Naruwan! Welcome to Taiwan!

Spin Around The Sunny Island Summer Foliage of Taiwan
By Catherine Chia
Photography by Richard Er & Eric Er

In line with "Visit Taiwan Year 2008 to 2009" promotions, we wanted our two children to have a season of fun during their coming semester break so we opted to go on a family tour. Holiday package to Taiwan for a 7D/6N costs RM 2,228 per person. Highlights of the tour boasted of seeing Taipei, Jiufen, Hualien, Taitung, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Sun Moon Lake.
Get a view of the city from Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building.
31-8-2008 (Sunday) K.L. to Taipei
The flight by China Airlines left KLIA at 2.20 p.m. and touched down some four hours later at Taoyuan Airport. Incidentally, there is no time difference between Malaysia and Taiwan. At 7 p.m., we were met by the local tour guide - Xiao Wu and driver - Fatman Loong. After checking into Kilin Hotel around 9 p.m., we decided to venture out for a glimpse of the famous Taipei Huasi Tourist Night Market, just a block away. As it was the first night of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, the famous Loong Shan Temple remained open till 10 p.m. In the late evening, devotees still come to worship and make offerings.

As the night was young, we went in search of a meal or supper. The sweet potato porridge at a little restaurant nearby tasted nice. We picked some braised dishes to accompany the porridge meal. Oppressive summer heat had us in perspiration and we all had sweaty clothes. The air-conditioned restaurant could not cool the heat well-enough.

This night market mentioned, is a famous snake alley as a couple of snake vendors displayed several species of poisonous snakes, all strung up. Each tried to compete for the crowd’s attention in a sideshow-like atmosphere. I felt it was gross but probably it catered to those strong-stomached adventurers. Other eating shops boasted of menus on wildlife game meat. Flanking the sides of the street were many adult shops dealing with bedroom lustful gear.

1-9-2008 (Monday) Taipei, Danshuei, Jiufen , Hualien
We left the hotel at 8 a.m. and travelled upcountry to the north. It was an hour’s drive, we reached Danshuei Fishermen’s Wharf at 9 a.m. Once the site of a flourishing port and now a lazy fishing town, it has a quaint atmosphere, famous for sunset watching. It has also become a lovers’ haven too.

Fishermen’s Wharf.

To discover a place, its local culture and customs, nothing beats a visit to the wet market. We snooped around this older section of town, to understand better of Taiwanese daily insights and lifestyle.

As we travelled on and close to 11.30 a.m., came to Jiufen which is not far from the large port of Keelung City. A drizzle came and refreshed the humid air. This tiny town is built along the hill range, was once a gold mining started from 1890 to 1950. After completion, this century-old town is still going strong. Nestled amid natural surroundings, the place has a strong resemblance to our hill resort - Cameron Highlands. Except here, you can sight the sea from a higher ground. A granite path weaved its way up and on both sides, hundreds of tiny shops dot the way. Our tour guide recommended us to try Cheong Kee’s braised meat rice and mixed fish ball soup. We also tried Yilan’s duck meat dish and century egg beancurd (Yilan is another county famed for their hot springs). It was a good meal, clever choice, hah!
Jiufen is a town built along the hill range offering scenic spots and good snacks. A small granite path flanked by numerous shops which can help you to spend money.
What’s good here - fish balls, braised meat rice, duck meat, century eggs and taufoo.

At another shop known as "Ah Choo Peanut Rolls + Ice Cream", a long queue was seen. A young lady was kept extremly busy as she rolled pieces of spring roll skins filled with ground peanut candy and topped with two scoops of ice-cream. It cost Nt$35 a piece. Wow, it was superb as the pastry skin was thin, peanut candy had an aromatic fragrance, the taro ice-cream was creamy. No wonder this shop could hold its fort. Don’t pass this out if you happen to be here!

A nice combination of ground peanut candy, ice-cream encased in a spring roll skin.

Taiwan is famous for its pineapple flaky cookies and visitors will be spoilt for choice checking out the numerous range. This is a cookie rather similar to our Malaccan Nyonya pineapple tarts except this cookie is shaped into squares and fully encased with pastry. Filling has a lighter taste compared to our Nyonya tarts. Minced wintermelon flesh had been added in, to soften the pineapple filling. We tasted many but the type sold at Cheong Sifu’s shop had the best taste overall.

Pineapple Flaky Cookies has wintermelon flesh as filling, thus it reduces the sweetness. (No.47, Jiufen. Tel:02-2497 6462)

Another local favourite snack food is the stinky taufoo. It is a food which you either love or hate it as you need an acquired taste to know the beauty of such crispy golden-fried squares of taufoo. This is a dish created by fermenting taufoo in brine served with preserved vegetables but each stall has their own recipe. We chose the milder taste taufoo. Be careful of chatting up your mate after consuming this snack as you can have overpowering breath factor.

Want to join me in eating crispy stinky taufoo?
Other delights were the taro balls, spring onion kuih sold in-front of the Post Office, Konnyakku jelly, red rice wine dreg meat balls, aiyu shaved ice etc… Jiuffen has plenty of other food attractions but with a one hour thirty minutes break, we found it a tight squeeze. As the next stop is scenic Hualien, we must move on fast.
Aiyu ice served the authentic way.

Ah Lan’s traditional kuih of taro and herb.

Colourful konnyakku jelly took up a whole table space.
Red rice wine dreg meat balls is rather popular.
Famous taro balls sweet dessert.
If you have extra time, come and sip tea here while watching the sea.

The drive from Jiufen to Hualien passed through various Scenic spots and into Asia’s second longest tunnel (Hsuehshan Tunnel) for a stretch of 12.9 km. It was a bit of a hair-raising journey as the coach negotiated several bends over precarious cliffs. This four hour trip took us through the coastal plain with the Pacific Ocean stretching out to the east and the inland mountain to the west. Upon reaching Hualien at 5 p.m., the sky turned rather dark. We watched a performance of dances and songs hosted by the Amei aboriginal tribe. Overall, it was quite entertaining. That night we stayed at the Blue Sea Blue Sky Hotel.

Su-Ao Highway winds through rugged mountains.

2-9-2008 (Tuesday) Hualien - Taitung
Early morning, we visit Toroko National Park near the entrance of East-West Highway, a good recreation area. The coach stopped at the Eternal Spring Shrine for us to enjoy the crisp air and sipped coffee, brewed with mountain spring water. There was no need to add sugar as the water had a natural sweet taste. Before departure, we were invited to visit shops that have been listed on the schedule. At the tea house, they sold boxes of the herb lingzi and squeamish array of dried, dead embryos belonging to does (female deer). Another shop sold expensive pieces of precious stones.

Toroko National Park with breathtaking scenery.

Sipping coffee brewed with mountain spring water.

Upon leaving Hualien, we travelled a long distance to Taitung. Cultivated green rice fields stretched in a never ending line and as the green stalks fluttered in the rain, it looked so remarkably beautiful. Sometimes we have to venture out of our homes to establish a therapeutic bond with nature. It was close to 5 p.m. when we came to a big ranch. The air had an offensive odour. Well, I can’t expect perfume smelling air from cattle dung. The milking process demo was over. We had purchased some fodder for feeding the cattle but these have been sent back to their fold. Only cows and buffaloes were seen in the open. Visitors can stare at them from a distance and were advised not to approach the cattle in the enclosure. What a sheer waste of time!
Feeding the buffelo and cattle.

Fresh milk gelatine from the ranch.

Tzyy-Shi Garden Hotel used to be a favourite accomodation spot for many tourists before. Original structure of beautiful wood and big stones gave a nice design but sad to say, it lacked maintainence and probably never been upgraded at all. Bedroom lights were so dim, it gave a shadowy ambience. The whole group left for a pressure relief spa theraphy and we all felt the good effects.

Hot spring spa in a cubicle for two.

3-9-2008 (Wednesday) Taitung - Kaohsiung
From Taitung, the coach went around the most southern tip of the island and across some rugged country. Population around these sectors are dense. We came to a midway stop and purchased mangoes and "jambu merah". These fruits grow in abundance here.

It was noon when we arrived in Kaohsiung. This modern town has a lot of attractions like the Fo Guan Shan Park which offered a panoramic view of the city’s skyline. Next, we visited a pearl cultivation centre. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city with a population of 1.5 million. Located by the sea and surrounded by lush hills, it has developed into an important commercial harbour. Scooters run plenty here, much more than motorcars. We were put up in Balixiangshe hotel. It looked quite ordinary but actually offered very comfortable rooms. Should I say, the best so far. For a memorable evening, we took a cruise on Love River, where the beautiful bridges and sculpture were all lighted up.

Group photo at Fo Guang Shan.

Savoury almond ice paddle.
Dinner at a restaurant in the city had a menu of abalone and lobster dish. But alas, each slice was paper-thin. We really marvelled at the chef’s cutting skill. These were laid on top of canned pineapple pieces and had mayonnaise piped on the surface. It was a cheating menu as the abalone turned out to be top shell (a kind of clam) and we felt sorry for ourselves. Luckily, we paid budget fare. If this was a deluxe package, it could be a different story. Our Malaysian coordinator could be at his wit’s end.
Second largest city in Taiwan.

After dinner we strolled to Shinkuchan night market and bought some tasty kuih made from glutinous rice, pig’s blood curd. A dip presented was made up of chilli sauce, milled peanuts and Chinese parsley. The combination was unusual but delicious. Night market here catered to the younger age group as the traders sold trendy clothes, shoes and funky accessories.

4-9-2008 (Thursday) Kaohsiung - Sun Moon Lake - Taichung
The most popular scenic attraction in central Taiwan is Sun Moon Lake at Nantou. Wen Wu Temple is picturesque and many worshippers come to pray. The dish of "Three Cups Chicken" served at an eatery here was good. This dish must have been the best food tasted as it was cooked with an authentic touch, full of flavours.

Sun Moon Lake and Wen Wu temple.

Three Cups Chicken

Summer months are hot and humid in Taiwan. September proved to be the same and the weather was punctuated by sudden flash of rain. Umbrellas came in handy as we have to endured a walk in the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village of The Nine Ethnic Tribes. It was 1.30 p.m. when we managed to catch a performance of dances and songs acted out by different tribes. The rain had stopped and air got refreshed. We descended the narrow trail and took a closer look at the unique site, well constructed area.

Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village for the nine ethnic tribes.

Another heavy thunderstorm lashed out but we were already on our way to Taichung. Midway, it was another stop to check out on the products of royal jelly. The introducer just talked endlessly and we felt disgusted. We left without any purchase.
We travelled on till our coach driver, Fatman Loong, stopped to buy some betel nuts from young sexily attired girls. Tour guide gave us a little pep talk of mobile hotels in Taichung with different themes and best favoured by honeymooning couples.
Sexy attired girl selling betel nut.

The Fongjia Night Market here happened to be the largest on the island. Even Taiwan’s President Mah recommended this oyster mee suah noodle dish sold here by Fat Mama (PMM). Another special snack to taste came in the form of a sausage roll encased in another bigger glutinous rice roll. Baked cheese sticks gave out an aromatic smell, these were cooked on the spot.

Fongjia Night Market - PMM Oyster mee suah at the night market. (PMM Tel: 0955-336688)
Fongjia Night Market - Cheese sticks baked on the spot. (Liu Jin Mu Tel:0937-719997)
Fongjia Touristy night market.
Fongjia Night Market - Glutinous rice and sausages rolls galore.

Hotels may be plentiful here but we were arranged to stay in Palmer Hotel which was very bad. The hotel resorted to energy saving and turned off all lights along the corridors. Any unoccupied rooms would have the room doors flung wide-opened. Faulty room lights suddenly came on in the midnight. We have little control over these and stayed sleepless all through. The Tourism Board should check into hotels with poor management as tourists feel fleeced.
5-9-2008 (Friday) Taichung - Taipei
The High Speed Rail from Taoyuan to Taipei took only 20 minutes as it tavelled at 285 km per hour. Our coach drove along the highway and met us at the rail station. Next, he drove us to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine and the Taipei 101. This happens to be one of the tallest buildings in the world. Dinner at Shihlin Night Market was not too bad. We moved on to Xi-Men-Ting Night Market for another shopping. All these night markets reflected the oriental ambience of Taiwan and its people. It is one aspect of the trip which should not be missed.

High speed rail.
National Palace Museum.
National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine.

6-9-2008 (Saturday) Taipei - Kuala Lumpur
Nevertheless, our trip has come to an end. As early as 5 a.m., the sky shown streaks of daylight breaking. We have to be at the airport by 6.20 a.m. and flight departs by 8.20 a.m. A good way to dispose off all loose currency would be to shop more at the duty free shops.
Although all tipping have been inclusive in the tour’s fare, we felt a little more to the coach driver, the local guide and our Malaysian coordinator - Michael, should not be problem. As the trio had expressed good hospitality to us all, this must be well-reflected too. But with budget tours, expect budget meals and budget hotel. Pay peanuts and you get peanuts.

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