Shilin Night Market

16 12 2007

A trip to Taiwan would not be complete without a visit to one of the island’s ubiquitous night markets. Almost every night, food and merchandise vendors will line the streets in little pockets all over the city hawking their wares and snacks. Some larger markets will even include a section of low tech carnival games. The Taiwanese night market is a combination of medieval market, food bazaar, and carnival show all rolled into one. In Taiwan, everyone goes to the night market, from children to teenagers to adults and to grandparents. As you can see from the picture below, night markets are frequently packed, noisy, and full of excitement.

Night Market

On this visit, we decided to check out Shilin Night Market, the most popular night market in Taipei. The night market is located right off the Jiantan MRT stop on the red line, the station before the actual Shilin stop.

The night market is a showcase of Taiwanese street food.

Chinese Sausages

Yummy! Freshly grilled chinese sausages and luo mi chang, aka dua deng (rice stuffed in sausage casings) are among my favorite foods.

Night Market

Grilled corn on the cob

Night Market

I’m not really sure what these are. They look like candied tomatoes.

Night Market

The main food tent is located just across the street from the MRT stop. Inside are a bunch of food stands catering to every taste.

Stinky Tofu

Taiwan’s famous stinky tofu. This is an acquired taste, but I love it!

Night Market

Some boiled Oden, including my favorite Ah Hue and Di Hue, or gelatinous rice.

Night Market

There are also numerous fruit smoothie and dessert stands.

Night Market

There is a small clothing and merchandise area under the tent.

Outside the food stands is a game area filled with low tech carnival games.

Night Market Games

You can win cheap plastic toys that are made in Taiwan!

Night Market Games

After exploring the large tent area, you can walk across the street away from the MRT station and follow the street stands down a few blocks for more shops selling everything you would ever need to live in Taiwan, including clothes, CDs, housewares, electronics, and more. The things sold here are of the cheapest quality, so buyer beware. However, you can get some great bargains as long as you understand what you buying in terms of quality. Bargaining is expected.

Night Market

Although the food here is cheap, delicious, and plentiful, be aware that these street stands are not the most hygienic. Therefore as a general rule you should examine the stands and make sure they look clean and have lots of customers before trying the food. This is not to discourage trying the food here. You would be missing out on one of the best places to get authentic Taiwanese street food. Rather, there are many cleaner food stands out there and one should endeavor to eat there, even if they are more expensive. If you are unsure, don’t feel like you need to eat here. You can always go to the food court at Taipei 101, which serves many of the same Taiwanese dishes, albeit the more sanitized (and sometimes blander) versions.





Review: TS Hotel in Ximending

7 12 2007

On the recommendation of forumers from tripadvisor’s Taiwan message board, we stayed at the Ta Shun Hotel (TS Hotel), a modest hotel located on Hanzhong Street near Changsha Street. We found the rooms to be very clean and equipped with every convenience. Every room came with a flatscreen LCD TV (of course, since this IS Taiwan) with cable, a refrigerator, a hot water heater for tea, and a free high speed internet connection. Best of all, the location one block from the Ximen MRT stop could not be beat.

TS Hotel

The hotel’s decor is modern and quintessentially Asian. I’m not sure why heart pillows are so popular in Taiwanese hotels.

TS Hotel

Can you tell where the bathroom is? Hint: It is on the right side of the picture above.

TS Hotel

When closed, the bathroom door blends right into the wall.

TS Hotel

The bathroom was spotless, and every room has a spa shower. I love figuring out hotel bathrooms in Asia. Many of the newer hotels are equipped with the latest in bathroom technology. The shower was a little complicated to figure out at first, but it was worth it.

Shower

The room charge includes free breakfast every morning in the dining room off the lobby. We only used our vouchers once, since we wanted to eat as many different foods as possible in Taiwan. Breakfast consisted of a small buffet with rice porridge and side dishes, in addition to toast, jam, and butter.

There is a convenience store across the street, and it is literally 1.5 blocks away from the Ximending pedestrian area. About a block away on the way to the Ximen MRT station, there is a 85 degree bakery cafe. Todd from The Daily Bubble Tea translated one of their menus in this fun post.

Treats

Overall, we were pleased with our stay here. The hotel was clean, the staff was helpful and polite, the price was right, and the location was extremely convenient. I am very thankful we found such a good recommendation from the experts on the tripadvisor forum!

Check out other Hotel Reviews I have for Taiwan.

HOTEL DETAILS:

Ta Shun Hotel – TS

No. 170-172, HanZhong St., Taipei, Taiwan

Tel:886-2-2381-8710

reservation@tshotel.com.tw

The hotel is currently running promotional room rates ranging from NT$1,080 for a single room to NT$2,380 for a double room, and there are several types of rooms in between.





Exploring Ximending

4 12 2007

Since Ximending was our home base while in Taipei, we were able to see a lot of this area. Ximending was actually set up by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan as an entertainment and business area. The Red House Theater (pictured below), built in 1908, is one of the few surviving buildings from that era. The theater started as a public market before becoming a venue for storytelling and Chinese opera. Today, the theater hosts art and history exhibits.

Red House Theatre

During the day, Ximending is much quieter and very much like any normal street in Taipei. Small mom-and-pop shops, cafes, and convenience stores line the street level entrances of each building, while residences are stacked on top. The street where our hotel was located had a lot of uniform and performance costume shops (i.e. dance, cheerleading, etc…).

One of our best finds in Ximending was a coffee shop called Fong Da Coffee, located at 42 Chengdu Road. Although there is a Starbucks at every corner in Taipei, we love exploring independent coffee shops and this place did not disappoint. Fong Da Coffee is an old fashioned coffee shop established in 1956 that also serves little Taiwanese treats such as almond brittle, temple sugar squares, and other small baked goods.

The coffee shop displays a variety of old fashioned coffee implements all over the shop, which only adds to the quaint atmosphere.

Fong Da Coffee

The shop roasts its own coffee beans with this old fashioned roaster.

Fong Da Coffee

Fong Da Coffee

The coffee itself was excellent. While in the shop, I had a cappuccino and Charles had an iced coffee. Apparently, Fong Da is well known for its delicious iced coffee.

Fong Da Coffee

We were so impressed with the coffee that we bought two bags to take home with us. Fong Da roasts almost 30 varieties of exotic coffees right in their store, including Peruvian, Panamanian, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Kona, and Mount Everest. We bought the coffee from Mount Everest (I don’t remember the exact name and we finished all of it) and the house roast. The Mount Everest coffee was very mild. My mom got the bag of the house roast and she loved it.





Glamorous Ximending

16 11 2007

Ximending is the Shibuya/Harajuku of Taipei.  Every night, and even more so on the weekends, throngs of young people flock to the pedestrian area right outside the Ximen MRT stop to shop, eat, and socialize.  Giant ads and screens light up the night sky and bursts of pop music fill the air while young men and women browse the boutiques and shops wearing the latest trends. 

Ximending

We decided to stay in the Ximending area because of its convenient location in the Wanhua district.  The hotel in which we stayed, Ta Shun Hotel, was also highly recommended on the Taiwan tripadvisor forums.  I will review the hotel in another post.  But most importantly, we stayed in Ximending because it is very “re nao.”  “Re nao” is a Chinese term that literally means “Hot Noisy” and refers to a place that is exciting, loud, and busy. 

Ximending

Ximending

Although there is a branch of the Eslite bookstore/department store here, the main attractions are the little shops and boutiques selling cute trinkets and clothes.

Ximending

Ximending

Ximending

Food carts line the boulevard, but they are technically illegal.  Every hour of so, a police officer walks down the street, dispersing all the food stands.  The owners of the food stalls quickly wheel away their stands.  Within 2 minutes of the police officer’s departure, the food stands are back selling their edible wares.  You can see the police officer in the picture below.

Ximending

Since this is a trendy, hip area, there are many American fast food joints.  They even had Dunkin Donuts.  This is the largest KFC I have ever seen!

KFC in Ximending

Ximending is less glamorous and more quiet during the daytime.

Ximending





Taipei 101 and the Xinyi District

9 11 2007

As Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei is the political, financial, and cultural center of the island. Taipei is a modern metropolis with world class shopping, dozens of museums, a wide variety of excellent restaurants, and history, all connected by one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

The Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which was completed just a few years ago, is clean, reliable, convenient and made me have major public transit envy. The MRT is 1000x better than the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). If you are staying in Taipei for more than a day, I would suggest buying an Easy Card. Easy Cards are available at all MRT stations and convenience stores in Taipei. They cost NT$500, which include a NT$100 deposit and NT$400 in transit credits. With this card, you can easily swipe in and out of MRT stations and not have to worry about calculating your fares. MRT fares are based on distance. If there is any money left over at the end of your stay, you can get the amount remaining on your card refunded and the NT$100 deposit back at any MRT station booth.

After purchasing our Easy Cards, Charles and I decided to get out and explore Taipei. Since I first heard about the food court at Taipei 101, I have always wanted to go. Dinner time was a’calling so we made our way over there. We took the MRT from our hotel in Ximending and alighted at the Taipei City Hall station in the Xinyi district. The Xinyi district is one of the most modern districts in Taipei, and home to the Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei 101, Taipei City Hall, and tons of shopping, movie theatres, and restaurants.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until July 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Dubai in UAE. Designed by C.Y. Lee, Taipei 101 is mostly office space except for the observatory on the 91st and 89th floors, restaurants on the 85th floor, the large shopping mall at the base, and of course the wonderful food court in the basement. The building was designed to look like a tall sheaf of bamboo. When I first saw this building being built, I thought it was really ugly. After learning a little more about its architecture, I’ve grown to appreciate the design a little more. I like the idea that it represents a bamboo stalk that is strong and flexible at the same time. The building is built to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.

Taipei 101

We visited the shopping mall and food court, but decided to forgo the observatory. Taipei 101 is considered the nicest/poshest/most expensive shopping mall in Taiwan, and international brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton are well represented. Since we didn’t have any interest in this kind of shopping (not to mention we can get international brands cheaper in the US), we bee-lined to the food court. When we arrived and saw the huge, clean food court featuring every kind of Asian food possible (and Subway, KFC, and McDonald’s) we were in food heaven! Just circling the area to decide where to eat was an adventure in itself. We were surrounded by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian stands, each specializing in a certain kind of food. There was a curry stand, a shave ice stand, a juice stand, a hot pot stand, and many many other varieties. The prices were a little higher than normal street stand prices, but did not seem as expensive as US prices.

Taipei 101 food court

I am compelled to take pictures of every KFC I see in a foreign country.

After dinner, we walked around the Xinyi area to help us digest. Xinyi is considered the high end shopping district, similar to Michigan Ave in Chicago (or Fifth Avenue in NYC).

New York New York

This is the New York New York shopping center, which features casual American brand name stores such as Toys R’ Us, Apple, Marks & Spencer (not American as far as I know), Cold Stone Creamery, and, of course, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Xinyi

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Here is a view of one of the many buildings in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall complex. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi is a high end Japanese department store with stores all over Taiwan.

Warner Cinemas

The Warner Village Cinemas – where you can catch all the top American flicks.

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Interesting Public Art: It’s like a thumbs-up but with your toe.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the flagship of Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore is also located in Xinyi. With 7 floors of books, magazines, and mini specialty bookstores within the larger bookstore, it is reading heaven. We stopped by briefly intending to return, but we never did. Next time!

After walking around for a bit, we decided to head home. It seemed silly to shop for American products in Taiwan, where they are much more expensive, when we live in one of the biggest shopping cities in the US. However, it was nice to see that Taipei offered these kinds of beautiful and expansive shopping and entertainment areas for its residents and visitors. Not only are these areas good for the city’s image, but they are also revenue generators for the city. If I lived in Taipei, I would definitely shop here.





In Taipei: Taiwan Storyland

1 11 2007

After spending a few relaxing days in Central Taiwan, we boarded another train and headed north to Taipei.  We passed by more vignettes of small town Taiwan (by the train tracks).

Small Town

The mountains reappeared behind storm clouds and/or smog.

Countryside

I love seeing the mountains in the background.  It’s also good feng shui!

Countryside

After we arrived in Taipei, we dropped off our bags at the hotel.  Since (of course) it was raining, we decided to check out some indoor activities until it lightened up outside. 

My guidebook suggested a place called Taiwan Storyland, an underground replica of Taiwan from the 1950s – 1970s.  Taiwan Storyland is located across the street from Taipei Main Station and next to the local branch of the Shinkong Mitsukoshi department store in the basement of the K-Mall.  We found this attraction to be very stange but interesting at the same time.  Think of it as the Disney version of 1950-1970s Taiwan, complete with snack stands and restaurants every couple of feet, except that you are allowed to take pictures and there are no rides. 

Taiwan Storyland

When we first walked in, it was a little creepy because everything is so dark and since it was 1 PM on a weekday, it was a literal ghost town.  Music popular from the 1950s played softly in the background, and you really felt like you were out of time and place.  If you have ever read that children’s book, “Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library,” that was the feeling I got when we first entered.  The snack stands looked good, but since there was no one around, we weren’t sure if they were real or not.

Taiwan Storyland

This snack stand (below) was real enough for me, and they served my favorite – dan dan!  The server pours batter into these hot molds, waits for a few minutes, and then pops out little crepe/sponge cakes.  The ones we got in particular were in the shape of different objects, such as a bicycle and a gun.

Dan Dan Stand

There is an entrance fee of NT$250 for each person, but you get $250 in Storyland vouchers you can use to redeem anything inside the attraction.  We used ours to buy some snacks and lunch.  There are snack stands and themed restaurants scattered throughout, including a Japanese place, a Chinese place, and a traditional Taiwanese place.  The food was nothing to write home about (or blog about).

Taiwan Storyland definitely has atmosphere.  The signs and many of the objects found here are collectibles from the private collection of Mr. Franky Wu, as described in this article from the Taipei Times.  I was impressed by the attention to detail.

Taiwan Storyland

There were some very interesting exhibits, such as this replica of an old schoolroom.

Taiwan Storyland

Notice the picture of Sun Yat-Sen, Taiwan’s founding father, next to the chalkboard.  I guess there are two pictures.

Taiwan Storyland

Here’s an apothecary.

Taiwan Storyland

And… a torture chamber/dentist’s chair.  I told you this place is scary!

Taiwan Storyland

There were many “streets” to wander through, much like a neighborhood.  There was even a police station and a little section of old children’s games.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of labels explaining things, at least in English, but it was easy enough to figure things out.

Taiwan Storyland

All in all, we were amused by our hour there and thought it was a great way to see some Taiwanese history, albeit a cleaned up version. 





WSJ on 48 Hours in Taipei (with Kids)

26 10 2007

The Wall Street Journal published today in its Weekend Journal Asia some interesting suggestions on what to do if you have 48 hours in some major cities in Asia – with kids. While I often read the Travel section of this newspaper, I was pleasantly surprised that they included a section for Taipei. I thought this article might be helpful to readers who have kids. The other cities mentioned in this article series are Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur.

I have excerpted the Taipei article below:

Nellie Huang, “48 Hours in Taipei,” Weekend Journal Asia, Wall Street Journal, (October 26, 2007).

As a child, my visits to Taiwan with my family meant enduring long Chinese banquets with relatives, and worse: a visit to the boring National Palace Museum. Now that I have kids of my own, I set out to find some fun things to do with them in Taipei.

Day One

8:30 a.m.
Our hotel, the Far Eastern Shangri-La — chosen for its central location and its two swimming pools — offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet. But we’ve opted instead to introduce Kate, who is 3 years old, to a traditional Chinese breakfast of doh jang (sweetened soy milk) and you tiao (fried breadsticks). My relatives in Taipei tell me there’s only one place worth going to for this breakfast: Yung He restaurant, next to the fire station on Fuxing Road, Section 2.

11:00
Next, we went to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district. Kate is soon in heaven. (So am I: There’s a Lavazza coffee stand at the museum entrance.) The so-called museum, it turns out, is a giant playroom filled with smaller rooms: There’s a play grocery store, a pretend cafe and a toddler room with a slide and small climbing gym. There’s also a fire truck, two motorcycles and even a Mini car, all of which kids can ride on or climb into. We spent an hour in the make-believe dressmaker’s shop, outfitting a paper doll with clothes we designed and cut out.

2:30
After a bite to eat at the Eslite cafe, we took a taxi to the zoo. Given Taipei’s stifling heat, in the summer at least, and the park’s hillside design, it’s best to ride the train from the zoo entrance that takes you to the penguin habitat at the other end of the park. From there you walk back toward the entrance to see the animals, but it’s a comfortable downhill ramble.
4:30
Near the zoo is the Maokong Gondola (100 meters to the left as you exit the zoo). It’s a 20-minute, four-kilometer ride to the top of a ridge, with two stops along the way. The cars aren’t air-conditioned and the windows don’t open. Still, it’s an exhilarating ride. Near the gondola station is a place to rent bikes for a ride along a new path by the river — great fun for older kids.

5:30
Next to the gondola ride is the Zoo Mall, an indoor amusement park. There are toddler-size rides — a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and a crazy-car ride — and I make a note to remember this place for a rainy day.

6:45
We decided to visit the Taipei 101 building before dinner. I was fascinated by the structure and the sweeping view, but Kate is too young to appreciate it. This diversion is best for kids over the age of 5.

Day 2 … continued here. (Subscription not required for this article.)

The author, Nellie Huang, took her 3 year old daughter to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district, the Maokong Gondola, the Taipei Zoo, Da’an Park, Children’s Recreation Center in northwest Taipei (amusement park), The National Science Education Museum, and the Taipei Astronomical Museum. Sounds like a very full 48 hours! 

While I’m not sure that I would take my hypothetical child on the Maokong Gondola, I agree that certain museums are inappropriate and boring for kids. It sounds like Taipei is quite kid friendly from all of these suggestions. However, I’m sure all of these entrance fees really add up!








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