Thursday, October 27, 2011


Hi everyone I have reached Taiwan and on the first day I had a lot of adventures (what you get when you do a self-tour). I am holidaying with my mom as she had nagged me about it ever since three years ago and October was the only time when she was able to take leave from work, so it was a slightly rushed affair. Since my birthday was within the period I figured it was a birthday break.

My tickets are from the budget airline, Jetstar Asia, they fly regionally, tickets were about S$325 each, I bought a package deal including hotel for 8 nights at S$850 per person. The catch was food & drinks were for a fee ($3 for a can of Coke anyone? $8 for rice etc) and baggage were limited to 10kg hand-carry (yes they weigh those too). Check-in luggage would be $25 per kg. I was starting to regret this as we brought stuff that isn't going to fit within the weight limit for hand-carry. Upon reaching Taiwan, I was planning to take a bus to our hotel but it was 12.30am and we had missed the last bus. So I took a cab to our hotel for about 1,275NTD.

My hotel is the Royal Seasons Hotel, the reason why I chose this place was it had reviews about having a nice big toilet with a jacuzzi, a safety deposit box and the hotel was located beside a 7-Eleven. Well yes, the toilet is quite lovely and the shower area quite large. Notice the glass panel. People on the other side of the room can see you showering, but there is a semi translucent blind you can roll down if you are shy. I forgot to snap the main room, it is slightly cramped but has a comfy queen-sized poster bed with cute drapes. 

The wifi did not work, I had to borrow an ethernet cable from the main desk. There wasn't a safety deposit box in my room. Free bottled water, housekeeping replenishes it daily. The site reviews stated they provide L'Occitane toiletries but there are only normal chinese toiletries so eh. There is a one-way shuttle bus service to 3 MRT stations, Zhongshan, Taipei (Main) and Xi-men. You have to make an appointment though... 2 hours is usually enough to secure a seat in the seven-seater van. The service crew are pleasant and polite. Breakfast is mediocre, not a large choice, in buffet style (eggs, ham, toast, congee, rice, seasonal local vegetables, salad or noodles), almost the same dishes everyday.

The reviews say it is only 15 minutes walk to Zhongshan station but this is tedious and not recommended, especially when scooters are abundant in Taiwan and you have to cross several roads, take the shuttle! 

Talking about scooters, this is the first thing you notice about Taiwan! So many. I understand they are an affordable way of commuting and a necessity if you are living in Taipei and cannot afford a car. It is quite interesting to watch what they are transporting, there are dogs riding on the floor and some with with kids and their mom. Some are balanced with groceries. The riders tend to be rather haphazard sometimes. The problem is this: they tend to weave in and out of traffic, sometimes coming from two directions even though it is a one-way lane (usually the back alleys), also they like to speed and not give way to pedestrians even though the lights are for the pedestrians. Noticed they don't give way to anyone including buses and ride very closely beside and even against incoming buses from the opposite directions. So accidents appear frequent, on the first day I witnessed 3 accidents. When alighting from the bus, you have to watch if there are any oncoming scooters trying to beat the bus doors, they sometimes drive on the extreme right and may collide with an alighting passenger.

During rush hour the amount of scooters are probably ten times more than this.

My mom was very nervous about this, especially when vehicles turn into the pedestrian crossing rather than waiting for their turn, I had to hold her arm even when crossing a minor lane because of her impulse to run from incoming scooters and taxis (I think this is more dangerous)... but she is used to it now.

Rows and rows of scooters at every buildings.
The first attraction was the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物館). I bought an Easycard 悠游卡 for 500NTD (100NTD for deposit, 400NTD worth of credits), took the MRT from Zhongshan (中山) , alighting at Shihlin (石林) using the red line. There are a lot of lost people in Taipei - and I mean these are locals... the roads can be quite confusing. I got asked four times for directions - I am probably more lost than them. Camera + map = noob tourist. 

Then take a bus from outside Shihlin MRT. I was supposed to take Red 30 bus but there was another bus with the Gu-gong 故宮 sign on the display and other confused tourists were going to the museum too, so the driver was yelling if anyone wants to go to the museum get on the bus now, so I did lol.

I think it was a special shuttle route heading specially to the museum. Used the Easycard here. The ticketing system is different in Taiwan from Singapore, in Singapore you tap at the entrance and tap out as you exit for all buses. In Taiwan because they calculate based on section rather than individual stops; it's either tap when entering, or tap when exiting, or both. You have to see the sign just above the driver (上車刷卡) or (下車刷卡), if you can't read chinese then ask the driver. You can enter by the front or back but you always exit by the front as the card reader and coin machine is beside the driver.

Shihlin just outside the MRT.

One of the buses. Notice the seatbelt sign lol
The buses are clean, but they tend to speed and it gets very bumpy, so hold on tight. The standing passengers tend to get hurled to the front from sudden brakes lol. The younger people are used to this and almost always give up their seats to older folks, sometimes middle-aged folk give their seats to the senior ones, something we should do more often in Singapore really. Many here pretend to sleep or not to see or need prompting before they do it. Anyhow someone-else-will-give-up-their-seat-so-why-should-I mentality. Oh well. One thing nice about Taiwan's buses is if you are not sure where to stop you can ask the driver to tell you when to get down, he/she will yell for you to get off. This is helpful if the buses going to the outer counties and do not show the names of the individual stops on their electronic displays.

The current special exhibition is some trade and arts artifacts between Emperor Kang Xi and King Louis XVI. This is at the exhibition hall 2. The main exhibition hall 1 holds the permanent collection. They are separately ticketed, cheaper if you buy a combination ticket (300NTD) rather than individually. No photography allowed, but there are many lovely chinese treasures on 3 floors so this is a must go. Oh the weather that day was terrible, it was hot & humid like Singapore...

It was extremely crowded in Hall 1 from the tons of China tour groups so Hall 2 was nice. It is best to go in the mornings before the tour groups arrive.

Bus stop just below the stairs leading from the hall 1. Took Red 30 back to Shihlin. The wait was quite long, about 25mins.

Our next stop was the Yehliu Geological Park, and I took a public bus from Tamshui (about 30min train ride) and it ended up to be about 1.5 hours by public bus (Bus 1262 from the bus terminal). I rode on the bus for 40 mins, got super worried if I missed the place and asked the driver when Yehliu would crop up. It was already dark at 5pm and he said not yet, there's still 40mins!! Almost fainted. But whatever! Anyway I've already sat for such a long way.

My mom wasn't happy about it. I forgot to check the site, the place closes at 5pm ahaha since Taipei is dark by then and I totally forgot to check up on sunset times. It only gets that dark at 7.45pm in Singapore. Anyhow after walking a long way through the seafood village, the only thing I did there was use the toilet besides getting asked by taxi drivers if we wanted to take their cabs. One even said the attraction's long closed and he should take us out to wherever.
Waiting for the return bus to Tamshui. Lots of stairs in Taiwan. And very dark here.
So after being tired and hungry and disappointed, we decided to go to Shihlin night market for dinner, since it was en route back. On the train we encountered a zany woman who was too loud and overly curious about us, let's just say everyone in the 3 adjoining cabins were staring and eavesdropping (unintentionally) on our conversation. Almost drove me crazy. Anyhow, Shihlin night market is the largest and most famous night bazaar in Taipei. It is about 15mins walk from the Shihlin MRT or Jiantan 劍潭 MRT (4 mins walk).

It becomes very crowded at about 9 to 11pm, but some scooters still manage to ride their bikes through the human congestion!

A temple in the alleys of Shihlin

I wanted noodles vermicelli but orderi Tianbula (甜不辣) instead. It translates as tempura but this is totally unlike japanese tempura. And yes it is sweet and not spicy. The brown paste appears to be some fermented bean paste and there are meatballs, fried dough thingy, sesame rice and a steamed radish (which I dropped on the floor by accident... nooo!).

Fresh haw berries. Never tried them fresh before, they are sour & sweet and my mom's choice.

Pink guava. Singapore's guava tend to be tasteless, dry and sour. These local Taiwanese guava are juicy and sweet! With a dash of plum powder. It wasn't that cheap, about 175NTD for the haw berries and guava. The fruit stall lady gave me a few chunks of pineapple for free.

We wandered around and eventually reached a train station which turnd out to be Jiantan MRT. Only then I realised Jiantan was closer to the Shihlin night market than Shihlin itself.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Ah yes Haw Par Villa. The kitschiest, morbidest, super-wierd theme park in Singapore. Admission is free, the park went downhill when some tourism board took over and charged a fee - glad they learnt their lesson. The park is now rather derelict ever since the admission fees killed visitor numbers and people just forgot about it over the years.

I remembered it was always crowded back in the 1980s and there was this huge dragon you could go into (never went as a kid but all my friends did). The park is now slightly deserted, stuck in time, obsolete in our hyper modern society. Well the new Circle MRT line opened earlier this month, I heard visitor numbers jumped three-fold but it is still pleasantly uncrowded.

The train station (Haw Par Villa) is right beside the park. Remember to bring your umbrellas and wear as comfortably as possible, it's really quite warm even on a cloudy day. Lots of walking. Prepare to sweat. There are no food stalls there, just drink vending machines so bring your own!

The park, also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, opened by the 2 brothers Aw Boon Haw (Haw means Tiger) and Aw Boon Par (Par means Leopard) who started the Tiger Balm company. Consisting mainly of sculpture, it features chinese folklore, mythology, Buddhism, some retro-inspired diorama and teaches various aspects of Confucianism and moral values. The key attraction is the 'Ten Courts of Hell' tunnel where there are very gorey depictions of punishment in chinese hell.

Cute tiger mascots promoting Tiger balm ointment. Algae is a nice touch.

The phrase roughly means 'sea of misery has no cliff, turning back is the shore'. This is to remind people to repent of their misdeeds... or else.

Entrance to hell. This used to be the mouth of the huge dragon where boat rides would go through. It's very warm and stuffy in there even on a rainy day. It also smells of stale perspiration.

Pounded by a stone mallet. If you tax dodge, refuse to pay rent or commit business fraud... lol 

Aah sawn into half!

Aah sawn in half... in the other direction!

Ok what's this. So this rich lady is feeding this poor old woman (mother-in-law) and not her baby (not shown).

Abandoned arena

One of the larger diorama sculpture


Giant Guan Yu aka Guan Gong. Creepy smirk.

Algae filled disused water fountain. Surreal the way I like it.

Stream now stagnant.

The miniature houses now just ponds and homes to fishies, remnant of the once water-filled park.

There used to be a boat ride around the park and now just concrete. I heard the villa had a family swimmimg pool which they added mermaids. These were it. The original art deco villa, see here and here was damaged during WWII and was torn down.

This is just a fraction of the stuff there but my post is getting too long so I shall end here.

I am going to Taiwan on Sunday (with my mom... on our own), so will be documenting my trip details there on my next blog posts!