Singapore & Taiwan Trip (Day 10)

On our third day in Taipei, we decided to do a day trip to the Ruifang District of New Taipei City. Our destination included Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十分). They literally translate to nine portions and ten portions. Our first stop would be to Jiufen. To get here, you can either take the train to Ruifang Station and then take a Keelung Transit Bus. However, we chose the cheaper version which is to take only the bus. Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station and take Exit 1. From there, make a u-turn and take the first left. You’ll find the bus stop for 1062. Beware of these marketers standing at the station who will try to sell you that the bus is just straight ahead. They are trying to sell you their own bus service that takes you to Jiufen but costs more. The public transit bus will cost only NT$102 but will take a little over an hour. The bus is sort of like a coach though so the seats are pretty comfy and you’re guaranteed a seat.

Jiufen is a mountainous area and therefore the roads are very curvy and steep. I was quite scared on the ride as there were points where I thought we would drive off, but I guess these bus drivers are super skilled! Almost everyone will get off at Jiufen, so just follow along.

Once you get off, there is a beautiful viewing point. From here, you can see a temple and mountains. Does this not look like Spirited Away or what? This is actually the town that the writer visited and drew inspiration from!

Follow the other tourists and you’ll find yourself in Jiufen Old Street (九份老街 ) which are both pedestrian streets with cute shops. Jiufen actually used to be a prosperous gold mining town, but when mining was discontinued, the streets and tea houses were saved so it has become a popular tourist spot to relive scenes from the past.

There is so much food here for all you foodies out there! Taro Balls are the most famous here. Look for Grandma Lai’s YuYuan as they are the most famous.

I highly recommend trying A-Jou Peanut Ice Cream Roll (阿珠雪在燒) which you’ll find a line up for.

These rolls feature peanut brittle shavings and two scoops of taro ice cream.

These were the bomb! I could eat this all day…

Moving along we found many stalls selling Pork Sausages.

That smell drew us in and we had to get one for ourselves. Not sure how clean the food is, but street food is a must in Taiwan!

One of my favourites were the Grilled Cuttlefish Balls. So satisfying!

You’ll find so many of these mochi ball shops where they are rolling them by hand. You can purchase them to bring home.

We decided to try this stall and got the cold version of the Mochi Ball Dessert Soup since it was so hot! NT$45.

They give you a mix of different types of mochi and beans. I really liked the mochi balls but the dessert soup was underwhelming.

Near the end of the street, you’ll find another beautiful viewing point of the countryside. By the way, the name Jiufen comes from the story that the village housed nine families back in the day.

We somehow wandered into this beautiful street and again it reminded me of Spirited Away. Oh, and there are tons of steps and uphill walking here, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes as walking is the way to get around here.

After snacking in Jiufen, I wanted to see Shifen. We hopped onto a bus back to Ruifang train station and checked out the railway route. We would be taking the Pingxi Line which runs through Ruifang and Pingxi districts.

It’s extremely important to go into the service center and take a picture of the train schedule because they come at one hour intervals. Missing a train means you’ll be waiting a while… The Pingxi district is a rural area in eastern New Taipei City. It was an important coal mining town back in the day.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long for the train. You can tap your EasyCard before entering to use the train or purchase actual train tickets at the booths.

The railway line stops at multiple stops, all of which are coal mining towns. The railway track was actually used to transport coal back in the day. Many tourists visit all the stops since there’s something different about each one, but we weren’t sure about how much time we had, so we headed to Shifen, the one I wanted to see most.

When you get off at Shifen station, the most bizarre thing is that you cross the track by going in front of the train. So the train literally stops there until everyone has moved onto the other side…

There are so many tourists here!

Shifen Old Street (十分老街) is filled with sky lantern and souvenir shops as well as food vendors.

Of course we had to get something to snack on!

We got these delicious fried cuttlefish sticks. Mmm chewy and delicious!

This little town is just so charming! It’s like you’re taken back in time. Great place for photos!

Shifen is famous for sky lanterns, so you will find many visitors writing their wishes and setting them off.

An attraction I wanted to see was the Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布). This is the broadest waterfall in Taiwan and was very beautiful. I don’t think it can compare to the one we have in Niagara Falls back in Canada, but it’s pretty nice too. This was a bit of a trek and we got lost along the way but was well worth it. Around a 20 minute walk by foot or you can rent mopeds or take a taxi.

After the waterfall, we headed back to Shifen Old Street and decided to set the lantern as well. There are many stores selling the lanterns and I honestly think they’re priced around the same, so any stall is fine. This is the one we chose. I think we paid around NT$150 for a single colour. Each colour has a different meaning. We wanted to wish for a good career, so we chose blue.

The vendors will help you set the paper lantern on a rack with pins. Paintbrushes and paint and provided so you can paint your wishes. You can fill four sides with wishes, so perfect to share with four friends.

The funny thing about Shifen is that visitors are allowed to walk on the tracks pretty much whenever they want. But when a train starts coming, they ring a bell and tell everyone to get off. While we were writing, the train came and we had to run off. It’s pretty old school and I have no idea how safe this is considered…

Finally, we set our lanterns into the sky. Most of the vendors are super nice too and included in the price is photography. They can help you take videos or photos on your phone.

Hope all our wishes came true! A fun activity for a small price. Plus it’s beautiful watching all the lanterns go up.

After setting our lanterns up, we did some photo shoots along the railway track since it is pretty beautiful. Along the way, we also got some Taiwanese beer. Love that we can just drink on the streets here!

The famous Jing An Suspension Bridge (靜安吊橋) is located just across the train Station. It connects Shifen to Nanshan, another village.

The bridge was also used to transport coal back in the day. Today, it is a pedestrian bridge.

You can catch the sunset as well as lanterns taking off here. Beautiful. Overall, I highly recommend checking out Jiufen and Shifen. I was worried at first whether S would enjoy it since he’s a city boy, but I think he really appreciated the charming countryside in these districts. The views in these areas are breathtaking.

We took the Pingxi Line back to Ruifang station and were hoping to catch the bus back to Taipei City. However, we could not figure where we were and our wifi and battery was dead. We ended up catching the train back to Taipei Main Station. I think you’re supposed to purchase seats at the booths, but because we used our EasyCards, we did not get assigned seating and ended up having to stand…Not fun. Our train made a stop at Songshan, so I suggested we get off and check out Raohe Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市). Take Exit 5 when you get off.

This is one of the oldest night markets in Taipei and is pretty big! Tons of food, shops, and even games.

There are also some stalls that offer seating. People eat and go, so the wait isn’t long to get a seat.

I swear S was on a mission to eat all the Fried Chicken Steak in Taipei, so of course, he couldn’t leave the night market without one.

Mmmm so crispy and the piece was the size of our face. You can also choose different flavoured seasoning. I found this one to be a top contender! You can have it whole or have it cut up.

We decided to sit at this stall for some snacks.

And I got the Fried Oyster Omelette. Taiwanese oyster omelettes are always so glutinous with that gooey binding. A must try in Taiwan.

With all the food, we needed to get some drinks so of course we had bubble tea! We checked out this stall called Dragon Beads.

We got the Chocolate Milk Tea, thinking it would be chocolate flavoured bubble tea, but we were wrong! These tapioca balls were filled with chocolate! Something I’ve never seen before. No wonder the pearls were so big. It was pretty interesting, but I think I still like the normal pearls!

We checked out some other vendors and then headed back to the hotel after a long day.

Details:

Jiufen: Take MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station and take Exit 1. From there, make a u-turn and take the first left. Take bus #1062 towards Jiufen

Shifen: From Ruifang Train Station, take Pingxi Line to Shifen station.

Raohe Night Market: Take MRT to Songshan MRT station and take Exit 5:  Raohe St, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 105

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Singapore & Taiwan Trip (Day 9)

At Westgate Hotel, we had complimentary breakfast included. So on most mornings, we took advantage of their buffet breakfast. The dining area is very nice and they had quite a variety of choices. Of course S had to get his chicken steak!

For myself, I got a bit of everything. There’s really something for everyone. Plus I love their fresh juices.

After breakfast, we headed to Ximen MRT Station. Since it was our first day we had to purchase our transit pass. You can choose to get the Taipei Pass which gives you unlimited rides for a specified number of days or the EasyCard which is their touch and go card which offers some discounts compared to a single fare and is re-loadable. Simply purchase the card at a machine at almost any station and your initial purchase will require a NT$100 deposit. You can get this deposit back at the end with a small transaction service charge at the service booths.

We chose the EasyCard since we thought it would be a better deal for us based on our itinerary. I highly recommend getting one since you can use it on buses too. The MRTs are very clean and there is English on all maps. Super easy to use!

We took the MRT from Ximen to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Station. Follow the signs and you’ll find yourself in front of the beautiful National Theater.

Continue walking and you will find the Liberty Square and also the National Concert Hall. It was burning hot this day so remember to bring your UV umbrellas and look super touristy! Liberty Square recalls the important historical role it played in Taiwan’s transition from one-party rule to modern democracy and is now used for mass gatherings.

Take the long walk down across Liberty Square and you will find yourself at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The memorial hall was made in memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, the former president of the Republic of China who ruled Taiwan. There are 89 steps to represent the age at the time of his death.

When you get to the top, you will see a large statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. The ground level has a museum with history of his life as well as Taiwan and China history.

Be sure to plan your time when visiting because the highly viewed change of the guards occurs at the hour from 10am to 4pm daily. Pretty neat to see them do the performance but we found it a bit too long.

After watching the guard change performance, we took the MRT to Taipei 101 / World Trade Centre station. Upon exiting, you will see the grand Taipei 101! The building was the tallest building in the world in 2004 to 2009!

When you enter the building, you will find that there are many shops and restaurants. It basically houses a shopping mall now in addition to many offices. We decided to purchase tickets to go up on the observatory. This costs NT$500 for adults.

You will then be put in an elevator with other visitors and within 37 seconds, you will go from the 5th floor to the 89th floor. It is the fastest elevator in the world!

The view from the observatory on the 89th floor is breathtaking. It offers a 360 degree view of Taipei and I highly recommend checking it out. The 89th floor is located 382 meters above ground and you can literally see every direction of the skyline.

Take the stairs down to the 88th floor and you will find the world’s largest and heaviest wind damper as well as the cute damper baby. This is the structure that stabilizes the tower to prevent high winds and earthquakes from toppling the building. On the 88th floor, there is also a gallery of Taiwan’s carved coral and gemstones. We weren’t too interested in that though.

Now climb the stairs again and head up to the 91st floor. This is the highest floor they allow you to go up.

This is the tip of the skyscraper and you’ll exit to an outdoor observatory deck where you’ll feel the wind and again enjoy a beautiful view with no glass in front but rather metal bars. As it was quite windy that day, they blocked the area so we were only able to see around 180 degrees.

After the view, we headed down to the shopping mall and went to Din Tai Fung. Of course a trip to Taiwan wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the famous Din Tai Fung. The Taipei 101 location is super busy because of the tourists so expect a long wait. We ended up waiting almost an hour to get a seat for a late lunch.

The XLB restaurant has become such a tourist spot that they even have signs telling you where there’s good photo opportunities…like this one here where you can watch the chefs make your XLBs.

I don’t recall seeing this at the other locations, but they have their rice vinegar and brewed soy sauce. The server taught us how much to pour of each for the best taste.

They also provide you with a “how to eat xiao long bao card” for first-timers.

We ended up sharing a large bottle of Taiwanese beer. Mmmm cold and refreshing after a hot day.

We always get the same things here but they’re so good to not! So we got the Steamed Shrimp and Pork Shao Mai.

And their world famous Pork XiaoLongBao.

We also decided to try their Braised Beef Noodle Soup. I didn’t think this was as good as the one from Tao Yuan Beef Noodles though.

We also got the Pork Buns which was something new we tried. Not bad.

After lunch, we decided to head to the Tamsui district since we were way ahead of our itinerary. The area is also known as Danshui sometimes.We hopped on the MRT towards Tamsui station which is quite far (around 30 minutes or so). When you get off the station, you will need to transfer onto a bus (either Red26, 836, or 857) if you want to see the Fisherman’s Wharf which I highly recommend. You can use your EasyCard on the bus but it’s quite a ride especially if you don’t get a seat. I highly recommend going to see the sunset because it is absolutely beautiful. Take the bus to the last stop, where almost everyone else will get off, and you’ll see beautiful boats here.

One of the most famous attractions is the Lover Bridge of Tamsui. As the sun was starting to set, we decided to run to the bridge before we missed it. Luckily, we got the sunset and it was gorgeous. The bridge itself is beautiful and makes a romantic date night.

The Fisherman’s Wharf is absolutely beautiful and well worth the trip. There are also many seafood restaurants here which we unfortunately did not try.

Cross the bridge which is a short walk and you’ll find the beautiful love sign where couples took pictures. So romantic! Apparently this is also where Jay Chou filmed a video. Apparently at night, the bridge lights up with rainbow colours.

After the sunset, we wanted to check out Tamsui Old Street. I believe there is a bus that takes you closer to here, but we weren’t sure so we took it back to the Tamsui MRT station and took a short walk to this street. This pedestrian shopping area has a ton of restaurants, street food vendors, and souvenir shops.

We found a vendor selling these jumbo ice cream and could not resist! I’ve seen so many pictures of these ice creams!

When they say it’s tall, they’re not kidding! We got the mix of Matcha and Mango which was so good! Surprisingly, the ice cream didn’t taste cheap. Definitely quenched our thirst and is great to share.

After Tamsui Old Street, we continued wandering into the coastal town and found many more shops. Great place to walk around nice as it’s so laid back and a nice getaway from the busy streets in Taipei’s city centre.

At night, we decided to head to Shida Night Market as we thought restaurants in Tamsui would be probably on the pricier side. You can get here by taking the MRT to Taipower Building Station and taking Exit 3. We got a little lost but eventually found a bunch of shops and food vendors. We settled with Chicken Kings which appeared to be the only stall selling fried chicken.

Of course S got the Fried Chicken Steak. Not bad but we later found better ones.

For myself, I ate at this stall.

I got the famous Fried Stinky Tofu. It did smell, but the taste was fantastic. I love how the outside is super crispy and they poke holes in the tofu so that the sauce is absorbed in. It comes with a side of pickled cabbage and chili sauce. So good!

We also ordered from the Drink Monopoly Shop. Be warned that unlike in Singapore, most of the menus are in Chinese in Taiwan. Vendors are still friendly so it shouldn’t be a problem asking even though there may be a communication barrier.

We got a simple Milk Tea with Pearls for only NT$40. Such a deal for bubble tea in Taiwan! Probably not the best in town, but pretty good in our standards.

Shida Night Market actually didn’t’ have as much food as we’d hope for compared to many of the other night markets. However, it had tons of cheap and stylish clothes. This is the trendy neighbourhood since it is near the National Taiwan Normal University or Shida University for short. Great for the ladies who love to shop.

After dinner at the night market, we headed back to Ximending to walk around. Always so much going on here!

We also scored a box of Chicken flavoured Lays Chips. As a foodie, I’m always trying new flavours from different countries! Had some munchies and played some games in our hotel room and called it a night!

Details:

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall: Take the Yellow or Green Line to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Station: No. 21, Zhongshan S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan • 10048

Taipei 101: Take the Red Line to Taipei 101 / World Trade Centre Station: No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei City, Taiwan 110

Din Tai Fung @ Taipei 101: B1 at Taipei 101

Tamsui Fishermen Wharf and Lover’s Bridge: Take the Red Line to Tamsui/Damshui Station (last station) and transfer onto a bus (either Red26, 836, or 857) and get off at the last stop, Fisherman’s Wharf:

Tamsui Old Street: Turn left when you get off Tamsui station and it’s a short walk: Section 1, Zhongzheng Rd, Tamsui District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 251

Shida Night Market: Take the Green Line to Taipower Building Station (Exit 3) and walk 5-10 minuntes along Shida Rd: Lane 44, Taishun St, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

 

Singapore & Taipei Trip (Day 8)

Day 8 of our trip in Singapore really only gave us enough time to grab breakfast and head to the airport since our flight was at around 10:30am. We went to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Hawker Center and tried Granny’s Pancake.

We got one Peanut and one Coconut Pancake and oh my goodness! These are so good! They are sort of like mochi cakes and the filling inside is really good. Must try! They are under a dollar too.

I ordered from San Yuan Gourmet which features different noodles soups.

I ordered the Laksa for a killer price of $2 SG. It came with bean sprouts, tofu puffs, fish balls, and fish cake. Really good!

S got a BBQ Pork Noodle. I don’t remember which stall he got it from.

I had the Grass Jelly Soya Bean drink again. We don’t seem to have this a lot in Vancouver.

The aunt then drove us to the Changi Airport. Such a nice modern airport. Security was very quick and we had tons of time to spare.

We took China Airlines again and took off at around 10:30am. At around 3:00pm, we arrived in Taipei. It’s actually a pretty long flight as the two cities are actually quite far. Luckily this aircraft was brand new and was barely at capacity so we had tons of space and great service.

We arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport and customs took quite a long time. Finally we collected our luggage and we went to the basement floor to the HiLife convenience store to retrieve my pocket WiFi we had rented. Wifi on the go is convenient so we had ordered online from iVideo before arriving. Super convenient as you just order in advance and pick up at your chosen location with two being in the airport. When you leave, you can drop it back at the same location. The employees were super helpful and friendly. Depending on which device you get, it can cost around CAD$15-18 for five days. If you can read Chinese, check out the Chinese version of the site and you can enter a promo code to get some discount off. We ended up paying only around $20 for 7 days. It can support up to 8 wifi devices so great to share. The only downside was the battery only lasted around 6 hours and it would shut down when we most needed it. Remember to bring a portable battery pack or purchase one to rent as well.

After picking up our wifi, we headed to the bus station. You can purchase your ticket easily inside with a vending machine. If you are going to city center like us, take the 1819 Kuo-Kuang Motor Transport and it will take you to Taipei Main Station where you can exchange to a metro or cab to get to your hotel. It’s a pretty long ride and took around an hour. It only costs NT$125 one way so around CAD$6.

As our hotel was right in the heart of Ximending, we had to transfer after getting off at Taipei Main Station. We decided to cab since our luggage was quite heavy. Cab fare was quite reasonable at around NT$100 and was only a short 5-10 minute ride. We stayed at Westgate Hotel which was awesome!

The rooms were spacious enough for us and the bed was comfy. The only weird thing is the sink is right at the entrance of the room but I didn’t mind it as I could use it while someone was in the shower. We paid less by choosing a room without windows but that actually didn’t bother us. There are tons of complimentary items including bottled water and a pineapple cake on the first day. Water and amenities are replaced every day if you finish.

The bathroom situation is pretty unique with the shower and toilet separate. Pretty good again since we don’t need to wait for one another. Loved the faucet of the shower with different massaging heads. The design was great so that none of the water spilled out. Only downside is that you sort of need to come out to get dressed so not ideal for sharing with friends.

Although Westgate Hotel was a bit pricier than the other options, one thing we loved about it was the location. Literally one minute away from the MRT and a step away from the crowds of Ximending. Ximending was super cool since it was sort of like Taipei version of Shibuya in Japan. Bright lights and tons of trendy young shops. Great for the young crowd!

Of course I had done my research for food, so we took a 10 minute walk to find Tao-Yuan Street Beef Noodle Shop. It’s a bit away from the bright lights and a little quieter in this area. It was pretty hard to find but look for that big red sign!

The tricky part is you also have to head up stairs. The waitresses barely speak English, but she was super nice and gave us a stack of all the order sheets that had gone through to show us what the popular dishes were. Menu is in Chinese so if you can’t read it… you’ll have to order with a surprise.

We both got the Signature Beef Noodle Soup with S getting one with all beef, while I got a mix of beef, beef tendon, and brisket. The noodles and soup were really good! My beef was really tender although S had a piece that had a lot of tendon in it and he didn’t quite like it. You pay when they place the bowl in front of you. A must try! Prices are around $6-8 a bowl. Consistent with Vancouver pricing.

After dinner, we headed back to the Ximending area and checked out the Ximen Red House. This is a historic theater and built back when this area was under Japanese rule. Today, it houses a display of the history of the structure, some cafes, and shops where artists sell art. Around this area, there was also a night market going on where many vendors sold handmade products.

We then headed back into the busy streets of Ximending where there were tons of shops and food carts. This is actually the first pedestrian area and the largest in Taiwan.

Getting thirsty, we headed into a 7-11 to purchase my favourite Taiwanese fruit beers! These are so cheap here…at around less than CAD$2. Mango was my favourite! Oh and by the way, 7-11s are literally on every block of this area!

The famous Modern Toilet was a place I wanted to see. I’ve heard negative reviews about the food, but I’m a sucker for restaurants with a cool design so I wanted to check it out.

The restaurant’s ambiance definitely wowed us. Super fun since you sit on a toilet and everything is just bathroom themed.

They serve actual meals, but I heard pretty bad things about it, so we decided that desserts couldn’t be too bad… Well we were wrong. We ordered the Passionfruit Shaved Iced and this was the largest bowl of shaved ice I’ve seen! But it was also disgusting.. The toppings they put on there were the sweetest and cheapest stuff ever. We barely made it through because it was so sweet and it just didn’t taste any good!

We also ordered the Fresh Milk Boba and paid extra to have it in an urinal. This was also disgusting…

Apparently fresh milk literally means fresh milk… I guess we missed the word tea in it? So we were served fresh milk in an urinal and for some reason the inside looked really dirty… Why was their brown stuff in it? The pearls were pretty good though as they were the clear ones which I haven’t tried before. But other than that, Modern Toilet was a miss and I would recommend skipping it altogether.

Since we were pretty tired from our flight, we headed back to our hotel and called it a night.

Details:

Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Hawker Center: 210 Lor 8 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310210

Taipei Westgate Hotel: No.150 Sec.1 Zhonghua Rd Wanhua Dist. 10843 Taipei (Take 1819 Kuo-Kuang Motor Transport to Taipei Main Station and change to Line 5 to Ximen Station Exit 6 OR take a cab when you arrive at Taipei Main Station)

Tao-Yuan Street Beef Noodle Shop: No. 15, Taoyuan St, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Ximen Red House: No. 10, Chengdu Rd, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108

Modern Toilet (Ximending branch): 108, Taiwan, Taipei City, Wanhua District, Lane 50, Xining S Rd, 7號2樓