092012Feb

Passing Through Taichung

I love the train systems in Taiwan. The run regularly to every major city and this was just the normal railway. There’s the high speed railway which I haven’t tried out yet. Moving from place to place within one or two hours on the Tze-Chiang, limited express, trains were fine for us. I didn’t even go for the tourist railway pass, which is similar to the JR Railway Pass in Japan. The one in Taiwan seemed affordable, but doesn’t allow you to go on the express trains we were taking. People with the pass were allowed to take the trains the stopped at every stop. While a nice way to see the smaller cities of Taiwan, it wasn’t very time effective.

The trains were nice – comfy, with room to stretch your legs and a little raised foot rest. Airlines should take a look into adding these. If you’re hungry, you’re allowed to bring food on and eat. And if you need to do your thing, there are decent rest rooms (with toilets!) and a sink for every car. Not a bad way to travel. Luckily no one brought stinky tofu on board.

We took the train to Taichung. A nice big city that felt like a Taipei minus half the people and fancy new buildings. I read about this nice little tea house, Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House 無為草堂, from http://mykafkaesquelife.blogspot.com/ and I have to say, it was worth getting to. It’s situated in this commercial area filled with retail shops and modern restaurants. It was a quiet getaway with a labyrinth of wooden stairs and hallways to the various tea rooms overlooking the Koi pond. We had lunch here and looked into what to do in Tainan. I really wanted to stay and check out the night market here, but we were on a tighter schedule. We only stayed around for five hours and it was back on the train.

Food:

Definitely good. There are some great specialty shops, like pig’s feet with rice. You’ll find shops everywhere for this. Sounds crazy, but give these fatty and gelatinous things a try. I tried them braised and they were great and filled with dietary guilt.

Try the Suncakes 太阳饼 too. They’re light flaky pastries and be sure to have them with tea.

Getting Around:
By cab you’re looking at about $100 – $125NTD per trip from district to district.

Overall Feel:
Felt like a big city I want to come back to. I didn’t spend too much time here so I definitely want to come back. I hear there’s a night life scene I need to see, but it feels more of a eating and shopping town.

Travel Cost(s):
$197NTD by Tze-Chiang train from Hsinchu to Taichung (limited express)
$20NTD locker

082012Feb

Soaked in Hakka Land

We left a surprisingly dry and cold Taipei back to a rainy and even colder Hsinchu. A great start to our journey around the island of Taiwan. Thankfully, we didn’t bike or even rent a motorcycle. The cold wetness would send us back to Taipei in a hurry. On the other hand, arriving here in this weather meant staying indoors. However, Vicky’s cousin Che was available to pick us up and show us around town. Score! And also, we’ll be staying at his folks place. Bonus!

From the station we headed out to Beipu where Vicky’s grandmother lived.

Along the way we went by a few interesting spots. First being his school, Chinhua University, where Che was graduating with a PhD in Fuel Cell Technology. Interesting fellow. He had just returned from a Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) conference out in France where he had given a presentation. Anyways, he was out tour guide and offered plenty of history around his University. Next was a small stop to a public well of a town with the largest population of twins. People believed it was in the water and visitors were free to siphon water. In our case, there was enough water falling on our heads to warrant a taste. Up the windy road was a nice view of the city reservoir. We had to enjoy it form the interior of our car. Bummer, but soon we were in Beipu.

Beipu was small and had a area catered to tourists. Cobble stone streets crossed in front of the temple aligned with vendors selling foods and souvenirs. Not many were opened obviously, but we found a small tea shop where we tried our hands at Hakka tea. It’s pretty intense and quite involved. You basically grind tea and nuts in a special ridged clay pot to the point you got a thick paste, made possible by the oils in the nuts. After a good 15 minutes of taking turns, we were finally able to add hot water and enjoy our tea. I can see how this could be fun if we had more people. More people to do the dirty work that is.

After saying bye to grandmother we headed back to the city.

For dinner we went to, you guessed it, Chenghuang Temple Night Market. And oh man, it’s small compared to Taipei’s night markets. And I have to say, this one was very disappointing. Bawan was pretty disgusting and the rice noodles that every vendor was selling looked unappetizing. We didn’t eat much. Che didn’t want us to eat-eat there. Instead, he took us a few blocks away to a place that specialized in duck. If you heard of Hainan Chicken, where the chicken is cooked with the rice, well, they do this with duck. And it’s divine. The duck itself was well prepared too. Simply roasted and served in its oily goodness. If you’re a fan of tripe, try the duck version. The texture is thinner and, for a lack of a better term, crisper. This meal made up for all the crap I had been eating.

My thoughts on Hsinchu City…

Food:
Good if you stay away from the crap night market food, but I’m sure you can find some gems in there. Wish I had more time to find them.

Getting Around:
Can’t say, we were driven everywhere.

Overall Feel:
There are sections of mom and pop shops but it has a main area for all your trendy shopping needs. No high end stuff though.

Travel Cost(s):
$177NTD by Tze-Chiang train from Taipei to Hsinchu (limited express)

072012Feb

And Here Comes the Rain

Today it poured. I take that back, early morning it poured. The rest of the day wasn’t as wet but with the wind, it made for one uncomfortable day to get around town. The only thing we could do was to stay inside something. And if that something, like a bus, taxi, metro, or even gondola would take us somewhere interesting, then all the better. Of course, we did just that. Final destination, Maokong Station.

What was up there was a slew of tea houses nestled in the farmlands of the local growers. Very pleasant place. I’d tell you the name if I could. It’s in Chinese but I’m sure any tea house here would give you the same experience. Many of them being a five minute walk from the station.

But I have to say, the most memorable thing about today was the eating. Even this tea thing fits into this category. So let me rephrase it, this day was all about eating and drinking. We had local food shops where you can buy a Taiwanese hamburger or a fried chicken box lunch for $90NTD ($3 US Dollars) or splurge and on black chicken soup for $180NTD. Everything we had was good, tasty, and full of new flavors I’m going to remember this city for. Those puffy buns wrapped around braised pork, balanced with pickled veggies that were not overpowering, explained why they were called sandwiches. It’s all about the balance of each ingredient. Then the thinly crispy chicken on top of locally grown covered in an assortment of mixed greens. I’d want to call this a Chinese Bento Box, but this was a class of its own. And finally, we stopped by Shida Night Market for some chicken soup, a hearty mix of herbs that were invisible to eye, but clearly apparent on the palette. My only gripe was that they try to market each meal as being beneficial to an aspect of your health. Bullshit. Nothing this tasty was ever good for you! But I sure hope I’m wrong. Anyways, enjoy some of the food photos, though I could have done a better job taking them. Eating them was a higher priority than picture taking.

The other highlight was that the weather was clearing up. The long five days of rain we were suppose to get was being cut down to two days, with the Western cities seeing sunshine as early as tomorrow. Makes my head spin trying to believe what these weather people said. No matter, our journey was going to start tomorrow.

Hsinchu, here I come!

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