Taiwan – Taipei 101 (臺北101)

This was our eleventh (and last) day in Taiwan. With a few hours to spare before our flight in the afternoon, we decided to go Taipei 101 (臺北101), the iconic skyscraper of Taiwan. To me, a visit to Taipei 101 is more symbolic than anything else. Yes, the view at the top of the observatory decks (level 89th and 91st) is great but if you have see anything from Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower, Melbourne’s Eureka Tower, Las Vegas’ Stratosphere or even Singapore Flyer, you have seen it all.

Though Taipei 101 is not connected directly by the MRT, you can take a free bus shuttle from Taipei City Hall Station (Exit 2). Also, I did mention in my earlier posting that you should always check out i-bon (available in most 7-11 convenience stores) first for any discounted tickets. I managed to get a good deal for my  Taipei 101 Observatory admission tickets (buy one adult pass and get one child pass free) at i-bon. 😉

Taipei 101 is both a shopping mall and office building. The shopping mall is from B1 to Level 6 and most of the shops are selling up-market branded stuff. Since our sole purpose of being there was just to go onto the observatory, we bypassed all the shops and went straight to the observatory ticketing booth at level 5.

From the lift lobby at level 5, it takes exactly 37 seconds to reach the indoor observatory deck at level 89 and that’s at least 30km/hr. It’s quite amazing that we didn’t feel any discomfort during the ascend. In fact, the lift was very stable.

At level 89 (382m above ground), you will get a bird’s eye view of the city. You can also get a free rental of an audio guide (available in eight languages) from the “Multimedia Guide Counter”, which will give you a more detailed explanation of the view from your position in the observatory.

At 382m, you are naturally above the cloud

Pretty Trees

Taiwan, as we know it, is an island sitting on top of the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, a seismically active zone where tens of thousands of earthquakes happen every year. Even though only a fraction of that can be felt by the people, we are looking at hundreds to thousands per year; a number that is not small by any definition. So what protects Taipei 101, a building standing at 508m tall, from these shakes? The answer lies with the clever usage of mass dampers or more commonly known as “Damper Babies” as marketed by Taipei 101. These dampers serve as steel pendulums and will sway to offset the movements in the building caused by strong wind or earthquake (upto 7 degree tremour on the Richter scale). Do spend some time on the Level 89, where the actual dumper is open to the public, as it’s quite educational.

Damper Babies

The real damper

Besides offering of the best view of Taipei city (on a clear day), the observatory also has a gift shop that sells exclusive souvenirs at reasonable prices. I am not a souvenir collector but we did buy a postcard and posted to ourselves from the mailbox at the observatory. Simple activities like this was enough to make the kids happy. I guess the airmail from one of the highest post offices in the world is quite exciting to them. 😉

A fully functional mailbox at level 89, Taipei 101

Writing a postcard to her mommy

When we first arrived at the observatory, the first thing that caught Alycia’s attention wasn’t the view nor the damper babies. It’s the “Bigtom” ice-cream at the Sky Cafe! I promised her that we would rest at the cafe after we were done and here’s my promise …

There is an outdoor observatory at level 91 but unfortunately it was closed during our visit due to bad weather. Then at level 88, i.e. one level down from where we were, is a collection of jewelry arts. These exquisite art pieces were made from Taiwan’s coral gemstones, jade and other precious stones.

On the way down to Level 88 from Level 89

Phew! I have finally completed the all the postings for our “Taiwan 2011” trip and I hope you have enjoyed all the postings so far. I’m sorry that it took me 1 year and 3 months to complete the writeup for the trip and I hope I will do better for our other trip, “Taiwan 2012”! 🙂
Useful Information – Taipei 101 (臺北101):

Directions:

  • Take MRT to City Hall station
  • Take Exit 2 to board the free bus shuttle to Taipei 101

Useful Links:

Observatory Opening Hours:

  • 09:00 ~ 22:00 hrs
  • Outdoor Observatory at level 91 may be closed if the weather is bad

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Taiwan – Leofoo Village (六福村)

Both marketing and publicity play an extremely important role in tourism and I think these are some areas that Taiwan Tourism Bureau can do a better job. Most of my friends do not consider Taiwan as their top choice when it comes to holidays and more often than not, they are usually very amazed when they learnt that I could spend more than 10 days in Taiwan. They are even more surprised when they realize that my itinerary has at least one day in a theme park. Not many people know that there are theme parks in Taiwan, it seems. ◕ิ‿◕ิ

e-go bus stop outside Jingan MRT

There are actually quite a few theme parks in Taiwan and in fact, there is a pretty good one (Leofoo theme park / 六福村) near Taipei, which is about 1.5 hours away from Taipei train station. The park is located in Hsinchu area and you can hop onto an e-go bus to get to Leofoo. The bus would depart Songshan airport to Zhongxiao Dunhua (忠孝敦化) MRT station to Jingan (景安) MRT station and then finally to Leofoo theme park. You can board the bus from any of the stops mentioned and we chose to board from Jingan MRT as I reckoned that MRT is faster than bus. Thus we should reach our destination faster and probably more comfortably too, as compared if we take the bus directly from Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station. If you follow our route, the e-go bus stop is just outside Jingan MRT station; no need to cross any roads. You can check the e-go bus schedule here.

The bus will make a brief stop at 龍潭總站 where you make payment for the bus fare. The journey from Jingan MRT to Leofoo was about 1 hour, if my memory serves me right.

Before you go to Leofoo, you may want to do some homework first. 😉 Firstly, check the e-go website for the bus schedule as it’s not very frequent. Secondly, the admission to Leofoo theme park is NT$890 per adult if you get the tickets at the park entrance. However, if you buy the tickets from ibon machines (found in major 7-11 stores) beforehand, each ticket is less than NT$700, depending on whether it’s adult or child ticket. If you are more diligent, you can also check with Taiwan Tourism Bureau in Singapore before your departure as their goodies bags sometimes include free admission passes to theme parks.

If I say Leofoo Village is the Disneyland of Taiwan, I bet a lot of people will raise their eyebrows. But if I say Leofoo is a Disneyland wannabe, I think more will agree. The park is similar to Disneyland, both in terms of themes, layout and even mascots. Whether Leofoo is of Disneyland’s standard or not is actually immaterial cos the kids will have a great time anyway. 😉

The park is suitable for all ages, I would say. It has some thrilling rides and some kiddy ones too. The most exciting ride should be the the Screaming Condor (笑傲飞鹰) which goes up high in the sky in almost 90° and then drag you down. You can check Leofoo’s website for more information on the various rides. I am sorry that this blog entry will be on the kiddy stuff as this day was promised to be theirs, i.e. my 2 girls. Thus please do not be mistaken that Leofoo is only for kids. I don’t want to do any injustice to Leofoo Village. 😉

Inside Wild West zone

The first thing we did was to catch the 飛行部落 show, which is inside the Wild West zone, at 11am. If you have seen the shows in Singapore Bird Park, you can skip this if you like (as it’s about the same). But for us, shows are part of the fun of a theme park and we will usually try to catch one or two shows, if possible.

Grand Welcome … LOL

This macaw knows how to pick up and where to throw the litter!

These Pelicans were, strictly speaking, not performing. They were merely chasing after their food to amuse the crowd. 😉

As with most shows, there were some interactions with the audience and we were pleasantly surprised when our 6-year-old volunteered to participate one of the activities. I think our little one has grown up. 😉

That’s my little girl, Clarissa.

She had one of the easiest job – just stay still.

There are four main zones in Leofoo, namely “Wild West”, “South Pacific”, “Arabian Kingdom” and “African Safari”. I think most of the kiddy rides are in the “Wild West” zone.

The park has rides that are suitable for all ages, including toddlers. 😉

Two Step Twister – A kiddy ride

A little too boring for my girls as well

Something like “Tea Cup” – An all-time favourite

Another slow and easy ride

Another sign that my little Clarissa has grown up – She finally mustered her courage and took the very first roller coaster ride of her life !

No 360° looping .. Just some toss and turns

The proud moment after the ride

Ring of Fire – The carriage will basically loop in circles – Giddy !!!

Sea Serpent

After her maiden roller coaster ride, Clarissa was more confident and tried almost all the rides. She was fine and cheery until this one – Deep Sea Adventure. She cried when she was half way through the ride as she was tossed in all directions, including upside down. ;-(


If you are into parade of the mascots, be sure to gather around the central water fountain area at around 1.30pm to catch the only live parade. Maybe it was a weekday, there wasn’t many people watching the live parade. However, the performers were very professional and they put up a fantastic song and dance nevertheless.

Professional performance despite the small crowd

The kids and Leofoo’s mascot

As mentioned earlier, there are four main zones in Leofoo and each zone has its own attractions and shows. Personally, I enjoyed the “African Safari” the most as it gave the children the opportunity to get real close to the animals. Take for example in the “Zulu Petting Zoo”, domesticated animals such as goats and horses roam freely and you are free to touch them if you wish.

There are three activities that are highly recommended and if time does not permit, just go for the “Nairobi Express”. You won’t regret this decision. 😉

  1. Feed the goats. The kids will have a great time when the goats lick their palms
  2. Take the “Monkey Trail”, which is a slow cycling trail above the ground. You will get to see the various species of monkeys from high vantage points
  3. Take the “Nairobi Express”, which will bring you close to some magnificent animals such as American Bison and White Rhinoceros

Inside “African Safari”

Food for the goats at a token sum

The kids loved feeding the goats

The tickling sensation

Close encounter with a Macaw

White tiger

Monkey Trail

Hyperactive monkeys …

Nairobi Express – My Favourite !

Very stable ride

White Rhinoceros

American Bison

I think the Nairobi Express ride took about 20 minutes and by the time we were done, the sky was getting dark. Since we had to catch the bus back to Taipei (another 1.5 hour journey), we didn’t have enough time to explore the rest of the park. Below are some photos that we quickly snapped before we left the park.

The kids and Sponge Bob

Bye bye, Leofoo Village

On the whole, we had an enjoyable day at the park. If you are planning a trip to Taipei with kids, Leofoo Village is definitely a must-do!

Useful Information – Leofoo Village:

Opening Hours:

  • 09:00-17:00 weekdays, 09:00-19:00 weekends and public holidays

Directions:

  • MRT to 景安 Station
  • Take e-go bus to Leofoo Village. The bus-stop is just outside the MRT station; no need to cross any road

Useful Links:

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Taiwan – Ximending (西門町)

Red House Theater (西門紅樓)

Ximending (西門町), also known as the “Shibuya” of Taiwan, offers a different kind of shopping from the usual night markets such as Shilin Night Market. Here, you will find more modern and commercialized high rise buildings, as compared to push carts. Busking is also very common, especially near the MRT exits and intersections of the major streets. Karaoke, restaurants, concerts, pubs, etc are all available here. No wonder somebody said that Ximending is the most happening place in Taipei !

The first thing that we did was to head straight into Party World where I have heard so much about the awesome experience. Let’s put it this way, karaoke is a bustling business in Taiwan. Just like a hotel, Party World has a grand reception area and after we had registered, we were given our room at level 5. Wow! I wonder how many floors and rooms are there? By comparison, those karaoke outlets in Singapore (Party World included) seem rather paltry.

The Grand Reception at Party World

Our Room is at Level 5

Sanitized Microphones and the Disposable Cover

Our Room for Eight

Everybody had a good time, including the kids!

Although the sun was already set when we were done with our singing, our spirit was high as we knew the dinner was going to be awesome! We had already decided on a steamboat dinner before our trip and after much research, we decided 天外天精緻火鍋 (Steamboat Buffet) at Ximending shall be the one. I will cover the restaurant in more detail in a later post and for now, just take my word for it – It’s good!

It was already dark by the time we finished our singing and dinner

Actually, we went to Ximending twice in this trip. During the first time, we spent too much time at the karaoke and dinner, and we didn’t really explore the area well. We then went back to Ximending again the next day just to “finish” up whatever we had missed.

阿毛 and its restaurant

During our first trip, the kids wanted to have their figures made but the queue was too long. So we tried our luck again on the following day and luckily the queue was “not-too-bad” (i.e. waiting time about 1 hour). 😉

Clarissa and her figurine

Alycia and her figurine

The kids and the artist

Useful Information – Ximending (西門町):

Directions:

  • Take MRT to 西門 station
  • Take Exit 6 to 西門紅樓

Useful Information – 天外天精緻火鍋:

Address:

  • 台北市昆明街76號2樓
  • Tel: 02-2314-0018

Opening Hours:

  • 1100 ~ 0400hrs

Directions:

  • It’s actually quite tricky to locate the restaurant as it’s off the main shopping area. I suggest you check out their website and get your familiarized with the route beforehand.

Other Information

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Taiwan – Danshui (淡水)

Danshui on an overcast day

Time flies and this was already our ninth day in Taiwan. The itinerary for this day was probably the most relaxing one for the entire trip – Danshui (淡水) in the morning and then followed by Karaoke at Ximending (西門盯). There was absolutely no stress and no rush for any closing hours, transportation, etc. 😉

Danshui is a relatively small and quiet town to the north of Taipei and it is easily accessible via the MRT to Tamsui (淡水) station; the last one of the red line. If you have half a day to spare, Danshui could be a good option especially if you just want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Taipei city. There are a couple of activities that you can do in Danshui, such as:

  • The Old Street (淡水老街)
  • Fisherman’s Wharf / Lovers’ Bridge (情人橋)
  • Fort San Domingo (Hongmao Castle or 紅毛城)
  • Little White House (小白宮)

As we had decided to go slow, we could only cover the Old Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and Lovers’ Bridge in 4 hours, inclusive of lunch. So if you intend to cover all of the above, you may need a few more hours.

Danshui MRT Station

Danshui MRT

The Old Street is just 5 minutes walk from the MRT station. Upon exiting the MRT station, turn left to the esplanade and then keep walking towards the right, you will will reach the Old Street. Like the many Old Streets in Taiwan, you can find many stores selling souvenirs, handicraft and food. The fish crackers are especially nice and the store owners allow free sampling as well.

Handicraft

Wow. What a big packet !

More cute handicraft

Tasty deep fried balls

Danshui has a speciality food called Ah Gei (阿給), which is basically tofu stuffed with glass noodles in a spicy sauce. Personally, I don’t like glass noodles as they are too chewy for me. However, if you are at Danshui, I think you should give this dish a try cos I didn’t see this anywhere else in Taiwan.

One of the many stores selling Ah Gei

Ah Gei (阿給)

From the Old Street, you can either take a bus 26 (from the MRT station) or a ferry ride (from the pier behind the Old Street) to the Fisherman’s Wharf / Lovers’ Bridge. Either way, the journey is about 15 minutes. Since we were already at the Old Street, we continued the walking along the esplanade until we reached the pier, where we took a ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Esplanade

Waiting for the next ferry

The Pier and Ferry

The kids bought these rings at the Old Street

How I wish the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf would be this nice …

I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with the safety practice of the ferry operator as that was the first time I actually saw life vests for children made easily available.

It is generally accepted that the most beautiful sunset in Taiwan is at the Lover’s Bridge. If your schedule permits, you may want to plan to visit Danshui in the evening and then followed by the Old Street at night. Our visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf was quite disappointing as most of the shops were closed. I am not sure if it has anything to do with Mondays (that’s the day we went) but you may want to avoid Mondays if possible. The place was quite deserted and it was a windy day with some light drizzle. The elders in our group couldn’t take the chill and decided to take shelter in a cafe instead. The bridge was a far cry from what I read and I believe it has everything to do with the weather. It should be much better during sunset on a good day.

A deserted Fisherman’s Wharf

A nice boardwalk from Fisherman’s Wharf to Lovers’ Bridge

Lovers’ Bridge

It can extremely windy, especially at the bridge itself. Our umbrella was almost blown away and it had flipped inside out on numerous occasions. Check out the photo on the right below for an idea of how strong the wind was. Now, you have been warned. ;-P

On the other side of the bridge is a nice sculpture with the word “love” and I guess that is the reason why couples like to come to this place. Would I come back to the Lovers’ Bridge again? I don’t think so. Hahaha.

Love Scripture

A group photo at the Lovers’ Bridge

Useful Information – Danshui:

Taipei MRT Map

Click here for a larger version of the map.

Opening Hours:

  • Generally, the shops start opening at around 10.30am

Directions to Old Street:

  • MRT to Tamsui (淡水) Station (About 40 minutes from Taipei station)
  • Turn left at the MRT station and keep right along the esplanade
  • Walk 5 minutes

Directions to Fisherman’s Wharf / Lovers’ Bridge:

  • Either take bus 26 from MRT station OR
  • Take a ferry from the piers at the esplanade

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Taiwan – Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市)

Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市)

Taiwan’s night market has a lot of nice food and our favourite by far is the black pig sausage (黑豬肉香腸). Ever since we tried it at Jiufen, we had been hunting for it at every night market. In terms of ranking, I would say the stall at Jiufen is the best and then followed by this one at Raohe Night Market. ◕ิ‿◕ิ

Black Pig Sausage (黑豬肉香腸)

Another must try is 炸蛋蔥油餅, which is basically onion in deep fried batter with a half-cooked egg. Though it’s simple, it’s incredibly delicious. The taste is a little like Roti Prata, except that it has a much more oomph! I love the runny egg inside and it was love at first bite (literally). 😉

Yummy runny egg inside …

There are many nice food in Raohe Night Market and one may be tempted to try everything. But please remember to save some stomach space for the famous Black Pepper Bun (福州世祖胡椒饼), which is located at one end of the street. Every bun is freshly baked in a traditional charcoal oven on the spot; freshness and tastiness are guaranteed. 😉

Expect long queue at the stall

The Famous Black Pepper Bun

Here are some other snacks we had at the market. Everything was nice, except for the ice-cream (see photo below) which was tasteless. The guava was very sweet and it goes well after the hot Black Pepper Bun.

Ice-cream that look better than it taste …

Sweetest Guava Ever

Raohe Night Market is actually quite small, about 600m one way and it can be easily covered in less than 2 hours. Despite its size, it’s one of the best night markets as the food is, really, fantastic. The only problem is accessibility as it is at least 30 minutes walk from the nearest MRT station. I would suggest you take a taxi, just like we did.

Useful Information – Raohe Night Market:

Opening Hours:

  • 16:00-00:00 daily

Directions:

  • Take the normal train to Songshan Station (松山火車站)
  • Cross the road, Bade Road (Section 4) / 八德路四段
  • Alternatively, walk along ZhongPo North Road (中玻北) about 30 minutes from Houshanpi (後山埤) MRT station (exit: Wufenpu commercial district)

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Taiwan – Miniatures Museum of Taiwan (袖珍博物館)

Admiring the intricacies of the doll house

After a crazy shopping at Chia Te Bakery, we quickly dropped our bags of tarts in the hotel and rushed for our next destination, the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan (袖珍博物館) before it closes at 6pm. The museum, which is located at the basement of 台証金融大樓, turned out to be surprisingly good. It has a good collection of miniature doll houses, famous architectures and scenes of fairy tales. Like a teleporter, entering the museum brings one into the magical fairy tale of Snow White and Gulliver’s Travels, just to name a few.

Some exhibits at the entrance

I like the way the museum is organized. Low benches are located strategically to allow younger children to have a better view of the displays and be intrigued by the incredible details of the replicas. This is a museum run by passion as every single detail was carefully planned and taken into consideration. As I was told, the owner, Mr Lin Wen Ren, roams through the museum regularly to make sure that everything is in order.

The “Rose Mansion” – a Victorian-era building

Wild Wild West

Study Room

Playroom

Fantasizing …

There are many impressive collections in the museum, from famous infrastructure such as the Buckingham Palace to the old streets of London to the magical world of Hans Christian Anderson. Regardless of your age, this museum is bound to have something that will bring on a smile to your face. Adults will appreciate vivid details of the display and children, on the other hard, will be mesmerized by the creativity of the replicas. My kids enjoyed the fairy tales the most; stories such as Cinderella and Pinocchio resonate well with them.

Peering Through the Window of Fantasies

Cinderalla

Snow White

Despite me being armed with a DSLR, I don’t think I am doing the museum any justice with my photos. There is the smallest working TV in the world that is barely the size of a Singapore dollar coin. If you look at each display carefully, you will also notice that even the smallest details such as newspaper, forks, spoons and coffee-tables are not spared. You have to see the intricacy in person and be amazed by the delicacy of the works.

Amazing details …

The World’s Smallest Chanel

Inside a Bakery

Dear Santa, I’ve really been very good this year …

A Dining Room

Miniature means small. But some of the miniatures in this museum are big and grand. Don’t believe? Check out the photos below.

English Castle

Royal Army

Royal Army

Buckingham Palace

Gigantic Room boxes

I am not somebody who loves museum nor miniatures but this museum is definitely worth a visit. I went with a low expectation and came back pleasantly surprised. If you have a couple of hours to spare, this museum should be able to bring back the 5-year-old kid in you. 😉

Useful Information – Miniatures Museum of Taiwan:

Opening Hours:

  • 10:00-18:00 daily. Closed on Mondays

Admission:

  • NT$180 / Adult
  • NT$100 / Child

Directions:

  • MRT to Songjiang Nanjing (松江南京)
  • Walk towards 南京東路二段 and turn right onto 南京東路二段
  • Walk about 5 minutes until 建國北路一段 and turn right again onto 建國北路一段
  • Walk about 5 minutes to reach Miniatures Museum on the right

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Taiwan – Chia Te Bakery (佳德糕餅)

The Award Winning Egg Tarts from Chia Te

Ok, let me make a confession first. I am not a gourmet nor am I a pastry lover. In fact I eat to live, not live to eat. ◕ิ‿◕ิ

Now that the disclaimer is done, let’s continue with the blog. Chia Te is an award winning bakery and it was highly recommended by my cousin. Judging by the number of awards it had won, I guess they should be pretty good and pineapple tarts is their speciality. Though I didn’t try any of the tarts, my family loves them. So how good are they? Well just put it this way, my wife would like to go back to Chia Te every time we visit Taipei. She regretted not buying more. LOL.

Chia Te Bakery

Unless you are very familiar with Taipei, I would suggest that you just hop into a taxi to bring you to Chia Te. This is probably the easiest. However, if you are adventurous enough, you can check out the buses to take from their webpage.

Taiwan is a paradise for food lovers. One can basically eat all the way from breakfast til late supper. One interesting observation is that food tasting is not commonly practised in Taiwan, unlike Singapore. Chia Te is no exception. We basically bought the tarts and pastry in good faith and luckily they did not disappoint.

There are many favours to choose from (plum, strawberry, cherry, etc) and you can basically pick and choose what to be packed in boxes of 6, 12 or 20. The items are individually priced and there is not discount for “bulk” purchase. Besides tarts, Chia Te also sells sun cake (太陽餅), wife cake (老婆餅) and milk cake (奶油餅).

Useful Information – Chia Te Bakery:

Opening Hours:

  • 07:30-21:30 daily

Address:

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