Wednesday, November 9, 2016

[Suggested] Travel Itinerary to Taichung (台中), Taiwan (台湾).

Taiwan (台湾) remains as one of the countries most visited by Malaysians mainly because of its vibrant culture, mouth-watering local delicacies, well-developed transportation, world-class shopping malls and most importantly, budget-friendly. The rise of low-cost carriers have indirectly contributed to the boost of tourism as well, particularly a huge in-flow of Malaysians to Taiwan. Taipei and Kaohsiung are the most popular destinations but Taichung is not to be forsaken as well. The strategic geographical location makes the region ideally as a pit-stop for travelers travelling from North to South (or vice versa). Taichung is the third largest city in Taiwan and was previously the center of colonial administration during the Japanese-ruling era; the municipal plan of the city was modeled based on the city of Kyoto. It is easy to find Japanese-influenced buildings and Japanese-colonized footsteps. While we did not manage to explore the entire city, we did manage to stop by for a short day trip.

*This blog post is brought to you by Taiwan Tourism Bureau (台湾观光局).*
*Special Thanks to China Airlines for making the trip happened*

NTD $630 from Taichung to Taipei (vice versa)

Getting to Taichung from Taipei or any other part(s) of Taiwan is easy, simply take the Taiwan High Speed Rail from any destination and you will arrive Taichung in no time. It only took us 59 minutes to reach Taipei from Taichung. The journey to Taipei was a smooth one and the cabin was spacious and comfortable.

Moving around the town would not be as convenient as compared to Taipei as Taichung City does not have any MRT. The only public transportation system that you could possibly rely on would be public buses but fares are generally affordable and inexpensive. The coverage is wide and usually easily checked by using their website or apps. 

Taichung Train Station

1) Natural Way Six Arts Cultural Center (道禾六艺文化馆)
Address: No. 33, Linsen Road, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市中区林森路33号).
Opening Hours (for the Park): 9 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Opening Hours (for the Kendo Dojo): 1 pm to 5 pm on every Tuesday to Friday.
Admission: Free of charge for the park
Admission (for the Kendo experience-class): NTD $500 per person for 40-min experience. Not available for children below 5 years old.
Contact Number: +886 (04) 2375 6113

Following the foot steps to further explore the Japanese-influenced city, our journey took us to Natural Way Six Arts Cultural Center, a recreational park somewhere near to Taichung City. The park is open to the public while joining classes will incur fees. Step in the park and you will be instantly transported to Japan, the exterior of the building exudes a calm "zen" vibe. The place acts as a recreational park itself but in fact, the interested parties can sign up for their Kendo, Kyudo, Chado classes etc.

Japanese Wagashi (日本和菓子)- Matcha Red Bean with Mochi

If you happen to be there and intend to take a leisure stroll around the vicinity, we'd suggest you to take your chance at this place that sells Japanese Wagashi. All Wagashis are freshly produced and they are expertly crafted. Sweetness was well-balanced, the outside of the Wagashi was crisp while the inner part was filled with chewy Mochi and delicately sweetened Red Bean filling. It was substantial yet light enough to be eaten as a between-meal snack. 

Hsiao Sensei demonstrating Kendo (Japanese martial art)

A glimpse into the Kendo Dojo

We were invited to a 40-minute Kendo foundation-experience class, where we got actual hands-on experience on practicing the Japanese martial art. We were first taught on the basic manners before proceeding with physical training; we then being guided step by step on the basic usage of the Shinai (竹刀). The entire session was not only an eye-opener but a great workout session as well. 

Our Sensei- Ms. Hsiao was formerly a Kendo National Champion of Taiwan and is experienced enough to conduct classes. If you have some time to spare and would like to experience something different, the 40-minute Kendo session is something you should look for. It costs NTD $500 and it is definitely cheaper in Taiwan than in Japan.

Archery Centre

2) Caught in a whiff of Smoke- Chef's Tasting Menu (又见一炊烟- 无菜单料理)
Address: No. 363-35, Zhong Xing Ling Street , Xinshe District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市新社区中兴岭中兴里363-35号).
Business Hours: 11 am to 9:30 pm. Opens Daily. Reservation is required for Dinner.
Contact Number: +886 (04) 2582 3568

The concept of having Chef's Tasting Menu is mushrooming in Taiwan- no fixed menu but the diners shall enjoy whatever dishes prepared by the Chef and such experience can only be enjoyed with advance reservation. One of the famous restaurants in Taichung that practices such concept is Caught in a whiff of Smoke (又见一炊烟). It's not easy to find the restaurant, we traveled an hour from Taichung City to Xinshe District only to find the restaurant is situated on a hill. The reward is of course, the breath-taking scenery, fresh air and cool breeze. Though it was an exhausting journey to the restaurant, we found it well-worth it. All dishes were skillfully crafted and elegant presented, it was one of the most memorable meals during our entire Taiwan trip. The 9-course Chef's Tasting Lunch is priced at a Prix Fixe Price of  NTD $1,200 (excluding 10% service charge).

Grilled South African Abalone with Japanese Sauce (酱烧南非鲍)

Seasonal Fresh Fruit Wrap (季节限定蔬果卷)

Porcini Rice (牛肝菌菇炖饭)

We started off with a string of exciting appetizers, we were thrilled to see South African Abalone on offer. The premium Seafood was treated minimally and heavily relied on the quality of the ingredient. The texture was resilient but not hard to the bite while the touch of sweetness (from the Japanese sauce) enhanced instead of overshadowing the seafood-sweetness of the Abalone. The following course was a refresher to the palate- diners were treated with crisp Seaweed wrapped in seasonal offering such as fresh Burdock and fruits.

While we were enjoying the appetizers, the Porcini Rice was almost ready. Together with Porcini, there were a cube of Butter and a generous amount of fresh Shimeiji Mushrooms. The earthy flavor was especially overwhelming... it was simply too futile to resist, what's more with the alluring aroma?

Pan Fried Snapper served with fresh Pomelo (柚香煎鲷鱼)

Braised Glass Noodles with Crab (蟹膏粉丝煲)

Pan Fried American Sirloin Steak (香煎美国莎朗牛)

The appetizers were proven interesting but the main dishes were equally satisfying. We questioned if the Snapper would work with fresh Pomelo but we were proven wrong. The tangy-bursty pulp of Pomelo carries a hint of fruity sweetness to counter-balance the greasiness of the Pan Fried Snapper. We then moved on from mildly flavored dish to bolder flavored; the Braised Glass Noodles with Crab were beyond amazing. Despite on the salty side, the Glass Noodles were carefully cooked to the right texture and brimming with flavors of the creamy-sweet Crab Roe. As if we had ample tummy space, the next course was Pan Fried American Sirloin Steak- a slab of premium quality meat cooked to perfection. It was not something special but it added good value to the variety.

Braised Dang Gui Chicken Soup (山当归鸡汤)

Mashed Yam with Dried Longan Sauce (桂圆芋泥)

The meal continued with a comforting serving of Dang Gui Chicken Soup... not particularly outstanding but the flavors were well-balanced and warm enough to call it an end. We ended the lunch with Mashed Yam with Dried Longan Sauce- creamy mashed Yam served with gooey Dried Longan sweet sauce. The sweetness was spot on, just good enough to complement the starchy tropical plant. 

3) Fantasy Story of Culture and Arts (绿光计划- 范特喜微创文化)
Address: 117 Lane, Section 1, Meicun Road, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市西区美村路1段).
Business Hours: *Subject to the tenants' business hours*
Contact Number (for the office): +886 (04) 2301 6717

Fantasy Story was started with the aim to preserve the old heritage building found at the small alleys of Taichung City. They believe that the advancement of a City does not rely on the amount of luxury houses built but the happiness and bliss enjoyed by the people staying there. The project begins with revamping old heritage building into artsy green building, with enhancement of room space; it allows new business proprietors to start their businesses. Here at Meicun Road 117 Alley, it gathers numerous handcraft shops, eateries and design studios... turning the vicinity into an modern, artsy space yet, preserving the heritage footpath. 

It is best to take some time for a leisure stroll in the vicinity... a place that allows travelers to experience the local culture as well as to understand the City more. There are a huge number of handcraft workshops or studios available if you are into it; take a spot at the corner of a cafe to observe the world goes by would be equally ideal otherwise. If you need a guide, grab the guide book and it will perhaps, give you some idea about the project and some of the must-visits of your interest.

4) Ah Qiu Big Juicy Goose (阿秋大肥鹅餐厅)
Address: No. 13, Section 3, Li Ming Road, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市西屯区黎明路3段13号).
Business Hours: 11 am to 2 pm, 5 pm to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (04) 2251 2966
Ah Qiu Big Juicy Goose Facebook Page

Ask a local for recommendation of a Chinese restaurant and the chances of them replying "Ah Qiu Big Juicy Goose" are extremely high. The Chinese restaurant is renowned as the place that offers quality Roasted goodies and perhaps, it has become the de-facto place to celebrate for occasions (for the locals). During our short trip there, we have managed to stop by for dinner but it was a pity that we have missed their Roasted Goose. The 10-course dinner for 10 pax costs NTD $5,000 nett... extreme value for money.

Thai-styled Seafood Salad (泰式海鲜沙拉)

Roasted Cherry Duck (明炉樱桃鸭-半只)

Mixed Seafood Thick Soup (什锦海鲜羹)

We were stunned by the gigantic serving portion, it started off with their Thai-styled Seafood Salad- a blend of Octopus, Prawns, Crab Meat and crunchy greens... dressed in a tangy, sweet-sour sauce. Probably our Malaysian palates expect more as far as Thai food is concerned. We thought the dish was alright, not particularly amazing. But the next Roasted Cherry Duck was lip-smacking. For the uninitiated, Roasted Cherry Duck is especially famous in Yilan County... northeastern of Taiwan. The meat was tender while the skin was crisply roasted; we had ours dipped in the sweet-savory Plum sauce. The Roasted Cherry Duck alone makes a good accompaniment to a bowl of White Rice.

Steamed Glutinous Rice with Dried Sakura Shrimp and Fish Floss (双味香米糕)

Steamed Prawns with minced Garlic (蒜泥蒸海虾)

Steamed Sea Bass with Fermented Soya Beans ( 豉汁蒸海鲈)

The excitement did not stop there, we "wow-ed" at the Steamed Glutinous Rice with Sakura Shrimp and Fish Floss. The flaky condiments provided the essential flavors to the chewy Glutinous Rice; the dish is known to be a variant to a famous Taiwan local delicacy- Bee Koh (米糕). It was calorific and dangerously addictive at the same time; though we fought hard to resist the temptation for second helping. This was probably one of the culprits that contributed to my 2 kg-weight gain. 

Braised Chicken Soup (养生炖鸡盅)

Seasonal Fresh Greens (季节鲜时蔬)

Dim Sum (精致香美点)

As if everyone on the table still have the tummy space for more; the following dishes appeared in humongous portion. We started to wonder if all Taiwanese possess huge appetite... a controversial of the svelte body figures. Anyway, it was most comforting to end the meal with something warm like Braised Chicken Soup and refreshing crunch of the Seasonal Fresh Greens. We threw the white flag for the Buns, not to mention that the last course was a huge serving of fresh Fruit platter. For a mere NTD $500 per person, we thought the portion was extremely huge and provided great value for money.

5) Feng Jia Night Market (逢甲夜市)
Address: Fu Xing Road, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市西屯区逢甲大学周围).
Business Hours: 5 pm 12 am. Opens Daily.

Rumor says that there are more than hundreds of Night Markets in Taiwan, there are a handful of famous ones but Feng Jia Night Market is the de-facto night market to visit when you are in Taichung. Do not tell others you have visited Taichung if you have not made a trip to Feng Jia Night Market.

The area is large enough to spend a good few hours to explore; whether you are looking for local treats or the trendiest hipstery food... shop for branded goods or inexpensive night market products, Feng Jia Night Market has it all. A bonus if you are into skin care, there are countless of shops that you can spend some time on... if you must know, there's a Nature Republic in the vicinity and the products are priced many times cheaper than those found in Malaysia... they even carry products that cannot be found in Malaysia. Taiwanese skin care brands like Dr. Wu, Naruko, My Beauty Diary or Dr. Morita can be however, found in most pharmacies or Watsons stores. 

Also another tip for the shopaholic in you... shoes and socks are typically inexpensive in Taiwan as compared to Malaysia. If you are looking for a pair of good sports shoes, explore those flagship stores or ABC Mart (a place that carries multiple shoe brands). P/S: I've managed to grab a pair of brand new Nike Air Max at NTD $2,700 nett. 

Sausage Bun (大肠包小肠)

Grilled Goodies

Grilled Chicken Rolls

Black King Kong Peanuts (黑金刚花生)

Stir Fried Spicy Innards

Grilled Squid (烤鱿鱼)

Liege Waffles

Grilled Conch and Abalones (NTD $100 per portion)

Papaya Milkshake 木瓜牛奶 (NTD $60)

There are no better guides to look for best food except to follow the queues. Look for those stalls with long queues in front and you are right on track. The locals know their food the best. Amongst the food we had, the Grilled Abalone and Conch turned out to be as tasty as they seemed but freshness was the real draw of the dish we reckoned. The Grilled Squid is not to be forsaken as well- expertly grilled and lightly seasoned... chewy yet resilient. At the end of the meal, we highly recommend to wash it down with a cup of fresh Papaya Milkshake.

6) One of the best Souvenirs from Taichung- Sun Cake from 阿明師老店太陽堂
Address: No. 11, Section 2, Ziyou Road, Central District, Taichung City, Taiwan (台中市中区自由路2段11号).
Business Hours: 8 am to 10:30 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: (04) 2227 4007

Aming-shi Sun Cake (阿明師老店太陽堂/ NTD $ 440 per box of 20)

While there are countless of souvenirs that you could possibly bring back to Malaysia for your loved ones, Aming-shi Sun Cake is native to Taichung and particularly represents the City. The few-decade old brand is well-known for its Sun Cake, a delicacy similar to our Pong Piah. But we do agree that the pastry is flakier and the filling is not as sweet as compared to those brands found in Penang. If you found Sun Cake a tad too conventional, the brand does have a few more types of traditional pastries on offer as well. All products and their prices can be checked on their website.

Have Fun and Travel Safe in Taichung!

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