Saturday, March 30, 2019

What's in a (Business) Name? Ochenta

Evil Twin, part 2
Wilkin's evil twin was spotted in Tagbilaran City, Bohol

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Taipei 2019: Itinerary and Expenses

Here's our itinerary and expenses for our 5-day break in Taipei.


The bulk of my budget was spent on food. Just like my trip in 2014. I agree with friends that Taipei is a great place for a food trip! I hope to go back again in the future for a few days of stuffing my self and peppering it with some sightseeing.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Taiwanese Snacks I Love

Ask friends who have been to Taiwan what they suggest to do, and food trip would almost always be the answer. Yes, Taiwanese food is really delicious, from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants. But what about snacks?

Ve Wong Little Prince Snack Noodles
25 NTD for a pack of 8

Little Prince Snack Noodles are addicting little packets of crunchy ready-to-eat noodles that come in different flavors. I first discovered these in the free snack corner of the hotel we were staying in, Haozhan Hotel. Where could I buy these? The receptionist was no help! Luckily, I found some in the convenience store and in a stall in Pingxi (photo below was from said stall). And it was really cheap!

Little Prince Snack Noodles in different flavors


Butter Crispy Cake from Red Sakura
280 NTD for a box of 8

The roundtrip MRT tickets that we got from Klook came with a coupon for a free gift from Red Sakura. We really did not have plans of claiming the free gift, but while walking around Ximending, we stumbled upon Red Sakura, and, well, because I am a sucker for free stuff, claim it we did. The free gift was a packet of Butter Crispy Cake. Crispy flaky shell with a pat of creamy, but not greasy, butter inside. This free gift was a good way to advertise! It resulted in a sale: I bought a box to bring home to my family in Cebu.

Red Sakura's Butter Crispy Cake
(Photo from Red Sakura)


French Nougat from Sugar & Spice
350 NTD for 400g (around 29 pieces)

These nougats with almonds are firm but not hard (unlike some other nougats I have tried), chewy but not sticky to the teeth, and has the right amount of sweetness. Sugar & Spice's French nougats are so good that I just had to forget about being thrifty and give in to this expensive indulgence.

French Nougat
(Photo from Sugar & Spice)


Dried Okra
200 NTD

Who would want to snack on vegetables?? After tasting the free samples of crunchy, delicious, dried okra in one of the stalls selling dried vegetables in Jiufen, then that would be us! Thinking we'd pass by the same place on the way home, we said we'd buy later. We were crestfallen when, some time later, we realized we wouldn't be able to go back to the dried vegetables stall (lesson here: buy while you have the chance). Fortunately, two days after, when we were fighting our way through the crowds of Raohe Night Market, we found a stall with various packets of dried vegetables for sale. Now was our last chance to buy some dried okra for some guilt-free snacking.

 Almond Pork Paper
150 NTD (small box) / 250 NTD (big box)

The numerous stores in Ximending selling a variety of souvenir items overwhelms the senses. It's fortunate most stores have free samples which give tourists unfamiliar with the products a helping hand. Of all the souvenir food items we tried, this Almond Paper Pork, to me, was the best. Tasty, crispy, thin papers of pork floss and almonds. I could eat a box in just one sitting. So good!


If you ever go to Taiwan and think of me, please bring me these Taiwanese snacks. Pretty please?





Friday, March 15, 2019

Klook Activities for Taipei: Maokong Gondola, Taipei Guided Walking Tour

This is not a sponsored post, but I was very satisfied with the Klook deals for Taipei that we availed of that it deserves writing about.

Maokong Gondola

Regular Price: 240 NTD roundtrip
Klook Price: 240 NTD roundtrip, with Taipei Double Decker Sightseeing Bus (Night) Ticket

The Maokong Gondola (cable car) travels four kilometers up the mountains to Maokong, where there are walking trails, tea plantations, tea museum, restaurants, and tea shops. There are two cabin options: regular cabin or crystal cabin. The crystal cabin is glass-floored, but to take one takes a bit of waiting.

We waited for a crystal cabin, and by the time we boarded one, the sun was about to set. It made for a beautiful ride up the mountain with a sunset view of Taipei, but did not leave time to visit Zhinan Temple (the stop before Maokong Station). When we arrived in Maokong, it was shrouded in darkness, too dark to see anything, so we just walked around to check out the restaurants and tea shops.

Maokong Gondola

Sunset over Taipei

A night at Maokong



The Taipei Double Decker Sightseeing Bus is a hop-on hop-off (HOHO) bus, with two routes: red route (east route) and blue route (north route). Since the Maokong Gondola tickets we bought came with a free ticket (for use from 5PM to 9PM) on the red route of the Taipei Double Decker Sightseeing Bus, we decided to go on a joyride. There is an audio guide on the tour bus and it tells you about the important sites the bus passes by. As it is a HOHO bus, you can get on or off at any of its stops. Most of the attractions on the red route are better visited in the day time, so we rode the entire route and only got off at its last stop: Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

On the Taipei Double Decker Sightseeing Bus


Free Taipei Guided Walking Tour: Historic Route

Klook offers three free guided walking tours: Historic Route, Golden Age Route, and Modern Route. Yes, these tours are free, but you still have to book a slot on Klook.

The Historic Route visits Longshan Temple, Bopiliao Old Street, The Red House, Presidential Office Building, 228 Peace Park, Taipei South Gate, and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. When my sister and I visited Taipei in 2014, we visited some of the sites included in the Historic Route, but it was purely sightseeing: we had zero knowledge of its historical significance. Joining the guided tour, led by two friendly guides, Paul and Lynn, gave us background and historical information and insight into the Taiwanese culture. If you are interested in history, I highly recommend this tour.

Participants of the guided tour

Longshan Temple

An old school hand-painted poster at Bopiliao Old Street

The Red House

Presidential Office Building

At 228 Peace Park

Taipei South Gate

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall behind the huge KAWS art installation


Other Klook deals we availed of:

Pocket WiFi

Klook Price: 50NTD per day

I booked a Pocket WiFi for pick up at Taoyuan Airport. The pick up and return process was very easy, but the booth was only at the Arrival Hall. I think it would have been more convenient had they had a booth for returns at the Departure Hall. The WiFi connection was okay and the battery life was as advertised. Would rent this again the next time I get a chance to visit Taipei.


Taoyuan Airport MRT Tickets

Regular Price: 160 NTD per way / 320 NTD roundtrip
Klook Price: 280 NTD roundtrip with free gift

The reason we bought our Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station and vice versa MRT tickets from Klook was because of the discounted price. It was a bonus that the process for exchanging the voucher to the actual MRT tickets or tokens was very easy to do. Plus it came with a free gift from Red Sakura!


Yehliu Geopark

Regular Price: 80 NTD
Klook Price: 80 NTD

Yehliu Geopark is a popular tourist destination, where one can see many interesting rock formations shaped by nature. There is no price difference if you purchase admission tickets at the Geopark ticket booth or through Klook. But it saves time from queueing (remember, it's a popular tourist spot!): you can already gain admission just by showing the mobile voucher from Klook.

Yehliu Geopark


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Visiting Old Streets of Jingtong, Pingxi, Shifen, and Jiufen

We spent a day station hopping the Pingxi Line.

From Taipei Main Station, we took the train to Ruifang Station, then transferred to the Pingxi Line. There are eight stations along the Pingxi Line and while rolling along the tracks, we'd decide where to alight, then we'd change our mind. In the end, we decided we'd get off at the end of the line: Jingtong Station. Most of the passengers got off at Shifen Station, and by the time we reached Jingtong Station, there were probably just a dozen of us.

Jingtong Station

Surrounding Jingtong Station were shops selling souvenirs and snacks. But only a few shops were open. It was a very quiet place with only a few tourists. Maybe because it was raining, or maybe because it was too early.

Jingtong Old Street

The old street spilled out on the highway, where on the right we saw a lantern-shaped police station.

Lantern-shaped police station

Jingtong Old Street is just around 200 meters long. There wasn't much else to do except to check out the tracks (once the train had left), the old building across the tracks, and the dozens of wishes written on bamboo hanging along the fence.


We could have waited for the train to come back, but I persuaded my friends to walk to the next station: Pingxi Station. It was only a 20-minute walk along the road that ran parallel to the tracks. There were a few houses here and there, and lots of vegetation in between. In short, there really wasn't much to see.

In terms of buildings, there were way more in Pingxi than in Jingtong. And yes, more shops. And a few more tourists. My friends saw a shop selling lanterns and they decided they'd buy and fly one. (This is an activity popular in Shifen, so if you'd like to fly one, best to do it Pingxi where there are fewer tourists.) Tightwad that I am, I volunteered to be their photographer.

Spot the cat

Train tracks running through Pingxi

Write your wish on a lantern and let it fly

We did not get to explore the little alleys of Pingxi because soon the train rolled along. We didn't want to miss it and wait for the next one. Our next stop, Shifen Station, was too far to walk from Pingxi.

Shifen, too, had souvenir shops, and food stalls. Plus restaurants, cafes. And it was crowded. Very, very crowded. After the less-crowded visits to Jingtong and Pingxi, we were overwhelmed by the number of tourists here and had to escape by ducking inside a coffee shop.


Shifen, a popular place to fly lanterns is also known for its waterfall. Shifen Waterfall was just nearby. By nearby, I meant a 20-minute walk. But I guess my friends have had enough of 20-minute walks for the day: they wanted to take a taxi (100 NTD per taxi, 4 passengers).

From where the taxi dropped us off, it was only about a 10-minute walk over bridges and along an established concrete path to the waterfall. Because it was raining (and had been raining the past few days), Shifen Waterfall was gushing a gazillions gallons per second. The spray was too much at the viewing deck which caused us to scurry away after a few quick clicks of our cameras.

Shifen Waterfall

Guanpu Suspension Bridge

We made our way back to where the taxi dropped us off. Our watch warned us we only had a few minutes until the next train. (The plan was take the train to Ruifang Station, then from Ruifang, take the bus to Jiufen.) But, there was no taxi in sight. By the time we found a taxi, the train had already left, and we decided to just pay the taxi to take us straight to Jiufen (1000 NTD per taxi, 4 passengers).

The taxi driver dropped us off at a little square with large letters spelling Jiufen and he pointed to a set of stairs as a way of telling us to go and climb it. The stairs led to an area alight with lanterns (it was almost dusk) and teeming with people. Jiufen is another popular tourist destination and it, too, had many tourists.

Jiufen

We left a gaggle of raincoat-wearing tourists on the square and followed another crowd up the stairs where we passed by some shops. The stairs led to Jishan Street, a street full of souvenir shops, craft shops, tea shops, food stalls, etc. A familiar sight—my sister and I had been in this area of Jiufen in 2014.




The rest of the evening was spent popping in and out of shops, looking at bits and bobs, until we got tired and hungry. We looked for a random restaurant to have our dinner before heading to the bus stop to take Bus 1062 back to Taipei City (fare is 101 NTD).



Taipei 2019
Taipei Accommodation: Haozhan Hotel
Taoyuan Airport MRT
Taipei Nature Trip: Yangmingshan National Park and Yehliu Geopark
Visiting Old Streets of Jingtong, Pingxi, Shifen, and Jiufen (you're here!)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Taipei Nature Trip: Yangmingshan National Park and Yehliu Geopark

For those wanting to immerse in nature, there are nature spots within an hour and a half of Taipei City.

Yangmingshan National Park is 113 square kilometers in area and there are many scenic spots: Yangmingshuwu (used by Chiang Kai Shek as a summer house), Xiaoyoukeng (trail to see fumaroles and volcanic cones), Erziping (flat trail around three ponds), Zhuzihu (farming village with a field of calla lilies), Datun Nature Park, Lengshuikeng (an area with a hot spring, a hot spring foot bath, and some hiking trails), Qingtiangang (grassland) among others.

We ended up just sightseeing in two areas of the park: Qingtiangang and Lengshuikeng. I had planned for us to hike from Qingtiangang to Lengshuikeng, but the trail was closed—to the relief of my non-hiking companions. The undulating grassy view of Qingtiangang was a pretty sight, but it was all be could do: look. There was not much else to do at Qingtiangang so we just took the next bus to Lengshuikeng. At Lengshuikeng, there was a public hot spring bath (none of us dared go naked), a hot spring foot bath (I tried it, it was not too hot), a trail up the mountain (I went up a little ways to check out the view, but did not continue on to the peak since my companions sat it out and were waiting at the trail head), and Jingshan Suspension Bridge (which leads to Qingtiangang).

Directions: There are many ways to get to Yangmingshan National Park, it depends on where you want to go. We wanted to go the grasslands of Qingtiangang so we went to Jiantan Station, and from there took Minibus S15 to Yangmingshan National Park. The last stop of Minibus S15 is Qingtiangang. To get around the park, you can take Shuttle 108 (15 NTD per ride, or buy a one-day pass for 60 NTD).

Tip: For bus information, visit the Taipei eBus website.

Qingtiangang

Hot spring foot bath at Lengshuikeng

Hiking trail


View of the hot spring bath and the main road from the hiking trail

Jingshan Suspension Bridge

Yehliu Geopark
Open daily 8AM to 5PM
Admission fee 80 NTD

For seaside scenery and interesting rock formations, spend some time at Yehliu Geopark, just an hour and a half bus ride from Taipei City.

Yehliu Geopark is about 1.7 kilometers in length. Weather and erosion has shaped the rocks in Yehliu to look like a queen's head, mushrooms, candles, honeycomb, ice cream, tofu, and even a shoe. The park has pathways and observation decks, but there are some areas where visitors can get close to the rock formations.

Yehliu is a famous tourist spot and some portions can get crowded, especially at the queen’s head rock, a rock formation almost everyone wants to take a photo of. Most visitors spend their time in the areas where the mushroom rocks (including the queen’s head) are and don’t bother to go further north. There are more rock formations in the northern portion of the park, but the formations can only be viewed from afar. 

Directions: At Kuo Kuang Bus Terminal 野柳地質公園 (near Taipei Main Station), take Bus 1815 to Yehliu (98 NTD, 90 minutes).

Tip: For bus information, visit the Taipei eBus website.

Mushroom

Yehliu Geopark

Tofu rocks partially submerged

Seascape

Elephant Mountain

Elephant Mountain is in the Xinyi District of Taipei City. There is a trail (tons of stairs) that can be climbed in just 20 minutes (or so they say). The reward at the top of Elephant Mountain is a view of Taipei (and Taipei 101). 

I wanted to add this to our itinerary. But, as I mentioned, my companions weren't into hiking. They'd probably kill me if I made them hike up a mountain, stairs or no stairs.

Directions: Take the MRT to Xiangshan Station, then take exit 2. Follow the path along Xiangshan Park. At the end of the road, take a left and follow the road until you reach the trail head (stairs!) on your left.


Taipei 2019
Taipei Accommodation: Haozhan Hotel
Taoyuan Airport MRT

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Taipei Foodtrip

Our main objective in Taipei was to eat, eat, and eat.

Mala Hotpot
Several branches in Taipei

As soon as we arrived in rainy Taipei, our first goal was to stuff our face with hot pot. To the nearest Mala Hot Pot we went (there are two branches in Ximending, and more around Taipei).

Mala Hot Pot serves all you can eat hot pot. Choose from 11 choices of meat, and dozens and dozens of hot pot ingredients: seafood balls, tofu, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, etc. Dump it all in your soup base of choice (choose two out of five soup base options). Don't forget to make your own dipping sauce from more than a dozen condiments. Start eating, but leave room for drinks (juice, soda, beer, wine, tea, milk tea), desserts (cakes, pastries, jellies, fruits), and ice cream (Haagen-Dazs and Movenpick ice cream!!!)

Eating at Mala Hot Pot costs 598 NTD for lunch / 698 NTD for dinner, plus 10% service charge. The all you can eat hot pot is good for two hours only. Before the two hours is up, I am sure you will be bursting at the seams...so be sure to wear loose clothes when eating here!

We loved Mala Hot Pot so much—the best parts for me were the hot pot and the Movenpick ice cream (Movenpick ice cream in Cebu is so expensive!)—that we ate here twice!

Our hot pot!



Din Tai Fung, a Michelin star restaurant, originated in Taiwan. And a visit to Taiwan would never be complete without dining there (a warning, Din Tai Fung is a bit on the expensive side). Not to miss is their xiao long bao. But everything else is also worth every New Taiwan Dollar.

Sweet and sour pork spare ribs 250 NTD
Pork xiao long bao 220 NTD

Steamed shrimp and pork dumplings 270 NTD

House special spicy shrimp and pork wontons 180 NTD

Stir fried spinach 190 NTD

Shrimp and shredded pork fried rice 290 NTD

Braised beef noodle soup 260 NTD

Milk Tea

Pearl Milk Tea was invented in Taiwan and it's no wonder there are so many milk tea shops around. Choosing one will give you a headache. But if you want pearl milk tea from the one who invented it, head on to Chun Shui Tang. Chun Shui Tang's first store is in Taichung City, but it also has several branches around Taipei and we got to taste this original drink from their shop in the same building as the National Concert Hall, located in NTCH Arts Plaza (where Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall also is). 160 NTD for a medium sized pearl milk tea is quite expensive for me, but now I can say I have tried pearl milk tea from its inventor.

Pearl Milk Tea (medium) from Chun Shui Tang

Tiger Sugar was quite a new and popular milk tea player at the time and when my friend and I stumbled upon a shop in Ximending without any queue, I had to try out their best seller: Brown Sugar Milk with Cream Mousse (55 NTD). No wonder it's a best seller. It was so good!

Brown Sugar Milk with Cream Mousse from Tiger Sugar

Wangji Fucheng Zongzi
王記府城肉粽
No. 84 Xining Road, Wanhua District, Taipei City

Zongzi is a large dumpling made of rice and fillings and wrapped in a leaf (some Chinese restaurants in the Philippines also have this in their menu as "machang"). During our historic guided tour, we asked our guide for suggestions for a snack, and she pointed us to Wangji Fucheng Zongzi 王記府城肉粽 (the store sign is in Chinese), behind The Red House, for some zongzi. They have three kinds of zongzi: pork (65NTD), peanut (50 NTD), red bean (50 NTD). We tried their specialty, which is the pork rice dumpling, and ended up having a meal, not a snack. So filling!

Zongzi


Jin Feng
金峰魯肉飯
No. 10 Section 1, Roosevelt Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City

A local eatery our guide suggested we try for lunch was Jin Feng 金峰魯肉飯. And, man, was it popular: there was a long line of hungry locals. We we were very hungry, but we toughed it out and waited. Jin Feng's specialty is braised pork rice (70 NTD). But we waited so long, of course we ordered more than just the braised pork rice! (They have an English menu, but the paper where you have to write your order is in Chinese, but you can ask help from their staff.) It was worth the wait!

Lunch for four at Jin Feng


Tian Tian Li
天天利美食坊
32 Hanzhong Street, Wanhua District, Taipei City

I believe a queue of locals indicates that the place is good. The menu board that faces the street was all in Chinese but it did not deter us from having dinner there. When my friend and I were finally seated, we asked for an English menu (they had one! Woohoo!) and settled on four things: marinated meat rice (small, 30 NTD), marinated meat rice with egg (large, 40 NTD), noodle soup (40 NTD), and turnip cake (40 NTD).

The queue outside Tiantian Li

Clockwise from bottom: marinated meat rice, marinated meat rice with egg, noodle soup, and turnip cake


Raohe Night Market
Raohe Street, Songshan District, Taipei City

Night Markets are popular in Taiwan. We chose Raohe Night Market for a little Michelin recommended food trip. What took us by surprise in Raohe Night Market was the crowd: it was so dense! My friends and I had to walk close together lest one of us get lost in the crowd. And we also had to double our effort to find the stalls we were looking for. We only found three of the five Michelin recommended food: Fuzhou Black Pepper Bun (50 NTD), Dong Fat Hao's oh-ah mee sua or oyster vermicelli (65 NTD), and ma shu bao bao or mochi with choice of crushed peanuts, sugar, or black sesame (40 NTD).

Fuzhou black pepper bun

Dong Fat Hao's oh-ah mee sua

Ma shu bao bao stall

Ma shu bao bao




Taipei 2019
Taipei Accommodation: Haozhan Hotel
Taoyuan Airport MRT
Taipei Foodtrip (you're here!)
Klook Activities for Taipei: Maokong Gondola, Taipei Guided Walking Tour
Taiwanese Snacks I Love
Taipei 2019: Itinerary and Expenses