Taiwan

Breakfast at Ximen

I’ve been back from Taipei for almost a week now and I already miss my usual Taiwanese breakfast chow. Oatmeal, even with peanut butter, just doesn’t compare.  

One lives for Taiwanese breakfasts (well…aside from the night markets). They’re tasty and cheap and you can find them everywhere including Ximending,  my favorite area to stay whenever I’m in Taipei because of its energy.  While the rest of the establishments are still asleep (except for a few cinemas), the hawker stalls  are all awake and alive.  

You can always brave the lines at nearby Fu Hang Dou Jiang (and you should, at least once because aside from the good eats you are well… a tourist.. and that’s what tourists do.. eat at rated places) but if you want a little more variety, head to this section of Ximending.  These stalls have never failed me in all those times I was in Taipei.

Have you had enough of xiao long bao? Then try these two stalls that sell pan-fried dumplings for a different experience.  There are round ones . . .

and long ones!

I really can’t say which I like more as they both have different flavors and textures.  Why stress yourself out?  Have both!  Douse them with soy sauce and some chili!  Really really good!

For something heavier, there are stalls that dish out Taiwanese “pancakes” which you can have plain or with egg, bacon, ham, pork fillet, and other stuff.

Want some rice?

Obviously, you have to go to one of the steel benches around the area to enjoy your breakfast.  Bring some baby wipes too to clean your sticky hands.  There are 7-11s where you can get a drink and some good coffee.  

Enjoy!

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Taipei Airport MRT

Taipei finally has its own airport MRT!  Pleasantly surprised to find out that the line finally opened just Feb 2 with a 1 month free trial.  Arriving in Taipei, I took the usual Kuo Kuang airport bus to Taipei Main Station as it was just 7am and I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the city.  Heading to the airport, I took the MRT as it had an in-town check in.

On the advise of Esther, the super- friendly and helpful front desk staff at Holiday Fun, it was better to alight from the Beimen MRT coming from Ximen as it was a shorter walk to comnect to the airport MRT rather than from Taipei Main Station.

At Beimen, simply follow the signs that lead you to wide airconditioned corridors.

At the station, you can check-in if you’re taking a China Airlines or Eva Air flight. 

There are also self-service kiosk to check-in or print your boarding pass.

I had already checked-in online, hence I just dropped my luggage at the self-service area.  The service is really cool!  

You put your luggage on the compartment and scan your boarding pass (I had an e-pass on my phone).

Print the luggage tag and attach to your luggage.

Go to the monitors and make sure you see your luggage go through the x-ray.

That’s my luggage on the left monitor. 

You’re all set!  So convenient!  

I had an Easy Card so I simply added NT 100 to its existing balance to pay for the NT 160 Express to Terminal 2.  

Here are the stops.

If you’re doing an in-town check-in, take note that you need to check-in at least 3 hours before your flight.  Here are the guidelines.

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Taipei Tip: Where to buy those sausages

Sausages are EVERYWHERE on the streets of Taipei and aside from pineapple cakes, nougats, and other Taiwanese snacks, they’re the perfect stuff to bring back home.  Nothing like sausages to remind you of Taiwan.

So, where to buy them?  I always head to this local grocery at the corner of Kunming and  Changshan.  It’s easy to find.  Just walk along Kunming.  If coming from Ximen MRT Exit 6, walk along Chengdu (the road where Watson’s is) then turn left to Kunming.  Walk straight until you get to Changshan Road.


 You’ll see the blue Chinese sign.

The sausages are in the open freezer at the back.  They cost from NT 87-99 depending on the weight and the brand.  Previously I have been able to buy the rice “sausages” used to sandwhich the sausages but there were none this time.  

Other food stuff you can buy are braised tofu and tea eggs. 

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Cheap Eat at Ximen

Along Kunming St st the Ximen area is a traditional Taiwanese lunch box eatery. Good for when you’re looking for a rice meal without breaking your travel budget. I’ve eaten here in my past trips and have always enjoyed the food.  It’s a break from all the street food and noodle soups.

A Taiwanese lunchbox sets consists of a serving of rice topped with vegetables and a serving of protein of your choice such as a large fillet of pork, fried chicken, or fried fish.  It’s really filling and cheap.
At 156 Lunchbox, you choose 2 vegetable sides and main meal from a counter. 

You read it right!  It only costs NT 70!  You can dine inside or have it taken out.  

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My Happy Place in Taipei: Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is one place that you wish you had visited much earlier in your trip so you can go back again and again and again.

After spending my mornings reading and writing at the Starbucks at Kunming St. I wish I had spent it here instead. The cool air, leafy suroundings, and peaceful setting will definitely keep the intellectual juices flowing.

See this red pavilion?  Perhaps the next conference paper will be written here . . .

… or here . . .                                                           

. . . or here.

Being a weekday mid-morning, there weren’t too many people.  There were small groups of school children out on an education trip but the place was still quiet and peaceful.  

The park was a former tobacco factory in the 1940s and which has been turned into a complex that incorporates creative spaces for exhibits, design shops, and commercial purposes without detracting from the heritage architecture and layout.  On one side fronting a huge open space used for events is Eslite hotel and the Eslite mall, the only modern sttuctures in the park.  

The original factory structures such as the warehouses and the offices have been retained and re-purposed to house shops, exhibit areas, offices, etc.

I’m a fan of windows, especially large ones; hence, I was taken in by the tall windows of the factory buildings which make them look and feel airy and light.

The buildings have been left as they were but retrofitted thereby preserving the design.

Even the restrooms are consistent with the scheme. I love the tiles and wooden cabinets.

The factory buildings look out to a lovely Baroque garden.  I just wish there were benches near the fountain.  It would have been nice to just sit.  

Design is the heart and soul of the park so expectedly, there is a design museum.  

Creativity runs high at this place.  Taipei, after all, is one of the most creative places on this side of the world.

Nice and quirky stuff, albeit pricey, can be bought at a couple of shops which also double as cafes.

One of the structures was converted into a cozy bookshop-cafe.  Wouldn’t you want to go in a bookshop that looks like this?  

There was an exhibit called, “Wake up Taiwan” in one of the galleries which showed roosters of all shapes and designs.  Rooster crowing = Wake up!  Get it?

Check-out the mirrored toilet in the gallery.  I could piss here forever!

There are cafes such as Luili and Cafe Sole.  The latter had a delicious Ginger and Brown Sugar Latte.

I really enjoyed the wide open spaces of the park and could have easily spent the entire day here if it weren’t for the cold weather and my lack of a jacket.

TIPS

Take the Bannan Line to Taipe City Hall MRT. Take Exit 1.  Upon exiting,  turn right and cross the road.  Walk straight ahead and then turn right (you’ll see a sign).  The park will be on the left. 

There is no entrance fee but the exhibits do have. I paid NT50 for the Wake Up Taipei exhibit.

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The Soundscape of Longshan Temple

I’ve visited Longshan a few times in the past and have always found it engaging as it’s always busy with people praying, making offerings, lighting josticks, or like me and a dozen other tourists, marveling at the architectural details and the unfolding scene of worshippers.

This afternoon, I headed to the underground mall at Longshan MRT in the hope of finding a wooden clapper called pai ban.  The shops at the mall were stocked with various religious items none of which were what I wanted.  I headed to the temple instead and found myself immersed in a sonic landscape of Buddhist chanting punctuated by percussion instruments. 

The entire inner complex reverberated with the chant as people lined the pathways and the space fronting the main hall.  They were reading from little red books.

As I drew closer to the main hall, the chanting grew deeper and more resonant as the inner hall reverberated.  Inside, women in brown robes led the chanting.

This was no static religious service, however.  People continued to come and go while the chantimg continued like a drone that seemed to make the people’s actions even more meaningful.

The chanting ended around 5pm about an hour since I arrived.  The people broke-up and an old guy collected the little red books. 

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A Kneaded Massage in Taipei

That’s what I felt like—a glob of dough bejng kneaded.  The 60-something bespectacled uncle seemed seriously intent to mash, knead, and pummel every knot on my body, particularly the back of my legs and thighs which I asked him to focus on.  Walking on the streets of Taipei the whole day has taken its toll.

 In all my previous trips to this city, I’ve never had a massage.  Coming from a country where good legit massages can cost as low as USD 7 an hour, paying triple that in Taipei is enough to ease any muscular pain.  However, I decided to have one last night.  You know, just to write it off my bucket list.  Besides, I always get massages every where I travel.  So why exempt Taiwan?

I went to Royal Bali Spa at the corner of my hostel along Kunming St. in Ximen.  There was another massage place just beside it but it looked too industrialized— people seated close to each other while aunties and uncles churned-out one foot massage to another.  The Royal Bali seemed more tranquil with its wooden interiors, soft lights, and fisherman pants wearing staff.  Paid NT 1499 cash (NT 1899 if card) at the reception and told them I wanted a male therapist.  In a few minutes, the bespectacled uncle arrived and escorted me to a curtained cubicle at the spacious second level.  There was a large plastic basket for putting your stuff and hangers for clothes.  Disposable undies were provided.  The bed was quite narrow but at least it had a disposable top sheet.

I laid on my stomach and in a few minutes, uncle returned, showed me the stopwatch indicating a 1 hour and 30 minute session and started with a dry massage using his elbows and forearms.  The pressure was so heavy, I swear uncle had turned into an elephant.  It felt good however as I could feel blood rushing through my tight muscles.  The oil massage was equally rough.  It was no dreamy relaxing session. Uncle seemed to have noticed how tight my legs were as he mercilessly bore down my muscles with his thumbs.  Felt good again as the aches dissipated.  Turning on my back,  I winced as uncle brought his entire weight down my front and side thighs.  I had to signal him to ease off a bit.  Nevertheless, it was good.  By the time the timer went off, my body felt like it had been through a rolling pin, a meat tenderizer, and a bulldozer.  I am used to getting myofascial release therapy so the discomfort was not unknown to me as it merely indicated how tight my muscles and the fascia were. As I stood up, put on my clothes, and walked back to my hostel, I felt lighter.

P.s.  Just as I had read in blogs, there was no tipping.  Uncle simply said the session was over and he left.  Down at the reception, he was nowhere to be found and no one seemed to mind me. 

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Holiday Fun Hostel

Been staying at this nice place at the Ximen area since arriving in Taipei last Sunday. Affordable accomodations are not exactly easy to find in Taipei. I’m not very comfortable with dorm rooms and shared bathrooms which means I have a higher than usual expense for a budget traveler. My previous accomodations have been clean, comfortable, and accessible. My latest find, however, is the best.

Holiday Fun Hostel is at Ximen area about 10 minutes walk. From Exit 6 of MRT Ximen, just follow the road where Watson’s is (Chengdu Rd). Just go straight ahead past Xinyi South Rd. On the corner of Taipei Cooperative Bank across a Starbucks, turn right to Kunming Rd. Keep walking past the Taipei National Hospital. After the 2nd stoplight, you will see a massage shop. Turn left. You will see Cheers Hotel.
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Holiday Fun Hostel is beside it.
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My request for a first floor room when I booked at Agoda was granted. I was given A05 at the end of the corridor. On entering, I was really surprised how modern, neat, and clean it was. It looked more like a mini hotel room than a budget room in a hostel. It even had wallpaper!
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The room was quite small but it felt cozy rather than cramped. It was after all a single room so you can’t expect much of a space. Here’s a shot with all my stuff. You can see there’s enough space for my luggage and for me to move around.

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The bed was just the right size and comfortable. So was the pillow and the comforter. The a/c was quiet and strong. It made me just want to snuggle in bed.
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Beside the bed was a small ref and a room safe. This was such a surprise coz you’d usually only find these in proper hotels.
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Another surprise is the large window!
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The view isn’t much but anyone who stays at budget accomodations know that windows are a huge come-on. The back alley was quiet and the thick glass managed to keep any noise out.

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There’s also a large lcd tv fronting the bed.

The bathroom is modern and had complete amenities including a hair blower (not that I needed one).
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Everyone from the cleaning ladies to the front desk staff are very friendly and greet you all the time. My room was also cleaned every day and toiletries and bottled water replenished all the time.

Essentials
I booked Holiday Fun Hostel at Agoda. Take note that payment is refundable upon booking unlike other accomodations which let you cancel up to a certain time period.

Late check- out is NT300 hour. You can leave your luggage with them.

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Foreign and Disabled in Taipei

Saw this large sign on top of a building at Dinhua St. I just found it interesting that foreign workers and disabled workers are handled by a single office.

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After all, being a foreign laborer in a strange land does make you feel disabled to a certain extent.

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Conquering Din Tai Fung

After my  successful conquest of the famed pepper buns at the Raohe market, I set my sites on another goal— dining at the original Din Tai Fung at Xinyi Road. I was frustrated during my three previous trips to Taipei due to the long lines. Sure, a branch has opened in Manila but one gotta have the original at its birthplace.

I arrived at 12:30 and surprise, there wasn’t much of a crowd.

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According to the timer, there was only a 15-minute waiting time.

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I took a number at the reception and waited. Alice, the girl who registered me was very nice and on hearing that I was from the PH mentioned there was a branch there already. She handed me a picture menu and an order slip in English.

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My number appeared on the electronic board in ten minutes and I was told to go up to the second floor where I was led to a table. It was all so very efficient and quick.
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I have not tried the Manila branch so I can’t compare. The food arrived quickly. The pork siolongbao was very delicate. I wish ordered 8 pieces instead of 5.
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The noodles with minced pork was very tasty as it seemed to have chopped char-siu. I also liked the chewiness of the noodles, a sign of it being hand-made.
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Wanting to try a different kind of steamed bun, I ordered the vegetable and pork bun which arrived steaming hot. The dough was soft and had just the right amount of thickness.
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Just as enjoyable as my meal was the friendly and professional service. Everything was served with a smile.

When I left the restaurant, there was a large crowd outside already.
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