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Monday, January 16, 2012

Experiencing Taipei.

The last trip of the year, i went to Taipei.

For visitors below 30, you can apply for free the youth privilege pass upon exiting the customs or at any tourist information counter in the city. Honestly, i didn't get to as much use the pass other than as a keychain outwardly telling everyone i am a tourist. This is a list of restaurants, hostels and tourist sights where you can enjoy some discounts and freebies (like if you dine at Ting Dai Feng, you get a free mini dumpling keychain) but i didn't pass by any of the restaurants in the guidebook. Not much privileges are offered in Taipei City but perhaps more so if you plan to travel up north or down south.
Getting into Taipei city is fuss free with the airport shuttle that costs less than Sgd 20 for a 2 way ticket. Head down to the basement of the arrival terminal.

I was extremely tickled that their telco network is named Taiwan Big Brother.
Election campaign.
Wu Fen Pu is the wholesale area like how BangKok has Platinum Mall. Looking like our Bugis Street, it is a maze with bargains to be found. However, it is not as straight forward as in Bangkok where sellers tell you upfront the price for one, and then the price for three. 
Also, the Taiwanese are generally very friendly but expressionless people. You may feel intimidated.
Rao He night market is just further up Yongji Road where stalls clutter one street.

At this night market, i had an authentic Taiwanese massage for Sgd 20. The strokes are nothing like what i've felt before. Unfortunately, i did not notice the name of the shop. I thought all massage parlours in Taipei would have the same quality, unfortunately not as many others used masseurs from China.

It was here where i encountered this eccentric old man who is an expert in the toy catcher. He asked me repeatedly if i knew him while striking poses for my camera. I said "no", and then he passed me one of his wins. It was like i gave him the correct answer.
How to get to Wu Fen Pu: 
Take the Bannan MRT line to Hou Shan Pi Station. Exit at No.4 and walk towards Yongji Rd.

Jiu Fen was the most touristy place of the lot. A pain to get to, it's almost 90 minutes from Taipei Main Station.

How to get to Jiu Fen:
There is a direct bus from Taipei Main BUS station. Bus 1814 (SGD 2 or less) goes to Ji Long. When you arrive in Ji Long, you've to alight and board another bus that goes to Jiu Fen and up the hill. 
Though a pain to get to, the place is worth it.
An old street up in the mountainous area, it is best to go early in the day for it looks perceptually packed with tourists. 

Due to it's nature of being an acclaimed tourist spot, you will find many special local eats unlike those at the night markets or in Taipei City.
There are many knick knacks as well as countless tea shops and snacks to make your tourist purchase from. Keep a tight reign on your purse or you will go out of control and regret on some purchases like i did. The 2 handbags that i bought were definitely priced a lot more than what i could find at the night markets. Price for food, tea and other knick knacks aren't cut throat though.
A friend says that Asia is a lot more sexed up than any part of the continent.

I like Taipei City for being a city yet remaining the simple fun that you don't see in Singapore anymore. It's walking with iPads and iPhones here, even 5 year olds own one.
Old school game stalls aplenty in Taipei.
Almost paid $40 to learn a trick!
The Taiwanese are lookers. Not only are they lookers but the way they speak is music to your ears.
The men are quite effeminate yet still attractive enough. 

Making good souvenirs, Ximen Ding has candy stores that sell candy and chocolate in cute packaging.
They cost Sgd 4 each.
Shilin night market is not to be conquered in one night. You need two or even three. It is a Disneyland in its own right in food and retail.

Taipei Backpackers Hostel is a recommended stay.

At Sgd $30 a night, there are private rooms, twin sharing or bunkers with common bath room. The rooms are clean and serves the purpose of merely showering and sleeping.

Taipei Main Station is the most convenient location to stay in because it is akin to our Dhoby Gaut where most MRT lines intersect and also the airport shuttles stops here. Which means on your return trip to the airport, it would be most convenient too but taxis for short distances won't hurt the pocket.
New Moon Hostel at Ximen Ding however, was a disaster, almost. It wasn't a hostel where all rooms are located at one place, but more like rented apartments all over the area. I had trouble searching the reception (it didn't have one thus the failed mission) and i had a rather amusing encounter with a local who used all means and ways to help me locate the hostel only to have him INSIST i got cheated by Hostels.com

Later on, i found the reception to be a massage parlour whom the owner of the hostel owns too.
And i was brought to their local residences which reminds me of a horror film setting.

Seeing the theme parks on Taiwanese game and variety shows, i searched out a theme park in Taipei which was a disappointment.
It was also another pain to get to, taking 120 minutes.

How to get to Leo Foo Village:
Take the MRT Bannan line to Zhong Xiao Dun Hua Station, take the exit 7, go to the middle road and board the Leo Foo bus. Bus ticket + admission is Sgd 40.

It had looked promising with its large land area and Disney-like backdrop. It also had different lands but there were only really 4 major rides. It is NO KICK for an adrenaline junkie like me, i was sorely disappointed.
One of the major ride was the tower drop in the Land Before Time.
Then there was the log ride where patrons get wet.

Then there was the Ali Baba land where i wasted 60 minutes of my life in a below average entertainment show.

It was amusing to see a mix-match of Caucasians who stuck out like a sore thumb because of their height amongst the Asian performers. It seriously looked like a high school performance.
Sponge Bob seems to be its resident "attraction" though. Even without a dedicated ride, it has Bob's house and classroom for cam whoring.


Floating ass.
Squeezing in more than just food and shopping in Taipei City is to get a soak in the hot springs.
Conveniently located at the Bei Tou MRT, upon getting out of the station, you can walk straight up a mini hill and it will be an entire street of various "public baths" you can choose from.
Here at Bei Tou, it is unlike the Onsens in Japan. Mostly luxurious hotels, you get a private room with a bath tub where you can soak in spring water that comes from the area. Prices are steep, starting at Sgd 80 for common soaks where you wear a bathing costume in a mixed gender spring pool.

Then there is the Sgd 5 one where it is as big as a public toilet cubicle and has a really dirty looking marble slabbed rectangular tank for you to sit in.

The only open-air spring pool is popular with tourists who just want to experience without spending much. At only Sgd 1, you get a 15 minute soak without privacy and with a bus load of tourists.

After walking up and down the hill umpteenth times, trying to find a spring pool where 
1) I didn't have to share it with men, clothed or unclothed
2) Affordable
3) Has more of an ambience than a hotel room
Turns out, it was the one right at the foot of the hill! And i thought the higher i climbed, the cheaper it will be. This was a hidden gem! For Sgd 20, you get to use their premises that has a sauna, a steam bath, 3 spring pools and tea served.
Alas, Bei Tou does not have any outdoor spring pool. That would have been shiok in winter. If you ever go to Tokyo, you must try their onsen in Odaiba which has indoor and outdoor pools in elaborated decorated settings.

Pictures are not allowed in public baths but because this was a hidden gem, i was the only patron inside that i could SWIM LAPS in the 43 degree celsius pool.
My first time in a public bath was in Tokyo and it was an eye opening experience. First, you sit on a stool and scrub yourself clean. Basic amenities are provided here but in Tokyo, amenities like combs, ear buds, hair scrunch are also supplied. Very precise to the details, the Japanese.

Like a kid at a public pool, i ran naked from pool to pool. In Japan, they have descriptions in Japanese no less (but you could guess with some Chinese characters), that tells you the benefits and characteristics of each spring pool. They also have a very strong sulphur smell. In Taiwan, they do not and it is odourless. You just have to go with the trust that this is indeed spring water.
You sweat it out in the 43 degree celsius pool, then lower the temperature to the 41, then up it again to 43 and finally finishing it off in ice cold 18 degree celsius.

Some Taiwanese housewives and women later joined me and i noticed that despite the women being slim, they have a lot of cellulite on their bodies. This is an observation from visiting the Japanese onsen and peeving on the Japanese women. This must have something to do with their different diets, more on Taiwan food in the next post.

Hot springs supposedly help improve blood circulation, skin complexion and weight loss.

This woman surely needs a bath and i feel sorry for her leg is literally rotting. Her hair must have been unwashed and uncut for more than 20 years. I got sight of hair pins stuck inside.
Finally, 2011 ends with a big bang that i let up myself (bought fireworks), releasing wishes into the sky and almost spending my countdown in a mobile toilet near Taipei 101.

Have you read the unique things to do in Taipei yet?

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