Saturday, July 23, 2011

Taipei In My Eyes

Taipei is one destination I never thought I'd find so interesting.  Aside from the food, there's nothing I really expected from Taipei.  Technology, high-rise, digital billboards, plethora of cool gadgets, and home of the sensational Meteor Garden were all I envisioned Taipei to be.  It was my subconscious that told me to wait till I see more as I set foot on the capital of Taiwan.

Here's the itinerary of our brief yet interesting Taipei exposure:

Day 0 – Thursday, July 14

10:30 PM             ETD Manila
12:40 AM             ETA Taoyuan Airport, Taipei
2:00 AM               Check in at JVs Hostel

Day 1 - Friday, July 15
7:00 AM              Wake up call and quick breakfast 
9:00 AM              Taipei Zoo
1:00 PM              Ride the Maokong Gondola  (Cable Car to the tea houses) C
2:00 PM              Lunch at the tea houses in Maokong
3:00 PM              Cable Car back to Station
4:30 PM              Yangmingshan National Park
7:00 PM              Shilin Night Market
9:00 PM              Miramar Ferris Wheel C

Day 2 – Saturday, July 16

7:00 AM               Wake up call and quick breakfast
                              -Check out and leave bags at JVs hostel
9:00 AM               Xinbeitou Area
                              -Beitou Hot Spring Museum 
                              -Plum Garden
                              -Beitou Thermal Valley C
12:30PM              Chiang Kai-shek Residence
3:00 PM               Late lunch at  Mala Yuanyang Hot Pot C
5:30 PM               Chiang Kai-shek Memoral Hall Park
7:30 PM               Taipei 101
10:00 PM             Catch last bus trip to airport (station is near Far Eastern Hotel)     
10:30 PM             ETA Taipei Airport
1:25 AM               ETD Taipei         
3:35 AM               ETA Manila

C= Highly recommended

I know it was brief for an out of the country trip.  My fault because I did not really pay attention to the time of the flight when I booked this a year ago (yes, one year). Lesson learned: read the itinerary again and again and again before making the payment online.  I guess the time was still meant to be as I had my midterm exam in grad school approaching at that time so I had time to squeeze in the review.

We stayed at JVs Hostel for 2 nights.  Our room cost NT$1,950 per night. It has three single beds, a private bathroom (with washing machine!), and a refrigerator which we did not had the chance to use.  They also have a water dispenser at the ground floor and complimentary tea and coffee. The owner and staff of the hostel were really friendly.  For more info, click here.

The only downside was it's quite far from the MRT station.  The walks as we go home at night after an entire day of exploring was just so exhausting.  It's also not located on the main road.view

Click here for more info on JVs Hostel.

Taipei Zoo

MRT Station: Taipei Zoo
Fee: NT$40 (Buy 1, Take 1 - what a deal!)
So the three of us only spent NT$20 each for the zoo.

Let me begin with our very first destination, the zoo. 
Taipei Zoo reminds me of Singapore Zoo where animals are kept in large habitats.  The only difference is Taipei Zoo does not offer shows, and waaaaay cheaper than SG Zoo's SG$20 (approx. US$16.50) entrance fee.

We rode the tram that cost NT$5 per person to go to the Bird Park, farthest part, and then we walked our way back to see the animals.

Maokong Gondola and Tea Houses CC

Fee: NT$30
MRT Station: Gondola Taipei Zoo Station (inside Taipei Zoo)

Inside the Taipei Zoo can be found the Gondola Taipei Zoo Station where you can ride the Gondola that will pass over the lush tea plantations and will give you a nice bird's eye view of the hills towards the south of Taipei.  I loved this because it is just like the MRT which will bring you to different stations, just hanging and with a lot better view and excitement.

The ride could be a bit nerve-wracking if you have fear of heights - unfortunately (or fortunately) Ayn has.  As you can see she's trying hard to put on a happy face of a tourist enjoying the experience.
I'm not nervous.

This first gondola system in Taipei has four passenger stations – the Taipei Zoo Station, the Taipei Zoo South Station, the Zhinan Temple Station, and the Maokong Station.  You can get off at any of these stations.  From the Taipei Zoo Station we got off at the last stop, Maokong Station where the tea houses are located.

For more info on the Maokong Gondola, click here.

At Maokong Station there are several tea houses to choose from at the Yellow, Red and Blue Stations.  The Yellow Station is nearest to the cable car station so we just had lunch there.

Stinky Tofu
I don't know what it's called, but I liked it.
Looks like an omelette with veggies and seafood. Costs NT$70.
I hope you comprehend.

The Gondola does not operate when it rains, and guess what? It rained! Just perfect.  The staff set up chairs for the tourists waiting at the station, and they also conducted games to entertain the people (though we did not understand because it's in Chinese), and gave out fans.  The crowd waited patiently, lined up properly.  This is the same sight on Taipei's MRT stations where people line up properly while waiting for the train to arrive without any official or staff telling them to.  It was really inspiring to see that the people can indeed do simple things to help the country progress.  It's all a matter of discipline.  I wonder how this can be inculcated to the people of a country like ours.  It's like teaching a child to be well-behaved.

The rain did not stop so by batches tourists were made to ride a shuttle bus to go back down the entrance of the zoo, just beside the MRT Station.  They did not charge anymore the tourists for the bus ride.

After the Gondola, we still tried our luck with Yangmingshan National Park even though it's already late in the afternoon and raining.  We rode the MRT to Taipei Main Station where the bus station (as big as a mall) is located , and then rode Bus 260 to Yangmingshan.  It was a 40-minute ride to the park.

Sadly, as we got there, there was no tourist in sight, the fog was getting really low, the rain did not seem it will stop, we have nowhere to go, it was like a scene from a horror movie.  We decided to just ride the bus again going back the city.

I was frustrated as Yangmingshan Park seemed promising, and it's really big, with trekking trails, hot springs, and many more.  If you arrive before 12PM, there's a shuttle bus that circles the entire park which you can hop on for a fee.

Shilin Night Market

No entrance fee
MRT Station: Jiantan Station

Shilin Market is a bit like Macau's Senado Square and Kota Kinabalu's Gaya Sunday Market. Prices are not that cheap for shopping (my standard of cheap being Bangkok shopping cheap). Most of the goods being sold are clothes, bags, shoes, gadgets, accessories. There was only one store selling a few souvenirs where I bought a ref magnet, my staple travel collection.  No sight of souvenir shirt vendor.

There were also plenty of food stalls and I typically ate everything my eyes noticed: 
-asparagus wrapped in bacon (NT$10) C
-mochi (NT$10)
-sausage (NT$20)
-Oreo milk tea (NT$40) C
-zianbao (NT$10) C 
and it's all we need for dinner!

We only shopped for food for pasalubong where I bought the delicious Chau Square Cookies in Black Sesame, Tofu Cake, Chili Quail Eggs, Choco Coated Mochi with Coffee Filling, and this chili sauce using the spiciest chili in China which is pretty solid.

At the Shilin Market we also passed by a temple.  I was, again, amazed as this was the first time I ever entered a temple like this.  The color, the ornaments, the smell, they overwhelm me. Ayn and Jill were already waiting outside, and there I was still looking around inside the temple, observing the people who came to "pray" and give their offerings, just absorbing this religion I am naive about.

I think it was in the Jiantan MRT Station that we found these delicious little treats we called Eclair.  Catch these soft pastry with filling right from the stove. It's heavenly! Costs NT$18 for eight pieces.

At this point pursuing the original plan of going to Yong Kang Park was not anymore an option because according to the friendly staff at the Visitor Center in Shilin Station, there's nothing to see at Yong Kang but restos and they close at 11PM.  It's already almost 9PM.  So she suggested Miramar where we can find the Ferris Wheel.  It's such a good idea because it's not too far from our current location and it closes pretty late.  Miramar offers a free shuttle bus ride to the mall just a little walk from the Shilin Station, like what almost all casinos in Macau also do.

Visitor Centers are present in almost all MRT stations in Taipei.  It is very much helpful to tourists.  So if you happen to visit Taipei take advantage of these centers and just ask away those super friendly guides for a hassle-free and worry-less vacation.

Miramar Ferris Wheel

MRT Station: Jiantan Station
Fee: NT$150 (on weekdays)

Miramar Mall, a high-end mall like Greenbelt, built this huge ferris wheel mimicking the Grande Roue de Paris and Singapore Flyer, but just smaller.  And now it's a tourist destination, which also already became an "icon", and is present on Taipei marketing materials, even on the wall design of our hostel room!  - free of ad placement fee.  Very nice.

Good thing we came here on Friday becaue it is NT$50 more expensive to ride the wheel on a  weekend.

We waited for 30 more mins. to ride the glass-floor cage.  It's a bit scary at first, but with the engaging conversation we're having we forgot that we should be nervous about it.

Jill: "May kurot sa heart." LOL.

After riding the Miramar Ferris Wheel, we then rode the train back to the station where our hostel is located, at Liuzhangli.  And it's another long walk from the station to JVs.  We were just so exhausted, we called it a day.

Beitou Hot Spring Museum and Plum Garden 

Fee: None
MRT Station: Beitou; And then at Beitou Station there's a special station to Xinbeitou where these are located.

Xinbeitou is a very quiet and laid back area of Taipei.  I enjoyed the walking and sight-seeing.  There were few people, many trees, grasses, parks.  It was just so relaxing, far from the hustling city.

Beitou Hot Spring Museum and Plum Garden can be passed by along the way so it is wise to pay them a visit as you explore the Xinbeitou area.

Beitou Thermal Valley CC

Fee: None
MRT Station: Xinbeitou (same area as Hot Spring Museum and Plum Garden)

Beitou Thermal Valley or the Hell Valley is our ultimate destination at Xinbeitou.  Upon seeing the large pool of steam being released by the spring  from afar, my heart jumped.  I was so excited like a child.  It would be my first time to see such extremely hot spring.  Beitou Spring has a temperature of 90 degrees Celsius.  It is the hottest spring in the area of Datun Volcano Group.

There are many hot springs in Taipei, and in the Beitou area.   Too bad we were not able to try any of it due to lack of time.

The good thing about Day 2?  It's noon time and we've only spent NT$10 (approx PHP15) - for  the dirty ice cream.

Chiang Kai-shek Residence

Fee: None
MRT Station: Shilin Station

After the Xinbeitou tour, we rode the MRT back to the main Beitou Station. And then we looked for the house of political and military leader of 20th century China, Chiang Kai-shek.  It's located in a very big park, like our MalacaƱang.  We did not enter the house anymore because we were hungry and already looking forward to our sumptuous lunch at Mala Yuanyang.

Mala Yuanyang Hot Pot FTW! CCC

Fee: NT$549 per head
MRT Station: Ximen Station

This is the HIGHLIGHT of our trip. Hot pot eat-all-you-can with drink-all-you-can, and Haagen-Dazs-all-you-can for the win!

For NT$549 per head, we were given 4 trays of meat (I chose all beef, the most expensive ones), twin soup-base (we chose Vegetable and Sze Chuan that's really spicy), unlimited seafood, balls, vegetables, kimchi, etc.  for the hot pot, unlimited drinks (soda, milk tea, juices), there's also a tea station, a dessert station, and an ice cream station  where heavenly Movenpick and Haagen-Dazs of many irresistible flavors await.

Click here to read the full mouthwatering story.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Fee: None
MRT Station: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station

After the superb lunch, we rode the MRT once again to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station to get to this park.

And due to my adept lack of sense of direction, I got lost inside the park. :p

Taipei 101

MRT Station: Taipei City Hall Station
Fee: NT$400

We cannot leave Taipei without seeing the entire city - on a bird's eye view.
Our last stop was Taipei 101 which offers a 360-degree view of the city.

The main deck is at the 89th floor.  There's a 91st floor where tourists can experience the view in an open area.  However this floor is made accessible only on certain occasions, and that night was, unfortunately, not one of those.  The weather was not the at its best.

You will go up this deck via the fastest elevator.  It took us only a minute or two from 5th floor to the 89th floor.

It cost us NT$400 to go up here and view the city.  And yes, in my opinion, it's expensive for the city view.

How to get around the city?

Though Taiwan is not really an English-speaking country, I could say it's tourist friendly.  Printing directions in English and Chinese, and Chinese names of the destinations you wish to visit will save you a huge amount of energy, time and will make your vacation easy breezy.  I have printed Wikitravel pages, and the directions, in English and Chinese, going to the hostel from the Metro station, airbus stop, and something to show to the taxi driver.  I got these from JVs Hostel's website.  These were really helpful to us.

People in Taipei were really friendly and are always willing to help with a smile. Younger Taiwanese people, students, do understand and can speak English, so better look for them if you need to ask for directions.

The Taipei Pass is another proof of how Taipei highly considers its tourists.  It's an unlimited MRT pass that you can also use in buses, for one, two, three or five days.  We bought a 2-day pass for NT$310.  And that's all we need for our transportation during our entire stay.  1-day pass costs NT$180, 3-day pass is NT$440 and the 7-day pass is NT$700.  Taipei Pass is highly recommended for tourists.

So was Taipei worth the visit? Hell yes! ♥

See more of Taipei. Click here to view more photos.

See all TRAVEL posts.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Makansutra Gluttons Bay: Hawkers Heritage

Hawker-inspired food stalls are gaining its popularity in the Philippines with Banchetto and Mercato Centrale's full-blast attendance every weekend.  Thanks to Singapore for making this type of food retail popular, and adding a twist by making it classy and more inviting.  Let us take a peek at the hawkers food authority's own hawker food stalls at Makansutra Gluttons Bay.

"In the spirit of defunct and iconic former Satay Club at Esplanade, we bring to you Makansuntra Gluttons Bay.  This is a collection of food and flavours that define a slice of the Singapore food culture.  From Fried Carrot Cake, Roti Kaya, Char Kway Teow to Satay, this is ultimate night time dining souvenir, under the moonlight and by the breezy Marina Bay", says the illuminated welcome sign.

Makansutra Gluttons Bay is a feast of Singaporean dishes on a variety of food stalls next to one another.  There are tables and chairs by Marina Bay that are always full of friends and families enjoying their meals,  and quite a number of people lining up on the food stalls or waiting to be seated for a piece of this food heritage.

There are a good number of selection of food stalls to choose from: Mang Kiko that proudly serves Pinoy food, Soon Lee Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee, Flava Lava for pasta lovers, Sew An Seafood Cze Char, Boon Tat Street with its famous sambal, Alhambra Padang Satay which is one of the original Esplanade Satay Club stalls, The Sweet Spot and The Gluttons Bar for  interesting refreshments and where I had my first love affair with Sugarcane with Lemon.

My first time to see and eat a Carrot Cake which is not a cake, and definitely does not look like one.  It is locally known as Chai Taw Kway.  It is made of flour and eggs, and carrots of course.  It has no relation  to the Carrot Cake dessert we've always known.

Carrot Cake or Chai Taw Kway
Char Kway Teow
Makansutra Gluttons Bay is located at Marina Bay, Singapore.  Just get off the Esplanade MRT Station to get here.  You can catch this food bazaar open on: Mon-Thu - 5PM - 2AM, Fri-Sat 5PM - 3AM and Sat 4PM - 1AM.

Do not miss this hawker-style al fresco dining experience by the bay if you visit Singapore. ♥

See all FOOD posts.

8065 Bagnet-fest!

BAGNET is a famous local specialty from Ilocos made of deep-fried pork or chicharon.
Us people from the metro need not travel hours up north to taste this guilt pleasure, for many restos within Metro Manila offer bagnet dishes already.  And one of them is 8065 Bagnet, owned by the brother of local artist Kitchie Nadal. First branch was at 8065 Leon Guinto Street, Malate, quite near DLSU Manila.  Though I currently study here, I have never been to this Bagnet branch near our school.  I go to the branch in Makati which is conveniently located a few minutes away from RCBC Plaza, where I work.

A cozy little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the outskirts of Makati's busy avenues is quite a famous dining and meet up place for friends and colleagues wanting to take time off that skimpy healthy diet, and splurge on a one time (or probably not) big time hardcore porky meal.    

8056 Bagnet offers a variety of bagnet dishes: Bagnet Original, Bagnet Sisig, Bagnet Binagoongan (my personal favorite), Bagnet Spicy Ginataan, Bagnet Curry, Bagnet Dinuguan and Bagnet Kare-kare.  You can either order a platter good for two  (PHP 170-190) or a budget meal that comes with rice (PHP 100-110).  Bagnet Original comes without sauce, with sidings of a few pieces of green mangoes with bagoong.  The rest of the dishes come with sauces, but expect the bagnet pieces to still be crunchy.

Bagnet Original

Bagnet Binagoongan
You can pair those bagnet dishes with Ensaladang Talong (always!), Okra with Bagoong or Tortang Talong (around PHP 30).  You can also turn your plain rice to Bagoong rice by just adding PHP 10.

8065 Bagnet not only satisfies your cravings for this Lechon Macau version of Ilocandia, your eyes can also feast on the artworks displayed within this cozy restaurant.  There's also this interesting book collection displayed that you can scan while waiting for your orders.  Either dine inside the artsy dim-lit cafe, or hang out al fresco.

At the second floor of the restaurant can be found a coffee shop where Kitchie Nadal sometimes performs and holds small jamming sessions.  Here's one of Kitchie's performances in Bagnet Makati.

There's also a room on the second where clothes and accessories are sold.  I got the chance to buy one, I think it's Kitchie's sister who are selling the items because she was the one who gave the prices to us.

8065 Bagnet is a bagnet and art fest in one.  It is located at Estrella St., San Antonio Village, Makati.  From Pasong Tamo cross Buendia and after a few corners you will see Estrella St. on the left side.  As you go straight ahead, you'll pass by a few street intersections, and then you should see the restaurant on the left side. (Look at me now, giving directions! :p) 

Enjoy and do not forget to do a relative amount of fat-burning cardio work out the day after your guilt-pleasure! ♥

See all FOOD posts.
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