Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Trip of Many Firsts!

First of the many 'firsts' - first flight that was self-sponsored!  After saving up from odd jobs during term breaks, this trip to Taiwan was a really exciting one for me.  It was the first time I would be boarding a plane and the flight attendant wouldn't be asking my mom if she needed a kiddy pack.  Oh, and no parentals around to chaperone either - woohoo!  Jetting off with a pal since Junior College days, this trip was greatly looked forward to. :)

Budget flight via Jetstar Asia.   The seats felt kind of cramped, even for hobbit-like me, but if you're travelling during a non-peak season, most likely the plane would only be about half-filled, so you can ninja over to an empty row once the plane has settled in and shamelessly lie across all 3 seats if you want to. :)
Flight Tip: Bring an empty water bottle in your hand-carry luggage.  You can fill this up using the water coolers once you've cleared customs in the boarding lounge.  On-board food and drinks are quite pricey, so if you're not willing to part with $5 or so for a cup noodle, you might want to pack some dry snacks too.  There's also no personal entertainment console in your seat, so bring a book or whatever gadgets you have to entertain yourself for the duration of the flight!

Due to my friend's local friends' schedule, we had to scoot down northwards to Tainan immediately after arriving in Taipei.  This took about 6 hours or so via bus.  If memory serves me right, I think we were booked with the Aloha bus company (阿羅哈客運).  Unfortunately the website is only in Chinese, so non-Chinese literate friends may need some help booking direct, or you could try booking through an agent.

The bus journey was another first for me - my longest bus ride ever so I got a bit uncomfortable after a few hours, especially since we had just been cooped up 6 hours in the plane.  To make matters worse, the bus was almost full when we boarded (I guess it came from somewhere else), and we were only left with 2 seats in the back row.  This meant we would have personal entertainment nor the option of reclining a seat.  This was literally like the bench-style seats you get at the last row of public buses.  The AC didn't seem to be working very well either.  Ermahgerd.  All I remember is dozing off intermittently, and every now and then, when I awoke and hoped we would be arriving at our destination soon, all that greeted me were never-ending roads or another toll booth.  I have no idea just how many toll booths we passed through, but after one bus ride too long, we finally arrived in Tainan!

Comfort and safety are key for a long journey!

Tainan seems to have lots of nice places to visit, mostly scenic.  It's more of a rural sort of place on first impressions.  Its night markets aren't as 'developed' as the ones we encountered in Taipei, but the food was good nonetheless.  Not unlike the locals back in Singapore, it feels like the Taiwanese are all about the food, too!  Food is available around the clock, it's almost amazing everyone isn't grossly overweight with all the delicious food available!

Cutely packaged pudding! Variations of Fruit Teas
Beef Brisket - a local delight Red Tea juice box
A special mention on the Red Tea juice box featured above - it was featured in a popular Taiwanese idol drama, MVP 情人.  In the show, the leading couple used this as a secret form of communication to express their feelings towards each other - "红茶代表Yes, 绿茶代表No" (Red Tea means a 'yes', Green Tea means a 'no').  +1 for successful product placement, -1 for suckers like myself. :P

Our Taiwanese hosts were really hospitable, and drove us in and around town.  Another first - riding pillion on a scooter!  Seems like most locals own some form of transportation - the most common being a scooter, next a car.  It was a pleasant change from being at the mercy of public transportation, and definitely great not having to wait for your ride to get to your destination, nor worrying if there was available public transportation to wherever you needed to go.  In such a tiny land like Singapore, owning private transportation is really expensive, and would probably only get more expensive in the future - what with increasing population and all.. sigh.

On a lighter note, here's a look at some of the places visited in Tainan!

Old Jiji Rail Station Gizmo?
Collapsed Wuchang Temple
(武昌宮) in Jiji, Nantou
Lovely tree-lined road

The strange museum at the old Jiji Rail Station seemed to me, like an odd thing to have at a historical site.. but hey, I guess it amuses some.  The huge Gizmo statue guarding the entrance didn't help, either.

For some reason, the Wuchang Temple has also become somewhat of a local attraction.  In the great Taiwanese earthquake of 1999, this was the only building in northern Taiwan to collapse.  Previously 12 storeys high, the temple collapsed vertically and only the top 2 or 3 storeys remain, as you can see in the photo above.

Sun Moon Lake Vast lake and the misty beyond
Dinner - "3 Cup Chicken" &
some local delights
Skewered meats at the night
market, yum yum!

Sun Moon Lake is about one of the most popular scenic spots to visit in northern Taiwan.  I would think sunrise/sunset should present some great photo opps!

Next stop, Tai Zhong!

Only 1 was spent day here, so didn't see much.  We visited this restaurant place, Xiang Jiao Xin Le Yuan, it was themed like Taiwan in the '60s, and the experience was actually quite nice.  Apparently Jacky Wu (Wu Zhong Xian, one of Taiwan's top entertainment hosts) visited that place during a shooting of 'Shi Zi Lu Kou', and popularized that place.

Interior of the restaurant A retrolicious snack shop!
Also, remember Sogo, the departmental chain?   Whilst it has long disappeared from our Singapore shores, Sogo is still actively present in the Taiwan scene, and the Sogo here has a very unique 'decoration' - they have this huge clock above its main doors, and on the hour, these little dancing dolls appear and dance around for a minute to the tune of 'It's a small world'.  Would have really loved to film them down, but murphy's law stated that my camera should run out of battery at this point.
Travel Tip: Arm yourself with batteries galore, or a travel charger to keep your electronic devices juiced.

Souvenirs to get from Tai Zhong: 太阳饼 (big sun biscuit?), 凤梨苏 (pineapple pastry). I loved the latter. My mom loved the big sun biscuits tho'.

Parting shot:
Our makeshift sleeping quarters in our Tai Zhong host's home.  Simple and comfy enough!

Gruelling bus ride back up to Taipei - more toll booths, anyone??  This time round, we managed to secure reclinable seats on the bus with personal entertainment consoles, woot!  Complimentary mineral water and a wet towel were also handed out, so that kept me happy.   After a few rounds of Mario, I,Robot the movie, and some winks, we finally arrived back in Taipei.

Not sure I ever want to see another toll booth for awhile.
It was pretty late when we arrived, so we hailed a cab to get straight to our hotel from the bus terminal.  We had reserved a room at Yo Tong Regency - this hotel is part of a chain of hotels known as the Friends Group, and my travel buddy had stayed at a different branch on a previous trip, and found it to be decent (it was a proper hotel building all on its own, why do I mention this? Read on..). Well, we got quite a shock when the cabby dropped us at the address we gave him.  It was outside this entertainment centre of sorts (imagine Far East Shopping Centre), and it was pretty dark 'cos most of the shops at the ground level were already closed.  There were a couple of shady looking characters hanging around outside, and we saw no semblance of a hotel at all!  We double checked with the driver to ensure he had brought us to the correct address, and upon receiving no consolation that it was wrong, we reluctantly unloaded our luggages from the cab and inched towards the building lobby.  Worried and a little frightened, the two of us quickly walked to what looked like a security guard post, but then I stopped infront of a building director and began to scan bottom-up through the list of tenants.

As I went through the list, my stomach began to drop a little more with each tenant I read - Snooker Club.. Massage Parlour.. KTV.. Night Club (What the heow?  Where are we?!).. and then there it was, 13th floor - Yo Tong Regency.   So we weren't lost afterall, but my feelings were somewhere between relief and panic.  What respectable hotel would set up shop in such a building?  That's right... NO respectable hotel.  This was clearly some sort of budget/love hotel/motel/whatever you know it as in your country.  We got into the lift anyway - which was, by the way, all cardboarded up.  I guess parts of the building was undergoing renovations or something.. and it made us feel even more anxious to find out what state of a 'hotel' we would be spending the next 3 nights at.

When the lift arrived at the 13th floor and the doors slowly opened ominously, a big glittery signboard greeted us, advertising cheap rates for a couple hours' stay.  Well, at least that confirmed my suspicions.  Approaching the front desk (read: literally a small single-windowed counter), we checked into our room and dragged our luggages behind us with heavy footsteps.  When we entered the room, we were greeted with yet another rude surprise.  By now, it was almost 12 midnight but the music in the night club below was still going strong - so strong, we could feel every beat. OTL

After a quick discussion, we attempted to swap our reservation for a different branch, but the proper ones all seemed to be fully booked for the next couple of days.  Dejected and drained from the long journey we just had, we decided to head out to find some food and most importantly, to be away from the overbearing music and madness this was, even if just for a little while...

Thankfully, the music had stopped when we returned to our room at around 1+am.. else we'd probably have forgone the payment and sourced for another hotel.
Travel Tip: Ensure your hotel is not a single storey address, we missed that out completely 'cos I never dreamed of hotels being anything short of a building on its own, duh.
No single beds available in this
hotel, why am I not surprised?
AVOID Yo Tong Regency.
Things to do in Taipei:
Wholesale shopping's the name of the game here.  I hope you packed light, 'cos you might go a little crazy shopping here!

- Dan Shui 淡水
Located at the northern tip of Taipei, you can get to Dan Shui by the local MRT system.  Great place for an evening walk and to view the sunset.  Some famous local eats like Ah Gei Tofu Fishcake, towering cones of softserve ice cream at insanely cheap prices, iron eggs (铁蛋), to name a few.
There is also this restaurant, called Red Castle (淡水紅樓中餐廳) which has a nice aerial view of the surrounding mountains/ocean.  It's somewhere high up on a hill though, follow the signboard for Red Castle up the stepping stones along a side path.
View at Danshui Sunset at Danshui
Ah Gei Fish Cake Gobbled down to 1/3rd its original height!
Pretty cake at Red Castle Indulgent drinks at Red Castle
Bridge at Fisherman's Wharf
It was such a blustery night that we
were literally struggling to walk
upright! Fun but kinda scary

- Shih Lin Night Market
More yummylicious street food, 'nuff said.  Although, I feel the general pricing here may be a little more upmarket as compared to the regular night markets..  Get your deep fried chicken chop fix here!

- Xi Men Ding
The hip and happening part of Taipei, this is like the Orchard Road of Singapore.

- Taipei 101
We took some touristy shots with the building, and that was about it.  Am personally not too impressed by towering skyscrapers, being already surrounded by these in the concrete jungle back home.

- Miramar Entertainment Park
Nice mall with a huge ferris wheel attached.

- Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
History is the essence of every country!

Ferris Wheel at Miramar Bird's eye view of Taipei from the
ferris wheel, Taipei 101 in the distance.
Vending machines are a common
sight in Taipei.
Dwarfed at the foot of Taipei 101
Tourist shot. Outside Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
Inside Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

- Visit a theme park!
We went to Leo Foo Village Amusement Park to let our hair fly!  Highlight of the day:  We were taking a break from the heat in a small shelter and came across a zookeeper who had a baby orang utan in his arms.  He came over to chit chat and I GOT TO HOLD THE BABY ORANG UTAN. AND IT WAS WEARING A DIAPER! HOW CUTE WAS THAT!! :D  Great ending experience to the trip.. Thanks Taiwan!
Awwwwwwwwwwww~ ^^
Posted by dawn.wong on 11/29/2005 10:10:00 AM in , , , , , , , , , ,


fongie said...