Taipei: A Quick Visit

Officially the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan is an island of unexpected beauty with each corner of the isle blessed with its own unique scenery. The capital, Taipei is one of Asia’s most beautiful futuristic cities with Taipei 101, most notable for its feats of engineering, towers majestically on its skyline.

Taipei-101

Eating in Taiwan comes close to Japan or Seoul. It has an incredible food culture with a vast array of Chinese food and local delicacies on offer. Traveling around the island is relatively straightforward albeit the lack of English can be a challenge sometimes.

My recent trip back to Taipei after 8 years was easy-going as I had my parents in tow.   We took things slow and spent most of our time in the capital with only a day trip to nearby Keelung. Here’s sharing with you the highlights of our trip.

Food

Family friends, who are Taiwanese locals, hosted our best meal. Robin’s Teppanyaki at the Regent Hotel in Taipei is, by far, the best meal we had during this trip.

Robin's-Teppanyaki

We were served perfectly grilled fresh lobsters, tiger prawns, and steak. The other best meal we had was not as elaborate and in fact a simple Taiwanese meal. Also recommended by the same friends, Du Hsiao Yueh was an excellent representation of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

Du-Hsiao-Yueh.jpg

A staple in Taipei well known for its Dan Zai noodles and other conventional everyday dishes. The minced pork used in the noodles also goes well as rice topping as the secret is in the minced pork recipe. Another dish worth mentioning is the fried oysters. More of our Taipei food experience here.

Day Trip

Yehliu-collage

Just an hour away from Taipei, Yehliu Geopark is a pleasant day trip to make especially if your visit is short.

Yehliu-panorama

A park of natural wonders where rocks carved by years and years of wave cutting and weathering forms a stunning geological landscape.

Yehliu-hoodoo-stones

The park is home to some unique formations which were named according to how they look or resemble like the iconic “Queen Head,” Fairy Shoe, Ginger Rock, to name a few.

Queen's-Head

The cape stretches out to Yehliu Village of Wanli District.

After the leisurely walk, we headed to Jiufen for lunch.

Jiufen.jpg

The decommissioned gold mining mountain town initially built by the Japanese is now a maze of lanes and alleyways that run up and down the slope of the hill filled with food stalls and tea houses.

Jiufen-Eats

This Taiwanese village near Keelung has become a food destination known for its Yuyuan (taro balls) dumplings, Fishball soup, and other Taiwanese favorites.

Museums

Not to miss is the National Palace Museum. This award-winning museum has over 700,000 ancient Chinese Imperial artifacts and artworks making it one of the largest of its type in the world. Most of the collections are high-quality prices collected by China emperors. The excellent selection of China art makes it an essential stop to those interested in history and arts. Many of the exhibits were once displayed in Beijing’s Forbidden City and subsequently moved to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War in 1933.

MOCA

Another fascinating museum one might consider while in the city is the Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA is housed in a historical building and is home to some captivating modern art. The building was built during the Japanese rule in 1921 for what later became Jianching Elementary School. At the time of our visit, we caught Steve McCurry’s solo exhibit curated by Leo Chanjen Chen, ‘S Wonderful/Making Pictures.

Steve-McCurry-Exhibit

Useful Information:

Robin’s Teppanyaki – No. 41號2樓, Section 2, Zhongshan N Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City

Du Hsiao Yueh – No. 12_, Alley 8, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Daan District, Taipei City, +886 2 2773 1244

The National Palace Museum – No. 221 Sec 2, Zishan Rd., Shilin Market, Taipei City

Museum of Contemporary Art – 39 Changian West Road, Datong District, Taipei City

How to get to Yehliu and Juifen: Click here or here or book a day tour here.

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Yangon: A Quick Stop-Over

Delays. An annoying reality but unavoidable in today’s world of traveling. And due to this, we didn’t see much of Yangon.

Holy Trinity Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral found on Bogyoke Aung San Road next to Bogyoke Aung San Market. A beautifully preserved church left behind by the British.

Too bad because Yangon is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British imperial capital.

Restaurant in Yangon has mushroomed in the last ten years. A combination of British, Burmese, Chinese, and Indian influence means that a delicious host of cuisines can be found here.

With limited time in the former capital, we found ourselves wandering the streets and ended up on 19th Street in Chinatown for a late lunch.   On this street, little restaurants and barbeques stands sit side by side to choose from. We randomly entered a snack bar where there was a Lonely Planet logo that has “appear” below it.

We shared a plate of Roast Myanmar Beef and Fried Chicken Wings at Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar and downed it really cheap Mojitos. Lonely Planet didn’t really disappoint. It was pretty good for the price.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a platter of charcuterie, cheese and spreads with wonderful homemade bread.

A pleasant surprise, I must say. We went back the next day before heading to the airport and had more of what Sharky had to offer. A Myanmar legend, Sharky’s Restaurant and Deli served artisan food made from locally farmed ingredients. Know more about Sharky’s owner, Ye Htut Win here.

That was how I will remember Yangon, at least for now.  And this ends my series on my travel to Myanmar.

Nyaung Shwe

One look at the sloping and winding road, I am grateful for the decision not to walk or bike. Passing several grapevines,

Outdoor-Seatingwe arrived at the outdoor seating at the top of the hill, overlooking the sprawling vineyard of the estate and Inle Lake shimmering in the distance – a view that could almost pass as Spain, France or Italy.

view.jpg

 

The Red Mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery, lying at 900 meters above sea level, produces Myanmar’s best wines with locally grown grapes imported from France and Spain.  Set up in 2002 its first wines were produced in 2006.

wine-tasting

We opted for the sampler albeit not the best we’ve had, but surprisingly not bad. Along with the wine, they also serve local and international food.

dessert-at-Red-MountainBecause we’ve had lunch already, we got desserts to go with the wine.

It was a fun afternoon and an enjoyable change from the traditional and historical route we have been visiting since the first day in Mandalay.

Nyaung Shwe is the main access point to the Inle Lake and Wetland Sanctuary – also the main reason why we found ourselves there.

Marina

It serves as a marina to the longboats that act as transportation to the lake. A vibrant town with a relaxed vibe, this is Myanmar’s backpacker scene and where a few good international restaurants can be found.

One-Owl-Grill

 

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Road, next to the small canal is One Owl Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant with an eclectic menu.

One-Owl-Grill-tapas

They serve tapa style dishes and offers a range of smoothies, lassies and cocktails and a solid wine list.

The-French-Touch

The French Touch is a neat little French Café that serves terrific cocktails, good food, and great coffee. The French photographer owner of this café has his beautiful photos all over its walls.

Nyaung Shwe is located in the Southern Shan State and to visit, one has to take a flight from Yangon to Heho. The journey from Heho to Nyaung Shwe takes 45 minutes by taxi and costs around K30,000. The cheaper option is to travel by VIP buses. For approx. K24,000 you can travel overnight in a leather reclining seat with a blanket on the 10-hour journey from Yangon to Inle Lake.

More Useful Info:

Red Mountain Estate: Taung Chang Village Group Nyaung Shwe Township, South Shan State 

One Owl Grill 1 Yone Gyi Street, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 262 972 841 

The French Touch Kyaung Taw Shayt Street | N0 23, Myo Lac Quater, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 525 1365

Asahikawa

Hokkaido’s second largest city is a good base for those exploring the nearby Daisetsu mountain range and the picturesque Biei-Furano. But because we were there in the dead of winter and we don’t ski, we had other things in mind. We were there for the 58th Asahikawa Winter Festival, its zoo, and ramen.

The Asahikawa Fuyu Matsui

Also known as the Asahikawa Winter Festival, it is an enjoyable fusion of lights, music,


A popular stall to warm the body and soul.

ice and snow sculptures, fireworks, kids activities, and food found in 2 venues.

While it may not have the scale of Sapporo’s festival, it can boast of having the largest snow sculpture in the world in the way of its stage, where all performances are held. The massive sculpture can be found overlooking the Ishikari at the Tokiwa Park near the Asahibashi bridge, where the opening and closing ceremonies are held. To build its main snow sculpture for the festival, the town enlisted the help of their country’s Self Defense Force.

Aside from the Asahibashi site, the Heiwa Dori showcases the ice sculpture competition, where teams from all over the world compete for the best ice sculpture.

Asahiyama Zoo

If truth be told, the videos of the penguin parade were enough to get me to Asahikawa. More of them on my next post because not only does the zoo boast of the Penguins, it is a zoological garden that allows visitors to see the animals from various angles.

Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows the birds to be seen underwater, many arctic animals such as polar bears, seals and a lot more.

Asahikawa Eats

And of course, a visit to this part of Hokkaido will never be complete without enjoying a bowl of its famous ramen. You’ll find this all over Asahikawa, but we had ours at the Ramen Village on our way back to town from the zoo.

It was a perfect cap to the freezing day at the zoo.

And the freezing weather shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this melon flavored soft served ice cream.

Asahikawa is beautiful during the winter providing an excellent base to bask in all things winter. You will not be disappointed.

Yunnan Eats: Cheese, Cured Pork and Fresh Vegetables

On the road, we randomly stopped for lunch. The driver calls me into the kitchen, there we ordered, without a menu but rather from what they have in the kitchen, apparently fresh from the fields. He tries to explain the unfamiliar items while I struggle to decipher what he is telling me. But all is well that ends well.  We had a wonderful food experience throughout the trip.

Vegetables

Fresh vegetables cooked lightly with lots of garlic and some chilies are a staple.   Because Yunnan has a diverse variety of plant species, you’ll find dishes made with ferns, bamboo shoots, flowers, tubers, fungi, herbs and even insects of all kinds.

A kind of root that was actually quite good.
Various types of mushrooms found at the local market in Shuhe.
A typical local restaurant showcasing a variety of vegetables, tubers, flowers and ferns.

Cheese?

Cheese is something you do not expect in China because Chinese as a nation are not keen on dairy products. But in a province that lies on the fringe of China, its mash-up nationalities’ dietary habits are far removed from the mainstream Chinese. The love of dairy products could perhaps be attributed to the mélange of ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Tibetans. The way in which they eat it though is distinctly Chinese.

Called rubing, it is often served with rice, sliced and pan-fried until golden on both sides or cut into cubes and stir fried in a wok.

Another interesting cheese called rushan is grilled and sold by the roadside. It’s crispy and milky in flavor.

Cured Pork

Have you heard of Yunnan ham? We used to get them canned and is an absolute favorite of Anton’s. In Yunnan, we couldn’t find the canned one, but instead, we devoured it in so many other ways.

They love them steamed, boiled, fried… usually to flavor stews and braised dishes as well as soups and broths.

Xuan Wei ham from Xuan Wei City is the most famous. It is to China what Iberian ham is to the Spanish.

Found this in the local market in Shuhe.

And with this, I close my series on Yunnan. Don’t drool too much now. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had re-living it.

Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui