We had to wake up super early to catch our 8:20am flight to Taipei. The cab picked us up at 5:30am and we were on our way. This is definitely the last time that I’m booking a morning flight. Lesson learned. When we arrived in Taipei, our first order of business was to exchange our currency and get on a shuttle bus. This is my one big complaint of Taipei. The only way to get from the airport to central Taipei is via taxi (which will cost about $33 CDN) or by shuttle bus ($5 per person). The ride itself takes about an hour. Not very convenient. They are currently building an airport line MRT, which is scheduled to begin service in June 2013. This is definitely good news for travelers.
By the time we arrived at our hotel at around 3pm, we were both pretty hungry so we walked to a nearby cafe called Ying Chi Dining Room for a snack. We ate light as we had dinner plans. I had the BBQ chicken, duck, pork on rice, and May had the spicy fried instant noodles.
We then hopped on the MRT and headed to Taipei 101. Standing at 101 storeys, it was once the world’s tallest skyscraper until Dubai’s Burj Kalifa opened and stole the title in 2010. The 6-floor shopping mall inside is full of high-end luxury boutiques but it’s actually quite small by Asia standards. You would think a mall inside a building this large would be colossal. Not to worry though, we weren’t there for shopping. We were there to meet my friend Ellie, and eat at Din Tai Fung, the one Michelin star rated restaurant. On this trip, we had already eaten at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong and Singapore, but we were both curious to see how it was in Taipei, the city where the chain first originated. The one we went to though was not the original location. Ellie was nice enough to also bring us BBT from Chun Shui Tang, known for having some of the best BBT in Taiwan. BBT in Taiwan is usually around $1 CDN, but it’s ~$5 per cup at this place.
Din Tai Fung kitchen staff seen hard at work, many of them wrapping dumplings.
Braised beef noodle soup; XLB (steamed pork dumplings)
Stir-fried water spinach with garlic; Vegetarian delight in vinegar dressing; Steamed taro dumplings
The Din Tai Fung in Taipei was on par with all the other Din Tai Fungs that we had been to. It didn’t stand out at all. This is probably a good thing though, as it means that they have pretty strict quality guidelines for all of their chain restaurants.
After dinner, we walked around downtown Taipei for a bit before heading to an Irish bar called The Speakeasy. As it was approaching midnight on a weeknight, the bar was all but completely dead except for us and another couple. We stayed for a beer and headed back to the hotel. It had been a long day and it was time to recharge.
We slept in quite late so I decided to call up our friend Tania, who happened to be vacationing in Taipei for the month. I suggested Yong Kang Beef Noodles, regarded by many as having the best beef noodles in Taiwan. Unfortunately it’s not close to an MRT station, so we met up with Tania at Taipei 101 and then we caught a cab there.
Yong Kang’s Taiwanese beef noodles, with super clean and rich broth and beef that melts in your mouth. Best beef noodles ever.
To stews with beef noodles, a lighter noodle soup. Very tasty; Dan dan noodles (Tania’s favourite); Spicy wontons (not that great)
After lunch, we cabbed it to SOGO, a mega department store, where we walked around and window shopped for a bit. We then grabbed a BBT and then decided to get a foot massage. If you’ve never gotten a traditional Chinese foot massage then you should be warned. It targets specific pressure points on your feet and it can be quite painful. It is believed that each part of the foot is connected to a part of the body. If soreness is felt in a particular part of the foot, it is believed the corresponding part of the body has a problem. May and Tania seemed to be doing fine though. Maybe it’s because they had female masseuses, while I had a muscular male masseuse. He really went to town on my feet. Or maybe I just have lots of problems.
The plan was to go to Shilin Night Market, but as were on our way, it started raining quite heavily. So we decided to abort mission and head there the next day instead. So we turned back and got off at Taipei Main Station, where we walked around Taipei City Mall, a seemingly endless underground mall that seems to go on for blocks. It’s so long that it has 28 exits, each leading outside to a different stretch of street. We settled on dinner at one of the restaurants inside called Stone Hot Pot Cuisine. I had a Korean bibimbup (mixed rice) in a sizzling stone bowl with a fried pork cutlet on the side. It was actually really good.
By the time we finished dinner, it had actually stopped raining, so we decided to head to Shilin Night Market, the largest and most famous night market in Taipei. It wasn’t very busy when we went. Probably had something to do with the weather and it being a weeknight.
Shilin Night Market vendors; Shilin Night Market food (not sure if I can tell you what 3/4 of this stuff is)
Candied tomatoes; Fried chicken steak as big as your face (delicious, but I couldn’t finish it)
Not quite sure how you’re supposed to eat a Taiwanese sausage that’s as big as your forearm. So I didn’t. I saw tons of these stands though. I did end up getting a sausage in a sausage. Yup, it was a pork sausage that was stuffed with preserved vegetables and then stuffed into a rice sausage. I guess this would be a Taiwanese hot dog. Yum!
Most of the stores at Shilin Night Market are open until around 2am, even on weekdays. I feel kinda bad for people working those late shifts. After a bit of eating and a bit of shopping, we hopped on the MRT back to our hotel and called it a night. Another glorious day of eating.
We started the day pretty late and decided to explore Songshan District, the neighbourhood where our hotel is located. You’ll find malls and department stores along the main roads, but it’s in the side streets where you’ll find smaller boutique stores and eateries. We walked by a hole in the wall restaurant which seemed to be bustling, so that’s where we decided to eat. It was packed with mostly white collar workers, who I’m assuming work at the nearby banks. I ordered BBQ pork on rice. I know it doesn’t sound very original, but I got sucked in by the juicy BBQ pork hanging in the front window. Plus, I was in the mood for a “working man’s lunch”. This dish will run you about $2 CDN.
BBQ pork on rice; BBQ duck and pork with rice noodle soup. This place had some of the best BBQ pork that I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you the English name of the restaurant because it doesn’t have one. The Chinese name is “Dragon Door BBQ Meat Place”. I hope that helps! 😉
After lunch, we headed to Ximending Market, as recommended to me by a friend. She referred to it as the Shibuya of Taipei, a hangout spot for young locals.
We saw a long lineup at Ay-Chung, a food stall that’s been around since 1975 and that only serves rice noodles. We decided to get in line to see what the hubbub was all about. The bowl of rice noodles with pork intestines did not disappoint. It was delicious.
Yes, that’s a 3-storey KFC. Tania told us that they have delicious egg tarts there. She was right. In fact, they had 3 different kinds of egg tarts. The one on the right is filled with chocolate and some sort of unidentified jelly. The one on the left is just a regular Portuguese egg tart. They were actually pretty good considering they were from KFC. I’ll take an egg tart from Macau (click for a pic of it) any day though. After KFC, we headed to Mei Guan Yuan, a 3-storey Japanese restaurant serving authentic sushi and sashimi since 1946. Ellie came by and joined us for dinner as well.
Assorted seafood sashimi don; salmon sashimi and blue fin tuna (and toro) sashimi. I’ve never had blue fin tuna toro. That alone was $20 CDN, but it was very fresh and very good.
Soft shell crab cone; May ordered me an extra large Taiwan beer not knowing that it would be the size of my head.
During dinner, I found out that one of my other friends Theresa, was also in town. So we made plans to meet up for drinks at Indulge. But because we had some time to kill beforehand, Ellie decided to take us for shaved ice at FnB Gourmet Group. It was a bit far from where we were so we cabbed it there. It was packed when we got there, but I’m really glad we went because the shaved ice was delicious and the perfect dessert for a warm evening.
After dessert, we headed to Indulge to meet up with Theresa. It was a pretty chilin’ lounge and they had a pretty diverse drinks menu as well.
We had a couple of cocktails there and then stumbled back to the hotel. We didn’t want to stay out too late as we had an early flight to catch the next morning. Another great day filled with good food and company. All in all, I really enjoyed Taipei and would probably come back again someday to visit.
Guess what? We slept in. We had a 10:20am flight to catch, and were planning on waking up at 6:30am. Instead, we woke up at 7:45am as my alarm didn’t go off. The biggest problem is that the bus ride takes an hour and the buses run every 20 minutes. So we were cutting it really close. In panic mode, we stuffed everything into our luggage and ran out of the hotel. We were really lucky that we only had to wait about 5 minutes for the bus. When we arrived at the airport, we realized we were in the wrong terminal and had to take the skytrain to the right one. With only minutes to spare, we were able to get our boarding passes, and pass immigration and security. Disaster averted.
We arrived in Hong Kong mid-day, with a 12-hour layover. We had intentionally planned this, as we had left one of our suitcases (which was filled with stuff we bought in Hong Kong) behind. Our first order of business was to get lunch. I suggested to go to Gi Kee Restaurant, a food stall located on the top floor of Wong Nai Chung Complex, a wet market in Happy Valley. They’re famous for their garlic fried chicken, which if I dare say, is better than Phnom Penh’s popular chicken wings.
Gi Kee’s famous fried chicken topped with fried garlic. The BEST fried chicken I’ve ever had.
Deep-fried short ribs in mashed garlic; BBQ pick neck (Thai style); Guy Lan
After lunch, May and I headed back to Causeway Bay for some last minute shopping. Hong Kong is by far the cheapest place to shop for brand name clothing. We headed to Zara and UNIQLO, where I filled up yet another shopping bag. In all, I managed to stuff a whole large suitcase full of UNIQLO clothes. I guess I’m good for clothes for the next decade. For dinner, we stayed closeby and went to SML, and Italian restaurant located on the 11th floor of Times Square. All in all, it was a decent, but not great Italian restaurant.
Grilled shrimp with chili and garlic butter; Crispy pork belly with red cabbage & apple coleslaw
Mac & cheese with cauliflower & mozzarella; Mushroom and truffles risotto (not that good); Linguine with clams white wine, and parsley
After dinner, it was time to bid Asia adieu. There happened to be a really severe thunderstorm in Hong Kong that night, so we knew it wasn’t ideal to be flying. We got to the airport and found out that there was a red lightning alert that was causing delays for all flights. We were delayed for 2.5 hours, but luckily the flight back was rather smooth and we arrived back in Vancouver safe and sound.
This concludes our monthlong Asia adventure. We visited Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Brunei, Phuket, Krabi, Bangkok, and Taipei.
Best shopping – Hong Kong
Best street food – Singapore
Best beaches – Krabi
Best markets – Bangkok
Best holiday destination – Krabi
Our favourite cities – Hong Kong (May) and Singapore (Dennis)
Our next visit to Asia will likely be in 2014 and will include Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We can’t wait.