This time round in Taipei, I engaged a driver, Mr. Johnson for a day tour for my friends and I. First off, he is a nice driver, always keeping within the speed limits. He drives a MPV, capable of seating 10 people comfortably, hence its extremely spacious for the 7 of us. It’s a new car, which means it’s clean, no wierd smell, good suspension, comfortable seats and good air-conditioning. His rate for a day trip lasting 10hrs is NT$6000. We overshot by 30mins, but he is good, with no additional charges. Along the way, he gave brief introductions of the places we visited, which was sufficient in my opinion. He also stops occasionally along the road, when a particular scenic spot pops up.
I am covering Yehliu here, and others will be subsequently covered.
Yehliu Geopark is located on the north coast of Taiwan in Wanli, some 30-40mins drive away from Taipei. Admission fee is NT$100 per person. It is famous for its rock formation, of which the most notable is the Queen’s Head. These rock formation is a result of seawater eroding the soft thick layer of rock nearer to the base, while the top harder thin layer of rock is preserved, giving them the typical mushroom shape. Without any preservation, it was reported that the Queen’s Head rock formation will collapse in about 10 more years.
|Yingyang Sea and Golden Waterfall|
This time round, I am heading to Taichung for my pre-wedding photoshoot. Taichung is a city located in central-west Taiwan, surrounded by mountains and hills with numerous natural scenic spots around. In Taichung there are also enough night markets to keep one busy at night, but once you have seen one, you would have seen them all. It gets boring after awhile, especially with the crowd.
Taichung is just 37mins away from Taipei by High Speed Rail (HSR). After arriving at any of the Terminals of Taoyuan Airport, proceed to the bus station. Ubus runs bus #705 to HSR Taoyuan Station, and cost NT$30 one way. It’s approximate a 20mins ride. Buy a ticket to Taichung, which costs NT$540 for an economy class ticket with allocated seats, at the ticket counter. Board the HSR on the Southbound Platform (green).
After arriving in Taichung, I went to the bus station located at exit 6. HSR provides a couple of free bus transfer to various parts of Taichung (you will need to produce your HSR ticket before boarding the bus). I took bus #160 towards Fengjia University, which is where the famed Fengjia Night Market is located. The journey takes another 30-45 minutes depending on traffic situation.
The bus dropped me off along Fuxing Rd, which is in the heart of Fengjia Night Market. To reach my hotel, Fengjia Tower Motel, I followed Fuxing Rd straight onto Fuxing North Rd, and turned left into Fuxing North 1 Street (福星北一街). Upon turning left, you will arrive at a huge open parking space where cars and tourist coaches parked. The Motel has no signage whatsoever to allow for easy recognition. It was the first building I encounter, yet I had no idea it was the Motel (gripe #1). Though unassuming from the outside, it is newly renovated on the inside, and looks modern, bright and clean. It seemed to be run by a group of university students.
To reach the lift of Fengjia Tower, you need to go up a flight of stairs with about 5 steps. My room is clean, modern and spacious enough. The toilet is separated from the room by a glass panel. Though a curtain is available, it only covers the top 4/5, which will still be embarrassing if traveling with any other, apart from your significant half (gripe #2). Room LACKed basic soap and shampoo (although they give 2 sachets of soap and shampoo, but its not enough for 2 person) (gripe #3). Housekeeping was a per request service, i.e. one had to go to reception every morning, to tell the staff to makeup the room, else they will not even replace the towers (gripe #4). Staffs lacked basic tour itinery planning skills. They were unable to advise me on interesting locations around Taichung to visit. Not that I was unprepared, but recommendation from local hotel staffs would help me prioritize attractions to visit (gripe #5). All-in-all, apart from the location, which was very near the bustling night market of Fengjia, which in my opinion is the best night market I had visited so far, there was no other good selling point to recommend this motel. Room rates vary according to the day of the week, with the highest rates being on Saturday. On average for my 4 nights stay spanning Saturday to Tuesday, it as about SGD$50 per night.
Its amazing how research laboratories and clusters have changed over the years. From unappealing blocks of bricks and mortar to modern-looking glass buildings surrounded by an abundance of lush greenery. This is the new university town in Singapore, one of the newest additions to the higher-education and research scene here.
Jiufen used to be an old gold-mining town in the 1950s. It is now a hot tourist destination. It is easily accessible from Taipei Main Station by Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA). Alight at Ruifang stop. You can inquire about the buses to Jiufen from the convenient stall aunty. Most of them are just at the bus stop outside the train station. The most important tourist hotspot is Jiufen Old Streets.
By day, Jiufen Old Streets is almost flooded with tourists, squeezing through narrow streets flanked on both sides by 2-3 stories traditional Chinese shophouses, with their owners plying their wares and food. Many of these shophouses have been converted into guesthouses, teahouses and restaurants. Do note that to fully explore Jiufen Old Streets require one to climb MANY stairs, as such it should be renamed Jiufen Old Stairs.
Don’t bother eating in the restaurants, firstly because the prices are way too expensive; secondly, there is nothing special about the restaurant fare; thirdly, and most importantly, your hunger will be much much more appeased by trying the assortment of street food around. Among the various street food, the most famous is the glutinous rice balls. They come in various flavors, such as green tea, yam and original. For me, I just ordered the mix bowl, and one bowl was never enough. Out of the many stalls that I tried, I prefer the one right at the top (i.e. at the end of Jiufen Old Street). It is also this shop that have the best viewing gallery, allowing captivating views of the winding mountain trails and the sea. Sadly, on this faithful day that I visited, it was raining torrentially.
Another street food that I like is the fishballs! They are chewy, springy, and tasty! Do give the mix bowl a try. The shop that I went to has quite a number of dogs roaming around, staring at you with their HUGE eyes, and begging for fishballs.
Other interesting street food that are worth a try are the peanut roll with ice cream, the bbq mushrooms, and of course, the taiwanese sausage. For souvenirs, you can consider buying thinly barbecued beef slices.
It is rumored that Jiufen is the inspiration behind the Japanese anime, Spirited Away, which is a big hit among Japanese. As such, you will not be surprised that after the mainlanders, the next biggest group of tourists here are the Japanese.
At night, it is just a peaceful and quiet, where one can escape from the city and just enjoy the sea and mountain view. I spent a night here in a homestay – Long Men Ke Zhan (龙门客栈). It is located strategically right at the top of Jiufen Old Street. They provide free pickup service from Ruifang train station. My room is clean, neat and well tidied. There are quite a number of hair plastering the walls of the toilet though. I washed them away with the shower head. You will need to request for towels from the owners. The dining hall offers a bird-eye view of the entire Jiufen Old Street, as well as the sea in the distant. Breakfast is home-made by the landlady, and consist of sweet potato porridge, fried egg, pork floss and vegetable. I must say it is really tasty. She keeps emphasising that most of the ingredients, such as the sweet potato, is grown by her in the backyard.
Shifen is a small town a short distance (1hr) away from Taipei. It is mainly known for Shifen Waterfall. The waterfall here is probably the most majestic of all waterfalls in Taiwan. The town is easily accessible by slow train (TRA: Taiwan Railways Administration). Go to the ticket booth in Taipei Main Station, and buy a ticket to Shifen (NT69). As there is no direct train to Shifen, a transit at Ruifang is required. Basically alight at Ruifang, and ask the helpful staffs when the train to Shifen will arrive and board it. It will be at the same platform as you alight. Unlike the High Speed Railway (HSR), this train has no allocated seat numbers and seats are on a first come first serve basis. Just like the subway, people hold on to handrails during peak hours and can be VERY packed. Railway tracks are laid in proximity to shops and houses, and even before the train pull up into the station, one can feel the bust and liveliness of the place, especially during weekends.
Shifen is a pretty laid back place, and one can really feel the slow pace of life as you walk away from the train station. Looking at the raw unadulterated nature, one can even reminisce about their childhood, when all things were simple. The lost of such simple pleasure in life is all the more saddening, with the torrential rain pouring down, as if the sky too missed the time when there were no gaping holes in the ozone layer.
Shifen Waterfall is a short walk (~30mins) away from the train station. There are ample signage around to guide tourists and locals alike to the waterfall. Though the waterfall can be viewed afar at no charge, a close up view would require you to buy a ticket into the “theme park”, where waterfall observation platforms have been specifically built. Ticket prices are cheap (NT80) and I highly recommend entering the “theme park”. Vast volume of water rush off the cliff in a sheer cascade resembling towering limestones. The splash of water down the waterfall reverberated around the foliage, drowning out speech.
This is how Shifen Waterfall look like on a sunny day with less water runoff.
After Shifen waterfall, head back to the train station. From here, either head back to RuiFang, or take the train further down to PingXi. For my Taiwan trip, I took the train back to RuiFang, and from there head to JiuFen.