302012Dec

Here Comes the Rain

Almost got through this trip without a rainy day. I got by with some sprinkles in Hong Kong. Things eventually cleared up. However, today it was rain all day. There were periods of sprinkles or even no rain, but that was under the cover of heavy fog and blistering cold breezes. Nothing to do but stay in or as we did, sneak out when we could. Luckily the hotel lends out umbrellas. Gotta admire places that are prepared for anything.

We got three fourths of the way to Shuishe before we ducked into Sunny Lake Wonder. We walked by it every day and finally decided to give it a try. It looked like a fancy restaurant, but I think it will become a hotel. All around the place was construction. About three levels worth. All built around the dining area. Have to say this place was way over priced and not run real well. People were coming inside form the cold and they kept leaving the front doors open. The drafts were bone chilling even for a San Franciscan like me. I closed the door a couple times and finally got the host to realize people were cold. Yeah, I got thanks from other tables. And to add to their wonderful service, at least us and another table had to constantly flag down the servers when we wanted something. Not a pleasant place. And for the price, you’d think the place was at a nice part of town with a good view. not really. You get a view of the boat docks. Not the nice ones. I’ll say that this place was new and hopefully will get better. The interior was nice. That’s what caught our eye.

Well, that was about it for our adventure out. The hotel was our haven for the rest of the day. Time to catch up on some reading.

292012Dec

Amusement Park

One thing you don’t really expect, and for some reason not surprised, was the fact that there is an amusement park in Sun Moon Lake. Actually, not next to the lake, but you get to it form a gondola ride starting next to the lake. The amusement park is part of the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. A place you go to in order to learn more about the native people that make up the majority of the locals in Nantou. Why they decided to add roller coasters, games, and arcades to the mix can be left to your own speculation. The amusement park itself looks as though it was renovated to include an anime theme for the ever popular One Piece. It sorta fits in because… why not. The rides include an outdoor amusement park through Mayan ruins, a Jurassic boat adventure through outdated dinosaur robotics, and even a remake of Disney’s Space Mountain. So why not anime and throw in a 3D movie. Perfection. Oh and if you want something educational, you can go learn about the aboriginals. Yeah, the whole thing was kinda messed up. Anyways, we still made the best of it. A great place for kids.

The town there at the Ita Thao Pier was a different story. This must be where everyone was at. At 3pm there were tons of people filling the streets. Everyone going form shop to shop, food stand to food stand, taking all they could in the warm winter day. The area was at least double that of Shuishe and had plenty more variety in terms of what to eat. Many though you can skip. Overall, the area would be where I want to spend most of the day. Come on, there’s a rice wine factory there.

282012Dec

Biking the Lake

Our hotel lends out bikes for free, so of course we take advantage and make outlandish goals. We were going to ride all around the lake. Doable. They gave us two Giant 12 speed mountain bikes equipped with Shimano brakes. Did you know Giant was made in Taiwan and designed by German engineers? No? Well, now you do. Hence, our bikes were pretty nice given that they were hotel property. The ride around the lake was nice and very scenic. There are rest areas you can stop off at and have lunch and plenty of shade throughout the ride. What you need to be prepared for are the hills. There were a few steep ones. If you’re a moderate biker, you’ll be fine. But if you’re planning on leisurely biking your way around in jeans with a smile on your face, think again. Because that was us. And before we got to the halfway point, we decided to call it a day. We stopped at the Xuanguang Temple Pier and took a ferry boat back to our area. Ferries run at $50NTD. We got hustled for an additional $100NTD a person to bring our bikes on board. Kinda forget tourist traps are all over this place. By the way, there are bike paths but there are sections you’ll have to venture out on the road to continue. It’s okay though, the drivers are mindful.

We stayed around Shuishe to eat. Got some street food and eventually dinner. Although there are restaurants and street food, the area was pretty dead. It was a Friday night and the news was making it out as if Sun Moon Lake was the place to be for New Year’s Eve. Vicky pointed out that we were out early and people were still traveling out to Sun Moon Lake. I figure she was right. It was only 6:30pm.

272012Dec

Departure

We’re heading up to Sun Moon Lake today so we needed to prepare. The trip would take an hour on the High Speed Railway (HSR) and at least another hour by taxi before we reach the hotel. So first thing to do is check out of Li Yuan Hotel. I have to say, I liked this hotel. The rooms were small but bigger than the one I had in Hong Kong. Besides, it fit two twin beds and had space for a desk, though barely. There were two guest chairs but utterly useless. One was against the wall and right up to one of the beds. Might as well put a suitcase stand there. The bathroom was clean and the toilet had a bidet. Very nice. I think I did most of my reading there. TMI? You gotta expect that reading this stuff. Anyways, the nicest thing I liked was the self service laundry. No hassle do it yourself jumbo washer and dryer. They even have laundry detergent there. Awesome. Internet service is spotty though. At one point I got a hardline. It worked for a day then stopped. Networked was all forms of mess. I had to bounce around to other routers on different floors. Don’t worry, I recommend the place and I’ll put it in my feedback to get that fixed.

After check out and visiting a friend who just had a baby, it was off to Mitsui, my favorite restaurant in Taiwan. Yes, it’s kind of a splurge, especially for lunch. It’s a seven course meal filled with so many Japanese dishes. A meal if you walk away hungry then you gotta be a football player or something. Even when I gorge on sushi back home I can’t help but feel a little hungry after closing out the bill. Not here. But here wasn’t a sushi only place. The seafood was very fresh. I only had two complaints. The hamachi/yellowtail sushi wasn’t as fresh as the others and the grilled beef had too much fat on the ends. Otherwise, I love the ambience and nothing was ever rushed. The service was spot on with each section having a station where a waiter/waitress kept everything clockwork. Food comes out to the station, they check to see if you’re ready, serve and take away. I also learned there are several Mitsui restaurants and the original place, the first one I went to, was the highest quality. Have to agree. This meal was oh-so delicious but didn’t have the perfection as the first one. I’ll have to go to the original next time.

Now, for Sun Moon Lake, we stayed at the generically named Sun Moon Lake Hotel. I was worried the driver wouldn’t know which one to go to knowing there may be other hotels with similar names. Not the case. We arrived and everything went smoothly. Wonderful hotel that’s only a 10 minute walk from a small town.

We grabbed a small bite from town after walking around its four streets. Good local eats. The best thing was that it was cheap even though the prices were probably marked up for tourists and we were tourists. Alright, not we… me.

262012Dec

Relaxing

I had to take it easy. Pass few days my shoulder blade up to my neck was in serious pain. I could hardly go jogging. That it! I haven’t been able to jog. That’s why I’m getting so fat. Not from all the eating. Not at all. All the stuff has been healthy and nutritious. Fat and sugar is a form of nourishment right? Okay, maybe not.

On to the day. I finally, committed to buying a coat, make that two. All the shopping has led me to one store, Edwin, a store from Japan. Pretty interesting stuff and of course they had a sales promotion of 20% off. Oh, and a tip for the foreign shopper. Bring your passport! You’ll get an additional 5% cash back. What you need to do though is spend a certain amount, $3000NTD in this case and bring the receipt to a tax/vat refund counter, usually in the same mall. From there they will take your receipts and write up some stuff for you. Do remember that you have to do this the day off your purchase. Or in worse case scenarios, ask the store to issue you another receipt on that day. It was be like a return and repurchase. Anyways, you get some slip and on the day you head back, you brings all the slips to the refund station at the airport. That’s when you’ll get refunds for all your purchases. Not a bad addition to the savings.

For food, Vicky’s mom took me to a local xiao long bao place. It’s near the Guting MRT station. Sorry, I don’t know the name but I can say the pork and vegetable one was really good. We also ordered the hot and sour soup. I was never a fan of the stuff, but I did learn the states makes it the lazy way, without any meat. Yes, there’s suppose to be meat in this stuff. Small strips of pork and and tofu skin. Now I’m always going to turn down this soup back home. On another note, I had some Mister Donuts today. Can’t seem to resist this chewy snack. Have one and let me know. Different than your traditional ones form Dunkin Donuts. Don’t think it’s any less fattening. And if you want healthy, than you may like this place Long Xian Ju (龍涎居). They specialize in herbal soups. I’ve tried this before at the same place. Actually, they moved from the last time I went on to Roosevelt Street. So this time, I avoided the black chicken and added a rice bowl to help fill me up, not to mention enoki mushrooms in sesame oil. Mental note, hit the gym and run off this and many meals before it.

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