Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Taiwan Take Over: A Guide to Taipei and Beyond



The receptionist at our office called me to her desk. She handed me a package with my name on it. I walked back to my office table and ripped through the scotch tape, paper and bubble wrap to find a CD and a bundle of processed film negatives. The Taiwan photos have arrived. Just a little peek, I told myself. So I fed the disk to my laptop and instantly got transported to the cold and rainy streets I recently walked with my friend Gracie.

It's easy to miss Taiwan. 

The blue hues, the street food, the cold air. Our trip was like JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit - an unexpected journey. So little was expected of Taiwan and yet so much was gained in the end. 

And I guess after months of letting the CD of film photos sit in my office drawer, I take it out again only to share it here. So that your Taiwan adventure will be somewhat less unexpected and more looked forward to.

All photos taken with a manual film camera and ISO 400 film. 
Preparing for Taipei 

1. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device 
I enjoy travelling with mobile internet connection only because it's easier to get around, do on the fly research and post on social networks real time. For this, we didn't have to spend a weighty amount on our service provider's internet plans. All we did was go to http://www.ivideo.com.tw/activity/taiwan-wifi.asp order our wifi device and pick it up at the airport. You can connect a maximum of 5 people on the device and all you have to do is pay for the days you'll use it and return it at a convenience store on your last day. Easy peasy. 

2. Get ready to get wet 
Basically, everything your wearing should have no issues about getting wet. Because at some point it will. 

3. Have a huge appetite. Because, food. 

K & G in Taiwan 
(Below is a photo of my friend Gracie and her huge camera)
(Below is a photo of me and my creme coat)

We checked into the Banana Hostel Cool. They were a breeze to talk to. We even booked a car to take us to and from the airport through them. We got a separate room for two. It was a small room with a bunk bed. The comforters were exceptionally comfortable. They also have unlimited supply of banana. Overall the place is clean, peaceful and close to the Dongmen train station. We stayed here a total of 3 nights. 

(Oops, cheating a bit here. Photos below are not on film but taken on my iPhone. For some reason, I have no film shots of the hostel.) 



















This photo was taken in front of our hostel.


DAY 1: Zhonxiao Dunha Complex 
We did a stupid thing. We wanted to go to the Maokong Gondola for day 1. Apparently they're closed on mondays (we found out when we were already there) so we just decided to go Zakka hunting instead. 

If you want cute things, fun stores and unique finds - take the train and go down the Zhongxiao Dunha station. This is a good place to get lost if you're into sreet after street of picturesque shops and artsy people. 

Visit the VVG cluster while you're at it. It's pretty. (as seen below) 





We went home and slept early that night because we booked a tour the next day.

DAY 2: Pingxi Day Tour 
We booked a tour via this website called Viator. We chose the one day tour of Shifen and Pingxi. Both are places outside of the city, Taipei. We didn't expect much except for the early morning hike atop a mountain and releasing of sky lanterns in the village. The tour guide picked us up in the morning and it turns out it wasn't a tour group. It was just Gracie and I with out tour guide Steven in a black Vios. He drove us out of town and we climbed a mountain. It was beautiful.

Afterwards he took us to the village (the one you see from above the mountain) He brought us to eating places and walking places and villages beside the train tracks. They were extremely charming.


We explored. Walked on a draw bridge, saw a waterfall, ate our first sausage inside sausage and released sky lanterns.

We saw an old mine and a wall full of bamboo wishes.



Day 3: Maokong and Shilin Night Market 
The Maokong Gondola was a longer ride than I expected it to be. It was breath taking though, seeing the country from a floating glass box. It's best to take the gondola at sunset.

You get down at the last stop and find yourself at Maokong. It's a quaint village known for its tea houses. Upon getting down Gracie and I got hungry so we ate at the open door canteen and had pancake bombs and dumplings. Afterwards we took a walk towards the lights and saw the beautiful village. It was breath taking to say the least.

Tea houses standing from left to right inviting you to take a sip. A coffee shop trailer by the cliff with the view of the city. Lights. Lights. Lights. It was night time so I couldn't take much photos. But we had tea, Tai Guan Hin (their speciality) by the moonlight and the Taipei view.




Earlier on in the day, before Maokong, we decided to go visit a cat cafe called Minimale. It was underwhelming.

But the walk to the cafe was interesting. Let me show you why:




After Maokong we went to Shilin Night Market. No photos here. Because well, food. Oh and shopping. Lots of shopping. Yes. Shilin. Amazing. 

Day 4: Jiufen 
A village hidden within walls. Jiufen is good for exploring and eating. Most of my favourite street food was devoured here. Spring Roll Ice Cream. Taro croissant thingys. Butter bread stick buns thingys. Shrimp fried in a ball of stuff thingys. REALLY GOOD. We also went searching for the tea house that was the inspiration for Spirited Away's bath house. Gracie really loved this one. 

SPRING ROLL ICE CREAM. HEAVEN SENT. 

We went home that night drenched. Literally drenched from the rain. It was cool though. We had a comfortable ride going home. (Plus I think the rain adds to the charm) 
On getting to Jiufen: 
Jiufen is not accessible just by train. Well you have to take the train to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station and then walk to the Jiufen bus stop. But once you get to the Jiufen bus stop, there will people going up to you offering you a ride. It's a small van with other tourists in it. TAKE IT. Because well, the bus has a lot of other stops while the van only has one. The van costs just the same as the bus (200 TWD) and it's kinda comfortable. Going home we also took a van so we got to go back to the city faster than if we took a bus. So yes, not sketchy and scary at all. 

After Jiufen we went to our hostel, packed up and went to the airport. 

There are probably other things we did that I didn't get to write here. Like the time when we explored our area and ate at Din Tai Fung twice. Or the fact that we visited Wu Fen Pu, shopped for rain boots and had really good congee by the temple. Also that I had Japanese Onigiri from a convenience store called High Life on our first day. The honey milk tea. Stuff like that. The little things were just as memorable as the big places we went. 

What's the final word on Taiwan? Definitely worth a second trip back. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Self Portrait

Got really fascinated by the design of my recently bought origami paper. I got it from a kind Japanese woman at Legazpi Market last week. 

I'd like to think the design is a funky kind of floral. It's not too sweet and not too edgy, just the right kind of swedgy. (see what I did there?) 

Kind reminded me of well, me. So I decided to do a (sort of) self-portrait. :D  
It made a good cover for my notebook.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Singapore Sling (A fling with SG's colorful store fronts)

I've only been to Singapore once. That was back in 2010 and it was for a class field trip in college. It was fun because I was with my friends and 90% of the time we were just shopping. I never thought I would want to go back, since I felt like that was all there is to it.

 Being a small country, having this mindset is inevitable. You can go on a drive and already see the entire city. And since I've always been the type to trek through unknown streets, eat weird street food and explore messy night markets, Singapore fell flat on my "adventure" meter.

 Fast forward. 4 years later. Singapore trip. For free. Awesome Tour Guide. Film Camera. So that happened. Our awesome group and I were brought to streets I've never seen before (or knew existed) and for a while there, I felt like I was in SG grounds for the first time.

 Here are a few surprises I enjoyed in my 4-day adventure or shall I say, re-adventure in Singapore captured in film.

Ann Siang Hill's charming bar fronts and back alleys. Usually visited during night for drinks and casual partying, the hill is also worth a beautiful day time walk. 



Haji Lane's colorful store fronts and funky boutiques.


Of course, there's China Town.



Tiong Bahru. This neighborhood is somewhere I would want to live. It's small and it tries a little less to be hip. It naturally showcases some of the best bakeshops in the country. (the photos aren't film but from my iPhone)



Bras Basah Complex, Bain Street. Popular among the art students, this center is filled with services like film processing and book binding. They also have specialized book and arts and crafts stores and is home to the famous Basheer books. I stumbled upon a cute little shop called Cat Socrates. (Photos taken with an iPhone as well)
So basically, this trip was an unexpected rainbow. Singapore proved to be a bright side after all.

Fly to the Bright Side

In Tolkien's words, not all those who wander are lost.