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.

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A Peaceful Retreat in Central Taiwan

12 10 2007

After visiting my grandparents and our family home, we headed over to the guesthouse we booked to check into our rooms. We stayed at the Hua Su Guest House (Minsu) for two nights. The Hua Su guesthouse is located in an area popular for its many flower and plant gardens and plantations in Tienwei, outside of Changhua.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by our stay here. After braving the bustling, crowded, and older city of Kaohsiung, the guesthouse was a welcome retreat. This was my first visit to a minsu, and if this is any indication, it is a wonderful way to see Taiwan. The guesthouse was clean, modern, and uncluttered and the owners were very hospitable. Plus they had free wifi internet and air conditioning!

Entrance to Minsu

Hua Su Guesthouse

A view of the dining pavilion attached to the guesthouse.

Fountain

Some koi fish swimming in the pond.

Koi

The rooms were modest but very clean, with large bathrooms and western style showers. There is no tub, but I think this is standard for a minsu. Our hotel in Taipei didn’t have a tub either. Each room had a flat screen LCD with cable. The internet was off and on, but I think the owner is going to fix that.

Room View

They even had tatami mat rooms for larger parties of people. I peeked in these rooms and took some pictures.

Larger Rooms

Tatami Mat

A large Taiwanese breakfast is included with your room. The guesthouse has an excellent cook! She is fully approved by my picky mom. Here is the typical breakfast at the minsu. Those are sliced asian pears and guava in the middle.

Taiwanese Breakfast

Breakfast is served daily in the dining pavilion. When we were there, there was a large group of coworkers. Their company held their company retreat at the minsu.

Dining Pavilion

And thankfully for those of us who are addicted to coffee, they serve espresso and coffee!

After breakfast, we walked across the street to a flower farm that had a lovely lily pond and garden.

Flower Farm

Flower Farm

Lily Pond

Weeping Willows

Lily Pond

Lily Pond

Lily Pond

A coffee plant

Coffee Plant

Inside the greenhouse

Greenhouse

Greenhouse

They had tons and tons of my favorite flower – orchids.

Orchids

Orchids

Yellow Orchid Plant

More Orchids

Overall, we were really pleased with our stay here. I just didn’t expect there to be a place this nice in the countryside. Apparently, the owners say that all the big politicians have come here, including one of the current presidential candidates. The only downside I can think of is that the owners cannot speak a lot of English, but they are fine with emails.

Because of my bad Chinese, I am not really sure where this minsu is located, so I am attaching the map from their website. All I know is that it is Tianwei, near Yuanlin, and about 45 minutes to Lukang in the west and 45 minutes to Sun Moon Lake in the east.
Hua Su Map

Hua Su Guesthouse

Rates from NT$2000-2500 for a single to NT$4000-5000 for the large tatami room.

Phone: 04-8246799

Email: j8226890@ms12.hinet.net





Journey to Central Taiwan

8 10 2007

After spending some time in Kaohsiung, we headed up to my grandparents’ house near Yuanlin, just outside of Changhua.

But first we had a nice breakfast at my aunt’s.  We had some pastries we bought at Isetan and some fresh papaya milk.  The fruit is definitely sweeter in Taiwan.  It’s all about the food in Taiwan.

Breakfast

Taiwan is one of those Asian countries where there will be something cute on everything, including cake.

Cake

We then proceeded to the Kaoshiung train station, and took the fast train (T.C.) to Yuanlin.  The journey took about 2 hours.

Train Details: Bathrooms on trains were spartan but clean.  Luggage went on racks above the seats.  Only people with tickets are allowed on the platform.  However, you may buy a platform pass (very inexpensive) to accompany someone to the platform.  At smaller stations, this is free.  The station will give you a temporary pass in exchange for an official ID.  Keep your tickets because you may need to show them to a conductor.  In addition, you need to give the tickets back to the train people when you leave the station at your destination.

On the platform

Platform

The blue trains are the slower commuter trains.

Train station

Our fast and orange train approaches the stop.

Our Train

Orange Train

The train journey was very smooth and comfortable.  We were content to snack and watch the Taiwanese countryside as we sped by.  There were lots of rice fields, fish farms, and other unidentified plant growth.  It’s hard to tell with these pictures, but Taiwan is very very green. 

Rice Fields

Fields

We also passed by suburbs, towns, and cities.

Small Town

Small Towns

As we got closer to Central Taiwan, we saw more and more mountains and hills.

View from Train

When we arrived, we headed over to my grandparents’ house.  My grandparents live among fruit trees and rice fields in the Taiwanese countryside.  There is so much moisture everywhere, plants just explode in abundance.

Gate

There are papaya trees, pear trees, bonzai, and many other plants, as evidenced in the photo below.

Lush Countryside

We had a very nice visit with my grandparents.  I haven’t seen them in years, so it was a happy reunion.  They were really glad to finally meet Charles.  Everyone drank lots of Apple Sidra (my favorite Taiwanese soda).

Next: A visit to the family compound





Some Travel Tips for Flying

10 09 2007

While flying gets us to our destinations faster than any other way, most people don’t relish being squeezed into narrow seats next to inconsiderate fellow passengers breathing canned air.  However, as many travelers know, a little planning goes a long way toward a smoother trip.  Below I have compiled some basic tips to maximize your peace and comfort and make the best of air travel.  Some of these are obvious, but for the sake of completeness I have included them.  Long haul flights, like the 21 hour flight we are doing soon (14 hour flight, then 2.5 hour layover, then 4 hour flight), deserve special consideration and preparation!

Pick the best seat available on your flight.  Look up your reservation on your airline’s website.  Airlines usually provide the type of aircraft and what kind of food service to expect.  Armed with this information, you can then go to www.seatguru.com and look up your seat.  This great website displays the location of your seat, tells you where the bathrooms are, and includes comments about legroom, computer power ports, and other important information.  If you are seated in a poor seat, request a seat change.  Nowadays you can usually just change your seating assignment online, or if that doesn’t work, ask when you check into your flight.

If possible, don’t check your bags and pack light.  This is, of course, not possible for some trips and is difficult for people with lots of liquid/gels/lotions.  However, with lines everywhere and the security situation these days, not having to wait in line to check your bag or pick it up is a serious time saver.  For people like myself that have lots of toiletries, you can get little plastic jars from Art stores (used for paint pigments) that are spill-proof and stick them into your plastic zip top bag.  For business trips, this is a must.

Get comfortable.  With more travelers than ever these days, there are a TON of travel products out there that are designed to make travel a little less miserable.  The number 1 item for those that want to sleep on their flights is to get the ubiquitous neck pillow.  They are several kinds out there, from the type that inflate to ones with beads to super fancy tempurpedic pillows that also double as back support.  Also, bringing your own is more sanitary because at least you know where your pillow has been.

Bring entertainment and snacks.  This is obvious but worth mentioning.  For the long hauls, there are lots of travel size games out there that minimize space and maximize fun.  Travel Scrabble, chinese checkers, playing cards are just a few examples.  Books obviously.  An ipod or equivalent can do double duty playing music and discouraging chatty neighbors.

Maximize your laptop usage.  Look up wireless access availability at the airports beforehand.  This is pretty straight forward – just google your airport’s website.  For in seat laptop usage, you can buy a power adapter for airplanes.  Don’t forget to make sure that your assigned seat has a power port.  With a laptop, you do not have to be a slave to the airline’s entertainment choices.  Instead, you can watch the DVDs that you bring, play games, or catch up on your work.  Several airlines are looking into adding internet on flights, but none have yet.  This is definitely something to look forward to!

Check out your airline meal in advance.  Then you can decide if you should bring your own food or not.  Again, first check your reservation online to determine if a meal will be served or not, and whether you have to pay for it.  Then go to www.airlinemeals.net.  This fun website features pictures taken by passengers of their airline food.  You can look the meals up by airline.

Got a layover?  Explore the airport and surroundings.  This will take a little extra research, but if your layover is over 3 hours it is probably worth it.  Google your airport’s name with the word “layover” and see what pops up.  A great example is this definitive website on layovers at Narita:  http://www.mgnewman.com/narita/index.html.  Actually the mall in Narita is pretty good for an airport mall.  If you are thinking of leaving the airport, however, make sure you know the exit and entry requirements.

Get an upgrade!  Just kidding.  Well sort of.  If you can afford it, many say this is worth the price for long-haul flights.  Having never sat in anything other than economy (or First Class on Southwest Airlines), I can’t tell if it’s worth it or not.  But I would love to one day sit in this part of the airplane. 

And the last tip is… please have your ID and boarding pass ready at the security gate and don’t clog up the lines at the security checkpoints!!! 





The Big Island (Hawaii) – August 2006

29 07 2007

Charles and I went to the Big Island, Hawaii, for our honeymoon in August 2006. Since there is a lot of information on Hawaii online, I will just go through the highlights of this trip, and our recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and activities.

Hawaiian Sunset

We chose the Big Island over the other Hawaiian islands because it is less developed than Oahu and Maui, yet still has all the positives. In addition, it was less expensive than Maui and has retained much of the “old Hawaii” vibe. The Big Island, also called Hawaii, not only has beaches, rainforests, and waterfalls, but it also has a snow capped volcano in Mauna Kea and an active volcano in Kilauea among its 5 volcanoes. Although I’m not a particularly active person, I considered this an adventure vacation. Within a span of 9 days, we hiked in a rainforest, crossed lava fields, snorkeled in a dolphin sanctuary, and went horseback riding in a sacred Hawaiian valley. It really was a trip of a lifetime!

The Big Island is separated into two main areas, the dryer West side, where most of the resorts and the city of Kona is located, and the humid East side, where the town of Hilo and the Kilauea volcano is located.

Old Hawaii can be experienced in the town of Hawi. Bamboo, a Hawaiian fusion restuarant, is pictured below.

Shave Ice in Hawi

Where We Stayed:

Since it was our honeymoon, we splurged a bit and stayed at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast for 5 nights, then 2 nights at Hale Hualalai, a B&B on a coffee farm in Kona, and 1 night at Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village . I recommend all these places to stay. I found Kilauea Lodge and Hale Hualalai through B&B reviews on tripadvisor.com.

We lucked out a bit, as we got a fantastic deal for this entire vacation. Since we went to August, we didn’t experience some of the high season winter prices for airfares. We bought our airfare and hotel package through AAVacations after researching several different vendors, including Expedia.com, PleasantHolidays.com, and pricing the airfare separately through sidestep.com. Be on the lookout for deals the hotel itself is offering – often other online sites will match this deal. We were able to get our 5th night free at the Fairmont through AAVacations.

The view from our hotel room. You can see the volcano peaks behind the hotel’s landscaping.

View from our room

Tips:

You will need to rent a car, as the Big Island is BIG! The cheapest gas can be found at Costco (if you have a membership) in Kona. For groceries and inexpensive but high quality souvenirs, go to the Walmart on the hill overlooking Alii Drive. If you do not want to shop at Walmart, there are many smaller grocery stores found all over the island.

Information on Hawaii and Guidebooks: We used the guidebook “The Big Island – Revealed” extensively in the planning of this trip.  While the book was invaluable,  it does go a little overboard in some more “adventurous” sections.  Use your common sense when using this guidebook.  I also got specific activity and restaurant recommendations from (I’m going to sound like a broken record) the tripadvisor forums for the Big Island.

Next: Hiking in Pololu Valley





Tokyo – Details

29 07 2007

Note: We went to Tokyo in May 2006. Please scroll down to the first Tokyo post, titled “Tokyo – May 2006” to start at the beginning of this series of posts.

We stayed at the Dai-Ichi the first night, and then at a business hotel in Yaesu near Tokyo Station the rest of the time. The Dai-Ichi was beautiful and the staff excellent. The rooms are spacious with a luxurious bathroom. Definitely a great choice!

We flew to Narita from Chicago on a connecting flight through San Jose, CA on American Airlines. On the way back, we were able to fly directly to Chicago from Narita. American Airlines uses Boeing 777s on flights to Narita. You can take the Narita Express train to and from Tokyo Main Station, and it’s just an hour each way. Narita also has a nice mini-mall inside the airport where you can buy Japanese desserts to take home or Mikimoto pearls. For information on layovers in Narita, check out this great website: http://www.mgnewman.com/narita/index.html.

We had a very full schedule just doing 3 things in one day. The ideal pace would have been to visit 2 sites a day. The best shopping for souvenirs and gifts (and fresh traditional snacks) was at Asakusa.

Travel information and guidebooks: Lonely Planet -Tokyo provided a great overview for our trip. I also extensively used the Tokyo message board on Tripadvisor.com as a source of valuable information. I want to thank Route246 and the other forumers especially for their useful advice.

Some general comments:

– Tokyo is the most unique city I have ever visited worldwide. I would have to say that this is the cleanest, most efficient, and most crowded city I have ever visited.

– The Tokyo public transportation system is wonderful – clean, efficient, convenient. It was intimidating at first, but after the first time it was very easy to figure out. There are English maps in most of the stations. If there are no English maps, we just bought the lowest fare and adjusted it at the end of the ride. The fare machines all had English menus.

– For those who have never used the public transportation, the biggest thing to know is that the ticket is scanned when you enter and when you leave the station. Thus, if you bought the wrong fare, you can simply adjust the fare right before you leave in the fare adjustment machines that are situated right next to the exits.

– Since we stayed near Tokyo station, we found the Underground Mall adjoining it very useful. There were all kinds of food options and shops.

– I do not speak or read Japanese and was able to navigate and find everything fairly easily. The three words to know: Sumimasen (excuse me), Arigato gosaimasu (thank you very much), doko… (where). Please excuse my spelling. All the train and subway information and signage is labeled in English in Tokyo.

 








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