Taiwan, Travel Diaries

Eating my way through Taipei 

 Taiwan is one of the places that I have come to love  – there’s something about the country and its people that I have come to love. 

I’ve been to this beautiful island nation twice, but I have yet to see a lot especially in the provinces. In a way, it’s a blessing because it’s a sign that I should keep going back. 

One of the things I love about Taiwan is the food. They have the abundance of crisp vegetables, the sweetest fruits and the best grilled meats. Obviously, bubble tea and milk teas are everywhere as well as huge chicken fillets that are bigger than my face. 

We stayed in Ximending where it doesn’t matter if it’s 10PM or 2AM, you’ll be sure to find something to eat according to your liking: matcha Japanese cake, soft tofu, hot noodles, flavor shaved ice, little strawberries encased in syrup – there’s something for everyone

Japanese cake with matcha and red bean

 

shaved ice, condensed milk and tapioca

  
  

 

Combini shopping is one of the first things I do when I travel to check the merchandise – the 711 in my neighborhood in Ximending has tea eggs, fresh salads, sushi and milk. Nothing  beats the Life Supermarket in Tokyo where there is an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, salads and fresh produce. 
 

Like before, we found the time to go to one of Taipei’s neighboring counties. This time, I went to Jiufen, home of the famed neighborhood which was one of Hayao Miyazaki’s inspiration for “Spirited Away.”

   
 With its steep stairs and winding alleyways, looking for the famous “tea house” was an adventure in itself. This was also the surest way to get famished – perfect for the many treats I found along the alley ways of Jiufen

   
    
    
 
There were mochi, grilled mushrooms, ice cream wrapped in rice paper sprinkled with ground peanuts, hot red bean soup and many others. The problem was which one to eat first. 

   
    

steaming hot rice topped with stewed ground pork and paired with chinese sausage

 
There are a lot of themed restaurants in Taipei like the Modern Toilet (which I visited once and vowed never to return again unless for am eating for free), Jay Chou’s series of restos, the famed PS Bubu for Meteor Garden fans (two thumbs up), among others but for this stay, we decided to eat more of the street foods being offered. If you want to try fast foods, I recommend you go to MOS Burger: 

   
 
On our last night in Taipei, we splurged a little and had a quiet dinner in this nice hotel bar inside Ximending’s many alley ways. 

   
 
With its hipster vibe and laid back atmosphere – it was the perfect way to end a fun visit in Taipei. 

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Taiwan, Travel Diaries

Review: Diary of Ximen Hotel – Ximending

I will be very honest. Diary of Ximen is not our first choice after it has been confirmed that we are going back to Taipei. 

Our heart belongs to City Inn Plus Hotel Ximending, a boutique hotel who captured our loyalty with first class, five star service and personalized approach to guests. However, City Inn Plus was fully booked on the week we were supposed to visit. With our heart set on staying in Ximending district, we had to look for alternatives. 

Diary of Ximen, located on the 11th floor of an aging building a block away from the exit 6 of the Ximen MRT station, served as a good alternative.   



  • Location 

To get to the hotel from the Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, you have two options: 

A. Convenient transfer: If you are arriving on a late flight (or God-forsaken early morning) courtesy  of Cebu Pacific, you have to arrange for transfers from the hotel. Their transfers rate is 1,500NTD for two persons with two luggages (roughly 2,100 Philippine pesos). A bit expensive but worry free especially since the airport Terminal 2 where Cebu Pacific is assigned is unusually quiet and abandoned by midnight. 

B. Cheap transfer: take the KuoKong bus from the airport to the Taipei West Bus Terminal. From the bus terminal, take the MRT ride to the Ximen station. Take exit 6, make a small u-turn to your right, and walk straight heading to the direction of the high way. You will go past 2 Ximending side streets, a Converse and Doc Martens branches. The 12 story building beside the department store is where Diary of Ximen is located. Take elevator to the 12th floor where reception and check in is located. 
Diary of Ximen  shares the building with two other hotels: Muzik Hotel and Diary of Taipei(which occupies many floors), while Ximen has 10th,11th and 12th floor. 
Beyond the reception is an extensive dining floor where the daily breakfast buffet is served: 



  • Food 

The meals can be repetitive sometimes (in a course of 4 days) but the selection is strong and varied – there is bread, choice of spreads, various Taiwanese dishes with heavy emphasis on use of fresh veggies, a salad station, wanton noodle station, congee and fruits. There’s also choice of coffee, juices, tea and water at the many vendo dispensers on the beverage section. You get your money’s worth and you will have a full stomach when you go or to sight-see. The hotel will issue you food stamps which you have to present per day during check-in.

 

   

  • Hotel premises: 

Hotel is situated in the fringes of Ximending – exit 6 where most of the crowd are is just a 5 to 10 minute walk away. It’s along the highway so it’s safe – we usually go out even at 2AM for a 711 or a FamilyMart run and it’s safe and quiet. 

  • Security 

You have to tap your room access card in the elevator in order to get to your floor. So it’s safe and you still get a certain level of exclusivity even if the hotel shares the building with other establishments. 

  • Room Specs 

   
    

  

The room is big enough for two, with enough space to move around and even for me to lie on the floor to rest my very tired feet after a day of roaming around Taipei and the countryside. 

The bed is big and comfy, with enough space for two; pillows are soft and comfy as well as the sheet. Aircon is cold and can be adjusted based on preference. 

Bathroom is situated in an elevated area near the bed; encased in frosted glass. The hotel provides free shampoo/conditioner and body wash plus the usual hotel amenities of comb, toothpaste and toothbrush, shower cap, soap, cotton buds and free bottles of water and tea which came in satchet. 

  • Sound quality 

Our room had no windows so we are pretty much isolated from the craziness of Ximending. There are instances when we can hear people talking outside our door but maybe it’s because our room is so near the elevator. 

  • Transfers 

We arranged our hotel transfers through the hotel and found that we were quoted NTD1500 when it was promoted as NTD1000 on the dining floor. Maybe because we arrived very late  at night? 

  • Cost of stay 

We paid PHP13,000 for four nights stay – roughly PHP3,200 for two people. This already includes buffet breakfast for four days. Considering we were in Taipei right smack in the midst of the Holiday season, this is already a steal. 


My verdict 

Diary of Ximen is a good alternative and good option if you want to stay in the Ximending District. Sure, it sharing a building with other businesses (including an office!), but the safety measures the business has put in place makes up for it. 

We were initially taken aback by ads offering three hour stays for a different hotel in the lobby (its proximity to Ximending where people meet must be a factor) but considered it irrelevant to our stay. 

Honestly, we had the foremost pleasure of staying in Diary of Ximen and will not hesitate to recommend it to friends. 
Disclosure: Nothing to disclose. My stay in Taipei is a personal expense. 

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Taiwan, Travel Diaries

Spirited Away in Jiufen: An adventure in Yubaba’s Land 

The first thing you will notice upon reaching is the cats. There’s a number of them: lazing away on the village generator while giddy tourists take tons of pictures of them; there are cat posters and cat painting and little ceramic figures made up of cats. 

In a tourist town made famous by a drama (City of Sadness starring Tony Leung) and a legendary animated film Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – the cats, without a doubt, are the resident queens of Jiufen. No offense to Yubaba. 

    

When I finally had the chance to return to Taiwan, on top of my list was to see Jiufen, a small town on top of the mountains of the Ruifang District of New Taipei City near Keelung, Taiwan. 

Jiufen (or “nine portions” from the nine families who first settled in the area) used to be an old mining town from the late 1800s to the decline of the gold rush by the 1970s. When the mines was shut down, Jiufen faced decline, with the town possibly going the way of forgotten settlements. That is until it was featured as location of the seminal movie “City of Sadness.” The interest came after the release of the movie saved Jiufen from being a forgotten town. The interest only further intensified after the release of “Spirited Away” by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Jiufen was credited as the inspiration for the winding steep roads, the lantern laced alleyways and the magnificent bath house owned by Yubaba as seen in the animated film. 

 

Chihiro looks for hef parents in Spirited Away


 

Trying to find my way in the many alleys of Jiufen

  

How to get there 

There are two ways to get to Jiufen. First is you take the High Speed Railway going to Riufang county. From there, you can either take the cab to Jiufen or contract a fan who will serve as your tour guide to the many sights of the province, Jiufen included. Prepare to shell out at least NTD3,500 to rent the whole cab. 

Or you can do it my way, courtesy of mad research skills: 

Here’s a cheaper and more painless alternative to the option above. From where you are staying, take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station under line 1. Take MRT exit 1, as you come out of the stairs, make a U-turn heading to the direction of the elevated walkway. The large SOGO Department store should be on your right hand side, with you facing the elevated MRT. 

Take the first left to the immediate intersection which you will reach in less than 60 seconds. Walk a few steps and you should see the pick up point for the 1062 Keelung bus headed for Ruifang and Jiufen. 

  
During weekends, expect a long line of local and foreign visitors waiting for the bus as Jiufen is a popular weekend destination. Ignore the touts offering their contracted service by saying there’s no bus going to Jiufen. Have your EasyPay tap card ready or NTS90 to cover the fare.

Eventually, the highway will melt away to reveal a rustic and peaceful rural scenery. 

   
    
 
The mural above celebrates the heritage of Jiufen as an old mining town. When you passed this, you are less than five minutes away from reaching Jiufen Old Street where you should alight. 

  
 As soon as you see 711 and the marker – this means you’ve reached Jiufen. It’s now time to explore the inner bowels of this town. 

The best way to enjoy Jiufen is to get lost and just enjoy the little nooks and crannies of the town, then marvel at the little discoveries you have along the way: 

Note: photo heavy post

   
    
    
    
     

And then you start seeing placed which remind you of  of Spirited Away:

   
   an old tunnel used by miners before   

   

    
    
    
   

Of course, the piece du resistance was the Ahmei Tea House, which bear a striking resemblance to the Spirit Bathhouse being ran by Yubaba. 

  

Here is the Ahmei Tea House in Jiufen: 

  
   
    
   

To say that I squealed when I found it was a gross understatement. I was so happy to find it (thanks to the hubby) after walking to the many windjng streets of Jiufen. The only let down is that dining inside the Ahmei Tea House is quite expensive: they expect diners to order a tea set for NTS300 or if it’s lunch, have the lunch set at NTS400. There are no Ala Carte order or an English menu. We chose to take our lunch elsewhere. 

When in Jiufen, you will be assailed by the delicious smell of cooking meat or the sweet aromatic smell of herbs anywhere you turn. It is a foodie’s haven and there is something for everyone, regardless of their meal preference:   

   
    
   
Our sumptuous lunch: rice with meat topping (NTS30) and a stick of sausage (NTS35)   

   
   

Jiufen is a good place for a day trip. However, there are also those who choose to spend the night here. There are many guest houses or home stays in Jiufen. All one needs to do is ask. Like the rest of Taiwan, the people of Jiufen are unbelievably nice. 

I can’t wait to go back to Jiufen someday. Maybe stay a bit longer? I hope it retains that authentic and quaint little town vibe that-in spite the hoard of tourists – makes the town a sweet place to live in.
  
 
 

 

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Taiwan, Travel Tips

Taipei Part 2 Series: Getting a tourist visa as a couple

 

Single entry tourist visas for the Hubby and myself


This year, my husband and I vowed to discover new things together. Fortunately, we are blessed to have the opportunity to travel together at the end of the month to Taiwan for a short vacation  and as an early celebration for our wedding anniversary. 
The truth is – I already visited Taiwan, particularly Taipei two years ago with my sister. It was one of the best places I visited: friendly locals, affordable and yummy food anywhere you go, interesting sights and culture, plus the opportunity to fan girl to Meteor Garden and Jay Chou (which my sister and I both did). 

So, when the hubby and I discussed possible trip destinations other than Osaka (we are still saving for it), we both agreed that Taipei is a nice place to discover (for him). We were lucky to land round trip tickets MNL-TPE-MNL for only PHP5,500 per person. The ticket was booked in August, three months before the planned trip. We paid for the tickets via SM Bayad Center (wait for a separate post on this), our flights were immediately confirmed upon payment – thus, the only thing left to do is get the tourist visa. 

In my case, I am confident that getting a tourist visa will be a breeze: I already had a prior tourist visa to Taiwan plus Japan and S.Korea (twice). What I was more worried about is the hubby who works freelance. While he already had prior visits to Singapore and HongKong, the hubby’s passport is new (hence no travel stamps) and his freelance work status means he has no ITR and Certificate of Employment — two things, in my opinion, that always seal the deal for any visa application. 

So how do you take your chances and apply for a visa when your traveling companion doesn’t have these very important requirements? 

Note: I have previously blogged about getting a visa to Taiwan, see here – this is the UPDATED version. 

  1. First thing I did is do my research and look up online if there are tips and to do’s for a situation like mine. There is none. That is the reason why I am writing this post – it is my means to give back for the good fortune of being issued a visa. 
  2. Prepare all documents needed – I always believed that in any battle, being prepared means increasing any chances of winning. Here are the documents needed in applying for a visa: 
  • Visa Application Form – to be filled in online. Head to https://visawebapp.boca.gov.tw/ Note that you will need to fill it up online and print on A4 size paper. The Taiwan visa will only accept computer-filled forms, avoid leaving any space blank (you can put N/A). 
  • Two passport sized photos 1.5″ X 2″ – should be taken within the last 3 months 
  • Valid passport (with more than 6 months validity) 
  • NSO-issued birth certificate 
  • Marriage contract issued by NSO (if applicable) 
  • Financial documents like bank certificate and ITR 
  • If you are employed, Certificate of Emplyment and Approved Leave form 
  • Supporting documents like airline tickets and hotel booking forms 

Have your documents photocopied. 

    3. Once you have the documents,  you are ready to submit it to the Taiwan Economic and Culture Office (TECO) located at the 41st floor of the RCBC Plaza in Makati. 

    Note: Due to the One-China Policy, Taiwan does not have an embassy in the Philippinss. TECO services all consular and diplomatic efforts in the Philippines 

      

    TECO accepts visa applications from Monday Friday’s from 9AM to 11AM only. Meanwhile, releasing of visa is from 2PM to 4PM. 

    Now that you’re at RCBC, here are some tips to make your visa application hassle free: 

      
    Be there early – this endeavor involved a lot of lining up: you will be asked to line up first in order to register your name for the giving out of numbers. This line usually starts inside the RCBC but only ten people can line up inside at any given time, so the rest will be asked to wait outside until the first ten has registered (see photo above) 

    Note that you will be lining up with applicants for work visas so be there early. 8AM is a good time. After you have registered your name, you will be asked to go back outside and proceed to the area near the entrance of the RCBC museum to wait for the distribution of numbers. 

    Have a valid ID with you – note that they are very strict when it comes to IDs – valid IDs are SSS, unified ID, Drivers License. Company IDs are not official government ID but you can use them provided you will leave a PHP1,000 deposit which will be returned to you after you have filed your application. 

    A TECO staff will approach the waiting area and will start calling name. Once your name is called, show them your ID, claim the queu stub and go back inside the RCBC Plaza to surrender your ID at the registration area where you will be finally issued building IDs and asked to go up the 41st floor. 

    Curve the urge to bring a companion with you if they are not applying for a visa also. They will not be allowed to go up TECO anyway. 

     

    The waiting game


    Once at the 41st floor, wait for your number to be called, proceed to the assigned window and submit your document. 

     Once the documents are perceived to be in order and received by the staff, you will be asked to wait for your name to be called by the cashier. 
    Pay the visa application fee – single entry tourist visa is PHP2400 per pax. A receipt will be issued to you upon payment – the receipt contains the date of release of your passports. Please note that you may or may not be issued a visa, depending on the evaluation of the consul. TECO reserves the right to withhold reason for denial. 

    Do you have valid visas to the US, Japan, UK, Australia or Shengen? If yes, you don’t need to apply for a visa. You just need to fill out a special form which you can get from this page.

    In the end , the hubby and I were issued single entry tourist visas. I guess what did the trick was that the hubby and I were able to provide substantial financial capacity through our bank certificates, we submitted a certificate for our joint account and another one for my savings account. I was also able to prove strong ties to the Philippines through my CoE. Lastly and for good measure, I took the risk of writing TECO a letter expressing that while my husband has no ITR and COE, we are confident that we can fund our trip and assured them of our intention to return. 


    Note: this is based on my experience applying for a tourist visa for Taiwan. Outcome of individual visa applications may vary, depending on the evaluation of the consul. 

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      Preps and Research, Taiwan

      Changing hotels: why a 24-hour concierge is important to me

      After the glow and excitement of going to Taipei with the hubby has finally subsided. I took stock of the hostel I reserved and asked myself if I am really happy with the available amenities.

      The first hotel I booked, Mr.Lobster’s Secret Den seemed like a good deal and even ranked high both at TripAdvisor and at Booking.com. I have never been too picky when it comes to hotel stay. I’ve always mentioned that for as long as there is a good flushing toilet and a room that guarantees my safety (and without bed bugs!) — then everything is just icing on the cake for me.

      Unfortunately, this hotel, in spite of the fact that is promises a relaxing stay — does not have a 24 hour concierge. Concierge is available half day only – from 9AM to 2PM (I think) which became the deal breaker for me.

      Using the country’s top budget airline also means arriving in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport at a very ungodly hour. Factor in the one hour travel from Taoyuan county to Taipei City and this leads to a strong possibility of arriving in Taipei and at our hotel at 1:30 to 2:00 AM.

      This situation alone calls for the presence of a concierge who will check us in, get our details, usher us to our room. At an ungodly hour, with the possibility of a sleepy husband who is a first-timer in Taipei, I don’t want to be blindly looking for rooms.

      Photo not mine

      Photo not mine

      In a wired world, what is the concierge is for? The concierge is there to make the stay pleasant and to ensure that all your concerns are answered.

      A good concierge provides you insights on your planned itineraries, provides tips and tricks to maximize the stay and even at night, answers your questions on where is the best neighborhood joint open even at an ungodly hour.

      I immediately wondered how are we going to get checked in at 1:30AM. I am sure there are already SOPs in place, but I am also the type that needs a semblance of order and the familiar. I don’t like to entertain what if’s and if paying extra means having the convenience of a 24 hour concierge who will answer our questions and be our first line of defense during emergencies — then I am definitely changing hotels.

      Good thing that I booked my first choice at Booking.com which allowed me to cancel the first hotel and choose another without any hassle. I will be paying an additional PHP1,000 but that came with my 24/7 concierge and a free buffet breakfast AND a strategic location right at the middle of Ximending.

      So far, I am happy with my choice. Though note that I am still looking. This is the benefit of having Booking.com — it gives you the opportunity to shamelessly look for the best option for stays without the guilt and expense.

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      Taiwan

      Going to Taipei in Nov-Dec? Book your hotels now

      With the confirmation of the upcoming anniversary trip with the Hubs, I went on full OC-mode and started looking for a place to stay in Taipei this morning. Never mind if it was already 3AM, I have to find a room at Booking.com.

      800_booking.com_logo_blue_1000

      Booking.com is a blessing to budget travelers – it allows fast, easy and convenient booking for hotel rooms, BnB’s, hostels and inns anywhere in the world without the hassle and minus the need for a credit card. Booking.com has been my partner in countless visa applications.

      For this trip, I immediately sought my favorite CityInn Plus Hotel in Ximending but they are already fully booked during the time of our stay. I considered going to their other branches, particularly the one at the main station who kindly arranged for our car transfer and endorsed us to Keymann’s two years ago — but alas, the dawning of the Christmas season resulted to really steep rates, reaching to almost 20K in Philippine peso for a 4 day stay.

      Persistency really pays off. One of the well-reviewed hostels in the Main Station area is the (amusingly named) Mr. Lobster’s Secret Den, located across from the Taipei Main Station. The reviews are all great both in Trip Advisor and Boooking.com which led me to book our stay there. Mr. Lobster is located in a less-touristy neighborhood, apparently surrounded by locals and mom and pop shops — something which I always loved discovering.

      With my mad researching tendencies in full swing — I will certainly fill you in on the mystery of Mr. Lobster.

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      Taiwan

      Yehliu National GeoPark: Magnificently Surreal

      surreal but breathtaking

      surreal and breathtaking

      For travelers, nothing beats the feeling of seeing a place for the first time, taking in all of the surroundings and just how surreal, unbelievable or amazing it maybe. You stand there, in awe — only to catch you breath and utter a little prayer to the travel gods and fate for blessing you with the opportunity to see a place like this with your own eyes.

      That’s exactly how I felt when I first saw the amazing rock formations at Yehliu National Geo Park, located in the cape of Yehliu, on the northern coast of Taipei,in the town of Wanli, between Taipei and Keelung. To go here, you have to catch a an hour and 15 minutes bus ride at the Taipei Main Bus Terminal (more on this later). The bus ride is a bit long, and you have to be on your toes the whole time so as not to miss the huge stone marker to Yehliu. So yes, this is one of those bus trips where you are not allowed to take a nap, unless you want to wake up in the middle of nowhere.

      the marker to the front of the Yehliu National GeoPark

      the marker to the front of the Yehliu National GeoPark

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      One of the first things you’ll see upon entrance to the park is the cute statues. These represent the various shapes of the rock formations caused by the sea, dating to 10 t 25 million years ago. The most famous, the Queen’s Head was Yehliu’s main attraction and usually the subject of a long line of people waiting for a quick photo op. At the entrance of the park, you will see a replica of the Queen’s Head — a pale imitation for those who doesn’t want to risk the long lines just for a quick shot.

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      PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

      Like I said earlier, the rock formations are simply out of this world.In instances like these, it’s better for the pictures to do the talking:

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      of course, we have to pay respect to the Queen

      of course, we have to pay respect to the Queen

      The Queen’s Head was given the name due to it resembling the delicate head of an Egyptian queen – from the narrow, delicate neck to the imposing “head dress.” It is said that in fifty years, the neck of the Queen’s Head may break due to the natural wear and tear. It is the reason why the rock formation is cordoned off and people are reminded not to touch it. This is also the reason why the park made the replica at the park entrance, which barely captured the magnificence of the original. Heck, it was fibre glass — so we really can’t expect much.

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      you will also see fossils half buried in the sand.

      you will also see fossils half buried in the sand.

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      On one side of the park, you will notice this statue of Lin Tien Jen, a local fisherman who sacrificed his life saving others from drowning. To honor his memory, his statue was erected in the park so that people will always be reminded of his sacrifice. You can read his story on the plaque attached to his statue.

      There’s a Tourist Center and Cafe at the entrance of the park, if you want to have a quick coffee or grab a bite to eat. In our case, my sister and I brought tons of bread we bought at the Bread Talk outlet located at the main bus station in Taipei. If you opt to have a taste of the local cuisine, there are tons of seafood restaurants in Yehliu/Wanli Country. Just outside the Geo Park was a row of restaurants advertising freshly-caught seafood. They were a hit to all the tour groups who flock to the park.

      DIRECTIONS: COMMUTING TO YEHLIU

      1. Ride the MRT going to Taipei Main Bus Station. To do this, you will have to alight at the Taipei Main Train Station. As you exit the train, there will be signs giving you directions going to the main bus terminal. Just follow them.

      2. At the main bus station, buy your tickets at the Kuo Kuang Bus ticket counter. A one-way fare is NTD125. To make sure that you will not miss your destination (aside from not sleeping), you can look at the electronic billboard on the bus’ dashboard. The billboard displays the bus’ next stop and would often emit a high pitched sound. Signs are in Taiwanese and English. We took the bus 1815 going to Yehliu, travel was easy and the driver was fast but careful. There was also less traffic on our way to the countryside.

      Kuo Kuang bus ticket counter, main bus station (picture not my property)

      Kuo Kuang bus ticket counter, main bus station (picture not my property)

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      We passed by a house with a giant dog on its roof. So cute, so of course, we had to take a photo of it. We saw this just as the bus was heading to the main highway exiting Taipei.

      seen him?

      seen him?

      3. Alight the bus when you saw the giant marker for Yehliu Geo Park:

      pardon my harassed mug, the marker was the imposing green thing behind me

      pardon my harassed mug, the marker was the imposing green thing behind me

      When you alight the bus, the marker is on your right side. You have to go inside the street and walk for 10 minutes in order to reach Yehliu. While walking, you will encounter not-so-little reminders that you are on a fishing town:

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      After ten minutes of walking, you will see the signage and the gate. To your left, you will see this:

      ticketing area

      ticketing area

      Entrance tickets cost NTD50 (USD1.70) for adults and NTD25 for kids.

      4. To go back to the city, retrace your steps to the main highway and cross the street. Buses going to Taipei stop on the small convenience store/eatery directly in front of the road going inside Yehliu. When you are in doubt, ask the kind bus drivers if they are going to Taipei Main Station. You will pay upon entry.

      Yehliu National Geo Park is definitely one of those out-of-the-way attractions that deserve the hassle of leaving the city. More than seeing the amazing rock formations, it’s the challenge and the adventure of going to the countryside of a place where you don’t speak the language and literally have no idea where the bus takes you. Seeing Taiwan’s country side is truly an experience: just seeing the vast difference between the frenetic and fast-paced life of the city, compared to the sleepy farmlands and coasts.

      Inside the park, it’s a surreal experience knowing that these rocks were shaped by nature, and a million years in the making. The fragility of the Queen’s Head is a reminder that not all things are permanent in this world, so it’s better to see them up close while you still can.

      Yehliu National Geo Park
      No167-1 Gang Dong Road, Yehliu Village, Wanli Township
      Open from 8AM to 6PM

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      Taiwan

      Discover Taipei for PHP16,000!

      After a very long wait, I finally came around to posting the final tally of our Taipei expenses. We stayed in Taipei from March 10, arriving at 1:00 in the morning and departed Taipei March 12 on a 9PM flight back to Manila.

      While our stay was brief, the impressions we had of the city and its people were truly precious. We had a great time discovering its city streets, which was safe and quiet in the evenings — well, even in Ximending where the happening usually trickles down when the clock strikes 11PM.

      We knew that with the short time that we had, it can’t be possible for us to see everything. So, we chose areas that appealed to us and which piqued our interests. Most of the times, we were just travelers walking down the city streets noting how different Taipei was from Manila: orderly traffic, motorcycles parked in the street and just about everywhere, clean and wide roads where buses stop on well-marked areas, friendly people and the amazing mix of old (the temples and Old Chinese architecture) and the new (gleaming skyscrapers! The Taipei 101!) We enjoyed seeing bikes-for-loan parked on ramdom city streets and we had a blast walking the long drive way leading inside National Taiwan University. We satiated our hunger in Taipei’s back alleys or at the famous Shilin Night Market or bit the hype and tried Modern Toilet (we didn’t enjoyed it). We also relived our Meteor Garden fandom and went all the way to the middle of nowhere to eat at PS Bubu. And yes, we get to have the car table, mainly because there wasn’t anyone there but us.

      You can read more about our first day adventures here.

      Day II: The Yehliu Geo National Park Adventure

      We woke up really late, no thanks to the fact that we had to make up for the sleepless first day, courtesy of the rock-hard beds at Keyman’s (A stay in this hotel is best summarized as: nice service, centrally-located, beds that are bad for your spine). So, after getting a very late breakfast at the nearest McDonald’s, we rushed to catch the Yehliu bound bus at the Taipei Main Bus Station near Keyman’s. We paid NTS180 (PHP270) for the fare going to Yehliu which is a county very far from the city.

      We had to check our map and a print out of “Directions going to Yehliu” which I found in a blog. Will post a separate account on the beauty of Yehliu — but in a hindsight, it’s like discovering a new planet and being amazed by the surreal kind of art, created no less by Mother Nature.

      travel beans

      travel beans

      While the famous Queen’s Head is the main attraction in the expansive geo park, a lot of other rock formations will surely tickle your imagination. And the view of the ocean is just amazing. Entrance to the Geo park is just NTS 50 (PHP75), very cheap considering how nice the place is. We left Yehliu shortly after lunch, a bit famished — good thing we have brought snacks with us like jelly bread, sushi and our water bottles, so we had something to tide us until we were finally back in the city. We made a quick detour to Beitou Hot Springs and then finished the day at Shilin Night Market where we bought souvenirs for the family and had our fill of the famous fried chicken!

      Day III: Reliving our Meteor Garden fandom
      It’s my sister’s birthday — we started the celebration at what may be the most overhyped restaurant in Taipei – Modern Toilet. Then, we gave in to our fandom tendencies and went to National Taiwan University, said to be one of the shoot locations for the now-Taiwanese drama classic, Meteor Garden. Disappointed with our lunch, we decided to go to PS Bubu after and check if we can have our early dinner at the convertible turned dining area situated in the middle of the restaurant.

      In the Meteor Garden lore, it is also the location where Dao Ming Xi brought Shan Cai on their first date. For Meteor Garden fans, you could say that it’s a bit of a “mecca” — a “must-visit” if you are in Taipei. I now knew what it meant because apparently, PS Bubu is located at the middle of nowhere. You had to take the MRT then take the bus in order to find it. Well, the field trip was worth it because PS Bubu served really good food! We ended the day by getting our luggage at the hotel and taking the bus going to Taipei TaoYuan International Airport.

      Here’s our expenses for the three-day trip:

      Plane fare via Cebu Pacific, bought 3 months ahead – PHP4,000.00
      Airport Travel Tax and Terminal Fee – PHP2,200.00
      Airport transfer upon arrival (arranged thru City Inn) – PHP900.00 each (total fee is PHP1,800)
      1 night stay at Keymans “Succint Room” w/ breakfast – PHP1,350.00 each (total room rate: PHP2,700)
      2 nights stay at City Inn Ximending – PHP3,270 each (total stay is PHP6,540)
      Easy Card for transpo and basic groceries – PHP750.00
      Entrance to Taipei 101 and Yehliu Geo Park – PHP1,020.00
      Food budget for 3 days – PHP2,000.00
      Souvenir budget for the family – PHP1,000.00

      TOTAL Expenses: PHP16,490.00

      Some things to consider:
      Expenses BEFORE the trip: PHP7,100.00 (plane fare + travel tax + terminal fee + airport transfers)
      Expenses WHILE in Taipei: PHP9,390 (lodging + food + transpo + attractions + souvenirs)

      *Entrance to Chiang Kai Shek, Sun Yat Sen, Beitou Hot Springs, Taipei Expo Park, National Taiwan University are all for free.
      * Payment for Taiwan Tourist Visa (Single Entry) is not included. Visa fee is PHP2,100.00. Get directions here.
      * Entrance to Taipei 101 is PHP675 (NTD450), while entrance to Yehliu is PHP75 (NTD50), plus bus fare going to Yehliu is PHP270 (NTD180).

      We were sad leaving Taipei because we knew we missed a lot of really nice attractions. We wanted to go hiking up Elephant Mountain and maybe see the Fisherman’s Wharf as well as the Rainbow bridge. But we were consoled by the fact that we can easily go back to Taipei, as soon as we find the opportunity. Taipei will always be in our hearts — remembering it as a very good city, gifted with amazing attractions and wonderful people. We can’t wait to go back again.

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      Taiwan, Travel Diaries

      Taipei: Lasting First Impressions

      It was hard to provide our first impression of Taipei — it was dark and quiet when we arrived on a a humid Sunday morning. It was 1AM to be exact and we just wanted to check in at our hotel and sleep. Good thing that our driver sent by CityInn Hotel Plus was already there carrying a sign that spelled my first name wrong. She was quick, agile as she led us out of the airport and into the parking lot where her spacious car was located. She typed something on her smart phone and showed it to us, it read: “airport to hotel is 45 minutes away. I hope it’s okay…” we nodded and she smiled, then reached for our luggage before stuffing it on the trunk. The trip was a bit long and it’s hard to see what Taipei has to offer.

      It was way past midnight and we can barely make out buildings and houses. All we know is that we were already in Taipei: the land of Meteor Garden, of Jay Chou, of shaved ice, milk tea and Taipei 101. At midnight, the lights of the city blaze freely in spite the fact that only a few people remained on the streets. We were in the middle of the city, but it was quiet and peaceful.

      Our limo driver parked in front of City Inn Hotel Main Station, but we were supposed to stay at the nearby Keyman’s Hotel. After a bit of explanation, sign language and a few back story in between, the kind and amiable night manager of City Inn Main Station brought us to the hotel next door. Before he left, he gave us ideas on how to go to their Ximending Branch the next morning.

      We spent our first night trying to sleep — we were both wired from the long flight, giddy with excitement being in Taipei and the beds at Keyman’s were effing hard. It was like trying to rearrange your spine, only not for the better. By 3AM, we finally closed your eyes, anticipating our long day ahead the next morning. The next morning, we woke up early, availed our free breakfast and checked out. We need to go to Ximending to check in at CityInn Plus Hotel, our home away from home while in the city. We were advised to take the cab but I had our itinerary and our maps down pat. The easiest and cheapest way was to try the train stations. After all, Ximending wasn’t too far from the Main Station — just one station away. Something we can easily wing. Plus, we have to buy our “Easy Card”.

      the main highway in front of the Taipei Main Train Station and the Taipei Bus Station

      the main highway in front of the Taipei Main Train Station and the Taipei Bus Station

      The streets of Taipei were both busy and calm at the same time — buses whizz by, people walk a busy pace yet there’s a certain kind of calmness, especially in the areas near the City Hall. Well, except in Ximending which was pulsating in a steady, addicting pace. My sister and I agreed that we will spend our first day in Taipei hearing mass then discovering the tried and tested tourist attractions of the city — Taipei 101, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall then spend the rest of our night chilling out at Ximending. As usual, we were armed with a trusty map, my travel journal where I took copious notes about Taipei and an MRT guide map given by the kind people of City Inn Plus Hotel.

      After checking in at CityInn, we headed out for mass. My research brought me to St. Christopher’s Church which was usually frequented by Filipinos living in Taipei. Mass at St. Christopher’s was bought inspiring and fun — definitely one of the best masses I ever attended both here in Manila or anywhere else in Asia (well, for the countries I’ve been to anyway)

      After mass and spending a bit of time at Taipei Expo Park, we took the trains going to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Going to this attraction is easy. You hop on the train and you alight at…Chiang Kai Shek Train Station. That’s one of the things I love about Taipei — they tend to name their MRT stations after the attractions nearest it. Saves any foreign traveler the hassle of trying to figure out where you should alight. Train stations are also clean and well-lit with a smattering of signs written in Chinese and English. So, getting lost is next to impossible.

      MRT signages. The Tamsui line takes you to Beitou.

      MRT signages. The Tamsui line takes you to Beitou.

      train stations usually serve as galleries or performance space. for this station, they transformed the walk way to an art gallery

      train stations usually serve as galleries or performance space. for this station, they transformed the walk way to an art gallery

      standing on the edge

      standing on the edge

      Similar to Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, train stations also serve as mini-hubs of commerce – there are 711s, Family Mart, a nice sushi to-go place, as well as other shops selling from milk tea to medicine. Rest rooms are well-labeled and clean.

      Barely 24 hours in the city, and we have already fallen in love with Taipei.

      Now, for the first day attractions:
      (A quick summary of impressions)

      1. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall – My first impression of Chiang Kai Shek is that it’s…overwhelming and amazing. From the imposing main gates, to the intricate and jaw-dropping architecture of the National Theatre and National Concert Hall flanking the memorial hall, to the gleaming and seamingly mysterious Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall lording it in a safe distance. It was a sensory overload.

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      I love this photo of my sister chasing after the fat pigeons...

      I love this photo of my sister chasing after the fat pigeons…

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      I saw my first cherry blossoms at the park surrounding the memorial hall — I can’t believe I am seeing these beauties up close! They are simply magical and pretty. I have always contemplated on getting a cherry blossom tattoo to remind me of how short and fleeting life is, but my fear of needles and pain and of not finding a job is keeping me from crossing off this item from my bucket list.

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      If you’re the type who likes her history and has a thing for architecture, visit CSK Memorial Hall. It’s worth the trip. Entrance on the grounds are for free but the memorial hall has exhibits which may require a fee.

      Address:
      Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
      No. 21號中山南路 (Zhongshan S. Rd) Zhongzheng District Taipei City, Taiwan 100
      +886 2 2343 1100

      2. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall – Went to SYS Memorial Hall after CSK. From the SYS grounds, we first had a glimpse of the Taipei 101 — this brought us to fits of giddiness. In our mind, we were really in Taipei for real. The grounds were full of people, mostly families enjoying their Sunday break. We headed inside the hall to try to catch the Changing of the Guards but ending up seeing a bit of the action amidst the sea of heads.

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      If you’re someone who likes her history, then you will enjoy Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. My sister and I did not had the time to get around which was a shame really, considering we love our history (at home, History Channel and National Geographic were on heavy rotation). But the day we were day was so chaotic and busy (due to all the tour groups) we had no chance but to move on to Taipei 101.

      3. Taipei 101 – I’ll be really honest. I enjoyed Taipei 101 more when I was outside posing with it on the background, than when I was up the building. Well, a highlight for me is the chance to ride the world’s fastest elevator which took us from the 5th Floor lobby to the viewing deck in less than a minute. Up, it was underwhelming, especially since it was a very cloudy day the day we went up Taipei 101. I kept waiting for my magical moment, the same way I felt when I was up the N Tower, looking down on the twinkling lights of Seoul. Maybe, I’ll blame it on the crappy weather.

      Buying tickets to the Observatory

      Buying tickets to the Observatory

      This is the "Damper" which stabilizes Taipei 101

      This is the “Damper” which stabilizes Taipei 101

      So, my two cents worth? Go up if you have the budget and loves looking down on cityscapes, but be prepared to be disappointed when it’s cloudy and all you see is nothing but hazy, grayish thing from the wide windows of Taipei 101. Before you go, check the weather but Taipei weather has a tendency to change in a heart beat, one minute it’s cold, then the next thing you know, the sun is shining like crazy.

      Address:
      No. 7 Hsin Yi Rd. Sec. 5, Taipei 110
      Entrance: NTS 500
      www.taipei-101.com.tw/en

      NEXT: Adventures in Yehliu National Geo Park

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      Taiwan, Travel Tips

      Hearing Mass in Taipei

      Note: Sorry for the long-delayed posts on my Taipei trip. Things in the real world has been very hectic and stressful that I had to take a breather from blogging my travel posts.

      For Filipino Catholics who want to start their Taipei trip with a quick visit to the church or to hear mass in Taipei (especially if you happen to be there on a Sunday), I highly recommend that you visit St. Christopher’s Church in Chungshan North Road near the Taipei Expo Park.

      When you are directly in front of the Expo, cross the street to the right... this is Chungshan N. Road

      Cross the street to the right… this is Chungshan N. Road

      To go there, take the MRT going to Yuanshan (Red Line), fare is not more than NTS20. Upon exiting the MRT, walk east of Minzu W. Road (this is directly in front of the MRT exit), cross the Zhongzhan N. Road and walk south of Zhongshan N. Road. This will lead you to the sign of the Taipei Expo Park.

      From there, head right. You are very near when you see this bridal studio:

      When you see this shop, you're a few steps away from the church

      When you see this shop, you’re a few steps away from the church

      Searched for the church via Google Maps and you can refer to this screen grab:

      the facade of St. Christopher's and how to find it via GoogleMaps

      the facade of St. Christopher’s and how to find it via GoogleMaps

      St Christopher’s Church is well-known as THE church where Filipinos converage for spiritual nourishment in Taipei. When you go to a mass on a Sunday and is lucky enough to catch the 12NN service, you’ll think you’re in Manila instead of Taipei. The mass is offered in Tagalog every 12NN of Sunday. The other services during Sunday meanwhile are said in English. My sister and I made it a point to catch the Tagalog service because we want to hear the local language used generously in a foreign land.

      It was definitely one of the best masses I’ve attended in my entire life — second to the experience of hearing mass offered by Pope John Paul II in Manila during the celebration of World Youth Day in 1995 when I was in junior year in high school.

      The mass was made enjoyable by the following:

      1. A very joyful and relaxed officiant who delivered his sermon without the grave seriousness that seemed to be prevalent in some masses offered in Manila. I noticed that most sermons delivered in Manila had that “hail, fire and brimstones” gravitas that scares the pants out of me. The parish priest often is too serious, leading some parishioners to fall asleep. The priest at St. Christopher’s was funny, engaging and delivered the message directly and simply — yet aided by a nice power point presentation.

      2. Church goes are very behaved — people actually turned off their mobile phones upon entering the church. There were also usherettes directing people to their seats and kindly reminding people to turn the juice off their digital devices.

      3. The choir was very good!

      After the mass, some still stay to catch up

      After the mass, some still stay to catch up

      Lastly, it was nice to see non-Filipinos attend the church, even Taiwanese men married to their Filipina wives were there, hearing mass with their kids. I love how the church serves as a good spiritual refuge for Filipinos who have been living in a foreign land yet still wanted to deepen their faith.

      After the mass, I saw some kids make “mano” (a traditional Filipino of showing respect by pressing the elders’ hand to the kid’s forehead. We kids were taught to make “mano” to elders after every mass), and I can’t help but feel a surge of Filipino pride. I left the church smiling and in awe of how this little church is keeping Filipinos in touch of its roots.

      POSTSCRIPT:
      After the mass, we went back to Yuanshan MRT station in search of food. It was past 1PM and we are stark raving hungry. To the other side are family-run restaurants and we happen to get transfixed on a mom and pop restaurant selling “MeiSua”. We were able to understand each other through a series of pointing and nodding and smiling and we ended up with a really great late lunch:

      So YUMMY! Only NTS55!

      So YUMMY! Only NTS55!

      Go to the store with red signage if you want to taste really good Taiwanese misua

      Go to the store with red signage if you want to taste really good Taiwanese misua

      Like any “mom-and-pop” operation, the place is kept clean and the prices are affordable. Look out for the kind granny serving the soup.

      Address and contact information:
      ST. CHRISTOPHER’S CHURCH
      51 Chungshan N. Road, Sect. 3, Taipei

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