China, Taiwan · 6 Days · 25 Moments · January 2013

Taipei - a culinary exploration

27 January 2013

The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial When you are in Taipei you have to see the CKS Memorial. It's a huge, vast and wide temple formation and Memorial Hall. It has its own tube stop, but it's anyways to big too overlook though. Two big temples mirroring each other, a big entrance on one side and the memorial hall on the other; in-between a big white paved area with small cycads forests on each end. A very beautiful photo and lunch spot. Look up the change of guards-timetable at the memorial hall or come early in the morning to do some tai-chi. Mostly it's not that crowded.
Tube Coins On the last day our 5-day travel pass expired. We only needed to go about 2 stations to the CKS Memorial, so we bought tube coins. On a map you can see how much your travel (your way in one direction) will cost and you buy these coins accordingly. When you check-in you validate them (don't throw them in yet! ) and when you want to get out, you throw the one validated in the machine. Hope you kinda get what I mean. Never saw such a system, but it was really easy to use.
The Red House The red house in near Ximen station right behind the police station is an old preserved octagonal building, know for being one of the first market town halls. Nowadays it is full with little design and art shops and there are exhibitions on during weekends and the evenings.

26 January 2013

Eat with the locals Yet another awesome night market experience. Try the stinky tofu here (6th pic). It smells "indescribable" but yet tastes really good. Come here late, although most stalls open in the afternoon. You'll have the best experience when you come hungry and taste all the weird and wonderful things. Get a fresh mixed juice (I liked watermelon with honey the most) and sit with the locals on the street side.
Dim Sung Goodness at He Feng´s Restaurant Dim Sun is another "Must-Eat" when you are in Taiwan. It is an Asian (Chinese, Cantonese) delicacy and comes in little fried and steamed snacks (dumplings). Traditionally served with green tea or oolong. This restaurants owners come from Hongkong and are specialized in making cakes (not cakes, but deep-fried pastries) and all sorts of meat-filled dumplings. We had seafood, pork dumplings, carrot cake, rice in lotus leaves, some more pork dumplings (but the fluffy ones) and the grilled squid. As far as I can remember the menu was also in english, so you should be fine.
An abandoned gold mine This is a totally "Watch-out! This might be trespassing" tip. This abandoned gold mine is just down the street from the Golden Waterfall and is a real beauty. This is for the adventurous amongst you. This factory-like 13 story building has been closed down and rotting for years. Inside it's really creepy and loads of bats - a real good photo spot… but be careful and watch your step. (Didn't upload any creepy pics here though, but believe me the factory and the surrounding jungle are just plain awesome!)
The Golden Waterfall The Golden Waterfall is just around the corner of Jiufen. You can see the sea already. Its colours come from the old mines that are scattered throughout these mountains and they still flush out heavy metals… so ahm, might not wanna drink that water, but it makes a perfect photo spot or place for a picnic.
"What-to-eat" in Jiufen So here comes the "what-you-have-to-eat-once-you-are-there" tips: Might not be for everyone, but are highly recommended by the locals ;) Taro rice balls 九份芋圓: Get them just beneath the top of the stairs.They can be either served hot (in sweet soup) or cold (on ice). Ba-Wan (in Taiwanese), Chinese meatball: A glutinous rice dough filled with bamboo shoots and pork. Tea-Eggs: well, eggs boiled in tea, quite a weird snack. Or eat one of the Taiwanese sausages or seafood fried or grilled on a stick. Either way just just give your taste buds a kick and eat yourself through the delicacies you can get there. Prices are reasonable.
A real tea ceremony at the "Chiufen Teahouse" Halfway to the top of the stairs you will come to a crossing. On the left side there will be loads of shops leading you downstairs again, on your right hand side will be the "Chiufen Teahouse". An old teahouse with traditional values and an own pottery workshop. Get to know some insights about tea, its production and its proper consummation. One of the lovely ladies will explain you how to brew, serve and drink it properly. Inside the house is really old-fashioned and outside it has a beautiful terrace with a really stunning view over the coast of Taiwan. Walk through the studio and the pottery workshop and buy some tea leaves there.
Jiufen - the stair village, that inspired "Spirited Away" Maybe you are a big fan of studio Ghibli, maybe not. Nonetheless this little seaside-mountain village is just awesome. It inspired the studio to make the movie "Chihiro - Spirited away"; a kind of Asian Alice in Wonderland maybe… Anyways the village is built into the steep side of a mountain and all shops and flats are only accessible by stairs. It has a cute cinema and Palmadrama theatre (which is still played on) and loads of shops, restaurants, workshops and various other little stalls. It has a huge gold mining history and a very beautiful old temple. Walk up the stairs and fill your tummy. Walk down through the terraces and the winding roads filled with shops, restaurants and art workshops. Pro-Tip: Do not come on weekends! It will be packed and you will be in a traffic jam halfway up the mountain! Believe me. Teapot mountain, the Golden Waterfall and seaside restaurants are just around the corner.

25 January 2013

Hotpot for Dinner is a "Must-do" at 東門餃子館 Dongmen So this is a "must-do" when you are in Asia. This thing is a tad like fondue. It has hot coal inside and keeps the brew cooking and comes with a big chimney so that you can eat your food unbothered. The traditional, classic one comes with all kinds of seafood, meats and "intestines".Yeah but it´s not that bad. ;) It tastes awesome. Also order some sides of dumplings and vegetables to dunk it in the soup. The place is always fully packed, reserve a place beforehand or you might have to wait. Best hotpot in town ( see 8th pic) at the upper end of the basketball area. DongMen Dumpring Restaurant: 東門餃子館 No. 37, Lane 31 Sec. 2, JinShan S. Rd., Da-an Dist., Taipei, TAIWAN Or get some "beef noodles" at the lower corner. Yes another speciality. :) Anyways these streets are packed at night, fit for shopping and eating! We have also been in an "Viennese" style coffee shop - well weird, but if you need a coffee to wake an elephant… Anything goes ...just roam the streets here!
The Jade and Flower Market On every weekend and holiday, the Jianguo Holiday Flower Market, located under the overpass of section 3, Xinyi Rd. and Jianguo S. Rd., is always packed with people. Whether you are looking for a charm, pottery, a bracelet or anything made from jade, go there and check this area out. It is not expensive and you will get yourself a real nice, authentic souvenir. Although darker and more precious stones are more expensive, you can get yourself a good deal. I got several bag charms for friends, which you can buy in dozens.
The volcanic Beitou Hot Springs You are feeling worn out from all the sightseeing? Or it's raining? Get your weary body in hot bubbling sulphuric water and relax… at the Kagaya Beitou Hot Springs. Up the street there is an MRT so it's really easy to reach. There are different kinds of bath houses. The traditional (Japanese) one, where you will be either separated in men and women and be fully naked or you can book private suites for 2 or 4 people. The Taiwanese bath houses are for the more timid ones; here you can wear a bathing suit. Nonetheless it is a very special experience. The thermal valley also offers a hot spring museum, a really nice walking route, stunning old and new architecture with historical sites and a newly built library and the natural hot springs where you can tip your toes in the water just outside.

24 January 2013

Traditional Teahouse around the corner Get the traditional teahouse-experience just around the corner of Taipei 101. It is a cosy teahouse and try to sit outside if the weather allows it to have a beautiful view from down below up the illuminated skyscrapers at night. We sat outside a very mellow night, so it was just absolutely awesome. Get some "real" bubble tea and some snacks to share. Afterwards you still can go shopping in one of the surrounding malls since they are open late. The teahouse is in the basement of the mall and like everything open late!
Taipei 101 Okay it's Taipei 101. That's just it. Go there. It is in the middle of the banking and financial district. There are about 7 malls all around Taipei 101. Get there in time. You will not get around queueing though. There's a mall and a food hall downstairs, where you can hangout and wait till your numbers show up. If you feel peckish get a rice burger downstairs at MOS Burger, which are really popular in Taiwan & Japan and taste surprisingly awesome.

23 January 2013

Tea Time We went to see Wang's Tea, but eventually we got lost. Anyways this street/district is know for its tea whole sellers. When you see these big metal cans standing inside a shop, it means that you can most probably just go in and get a tasting. Teas come in different price categories and forms. They are available as leaves, kind of tablets (packaged), powder and sachets. I got the leave-tea and the bound-nodules; the one that open up to a flower once you brew them (see pic 3, right side). Wang's Tea has 2 stores and a flagship store in Taipei! And I heard that their Oolong tea is out of the world and makes a perfect gift. (if you find it ;P)
Shilin Night Market The Shilin Night Market is just one bus stop away from the MRT Shilin Station. It's open nearly all-day and there are a mall and a lot of street vendors nearby. Street markets and street vendor culture is very popular and common in Taiwan. You'll find a market in any other street. The Shilin market is know for being one of the oldest and maybe one of the most authentic ones. You'll get everything there. Taste something, try something, buy something. Nothing for the squeamish though! …and don't expect any English speaking down there, just use your hands ;P
National Palace Museum Getting there is quite easy. You take the tube station Shilin Station and take bus R30 (Red 30 - Low-floor bus), 255, 304, 815 (Sanchung – NPM Line), Minibus 18, or Minibus 19 to the plaza in front of the National Palace Museum. Really easy and it's just a couple of minutes, although walking there might be a bit too far. National Palace Museum has a huge antique collection of ancient Chinese art, pottery and cultural goods. It shares its root with the Forbidden City in Beijing and is a vast and wide area with several exhibitions and floors. It is one of the most prestigious sights in Taiwan. Oh yeah and one of their most visited objects are the famous and peculiar meat and cabbage stones.
Ximending District Since we checked in at the Amba Hotel, we were situated inside a shopping and pedestrian area. Walk around and feel free to shop and explore. Ximending is rich in youth and comic culture as well as a lot of trendy stores and malls. But beware, shops open late around 10.30 am - 11.00 am.

22 January 2013

Huaxi Night Market, Snake Alley Right opposite the Lonshan Temple stretches the Snake Alley or better known as Huaxi Street Night Market or Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market is the oldest international tourist destination of Taiwan. The market is located near a well-known temple, Mengjia Longshan Temple, as well as other night markets as the herb lane located on Guangzhou Street, Wuzhou Street and Xichang Street. There you'll find some of the finest delicacies Taipei has to offer. ;) Here are the things I ate there chronological to the pictures: Water chestnuts and peanuts (roasted), Aiyu Jelly (a vegetarian gelatin, a jelly made from the gel from the seeds of Taiwanese fig), Snake Soup (supposedly good for you skin and tastes like chicken soup), Tempura (fried everything in sauce) and we also had sweet potato balls (fried), sugar cane (in whole and as an drink). Get yourself accustomed to eat out of a plastic bag, that's just how they roll ;)
Longshan Temple Ximen Station (Tube Station) is quite near at the end of the pedestrian area. The tube has all the names translated in english as well, so getting around is easy. Longshan Temple is at the end of Ximending, so you might as well just walk there. It is one of the most important sights and one of the biggest buddhist temples in Taipei. It is opened all day and is beautifully preserved.
Amba Hotel We got a hot tip from our friend to book the Amba Hotel in Ximending, which lies in between some pedestrian areas and a big shopping area. It was just recently opened and offers small, medium and king size rooms. We booked a medium room and it was more than enough for the two of us. The hotel also produces it's own ginger soap and shower gels, which you can buy at the reception. They also provide a hairdryer, toothbrushes and flip flops. It is a bit easy to overlook because the hotel has the reception on the 5th floor (on top of a mall). Only a big sign hints you towards it, but it ain't easy spotting it since there are loads of signs around. (Oh you will see! it's crazy!) Ximending is often compared to Harajuku (Japan), which if you google it, is a a big vibrant shopping/youth culture/pedestrian area. And it's true: shops open around 10.30 am and are open till late.
Get a Taipei Trip Card There are 4 types: 1-day pass (NT$180), 2-day pass (NT$310), 3-day pass (NT$440) and 5-day pass (NT$700). After ticket holders have activated the pass by ticket reader on bus or MRT gates, the pass is valid for unlimited Taipei Metro rides and rides on Taipei City/New Taipei City buses (carrying the Taipei Pass Sticker) while the ticket is valid. We got the 5-day travel pass so we wouldn't have to worry about anything and could take unlimited rides with bus and metro. Oh yeah and watch the ground and learn how to queue, otherwise you'll get some sullen looks.
Taoyuan < > Taipei Most likely you are about to arrive at the Taoyuan Airport. It is not connected to Taipei via Tube, but public transport is just fine. Trains departing near Terminal 2 and buses are available all times. You might wanna check these things out a bit earlier online. Taxis are between 1000-2000 NTD (New Taiwanese Dollar) which roughly converts between 25-50 Euros, which is kinda alright since you will be driving around 30 minutes by car.
Getting there We flew with Air China which offers quite cheap prices and daily flights from Frankfurt and Munich. Either direct or via Beijing - we had a short stop at Beijing International Airport. So while you don't need a visa for Taiwan (as an European), you'll need one for China. But in this case the airport is like a border and as long as you don't check out (!!!) you don't have to worry. The "International Passengers"- Gate is a bit hard to find and mostly closed. Do not check out at the "Foreigner"-Gate which means you are leaving the airport. The "International Passengers"- Gate means you are just passing through and will only open if enough people queue and wait there (I know silly, right? But a hard lesson learnt! ;)) Furthermore they offer "free Wifi" but you need to get yourself a code via one of their terminals. For this you need to check in either in your passport or your phone. The Wifi works fine once you confirmed your code, which might take a while.