Sunday, May 29, 2011

    Destination One: Au Revoir Taipei

    Surprise, surprise! I was away for Taipei, Taiwan the week before (and I spent most of this week busily putting this post together). I know VanillaChymes is generally a fashion and arts focused blog but with the encouragement of a friend and Jeisa, I decided to do a little guide on Taipei. I had a bit of trouble finding an English guide to Taipei and I wanted to find local sources, So here it is, everything put together by experience. Hopefully you'll find it handy if you ever decide to visit yourself! It's not a comprehensive guide, but I picked out my favorites and places where I had the best experiences!

    This trip was my first to Taipei. All I had known of Taipei was from a film called Au Revoir Taipei and all I got was mostly glimpses of Eslite bookstore (the Barnes and Noble or Page One of Taipei, such a large group that it also sells apparel and stationary in various locations in Taipei), the Taipei MRT, and some of Taipei's night market. I went on this trip with three other friends for five days (arrived on Monday morning and left Friday night). In our schedule, we spent Monday at DanShui but it was raining so heavily. we couldn't see much, most of Tuesday and Wednesday in Jiu Fen, and the rest of our time exploring Taipei.

    So hear are some of the highlights of our trip. Taipei is great for eating, shop, and some sightseeing. Everything is very convenient when traveling by the MRT and there's so much to eat! My friend and I started worrying about our budget by the second night because we were like "oh dear, where did our money go?" It turns out that there's so much to eat, money just disappeared from my wallet like that! Remember to bring some extra cash! If you don't have enough, just stop by the local bank to exchange for more.

    As for the outskirts of Taipei, my favorite stop was at Jiu Fen. Jiu Fen used to be a prosperous town due to the gold mines nearby. The tea houses on its steps and its theater used to be entertainment for nearby miners. Once the gold mine reserves started declining, so did the town. Only after the film A City of Sadness by Hou Hsiao-hsien, did Jiu Fen's tourism industry start to rise again and along with it came a new start for Jiu Fen. It's very much like the touristy towns in China but the sea view is simply breathtaking and the Gold Ecological Park was so much fun!

    Taipei, Taiwan

    Destinations (pictured, top to bottom):
    1. National Concert Hall: Next to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
    2. Spot - Taipei Film House: Right around the corner if exit 4 of ZhongShan station (walk out and you'll see the signs pointing in its direction), Spot - Taipei Film House s the hub for indie films in Taipei. The building used to be the US embassy. If you don't have time to catch a film there, have a drink and snack at either of its cafes (Le Ballon Rouge or Cafe Lumiere). I enjoyed my tea set at the Cafe Lumiere (not pictured). Both restaurants serve the same items.
    3. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall: Commemorating the late Chiang Kai-Shek, pop in a for quick peek at this Taiwanese leaders life. My favorite part - the gift shop with cartoon-y versions of Chiang Kai-Shek on postcards and other souvenirs. Haha! :P
    4. National Palace Museum: Take a look at the historical treasures of China's history. It's one of the rather prominent destinations of Taipei.

    For more information on destinations and attractions, check out GuidePal's Taipei section. My friend wrote it! It's got a great guide on where to go in Taipei, written by a local Taiwanese (all in English)!

    Cuisine (pictured, left to right):
    1. Marinated Food at Shida Night Market. You just pick out want you want to eat at the front of the store. The workers will hand the food to the next person who chops it all up, calculates the price, and you pay. Then its cooked (more like boiled) in front of you. Take it upstairs to eat, there's a minimum amount required to be spent on drinks, but it's not much and you'll be able to enjoy your food a lot more comfortably that way.
    2. Dong Noodles (Dong Fen) with Pork Balls for Breakfast. Suggested by Sweet Potato Hostel on our first night, this is supposedly a simple traditional Taiwanese breakfast. Dong Fen is a clear thin type of noodle. I had it with meat balls and it didn't disappoint!
    3. Chun Shui Tang Bubble Tea (near ZhongShan MRT station). Chun Shui Tang claims to be the creator of Taiwan's famous bubble milk tea. There's a minimum spending of 100TWD but a  medium size bubble tea is already around 70TWD. Just try a snack while you're at it. The bubble tea there has a strong milk taste than tea. Note: the large size drinks are HUGE. It's the size of a pitcher, probably around the size of one litre. So think twice before ordering the large.
    4. Shrimp Rolls at Hai Jing Chan Ting in DanShui. As suggested in our guide book, Hai Jing Chan Ting (海風餐廳) is a favorite of locals for seafood. We had cooked clams, Taiwanese veggies, fish balls, fried baby oysters, and shrimp rolls. Our favorite was the crunchy fried oysters. The price is rather cheap. Take a bite hear before heading down DanShui's old street for more snacks! Location: right at the beginning of the old street, if you're walking from the MRT (17 Zhong Zheng Street).

    Other kinds of food to try:
    1. Ah Zhong Mian Xian: A favorite of locals, its a very thin and soft type of noodle in a very thick soup. Available at XiMenDing and more info on GuidePal (above)!
    2. Milkhouse's Half Cooked Cheese Cake PuddingHong Kong but the bottom is a light and soft pudding. I didn't take pictures but you can read more here :) Milkhouse has shops everywhere. There's one at the Taipei Railway Station and I bought mine at Breeze Center (FuXingNan Road MRT station)
    3. Cookies from Kobayashi. Get off the MRT station at FuXingNan Road (same station as Sogo) and get out at Exit 3. It's right next to the station exit. Remember to try their freshly baked cakes!

    1. Beauty Products: Try Watsons or Cosmed for a wide selection. Watsons has a lot of the Asian cosmetic brand and the larger stores even have some local Taiwanese brands. Cosmed has the famous My Beauty Diary face masks (amazing effects for its low price!). Note to Hong Kong visitors though, My Beauty Diary face masks are cheaper in Hong Kong due to the recent higher conversion rate between the HKD and TWD.
    2. Clothes: Try the Shilin area or Shida Market. I was most impressed with the wide range of styles there (for example, I would see only Lilac blazer in a HK boutique but I'd fine three to five choices in only store in Shida Market). But I have to say, clothes in Taipei aren't all that cheap (compared to Hong Kong, China, the amazing but you'll get a large variety. Wufenpu (the wholesale market) wasn't worth much of a visit if you've been to the wholesale markets in Hong Kong (I asked for the price of quite a few tank tops and I got the price of 1080TWD, which is around 300HKD).

    Where to stay:
    STAR Hostels I have to say, this is one of the best hostels I've ever been to. Walk over from ZhongShan station in minutes (literally less than ten minutes), the area is very convenient. The common area, rooms, and bathrooms are sooo tidy and clean. The beds and pillows are as comfortable as mine at home! Breakfast is provided and the staff are very friendly and helpful! You'll be surprised at how a extremely clean, friendly, and convenient hostel is also at such a low price! It was 2000TWD per night for four people (four person dorm), which means it was 500TWD per person (around 140 HKD or less than 20USD). I'll definitely return if I visit Taipei again in the near future.

    Outside of Taipei: Jiu Fen

    1. The Stairs (pictured above): Lined with tea-houses on both sides, this is the signature view of JiuFen. if you have time, have a drink or two and enjoy the scenery. Note that it's rather expensive to eat there and the quality of the food might not be great, so just stop by for tea or other drinks. Restaurants and tea houses close before 10pm!
    2. Old Street:At around the top of the steps, filled with souvenirs and snacks for tourists.
    3. Gold Museum: It's actually the Gold Ecological Park. We had so much fun there! Most of the sites are free of charge except the gold mine tunnel and gold mining experience (like those in US amusement parks where you're given a pan to siphon for gold). There's a mini museum with a huge chunk of gold (haha, I was too amused to remember the details) for you to touch (yes, touch ONLY. It's really heavily because gold is a very dense material). You can even get a lunchbox mimicked after those of gold miners and the lunchbox comes with the box and a cloth with the park's map printed on it (yours to keep!) for only 200TWD. Take a bus for around ten minutes from Jiu Fen to get there.

    Where to stay:
    Aegean Sea's Homestay. It's right next to the stairs of Jiu Fen. Very convenient. The homestay will even drive you up to Jiu Fen from the RuiFang Railway Station after you give her a call from the station. There are rooms for two or four people and extra beds are available (on an additional fee). A room for four is 3200TWD on weekdays (another price during weekends). Breakfast is included and the view from the room and breakfast place (in an extension next to the house) is great!

    Hope this helps!
    All for now,


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