Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Suggested] Travel Itinerary to Taipei (台北), Taiwan (台湾).

The capital of Republic of China (Taiwan) is Taipei (台北), one of the busiest cities in Taiwan. The metropolis is homed to some of the biggest corporations and business centers in the country; it has a great food scene with myriad of classic Taiwanese restaurants and hipster-trendy eats, a vibrant shopping district that would satisfy any shopaholics. The strategic geographical location makes it a great gateway to experience the Asian culture- traditional Taiwanese culture, influences from China (origins of the Taiwanese), colonization from Japan and the recent upcoming K Pop culture. But as far as wallet is concerned, it is more affordable to spend in Taiwan than its neighboring countries. The below itinerary covers some of the best places in Taipei that upholds the nation's culture as well as to showcase the vibrant-busy social activities available. It's always wise to check out Taiwan Tourism Bureau's website in the aid of itinerary-planning before your trip to Taiwan. 

*This post is brought to you by Taiwan Tourism Bureau (台湾观光局)*
*Special Thanks to China Airlines (中华航空) for making it happened*

Taipei Arena 台北小巨蛋

Moving around the metropolis is the easiest, at least amongst other States in Taiwan. There is a complete MRT train system around the city and all you need is the "Easy Card" to allow you to pay for the train/ bus fares. The card can be purchased at any MRT Stations. The "Credits" stored in the card can be used to purchase goods in those chain convenience stores. If you are physically-challenged to walk, taking a cab does not cost a bomb in Taipei with base fare starts from NTD $70 and typically it costs NTD $150-200 one way to reach from a place to another (within Taipei City center). Also, New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) is the lawful currency of The Republic of China- Taiwan; money changers are not common in Taiwan so for convenience-sake, please make sure that you are carrying sufficient NTD Cash with you (many shops in Taiwan refuse to take Credit Card from other countries except for bigger establishments).

1) Taipei 101 Observatory 台北101观景台
Address: 89th Floor No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 9 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (02) 8101 8800
Ticketing Counter/ Entrance: 5th Floor of Taipei 101 Mall.
Direction: Take a train (Line 2/ Xiangshan Line) to Taipei 101 Station.
Admission: NTD $600 per person

The de-facto landmark and the national pride of Taiwan- Taipei 101; the skyscraper was once the tallest building in the world and it is still, one of the tallest buildings in the world at present.  No trip to Taiwan is complete without a visit to the Taipei 101; the building houses a shopping mall, office suites, restaurants and an observatory. Visitors intend to visit the observatory must purchase the tickets at 5th floor and take the escalator. It is said that the escalator is currently the world's fastest and it only takes 49 seconds to reach to the top. 

The observatory at 89th floor offers breath-taking 360 degree panorama view on the metropolis. It is best that you check the weather forecast and ensure that clear skies are throughout the day before visiting. On our visit, it was drizzling and the view was shaded by the dark clouds. 

Taiwanese Mango Cake (NTD $45 per piece)

While touring the observatory on 89th floor, we could not resist the temptation of having a piece of their award-winning Mango Cake. Albeit priced on the higher side, the Mango Cake was delicious. The crust was brimming with the buttery aroma sans the greasiness, take a bite into the Mango Cake and you will be welcomed with a bold, refreshing tropical flavor. The texture was smoother than Pineapple as well, at least the filling was not fibrous as compared to Pineapple. A great replacement to the conventional Pineapple Cake.

2) Dihua Street- of Heritage and Culture 迪化街大稻埕
Address: 台北市大同区迪化街1段
Direction: Take MRT to Daqiaotou MRT Station (Zhonghe-Xinlu Line) and Exit 1

The history of Dihua Street can be traced back to 2 centuries ago, when the place was once one of the most important central business districts- trading of dried Chinese goods and traditional Chinese medicine. Fast-forward today, it remains as one of the most essential places to purchase or sell those goods. There are plenty of old-heritage houses in the vicinity and many of them are still trading the same business. The Taiwanese typically flock to the place to stock up the Chinese New Year goods during festive seasons. Walk around the area and you will find all walks of life- from the shadow of busy businessmen to typical housewives bargaining for their purchases, or even believers doing their prayers in the temple.

Purple Sweet Potatoes-filled Wheel Pies 车轮饼 (NTD $25)

Savory Radish-filled Wheel Pie (NTD $25)

Almond Pudding Dessert 杏仁露 (NTD $40)

Walk around the area and you will find some surprises- classic Taiwanese eats. The Wheel Pie was one of them- sweet or savory filling sandwiched in a crispy-thin pastry skin. We had both the Sweet Potato and Radish; we unanimously agreed that the latter option stands out more. Few doors away is a stall selling Almond Pudding Dessert but be mindful of the cantankerous proprietor. She was not impressed that the few of us ordered just one bowl of Almond Pudding Dessert (we just wanted to sample, not filling up the stomach) to try and proceeded to warn us that everyone must order if we were to dine in. We had ours standing right in front of the stall... 

There are plenty of goods to look for- Dried Sakura Shrimp, Dried Scallops, Dried Shrimps or even snacks like Bamboo Charcoal Peanuts, air-dried Vegetables, Dried Persimmon etc; so many that we nearly burst budget. A piece of advice- do compare the prices before buying; though they may not vary much, some sell at slightly higher rates (ie: NTD $10 more). You could even bargain if you are buying in a great volume.

3) Raohe Street Night Market 饶河街夜市
Address: Raohe Street, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 5 am to 12 am. 
Direction: Take Exit 5 from Songshan MRT Station (Green Line 3)

The night life in Taipei is very exciting, if you are ever-ready and have the energy to shop until the last minute; try your luck at Raohe Street Night Market. It was still busy although we went late in the evening (around 11 pm). It may not be as extensive as compared to some of the Night markets in Taipei but the long stretch of hawkers are sufficient for you to explore. It is note-worthy that the Night Market has quite a number of Souvenirs on sale and prices are typically friendlier than those in the malls. For those who are keen, there's also an erotic adult toy store at Raohe Street Night Market. 

4) Yong He Soya Bean 永和豆浆油条大王
Address: No. 102, Section 2, Fuxing South Road, Taipei City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Contact Number: +886 (02) 2703 5051
Direction: Between Da'an MRT Station (大安站) and Technology Building MRT Station (科技大楼)- Line 4.

Hot Egg-Soya Milk/ 热豆浆加蛋 (NTD $30)

Chinese Crullers wrapped with Biscuit-Roll/ 烧饼油条 (NTD $40)

Sticky Rice Rolls/ 粢饭 (NTD $45)

It's no exaggeration to say that Yong He Soya Milk is one of the famous and best Soya Milk providers in Taiwan. Google and you will find their ranking. We made our way to one of their many branches at Fuxing South Road (opens 24 hours a day) and it was packed to the brim! But we did manage to secure a seat nevertheless. The order counter is forever busy and the service is fast. Diners can opt to enjoy their Soya Milk sweet or savory. We thought the Soya Milk was above average but not mind-blowing. We believe the real draw of Yong He Soya Milk is their Chinese Crullers. The ones we had were perfectly executed sans the greasiness yet maintaining the quintessential crispiness and airiness. Another good combination to go with Soya Milk would be Stick Rice Rolls- Chinese Crullers and Meat Floss well-wrapped in a Rice "casing"; the texture and flavors were amazing. The outer layer was chewy while the inner filling provides a crisp-savory dimension; best to wash it down with a bowl of warm Soya Milk. 

5) Ri Xing Type Foundry 日星鑄字行
Address: No. 13, Lane 97, Taiyuan Road, Datong District, Taipei City, Taiwan. 台北市太原路97巷13号
Business Hours: 9 am to 12 pm; 1:30 pm to 6 pm on Weekdays; 9:30 am to 12 pm on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
Contact Number: +886 (02) 2556 4626
Direction: Exit 1 from Zhongshan MRT Station (中山站) and walk for 10 minutes *best to take cab*.
Admission: Free
Ri Xing Type Foundry Facebook Page

Unlike any foundries in Penang/ Malaysia, Ri Xing specializes in producing letter-print; it carries an estimate number of 300,000 letters in total. The business was highly sought-after before the existence of computers; back then when newspaper or media-printing was so tough that every single letter must be handpicked from the storage. Dis-similarly from English alphabets, the Mandarin characters are unique on its own and replication hardly happens. Imagine one were to handpick an article that consists more than 500 unique characters from the shelves with an estimate font size of 7-8 Times New Roman (in Microsoft Word). 

With the technology advancement, this industry is no longer needed or at least, no longer in high demand. Ri Xing Foundry has since, opened its doors to the public. The live museum allows anyone to visit at no cost but there are strict rules that one needs to follow- bags are to store at the bag storage right next to the entrance; not to pick or mess-up with any of the letter-prints. It would be impossible to re-arrange the letters again in the same manner. If you wish, you can also custom-made a stamp (with your Chinese name) at a cost of less than NTD $300 (assuming 3-4 Chinese characters and depending on the font size).

6) SunnyHills Pineapple Cake 微热山丘
Address: No. 1, Alley 4, Lane 36, Section 5, Minsheng East Road, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan. 台北市民生东路5段36巷4弄1号1楼
Business Hours: 10 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (02) 2760 0508
Direction: Take MRT to Zhongxiao Dunhua Station and Exit 8. Take Bus 262, 521 or 905 *Taking a cab is recommended.*

Sunny Hills Pineapple Tart with Wulong Tea

Pineapple Juice

What is the best souvenirs to get in Taiwan? SunnyHills gourmet Pineapple Cakes of course! I'm sure that line sounds familiar to you. The Taiwanese home-grown brand has made it to the international platform with branches in other countries (like Singapore). The humble brand started with using wild Pineapples as filling and slowly fine-tuning, perfecting their recipes for the pastry skin. Wild Pineapples are typically sour so balancing the flavors were challenging for the team but SunnyHills has made it. 

A common practice for the natives at SunnyHills- visitors visiting their store will be served a piece of the Pineapple Cake with a cup of Oolong Tea; as an act of warm hospitality to guests. The pastry skin is light sans the buttery-greasiness but that does not mean the buttery aroma was compromised. The flavor was there, beautifully complementing the well-balanced sweet-sour Pineapple filling. It was good and certainly great to be given as souvenirs for your love ones (if you can afford). One box of the SunnyHills Pineapple Cake (of 10 pieces) is priced at NTD $420 nett.

7) Taipei Fish Market- Addiction Aquatic Development (上引水产)
Address: 台北市民族东路410巷2弄18号
Business Hours: 6 am to 12 am. Opens Daily. *restaurant opens at 11 am to 12 am, daily.*
Contact Number: +886 (02) 2508 1268
Direction: Exit 3 from Xingtian Temple 行天宫站 (Zhonghe-Xinlu Line)

One of the latest tourist spots in Taipei City is Taipei Fish Market, it houses a wet Fish Market, a Supermarket (for fresh produce) and a few restaurants. Step in the fish market and you will be instantly teleported to Japan; there are countless of fresh catch in the fish market, from the premium Alaskan Crabs to local crabs, imported oysters to local produce; all are carefully managed in dedicated space. The lunch crowd was huge, making it hard for us to move around the place. The Sushi Bar saw many patrons, inspecting on the freshest cut available. Prices are unbelievably friendly over here- premium Toro is selling at NTD $660; it could easily cost over Rm 100 here in Malaysia. If you wish, you can also purchase the goods here and bring them up to the restaurant (mostly at 2nd floor) to cook, at additional cost.   

Sashimi Moriawase

Steamed Clams with Spring Onions

Braised Fish with Miso

We settled our lunch in one of the Japanese restaurants, the Set meal for 10 pax costs NTD $8,800 (+ 10%). We went crazily excited over the Sashimi Moriawase with Spot Prawns, Tuna, Salmon, Scallops and Salmon Roe with Yamaimo. All were fresh and generously sliced; the result was a satisfying and juicy bite. The Steamed Clams with Spring Onions was not shabby either, the Clams were succulent and carefully cooked to the right doneness; the seafood sweetness was discernible but the highlight of the dish was the broth. The seafood sweetness lingered in the palate for moments. The following dishes were equally delicious and none were disappointing. For the price of NTD $880+ per person, we thought it was very reasonable. Do consider the place if you are into seafood.

Spicy Tuna Roll

Seafood Hotpot

8) Daan Forest Park 大安森林公園
Address: No. 1, Section 2, Xinsheng South Road, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan. 台北市大安区新生南路2段1号
Direction: Exit 4 at Daan Park MRT Station.

Take a break from the bustling city life and recharge at the lungs of Taipei- Daan Park (otherwise known as the Hyde Park of Taipei). The city-center ecological park offers forest-like environment, it's most relaxing to have a leisure tour at the park and enjoy the natural breeze (if the weather permits). The park is equipped with a wide range of recreational facilities- public square, music stage, children playground. A good place to relax and calm the soul before your hectic journey.

9) Ximending Shopping District 西门町
Address: Baoqing Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan.
Direction: Exit 6 of Ximen MRT Station

Ximending needs no further introduction, it is like Myeong-dong to Seoul and Shibuya to Tokyo; the shopping district offers all range of goods, food and beverages- from low cost products to premium goods; all can be found at Ximending. Ximending is huge and spans across few streets right smack in Taipei City, visitors will flock in as early as 4 pm in the late afternoon. The place gathers some of the trendiest eats available in Taipei City, as well as international fashion apparels (flagship stores). To fully explore Ximending, spare yourself at least half a day here and make sure the tummy is vacant and unfilled. 

Ah Zong Mee Sua (NTD $50/ small)

One of the most popular places at Ximending is none other than Ah Zong Mee Sua- a gooey noodle-delicacy concoction that consists of Vermicelli Noodles, deep fried Intestines. To enjoy, add a dash of Chili-Vinegar (to taste) to spice things up. The dish was decent and nicely flavored but we did not think it was out of the world good. Luck was on our side that we need not queue, rumor says that the queue starts as early as 6 pm. Visitors visiting Ximending for the first time might want to try, at least for the novelty experience. Mind you, it can be quite substantial and filling so approach with caution. 

Kumquat Lemon Juice with Butterfly Pea Tea (NTD $80)

Flying in to Taipei (Taoyuan International Airport) from Penang International Airport with China Airlines

Having established for more than 34 years in Malaysia, China Airlines has earned its reputation for being one of the best carriers that flies into Taiwan. China Airlines is also Taiwan's flag carrier with headquarter in Taoyuan International Airport. It is also the only option if Penangites wish to fly into Taiwan without airport transfers (that would save you hours from the nuisance airport transfers). China Airlines currently flies (direct flight/ no stopover) 4 times a week, directly from Penang International Airport to Taoyuan International Airport; the carrier has confirmed that it is flying as much as 5 times a week starting December 2016. It is suggested that travelers to purchase tickets as early as possible to enjoy better rates (for airfare).

As opposed to low-cost carrier, China Airlines offers complimentary 30 kg checked-in luggage and in-flight meal/ refreshment. The Boeing 737 has a 3-3 seating arrangement and of course, offers a more spacious seating environment for travelers. The only downside is the lack of personal in-flight entertainment. Travelers share the screen in front and as far as flexibility is concerned, that is a setback.

China Airlines Penang Town Office:
Address: Unit 9.04, Level 9, Menara PSCI, 39 Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050, Georgetown, Penang.
Business Hours: 9 am to 6 pm. Mondays to Fridays.
Penang China Airlines Facebook Page
Contact Numbers:
(i) Ms. Christene Leong- 604- 227 0229 [Sales/ Group/ Packages Reservation Department]
(ii) Ms. Nicole Lim- 604- 226 1227 [Sales/ Group/ Packages Reservation Department]
(iii) Ms. Pinky Khoo- 604- 229 3227 [Sales/ Group/ Packages Reservation Department]
(iv) Ms. Oh Chew Hong- 604- 228 9227 [Ticketing/ Reservation Department]

Penang Airport Office:
Business Hours: 10 am to 7 pm on every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm on every Monday, Thursday and Sunday.
Contact Numbers:
(i) Ms. Karen Saw- 604- 643 3018
(ii) Ms. Ng Le Yong- 604- 643 1298

Sweet & Sour Fish with Rice

Chicken Carbonara

*Have Fun and Travel Safe in Taipei!*

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