Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ah Ma Tea Leaf Eggs (金盆阿嬷香菇茶葉蛋) @ Sun Moon Lake Xuan Guang Temple [日月潭玄光寺]

Mention famous eggs in Taiwan and you would likely get yourself confused over the Ah Po Metal Egg (阿婆铁蛋) in Danshui and Ah Po Tea Leaf Egg (阿婆茶葉蛋) in Sun Moon Lake. 

Confusion no more as the so-called Ah Po Tea Leaf Egg should actually be known as Ah Ma Tea Leaf Egg according to the Chinese character, 嬷, used on the signboard!

Its popularity is unbeatable in the region and in order to beat the queue, i crawled out of my hotel bed especially early in the morning even though i was contented to sleep in a while longer. 

Reached only to find it not yet open for business! :( I am no time waster and proceeded to check out the small little temple on the hill known as Xuanguang temple. 

By the time i got back, the queue had already stretched to 20-30 person-long! Given my love for tea leaf eggs, this would be one queue i am willing to spend my precious overseas time just to check out how good or bad the eggs are.

 I have high expectations of course since the eggs in Ah Ma were boiled with an extra ingredient; mushrooms that should give an extra fungi oomph! 

Thankfully, the efficient service staff were seasoned in what they were doing and it was already our turn in less than seven minutes. Four were purchased; two for me, two for Alex. 

My portion. 

Be eco-friendly and make full use of the plastic bag to remove the shell from the scalding hot boiled egg! 

The intricate spider web pattern was perfect but as you know, taste is what that matters most in my heart. If i can stomach smelly tofu despite the obnoxious taste, you would understand that visual doesn't really affect me as much when it comes to food. 

My verdict? The cooler weather in Sun Moon Lake makes eating tea leaf eggs a very enjoyable affair. However, the taste fell short of my expectation; the Assam tea flavour was mild and the mushroom fragrance was only apparent when you took a bite of the egg, close your mouth and then hold your breath! 

Alex's thought differently and was impressed enough to queue again! Both of us are tea leaf egg lovers and there are two diverse opinions for you to choose from. Leave your comment on what you think about the Ah Ma Tea Leaf Egg in Sun Moon Lake.

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Location
Xuanguang Temple Pier at Sun Moon Lake. It is super easy to find the stall as the only other facility selling edible stuff is a vending machine. 

Price
NT$13 for one
NT$25 for two

Additional Information
For the overview of my Taiwan trip, click HERE.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cingjing Misty Villa (清境雲濛仙境民宿) - Supposedly Singaporeans' Favourite Minsu in Cingjing Farm!

Minsu (民宿) is a popular choice of accommodation in Taiwan. Although i am new to its concept, we decided to book one for a night stay in my recent trip to Cingjing Farm. 

There were many to choose from but Misty Villa came strongly recommended as the choice for many Singaporeans; the Great Kon had in fact attempted and failed to book for a room the last time he was there and advised me to reserve a room as soon as i bought the air tickets! 

Do keep in mind that reservation is done via the website and there is a down payment to secure the room (balance would be charged upon your arrival). Although you could always send an email to seek clarification, the website is hard to navigate for those who could not understand Chinese.

As i mentioned in my trip overview, the cab driver from Taichung HSR sent us all the way to Misty Villa and the first thing that appeared was this steep slope leading to the villa. I am thankful i brought along a luggage with four wheels and pushing it up was still pretty manageable.

Reception counter was located within the restaurant in the first building we came upon; despite the typical restaurant layout, the owners did inject some homely elements to differentiate the place from conventional hotels. 

For example, an apparently not working fireplace cluttered with decorations, toys and even displays of personal photos to reflect its homely nature. 

At the other corner was the "books" section where you can find ample magazines and even comic books to while your time away in a relaxed manner either indoors or outdoors.

Complimentary coffee and tea were provided for those who had time.

There was even an energetic French Bulldog that came to entertain us! He was so bloody adorable and reminded me of the time i used to spend with my late Rubee. 

Coming back, here's the outdoor area where you can breathe in the crisp, fresh air while enjoying a platter of warm toast and sunny side ups early in the morning! 

Sight right ahead was the picturesque valley that stretched from one corner of your eye to the other. Of course, this was before i realised the view in my allocated room was even more charming! 

Even though I booked two months in advance, i was given only the choice of a room on the third floor of the villa. And you know what the best thing is? There wasn't any elevator! 

I counted; the number of elevated steps from the entrance (first photograph) to our room was a grand total of ninety-seven! It was an endurance session every time we needed to climb up; it was so tiring that i decided to go out without my gloves when i realised they were still in the room. 

The operator was aware it would be a demanding chore for those living on the top floor and have kindly placed a hanging chair at the end of the climb. Don't belittle it; it would really save you from blank out exhaustion! 

It's weird; the room allocated to us (two grown up men) was entirely in pink! It was so lovey dovey; we can understand why the lady receptionist was giving us funny looks when she handed over the key! 

Couldn't blame her with wall stickers like the above dotting the walls. Damn, i still could not believe the room was assigned to us! The first thing Alex said when he entered was "SO PINK"! 

The pink was so excessive; we had to take refuge at the balcony which had a mind blowing view of the surroundings! It was even more spectacular than the area outside the restaurant!

Back to the pinkish room again! Amenities included a flat screen television with many cable channels, hair dryer, free wifi which had rather good speed and a separate water tap for cold and hot water. 

There was one item i purposely missed out from the above as i felt that there is a need to single it out to show my gratitude to its existence. The heated mattress that allowed you the flexibility to set the level of heat. Without it, both of us would have likely frozen to death! No, there wasn't a radiator in the room.

Bathroom was at most basic and provided hot / cold water for showering and washing. As i said, basic and nothing fanciful like a bathtub or a rainfall shower head. 

Breakfast was inclusive with our booking; the usual stuff comprising toasts, eggs, sausages, ham, hash browns, porridge etc. There were also local favourites like radish cake, soya milk, spring onion pancakes etc. 

I am not complaining; the passive eater in me is easily satisfied with simple jam and butter spread on warmly toasted bread, and eggs. 

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Location
No. 9, Rongguang Lane, Ren'ai Township, 
Nantou County, Taiwan,
[9號, 榮光巷, 大同村, 仁愛鄉, 南投縣]
[Near to the Little Swiss Garden]

Map
As above. Misty Villa is one of the more convenient minsu in Cingjing as its location is near to the Little Swiss Garden and food establishments like Carton King, 7-11, Starbucks, MOS Burger etc. 

Website for Booking

Additional Information
I may have complained a lot about the number of steps i have to take in order to reach my room but this problem could be easily resolved by staying on the lower levels! 

The main attraction, Cingjing Farm, is unfortunately not that near to the villa (heard it is a twenty to thirty minutes uphill walk). On weekdays, there would be a free one-way shuttle provided by the villa at specific timings. On weekends, you would have to take a chargeable shuttle bus from the main road. 

Please also register with the reception counter if you wish to sign up for any optional sightseeing tour (for example, sunrise at hehuanshan, hot spring at lushan). Need a one-way transport to Sun Moon Lake? That can be arranged too (at a price of course)! 

For an overview of my 9 Days, 8 Nights Taiwan Trip [Cingjing (清境) - Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) - Taichung (臺中) - Taipei (臺 北)], click HERE.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cingjing (清境) - Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) - Taichung (臺中) - Taipei (臺 北) [9 Days 8 Nights Taiwan Trip] - Summarised Itinerary

From a high of over 5,000 photographs, i have finally managed to pare the number down to about 4,300 plus and this shall make it easier for me to sieve through the thousands of pictures taken in Taiwan for publication on this blog!

As with my last overseas journey, i shall provide a summarised overview and link up accordingly once more comprehensive entries are posted. Bookmark this page and check back periodically for the updated links. :)

Day One: 
Singapore -> Taoyuan (桃園) -> Cingjing (清境)
[12.45am] Departed punctually for Taoyuan (Taiwan) via Scoot Airlines! It had been a while since Alex last took the plane and boy was he excited, especially after all the media hype on the missing MH370.

[5.30am] Reached Taoyuan without any delay! The plane actually landed ten minutes before the confirmed timing. I was so worried i wouldn't have sufficient buffer to take the 7.39am high speed rail (which i had already paid for) as i heard from friends that Scoot had a bad record in adhering to confirmed timings.

[6.00am] Bought the bus tickets for Taoyuan High Speed Rail Station (HSR). For those who are unaware, the airport is not seamlessly connected to the high speed rail and you would still require a 15-20 minute bus ride. Take into account waiting time, traffic condition etc and you can understand why i was jittery!

[7.35am] Arrival of the bullet train that departed at exactly 7.39am!

[8.16am] Over a distance of 134.9 kilometers, it took us only less than an hour to step off the train at Taichung HSR station! After a few minutes of consideration, we decided to take up an offer to share a cab with two other travellers to Cingjing!

[9.50am] Honestly, it makes better sense as the driver would send us directly to the door-step of our designated accommodation and the journey does not involve multiple stops along the way. Eighty minutes later (at 9.50am), we were already drinking coffee in the dining / reception area of Misty Villa (雲濛仙境民宿).

[10.40am] Since we could not check in to our room till noon (officially, it should be 3pm), we left our luggage with the villa and proceeded to our first true-blue attraction in Taiwan; the small swiss garden (小瑞士花園)!

[12.30pm] Greeted with a breathtaking scenery as i opened the door to the balcony of our pink room (you read it right; it was obscenely pink). Did i also mention that it was damn chilly in Cingjing?

[2.00pm] Free shuttle provided by the villa to the main attraction in Cingjing; the Green Green Grassland (青青草原) where we had a blast rollicking on the turd-filled turf!

[5.00pm] Dinner was tricky since the area was said to be reputable for Yunnan-style cuisine but we all know our Mr Chiu; he might be better off with Western cuisine; hence, the Western-Asian Carton King (紙箱王) would be a better option.

Day Two:
Cingjing -> Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)
[3.30am] Time to wake up to prepare for our sunrise tour to Hehuanshan (合歡山)! Couldn't see a darn thing as the weather was incredibly cloudy that day although we did manage to survive a low temperature of 2.6°C wearing only attire suitable for 15°C.

[8.00am] Breakfast first before taking the 9.00am shuttle (chargeable) to bring us to Sun Moon Lake! Bloody, i should have assigned one more night at Cingjing so that i can truly relax; it was so hectic to shuffle from one place to another!

[10.25am] Sun Moon Lake - Shueishe Pier; one of three main piers and definitely the one bustling with the most activities! We opted for a hotel on the opposite shore (Itashao Pier) where it was much quieter.

[11.30am] Dropped our luggage at the tea-house lookalike hotel; Cherng Yuan Hotel (澄園渡假旅店) before we trekked over to the Sun Moon Lake Cable Car Ropeway!

[12.15pm] Taking the ropeway; our aim was to explore the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村) and not just to enjoy a bird's eye view of the lake.

[12.50pm] Don't be mistaken; it wasn't your usual kind of village! In addition to educating visitors of the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan, it had a good sized theme park where Alex was damn impressed with the incredibly fun Caribbean Splash!

[4.45pm] We can finally rest our smelly feet in the comfort of our hotel room!

[6.00pm] Had a local meal at Fuyuan Restaurant which included the area's specialty; the pretty expensive President's fish that came with tonnes of bones!

[7.00pm] Roamed the Itashao market street where we snacked a bit and did a bit of window shopping before tucking in for an early night.

Day Three: 
Sun Moon Lake -> Taichung (臺中)
[7.30am] Having a relaxing breakfast in the outdoor section facing the misty sun moon lake. If only life can be so comfortable every single day!

[8.15am] Did the touristy thing by taking a bus to Xuan Guang temple (玄光寺); we waited till 9.30am to try out the immensely popular Ah Po tea leaves eggs!

[11.00am] Time to board the ferry - we would be making our way to the third largest city in Taiwan this time; Taichung! Night markets, here we come!

[1.15pm] The iconic Taichung station which was super near to our choice of accommodation in the city; the four-star 53 Hotel. Ease of accessibility would be beneficial for our move the next day to Taichung HSR station.

[2.00pm] With the helpful directions from the hotel's reception, we got to Yizhong Shopping Street (一中商圈) in twenty minutes! My bad, it should have been faster if i didn't make a wrong turn.

[7.00pm] After checking in to the hotel and taking a much needed shower, it's time to hit the street again for one of the more popular night markets in Taiwan; Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市)!

Day Four: 
Taichung -> Taipei (臺北)
[7.15am] Despite sleeping at close to 2.00am, we had to drag ourselves out of bed so that we could have enough buffer to have our breakfast, board the railway train and get to the HSR station in time. Hectic, hectic, hectic!

[11.00am] Safe and sound in Taipei; the capital of Taiwan! Typical of accommodations in Taiwan, we could not check in till after 3pm although you are free to leave your luggage with the reception staff who would take great care of them.

[11.30am] Accidentally barged in to the protest zone of the Sunflower Student Movement (太陽花學運) while searching for a shop i found from online reviews. The shop was not open for business but it was still an experience to see the differences in civic movements between Singapore and Taiwan.

[2.30pm] Reception staff of CityInn Hotel Taipei Station Branch I (新驛旅店) were kind enough to allow us an earlier check-in! Frankly, the level of customer service in Taiwan was generally so much better than Singapore and this was one of the many reasons that i am missing Taiwan so much now!

[4.30pm] Left for Ximending (西门町); a vibrant place filled with youngsters, activists, evangelists and tourists! Don't ask me about Ah Zhong Mian Xian (阿宗麵線); i didn't want to waste my time queuing and i have never really fancied mian xian. Had our dinner at a 68-year old Japanese restaurant instead; Mei Guan Yuan (美觀園).

[7.00pm] Patronised two night markets at one go; the Guangzhou Street Night Market (艋舺夜市) where Alex was beaming over his great buy, and the disappointing Huaxi Street Night Market (華西街觀光夜市).

Day Five: 
Taipei
[8.30am] Rise and shine for our first pre-booked tour with a cab driver who sent us to notable landmarks like Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園), Jiufen (九份), Golden Waterfall (黄金瀑布), Yin-Yang Sea (陰陽海), Keelung Night Market (基隆廟口夜市) and of course, Shifen (十分).

More details would be provided in due course!

[9.30pm] A bit too late for Shida Night Market (師大夜市) and i guess our feet were also too tired to check the numerous shops catering to students studying in the nearby university.

Day Six: 
Taipei
[9.30am] Stepped out of the hotel for a trip to Maokong (猫空) which used to be one of the largest tea growing area in Taipei! Riding in the crystal cable car was one of the highlights! 

[1.15pm] You wouldn't believe this. Alex literally teared apart my well-planned itinerary to accommodate a visit to the time-heavy Taipei Zoo! 

[4.45pm] The spot i have been waiting for since my arrival in Taiwan; Shenkeng (深坑) also known as the tofu capital of Taiwan! Time to indulge in the smelly tofu that this place is renowned for! 

[8.00pm] Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市)! There are so many night markets in Taipei; i could not finish visiting all of them even though i went to a new one every day!

Day Seven: 
Taipei
[9.30am] Left for Beitou where we could have our very first hot spring - which wasn't that amazing as compared to the mesmerising Hell Valley (as shown in the above picture)!

[2.30pm] Strolled along Yongkang Street (永康街) as our planned late lunch at the original store of Din Tai Feng was unsuccessful due to pending renovation work on that day! Sad sad sad. 

[4.20pm] Life goes on! 
Let's take on the third tallest building in the world; Taipei 101! 

[7.05pm] Window shopped at Hankyu Department Store before we did actual shopping at the wholesale market; Wufenpu (五分埔)! Ended the night at the nearby Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市)! 

Day Eight: 
Taipei
[8.00am] Early morning out to Wulai (烏來)! Thought of soaking again in the hot spring by the side of the stream but the weather turned out to be too warm for us! We eventually spent more time in a dated resort theme park known as Yun hsien Resort (雲仙樂園) and the old street of Wulai. 

[5.30pm] The mother of all night markets in Taiwan; Shilin (士林夜市)! And it lives up to its reputation as there was so much to see, so much to eat and so much to shop! 

Day Nine: 
Taipei - Singapore
[8.20am] Since this would be our final day, I die die had to try the best luroufan in Taipei; Jin Feng (金峰魯肉飯|). I am taking my cue from the great Kon as his professional opinion is that the best one in Taiwan doesn't reside in the capital. 

[9.15am] Checked out the expansive grounds of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂) that was built in the same year i was born and caught the change-of-guards ceremony at 10am! 

[3.00pm] Packed our luggage, had our lunch at Dian Shui Lou (點水樓), collected my fruits and it would be time for us to take the transport to Taoyuan International Airport.

[5.55pm] With a heavy heart, we said our goodbye to Taiwan. It had been a fantastic holiday and you bet we would be back very soon!  

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Remember to check back for the updates!

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