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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      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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      Uncategorized

      Change of Plans: Hello again, Taipei!

      As mentioned, the Hubs and I were supposed to go to Osaka for February — but after assessing his chances of getting a visa (Hubs work freelance), I decided that a better option is for him to get some stamps of his new passport first before trying out his luck in getting a Japanese visa. Since his old passport and his old travel stamps are not attached to the new one, I find it more strategic if he can show his frequency of travel as support to the Osaka trip.

      Unlike me who can’t stay still in a year without going somewhere, the Hubs is contented staying in our room playing his RPG games and tabletop gaming pieces. So, when I suggested Taipei — I easily got his approval due to “one thing”

      Confirmed!

      Confirmed!

      gw-rules-banner

      …apparently, the Warhammer fandom is alive and well in the city of Taipei. In fact, the moment I confirmed our flight booking, he has already managed to find and communicate with one of the gaming stores selling Warhammer merchandise.

      You see, there is a way to getting my significant other to travel with me — and that is (bless him) through his hardcore nerd heart 🙂

      I have been to Taipei once in 2013 and is still raring to go back. Read some of my posts about Taipei here. There are still a lot of places that I have yet to see. Here’s my must-visit/must do places for November 2015.

      Go on a morning hike at Elephant Mountain and see Taipei in all of its glory.

      The view atop Elephant Mountain (photo not my property)

      The view atop Elephant Mountain (photo not my property)

      This view is really breath-taking. I am just looking at a photo but the vantage point is just so beautiful. Though the Hubs does not like hiking, he is always up to new adventures. Anyway, I still have three months to convince him to don his hiking shoes and go up the mountains with me. It’ll be worth it.

      Beitou (photo credit to owner)

      Beitou (photo credit to owner)

      Enjoy Beitou. I managed to squeeze in some time to go to Beitou the first time I was in Taiwan — however, my sister and I arrived too late and the paths leading to the hot springs were already closed. In my mind, I am already convinced to do this first thing in the morning and reserve the afternoon to another destination that I also have yet to see. The Hubs said that he doesn’t like to spend the time but is more than game to going around the sights with me.

      The Tamsui Lovers Bridge (photo credit to owner)

      The Tamsui Lovers Bridge (photo credit to owner)

      Here’s another place that I didn’t get to enjoy since we were like contestants with the amazing race and just kept on running from once place to another during our 2013 visit. Good thing the Hubs a more leisurely pace traveling and is all about chilling and enjoying the moment.

      The trip will also serve as an early wedding anniversary celebration for the Hubs and myself. The trip is my way of giving back to him for all the times he has been a good sport and tolerated having a wife who can’t keep still. It’s also my way of making amends for the times I always left him whenever I leave to go somewhere.

      One of the things we promised to each other this year is that we will work on experiencing new things together. The trip to Taipei is exactly just like that.

      As always, mad researching commences again — from visa applications to new sights to see. Watch this space for new developments!

      PS: Beautiful Taipei! I can’t wait to see you again!

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      Travel Diaries

      Hi! I’m Your Wandering Girl

      Let me reintroduce myself. This blog used to be called “The Places You Will Go”, yes — after that famous children’s book. It was a nice name, nostalgic and easy to recall…but definitely not unique. And definitely doesn’t give you an idea of who I am and why I am here.

      Well, my first ever blog post for this site briefly explained why I am starting the blog. See it here. But here’s a summary: I am in love with going to different places and will not hesitate to find ways to go on a trip — in spite my meager budget. You see, in spite of my fondest dream of leaving everything and seeing the world on a whim, I don’t exactly have the money of a Hilton or a Vanderbilt. At best, I have a bank account where I keep all money for travel. I balance my bank account according to three items: every day expenses, emergency and savings fund and my travel fund.

      This is the same reason why I decided to rename this blog, who has enjoyed your generosity for quite a while now. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on travel. I know that I have been too quiet for a long time–I can assure you, my fellow travel fiends, that each and every time was spent plotting various forms of escape from our mundane day-to-day life.

      Still cheaply, and with less expenses as possible, of course. Show me the way to the free attraction and I will gladly try it out for you.

      Hopefully, I will get to have more opportunities to travel or in Filipino street slang language, “Lakwatsa” this year. I have come to realize that I have spent much of my time plotting my trips on foreign countries, but less on local destinations. I wish to correct this oversight. You see, the Philippines have a lot of great places to offer. Though in all honesty, I can flat out tell you that the rest of Manila is a jungle. Please, get out of the capital and see the rest of our country if you can. It is marvelous, I promise you. Yes, not only the usual haunts like Boracay, Puerto Princesa or Cebu City. Discover unknown places like the nice beaches of Coron in Palawan, the Bantayan Island in Northern Cebu and the off the beaten track that is abundant in any of our 7,100 islands. You will find something you will truly enjoy, I assure you.

      So, yes — nice meeting you again. Here’s wishing for more miles covered, for you and for me.

      WANDERING GIRL

      July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

      July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

      July 2008 -- With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

      July 2008 — With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

      January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

      January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

      July 2011... with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

      July 2011… with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

      March 2012 - In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

      March 2012 – In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

      March 2012 - Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

      March 2012 – Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

      October 2012 - Celebrating mum's birthday in Hong Kong

      October 2012 – Celebrating mum’s birthday in Hong Kong

      March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

      March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

      September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

      September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

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      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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      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 Tips

      Review: Modern Toilet Restaurant Taipei (a very CRAPPY experience – literally!)

      This post is just screaming for a lot of bad puns and offensive, double-meaning titles.
      But I guess, one can summarize it best with this: if you look for crap, then you will get crap! This we realized to be true following our not-so-stellar experience at Modern Toilet, located at the Ximending District in Taipei, Taiwan.

      For the uninitiated, Modern Toilet is a theme restaurant where the main feature and novelty is being served on toilet seats, while eating in a bidet or toilet shaped plate decorated with variations of poo. It’s a sort of thing that would be really funny for ten year old boys who find humor in bodily functions.

      However, we were in Taipei for a limited time only and wanted to just get on with the experience of dining here because we were there anyway so might as well try.. We first went to Modern Toilet on our second night in Taipei, the restaurant is located on one of the alleys within Ximending and finding it is not an easy task. But we wanted to try it, so off we go following a trip to Shilin Night Market. After a bit of a search, we finally found it by 9PM.

      We excitedly went up the stairs only to be turned away, with the servers explaining that they are already closed. We wanted to argue that it’s still 9PM and their sign downstairs say that they close at 10PM. But there was a language barrier and I was just tired from roaming around (Yehliu-Shilin then a mad dash to Ximending for Modern Toilet) that I just gave up.

      Modern Toilet Restaurant, Ximending, Taipei

      Modern Toilet Restaurant, Ximending, Taipei

      You would think that the experience will be enough to make us stay-away, but no — we decided to come back the next morning for brunch and to celebrate the first meal of the day celebrating my sister’s birthday.

      hey. mr. crapman! :)

      hey. mr. crapman! 🙂

      This time, we were accommodated immediately. At first, the place was empty but then tourists and high school kids start arriving one after the other. We were given english menus and told that we have to order and pay first on the counter before food can be served. Here’s how you order:
      1. You will be given the menu and a dry-erase marker.
      2. Mark your order from the items indicated in the menu.
      3. Bring it to the cashier and pay.
      4. Wait for your food.

      Food
      My sister and I chose a set meal, Tuna Pasta (NTS 275) for her and a breaded chicken with melted cheese (NTS 260) for myself. The mains came with soup (hers was a creamy pumpkin puree while mine was flavored water with floating green bits), green iced tea (tasted awful) and soft-served ice cream which came at the end of the meal.

      my set meal (chicken, flavored water as soup, rice and green tea, with ice cream)

      my set meal (chicken, flavored water as soup, rice and green tea, with ice cream)

      my sister's pasta served in a "wash basin" type plate.

      my sister’s pasta served in a “wash basin” type plate.

      Okay, let’s talk first about the food. Honestly, it’s nothing to get excited about. The pasta was watery and needed salt and the iced green tea tasted awful we decided to stick with the water we have at hand. The breaded chicken was okay, made delicious by the melted cheese that oozed out. I did not enjoy my soup nor the rice (since I do not eat rice that much). The soft-served ice cream is okay, at best. Considering how tasty and delicious the food of Taipei is (and cheap too! Shilin Night Market proved that), Modern Toilet is a bit of a let-down considering the high expectations we had for the restaurant. The cost, in my opinion, is okay (NTS260 for a set) but note that you can get a yummier option at lower the cost in any of the many themed restos around Ximending.

      Design
      Admittedly, the allure of Modern Toilet comes with the whimsy display of poop. There are poop figures; they were selling candies shaped like poops; you can upsize your drink and order it served inside a plastic urinals for just NTS40; you are sitting on toilets with cute covers; food is served on glass-topped bath tubs and your ice cream comes shaped like poop. It’s a nice experience to have and something which can be best enjoyed with your family and friends, as you laugh on the cute poop displays and the fact that you are drinking on a miniature urinal.

      ?????????????????????

      light fixtures are shaped lovingly like poop

      light fixtures are shaped lovingly like poop

      No, this is not the ladies' restroom. This is the sink.

      No, this is not the ladies’ restroom. This is the sink.

      The sink is a whole toilet bowl modified with a faucet. This is a great idea with a weird execution. It didn’t help the sink is already dirty by the time I used it that it kinda grossed me a bit.

      It is indeed funny for a while, until you realize you are no longer ten years old and words like “poop”, “fart”, “dork” and others that may connote further bodily functions no longer amuse you.

      Here’s how to find Modern Toilet
      1. If you are coming from the metro, get out of Ximending station exit 6.
      2. Head to the right side of Eslite mall. That street is called Emei street. Just go straight until you reach the end of the road which is called Kunmimg Street.
      3. Turn right as soon as you see the parking lot.
      4. Then turn right once again. Walk a few steps. Modern Toilet is to your left and located on the second floor.

      Sorry for the crude interpretation. But here's how to find Modern Toilet

      Sorry for the crude interpretation. But here’s how to find Modern Toilet

      After you have your fill, I suggest you explore the neighborhood where Modern Toilet is located, lots of nice shops and hole-in-the-walls to discover.

      Address and contact information:
      Modern Toilet
      2F, No 7, Lane 50, Xi-Ning South Road, Taipei Taiwan.
      Tel:(02)23118822
      Website: http://www.moderntoilet.com.tw

      Prepare around NTS 250-NTS400 per person depending on your food preference.

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