November 16, 2012

Taiwan 2012 (Day 1, 16 Nov)

Greetings from Taipei! A trip that has been 17 years in the making finally materialised as me, Jane, Rena and Germaine find ourselves in Taiwan now after talking about going on a group trip for ages.

We bought tickets on budget airline Scoot when they first launched Taipei a few months ago, for a bargain $216 return. Not bad eh?
Landed about 6am this morning, and we took a taxi to our hotel, called Mai Hotel in the Zhongshan district. As the rooms were not ready, we dumped the bags and explored the neighbourhood in search of breakfast.
Found a shop selling ‘you tiao’ and soya bean, buns and dumplings so we ordered an assortment. Jane ticked practically everything off the order sheet!

We found a minimart and stocked up on some tidbits and water and then it was time to meet our driver for a day of sightseeing.

We had planned a city tour, but as the weather was good, our driver suggested swopping with our second day’s itinerary of Jiufen, Shifen and Yehliu so we took his advice and headed out of the city.

First stop was Shifen, a small town where people come to release sky lanterns. Different colour lanterns had different meanings and we bought 2 multi-coloured ones. We took turns writing our wishes, guess what I asked for?
The releasing part happens so fast, not enough time to take proper pictures before the lantern is way up in the sky but it was fun. Some people got theirs stuck in tree though, that can’t be good!
We spent a few minutes checking out their souvenir shops and suspension bridge before we took a short ride to the Shifen Waterfalls…which was nothing spectacular and not worth the entry fee we paid, although I think there was another path one could walk down to catch it for free.
Next stop was Jiufen, an old mining town which everyone always says is a must see. I was queasy in the car ride over…an empty stomach and lurching / zig-zagging down a mountain did not help and my poor friends had to put up with my retching.

Made it to Jiufen in one piece but the smells were overwhelming because the narrow streets are enclosed and it was just one smelly snack stall after another. After a while I got used to it and managed to eat a little along the way.
We had fishball tanghoon and braised pork rice for lunch, and some glutinous balls with yam for dessert.

Stopped by some ‘golden waterfalls’ on the way down, discoloured by iron minerals, and we also paused to see the Bay of 2 Colours or yin yang sea, where brown and blue water meet, also caused by rainwater mixing with the iron contained in the rocks in the surrounding area.
Our final stop for the excursion was Yehliu Geopark, known for its princess head rock…which turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax because it’s quite small! There were other rock formations though but the place was too crowded to enjoy the scenery.
Since we were at the coast, we thought of trying their fresh seafood but that turned out to be an expensive meal. For some prawns, large clams and veggies, we paid over SGD$160, which would have yielded us more seafood at a tze char restaurant! 
 Our driver dropped us off at the famous Shihlin nightmarket upon our return to the city and the whole place spans a few streets and is quite large. Spotted some pink guavas, we bought some to try and munched on fruits while Jane checked out a sports shop.
The gals shared some chou doufu and oyster mee sua which I steered clear of. Instead I had me some crispy chicken, so cheap at 50 NT for a large chunk. Must be a popular stall because it had a long queue.
It had been a long day and the sun sets at 5.30 pm, making 8pm feel like 11pm so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Our rooms are quite big with modern interiors and a large bathroom. Hotels in Taipei are relatively cheap, this one cost us about $140 nett per night with breakfast. 

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