Whoa, a post that is a year late (15 months)!
I’ve never posted anything this late before, but the second half of 2018 was personally challenging. K and I traveled last year, however, putting the stories into writing obviously took longer than usual. So long that I got initially confused with WordPress’s new look and it took me a while to find the “coding” format which is my preferred method of inputting text and images in my blog entries.
2017 was also fairly busy, which is one of the reasons why we (as a couple) only had one destination. I ended up having additional vacation days that I carried over in 2018 that had to be use by the end of March. I was researching a few destinations that won’t necessarily break the bank as I had a few flights scheduled that year (including a local flight back to Winnipeg for my sister’s graduation). After reading and researching, we finally decided to go to Taiwan.
Day 1 – Delays and Burns
We were first scheduled to fly from Toronto to Vancouver, where we would eventually catch a 10-hr flight heading to Taipei. Everything was smooth sailing until this happened. This caused a 2-hr delay to our flight and we barely made it to our connecting flight. Vancouver is a huge airport, so you can imagine my concern. However I was really glad that I asked K to put a buffer time between connections. Initially he was skeptical and didn’t like the long wait time, but I think I convinced him after that experience. I’ve never been hangry in my life though, ha ha! We planned to eat lunch at the airport but that was obviously thrown out of the window. Spending 10 mins running to our next gate at lunchtime was really an experience. Good thing plane food was served shortly after.
Our second flight arrived on time (around 4:30 pm), albeit there was a bit of a congestion at the arrivals and immigration areas. We had a bit of a hiccup with our transit plan as we initially took the purple train only to find out that it will terminate somewhere else. So… let’s just say our commute was delayed further.
After all the transit fiasco we finally arrived at the Taipei Main Station and walked a good 10 mins to reach our AirBnB. After getting our bearings we knew it was time to eat and our first destination was a local night market Ningxia. It was probably around 9:30 pm at this point, and again, we were hungry!
Let’s just say we were not disappointed. 🙂
Fruit shakes and bubble tea are popular in Taiwan. Here’s a papaya shake with bubbles! Costed me 50NTD or around $2 CAD.
Easily my favourite: torched angus beef cubes. DELICIOUS.
K’s favourite: crispy scallion pancake. It was a simple dish but he was so overwhelmed that he literally got teary-eyed. I am not kidding.
Delicious, crunchy, cold peanut ice cream (ice cream wrapped in pastry with shaved peanut brittle). 90 NTD or $3.90 CAD. STEAL!
We ordered around 10 dishes in total (Roasted King Oyster mushroom, steamed dumplings, sausage, chicken pops, another cup of bubble tea, and a can of beer from Family Mart) and between the two of us we spent around 700 NTD which is around $32 Canadian Dollars. 10 ITEMS. We treated ourselves on Day 1. After all we deserved it.
Day 2 – Eat, Eat, Eat. Did We Say Eat?
K and I woke up around 7:00 am and had a light breakfast (for the whole trip we bought bread from Family Mart and been drinking Energen which we brought with us). After leaving our accommodation, we quickly passed by Cafe de Tiamo so K can get an espresso before we have our second breakfast for the day.
It was a little early but you can see that there’s already a line-up!
We then headed to Yongkang Street to eat the famous Tianjing Chong Zhua pancake, which also serves fluffed scallion pancakes. While lining up there are small plastic menu available so you can make your decision while in queue.
K and I got the “everything” (Egg, Taiwanese Basil, Cheese, and Ham) and the Cheese and Egg pancake, which totaled to 100 NTD or around $4.30 CAD. While I enjoyed mine, K was a bit underwhelmed as he preferred the crispier variant that he had the night before at the night market.
We then crossed the street to try a mango-flavoured dessert and went to Smoothie House. As it was a served in a big bowl, K and I decided to share. We ordered the iced mango with panna cotta . It was 210 NTD (around $9.00), and very yummy.
While eating we decided to people-watch and have noticed the abundance of Japanese visitors in the country. No wonder why menu items and signs are in Japanese too. To be fair though it made it easier for me as I can read Katakana.
We then started checking off our itinerary by heading off to a few establishments. First was our visit to Longshan temple. It was a Saturday and the whole temple was packed and very busy. The architecture is very ornate, and there were lots of lanterns up from the Lunar New Years Celebration.
We found the place to be a little bit hectic though. And not wanting to disturb the locals visiting to pray, we headed out and walked further to check out Bopiliao Old Street.
Bopiliao Old Street used to be a very prosperous commercial area but fell into disrepair later on. The government is working on restoring the area. We saw some exhibitions but the whole area looked bare and unused which is unfortunate. It would be a great place to have some coffee shops and gift shops in there. Maybe transform it into a centralized arts district?
Shortly after we went to Jin Feng for a quick bite. We expected a line-up as the place was really popular but the wait wasn’t too bad (also we weren’t entirely hungry at this point).
We were seated across a young Taiwanese couple, and after finding out that we’re tourists, assisted us in asking the staff to provide us with an English menu. The both speak English well and we had a quick chat while we all wait for our dish.
(Here’s a photo of the English menu. ;))
K ordered he pork belly rice which he didn’t like much only for the reason that there were bamboo shoots included (we’re not fans of bamboo shoots), while I stuck with the popular Lu Rou Fan (ground pork with rice) which was hot and delicious. I also ordered a braised egg on the side which was really yummy. K thought he should have ordered the same dish as mine. 🙂 Our meal costed us around 125 NTD and enough to fuel us for our next destination.
K grabbed another coffee at a place called Gaze Cafe which is a small cafe beside an optical shop. I don’t know how they manage to be creative with these things… I mean, a cafe within an optical shop? Nonetheless, K said the coffee was delicious. It looks like the optician is also a barista and a big fan of coffee…?
We then headed to National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall to take photos. K went upstairs to the hall why I stayed downstairs to wander around and people watch. It was a melting pot of local (lots of students) and foreign visitors and it wasn’t too crowded despite the number of people in the area that day.
Did I say we never stopped eating this day?
We actually planned to go to Taipei 101 observatory but the weather wasn’t very great and we didn’t want to pay only to see clouds hovering the city, so we just decided to proceed and eat (again), this time to have merienda (maybe late lunch?) at Din Tai Fung. Again, we had to queue but it wasn’t that bad. We get to mark our orders on a sheet and our numbers are displayed on a screen in front of the store.
Once we got in we get to see the glass room where line cooks prepare the dumplings and where customers can watch. THEY ARE FAST!
So… we did order a lot of things, beginning of course with 10 pcs of Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). They were delicious.
We also ordered some shrimp and pork dumplings, greens (for balance meal guys), and two taro buns for dessert. We also liked the chopsticks we used so we decided to get two pairs to bring home. 🙂
Songshan Ciyou Temple beside Raohe Market
We decided to postpone Dihua Street for the day as it was getting late and have then decided to head to Raohe Night Market to… eat.
Unfortunately we didn’t really get to roam around as Raohe was PACKED. We did hit the stall that was #1 on our list, which was the pepper bun just right across the market entrance, near the Songshan Ciyou temple.
As the bun was freshly made (and there really is a need to hastily leave the stall after getting your food), I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I think when the bun got a bit cooler I found it to be more delicious, but the whole place was just hectic so it did dampen my excitement with the food. It was very peppery and yummy though so I highly recommend.
We also tried the delicious aiyu jelly drink (similar to the Philippines’ samalamig) and grilled squid, which was my least favourite as I wasn’t a fan of the powdered flavouring they put on it.
We really wanted to try out more food stalls but at that point we actually had more fun at Ningxia and also thought that going to Raohe on a weekend was a BAD IDEA.
Aside from eating another peanut ice cream (definitely one of my favourites), I also get to try this… fried milk. It’s like a gelatinous milky thing that was skewered and deep fried. Costed 25 NTD and not a bad item to cap off the night. We had a quick pit-stop at the temple before heading back to our apartment.
Day 3 – WOW Jetlag
This day started… well, a little miserable for us. Jetlag started kicking in and I have woken up at 3:30 AM and was not able to sleep after! After spending time on my phone (we were using the pocket wi-fi included in our apartment) I found out that Ling Dong Fang noodle is closed on Sunday (the same day) and moved locations so I decided to find an alternative place.
Shortly after our light breakfast we went to Fuhang Soy (a popular local breakfast place) only to find out that… it was also closed! The food hall where it was located was under renovation that week. The silver lining on this is that since we have pocket wi-fi (ALL HAIL POCKET WI-FI!) we were able to quickly find a breakfast alternative, while fellow confused tourists weren’t exactly sure what to do next.
We ended up at Yong Ha Soy and while we were able to get to eat, I think I might have ended up marking the wrong items off the menu and some of the food I wanted didn’t come up (I think I ordered an egg sandwich but got a scrambled egg in a manju lol). However we got the sweetened cold soy milk, Youtiao (Taiwanese doughnut that is not flavoured but tasted well dipped in soy milk), and some Youtiao-style sandwich. We got food, we good.
We then headed to check out Huasian 1914 Creative Park, which is a former winery converted into an arts and commercial complex. Lots of boutiques and food stalls around. K got his dose of espresso (as always) and I bought myself a nice headband with shiba inu prints on it.
We then headed out to Ximending, first to have lunch at Watami Restaurant. The place is centrally located and wasn’t expecting too much (we were in Ximending to shop for items to bring home) as it looks like very touristy. We ordered a Chirashi Sushidon, Karaage, and a Gyu-Unagidon. We were actually surprised because our meal in general was actually delicious.
Not much photos taken along Ximending, but I was able to buy a lot of inexpensive skin care products from select popular Korean brands, as well as Sa Sa (when they were still open) and Little Three.
As it was a Sunday, Ximending was very busy and bustling with so much activities. A lot of people say Ximending is like the Shibuya of Japan, but it actually reminds me more of Harajuku.
Since we have a reservation that evening and we finished our day a little early, we headed back to our apartment to take a nap.
For dinner I made a reservation at Aisin Gioro (which we almost missed, because we were both jet-lagged and it was difficult to wake up and leave again). I decided to treat K as an early birthday celebration/gift and splurge a bit by having a 5-course dinner. They even gave K a special plate!
Left: Canadian Lobster; right: grilled yam
Left: Lobster after being sealed and steamed in a pot; right: skewered chicken
Left: Grilled pork jowl; right: the birthday boy, feeling really sleepy
When the shabu-shabu portion of our dinner was serve was when we found out that… there’s just a lot of food. LOL.
Dessert time! Left: Black Sesame Ice cream with Salmon (it seems weird, but actually delicious), right: Black sesame mochi
Additional dessert for K’s birthday
We were treated very well at this restaurant and the food was delicious. It is a little difficult to find given we cannot speak and read Mandarin, but this is a place I recommend especially if you want a good value for your money and get delicious food.
Day 4 – Rainy Day in the Mountains
Around Day 4 we just noticed that Taipei is actually a little chilly than what we anticipated. From here on we experienced rain (and a heavy thunderstorm, more on that a bit) and cloudy days a lot. I am glad we brought our rain jackets and umbrellas with us (mine wasn’t much of a rain jacket but a windbreaker).
We left our apartment early to catch one of the earlier Bus 1082 heading to Jiufen. We had a bit of a transit hiccup as we mistakenly waited at the Taiwan Adventist Hospital instead of the Zhongshan Fuxing Station (I think I had this written in our itinerary but given my lack of sense of direction I wasn’t able to communicate it well to K, who maps our itinerary after I plan them).
After a long wait we were able to get into the bus which was again full of Japanese tourists. As they were all excited (I suppose) our fellow passengers kept talking all the way to Jiufen so we weren’t able to take a nap.
Upon our arrival: it’s eating time! We walked around the entirety of the market, while trying on foods that caught our attention.
Misty Cake’s Cream Puff
Pork Sausage which is similar to the Philippines’ Longganisa. We went here twice because it was delicious. :p
Lai Ah Poh taro balls. A very refreshing drink (you can also get it hot but a cold dessert seems more appropriate to us)
Popcorn Chicken and Panda Milk Tea at Hanlin Tea House (also a good place to sit down with all the walking we did)
Watch out for all forms of transportation that will try and sneak in to those narrow streets!
We then headed to one of the most crowded areas of Jiufen where the A-Mei Tea House is located. To Studio Ghibli or anime fans, this place is famous for being the source of inspiration for the teahouse in Spirited Away.
We decided to rest our weary feet and have some tea. It’s not just simply pouring tea in a cup though, as we were taught how to properly prepare for it before we enjoy a cuppa.
Our timing was just great because the rain poured so hard as soon as we got in. Crisis averted.
After resting at A-Mei, we prepared for our descent back to the bus station (the weather wasn’t getting any better). But before that, we bought a few souvenirs such as postcards, magnets, and a couple of handmade leather goods). And more food.
The peanut ice cream here is the best I had! The shaved peanut brittle is chunkier adding a better texture to the food. DELICIOUS.
The final snack at Jiufen: shrimp balls. It was delicious! Mine was a bit cold but I think it would be amazing fresh out of the pan.
We got caught on a heavy rain while waiting for the bus across the old street and everyone was just in frantic. There was a couple (assumed tourists too) who snuck in front of us while lining up for the bus! GRRRR.
We finally got in after getting wet (crisis not entirely averted after all) and arrived back at Taipei. We decided to go back to Ningxia for dinner, but first, we dropped by Nakamura bakery to buy some breakfast for us the next day. K wasn’t feeling entirely well at this point; a combination of heat, cold, rain, exhaustion, and early call-time might have been the cause. He got some beef noodles at a nearby eatery while I grabbed another serving of my favourite torched beef angus.
With the exception of the bad weather we did enjoy Jiufen a lot! It was fun trying on different foods in a market setting, which I haven’t done in a while.
Day 5 – FINALLY, a meet-up!
This day was actually very laid-back for us as we didn’t have anything planned except that we’re meeting a friend of ours! He spent the day with us touring us to places he is very familiar of, trying different foods, of course!
Since Yongha Soy was closed (he was supposed to bring us there too), we ended up going to a different place where they also serve a traditional Taiwanese breakfast. The food we had is like doughnut filled with vermicelli-like noodles, as well as my favourite soy milk and pork buns. Delicious. We then headed to a cafe and geeked out with our camera gear and exchanged gifts!
He then brought us to Taiwan’s “Camera Street” where the whole place is lined up with camera equipment. Here I unleased to him my deep, deep obsession with Fuji Instax mini and their bordered films that are mainly available only in Asia. Good thing our friend shoots film so… no judgement received, thank goodness.
He then treated us for a very hearty lunch and then being a trickster that he is, he revealed later that the soft, tasty meat we had with rice was actually a part of the pig’s leg and foot. I was OK with as my mom cooks braised pork a lot, it but my husband might have been a little scarred LOL.
We ended up at Dihua (which was actually really close to our apartment) and explored the market. These are just some of the medium format photos I took that day. We also had a custard pinwheel cake and freshly-squeezed orange juice for snacks and both were delicious.
Our friend also brought us to the city’s electronics district and showed us a second-hand camera store. Can you tell that at this point our friend has spoiled us so much? That doesn’t even include the history and camera chat we had that day.
Before we parted ways we headed out for dinner at Xinyi, where we treated our friend for dinner at The Diner. K took this really Gotham-y photo of Taipei 101 which I think was really lovely (yes, it was still cloudy that day unfortunately).
Day 6 – On Gondolas, Sushi, and Pineapple Cake
We started our day relatively later and aimed to do some errands (buying souvenirs) and tick off the remaining touristy areas for us to check out.
First on our list was Dalongdong Bao’an Temple and Confucius Temple. Both temples are sandwiched in between a local commercial and residential area it wasn’t too hectic heading there. The temples were less crowded and very solemn too, which we preferred compared to our earlier trip to Longshan.
I also took an opportunity to use up my remaining frames in my Cheap Shots Challenge camera. 🙂
Before we catch our bus on our way to our lunch destination, we grabbed coffee at Iwato Coffee. 🙂
Our lunch destination was Addiction Aquatic Development, a seafood heaven located in Taipei. I kept thinking of my parents when we got here as they are big fans of seafood and will definitely enjoy seeing the whole market.
We passed by the live aquarium area before we headed to the market area to buy sushi! Be reminded that the market is a cash-only establishment.
Our very big lunch. Seriously we were in food coma after this. The fish were so fresh!
We are fans of public transportation, and our appreciation of it grows each time we travel overseas. We like trying out other options of transportation, so while in Taipei, we decided to try out the Maokong Gondola. We can use our Easycard to pay for it, too!
There are 4 stations before heading to the final stop and we were treated to a beautiful scenery climbing up.
The area is famous for the tea planted there, so upon reaching our destination we treated ourselves to some green tea and oolong tea ice cream. Yum.
We explored the area a bit and decided to leave as soon as we see the grey skies – they terminate the operation of the gondola if it’s raining to avoid any accidents.
We completed our final souvenirs errand by heading to Chia-Te to buy some pineapple cakes and nougat crackers. There was a bit of a lineup when we arrived but service was really quick. I definitely recommend if you wanted to buy something nice as gifts. Or treat yourself if you just like pineapple cake. 🙂
Our last stop for the evening is to have dinner at a character cafe. We headed to Rilakkuma Cafe and be surrounded by everything Rilakkuma… and young girls taking photos.
Dessert fridge… I kind of feel bad wanting to eat these.
His: K ordered a tonkatsu curry with a sleeping bear rice
Mine: I ordered a creamy chicken and vegetable stew with rice (…the head of the bear) and Choco Pudding dessert that we shared.
For a character cafe… the food isn’t actually all that bad! I was expecting it to be bland but that wasn’t the case. I was mainly there for the experience but having good food is a definite plus.
Day 7 – Last Full Show
We started our day quickly catching up with our friend and since our last full day in Taipei is relatively light, we decided to meet up one last time for dinner. The weather wasn’t very great so at this point we thought walking around won’t be as enjoyable as we wanted to be.
K was unusually hungry so after we parted ways with our friend we tried to find a cafe where he can eat and where I can complete our postcards to send to friends.
We actually moved around our itinerary this week because of exhaustion and overall bad weather, so we ended up going to eat (again), this time to the establishment both of us are excited to try out: Lan Jia Guabao.
A lot of tourists describe this as Taiwanese Burger, to which I say, “I don’t know what you guys are talking about”. Guabao is more close to steamed buns except that they use an open manju dough so the servers can stuff in what meat you like. UNFORTUNATELY due to a minor misconception, I made the mistake of ordering half-half MORE LEAN meat instead of half-half MORE FAT. I think the latter would have been better as the fat will melt (it is a hot dish) and provide more juiciness into the manju once you bite into it. (Feel free to use this guide too, as they don’t provide an English menu.)
Right across the street is the equally-popular Chen San Ding Bubble Tea. Let me tell you guys… I am a fan of bubble tea when it got popular here in North America, but those are NOTHING compared to Chen San Ding’s bubble tea. It’s just plain black tea but the difference is in their tapioca! It looks like it was cooked in heavy syrup, so the actual tea isn’t sweet really, but the flavour and sweet comes from the tapioca once you mix it. LIFE. CHANGING.
(Also be aware you’ll get sufficient sugar-rush after drinking it, but it’s worth it, I promise.)
Both stands are actually close to the university, so it wasn’t surprising how popular it was to young people.
Since it was our last day, we were determined not to miss Lin Dong Fang beef noodle, so after finding out earlier on our trip that it moved locations, we decided to do our visit on a different day. It was rainy and bleak so a nice, warm bowl of beef noodles will do the trick.
If you were eyeing this restaurant from previous available Youtube Vlogs, you will notice a big difference as the kitchen is now inside but there is a glass window where you can watch the staff do their thing.
We were seated really quickly and we both ordered beef noodles as well as a serving of tofu for us to share.
Let me just say that the beef noodle lives up to its hype. The beef is so soft and melt-in-your-mouth, the broth was rich, and very filling. And people might ignore their appetizers, but I totally recommend the tofu as that took us by surprise. It was light and delicious and helps cut the oiliness of the noodles.
LOOK. AT. THIS. BEAUTY.
We killed some time as our friend won’t be done with his appointments that day, so we walked along the area and took some photos.
We… also made the dangerous decision to go back to the second-hand camera store and bought a used Contax G1 body and Contax Aria body.
We finally met with our friend (it started raining again so he sported his very stylish, EU-inspired umbrella LOL) for dinner and he brought us to Tonghua Night Market. We tried dishes such as pancake with ham and cheese, paw-shaped pastry with custard or chocolate filling, fried chicken, bubble tea, and of course, the designated trickster meal, which is salty sticky rice with pork blood. You’re welcome.
Day 8 – Goodbye Taipei!
It’s the day when we have to leave Taipei back to Toronto. We decided to have a heavy lunch so after leaving our apartment we headed to another character cafe, Gudetama Chef.
We noticed that the servers aren’t that welcoming to the guests (or maybe because it was a busy day?) but we suddenly pulled comparisons with our earlier visit to the Rilakkuma cafe. The restaurant is more spacious though, with some enclosed, semi-private space to dine if you wanted to.
K and I orderd a beef-gyudon style dish, green curry, as well as a sampler. They are good, but we found that we liked the dishes at Rilakkuma more.
Eating something heavy before we head to the airport proved to be a good decision though, as we found out later that our flight was delayed for a bit.
I actually decided going to Taiwan on a whim, all because of those carry-over vacation days that I can use. I did a bit of research as I usually do but I didn’t feel like it was enough, initially. However, we enjoyed our trip to Taiwan, even though it was more centered on checking out new foods. A food trip if you will. It was great to be in Asia again and I was thrilled to travel with K to Asia (who haven’t been since his family moved to Canada about a decade ago), so there was this sense of familiarity and uniqueness to it. Public Transportation is amazing and very reliable and I find the environment to be safe even for solo travellers. Locals are very welcoming and friendly and willing to chat, and the whole city is clean! We know we will be back later on. 🙂