Visiting Taiwan’s Tallest Tower – Taipei 101

 

When mentioning modern Taipei, one building comes to mind. Looming over the city skyline, the iconic Taipei 101 in Xinyi District stands at 509m, with 101 floors, and is visible from miles and miles around. It used to be the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa opened in 2009. Now it holds eighth place.

Exiting from the subway, we craned our necks upwards and felt really tiny against the massive monolith. From our vantage point, It seemed to tower straight to the heavens…

Some interesting facts:

  • Designed to be both resistant and flexible, the building can withstand typhoon winds up to 60m/sec and strong earthquakes, making it one of the most structurally stable buildings ever constructed.
  • It is only 660ft from a major fault line.
  • Its foundation is reinforced by piles driven 80m into the ground.

Other than gawk and take pictures, there is also a shopping mall to explore at the base of the tower. Had a quick lunch at the food court with a bowl of fluffy white rice topped with various braised and waxed meats.

Getting There

Take the subway to Taipei 101/World Trade Center on the Red Line (Xinyi- Tamsui). The station exits directly at the base of the building.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Taipei, Taiwan

Possibly one of the most recognisable landmarks/tourist attractions in Taipei is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, dedicated to the former President of the Republic of China and whom many associate with the founding of modern Taiwan. So of course we couldn’t miss it while we were exploring the city! But first, a ride on the local subway…

Like in many major cities around the world, you purchase a subway card which can be topped up. London has the Oyster Card, Hong Kong uses the Octopus (what’s with all the seafood?), LA has TAP… and Taipei has its EasyCard. Self-reload stations are super convenient and easy to use – you simply place your card, put in the money, and it’ll top it up automatically. No small change? Don’t fret. There are staff-manned kiosks that will help you exchange your note to smaller ones.

Taipei’s subway system is divided into several lines, identified by colour. Be sure to get a map if you’re planning to use the LRT, coz it’s really quite useful and takes you to most attractions directly. For Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, we hopped onto the green line from Ximending and alighted two stops later.

If you’re unfamiliar with Taiwan’s history, this is a good place to get started. As some of you may know, Taiwan doesn’t have a very good relationship with China, since the latter considers Taiwan as part of China, while Taiwan wants to be recognised as a sovereign nation. This split can be traced back to the Chinese Qing dynasty, which annexed the island to Japanese rule in 1895. After the fall of the Qing and Japanese surrender came two groups fighting for control: the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, and the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang/ ROC), led by Chiang Kai Shek. In fact, Chiang was a popular choice, and before the infamous portrait of Mao was hung at Tiananmen Square, it was Chiang’s portrait in his place.

In-fighting resulted in the Chinese Civil War, and the ROC fled to Taiwan, where they continued to claim to be the legitimate government of China. They represented China at the UN until 1971,  until this claim was squashed when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) assumed China’s seat, bastardizing Taiwan’s claim.

Chiang Kai Shek served as the leader of the Kuomintang, and effectively ROC, from 1928 and 1975. Modern views are a mixed bag – some see him as a national hero who led the victorious Northern Expedition to subdue Chinese warlords (hence his popularity in China before) and achieving Chinese unification, while others see him as a champion of anti-communism. Less popular views of him come mainly from his political authoritarianism, charges of graft and ruling over a period of imposed martial law… which did not make him very different from the communist regime he was so against.

The memorial, a large white and blue building made from concrete and marble, is topped with a deep blue pagoda-like roof and smooth, squarish sides. There are 89 steps leading up to the hall, representing Chiang’s age when he died in 1975. The hall faces a large square, flanked on the sides by the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall.

 

The Front gate shares the same colour scheme and design.

The National Concert Hall. 

View of the square.

Inside is a bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek, with a Taiwan flag on each side. We were just in time for the changing of the guards! (hourly)

The change was slow, deliberate and precise. It took a good 10 minutes. Aside from marching, they also did some gestures with their gun-bayonets (?) and military salutations.

Downstairs is a museum dedicated to CKS, with various memorabilia such as paintings, letters, official documents, and even the car he used to ride in to functions/events.

Sedan chairs used to carry Chiang while on visits to villages.

Replica of the President’s office.

I like how they have water stations at tourist attractions around Taiwan! 🙂

Passing by a small but nicely kept park while on our way back to the train station.

CKS Memorial Hall is one of those places you must go to to experience a slice of Taiwan’s culture and history. Entrance is free.

CHIANG KAI SHEK MEMORIAL HALL 

No. 21, Zhongshan S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Opening hours: 9AM-6PM

Famous Mee Sua @ Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle, Ximending, Taipei

On our fourth day in Taiwan, we checked out of our hostel in Fengjia, Taichung and hopped onto a two-hour bus headed to the northern capital of Taipei. A bustling city of 2mil people, this modern metropolis is a quirky mix of old Japanese colonial lanes mixed with ultra-modern buildings, like the iconic Taipei 101. The city seemed slow to wake, as the streets were still relatively empty when we got to our accommodation at Ximen around 9-ish. Time to hunt for breakfast!

Several colourful floats were on display on the street, including an anime-esque Mazu (the Taoist Goddess of the sea) on clouds, complete with cute cartoon sea creatures.

Our hotel was conveniently located next to the shopping district, which comes to life at night and carries on until the wee hours of the morning. The scene during the day is more subdued, but there are still some shops and restaurants open to explore. 

One of the most famous stalls in Ximen is Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles, which dishes out ‘meesua’ or thin rice noodles in a soupy broth. The small kiosk was crowded with visitors! There were no tables; only a couple of chairs – so most patrons stood around and had their meal.

Service was fast, orderly and efficient. Staff ladled scoops of hot noodle broth from a giant vat into small paper bowls before topping them off with sauce and condiments.

Meesua is made from rice flour, with a soft, silky texture that slips down the throat. The broth, which is thick, goopy and starchy, has a smoked fish + meat flavour, as the base is made from bonito flakes. While some places put oysters in the meesua, Ay-Chung’s version is full of chewy pieces of pork intestine.

AY-CHUNG FLOUR RICE NOODLES 

No. 8-1, Emei St., Wanhua District, Taipei 108
Business hours:  (Mon – Thurs) 10 am – 10:30 pm; (Fri- Sun) 10am – 11pm

 

Fluffy Sheep & Beautiful Mountain Views – Cing Jing Farm, Taichung Taiwan

There are two must visit places while at the Nantou district in Taichung, Taiwan. One is Sun Moon Lake (check out my previous blog post!) , and the other is Cingjing, or Qing Jing Farm – a sprawling farm and tourist attraction high up in the mountains. The weather is chilly due to its high altitude, and a visit here in the different seasons yields a unique experience each time, as the landscape and surrounding greenery changes in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

20170214_155032-tileThe entrance is rather gimmicky – I’d do away with the castle and focus more on the whole rustic farm experience. 🙂

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We got here late and the farm was closing in an hour (!) so we made a beeline for the sheep pasture to catch them grazing before they were herded back to their pens. The landscape was breathtaking, with beautiful mountains shrouded slightly in mist, gentle rolling slopes and orange/red tinted trees all around (our visit was at the end of winter, so vegetation was still sparse and yellowish).

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There was a show area with ponies and horses.

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Early cherry blossoms, just beginning to flower. In Spring, the farm plays host to dozens of these beautiful blooms.

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Finally got to the grazing area! There were a dozen or more sheep, their fluffy beige coats giving them a puffy, fat appearance. Guests can feed them with pellets from a vending machine.

20170214_162121-tile 20170214_162659-tileA couple was there doing a wedding photoshoot. While the view was picturesque, I can’t imagine trudging through the mud and grass for those shots. When the bride was told to sit down and fan her skirt out behind her, I could see her wincing when a curious sheep sat right on her train, while others tried to nibble the hem of her gown! 😛

At 5pm, the shepherds came to get the sheep back to their pens. They whistled from the fence, and the sheep immediately fell into a ‘line’, trotting to the gate. Fascinating. 
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More pink cherry blossoms…

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And white ones!

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Tried out ‘Sheep’s milk ice-cream’. It was more ice than cream, less sweet and more milky.

 

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While you might not be able to see the sunset properly, the view in the evening is lovely. it gets cold so remember to bring a windproof jacket.

Getting There 

From Taichung City, take a 2-hour Nantou bus from Taichung Gancheng Bus Station, or board the bus from Taichung High Speed Rail Station. Bus schedule here:

ntbus.com.tw/cjfm.html 

 

Sun Moon Lake, Taichung Taiwan

Rise and shine – it’s another day in Taichung, Taiwan! Woke up at 7 so we could depart early from our hostel near Fengjia Market…but not without getting some breakfast! Since we stayed near a university, street stalls were crowded with students grabbing snacks and a quick brekkie.

20170214_085112-tileSimple but tasty! Sliced sausages, ham, omelette and cabbage for fibre.

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Two hour ride from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake – a popular tourist spot in central Taiwan. Greeted by the sight of red bananas!

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Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan and gets its name from its shape – apparently the east side resembles a sun while the west resembles a moon. I think it sounds romantic, like something out of a fairytale. 🙂 In the middle of the lake sits a small island called Lalu, considered sacred to the aboriginal Thao tribe who live around the area. Of course, there are local legends: Thao hunters discovered the lake while chasing a white deer through the mountains. They found the place beautiful and abundant with fish, so they settled there. There is a marble statue of a deer on the island.

Since the lake is so large (about 8km2), there are several piers, which brings visitors to the attractions, such as the Ci En Pagoda, the Wen Wu temple and the Syuanguang Temple, where we were headed.

20170214_111147-tileBoat ride. Water was a beautiful deep turquoise colour 🙂 The lake is 27m deep – not for a swim. They do have an annual swimming festival though, which attracts thousands of participants.

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Passing by Lalu island – it is tiny! 

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Alighting at the pier. Boats are frequent so don’t fret. 

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The temple and its grounds had a Shinto-esque feel: wooden shrines and archways, tall, overhanging bamboo plants and quiet, Zen-like paths. Easy to forget we were still in Taiwan and not some Buddhist temple in Kyoto.

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Tried herbal tea eggs from a stall here which was packed with tourists. They came piping hot in a plastic baggie; the aroma of tea leaves and herbs wafting into the air along with steam. Tea eggs are very popular in Taiwan and you’ll find them everywhere, from street stalls to 7-11 kiosks and restaurants. Usually made in a big vat, piled atop each other, the eggs need to be peeled (they flake off easily though) and taste absolutely delicious. The egg white turns brown from absorbing tea and herb essence, while the yolk inside takes on a creamy consistency.

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Path up to the temple. The weather was mild and perfect for a quiet stroll. There weren’t too many tourists during our visit. 🙂

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At the top of the hill is Syuanguang Temple, dedicated to the Tang-dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang whose travels to India to seek Buddhist scriptures inspired the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Built in 1955, the building houses part of his remains in the form of bone fragments.

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View from the top of the hill. In Chinese belief, this is perfect fengshui – water at the front, mountains at the back.

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A group of devotees/tourists chanting prayers with a monk over a hotpot (?) of herbs and tea.

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Took the boat to the next pier to grab lunch. That niche you see on the far side of the hill is a cable car leading to a theme park of sorts. We didn’t have enough time to check it out though.

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As it is with tourist attractions, there were a lot of shops and vendors selling local delicacies. We wandered around and after looking at the overinflated prices at ‘proper’ restaurants, decided to get snacks instead.

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The Taiwanese sweet sausage – you can’t escape it coz it’s literally sold everywhere, on every street corner and at every night market.

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20170214_130526-tileA very nice lady selling grilled pork ears fresh off the hotplate. They tasted kinda meh though.

Getting There 

If you’re travelling from Taipei, board a High Speed Rail train to Taichung HSR station (about an hour’s journey). Transfer to Nantou Bus at the station, directly to Sun Moon Lake.

Useful schedule here 

 

Windmills and Sunset @ Gaomei Wetlands, Taichung Taiwan

When our tour bus rolled up to Gaomei Wetlands, about two hours away from Taichung City, I thought the scene looked familiar – rows and rows of spinning windmills, twirling against a flat expanse of land and river. Then I realised why – it was the scene from the 白色风车 (Bai Se Feng Che – literally ‘White Windmill’) music video from my favourite teenage heartthrob back in the days, Jay Chou. I feel closer to him already 😀

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These aren’t your typical windmills – they’re massive. Towering several stories high, the windmills generate electricity for households and are owned by the Taiwan Power Company. Due to the lay of the land, which is flat and uninhibited by structures or trees, the wind here is very strong – at points we felt ourselves swaying while walking! The entire Wetlands comprises some 1,500 acres and is home to a rich ecology. Flocks of migratory birds come to stay for the fall and winter, making it a great spot for bird-watching.

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Long concrete walkways – one at the bottom, the other elevated.

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Wooden gazebos where one can stop and take in the sights.

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At the end of the road is a lighthouse. Didn’t manage to visit it though.

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Waiting for sunset.

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The sun sets fast, and one feels a sense of romantic nostalgia, watching the glowing orb sink into the horizon against a beautiful tapestry of red, orange, pink and purple that’s almost devoid of clouds. Even fi you’re not a fan of Jay Chou, worth a visit! 🙂

Getting There 

Since the location is remote, you could rent a taxi/van (like what we did). Public transport is trickier:

By Bus:

Bus 93 to DaJia. Alight at QingShui Main Stop. Ride takes 1.5 hours, and comes every 20-30 minutes. Then take 178# or 179# to GaoMei Wetlands.

By Train: 

Walk from the High Speed Railway Station to Xinwuri TRA Station (5 – 10mins), and take the local train to Qing Shui. Proceed with bus ride to GaoMei Wetlands.

 

Shinshe Lavender Cottage, Taichung – Not for Singles

It took me awhile to find out what this place is called. Tourism in Taiwan caters mostly to an Asian crowd (you’ll see a lot of domestic holiday-goers, Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) and as such, it was hard to find English signs and place names. My cousin, who organised our trip there, simply told me this was ‘the love garden’ and that didn’t turn up anything on the search engine lol.

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Shinshe Lavender Cottage is about an hour’s drive away from Taichung City and a tranquil spot to chill. While it’s not a bad place, if I had been planning the trip, I wouldn’t choose this as a spot – not only is it out of the way, the ticket is overpriced and it’s a typical tourist trap, especially for couples. If you’re single, I suggest you skip this coz there’s literally nothing you can do without a constant reminder of your single-dom. lol.

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Trekking up to the garden area, which is on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. Trees and shrubs line the pathway, which has love quotes embedded into it at intervals, as well as stone displays with poetry and more quotes (all in Mandarin, of course).

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The garden was cute, but not very impressive. There were several European-style ‘cottages’, housing souvenir shops and cafes. Like many tourist places in Taiwan, the price of the admission ticket includes a voucher to spend, so they are essentially forcing you to buy stuff lol. I got a keychain and some lavender-scented pouches.

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Another souvenir shop selling overpriced necklaces, brooches and silver jewellery to gift to your girlfriend (or boyfriend).

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Wooden spoons which you can get from the workshop. They even throw in calligraphy/writing services for free. Couples write their wishes on to the spoons and hang them up on the hedge, like love locks.

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A good place to drop on your knees and… tie your shoelaces?

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Not a real piano.

There were actually lots of couple props, ie hedges cut into heart shapes, hanging frames with love quotes, kissing cutouts, etc. which were all a little too sickly sweet for my taste lol so I didn’t put any pictures up here.

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The main courtyard with a cafe and a fountain.

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Personally, Shinshe was not one of my favourites spots, but apparently they have a very nice lavender field in spring and summer so you might want to time your visit properly. 🙂

No. 20, Zhongxing St, Xinshe District, Taichung City, Taiwan 426
Opening hours: 10:30AM–6:30PM

Paper Castles and Cardboard Animals – Carton King Creativity Park, Taichung

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Stepping into Carton King Creativity Park in Taichung City is like taking a trip to a make-believe Wonderland. There are colourful baubles hanging from wooden rafters at the entrance, with a host of bright yellow flowers to the left, and fat little bunnies and alpacas at the end of the narrow path. Catch is – they’re all made from corrugated paper and cardboard! 🙂

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The fun family-themed attraction has several branches around Taichung, each with its own unique displays. The one we went to was in Dakeng District, which is also their biggest.

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Paper bunnies; real leaves.

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The Carton King ‘Zoo’ area had different types of animals. Good likenesses! Like a lot of attractions in Taiwan, descriptions were in Chinese. Which I can’t read. Sigh.

When you buy your entry ticket (NTD 200$ – about RM29 or USD6.50), they give you a paper with empty stamp slots. You’re supposed to hunt around the place for stamp ‘stations’ and stamp your card. Once complete, you can then exchange it for a souvenir. The ticket is rather pricey imo, but it also includes a NTD100$ voucher for you to buy gifts, snacks or drinks.

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Beyond the Carton King Zoo area is a large open space, divided into several sections. I initially thought the white mesh-like canopy was only there for aesthetic purposes, but saw that there were people walking on it. Climbed up the stairs and voila !

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The canopy is made from criss crossing steel wires so they can bear the weight of visitors walking around, and it has been fashioned like waves so the surface is uneven. Trees poked up from beneath at intervals. It was quite difficult to walk around without tripping though lol.

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The canopy extended past several elevated attractions, forming bridges to the second floor of buildings nearby. The wooden platforms housed cutesy box-shaped characters – is that Dora the Explorer in a pink dress?

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View from the upper floors. There was a shop selling honey and honey-based products, with – guess what – bee figures made from paper and cardboard honeycombs. There were also real bees in glass tanks.

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Back downstairs.

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Stopping for a quick snack of fried oyster mushrooms, which I used up my coupon for.

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Cikgu Lim

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The main compound, which has large paper replicas of attractions from around the world, including the Coliseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Great for selfies, if you’re into that sort of thing 🙂

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Popping in to the souvenir shop.

20170213_140206-tileThe L’arc de Triomphe.

Managed to collect all the stamps and got a simple paper house set which I could assemble at home. All in all, a fun place to visit for people who like taking photos – although there’s not much in way of culture. Families, especially those with kids, will probably enjoy this place.

CARTON KING 

No. 1, Lane 281, Section 3, Xitun Road, Xitun District, Taichung City, Taiwan 407
Opening hours: 11AM–8PM
PS: Been trying hard to schedule posts daily, but things have just been hectic. Hopefully I’ll be back to regular programming soon! 🙂