Friday, October 31, 2014

Restaurant Review: Shin Yeh 欣葉 (Taipei, Taiwan)

Shin Yeh is one of the top restaurant recommendations you'll get when you research traditional Taiwanese cuisine. We had our hotel concierge book us a reservation at their original branch location.

We were seated in their basement level, which had fairly tightly packed tables. I would have preferred to sit somewhere with windows, but I don't know if that is an option.

I'll say up-front, that Chinese food like this is not ideal for parties of 2. You can really only order 2-3 dishes per person. We ordered 3 and didn't finish everything. We ordered a fried oyster and basil dish, a single large spring roll, a chicken stir fry dish, and steamed fish.

There were significant language barriers when it came to ordering the fish for some reason. Not that I expect every server in Taiwan to be fluent in English, but we appreciated that at every other store and restaurant we went to, once I had explained my Chinese was not great, they would send us their server most fluent in English to try and facilitate communication. Not at Shin Yeh, though. We had an older auntie waitress, and she became easily exasperated when I didn't understand what she was trying to communicate to us about the steamed fish. I think it had something to do with the size of the fish. I said simply that we wanted a smaller fish, since it was just the two of us, and she kept trying to get me to OK some unit of measurement I didn't understand. You'll see at the end of this post our receipt. We received 15 mystery units of the fish, and it cost about $60 USD (!!! if you know what the mystery units are, please please enlighten me!). She also sent us the "large" size of the chicken dish, despite my ordering "small". And we were charged for tea (not much money, but still, wtf?).

At a nearby table of businessmen, one obviously got something lodged in his throat, and we spent the rest of our dinner listening to him alternatingly talking as if nothing was wrong, and hacking away extremely loudly. I seriously thought he was choking and might drop dead. I was surprised that he didn't (a) excuse himself to go to the bathroom, and (b) no employees went over to ask if he was OK. Strange, right??

Nice teapot warmer!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Travel: Yongkang St, Smoothie House, Ximending District (Taipei, Taiwan)

After our breakfast/brunch at Din Tai Fung, we decided to walk around Yong Kang St a bit. Most places were still closed around 11am on a Monday, but it was still cool to walk around.

YongKang St area

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Restaurant Review: Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 (Taipei, Taiwan)

I originally wanted to go to Kao Chi on Yong Kang St instead of the insanely popular tourist attraction that is the original branch of Din Tai Fung (Official Site, Tripadvisor), but Kao Chi was under construction and appeared to be closed when we arrived shortly after 10am (it turns out that they did open, but not until 11am on that day). Somewhat reluctantly, we moseyed back over to Din Tai Fung and I got a number. I was rather disappointed that I failed to avoid this mega-hotspot, but in the end, I am glad we came here after all.

When I got my number, we were given a pink order sheet. Knowing my limitations, I asked if they had an English menu, and was provided with a glossy, easy to read and fully illustrated menu! Woohoo! How easy was that? #inagarten

鼎泰豐 order sheet

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Restaurant Review: Tresors de la Mer 上引水產 at AADC (Taipei, Taiwan)

Part and parcel with all the blog posts I had read when researching Addiction Aquatic Development Center, I had read about their sit-down restaurant Tresors de la Mer 上引水產 (Official Site). From what I understand, this is mainly a hotpot restaurant, but they also have a very popular and relatively affordable) raw seafood platter... and also sushi... and also cooked seafood!

Tresors de la Mer restaurant at AADC. Look at those uniforms! Second-hand embarrassment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Travel: Addiction Aquatic Development Center (Taipei, Taiwan)

I had read about Addiction Aquatic Development Center online while trip planning multiple places online (Official website, Trip Advisor, Hungry Girl in Taipei, and was excited to check it out.

It reminded me a lot of Eataly in NYC. There is a supermarket section with tons of seafood, fruits and veg, packaged ingredients, prepared foods, prepared sushi, etc. There are also various places to eat, such as a popular standing sushi bar (you have to get a number), a raw bar, some cooked food, etc. There's an outdoor patio for the grilled BBQ as well, and a sit down restaurant with upstairs seating called Tresors de la Mer. There's also a wine bar and a home goods section.

Since we expected the main area to be quite crowded (and it was), so we had our hotel concierge make us a dinner reservation at Tresors de la Mer (separate post coming!). We arrived a bit early so we could check out the supermarket though! If I lived in Taipei, I'd definitely want to check out all the food you can get here on the main floor :)

(Sidebar: We seemed to have crappy luck with taxi drivers in Taiwan not knowing the address we wanted to go to. For some reason, ours could not locate this place and basically dropped us off about 5 minutes away when we decided we were tired of going around in circles and making U-turns. Then we got to the front entrance and saw there's a huge line of taxis dropping people off and taking people home. What the heck, how did we get stuck with a taxi driver that did not know about this place?!?!)

Addiction Aquatic Development Center

Monday, October 20, 2014

Travel: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (Taipei, Taiwan)

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum was within spitting distance of Maji Maji Square, so we wandered over there to kill some time. It actually ended up being a very enjoyable few hours! I don't think we went in the main entrance, as we passed through some kind of Taiwanese technology/product section and then bought tickets from a manned machine. The entrance fee was only 30 NT per person (About $1 USD!) and the air con was great! Nice deal! They were actually having a Biennial exhibit called The Great Acceleration, which we later saw advertised around the city.

If you are in the area and have some time to kill, I would definitely recommend dropping in to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and seeing what they have on display. It's a relaxing way to spend a few hours, and not too crowded at all (the best part!).

Here are a few snap shots from a few of the exhibits:

OPAVIVARÁ!, Formosa Decelerator, 2014

Hammocks and free tea, in the main lobby area of the museum. More information here.

Photo taken from the top floor

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Travel: Tokyo Crazy Kawaii Taipei at Taipei Expo Park (Taipei, Taiwan)

While we were hanging out at Maji Maji Square at the Taipei Expo Park, we noticed there was also a pretty big event going on called "Tokyo Crazy Kawaii Taipei". We were dying for some A/C at the time, so we bought tickets (about $10 USD each) and headed in!

Flashy entrance outside the Expo Park

Monday, October 13, 2014

Travel: Maji Maji Square at Taipei Expo Park (Taipei, Taiwan)

Maji Maji Square

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Restaurant Review: Sasa Sushi 笹鮨 (Taipei, Taiwan)

In researching where to eat in Taipei (I'll admit this was basically the ONLY research I did for Taipei!), I stumbled across quite a few mentions of Sasa Sushi for omakase (TripAdvisor, Victoria's Food Secrets).

Experience: Dining in Taiwan in general is super different from the US, but our omakase experience was such a huge contrast to our experiences in NYC omakase restaurants. It was really fun and relaxed in Sasa Sushi - one family at the bar brought their BABY. Everyone was taking pictures of their food (all ages), pouring sake for the sushi chef (though we noticed he only took a sip of each cup LOL), and laughing and enjoying themselves. There was also only 1 sitting. Maybe we never stay late enough in NYC, but the atmosphere always seems to be quite serious and quiet!

Language Barrier: It's worth mentioning my language barrier issues. My Chinese/Mandarin is generally good enough to get around and communicate with taxi drivers, shopkeepers, etc., but when it comes to understanding what kind of fish I'm eating in an omakase, I come up a bit short. Our waitress tentatively asked me if I spoke any Mandarin, and she was visibly relieved when I said I could speak a little (so my guess is that if you only spoke English here, it might be a bit challenging).

We were able to ask our chef(s) for the Japanese names of things, so hopefully I've gotten them lined up with the right pictures here. For other items, one of the employees was so generous with his time and grabbed a reference book for us to show us what we had eaten.

Pricing: at a minimum, 3000 TWD for omakase. Ours actually ended up being 6000 TWD per person (this is included the 10% service charge and a carafe of sake). They also have set menus at various price points, but this is definitely an expensive restaurant by Taipei standards.

Anyways, let's get on with the food porn.

Sasa Sushi - Exterior

Friday, October 10, 2014

Travel: Machikaka, 24 Hour Laundry, Zhongshan District (Taipei, Taiwan)

Machikaka near Nanjing East Road MRT Station

We needed a quick afternoon snack after arriving in Taipei from Wulai, and I found an attractive looking café called Machikaka online. When we got there, though, they asked if we wanted to sit at the front area where it was quieter, or at the back. The front area was just a narrow bar with two stools, and you couldn't see any of the décor, so I asked to sit in the back... and then the worker actually said we needed a reservation or to come back in 1.5 HOURS. What??? A reservation in the afternoon for a coffee shop?? So strange.

(I guess I'm a little annoyed he didn't tell me up front that we needed a reservation, and instead tried to make it sound like the front bar area was better...!) We decided to take the bar seats and we ordered a coffee and ice cream parfait. I asked if they had an English menu, and they said they did not... which is also strange, since I saw an English menu on this blog review (since we had free wifi from our hotel, I used this blog post as a cross reference).

The coffee came quickly (and Cory enjoyed it thoroughly), but the ice cream parfait took them about 30 minutes to make! What the heck... As tasty as it was, I don't think I could recommend this place when it's busy!

Machikaka store front

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Accommodations Review: Les Suites Ching Cheng (Taipei, Taiwan)

We booked 4 nights in the Junior Suite at Les Suites Ching Cheng (TripAdvisor ReviewsOfficial Website) in Taipei. Note that contrary to a review on TripAdvisor, this does NOT have a soak-in onsen style bathtub (much to my disappointment!). The room with the onsen tub is the Corner Suite.

  • Nice, spacious suite
  • Complimentary fresh fruit changed daily (and no ants!)
  • Comfortable bed and pillows
  • Free smartphone with free international calls to certain countries that can also be used as the room key, a metro card, and has free Wifi hotspot (by far the best perk of our stay)
  • Just a few steps away from Nanjing East Road MRT Station
  • Nespresso machine in room
  • Close to a McDonalds, Family Mart, small shopping mall
  • Pretty good English service at the front desk
  • Complimentary breakfast (though we did not have it)

  • Extremely expensive laundry, even for a business hotel
  • In-room wifi signal not that reliable
  • Towels a little thin (not luxe at all)
  • The nearest metro station (Nanjing East Road MRT) is not that central, so you will definitely have to transfer.

This hotel is somehow classified as a boutique hotel on TripAdvisor, but make no mistake, this is a straight up business hotel. However, what makes it worthwhile for a tourist is that they offer the free use of a smart phone (I think it was a Sony Xperia Z2) that has free Wifi hotspot, international calls to some cities, can be used as the room key and also as an MRT card (we had already purchased our Easy Cards, so we didn't use this last feature).

We booked the Junior Suite room based on a review on TripAdvisor suggesting that this room would have an onsen soaking tub. This review was in fact mistaken, as only the Corner Suites have the onsen tubs (they must have been upgraded to a Corner Suite). This meant some serious disappointment upon arrival. We asked about availability to upgrade, but were told the cost would be an additional 2000 NT + 15% tax per day (about $75 USD per day for 4 days, which was more than we wanted to spend just for a tub). In the end, the disappointment waned and I did enjoy our room very much.

I thought this hotel might have coin laundry facilities, but was disappointed to find they only have your standard hotel laundry service which is charged per item. It is extremely expensive (it was more expensive than the laundry prices at our 5* resort in the Maldives!!), but we managed to find a 24 hour laundromat about 10 minutes away (walking). I have an exciting separate post for that!

The location is both convenient and inconvenient: it is only steps away from an MRT station, but the station is not that conveniently located. Luckily, taxis are incredibly cheap in Taipei!

Junior Suite - bed

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Accommodations Review: Volando Urai 馥蘭朵烏來渡假酒店 (Wulai, Taiwan)

We spent two nights at Volando Urai 馥蘭朵烏來渡假酒店 (Fù lán duǒ wū lái dù jiǎ jiǔdiàn) in Wulai.

Official Website, Agoda reviews, TripAdvisor reviews

Volando Urai

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Travel: Wulai 烏來 (Taiwan)

Wulai 烏來 is a short distance from Taipei and easily accessible via public transportation (subway green line south to the terminal station, Xindian MRT Station then bus #849 for 40NT or cab for 600NT flatrate). It's a hotspring weekend getaway for the Taipei-folks.

Speaking of the cab driver (who looked like he was 70+), he pointed out the flat rate fare on a laminated table he had, and then pointed at a street sign showing the same rates (as if to confirm that he was not swindling us, LOL). Then he proceeded to take us on a harrowing 20 minute drive to our hotel. I felt like I was in a scene from the Fast and Furious: Taiwanese Taxi Drivers.

The river is a beautiful colour (but looks brown if it has rained recently!).


Wulai 烏來

Monday, October 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: QSquare B3 Food Court (Taipei, Taiwan)

We planned to have lunch at QSquare based on Hungry Girl in Taipei's review. It is a seriously impressive food court!!! So many choices and lots of seating.

There are also restaurants at the top level of QSquare, but the food court looked much more interesting!

About a tenth of your options

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Travel: Hualien to Taipei to Wulai, and QSquare (Taiwan)

The next morning, we started our journey to the next destination by heading to Hualien's train station. We took the train back to Taipei, and then had lunch in Taipei before continuing on to Wulai.

It's a small station, so there's no chance of getting lost here!

Hualien Train Station

Hualien Train Station

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Restaurant Review: Cherry Field Restaurant 櫻田野餐廳 (Hualien, Taiwan)

Again, I'm not too sure how I stumbled upon this restaurant, but our B&B hosts said they've been to the restaurant before and were surprised when I asked them to make a reservation for me (i.e., "How did they find out about this restaurant?"). I'm guessing I found it through this Taipei Times review, somehow. (I wish there was a way to look at all their restaurant reviews; I wasn't able to figure out how to do that!)

Actually, our taxi driver had no idea where this restaurant was. He had to call in to his central dispatch to ask for directions O_o

Cherry Field Restaurant

Friday, October 3, 2014

Travel: Taroko National Park - Zhuilu Old Trail (Hualien, Taiwan)

For our second day in Taroko National Park, Cory wanted to do the Zhuilu Old Trail. You can find more information on this trail on roundTAIWANround. You need special permits to go on this trail, so we enlisted a local guide (who also provided transportation and lunch on the trail). Two polytechnic girls from Singapore also went with us.

I won't lie: I found this hike to be unbearable in the >40'C weather (after accounting for humidity). My fitness level is also not great, given my day-job. Our guide wanted to get ahead of an old-Chinese-people tour group and speedily went up the stairs at the start of the trail (which is basically a nonstop stairs up the mountain). About 30 minutes in (I think - I'm not too sure of the timing), I had to stop and vomit a bit. I don't know how long I sat there for. I didn't feel like I could finish (my vision was all blurry and bright), but also didn't want to let down my husband by quitting after he had looked forward so much to the hike. After some time, I asked the guide to go ahead and I would try to continue at my own pace and see if I'd make it. I unloaded my day pack onto my husband (who did not complain... at least not for another hour), and we carried on climbing (at this point, far far far behind the Chinese tour group). The heat and extra weight definitely bothered my husband after an hour, and he started getting snippy at me, but I couldn't blame him... I pretty much ruined the day :( Anyway, I guess 90 minutes later our guide met up with us about 20 minutes from the top and let us know he had set up lunch so it would be ready for us when we got there. We had a nice lunch with lots of delicious fresh fruit, and then headed back down the way we came (apparently, the rest of the trail is quite boring compared to this section with the sheer cliff).

Zhuilu Old Trail entrance sign. An attendant has to unlock the door for you, once you show your permits.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Restaurant Review: Moon House 月盧 (Hualien, Taiwan)

I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon this restaurant when researching places to eat in Hualien, but it is actually a pretty well-known restaurant among the locals (and apparently local tourists). That said, I would not classify it as a tourist trap at all!

I found English reviews on Taipei Times, Trip Advisor, and this blogpost. You can also check out this post in Chinese with Google Translate.

The location is about an hour’s drive away from Hualien, so it’s best to arrange a flat-rate taxi ride and have the driver wait for you. You drive through a pretty dodgy looking area before heading out into the mountains, and it seems very surreal as you drive up the winding path towards the restaurant. There are signs along the street as you get closer, which is helpful (if you are paranoid like me, and worry your driver is taking you to the wrong place).

Moon House entrance

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Travel: Taroko National Park (Hualien, Taiwan)

On our first full day in Hualien, we toured the beautiful Taroko National Park with a private, English-speaking taxi driver. There are a lot of sights to see in the park, so I prioritized the following I wanted to see:
  • Baiyang Trail 白楊步道 (Báiyáng bùdào)
  • Swallow Grotto 燕子口 (Yàn zǐ kou)
  • Eternal Spring Shrine 長春祠 (Chǎngchūn cí)
  • Cimu Bridge 慈母橋 (Címǔ qiáo)
  • Qingshui Cliff 清水斷崖 (Qīngshuǐ duàn yá)

I found this site to be very helpful when researching the attractions.

Before you head out, check the road conditions and trail conditions. We learned that there is often road construction going on in the park, especially during and after typhoon season.

Ok, prepare for neverending picspam.

Review: Private Taxi Driver

Our minsu hosts arranged am English-speaking private driver/guide for our first day into Taroko Gorge. CJ picked us up bright and early from our minsu at 8:00am and took us into Taroko National Park. He helped arrange our day’s itinerary based on my list above, and provided commentary in Chinese and English. He was extremely friendly, but not overly chatty, and made us feel very comfortable. He was also extremely knowledgeable about the various sights and knew exactly what was closed, what was opened, where we should enter and exit, etc. He also provided flash lights and ponchos for our excursion on the Baiyang Trail to see the waterfall and Water Curtain.

His taxi is in great condition: comfortable seats and AWESOME air conditioning. Also, his decals “Relax I Drive” on the vehicle made it easy to identify which taxi was ours amongst all the others at the various tourist attractions.

He was a good driver, especially by Western standards (defensive driving), which really put us at ease. He did not smoke or chew anything gross!

He gave us three options for lunch, all within the Gorge. However, I would strongly recommend picking up some food at a 7/11 or Family Mart instead, as the food within the Gorge is truly disgusting. I wanted to buy a packed lunch from Wu-tao lunchbox (which I read about on another blog), but couldn’t find their posted hours (I expect they open closer to 10am than 8 am).

The cost of his service was 3500NT for 8 hours as of Fall 2014 (though we only used 6 hours as we got tired of the heat). As tourism continues to develop in the region, I expect the cost of private day tours to increase.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended guide, but BYO lunch to Taroko Gorge.

Our taxi guide's business card; his website has more information here: