... And we are off!
The immigration line was quick. We took the Kuo-Kuang bus to Taipei main station. It's one of the fastest bus with a good price (~$4 USD per person).
We washed up a bit after checking into our airbnb. Then we went out for food. We were going to go to 阜杭豆漿 but saw no line in front of Din Tai Feng, so we went there. It was yummy and so much better than the one in Arcadia. Happy to finally have tried it after having walked by it so many times while growing up. It was good timing too because there was a line by the time we came out.
Crab rose and pork xiao long bao*
Spicy vegetable and pork dumpling
Truffle and pork xiao long bao*
Steamed fish vegetable*
Vegetable and pork buns
Private hot spring for 1 hour. This was recommended to us by multiple friends. So nice to relax after a long flight.
Walked around the area and saw the natural hot spring stream where people hung out (you can put your feet in). Also visited the thermal valley. It was a cool scene! Very hot though. :) Pictures to come on the latter spot.
Met up with friends whom I met in Paris in 2009. We got blueberry chocolate waffle - which had mochi in it. Yum. The banana cream chocolate tart was good too.
Had beef noodle soup from a shop recommended by a friend. I like the wide noodles. The soup was lighter than expected but refreshing!
Walked around Ximending 西門町.
We got savory soy milk with egg, iced sweet soy milk, egg wrapped rice ball, egg pancake, and Taiwanese deep fried donut (鹹豆漿加蛋，冰甜豆漿，蛋夾飯糰，燒餅夾蛋，油條).
AMAZING. Super nice staff too.
Taste of childhood - Remembered that my mom used to get the pancake and rice balls for us. It is close by where we used to live, but as a kid I didn't realize how famous 永和豆漿大王 was.
Took John to 成功國宅 where I used to live. It was surreal to be back.
The message was based on 1 John 4:18. Perfect love casts out fear. I was really blessed by the message.
Had Szechuan food with middle school friends. It's a modified version of Szechuan so the spiciness is mild and not super greasy.
We moved onto coffee after the meal. I liked my golden sesame coffee latte. J got a sweet potato coffee latte. The atmosphere was really cute here.
Our dinner plan was in the same district so we walked around the area. 東區 is mainly for shopping and nightlife though. :)
Went to get mango shaved snow ice from Ice Monster. This shop was split from the famous shaved ice place near 永康街. There was a minimum charge per person if you dine inside. It was close to dinner time so we didn't want to fill up too much... So we ordered one to-go and shared it. Flavors were decent, but to-go felt less glamorous.
We had about two hours before dinner. I saw that it was supposed to rain starting tomorrow and suggested that we climbed 象山 to see the night view of the city. It was really dark and the stairs were steep - we were drenched in sweat (the weather being so humid didn't help ha). Lots of mosquitos. Glad we went!
Japanese style tonight with elementary school friends. 昀潔 recommended us to come here and swore by it.
Unfortunately the food was not impressive, and the staffs were just a little rude (to friends when ordering). Eek. Oh well. Good to see friends.
Continued the chat at a nearby coffee shop. I got a matcha au lait. J got a cappuccino.
Took care some errands at 遠東 and 信託 banks for Jessie and Dad. Also mailed out the Blendtec to dad's friend via 7-11. The 宅急便 carrier service is really convenient and fairly inexpensive.
The other soy milk place I want to go to isn't open on Monday. By the time we finished all the errands, it was almost lunch time. We decided to eat at Yongkang Beef Noodle in the area. I got the lighter style (清燉) and J got the spicy one. So delicious and actually not so heavy! We also got two small side dishes and a steamed spareribs. We got lucky again because by the time we finished, there was a line and wait.
Got the ginger milk tea from a local boba shop. It was fun walking around the Yongkang area. I showed J where my middle school is.
We visited Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and walked around the park.
We saw a long line at this stand and so we joined the crowd. We got the basil egg pancake.
Visited this tea house based on Foursquare reviews. They have a great selection of tea. I was fading in and out though while we enjoyed the tea and sat on the tatami.
After tea, we walked around Shida night market. We snacked on squid balls, some pan fried dumplings, and oyster omelet.
The restaurant was on the second floor of the market but the line was on the ground floor. Luckily it moved quickly, and we only waited for 20 minutes. Auntie Chong joined us for some soy milk and pancake. :)
We got warm sweet soy milk, savory soy milk, thin pancake, and thick pancake.
We took the red line to go to Danshui. We strolled around Old Street and got various street snacks (潤餅, green onion pancake, chives dumplings). It felt intense walking through a traditional market - the majority of the vendors sell freshly-caught seafood, and there were a lot of people. Motorcycles also tried to squeeze through the already-narrow lane.
We walked along the golden coast and shared a grilled squid. On the way back we got some iron eggs and bought ginseng Oolong tea (loose leaves). It was a windy day, but nothing we aren't used to from SF.
Shilin was on the way back. Since we still have a couple of hours before meeting Caleb, we decided to go around Shilin night market.
First stop, some hot tea right off the train station. I got a Tieguanyin tea latte (觀音拿鐵) and J got a ginger milk tea. Their menu includes many types of premium tea that I have only heard of but never tried. It's just amazing that boba stands provide such high quality tea everywhere in Taipei (not just sugary syrup added into one or two types of tea). I'm going to miss this for sure.
The underground food court was new to me. It was kind of odd walking through it - it was as if one guy owned the whole court and all the different vendors. Everyone sold the same menu and felt very touristy. We didn't get anything and went back up to the street.
Upstairs, we got some fruits because I wanted to eat 蓮霧. J and I had some miscommunication so we both thought the other person wanted to try more fruits. We ended up getting way too much pineapples, mangoes, shijia 釋迦, and lianwu 蓮霧. Oh well. Good to eat some fruits since our diet has been mainly consisted of carbs and meat here.
We walked around the streets and learned to eat duck tongues. J also got a meat bun and are some 螺 (snails). I like this night market the best so far.
The red line took us to Taipei 101. We were 30 minutes early so we walked around the ground floor of Taipei 101.
Caleb was aready waiting by the time we came out at 7pm. He took us to the Shanghainese restaurant. It was so good catching with Xinhui and Caleb's parents.
We had a lot of food but namely:
東坡肉 with buns
Everything was delicious and light. The 東坡肉 and drunken chicken were the best we have had.
Caleb took us around Xinyi district. It's known as the financial district now with lots of high end shops. The lights are really pretty at night.
Love the eslite bookstore (誠品) - so many unique items with good design.
We went back to the first soy milk place because it was so yummy. This time we got a cold unsweetened soy milk, hot savory soy milk with egg, pancake with egg, and xiao long bao. The xiao long bao is also delicious - good flavors and broth, not greasy.
Auntie Pang took us on a U-bike tour all around Taipei. We hit so many sights. It was fun seeing the city on a bike. The weather was awesome too - we were lucky (it was raining the day before and the day after).
Starting at DaAn Park on Xinyi Road
World Trade Center
Shopping district in Xinyi district
Sun yat sen memorial hall
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
We had wonton soup, bbq pork and chicken noodle soup, and steamed spareribs rice for lunch.
Continued on with the bike tour after finding another bike station since the first kiosk didn't work.
Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall
Taipei main station
National Taiwan University
By now the sun was starting to set. We were biking along the coast in the riverside park.
Pap Ma Ding park
Bopiliao historical street
We had squid soup, fish soup, rice vermicelli, braised pork over rice, tempura, and blanched veggies. Very typical Taiwanese street food.
We walked through the Wan Hua night market and Hua Xi street. We saw many shops with snakes.
Auntie introduced us to try a juice made with a plant. 青草茶. It was made with mint and grass jelly. We bought some to bring home.
All the restaurants that auntie took us to were founded since 1920 or 1921. We got the "8 treasure" (八寶) shaved ice. Yum.
The restaurant was not open until 11am. So we walked around until then. The hand cut beef noodle soup, vegetable dumplings, beef rolls, and beef 餡餅 were good.
It was raining. We visited this coffee shop recommended by Xinhui. Cute atmosphere. Good coffee and tea. I had a oriental beauty tea and J got a cappuccino.
Watched the little performance of the clock at Sogo department store. I always enjoyed it as a kid.
Picked up a cup of hot mint chocolate and J got a plum tea. It was ok.
We visited a few tea shops on Yongkang Street and bought Oolong and Alishan Jinxuan loose tea leaves. Wangdehuai tea shop had some really nice tea.
Vegetarian tonight. I was looking forward to eating vegetarian in Taipei. Instead of a typical buffet, this restaurant has creative tasting courses.
We walked around Sogo department store. Contemplated on trying a few beer houses (and even hopped on a taxi but only to find out that it was closed), and then we decided to head home.
We grabbed quick to-go breakfast from a nearby 美而美 because we only had a few minutes before meeting with family friends. We got egg pancakes with a warm milk tea.
We drove to Yangmingshan National Park and started at 小油坑, where it's famous for the hot air coming out of ground and the vocalno part of the park. It was really windy. Auntie A-Feng and Wendy decided to stay in the car while J and I hiked to Qixing Peak.
There were a lot of stairs but with beautiful views. Our route was to get to the main peak, hike to east peak, then down to 夢幻湖/冷水坑. Auntie A-Feng and Wendy would meet us at 冷水坑. We ended up skipping 夢幻湖 due to time restraint. I loved the scenery and the hike.
By the time we got down to 冷水坑, it was already close to 2! I couldn't believe that it took us about 3 hours. We did take quite a bit of stops for photos however. On average it should only take maybe 2 hours.
J and I wanted to go to 竹子湖 to eat the local vegetables (炒青菜), which was a tradition on every Sunday for my family while growing up. My parents, siblings and I would hike and then get lunch from local restaurants in the mountain.
Auntie A-Feng took us to one that she recently visited. We started with hot vermicelli soup. It immediately warmed us up from the cold wind. We ordered 3 vegetables dishes (only native to Yangmingshan), mountain chicken, stir-fried octopus and squid with basil, and mushrooms. We ended the meal with hot sweet potato soup (sweet and ginger-y). SO good!
We went back into Taipei city and dropped Auntie Wendy off. Auntie A-Feng took us to meet with Auntie Qu for afternoon tea. I got a matcha latte and J got an Earl Grey milk tea. It was good chatting with Auntie Qu about life.
J and I went back to Yongkang beef noodles for beef noodle soup. I got the spicy one this time and J got the light style. Yum. J tried Taiwan beer for the first time.
Obviously, we were determined to hit the to-eat list. We went to Smoothie House after dinner to try the mango shaved ice. It was yummy. J and I both agreed that the traditional shaved ice with red beans, green beans, and mochi from 龍都 was better though.
We went to another dumpling shop that Auntie A-Feng recommended. She mentioned that the chef started together with Din Tai Feng chef, and the dumplings were just as good. J and I both thought it was too greasy. We didn't feel good afterward. Actually we felt kind of sick for the rest of the day. Sad.
We went to try one other dumpling place recommended by Xinhui. We just got their si gua (絲瓜) xiao long bao and beef roll. Both were ok - still felt greasy and heavy. Wish we had just gone back to Din Tai Feng, but we wanted to try out different places, so this was just part of exploration I guess.
We packed up and checked into 君品 hotel as part of the all island tour. We were pleasantly shocked by how nice our room was. Auto-played, personalized greeting on the tv screen and engraved/sculptured soap were just to name a few. This was a good kick off to the tour...
We had a free afternoon and no luck in coordinating to meet with mom's friend. J and I went to Guang Hua Digital Plaza to do some shopping. It's funny because most girls we saw there were accompanying their boyfriends or spouses... Not really looking around for themselves. J and I, two nerds, had a lot of fun looking at gadgets and getting new toys. Of course I got the Asian selfie stick that everyone uses here, and 3-in-1 combo lens for my phone.
I turned around and asked J, "Where did we put Jessie's documents?" and I panicked when he froze. "It was still hidden behind the TV!" Luckily the Airbnb host was super responsive and we went straight back to the apartment to pick it up. So thankful that the documents were still there and we were able to get it in time. Ahh.
We went for vegetarian after the mini heart attack. We had the options of choosing the appetizer, entree, and dessert from a set menu. My favorite was the dessert - black sesame pana cotta.
We had breakfast at the hotel. The buffet was legit.
Our first stop was Jiufen. I had some fond memories here when mom took me on a trip with her friends. I remember the beautiful fog that rolled into the mountain at dusk while we enjoyed traditional tea on a tatami. I had looked forward to visiting Jiufen again with J.
This time, Jiufen was packed with tourists from Hong Kong and China. We took a shuttle into the mountain and squeezed through the crowded and narrow alleys. Jason pointed out his recommended street food stands and took us to the tea house that we would later have tea at. We dropped off our luggage and went off to enjoy street food on our own.
Firs stop, Taiwanese meat ball soup (gong wan) - 貢丸湯. Then we went to have Ai-Yu 愛玉 (jelly drink with lemon/passion fruit), vermicelli, fish ball soup, and stuffed tofu. We then ate a Taiwanese crepe with peanut powder and ice cream, and finished off the eating with sweet bean soup with taro mochi 芋圓.
The staff taught us to make tea with their loose tea leaves and tea sets. First we warmed the cups and the pots with hot water, poured the water out, and then made the tea. Each steep only took 20 seconds with a 5 second increment with each steep after. We had tea plums and tea cheesecake to go with the Oolong tea. Yummy.
All the tea sets were made by the owner. They are quite lovely. We didn't have time to browse around the gallery on the way out. If we had more time, I would have liked to check out the the handmade tea set collections.
We stopped by 鼻頭角 for restroom and photos. It was a gorgeous day. The wide lens came to a good use.
We took the train from Yilan to Hualien in the morning.
We arrived at Taroko Gorge national park. There were a lot of visitors at the entrance. We then drove into the park. Unfortunately, 燕子口 yanziko was under renovation so we could not go there. We ended up taking a walking trail.
You realize how small you are when surrounded by these marble stone mountains.
Checked into the hotel. The mountains and forests are our backyard. :) we tried to go up to the temple near by the hotel but it was almost closed, so the staff recommended us to come back tomorrow morning.
There was a concert hosted by the hotel on the roof top. We were given blankets as we entered. The singer sat by the bond fire and sang contemporary aboriginal tribal music. We sipped on the ginger tea while listening to the music, watching the fire flickering, and being embraced by the Mother Nature. There were just the river and high mountains next to us. It was REALLY nice.
After we checked out of the hotel, we went to 長春寺 eternal spring temple for a hike. It was beautiful, but full of tourists.
The chefs are retired teachers who want to promote their tribal culture and food. They grow everything they serve.
The mountains and vegetation looked wild around us.
One of the best dishes was the fish soup. It was cooked in the traditional A-Mei way. First you put raw fish filet into the hallow bamboo with water, then you put hot stones (which have been burning on the stove for the last 3-4 hours) into the bamboo. The fish soup boils and vegetables were added in. Not a lot of seasoning was required, and the soup was cooked with the minerals and infused with the bamboo. It was so good. We also had a lot of vegetables that I have never seen. The chef joked that since A-Mei tribe was known to grow and eat mainly vegetables (rather than a hunting tribe), when in a natural disaster, you will never be hungry if you follow an A-Mei.
We wrapped sweet potatoes, corns, and eggs in foil and bury them in the pit. Then we headed for a bike ride.
We rode bike on the Brown Boulevard. Apparently Jin Chengwu filmed "I see you" commercial here.
We went back to the place where we prepped our snacks. A lady taught us to make fresh rice noodles, which we had the option of eating with savory broth with small shrimp, green opinions, and garlic, or sweet syrup for dessert. We also broke the 土窯 and ate our sweet potatoes, corn, and eggs.
Light meal at the hotel tonight since we had a lot of food all day long.
We got Gaoliang 58 to try among the 6 of us since Jen, Phil, Diana, and Justin were going back to Taipei the next morning. It was smoother than I thought. Quite nice after taste actually!
Train from Taitung to Kaohsiung (~ 3 hours).
We stopped by Lover's River (愛河 ai-he) for photos and then had lunch, family style again. Kaohsiung is a lot more of an industrial city, with heavier pollution.
We visited the old castle where the Dutch built, Japanese renovated, and Koxinga-claimed when he fought the battle to win Taiwan back. I've long heard about Tainan-food.
Loved, loved, loved the noodles. They used a cast-iron pot to braise the meat, so much built-up that the pot gets deformed. :-O
We visited Lugang temple, a traditional home, and the Folk Art Museum. It was interesting to see the architecture of an old home and different artifacts. Did you know that dragons have 7 sons? We saw an art piece explaining the characteristics of the dragon sons and where they usually appear in artifacts. (My favorite was the one who likes to eat and is seen on big pots.)
We stopped by the old pedestrian mall to shop and try street foods. Jason recommended us the local beverage/snack - peanut powder, sugar, and flour dough are mixed with hot water and half mixed up. The texture is very doughy. We also tried local pastries - like 牛舌餅 (which literally mean beef tongue pastry - don't worry, the only resemblance to a beef tongue is the shape of it).
We headed to central mountains of Taiwan and arrived at 清境農場. It was rainy and foggy. J and I took it easy, and just relaxed at the hotel. We had hotpot for dinner.
Unfortunately, the sunrise hike to 合歡山 (he-huan mountain) was cancelled due to the heavy fog. J and I enjoyed the breakfast and walked around the hills a bit before the group gathered up and headed to the sheep farm.
We had some amazing sheep milk that left us wonder why sheep milk wasn't more widely seen in stores... (it turns out, most sheep farms are in wool business, not diary business, and you're likely to find more goat milk than sheep milk). It was fun to tour around the farm.
We arrived at Sun Moon Lake just a little after lunch. Originally, we were scheduled to go on a short cruise around the lake, but due to the fog, the pier was closed temporarily. It opened up eventually, so we were able to cruise around the lake and see different sides. Sadly there was not much visibility so we couldn't see much.
We returned to our hotel, and had tea on the roof top. The view was gorgeous. It seemed that the colors of the lake and sky changed every minute.
We took a stroll on the trail around the lake before the sunset. The hotel we were staying at had natural hot spring. Enjoyed the hot spring and massage.
John and I hiked the trails around the lake in the morning (originally we wanted to bike around the lake, but it was advised against due to the heavy fog). We discovered a stairway by a temple, where bells of good luck are tie to numbers that represent birthdays and ages.
Sun Moon Lake was so beautiful - I didn't want to leave.
We had another round of Din Tai Fung upon our return to Taipei. We got the delicious pancake from the street on Yongkang Street after dinner. ;) Will miss this!
For the last day in Taipei, we visited the president hall, 228 park, Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall (where J got interviewed by a few high school girls for a cultural/sociology project), had delicious beef noodles, and enjoyed hot spring in Villa 32. Then we bid farewells to our new friends and headed to the airport for Beijing.
So sad to leave, but I know we will be back soon enough.