Rabu, 24 September 2014

Selasa, 19 Agustus 2014

190 days after Taiwan.

The trip is 6 months old (almost 7!), so pardon me if there are many missing points here, I have to scroll down the pictures I have to bring back the memory of Taiwan. I got an urge to write this after reading my own writing for Lao, the desire to share and describe the beauty of this small country (although not as small as Singapore) has forced me to start writing again. So, either it's useful or just a plain blabbing, I hope there's a little joy reading this piece.

We got butterflies in our stomach, excited to explore this unknown beauty and to eat their infamous street food. I wouldn't discuss the food, to be exact, because I found it more interesting to see the cities itself than exploring the food. Seeing is something I won't forget, while Taiwanese food are spreading nowadays, which I will find it somewhere else one day (and yes, Singapore has too many Taiwanese food already!).

Yehliu Geopark
We got the tickets!
The feeling of being at a beach during winter was somehow really exciting; because in my brain.. a beach equal to hot and humid. This is something new for my skin and for my understanding in describing beach. It was a strange-and-odd experience, running at the sandy beach, but wearing a thick jacket and winter-y shoes. The wind was so cold with additional sea-water splashing to my body, until I'd almost wet my pants.
Winter beach
People calls this place "Queen's head" for its famous sedimentary rock which looks like a queen's neck. We misinterpreted the scale and we thought it's a huge rock with doubled the size of human or more; don't be mistaken.. the main queen's head is "only" as high as a man. It's fun to look at, though! The formation of sea bays is due to the impact of sea erosion on softer rock layers, while those hard and solid ones may therefore turn into sea capes eventually. There are many of these, and if you look from a higher ground, it looks like one garden of light brownish round thingy, gathering in one areas. Cute, I must say.

Nita with the infamous Queen's head
To get here is a bit tricky, especially for people who don't speak and don't read Chinese. There are several ways to reach Yehliu, such as from Keelung or from National Taiwan University. We chose the Tamsui route, since we were planning to visit Tamsui area (which was cancelled due to the heavy rain and a super windy day, in the end we were roaming around the street market and malls), from there we took an express bus from Tamsui station (near Tamsui MRT) bound to Jinshan, and alight at Yehliu stop.

It sounds so simple and easy, right?

Here is why I say it's tricky.. Buses in Taiwan has notification screen to let you know which bus stop we are at now. BUT, they notify you ONLY when you're passing through the bus stop, NOT BEFORE the bus stop. So, to avoid alighting at the wrong bus stop, you have to count how many stops away your destination is, or you have to know the name of the bus stop before your destination. Which is soooo hard for us, because the bus routes written on the board at bus station is in Chinese wordings :))

In the end, we were panicking when we saw the notification screen in the bus showed "Yehliu", we pressed the bell right away and the bus captain was shouting so loud in Taiwanese accent at us, "YEHLIU????"
We ran crazily to the door and alighted in the middle of nowhere, because the bus is already passed our destination. Thankfully, the bus captain allowed us to alight (although I can till recall his high volume voice), if not, we would've been missed out Yehliu that day. So we walked on the highway-look-a-like road, while praying there will be no high speed vehicles running to us.
Road leading to Yehliu Geopark's entrance point

Wulai scenery
Getting to Wulai is so much simpler than Yehliu. You can just go to Xindian MRT (Xindian line), then approach the bus station in front of the MRT station and take bus no. 849. No need to worry that you'll miss the stop, because Wulai stop is the very last stop, the journey is about 40 mins. So, pick up your best seat and enjoy the ride (seriously, don't sleep, the scenery is quite interesting), this ride will cost you NT$40. Visiting this charming small town is unforgettable; we were right away regretting our decision to visit this town with tight timing. It was so pretty and quiet. Visitors walked around in slow motion, the ambiance was so relaxing, feels like we still have tons of time in life to spend --- there is no need to hurry things up. We didn't have any exact plan up there, perhaps only to see the waterfall and taking the cable car ride. Were greeting by a long strip of shops and snack stalls, we were so easy to be distracted here and there; we couldn't stop ourselves to try some interesting snacks and buy several souvenirs.
Wulai's shopping strip

After the shopping strip, we continued to walk quite far to reach the waterfall, and all we could see was green and river along the walking path. People passed us by, because we walked slowly, trying to swallow all the scenery we saw. Although in the end, we didn't ride the cable car, but we did find the waterfall! Almost enough to pay the long walk we took.

Wulai waterfall
If you are in Taipei, please do visit Wulai. We, ourselves, love this small town so much!

Taroko Gorge - Hehuanshan - Chingjing Farm

Taking night train from Taipei Main station to Hualien probably is the easiest way to get closer to Taroko Gorge. It's the most common way to visit this marble mountainous fella, the train trip is not too long in my opinion, plus it's quite comfortable as well.

We hired a taxi driver to bring us all the way from Hualien to Taichung, via Hehuanshan and Chingjing Farm - it was counted as one day trip. Almost all taxi drivers quoted the same pricing for this kind of trip (I say, "almost"); sometimes they charge more if the road is snowy because they need to install wheel-chain so that the vehicle won't slipped during the journey to Hehuanshan. Please see below to find the contact number of our driver, his name is C J Chen and he speaks good English!

Taroko Gorge is marvelous! We took a walk from the entrance to the end point. Were staring at huge mountainous cliffs all the way, it was marble and marble alone. The government forbid people to take the marble from here, they protect this area and successfully make it as tourist attraction. It's an hoborable act, in my opinion. I can't imagine my country doing the same thing for its natural resources, so sad that all Indonesian government do is to exploit the natural resources and sell it to foreign countries :(

There are a lot of tunnel like this. We have to wear the helmet to protect ourselves from the falling rocks.
Look at the scale of human and the mountain
Can you see an Indian head?
From Taroko Gorge, we went all the way up climbing the Hehuanshan to see the snow at its highest point, Wuling. It was my (and Yos') first time experience seeing snow, so that was another remarkable moment in life. The temperature dropped very fast, but we enjoyed it so much, although I couldn't feel my feet anymore. It was frozen for almost half an hour, I kept moving my legs to make it a bit warmer. My tropical body didn't suit the temperature, I guess.

Wuling itself was just the highest point with a signage that marks its height. Many people were taking picture on its marking; but then what attracted me wasn't that signage, but it was more on the surrounding. The blurry white scenery, unclear view of the shadowy people in dark color, the wheels' markings on the snow, the colors of people clothes that made the snow was even whiter, people's body language to defend themselves from the cold, the trees that were covered with white, and so on. That signage was nothing, compare to what surrounds it. One beautiful minutes I would like to keep in mind, Hehuanshan.

Compare to what Hehuanshan/Wuling offers to us, Chingjing is quite similar in one way, its one whole beauty and monochromatic. While Hehuanshan gives you white, Chingjing gives you autumn look - orange brown. We were expecting green grass look, but of course it was not possible since it was still winter. Orange brown was as pretty as green, in fact, it gave us other wide smile in our faces. It was so beautiful.. with additional white sheep doing their afternoon snacks all around the hilly ground. The cute sheep were freely walking and eating wherever they want, and visitors can touch (or hug) them, although most of the sheep don't really care about human's existence. Beyond Chingjing farm, we can also look at the hills surroundings with perfect views to be captured and put it in postcards. We really wished we had more time to stay and just lay around the grass enjoying those view.

Beitou - (Xinbeitou) - Taipei

All days we spent at Taipei, we stayed at Beitou area. We chose somewhere more suburban, rather than staying at the city area. Our hostel was quite near to Beitou MRT station, and it was a clean place to stay for days. Please see the below, I will provide you with the contact for the hostel, it's a recommended place in Beitou. You can cook, wash your clothes, and even make an event during your stay!

Beitou itself is an interesting area, famous for its hot spring during cold days. The hostel's staff even say "it's a must" to visit the hot spring and try it out. We didn't try, unfortunately. I have my reason: I don't want to be naked in front of other people, although it's female only. A big NO. But if you're okay with the nudity, please do try! :)

There was one interesting building that caught my attention during our walk around Beitou, Beitou public library. When I entered the building, I almost screamed hysterically. It was nicely designed and nicely constructed, it's like a library I usually see in architecture books. Exactly as good as them. The space was very good, the daylight was maximized, and the most important was the feeling when we were inside the building. It felt right.
Beitou Library
Souvenir shop near Beitou hot spring
We were roaming around Taipei mostly at night, that's why we encountered quite a lot of night market, which Taipei is famous of. You can find several night markets near to each other, and still can enjoy it since they have a lot of varieties of stuffs and snacks to sell, from the normal type to the "what-the-hell-is-this" type.

Oh. Don't forget to visit Taipei 101!
One of the highest building on earth. Still amazed by its high speed lift!
One more place we visited, and I think it's worth the be spread out, Taipei Fish market. This place is heaven for seafood/sushi/Japanese food lovers. We were almost lost, because we had to walk quite far from the MRT, but I didn't know why.. we managed to find this place (thanks to Yos!). I was too hungry to pay attention to the route we took, or to read the map. It was our most expensive meal during our trip and so worthed. All fresh fish, colorful sushi with a lot of variety, sashimis, and other-fish-I-don't-know-the-name. Local people fancy this place a lot, although they don't provide seatings.. so we have to stand while eating. It's fun and it's delicious! Must try, please be noted.

I really hope you enjoy my story. Sorry if it's not too helpful, but if you need anything or need to ask something about Taiwan, just leave a comment below; will try to help as much as I can. :)

Happy traveling!

Taxi driver
C J Chen
T: +886 920 669 234

On My Way Taipei Hostel
T: +886 2 2891 0230
E: onmywayhostel@gmail.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/onmyway.taipei

Kamis, 15 Agustus 2013

Unexpectedly delicious.

I will begin this long story with one long sentence.

"For three or four years, I've always thought that Thai food is the second best after my country's food in all over Southeast Asia, but then my thesis was wrong - Lao food has its way to be one of the best!"

I didn't expect too much for our trip to Laos, firstly because Google doesn't blow up too much about the Laos' beauty, secondly because not so many (Asian) people - for that, I mean is my friends - has ever mentioned about trip to Laos. But, Trip Advisor tells totally different stories, that's where everyone (yes, I mean is every single one!) adore Laos entirely, not only the food in this case, but all about Laos : green sceneries, charming towns, beautiful waterfalls, travelers' friendly, extreme sports, tons of entertainments but also quiet places to contemplate and relax, and etcetera etcetera etcetera.

1. Vientiane - the beginning

Short story, we arrived in Vientiane without so many expectancies, not even a kip! We tried to exchange our Singapore dollars at the airport, assuming that SGD is as global as USD, and then we were a little bit wrong. Not all money changer kiosks accept SGD, or if they do, the rate is awful. Only one kiosks - it wasn't a kiosk actually, it's a bank - accepted our dollars and was able to give us kips. Thank God!

First thing first: brunch. We arrived around 10 AM and we were sleeping at McDonalds KLCC the night before, wasn't having a good night before and we're in need of good food. So, after freshening ourselves, we opened our Lonely Planet and tracked down whatever recommended restaurant nearby. One restaurant was just opposite our hotel, Khambang Lao Food Restaurant, and obviously it was a very good choice to start the long hot day. Our first encounter with Lao food was remarkable, we're excited seeing all the fresh vegetables we didn't even order were being spread out in our table. We didn't know how to eat it, so we thought it's like Indonesian's lalapan which is eaten by dipping it in the chili sauce as side dish. Then, later, we found out that we were so wrong. Despite of our wrong way to eat the fresh vegetables, the food were outstanding. The chicken and beef were delicious, not too rich in spices like Thai food or Indonesian food, and not too plain like Vietnamese, it was in the middle but yet perfect in taste.

Being mesmerized by our lunch, we couldn't stop ourselves to take another food as our afternoon snacks. And the rumor has it, Laos' pastry is the best in Asia. Being colonized by French in the past, has made Laotian expertise in pastries. A fact that needed to be proven, indeed. And Scandinavian Bakery was our first choice, since we were stranded out of nowhere and couldn't stand the hot weather, all we needed was air conditioned room... and good taste pastries.

Vientiane also has a lot of kinds of street food. I tried one - only one piece of fried sticky rice, and the taste sticks until now. What I regret is, I only bought one. When I came back - days after - to the same exact spot of the seller, the sticky rice was no longer there.

When you walk in the street along the Mekong river, there are lots of restaurants offer you good food with quite good price. Mekong river is the main attraction, although not all of the good restaurants facing the river directly. We, in the other hand, chose the restaurant unlisted in our guide book. No harm of trying the crowded traditional restaurant with no-English speaking waitresses. Looking at the menu and looking at what people ordered, we guessed what were the best they have. We ended up by ordering Lao traditional noodle soup, fried noodle, and spring roll (and extra fresh vegetables as usual). The noodle was good, the fried noodle was okay, and the spring roll was outstanding. At this restaurant, we learned how to eat the fresh vegetables : Laotian use the vegetables as the wrapping of their dishes. For example, you have fried noodle, so what you need to do is spread the lettuce and fill in with the dishes you desire: fried noodle and chili and long bean and etc. Then close it up (like you wrap something with a piece of paper), and eat the whole wrapped in once. Voila! Congrats, you've became a Laotian! :)

2. Luang Prabang - the in between

Besides Vientiane, we visited Luang Prabang as well, another lovely city with delicious food all over the city. Arrived just nice at dinner time, and we still could run to the nearby recommended restaurant, Dyen Sabai, one of those restaurant which was built at Nam Khan riverbanks. The design is lovely, with several independent pavilions spread out, floor cushion seats and low dining tables, small lamps in each table, some nights they have live music, and the most important thing is they provide free boat riding from and to the city. Their infamous food are buffalo stew, eggplant dip and riverweed (unfortunately, the riverweed wasn't available at that time). The buffalo stew tasted like Thai green curry, the difference was at the meat, buffalo tasted a little different than beef. Surprisingly, what I like so much was the dried pork in the platter, I against pork (and seafood) all the time and by stating the above-statement, all the "tension" between us can be ended. Haha.

The other hot day, for lunch, we had one bowl of Lao traditional noodle chicken soup at opposite of Hmong market, the one that I can say the best noodle I'd tasted in Lao. The one that we didn't intend to try - thankfully we were too lazy to open the guide book and to walk around finding the recommended restaurant. Two words : cheap and delicious - best combination we always look for! The stall was small, only took one storey of a shophouse, and the seller was using her yard to put the cooking stuffs and also to cook the dishes, just like small - and yet outstanding in taste - food stalls in all around Indonesia, small and doesn't look tempting from the outside.

We had another dinner in one of the restaurant at one busy street of Luang Prabang, Xieng Muan Garden Restaurant. We ordered sticky rice - still trying to become a local by ordering sticky rice, seafood tom yum, chicken curry steam, fried spring roll, and Lao salad. The best part, according to me, was the Lao salad. 

There's one cafe/restaurant which was recommended in the book, both Vientiane and Luang Prabang has it, Le Bennetton.  Both are famous among the tourists, and many people come there only to taste the bread and coffee. Instead of having snack, we tried their complete meal as our lunch. Their speciality is western food, so that what we ordered and in the end, no one was disappointed. Do try the duck with mashed potato (I forget what's the name in the menu) and their mixed juice. Not match, but both are gooooood.

Don't forget to visit Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene, they serve the best croissant in town. Unfortunately, our belly was too full and we missed their croissant. Instead of having their croissant, we decided to hangout and ordered drink to spent our last night in town. I ordered black coffee, as usual, while my friends order red wine and lao lao. Lao lao is the traditional liquor with 50% alcohol! Yeah, guess who got the headache in the morning after! 

3. Tat Kuang Si - the leisure

Tat Kuang Si was our other stop, located at 29km away to the south from Luang Prabang city, took almost an hour riding tuk-tuk to get there. If you google Tat Kuang Si, you'll find many nice images of it. But, if you come down by yourself, you'll find much much more beautiful images in front of your eyes! The color of the water would make you gasp and you couldn't not looking at it the whole time. The silence is perfect and you could take a nap for hours without worrying anything, it's one beautiful hidden paradise. And beside the beauty of the waterfall, they had food stalls and souvenir stalls near the entrance! When I got in to the waterfall, the food stalls weren't too interesting to me, but when I got out.. it was like heaven.. because I was hungry after walking and swimming. They sell grilled pork and chicken, we bought both the pork and chicken, and finished it on our way to the city in the tuk-tuk. I didn't eat the pork, but my friends said it was one of the best grilled pork they have ever tasted (I think, it's because they also drank Lao beer).

4. Vientiane - the finishing

Once again, we chose Lao noodle, at Namphou coffee! This time, the noodle was made by Chinese Lao, which make the noodle a bit like chinese food (or not, it was just the impression that we caught). The bottom line is, the noodle was really delicious! Simple dish in small stall, just like the one in Luang Prabang. The stall was really crowded with people, even the embassy workers (mostly were Caucasians) were eating there! And one more thing I will highlight: they have good varieties of chili!

As the closing of our food journey, one restaurant near Mekong river was once again became our best option. Although I don't recommend the serving (the waiter was keep shouting at his colleagues, and he was easily distracted by other things which made us a bit impatient), the food was really goooood! We ordered bbq grilled fish, bbq chicken, and - the most delicious is - Lao rice salad. It was one night that I would remember for a long time, it was the time I was falling in love with Lao rice salad. Even, until I got back to Singapore, I still try to google the recipe! Please, do try Lao rice salad - and eat it with lettuce wrap and other fresh vegetables. Unforgettable.

P.S.: Do not miss Lao fresh fruits. We stopped at one fruit stall, ordered their salad platter with yoghurt, and we were very satisfied! :)