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! 🙂

Books, Bread and Ice Cream at Miyahara Optometry, Taichung

Nope, you read the title right. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you lol sorry I’m not that good with puns.

In the central district of Taichung City, an old eye hospital built in the 1920s is now a one-of-a-kind gourmet destination. Miyahara Optometry, established by Japanese ophtamologist Dr Miyahara Takeo during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, was once the largest eye clinic in Taichung. After the Japs left, the two storey red brick building was converted into a Health Center, but was left vacant for years after it was identified as a dangerous post-earthquake building. Just five years ago, the place was bought over, refurbished and turned into a bakery-cum-ice-cream store. Needless to say, the crowds have been non-stop ever since.

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Stepping into the place is like coming onto a Harry Potter set.. or is it that library we see in Beauty and the Beast? Walls are stacked from floor to ceiling with wooden shelves packed with books, while wooden staircases jut out from the side (they look like they can almost swivel around magically, just like at Hogwarts!)

Now known as Dawn Cakes Flagship Store, visitors can find a myriad of candies, chocolates and their ever famous pineapple cakes – not to mention a range of yummy-licious ice cream flavours next door. Even if you’re not buying anything, a trip here is worth it just for photos!

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Taiwan shares a lot of similarities with Japan when it comes to food trends ie they have things that look too cute to be eaten. Teddy-bear shaped chocolates, for example.

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Cakes, wafers, cookies and candies are wrapped in book-shaped boxes, complete with legit-looking, fancy covers.

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The second floor houses the Moon Pavilion Restaurant, which was closed during our visit.

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The arched passageway on the outside, overhung with old-looking lamps, was packed with people queueing up for ice-cream next door. Observation: Taiwanese are hardcore foodies, and won’t hesitate to line up for hours to get their fix of whatever snack they’re craving. At all the famous food spots, we had to line up for a good half an hour or more.

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Dozens of flavours to choose from! Here, one will find the basic types like Vanilla and Chocolate, but also rather unusual combinations and local flavours, like Pineapple and mango, and even Chinese tea.

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Our set of two scoops with wafer and three condiments (150NT). Opted for Salted Caramel and Tieguanyin (Chinese tea). I liked the salted caramel better because it had an addictive, salty-sweet quality. Tieguanyin was pretty good too, although a tad bitter. The sweet and fragrant flower-shaped floral cake, butter teddy cookie and raisins balanced everything out with some sweetness.

PS: The menu is all in Chinese. If you, like me, can’t read Chinese characters and you don’t have a translator, you can always point ! xD

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Other buildings in the vicinity are not so lucky.

Many people have been saying that the economy in Taiwan has stagnated in the past decade. As an outside observer, I think this is partially true. There doesn’t seem to be many new projects going on, and ongoing ones seem to have been halted. While the city is certainly developed, buildings look old and decayed – like they’re badly in need of a fresh coat of paint.’

But I digress.

The Miyahara Eye Hospital is a sight for sore eyes, and a treat for the tummy. A must visit while in Taichung! 🙂

MIYAHARA OPHTHALMOLOGY DEPARTMENT (Dawn Cakes Flagship Store)

No. 20, Zhongshan Rd, Central District, Taichung City, Taiwan

Open: 10am – 10PM

 

 

Rainbow Village, Taichung, Taiwan

*writing this while on a trip to Redang for work! Wifi is kinda wonky here, so I’m using my data. Sigh. 

With a population of 2.7mil, Taichung in the central region of Taiwan is one of its biggest cities – and a top spot for tourists to the island nation. There’s a good mix of family-friendly attractions, artistic hubs, beautiful natural landscapes and a burgeoning food scene… as I discovered on a recent trip there with the fam.

After an exhausting day taking the plane/transit/bus/taxi to our hostel near Fengjia Night Market the day before, we were glad that we’d be having a private mini-bus to take us around for the remainder of our trip in Taichung. Our first stop of the day? Rainbow Village. 

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Rainbow Village or Cai Hong Juan is one of Taichung City’s most popular tourist attractions, and for good reason. As our bus pulled to a stop near the complex, consisting of a playground and several low buildings surrounded by walls, the first thing that caught our eye was the colourful murals and paintings. Bright, funky, featuring outlandish cartoon characters and figures… it was like an acid trip through psychedelia.

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The amazing art is the brainchild of an old, retired veteran soldier, a Mr Huang  – who goes by the moniker ‘Caihong Ye Ye’ or Grandfather Rainbow. Back in the day, veteran ‘villages’ were built as simple housing for Kuomintang soldiers and their families after they retreated from Mainland China. Later on, many of these were sold off by the government so they could build new developments. Rainbow Village suffered the same fate, with houses being torn down one by one. Huang decided to paint his home over with colourful paintings, filling the walls and the alleyways with his unique work. It became a popular tourist attraction, and after protests by the general public, the ‘village’ was safe from demolition.

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The paintings have an almost surrealist quality to them!

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Yes, Caihong Yeye still lives here, and he still paints. His grandson runs a small souvenir shop in the building’s compound. 20170213_095821-tile 20170213_100103-tile 20170213_095645-tile 20170213_095003-tile 20170213_094939-tile 20170213_094718-tile 20170213_094651-tile

Entry to Rainbow Village is free, but donations are welcome. While it’s not very big, it’s a nice place to spend an half an hour/an hour taking pretty pictures and supporting an artist.

How to Get There 

Take bus #27-29-30-40, heading towards Lingtung University. Once there, walk 400m to the south along Lingtung Road. The village is on the right. Buses 56# and 89# also service the route at the north side of Lingtung University.

 

 

Taiwan : First Impressions / FengJia Night Market

Growing up, I listened to Taiwanese music from Energy/F4/Jay Chou/ F.I.R and watched Dao Ming Si on Meteor Garden like everyone else – but I’ve never thought of setting foot in Taiwan. Partly, it’s the language barrier, since I speak elementary Chinese and it’d be difficult to get around. So when my cousin suggested that we go for a fam trip there (and that he’d be planning the itinerary!), I thought it’d be a good idea to see what the island nation had to offer.

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We departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on a four hour Cathay Pacific flight to HK, where we’d then switch to Taipei. Seats were cosy and spacious, with lots of inflight entertainment. Alternated between watching Dr Strange and falling asleep. Also a nice brunch of egg omelette, beef sausage and tomatoes, fruit, bread and yoghurt.

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Rushing to make the connecting flight at HKIA. The place is huge, we literally ran past dozens of boarding gates.

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1.5 hours later, our plane touched down in Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei. The airport had impressive, uniform designs that were simple yet elegant. Since it was end-winter, weather was cold, hovering just below the 20s.

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Coming from Malaysia where we get alot of different races, it was a little weird coz everywhere I turned were Asian faces, be they Chinese/Taiwanese/South Koreans/Japanese/Malaysian-Chinese or Singaporeans.

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Had to wait for our coach to Taichung (which would take another two hours) so I popped into a convenience store for some snacks. I like how their 7-11s and minimarts have a section for hot food, featuring various snacks on skewers (fish cakes, fish balls, meat balls, sausages) as well as the mandatory herbal eggs.

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Our bus ride to Taichung, a bustling city in the middle of Taiwan, was uneventful. Upon arrival, we hopped into a cab and made our way to our hostel, located right smack in the middle of Taichung’s biggest night market – Feng Jia Night Market. ‘Busy’ is an understatement. The place was packed with people looking for supper – and boy oh boy, were they spoilt for choice. Steamed and fried dumplings, stinky tofu, grilled meats, boba tea, fried ‘popcorn’ chicken.. the market was a snack lover’s wet dream. It’s actually quite similar to the Malaysian pasar malam. 

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Large, colourful banners advertising each stall’s specialty hung overhead, fluttering slightly in the wind. The smells of food wafted into the cold winter air. We had to keep an eye on each other in the group so we wouldn’t get lost, as the interconnected streets were quite confusing. There weren’t too many street signs in English and the Taiwanese aren’t good at speaking it either, so if you don’t know Chinese you’re screwed lol.

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Apparently Taiwan gets a significant number of Malaysian-Chinese tourists. We were tickled to find a Teh Tarik (Malaysian pulled tea) stall all the way here.

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Assortment of grilled and braised meats. Taiwanese cuisine is often grilled, braised or fried.

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Freshly grilled scallops.

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Food stalls weren’t the only thing on sale. There were also lots of shops selling phone and camera accessories at overinflated prices – as is common with tourist spots.

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One of the storefronts had two large vats with fishballs swimming in them, and the smell was super appetising so we stopped there for dinner. 🙂

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Glutinous rice dumpling, which was quite similar to the bakchang we have in Malaysia. Its usually steamed with goodies inside; salted egg yolk, mushrooms and pork/chicken.

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Mention Taiwanese food and chances are ‘Oyster Mee Sua’ would pop up. Meesua is a thin, silky noodle and the version here is cooked in a starchy broth with juicy oysters, then drizzled over with vinegar. A warm bowl of this just warms you up in cold weather! Also had a platter of braised pork intestines – chewy, salty goodness. Yes, I’m aware of the cholesterol levels, but one has to live to eat.

More of Taiwan to come soon!