customs is swift, partly due to the low visitor traffic at this time of the day. We collected our luggage and soon found ourselves out of the airport terminal. Our transport is already waiting for us.
My friend and I after the immigration in Singapore Changi Airport, getting ready to head to Taipei
Boarded the aircraft and ready to go
Taking off from Singapore Changi Airport
Arrival at Taipei Taoyuan Airport
An empty airport terminal greeted us
An empty airport terminal greeted us
Waiting to collect our luggages
Our ride to the hotel is already waiting for us

The drive to Taipei city from the airport takes less than an hour. As we were driven towards our hotel, the quietness of the city attested to the fact that the city is still asleep. It is hardly the Taipei that I can to read about. We checked into the hotel upon arrival. Checking in was fast, however due to we arrived early, the hotel do not provide complementary early check-in. We paid for the extras and proceeded to our room to rest a little before heading out to explore the city. It was still early for us to do anything, the only shops that are still open at this hour are the 7-Elevens and the Family Marts nearby.

 

Driving to Taipei City from the airport
Driving to Taipei City from the airport
An empty expressway towards the city
Driving to Taipei City from the airport
The hotel that we will be putting up
An empty street of Taipei
Empty street of Taipei

Half a day has passed. My friend and I had woken refreshed ready to explore the city. We headed to the nearby subway station and gotten ourselves stored value tickets. Subway is a very convenient way of exploring the city. The stations are well marked in both Mandarin and English signs. All the attractions within the city serviced by the subway is clearly marked on maps, making traveling by subway easy, not to mention subway is actually cheaper then taking cabs.

Inside the Taipei Subway station
A train has just pulled into the station
Riding on the subway

Our first stop in Taipei was the Longshan Temple. This temple is considered one of the big 3 temples in Taipei and proved to be a great spot to soak up the religious culture of the Taiwanese. The temple is conveniently located opposite the Longshan Temple Subway station. Emerging from the subway station, the temple is just right across the street. The facade of the temple looked like time has stopped the day the temple was built. The temple looked old but very well preserved.  Entering the main gate to the temple, a small garden with some man-made waterfall greets visitors. There are 2 side doors to access into the temple building. My friend and I headed to the door no the right. We bought some incense and candles to offer our prayers to the deities being worshipped here. The main deity being worshipped here is Guanyin, however there are over 100 Taoist deities being worshipped here alongside Guanyin. After offering our prayers, we headed further into the temple. The temple can be roughly segregated into 3 main sections. The first section would be the entrance, where it is sheltered and where most devotees come and offer their prayers to Guanyin. In front of the sheltered entrance is the building where Guanyin was being seated. A modest but grand building, it is the centrepiece of the temple. This building is surrounded by buildings connecting to the rear of the temple, where most of the Taoist deities are located. This is where most of the devotees placed their offerings of fruits and vegetarian meals to the gods. These surrounding buildings form the border of the temple. The roofs of Longshan Temple is elaborately decorated with numerous carvings of gods and mainly Chinese dragons, where it is believed that they are the guardians of the temple.

Signage at Longshan Temple
Facade of Longshan Temple
Man made waterfall
Longshan Temple entrance
Me at Longshan Temple entrance
Hordes of devotees in Longshan Temple
Traditional Chinese architecture in Longshan Temple
One of the deities in Longshan Temple
Hordes of devotees in Longshan Temple
Me inside Longshan Temple
Longshan Temple
Longshan Temple
The main temple building housing Guanyin

Upon exiting the temple, my friend and I wanted to visit Shilin Night Market – the biggest night markets of all in Taipei. We spotted a market just outside Longshan Temple. As it is still early to visit Shilin, we decided to spend some time walking around the market here. The market here is rather scattered and most of the vendors offered street food of Taiwan here. We walked around for 15 mins and found this place to be rather boring. At this point, my friend proposed to visit Ximending instead. We proceeded to the subway station and caught the train to Ximending.

Emerging from the Ximen subway station, the district of Ximending presents itself before us. This district is where some of the major shopping brands is located. Here we spotted a breathe of youthfulness in the air, as it appeared to be a major hangout place for the youths and teens of Taiwan. As we were coming out of the subway station, it started to rain. My friend and I hurried to the nearby shopping mall to seek shelter. We were a little hungry and headed to McDonald’s for a quick bite. Soon the rain subsided a little, my friend and I went on to explore Ximending. Ximending is really a vibrant place, with no lack of fashion outlets, mainly local designers, arcades and cinema. Other then the shopping malls littered across Ximending area, there are also stalls set up mainly for the night market. Unlike that one that we went to in the vicinity of Longshan Temple, the night market stalls seemed to be a permanent feature, with proper shelters and more sturdy looking fixtures, as compared to their make-shift counterparts in Longshan Temple area. There are certainly no lack of street food here in Ximending area. My friend and I headed for the famous oyster vermicelli that is a must eat whenever one comes to Taipei. Perhaps it is the cool climate that accompanied the rain, the oyster vermicelli tasted extra delicious. As we were walking along the streets of Ximending, we met a couple of youths paddling their wares to raise money for their University event. We chatted a little, they were portrayed to be friendly and welcomed us to Taipei. After eating the vermicelli, we walked around Ximending a little more before deciding it is time for us to head over to Shilin Night Market. As we were walking towards the subway station, I spotted a red building just across the road. My friend and I then proceeded to that red building. Little did we realise it is the Red House. This building used to be a old market building. When we visited the building, it now mainly sells teas and we also spotted a few shops selling local arts. As my friend and I are not ardent arts nor tea fan, we did not spend too much time in the Red House. We headed to the subway next and proceeded to our next destination – Shilin Night Market.

Ximending
Ximending
One of the shopping malls in Ximending
One of the shopping malls in Ximending
Friendly locals posing picture with us in Ximending
Crowded Ximending
The famous Oyster Vermicelli in Ximending
Oyster vermicelli in Ximending
This is how the vermicelli is made

Exiting from the subway station, Shilin Night Market is just right across the street.  I read that Shilin Night Market is the mother of all night markets in Taipei and is certainly the largest. The first impression I got from seeing it across the street is that this night market does not look that large nor does it differ from the other markets I have seen so far. As we were walking into the market, little did I realise I was wrong. The market is certainly larger then what it seem from the across the street at the subway station. As one walks into the night market, the market seem to expand in size and depth. There are shops and stalls that seem to sell everything shoppers come for. There are no lack of food stalls in Shilin Night Market. At almost every turn and every corner, one can find food. These are the food that the locals and tourist alike came flogging for. There are food that can match every pallet and every preference. The food one find here are not just inexpensive, they are tasty too. Coupled with the warmth personality of the stall owners, this market is rather enjoyable to walk in. There are also no lack of things for shopaholics to spend their time browsing and buying in Shilin Night Market. Goods ranging from cloths to shoes to souvenirs and even local delicacies can be found here in the night market. One can literally spend hours and hours in Shilin Night Market to hunt for the suitable goods that match what one is looking for here. Despite being raining, it did not dampen the spirits of both shoppers and stall owners alike, life still goes on and Shilin Night Market is still buzzling with life till the wee hours of the morning.  My friend and I spent around 3 hours walking around Shilin Night Market and decided to call it a night as it is getting late (or early in the morning). After walking around in Shilin Night Market, I came to realise the mother of all night markets is indeed an apt title for this market. We merely skimmed through the night market. I have a feeling that we will be back here again before heading back to Singapore. But for now, it is resting time for we will be heading to Jiufen and Shifen.

Shilin Night Market from across the street
Local street food in Shilin Night Market
Street scene in Shilin Night Market
More food in Shilin Night Market
We had smelly tofu
Fruit juice stall in Shilin Night Market
Lots of locals and tourists came flogging to Shilin Night Market
My friend and I in Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market
The sheltered market area in Shilin Night Market
The sheltered market area in Shilin Night Market
One can find local food in Shilin Night Market
Street scene in Shilin Night Market