Sunday, May 1, 2011

FLASHBACK #3: Taiwan 101

Following an intense backpacking adventure in Singapore and Malaysia, I decided to take it easy for my second trip. Where did I decide to go?
Taipei, Taiwan

Our stay lasted from March 10th to the 13th.
It was a great city with a completely different atmosphere than Hong Kong. I couldn't resist taking pictures, so I hope that they will help show you what I did during my stay while also giving you some tips on what is popular to see/do there.
Check it out:

THURSDAY: I'M IN TAIWAN, TRICK!

We arrived in Taipei at around 7PM.
It wasn't too complicated to find our way through the airport, or to the hotel.
We got situated very quickly and were ready to start exploring :)

Very Nice Addition to the Immigration Desk

$1 Bus Ride to Our Hotel

MRT Token
Now you are probably wondering where I was headed at such a late hour (9PM)...
It turns out that the thing to do during the evenings, in Taipei, is to go the local night market and grab a snack. This sounded like a pretty fun opportunity, so we decided to start off the evening at the Shilin Night Market!

TIP #1: Shilin Night Market is one of the most famous night markets in Taipei, making it a long-time favorite among residents and tourists, locals and foreigners. Since it's such a huge market, almost any product imaginable, not to mention any kind of food, can be found there. The products are pretty cheap. In fact, the deals are so good that they draw huge crowds even on weekdays. On weekends and holidays, however, the market becomes a large ocean of people!

Lucky for us, it was late, so the market was empty.
Basically, NO LINES OR CROWDS :)

Shilin Night Market

Our 1st Food Stall

Dinner = A-

Dessert: Shaved Ice with Fresh Fruit
Grade: F
TIP #2: DO NOT EAT THE SHAVED ICE! The water used at markets to make the ice may not be sanitary. Jens and I made the mistake to eat the dessert above and felt sick the rest of the evening and the next day. Consider yourself warned.

So Many More Stalls...

Dumplings Stall: B+

FRIDAY: FROM TAIPEI 101 to SNAKE ALLEY


After dealing with my minor case of food poisoning, I made my way to the city center to see the famous Taipei 101.

TIP #3: Taipei 101 is the 2nd tallest building in the world! 101 stories above the ground and 5 stories below, the 508 meter tall building is considered an engineering feet that was built to put Taipei on top.

Check it out:

MRT Map


A Helpful Sign


It Was Very Foggy/Rainy, But We Found It!

A Picture, Please!
Cool Picture :)
Besides going to see Taipei 101 and eating at night markets, another popular thing to do in Taiwan is SHOP! It is actually the place most Hong Kong teens go to for "back-to-school" shopping. I had to look into it further, so I decided to go to a few famous shopping hot-spots that our hotel receptionist recommended.

FIRST STOP: Zhongxiao Dunhua
This is a nice place to go for small local boutiques with one-of-a-kind pieces. There are a lot small streets, so make sure you make time to pass through all of them. It is a bit more expensive than other districts, but the products are well worth it. 
Zhongxiao Dunhua's Busy  MRT Station
TIP #4: Don't expect to try on the clothes, ladies and gentleman. I went into so many boutiques who refused to let me try on the skirts, blouses, and shirts I was planning on buying. This is true in most shopping areas of Taiwan. They have a "One Size Fits All" mentality. Shoes are the same issue. They make certain shoe styles in one specific size. For example, you may be interested in a nice ballerina flat, but it may turn out that they only make it for a size 6 foot. Just so you know, the size 9.5 shoes are not as cute... BOO HISS!

TIP #5: Taiwan fashion means a lot of make-up! These girls love everything from crazy lipstick to thick eyeliner. It is also a big trend to have those contact lenses that make your pupils look huge. I was trying to give them a proper name and finally decided on one: Doll eyes. It turns out that it is currently "in style" to look like a doll: The vintage dresses with puffy skirts and flowers. The bows in the hair. The long eye lashes...
You get the picture. 

However, I entered one store that let me try on the clothing (FINALLY) and when I walked into the dressing room, I was greeted with a gauze mask and the following sign: 

WARNING
HAHAHAHA! Moral of the story, Taiwanese girls wear A LOT of make-up.


SECOND STOP: Ximen
TIP #6: THIS IS THE PLACE YOU WANT TO GO! It specifically targets the teen and young adults, and it  is pretty trendy. It is also dirt cheap. There are many winding roads around the area, so going through the entire district may be difficult to do in one night. You may need the entire day! IT IS WORTH IT.


Ximen

Shopping Heaven :)
After a few hours of shopping, we decided to change locations and do a little more sight seeing. The next stop was Lungshan Temple followed by another night market, nicknamed Snake Alley, across the street.

Lanterns Outside Lungshan Temple
TIP #7Lungshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple is a famous old temple in Taiwan. It is devoted to worshiping Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, and other divine spirits. There is a popular legend associated with its construction: It is said that someone left a charm or lantern of Guanyin hanging on a tree. It began giving off an unnatural light and granting wishes to those bringing requests; local residents consequently decided to build a temple to mark the sacred place... it has been a popular site for locals and tourists ever since. Make sure to go in the DAY TIME! Not at night, as pictured below...

... Seeing if it was Open

View of a Lovely Light Lantern Display
(Picture Taken Through the Gate Bars)

It Wasn't Open :(
Since the temple was not open, we made our way across the street to 
Huashi Night Market AKA Snake Alley.

TIP #8: Several types of Asian style eateries are present in Snake Alley. However, this place is most known for its snake shops. Out in the market, visitors can taste snake soup or sip some snake blood. You will find several shops having a variety of live snakes on display. You can choose among these snakes and the cook will prepare a dish for you. Another popular attraction are the snake charmers. They make snakes dance and then cut them, so that the blood which comes out can be served with liquor.


Snake Alley!

Making our Way Through the Market
Unfortunately, we arrived too late, and a lot of the shops had closed. However, the snake shops and restaurants with snakes were still open. It was VERY uncomfortable. At one shop, there was a wall full of aquarium tanks filled with mice (instead of fish and water). A teenage boy was grabbing a few at random and putting them in a box... Let's just say that there way a large python nearby and he looked hungry.
My stomach was turning, so I decided to leave.

At the MRT station, Jens and I noticed a lighted area with the following sign on the floor. There were camera's in this area and a police man nearby. It felt very safe on the way home...
Security at Taipei MRT Stations = A+


SATURDAY: HOT SPRINGS, FLOWERS, PALACES, SHOPPING, AND LATE NIGHT STROLLS

Day 3 in Taipei was going to be a busy one! Jens and I had a lot planned and only 24 hours to do it...
Take a look at how we did it:

FIRST STOP: Hot Springs in Xin Beitou

TIP #9: If you want to get away from the busy city streets, take the MRT to Beitou and see a more natural side of Taipei. The area surrounding Beitou, supplied naturally by the geothermal energy of the nearby [and still active] Yang Ming Shan volcano became an obvious location for some serious relaxation. Chillin' in a hot spring is not only DIRT CHEAP, but it has become one of the favorite past times of most locals.

Beitou District

Headed for the Hot Springs
Millennium Hot Springs
Entrance Fee: $40 Taiwan Dollars (UNDER $2 US DOLLARS!)
Nature Walk

Following the Stream that Fills the Hot Springs

Hot Spring
Chillin' Out.
Jens and I didn't have time to jump in and enjoy the perfect 60-degree-Celsius water, since we were expecting to meet the rest of the group at the Flora Expo at 12:30pm.... It was 12:10pm by the time we left Beitou.


SECOND STOP: Flora Expo
The Good News is: we arrive on time.
The Bad News is: Our friends didn't!

It turns out that we hadn't planned out a proper meeting spot for our group to meet! That would have helped so much, since the Expo was filled with hundreds of people. It would have been impossible to find them (especially since we had no cell phones). Regardless, Jens and I decided to go into the Expo.

TIP #10: The 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo is the first international certified standard exposition that Taiwan has ever had. The Expo is conducted in parks and riverside areas full of flower beds. The planning and structure of all exposition grounds have been "incorporated along the concept of a modern city life with an adventurous approach." The Expo's goal is to show how people crave for green space in a world where green trees and natural habitats are decreasing. LIVE GREEN!

Entrance
As we made our way to buy our tickets, a young boy around my age came up to us and asked (in a rough Asian accent) if we wanted to join his group. At first, Jens and I were confused about what he was asking. It turned out that you could buy group ticket packages (which were cheaper than purchasing the individual tickets). This smart boy had established a group of 10 people made up of students, old women, backpackers, and couples. The group ticket he wanted to buy was for 12 people... Jens and I would be the last 2 people.
We accepted the invitation and tagged along as he got the tickets. However, our group only lasted until we got through the entrance, because everyone went their separate ways.

Our Temporary "Group"
There were a lot of flowers to see, but again, Jens and I wanted to continue our day of sight-seeing.
After grabbing some lunch at the Expo's food court (C+), we made a quick loop around the park.
Take a look at what we had a chance to see:

Only for a Limited Time!
Crazy Drinking Fountains
The Lines were so Long..

Flowers

Maintainability

More Flowers

Watering the Flowers

Expo Map

Arena

Flower Wall


Pink Flora Expo Character

All the Flora Expo Characters

THIRD STOP: National Palace Museum

Following an MRT transfer and 15 minute bus ride, we arrived at the National Palace Museum. It was my FAVORITE venue to visit in Taipei.

TIP #11: This museum was originally established as the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City. However, During the Chinese Civil War, the Nationalist Government ordered the museum to be moved (with its most valuable pieces) to prevent it from falling in the hands of the Japanese. The National Palace Museum now houses over 677,687 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest in the world. The collection encompasses over 8,000 years of Chinese history from the Neolithic age to the late Qing Dynasty. Story cut short, GO VISIT THIS PLACE!

National Palace Museum Map

Entrance

Sweet :)

West Building
Entrance Walkway

Main Building
FOURTH/REPEATED STOP: Ximen 

I'm sorry! I just couldn't resist going back and maneuvering my way through all of the shops.
Check out what happened during our second visit to our favorite shopping district:

Big Bubbles!

Late Night Snack
TIP #12: There are sometimes small buildings on streets that are actually multi-level shopping malls on the inside. CONCENTRATE ON THESE PLACES! There is so much variety! I went completely crazy after entering one, and shopped like crazy. Even Jens bought some stuff! The style is very hip and fun... and all for very cheap prices :)

BEFORE

AFTER
Following a few hours of successful shopping, Jens and I grabbed a cheese-steak around the corner. It wasn't a Philadelphia cheese-steak, but it sure hit the spot.

Cheese-steaks = A-
Following dinner, the shops were closing in Ximen, so we decided to move on to our next stop.


FINAL STOP: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

TIP #13: In April, 1975, Taipei mourned the passing of President Chiang Kai-shek. A few months afterwards, in response to suggestions from the people, the funeral committee members decided to build the CKS Memorial Hall in Taipei, in order to commemorate the memory of the respected leader. The structure is framed on the north and south by the National Theater and National Concert Hall.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE IS NO LIGHTING IN THE AREA! You have to see it during the day, otherwise you will be left out in the dark... like us.

Lonely MRT Station

Destination
The streets were so dark, so we couldn't find our way. My pictures didn't even come out very well. 
However, here is what we would have wanted to see.


We headed back to the hotel and had a chat with the rest of our group. After hearing about how they had looked for us at the Flora Expo a little after we had left, we decided to end our adventures in Taiwan by going to the top of Taipei 101 the next morning.

I was still a little sad about not seeing the CKS Memorial Hall, so I made plans to wake up a bit earlier and take a taxi to go take a picture of it in the morning. Jens told me he would tag along as well.


SUNDAY: SAYING GOODBYE TO TAIPEI FROM ABOVE

... too bad I OVERSLEPT! 
By the time I had woken up, it was time to rush to Taipei 101!

Back Again With Better Weather

Inside

Observatory

The elevator in Taipei 101 is also said to be one of the fastest in the world.
 Traveling to the 89th floor [observatory] in 37 seconds, the elevator travels at a speed of 37.7 mph!

Don't believe me?
Take a look for yourself:

video

 Jason (without his suitcase from the Malaysia/Singapore trip)!

Hey Ya'll!
From Left: Jens, Jason, Kuljit, Mikey-Mai, Brian's Arm

Awesome Views!
From Left: Jason, Amil (Sweden), Me, Jens

Anita (left) and Michelle (right) Writing Messages on their
Postcards to Family and Friends

Sending my Postcard :)
HEY MOM!

Cafe and Bar on the 89th Floor

Observatory

Going up to the 91st Floor
Following a lot of pictures, it was time to go to the airport. We took the stairs to the 88th floor and hopped on the elevator that would take us back to ground level. By the time we got on the ground, the group wanted to continue taking pictures... what can I say? We are on exchange!

Jason Posing With Jens and I's Suitcases
Going Down Memory Lane of the Singapore/Malaysia Trip
HAHAHA :)

Brian and Anita Getting Great Angle Shots of Taipei 101

Group Picture.
Jens and I were ready to go to the airport, since we had booked an earlier flight than everyone else. However, to make the cab cost cheaper, Jason and Michelle decided to tag along and be at the airport a little early. THEY ARE AWESOME :) The rest of the gang promised to take their stuff to the airport when they left in half an hour.

We spent the cab ride practicing Cantonese and talking about our favorite places in Taipei.
Although I didn't get a chance to see CKS Memorial Hall, I did get to see one last historical building on the way to the airport that was connected to CKS:
Passing by the Grand Hotel
TIP #14: The Grand Hotel was basically a hotel that Chiang Kai-shek built to accommodate foreign ambassadors due to the lack of five star hotels in Taipei. The main building (what is pictured above) is the world's tallest Chinese classical building. 

Pretty cool, right?

A few minutes after passing by The Grand Hotel, we arrived at the airport and were headed home.
It was a short flight (1 hour and 30 minutes), and before we knew it, we were all back in Hong Kong.
It's always nice to be home.
Arriving Back in HK!
In conclusion, I hope all of the tips I covered in this entry helped you learn a little bit about Taiwan, while also prepping you for any future travel plans you may have ;)

I definitely plan on returning to Taipei!
Specifically for getting my picture at CKS Memorial Hall... and shopping, of course.

Until next time...

-Lina

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