Exploring Taipei: Tamsui – More than just the food!

Exploring Taipei: Tamsui – More than just the food!

I’d previously done a post on Tamsui, and in this blog post, I’d like to talk about the journey there. Bear in mind, the destination this time isn’t just Tamsui Old Street but rather Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf.

From Taipei City, one can easily hop on and take the red line towards Tamsui – but instead of taking the train to the Tamsui stop, stop at Hong Shu Lin instead. When at the station, change to the Danhai Light Rail (you will need to tap your card before entering the light rail). It will take approximately 30 minutes from Hong Shu Lin to the final destination, Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf. Note that this is a longer journey than heading to Tamsui and changing over to the local bus, but take this route if you’re not tight on time. Apart from having a pleasant view, you can also see the different sculptures by Jimmy in each of these stations.

When you’ve reached the Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf station, you can follow the signs towards the wharf. You will pass Furong Hotel Tamsui, and if you’re a fan of Starbucks, you can stop by for a quick coffee break. It’s not the fanciest nor most unique Starbucks around, but it’s pretty quaint (and quiet if you’re there on a weekday).

Now for the Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf – a boardwalk leads you to the ‘end’ where one can have a spectacular view of the sunset. If you’re there early and would like to wait for the sunset, you can buy some food from the stalls just under the boardwalk and bring it up to eat. You can even walk over to the Lover’s Bridge if it’s open (it was under construction when I went).

Here’s a view of the sunset I took during my most recent trip.

There’s just something so comforting about the sunset.

Apart from the old street, head over to Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf if you’re in the vicinity. The view of the sunset is really fantastic.

EXPLORING HUALIEN: TAROKO GORGE

EXPLORING HUALIEN: TAROKO GORGE

One of the most majestic places you can visit in Taiwan is the Taroko Gorge. As one of the nine national parks across Taiwan, this park is so large that it spans over various counties including Taichung, Nantou and Hualien.

For this trip, my friends and I decided to engage a driver via KLOOK and were surprised that we were upgraded from the five-seater vehicle to a nine-seater van. For just the four of us, this van was a real treat!

But back to the locations we visited across this national park. We started at Qingshui Cliff, followed by visits to the Shakadang Trail, Changuang Temple, the Swallow Grotto Yanzikou Trail, and Tunnel of Nine Turns.

Qingshui Cliff

One of the tallest peaks in this area is the Qingshui Cliff where it stands at 1,000m high. Its sharp drop into the sea makes the area picturesque as the clear blue water crashes into the shore. 

Shakadang Trail

Previously known as the “Mysterious Valley Trail”, this trail brings you through a clear path towards the majestic valley feel of the Taroko area. The path also has rocks on the side that show the rustic side to the area. It looks over a river that looks like pure jade. You can walk along the path that eventually leads to a small food area that sells wonderful Taiwanese sausages.

Changuang Temple

Our driver brought us to an area that led to the Changuang Temple but the 12 minute hike was a bit too much for me hence only two friends went up. This area is very quiet and if you enjoy visiting temples, this temple allows you to ring the bell as you say your wishes. It’s a nice walk past a suspension bridge so be sure to conquer your fear of heights!

Swallow Grotto Yanzikou Trail

This area is the most popular area as it cuts through the gorge and brings about many different views. It’d be good to borrow a helmet as this area is known to have some falling rocks! When walking through this trail, couldn’t help but marvel at how majestic this area is.  Our talented driver helped take the photo on the extreme right (it shows the shape of the island!).

Tunnel of Nine Turns

The Tunnel of Nine Turns is a scenic spot that’s very family-friendly. It has wide paths and is well-renovated. This area got its name not because it has nine turns but because it looks like the character ‘九’ which has a lot of turns – pretty unique name to me! This spot is great for a different view of the mountains too.

My friends and I spent about six hours in this area, and our driver brought us to a rest-stop for lunch mid-day.

Even if you’re not a fan of nature, I’d highly recommend visiting this place if you’re in Taiwan. Over here, you can’t help but see the beauty in nature.

It’s a(bao)t to get Bao-werful

It’s a(bao)t to get Bao-werful

If you’ve been to Hualien, you’ve probably heard of the famous 公正包子 (Gong Zheng Bao Zi). It’s so popular that it has a whopping 14,000 reviews on Google alone! I’ve tried out the buns on multiple occasions, and I had to try it again on a recent trip to Hualien. 

Unlike the Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) in Singapore refers to the hot soupy pork dumpling, Xiao Long Bao in Taiwan is just a pork bun. The hot soupy pork dumpling is called 小籠湯包 or Xiao Long Tang Bao in Taiwan. So imagine my horror when I first ordered the bun six years ago and got an entire tray of pork buns. 

But back to the Xiao Long Bao from 公正包子. The meat is rich and juicy, and each bun is served piping hot from the steamer. The skin is on the thicker side (see the top of the bun) but has a pleasant taste to it. It complements exceptionally well with the pork filling, which is a very well-compressed meatball. The sweet juices from the pork also make the filling moist and make the whole bun very tasty. 

Apart from the Xiao Long Bao, this shop also sells dumplings. Each dumpling’s filling is similar to the bun’s fillings but in a much smaller amount. The skin was also on the thicker side but was still really good. The garlic soy sauce is also a must-add when eating this! 

Interestingly, 公正包子 is next to a 周家蒸餃 (Zhou Jia Zheng Jiao), a shop that has almost an identical menu – same items, same price. 

I preferred the skin of the Xiao Long Bao from 周家蒸餃 as it was slightly thinner than the ones from 公正包子. However, in terms of taste, it was highly similar. The filling from 周家蒸餃 was also a little less compressed than the ones from 公正包子 and seemed to have a higher fat content – it was, therefore, a lot juicier. It also had more chives which gave it a sweet hint. The dumplings tasted the same to me – and the sauce was almost the same too! 

I know most people recommend 公正包子because it seems to be the longer-standing one, but I prefer 周家蒸餃because the buns are sweeter. The queue for the former is longer, so honestly choosing 周家增加also makes sense for me – the buns are nicer, and the queue’s shorter! 

Both shops are good so why not try them if you’re around this (Bao)werful area!  Each bun costs 5 NTD (SGD 0.24), and each tray of dumplings (10 pieces) costs 30 NTD (SGD 1.46) at both 公正包子 and 周家蒸餃。

Address

公正包子
No. 199-2, Zhongshan Rd, Hualien City, Hualien County, 970
Tel: 038342933
Hours: 08:00–20:00

周家蒸餃
No. 4-20 Gongzheng Street , Hualien City, Hualien County, 970
Tel: 03 835 0006
Hours: 00:00 – 23:59

TAIPEI FINDS: Mi Yue Mochi Tang (米玥麻糬堂)

TAIPEI FINDS: Mi Yue Mochi Tang (米玥麻糬堂)

Mochi comes in many forms – some classify mochi as muah-chee (where it’s a flour ball coated with stuff), or there’s mochi that has filling inside. Hailing from Taichung, Mi Yue Mochi Tang opened a store in Taipei City earlier this year. It usually draws a queue in Taichung, so I was pleased to find it on UberEats in Taipei.

In my order, I decided to try three flavours of mochi – the classic peanut mochi (23NTD; $1.10 SGD), milk tea (tie guan yin) mochi (35NTD; $1.70 SGD), and a taro salted egg mochi (35NTD; $1.70 SGD). Do note that these prices are UberEats prices – it’s around 5NTD cheaper per mochi if you buy it from the store directly!

Before I comment on the taste of the mochi, I’d like to compliment the excellent packaging this shop has. Customers can choose between white rabbit packaging or a ‘medicine pack’ packaging if they purchase at least four mochis – and that’s what I did – to get the cute packaging. I chose the ‘medicine pack’ packaging, which was well-packed in a small bundle. When I got my delivery, I was so tickled that it looked like an actual Chinese medicine pack:

The skin of the mochi isn’t flavoured (slightly sweet) and was consistent across all mochis. What I like was that the mochi was chewy yet thin enough. I’ve eaten many mochis where the skin was so thick that it tasted rubbery. This mochi skin is light, soft and chewy – and it doesn’t break easily. It complemented the fillings well.

The classic peanut mochi – the peanut with sugar gave the mochi a good crunch; the different sizes of crushed peanuts gave the mochi a good texture. It was not too sweet and was very satisfying. The mochi was stuffed with peanuts – it was so good.

The milk tea (tie guan yin) mochi – the paste inside consists of ‘tie guan yin’, bean and milk paste. It wasn’t blended and instead was layered within the mochi. If you like the filling of typical mooncakes, you’d like this. I felt that the taste of the filling was a tad too strong. Unlike the peanut mochi that had different textures, eating this mochi felt like eating a snow-skin mooncake. It was good, but perhaps I’d instead share it with a friend next time – one is too much for a single sitting.

The taro salted egg mochi – the taro paste was slightly sweet, and the ‘powdered’ salted egg yolk filling was nicely salted that wasn’t too salty. The contrast in flavour is good, and the different textures with the soft mochi skin made it a nice snack.

If you’re around Taichung or Taipei City, I’d recommend you to try it out. From the excellent variety in flavours to how good it tasted, it’s a worthwhile snack.

Verdict

Classic Peanut Mochi – 👍👍👍👍👍

Tie Guan Yin Mochi – 👍👍

Taro Salted Egg Mochi – 👍👍👍👍

Exploring Taipei: Tamsui Old Street

Exploring Taipei: Tamsui Old Street

Just a 30 min MRT train ride from downtown Taipei lies Tamsui Old Street – a place hailed for being a ‘romantic’ with a lover’s bridge and more. Apart from being the perfect place for viewing the sunset, Tamsui is peppered with many food stalls – and some are pretty amazing.

Here are three food places which I’d recommend trying if you’re heading there:

樂湯包

Taiwan is known for it’s Xiao Long Bao’s – but did you know that other than Din Tai Fung which calls it Xiao Long Bao, this soup dumpling is called 小籠湯包in Taiwan? If you went to a regular breakfast joint and ordered a Xiao Long Bao, you will probably be disappointed when you see a pork-filled bun instead of a soup dumpling.

Fun fact aside, this shop serves three types of dumplings – pork soup dumplings, beef soup dumplings and prawn dumplings. We tried both the pork soup dumplings (8 dumplings per serving) and prawn dumplings (7 dumplings per serving). The pork soup dumplings were really good – the soup to meat ratio within the dumpling was delectable – we liked it so much that we ordered another portion! The vegetable taste in the prawn dumpling was a tad too strong for me but my friends enjoyed it.

At 70 NTD (SGD $3.45) per serving, I’d highly recommend dropping by this place for some piping hot dumplings if you’re in the area. Do note that seating is limited and the store has a minimum one serving for every two pax policy.

5/5 for the Soup dumpling 2.5/5 for the Prawn dumpling (Taste and value)

淡水渡船頭阿給老店

Ah Gei

阿給 also known as Ah Gei is a Taiwanese dish. It essentially is glass noodles wrapped in beancurd skin, topped with a bit of fish paste and drenched in sweet sauce (similar to ‘yong tau fu’ sauce). The combination of sweet sauce and the different textures of the dish made it appealing and was honestly pretty filling.

My friends tried the fishball soup here and they enjoyed it too.

There are many shops selling Ah Gei around Tamsui and I personally don’t know if this is the best store in the area, but it was pretty good. Though crowded, the food options were all affordably priced at 40 NTD (SGD$1.95) per item. Also, if you are able to get the seats facing the pier, you will be greeted with a fairly nice view of the pier (and sunset).

Do note that service isn’t the finest here. Reviews on Google also highlight the poor service standards here.

3.5/5 for the Ah Gei

阿春蝦卷

Although I was full from the soup dumplings and Ah Gei, I decided to try these fried prawn rolls. At only 25 NTD (SGD $1.25) for three, how could I not try it?

Deep-fried, these prawn spring rolls were crunchy on the edges and warm on the inside. The filling was tasty and you have the option of glazing some sauce over it yourself (too salty with the sauce).  

While there was a queue, it moved fast and I managed to get my item pretty quickly. I recommend eating this if you’re in the area – it’s pretty tasty, crispy, and piping hot. Suitable as a snack on a cold day.

3/5 for the Prawn spring rolls – would rate it higher if it were less salty and less crunchy.

Conclusion

Sunset from Tamsui Old Street

Tamsui is the perfect place to end the day after a day of walking around Taipei City. Hands-down a must visit place for good food, good vibes (buskers are everywhere) and good views.

Tamsui Old Street

No. 1, Zhongzheng Road, Tamsui District, New Taipei City, 251

Terminal station for the Red Line

Exploring Taichung: Rainbow Village

Exploring Taichung: Rainbow Village

One of the most-visited attractions in Taichung is the Rainbow Village. Once home to a group of soldiers, one ex-soldier and resident stood up to paint the houses in the village in an attempt to have them preserved. The land belonging to the Ministry of Defence was about to be reclaimed.

While he initially did it out of boredom, the village slowly gained recognition because of its vibrant colours that stood out.

Located in the Nantun District in Taichung, Rainbow Village became a hit only over the past decade. Many locals alike had not visited the place before, and it was only after it became an “Instagram-worthy” location, did more locals and tourist flood the site.

The resident, also known as Rainbow Grandpa (彩虹爺爺), still lives on site. At a whopping age of 99, he still paints the place when necessary. Teams of volunteers have also stepped in over the years to help in the preservation of the attraction. You can find Rainbow Grandpa at the attraction on some days. He takes photos with groups of visitors for a small fee that goes towards preserving the village.

Rainbow Village brings so much joy because of its vibrancy, and also because it teaches us a lesson on how sometimes our little efforts can lead to great things – just like what Rainbow Grandpa did to preserve his home.

Rainbow Village is Instagram-Worthy

P.S. There is a small play area for children in the area. Snacks and collectable items can also be found at the Rainbow Village.

Address:
Rainbow Village
408, Taichung City, Nantun District, 春安路56巷25號
Open daily from 8am to 6pm

Exploring Taichung: Gaomei Wetlands

Exploring Taichung: Gaomei Wetlands
Gaomei Wetlands

A one-hour drive from Taichung City brings one to a wetland wonderland – Gaomei Wetlands. Situated in the Qingshui district, Gaomei Wetlands has, over the years, been an attraction when visiting nearby Taichung. 

Located at the mouth of a river, Gaomei Wetlands is an area with both mud and sand and is home to a rich diversity of migrating birds, fishes and crabs. Lining the wetlands are wind turbines that add quite a view to the 300-hectare land.  

Here are two main reasons why I love heading to Gaomei Wetlands:

You can feel the sand and mud at your feet. 

A short walk across the boardwalk brings you to the actual wetland where you can walk across. While only a section is open to the public, it is a pretty large area, and one can comfortably walk barefoot across the wetland, with soft earth under your feet. There’s just something about walking on the ground with cool water flowing past. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to find small crabs and mudskippers along the area. Just remember to view from afar and not disturb them in their natural habitat. 

The sunset here is lovely.

Most visitors come in the late afternoon/ early evening to enjoy the sunset. The vast wetland, wind turbines, and the sunset make the entire place picturesque on a clear day, but the vibes the area gives on a gloomy day is still pretty impressive. 

Gaomei Wetlands is a bit out of the way and can be slightly tricky to get to, but the views and the smell of nature are what really draws people (like me) there. Some street vendors are nearby, so you probably do not have to worry about getting food in this quiet area. 

Visit this place

Gaomei Wetlands
Meidi Street, Qingshui District, Taichung City, 436

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Did you know? Taichung has an interesting way of naming their markets – First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Markets. This naming convention apparently came out in the past based on the order they were founded – very different from the naming conventions we are used to, but very practical. Only the second, third, fifth and sixth markets seem to be in operation at the moment. 

Over the weekend, I visited the Taichung Second Market, which had an abundance of food options. A popular tourist attraction, the market had some signs which made it easier to move around – note, easier, not easy. The market felt like a maze, but it was fun to ‘get lost’ inside as it allowed us to explore the various shops. 

Of the many food stores in the market, I ate at five of them (over two days). Here’s my quick review of the places:

Arashi Braised Minced Pork (嵐肉燥專賣店)

Unlike your usual braised minced pork rice bowl, the braised pork here comes in thin slices (think ramen chashu), topped up with minced braised pork – this is a pork-on-pork bowl. The meats were well-seasoned, and the sliced pork came with a nice chew. If you like fried shallots, you’ll love the braised minced pork sauce as it had a robust aroma of shallots. At 65 NTD (~$3.10), I’d give it a 5/5 for this affordable bowl of rice – in fact, I’d buy it even if they raised the price. 

魚皮李滷肉飯

This store serves the more traditional version of braised pork rice. Instead of ordering the braised minced pork version, I ordered one with a thick slice of pork belly. This small bowl cost 55 NTD ($2.60) and was a pretty small portion, but when topped with a fried egg, the combination of runny egg yolk, pork belly and piping hot rice was delicious. I’d give it a 4/5 because of the cost (mainly because the portion was smaller than the bowl of rice from Arashi Braised Minced Pork. 

小庭找茶 

Situated on the market’s outer ring, this shop sells traditional desserts that come with a modern twist. Of the two desserts we consumer, the 相思粉粿 (60 NTD/$2.90) consisted of red beans and a blob of yellow slimy goo topped with almond milk. This dish was unique – the taste was good, but the texture was strange. I don’t hate it, but it is not something I’d want to order again. The other dessert, however, was good. 

The dessert, 餅冰淇淋 (55 NTD/$2.60), came presented very nicely – a biscuit made of brown sugar, which resembled a coconut husk, had a scoop of ice cream and boba in it. Considering that Taichung is known to where bubble milk tea originated, I loved how they incorporated boba into the dessert. 

2/5 for the 相思粉粿. Good to try, but only for trying

4/5 for the 餅冰淇淋.

王家菜头粿糯米肠 

Tip: Buy the tea from Like Tea Shop and have it with your snack here! (Image credit: Arlene)

This stall sells traditional snacks like radish cake, glutinous rice rolls, and soups. With a pretty extensive menu, this shop honestly sells mostly carbs, making every dish very filling. We had the radish cake with an egg. The fact that they served it fresh off the griddle made it appetizing. Still, the carb-overdose was real as it felt like I was eating a flour cake that had no strips of radish within the dish – I personally prefer the Hong Kong-style radish cakes. 

3/5 for the radish cake! 

Like Tea Shop (老賴茶棧)

This shop had such a queue when I went on Saturday, so I gave it a miss, but on Sunday, this shop only had two people in line, and I took it as a sign to try it. 

As someone who does not enjoy sweet black teas, I was surprised by how smooth this cup of iced tea was. It had a strong tea fragrance and had a pleasant refreshing aftertaste. I’d give this place a solid 5/5 as this cup of tea only cost 25 NTD ($1.20)! A definite must-drink if I’m in the area! 

Conclusion

I’d highly recommend that you visit this market if you’re in Taichung, preferably in the morning as there are more shops open. The food options are abundant so do go with an empty stomach!

Taichung Second Market

No. 87, Section 2, Sanmin Road, Central District, Taichung City, 400

Closed on Mondays (Most shops are closed by 2pm)

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

I love visiting old streets – the vibrancy and the old, low-rise buildings just give them a nice and welcoming vibe. Over the past weekend, I visited such a street in Taipei City – Dihua Street. While it is not considered an old street, it certainly gave a similar vibe!

Located near Dadaocheng, Dihua Street is easily accessible via the Taipei metro. This street is renowned to be THE PLACE to go and shop during the Chinese New Year season. Peppered with many shops selling dried goods from seafood to snacks and preserved food, this place is heaven for shopping regardless of age.

Dihua Street

Aside from dried produce, Dihua Street is also home to many other types of shops – shops that sell local-university products, shops that sell creative products from local artists, and even an Olympus shop selling cameras and accessories. There are various small exhibitions within some of these shops as well, which make them a great place to spend an afternoon.  

I went on a rainy weekend afternoon and it was quiet, but I do believe that it’s a lot busier on dry weekends – especially because there’s food readily available in the area.

One of the shops I stopped to eat at was 度小月 – a shop with origins in Tainan. I had a taste of the Dan Zai Noodles and Braised Meat Ball which cost 50 NTD (~$.240) and 15 NTD (~$0.75) respectively – very affordable! Can’t deny that the portion was a bit small but the minced pork sauce and prawn with the noodles, topped up with piping hot soup, was quite a treat on a cold rainy day! The interior of the shop was also very unique – it had a ‘cart’ set-up resembling how they used to sell these Dan Zai Noodles in the past.

Dihua street is an amazing place to spend an afternoon. I’ll definitely check the place out again when it’s not raining. Check out the 7-11 along Dihua Street too – it really is very pretty!

Flying (again) during the pandemic

Flying (again) during the pandemic

Having flown to Taipei earlier in August on China Airlines, here’s a short update on my flight back to Singapore on Scoot just last week.

The journey back on Scoot was a fairly smooth one. I booked the flight a month before my date of travel and was delighted to find out that Scoot resumed flights between Taipei and Singapore (previously, only China Airlines, EVA, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar provided flights). The addition of Scoot flights gave me the option to fly back to Singapore on a Monday while the rest of the airlines flew later in the week.

Online check-in was as per usual, with me filling in my personal information and declaring if I had check-in baggage. However, I was also informed by the airline to fill in the Singapore Arrival Card, a travel requirement where all travelers to Singapore had to submit our arrival details to the ICA for immigration clearance within three days before our arrival.

Besides, Scoot also had their health declaration form which had to be submitted 24 hours before the flight.

Counter check-in at Taoyuan International Airport was also very smooth, and I was informed that there were around 20 passengers on the same flight as me from Taipei to Singapore. As we waited to board the plane at the gate, the ground staff constantly reminded passengers to keep their masks on at all times via the PA system.

On-board the flight, our seats had a ‘care-pack’ consisting of a bottle of hand sanitizer, a mask, and alcohol wipes which we could use during our flight. It was very thoughtful, considering that it’s a budget airline. Compared to China Airlines, I’ve to admit that Scoot’s care pack was a better one.

The return flight to Singapore was an uneventful one, with most passengers choosing to stay in their seats and barely anyone used the washroom or moved around during the flight.

Upon landing, all the passengers had to proceed to the immigration area where we took our COVID-19 test before clearing immigration. I pre-paid for my COVID-19 test earlier and only had to wait a short while before the test was administered (I got my test results back within eight hours!).

Immigration clearance and luggage clearance were also a breeze, which I was thankful for!

All in all, the flight back was an uneventful one. It is indeed sad to see airports so empty but I could get used to the empty seats around me on the plane!

If you’re flying in/out/through Singapore Changi International Airport, I highly suggest checking the Changi Airport website for the latest updates – it really helped me as I planned my journey back.