Sunday, November 12, 2017

Cycling Taiwan 2017 Days 1 & 2: Welcome To Taiwan & Ximending

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Cycling Taiwan 2017 Days 1 & 2: Welcome To Taiwan & Ximending
Taiwan Days 1 & 2: Saturday & Sunday, 14th & 15th October - Taipei
This is part of cycling tour around Taiwan, covering part of Taipei:
The first two days were non-cycling days (dampen by the wet weather). I lieu of cycling we walked around to explore the locality of Ximending; see Places of Interest below for the places we visited.
Cycling Distance - Not Applicable.     Level: N.A.
Cycling Time : N.A.
Time Taken :  N.A.

This is page 1 of a 19-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
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Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
     The Taiwan (台湾) is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from!

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    Much as we wanted to do some easy warm up cycling in Taipei, the wet weather deterred us and we had to settle with walking around in our raincoats and try to see some of the places close by.

3. Weather
    The weather for amicably cool, averaging at 28°C during the day and 22°C at night. There was a drizzle during most part of the two days, with very light winds.
    It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites for the Taiwan are the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau and AccuWeatherFor more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

4. Communicating with Each Other
   When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
    At Taipei Taoyuan Airport Terminal One, just after exiting the into the arrival hall, there are several booths on the left selling pre-paid phone SIM cards. We got pre-paid 4G prepaid SIM cards from Chung Hwa as they had good coverage even in remote areas. These cost NTD1,000 for a 30-day plan that includes unlimited data and NTD$430 credit for texts or calls. These can also be booked on line.
    Those without sim card could try using free Wifi that are sometimes available at the airport, some bigger train stations or hotels; do note that these free wifi may not be secure and registration could be required.

5. Communicating with Locals
    Most Taiwanese (台湾人) speaks Mandarin (官话) and Hokkien (福建話), and very few speak English. So it would be good to have a person in the team who can converse in Mandarin or Hokkien.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedules.

6. Places of Interest
- The Red House (西門紅樓) (GPS: 25.04201, 121.50685).
Tian Hou Temple (台北天后宮) (GPS: 25.04279, 121.50632).

7. Food
 Day 1
   - Fusion Wantan-Pan mein noodles dinner at Ximending.
   - Little Dragon Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) supper from Family Mart, Emei Street (GPS: 25.04354, 121.50735).
Day 2
   - Coffee, toast and egg with cookies breakfast at Fong Da Coffee House (蜂大咖啡) (GPS: 25.04256, 121.50635).
   - Mi sua noodles lunch at 西門太面 noodles shop (GPS: 25.04388, 121.50853).
   - Beef noodle dinner at Mercuries Beef Noodle Restuarant (GPS: 25.04353, 121.50738), Emei Street (next to Family Mart).

8. Accommodations
    Pre-booked and pre-paid accommodations via Air BnB for two nights at Freebird Apartments (GPS: 25.04349, 121.50803) at Emei Street in Ximending. It was a single apartment for six price at  NTD2,000 per night. It came with two queen beds and two floor mattresses, rudimentary utensils, fridge and even a washing machine. The only complain was that the bath and W.C. were combined, so we had to patiently take turns.
   They did allow us to leave the bags (Five Dimpas with Impraboards and a hard-case) used for packing our bikes into the plane while we went bike-touring of the rest of country. So we did not have the hassle of carrying those packing bags along.

9. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.


DAY 1- 14th October 2017

Here were are all eager to go, checked in to KLIA2 awaiting our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei. We are all wearing the "Happy Cycling" T-shirts, a show of solidarity and an announcement that we are cyclists. At 10:00 am, without any delay our Air Asia flight took off.
Yahoooooo...... Taiwan here we come!

2:40pm - We arrived at Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport Terminal One and were impressed by the arrival hall building, a fusion of modern structure with a traditional sharp arch Chinese architecture.
Our T-shirts declaring that we were here to cycle did help as Taiwan does have a very supportive cycling culture. "Welcome to Taiwan, and have a good cycling time", the office said with a warm smile and cleared me through promptly.

Just behind the immigration counters were these stylized wall murals. Although possibly no photography was allowed, I couldn't help but snap this one of green, cloud-covered mountains rising out from a blue sea.... a real teaser of what we would be expecting to sea.... oops I mean to see!

We had arranged for Freebird Apartments for a airport transfer, and the van took us on a one-hour journey into Taipei and dropped us off..... to a very wet Emei Street in Ximending (one of the busiest commercial districts). Everywhere there were umbrellas to welcome us!

But where was our apartment?? The location provided by Freebird showed... a hair-dressing saloon! Goodness, are we supposed to cram somewhere with the smell of hair being done?
Fortunately, a concierge of sort was there to meet us. Xiao Hei dressed in a simple T-shirt and shorts was there to help us unload at the main road of which Emei Street connects to. Xiao Hei was an appropriate introduction to the people of Taiwan, a burlesque fellow; and although he was not in one of those colorful traditional garb, he was an aborigine from one of the many Taiwan aboriginal tribes.
The entrance to the apartment (which was on the sixth floor) was via this discreet corridor next to a souvenir shop (in pix shown above) that led to couple of lifts that whisked us upward. Although the ground floor entrance was a bit of a shocking welcome, the apartment itself was fairly clean with amenities like air-conditioning, a fridge, boiler and even a washing machine! Most important of all, it's location was very central, and many interesting sites were within walking (or cycling) distances.

It's Dinner Time! Time to troll for the reputed good Taiwanese food.
We ended up at a stall selling these... make no mistakes these are not spring rolls but wantan dumplings folded in this stall's unique way. They were filled with minced pork together with some radish and carrots.

The wantan noodles were different though. Instead of the long and thin wheat noodles, flat and broad rice noodles were uses; they were chewier too, something akin to the Malaysian Pan Mee. The above is the soup version...

... and this is the dry version. Both tasted very good to our hungry tummies.

Well, it's time to explore the locality. The drizzle did not deter us, and there were covered five-foot ways to walk in. The place was filled with rows and rows of shop-lots, many selling their products and half as many were food shops; all bustling with people.
Walking along a row of these shop-lots, we were suddenly surprised to see lanterns hanging from an ornate ceiling over one of the five foot ways, this was a narrow (shop-lot width) entrance that led to the Tian Hou Temple. The locals call it ."Ximending Mazu Temple" (西門町媽祖廟) and it is dedicated to the Mazu, the Godess of the Sea. The narrow entrance belies what lies within, a large court-yard where the beautiful temple pavilions were situated. This narrow entrance reminded me of the Khoo Kongsi in Penang.

Even the dark night could not hide the beauty of the temple, lights shone onto the roof to highlight the dragons curling on top.

And in the main prayer hall, red glass offering-lamps shone serenely at the altar.

We made our way back to the Red House (西門紅樓)The Red House was a former market built in 1908. It was converted to a theater in 1945. The rain had tapered off to a light drizzle, but outside the Red House, the outdoor drinking tables were empty.

Indoor, it was dry and warm... and buzzing with life. There were many shop-lots on both the ground and first floor, most catered for artsy tastes; like the one above which sell flattened out glass bottles made into pieces of art. With these many shop-lots, the Red House has come a full circle and is a market again, albeit on of a different kind.

At one corner, was a scaled paper model of the Red House; time to have some fun, with the baby polar bear.....

... and a puffy white rabbit!

Back outside the rain had come back to bless us, donning our rain coats we made a quick dash back to our hotel.

Being at the top-most floor of the hotel did have it advantage, there was a good night view of the Ximending area.
We retired, hoping that tomorrow's weather will be better and that we will get a chance to stretch our itchy cycling legs.

DAY 2- 15th October 2017

The weather remained the same... dark cloudy skies, gloomy and wet. But there was a bit of silver lining.
As we stepped out of our hotel, somebody called out "Hey, AhPek!". It was a Mr. Wong, an avid reader of my cycling blogs, he had also come to cycle around Taiwan. And it was great to meet him and chat a bit of our cycling experiences, and we hoped to meet each other again soon.

We were suppose to have a cycling event with some local cyclists, led by Ms. Pei-Hsuan, but the rain made it a wash-out! No worries though, we will be having coffee with her for breakfast at Fong Da (蜂大咖啡), a renown Taipei coffee house.
While waiting for her to arrive the girls bought some cookies that were displayed at the shop's front.

Other than those cookies, Fong Da is not a traditional Chinese coffee shop per se, the coffee they sell are selected international coffee beans. So don't expect the environment of coffee shops (kopi tiam) like those in South-east Asia.

Some eggs and toast to go with the coffee. The eggs although sunny-side up were not runny and had a small slice of ham on top.

A souvenir T-shirt (from Chain Story, a on-line shop operated by a friend) for a smiling Pei-Hsuan. Months earlier, she had gone to Malaysia to join Brompton Malaysia's Heritage Malacca event and had became friends with a few of us then!

Opposite Fong Da was a familiar sight; it's the Tian Hou Temple, looking much different during the day.

Later at the 西門太面 noodle shop, some light lunch of white noodles (mi sua) that came with a large piece of fried soy skin... and also slices bamboo shoots, which, with it's slight sourish taste and strong urea smell, took a bit of getting use to.

My tummy was acting up again, and while my buddies took a Metro to visit a few places of interest (the Taipei 101 Tower, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and Sun Yat-sen Memorial); I laid in bed giving my tummy a chance to settle down so that I can have a go again sampling Taiwan's gastronomic delights.
Walked around the neighborhood a bit, browsing through the street food (... browsing only, no eating... heh heh!). These large custard apples does look tempting though. Taiwan is famous for these, which are easily available in most towns and villages.

And something not so tempting here. These looked like chocolates being fried, but are actually coagulated pig's blood, molded this way to make them more palatably presentable. Hah!

My tummy had recovered sufficiently, risking it I joined my returning buddies for dinner. We just had to try another local favorite - beef noodles! And we found it at the Mercuries Beef Noodle Restuarant, just a few doors away from our hotel.
It lived up to our expectations, with the beef soup having a hearty, strong beefy flavor.

The rain had abated and the street stall were out to make the place lively again, we like the atmosphere except for the stalls selling Stinky Tofu. I have tried these before, they smell and tastes like dog poo (not to say that I have eaten dog poo before), and worst is that the "aroma" emanating from these stalls could affect one's nostrils even from a distance away!
We retired for the night, hoping that the following day when we start our actual around Taiwan cycling tour, the skies will be kind and that the rain will stop.

晚安 !

(That's Wǎn'ān, meaning good night in Mandarin)
Dang! The odd smell of those stinky tofu are stuck to my nostrils! I brush that aside as tried to sleep as best as possible 😱.

(For more photos of the Day 1, Click Here)
(For more photos of the Day 2, Click Here)

This is page 1 of a 19-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to Bikes On Planes         |      Go to Other Days   |                Go to D3 Hsinchu >

Below is a map of Taipei & Ximending showing some of the locations we went to:


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  1. What an amazing story, It’s very inspiring, the food look so yummy..Can't wait go to Taiwan next year :)

    1. More to come, we were there for three weeks. This is just the start.