Having not really traveled all that much last year (except to Hong Kong and Zhuhai), we wanted to make the most of my three-day dark between 29 March - 1 April so decided to take a trip across the strait to Taiwan. Angie was, yet again, very excited she didn't have to attend school for a few days and wanted to take a picture with the Shanghai 2010 Expo blob at Macau airport -
This was the first time we flew with Air Macau and we were pleasantly surprised with their excellent service, even though 'blast-off' was delayed by 20 minutes. We flew direct to Taipei, the capital and largest city, which is at the northern end of the island and only 1 hour and 50 minutes from Macau by air. Having arrived at a decent hour where businesses are actually open - read my previous blog about KK here - changing HKD into NTD (New Taiwan Dollars) was a breeze.
We arrived in Taipei just after midday and Nat's friend Patricia, with whom she went to highschool with in Johannesburg 15 years ago, was at the airport to greet us. The Taoyuan airport is in Taoyuan County which is about 45 minutes by car from the city and costs about $1000NTD (about $33AUD) by taxi. Nat had not seen Patricia for 15 years since they went to school together but had kept in touch via snail mail and more recently something called the internet which seems to be all the rage these days. The first thing we noticed in Taiwan is the politeness of the people and lots of open space - yes, Macau can get a bit claustrophobic at times. Our hotel, Wonstar Hotel, was located in the trendy Ximending district where there are lots of hip clothing stores and pedestrian streets selling renowned Taiwan xiaochi or snacks.
The confusingly named Wonstar Hotel
We laughed when we saw the towels in our room that read 'Onestar Hotel' - it was good to see that Chinglish was alive and kicking across the strait. I would have at least called it the 'Three star Hotel'. Ximending was a very convenient place to be located, really close to great shops selling all kinds of stuff and some local food places just a block away. We were all a bit hungry so we found a local noodle shop so satiate the beast!
Patricia telling Angie that Taiwanese noodles are ok
Niurou mian - Beef noodle soup
The noodle flour mixer
So cheap - the most expensive dish on the menu was $160NTD, about $2.50AUD!
Amazing what they can make from the simple soy bean!
From there, Patricia wanted to take us to Yangmingshan National Park which is only 45 minutes by car from the city. YangMing 'mountain' is named after a Ming Dynasty military official and was the summer residence of Chiang Kai-Shek, where the former leader of the KMT (Kuomintang) could escape the heat of the city. It is famous for its cherry blossoms, hot springs and walking trails.
Angie enjoying the greenery
Unfortunately the weather was not great and light was fading fast so we stopped for refuge at a makeshift restaurant in one of the many valleys. In this one valley it seemed there were 4 or 5 restaurants all selling iris flowers and making a living from people stopping for a pit-stop on their way up/down the mountain.
The mist clouding the mountain peaks
Outside the makeshift restaurant
We had a light meal of some local greens and a type of small fish which was deep-fried and served with a pepper-salt mix which was pretty tasty. I say 'light' meal as Patricia planned to take us to the famous Shilin night market after Yangming mountain so I had to save some room for all the goodies that awaited us. Shilin night market is probably the most famous of all the night markets in Taipei - a city where night markets are an institution and eating by the roadside is the norm.
Shilin night market
Taiwanese street food comes in various shapes and forms - from the notorious 'stinky' tofu, freshly cut fruits (maybe can't be classified as street-food as is too healthy?), noodles of all lengths and textures, oyster omelette, savory pancakes...the list is endless! Patricia recommended Ay-Chung Noodle House as a stall we shouldn't miss for their vermicelli noodles in soup. I thought 'how good could they be?' having eaten vermicelli noodles in soup a hundred times before. How wrong I was! Their noodles were silky soft and the soup was amazing - thick and rich - and just for good measure, some offal floating around too...ahhhh.
Man who has Ay-Chung noodle is a happy man
Even Nat tried Ay-Chung!
Actually I should mention that the 'fresh fruit' is only an option in a Taiwanese street market...strawberries are usually served Wimbledon-style with sugar and cream/milk! We asked the vendor for just strawberries for Angie but found out later when I had one that they were covered in sugar. Oh well... So after having two kinds of stinky tofu and some shopping it was late so we jumped into a cab with full bellies back to Ximending.
The next day Patricia and her uncle, Kenny, took us southwards in Taipei County to Sanxia (lit 'Three Gorges' - where Kenny lives) and to the Great Roots forest which is next to the Dabao river. Sanxia is a nice smaller town about 45 minutes out of the city that has a great old street which is very well preserved in colonial-style Japanese architecture. There is also the Zushi temple originally built in 1769 which is beautiful.
Another thing Sanxia is famous for are its Bull-horn croissants which are pretty tasty. A smaller, more dense version of a typical croissant.
Shop selling Bull-horn croissants
Great Roots Forestry resort is located in the only tropical rain-forest in Taiwan and features some nice walks and the rare 'buttress-root' trees!!! There was also a rope bridge spanning a gully which was fun...Nat was terrified!
Centuries old butt tree
Angie enjoying the hammocks along the walk
Just like out of Temple of Doom!
Angie doing a performance amidst the trees!
We were lucky enough to catch the cherry blossoms which were still in bloom...
Taiwan is famous for its hot springs, or wenquan, and there are many towns where you can experience a nice hot bath laced with sulpher dioxide! We went for a more sterile experience in a private bath.
It was a nice soak after a nice day. We all slept well that night.
The next day was our last full day in Taipei so we stayed in and around the city. We visited the Longshan Temple which is probably Taipei's most famous temple - a loud, colorful yet somehow serene place teeming with earthlings offering, chanting and divining to their gods.
From there we hopped onto the MRT - Mass Rapid Transit - to Jinhuacheng, the 'Living Mall', maybe the weirdest mall in all of Asia...looks wise that is...take a look...
It felt like being on a Klingon Bird-of-Prey (that's a big, mean spaceship for all you non-Trekkers). Jinhuacheng is also the home to Baby Boss which is just that - a place where your baby can be boss for the day. Well, almost. It's a mini-city that takes up a whole floor at the Living Mall where children can go to 'work' and earn Baby Boss dollars to spend on fun activities within the city, like going to the ice creamery or learning how make their own pizza. Angie played nurse, car mechanic and also did a stint at the milk factory complete with fake cows that you could 'milk' and moo'ed each time you squeezed their teats. Angie was in her element, although she tried speaking Cantonese to some of the other kids and they didn't understand her. But she had a great time nonetheless, 'playing' really is a universal language. I'll post more on Baby Boss in a separate blog, as I'm sure your attention is waning : ) Taipei was a lot of fun, it was a shame we only had three days to explore.