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Girls' Best Friend

Bright and sparkly. Gemstones came to my mind when I was removing this Dragon Fruit and Orange jelly from the mould. Like a combination of gemstones...rubies, amber and diamonds, all in one!

Dragon's Eyes

The literal translation for the name of a small brown, juicy exotic fruit from the lands of Asia, known as Longan in Chinese, packed into these muffins


A taste from the humble beginnings, the Long Bean Rice brings back beautiful memories of the yesteryears

Light and Fluffy

Lemon, Yogurt and Cranberries~a nice blend of flavours in a light and fluffy chiffon cake

Bread Stories

Asian style buns ~ Popular as breakfast food or snack, sweet/savoury fillings wrapped in soft, cottony bread

Monday, 12 October 2015

Learning To Cook Like A Nyonya ~ Ayam Pongteh

This is one of my family favorites.  We never get tired of it.  Ayam Pongteh is a very popular signature Nyonya dish that you will find in Nyonya restaurants,  if it's not there it's not genuinely authentic.   For those who are not familiar, Nyonya is the term for female descendants of early Chinese migrants to Malaysia who married the local Malays.  As a result, their culture (including cuisine) is an intriguing marriage between the Malay and Chinese culture.   Now, i am not a Nyonya, just simply learning to cook some of the lovely dishes that a Nyonya would make.  

This dish has a unique savoury sweet flavor coming from a combination of fermented soy bean paste, soy sauce and palm sugar; key ingredients for this dish.  Some potatoes and dried shitake mushrooms are added into the dish making the dish look more attractive and giving variety apart from just meat.  Goes well with both rice and noodles.   The sauce should be thick not watery hence spices used (soy bean paste, shallots and garlic) should be pounded (mortar and pestle) instead of blended. 

I normally use a whole chicken to make this dish and it will last us for 2 to 3 meals.  This dish taste even better when the flavors are allowed to infuse overnight.  

I have tried a few recipes but i kinda have settled for this one and have been going along the same line ever since. I noticed this recipe has a higher ratio of shallots to garlic (while others have vice versa and some near equal) which is probably the key to what makes it good and i also learnt from this recipe that shallots and garlic are to be saute separately.  I don't follow the recipe to a T (+/- here and there to get the right taste while the dish is being cooked)  and I have my own minor variations mainly to suit personal taste preference.  I would pan fry the potatoes to give it a nice crisp outer layer and i would add the soy sauce before adding water to make the flavors more intense.

Served with some acar on the side (vegetable pickle, also a Nyonya dish) to complete the meal.


  • 15 shallots
  • 5 cloves garlic (8 cloves)
  • 4 Tbsp oil
  • 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp  palm sugar (gula tuak or gula melaka), chopped
  • 1 ½ Tbsp fermented soy bean paste (taucheo) (1 1/2- 2 tbsp, coarsely mashed)
  • 1 kg. chicken cut into bite-sized pieces (1-1.5 kg free range chicken)
  • 2 medium size potatoes, peeled and quartered (3 potatoes, peeled and halved)
  • 10 Shitake mushrooms (4 shitake mushrooms, soaked to soften and halved)
  • 3 cups water (use water for soaking mushroom too)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Pound shallots and garlic separately into a coarse paste.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat. 
  3. Pan fry potatoes for a crisp outer layer. Remove and set aside.
  4. Lower the heat (in order not to burn the paste) then add in shallot paste and sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add in garlic and continue to sauté until paste looks slightly golden.
  6. Add in soy bean paste (taucheo) and continue to saute until fragrant.
  7. Add in chicken, mix well with the paste.  When chicken turns opaque, add in soy sauce and mushroom.  Continue to stir fry until aromatic.  If potatoes not fried add them at this stage.
  8. Put in 3 cups of water (or enough water to cover chicken) and bring to boil.
  9. Add in palm sugar.
  10. When the water boils, reduce heat and let it simmer.
  11. Add in potatoes when gravy starts to thicken.
  12. Dish is ready when chicken is tender and gravy has thickened around 1/3 of the water amount.
  13. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. (Occasionally i will add in some soy sauce depending on size of chicken but i never use any salt in mine)

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Come On Let's Do a Jelly Mooncake Twist!

Mooncake aka Mid Autumn Festival is around the corner again.  It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the lunar calendar and that translates to Sept 27 this year.  Commercially, mooncakes show their faces somewhere towards the end of the 6th month which gives one ample time to eat and eat and eat...if one has the money that is since they are getting more expensive by the day.

Jelly mooncakes are a cheaper version but they don't satisfy cravings for the traditional ones.  Different altogether but they make good desserts, look pretty and fit for the festival since they use similar looking moulds.

I have been making jelly mooncakes for quite a few years already and have tried out quite a variety of flavors. Cracking my head to make a different flavor for this year when this idea struck me.  I have come across this Milo Oreo jelly recipe some time back where the cookie was broken into smaller pieces and scattered between the Milo and milk layer.   Instead of breaking it, i dump the whole piece in the center mimicking the filling in a mooncake.   Typically, the filling for jelly mooncakes is made of jelly too but a different flavor from the outer layer i.e. the skin.  

I like the outcome.  The flavors combined pretty well and the cookie was still crunchy giving it a different texture from typical jelly mooncakes.  And the best part is this is even easier than making typical mooncakes.

Sandwich in a sandwich!


  • 6g Agar-Agar Powder
  • 400ml Water
  • 70g Sugar
  • 220ml Evaporated Milk
  • 1/3 cup Milo Powder + 1 tsp Instant Coffee Powder
  • 6 pieces of Oreo Cookies 

  1. Place agar-agar powder and water in a pot & cook until agar-agar dissolves.
  2. Add in sugar & cook until sugar dissolves.
  3. Add in milk, stir well and turn off flame once milk starts to boil.
  4. Separate 1 1/4 cup of the mixture into another pot & add in Milo powder mixture.
  5. Stir well until Milo dissolves. Strain the mixture to ensure Milo completely dissolves.
  1. Pour in some milo agar agar mixture into mooncake mould.
  2. In the meantime, if the plain mixture starts to set, put it over a small flame to prevent it from setting.
  3. When the mixture in the mould is almost set (i.e. film has formed and strong enough to hold cookie), place a piece of oreo cookie in the center of each mooncake.
  4. Slowly pour in plain mixture on top of cookie to cover it.
  5. Let jelly come to room temperature then chill in the fridge until set before serving cold.
  1. I have twigged the recipe a little to suit mooncake moulds and it yields 6 pieces if you have equivalent size moulds.
  2. If you are not making it using mooncake moulds, i would suggest that you follow the steps from the source recipe.
This post is linked to Little Thumbs Up September (Milo) hosted by

Friday, 4 September 2015

Globetrotting with Son-Taiwan 2015

Greetings my friends!  It has really been quite awhile; time to remove some dust from this blog :) In fact, I can even name this my anniversary post since it was more than 1 year since the last one!

Not exactly a food related post but jottings of a recent trip.  It was summer school break for Boy and coincidentally my work contract has just come to an end. Great time for some bonding while exploring another part of the world.   Since the trip was a little last minute, we were unable to book ourselves on a all in guided tour, so we decided to go on our own.  We headed off to Taiwan; our first Mother and Son solo trip :)  We spent a total of 6 days there.

We flew AirAsia.  They were the cheapest and I liked the flight time.  Whenever I travel to a new place on my own, I prefer to arrive during the day so that it's easier for me to find my way around and there's no need to dash for the last train or that sort.  We departed at 10.00 AM from KLIA2 and landed around 3.15 PM.  There was a slight delay due to traffic at Tao Yuan airport.

On arrival, we took a bus to our hotel at Ximending.  The bus is the cheapest mode of transport to the city and relatively simple too.  Other options available would be to take a taxi or use the High Speed Rail.  Taxi would be the easiest but of course convenience comes at a price.  I read that is around NT$1,000 while for HSR you will need to take a shuttle bus to the HSR station.  At the airport, follow the sign that says Bus to City, get a ticket for Kuo Kuang Express Bus (route #1819) which last stop is Taipei Main Station (East gate exit 3).  Fare is NT$125 and travel time is  around 55 mins.  After getting the tickets, proceed to the gate to queue for the bus.  It would most probably be the one with the longest line but they have buses at around 15 minutes interval.  I like that they provide stickers for bag identifications.  One on the bag and one for the owner to match when you claim your bags. On arrival at Taipei Main Station,  we took a taxi to our hotel at Ximending.  The taxi station is right across the road where the bus stopped.  The other option would be to take the Metro but some walking is required which is quite a hassle with the luggage.  Anyway, the taxi fare to the hotel cost around NT$100 only.

We stayed at a fairly new hotel, Midtown Richardson.  To be exact, renovations were still ongoing. Location wise it's perfect, just beside the Ximending MRT station and walking distance to great food and shopping.  We were really lucky because we were given a room with two double beds even though we booked single ones!  Room was clean, bed was comfy.  My two complaints would be poor sound proof system  hence it can be noisy at night; the other would be the long wait for lifts to arrive; probably due to the renovation.

After settling in, we headed out to the MRT station to sort out some preliminaries before the real action kicks in:-
  1. MRT Easy Card - A Touch and Go prepaid card for convenience when taking the MRT and buses.  Purchase this at the machines available at the station.   There is a NT$100 deposit required for each card.  If you intend to use the public transport most of the time, i would recommend to load NT$200 to start off.
  2. Youth Travel Card - A card which entitles youth for discounts at selected places.  Get this at the Tourist Service Centre if you are between 15 - 30 years old.
  3. Access to Free WiFi - You can register online here prior to your arrival.  The coverage is pretty impressive and we even managed to use it for calls back home and to US.  Go to the Tourist Service Centre to get your access activated.  You will be provided a login id and password.
Day 1 Plan:-
How to Go
Foodie Trail
1.    From Airport to Hotel
2.    Longshan Temple
3.    Huaxi Night Market
4.    Ximending Shopping District
1. Kuo Kuang Express Bus (No. 1819) to Taipei Main St>Taxi to Hotel
2.    MRT to Longshan Temple
3.    Walk
4.    MRT to Ximending
1.    Snacks at Huaxi Night Market
2.   Ay-Zhung Rice Flour Noodles
(Ximending-No.8-1 Emei Street)

Our first stop was the Longshan Temple, said to be the most well known temple in Taiwan.  It was built by settlers from Fujian in 1738.   Amidst tourists there were many locals who dropped by after their day's work to offer prayers.   It was just one MRT station away from where our hotel was.

Longshan Temple
Next, we headed on to Huaxi Tourist Night Market which was walking distance from the temple. Just follow the signage for directions.   A visit to night markets is a must do thing when visiting Taiwan. For fellow Malaysians, it's very much like our Pasar Malam :) There are so many of these night markets and they are very famous for the variety of local delicacies available at the markets. Huaxi is particularly famous for exotic food like snake soup.  I must admit I didn't try much of these food.  I am not one who is particularly game for trying out every other interesting looking food; there is only so much that my stomach can take especially if i try to mix in too many varieties in one go.  For me it's quite a task to walk, eat and shop all at the same time! The only thing i tried was this pancake like thing known as the Wheel Pie.  It is comes with a variety of fillings like red bean, yam etc; love the one with yam filling.

Huaxi Night Market

Of course i couldn't let the day end just like that...after freshening up and some rest at the hotel, we headed out to Ximending area.  We came across many of popular eating places that have been raved about; you can tell from the crowd.  We chose to give Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles a try that night.  Do not expect this to be a proper restaurant; only stools were provided.  If you are in luck, you get a stool if not you need to stand while eating a hot bowl of noodles.   The rice noodles (what we call mee sua back home) were super thin (more like mee hoon than mee sua to me) and cooked in a broth with some large intestines and topped with fresh parsley. The noodles tasted quite delicious with addition of the 3 condiments provided (chili sauce, minced garlic and vinegar). Verdict?  I enjoyed it; a must try.

Our plan for Day 2:-
How to Go
Foodie Trail
  1.   228 Peace Memorial Park
  2.   Presidential Office
  3.   Chiang Khai Shek Memorial
  4.   Pinglin District
  1.    MRT to NTU Hospital
  2.    Walk
  3.    Walk
  4.   MRT to Xindian.>Bus (#923) 
       to Pinglin>Free Shuttle Bus
       around Pinglin.
 1.  Scallion Pancake/Carrot 
     Cake at breakfast shop near 
     Peace Park 
 2.  Jin Fung Loh Bak Peng
(10 Roosevelt Road, Section 1)
 3.  Lao Wang Ji Beef Noodles 
(No. 15, Taoyuan St.)

We started off the day early on Day 2; we were already at the Ximen MRT station by 7.00 AM.  To get to 228 Peace Memorial Park, get off at NTU Hospital station.  You will see the park once you get out of the station.  The park was established in the 1900s but rededicated as 228 Peace Memorial Park after February 28, 1947 incident, where the people rose against the Kuomintang government.  It is said that thousands of people died in the incident.  There is a very prominent monument surrounded by tall palm trees in the park to commemorate victims of the incident.  The park has beautiful landscaped gardens with water features and pavilions worthy for a stroll.   We had our first Taiwanese breakfast after the stroll.  My son really loved their scallion pancake and he had this for 4 of our breakfast there (not the same shop though)!  The pancake reminds me of our roti canai but this one is rolled up with many variations in the fillings like egg and meat.

228 Peace Memorial Park
Within walking distance was the Presidential Office.  There are signage that will guide you there or you could search for directions using the free WiFi.   Impressive neoclassical design building built by the Japanese during their occupation.  It was heavily guarded and you are only allowed to photograph from a car park opposite the building.  We didn't tour the inside but one can do so if you make a booking 3 days in advance.

Chiang Khai Shek Memorial Hall
From there we moved on to Chiang Khai Shek Memorial Hall by taking the MRT to the Chiang Khai Shek MRT station.    This place is huge.  The memorial hall is at the far end from the entry gate and flanked by the National Theatre and Concert Hall on both sides and beautiful gardens along the pathway to the hall. Now, i am not sure whether there is any other to get to the hall; probably there is because it's quite a fair bit of walking to get to the foot of the memorial hall and thereafter another flight of steps (89 to be exact to symbolize his age at death) to get to the hall itself.  Can be a challenge for the elderly.   There is a bronze statue of the Chiang Khai Shek in the hall where the change of guards happens hourly, we managed to catch the one at 9.00 AM.

Chiang Khai Shek Memorial Hall
The guards during the Change of Guards ceremony

View from the memorial hall,  not hard to imagine the sheer size of this place...and the walking

After a good early lunch at Jin Fung Loh Bak Peng, we headed out to Pinglin district.  If you plan to go to CKS Memorial Hall, don't miss trying out this restaurant.  Braised pork belly with dark soy sauce and spices served on top of a bowl rice, a classic must try Taiwan dish is the signature dish at this restaurant.  I can safely say this was the best that i had during my 6 days stay here.  You won't miss this place if you take Exit 2 from the CKS Memorial Hall MRT Station.  Do try out their winter melon soup too, the pork ribs are quite tasty and different from the normal method used in soups,instead of as is, they were fried before being used for the soup.  Once you are done with your food, drop by the Lime Juice stall which is a few doors away from the restaurant; turn right as you step out of the restaurant.
Jin Fung Lor Bak Peng
Pinglin is a rural mountainous town off Taipei which is not as popular (yet) as Jin Feng, Shi Fen or Tamsui etc but initiatives to promote this place is already in place.  This part of Taipei specializes in tea production.  Free shuttle buses takes one to the attractions along the mountains.   If you like nature and some peaceful bliss, this place is worthy of a visit.  You will need at least half a day to cover this place.  To get there, travel until Xindian MRT station which is the last station on the Green Line.  After that you will need to take bus no. 923 to Pinglin town.  You may use the Easy Card to pay for the fare.  The bus ride takes about 40 minutes.   Tell the bus driver to let you know where to get off for you to catch the free shuttle bus/van.   The bus stop is just before the Public Library.

One will not miss this trademark blue bridge in Pinglin Old Town but this is not where the hidden gem is; you will need to take the shuttle bus to see more a lot more of Pinglin.  We were informed by the librarian at the Public Library that there are 2 types of shuttle buses, one that will take you to Jingualiao River and another to Nan Shan Temple.  However, only the one to Jingualiao is available on weekdays.

Trademark Blue Bridge at Pinglin Old Town
We enjoyed the scenic view along the Jingualiao River; tea plantations, vegetable farms, vast forest, clear river, waterfalls and small villages along the way.  For fellow Malaysians, the feel is somewhat like in Cameron Highlands.  We got off at the 5th stop; simply following the crowd since there was only 2 of us and we will be walking the trail, it would be better to be near a crowd.   We followed the trail for Fishwatching and Fern Walk.  Thank God the rain stopped when we got down to walk.  There are clear paths along the trail which quite an easy one.  Stop anywhere along the trail, to enjoy the scenery or have some fun in the water.   You will see lots of fishes in the water.  I was told by a lady in the library to try putting my feet in the water and not move them, the fish will nibble on them just like in a fish spa.  And true enough they did!  And don't miss the place where you will see lots of fishes trying to jump over the waterfall.  Unfortunately my photography skills are not good enough to capture the action to share here :(
Fish watching and Fern Trail-Pinglin

Monkey Bridge over Jingualiau River
We took a walk along the Old Street when we got back to town.  A quaint, laid back place with people getting on with their daily lives in small shops that lined the street.  It was obvious that many of the shops dealt with tea related business.   There is a Tea Museum at the other side of the blue bridge but unfortunately we only got to know it was closed for renovation when we were at their doorstep.

Pinglin Old Street
Although we grabbed a bite at Formosa Chang (Xindian) before boarding the train back to Ximen, we went to Lao Wang Ji Beef Noodles at a later part of the night since it was very near to the hotel we stayed in.  This is among highly recommended beef noodles in Taipei.  It comes in both clear and spicy broth; both equally good.  I wouldn't mind going for this again ;)

Day 3 Plan:-
How to Go
Foodie Trail
1.  Yehliu Geopark
2.  Taipei 101
3.   Raohe Night Market

  What I would change:
  Spare some time for Raohe to 
  visit Wufenpu (if you are into
1.    MRT to Taipei Main Station.>
        Bus (#1815) from Kuo Kuang
2.     MRT to Taipei 101 St.
3.     MRT to Songshan St.

  Important Note:
  Confirm with bus driver before 
  boarding bus #1815 to be sure
  the particular bus goes to Yehliu.
  1.   Ya Rou Bian
        (No.98-2 Yi Section, Zhonghua
  2.   Stalls/shop at Raohe Market
  3.   Yu's Almond Tofu
        (No. 101, Hengyang Rd).

We set out even earlier on Day 3 due to longer hours to get to Yehliu Geopark; around 1 hour 30 minutes on a public bus. And prior to that we had to take the MRT to Taipei Main Station.   From the station, follow M5 exit to Kuo-Kang Bus Terminal.  Hop on to bus 1815.  Just use your Easy Card to pay for the fare.  If  you don't read Chinese, please ask the driver if the bus takes you to Yehliu even though the bus no. is 1815 because there are 2 routes for bus 1815.   Probably getting a sandwich or Chinese bun from the convenience store at the station for the journey will be a good idea too.  On arrival at Yehliu bus stop,follow the sign to the Geopark.  Again quite a bit of walking (1-2 km) to get there and it was hot since it was summer even though it was still early.  You will walk passed the town which is also a fishing harbor; hence lots of restaurants specializing in seafood.

Yehliu is home to one of nature's wonder located along a cape in northern Taiwan.  You will enjoy both the sea and the hills here.  The various yet somewhat conforming to a few unique patterns of rock formations that are carved out by nature due to erosion seen here is quite spectacular. 
Mushroom Rocks at Yehliu Geopark
That was the first time we learned of terms like mushroom rocks, candle rocks, ginger rocks, tofu rocks etc due to some resemblance to the original form.   Unique ones named Queen's Head, Naughty Princess, Lover's, Marine Bird, Gorilla etc are the icons of the park.  One plays spot these rocks game here. There are security officials dotting the coast line and they can be quite rude and harsh if they spot people climbing or crossing prohibited borders.  Can't blame them, who won't be hotheaded under the burning sun for hours? This place is packed with tourist especially those from China.   One needs to queue for pictures with Queen Head.  All in all this place is a worth a visit.

Here's some of the rocks that i managed to spot.   
Clockwise: Queen's Head, Naughty Princess, Marine Bird, Gorilla.
We walked all the way to the last section of the park which is also the ecological reserve area. Beautiful wave-cut platforms, steep cliffs, the blue sea and the surrounding serenity made it a worthy long walk under the sun.   We spent slightly over 2 hours there but due to the heat we were both tired out after the visit.

We headed back to Taipei for a rest.  We had lunch at shop famous for goose meat at Ximending named Ya Rou Bian.   They specialized in braised goose meat served with either soup rice noodles or rice.  Verdict?  My humble opinion would be it's a bit overrated and prices are on the high side too.

We continued with our plan to visit Taipei 101 and if possible dine at Din Tai Fung there in the evening.  To get there, take the MRT to Taipei 101 station.  There are 101 floors in this skyscraper.    The symbolism behind the number of floors are quite interesting.  Firstly it symbolizes renewal of time as in arrival of the new century when it was built (i.e. 100 plus 1), January 1st (1-01) and first day of every new year.   It also means to go beyond excellence (i.e. 101 instead of 100).  How about Fengshui elements, you may wonder...being a Chinese, no doubt that question pop up in my mind.  Firstly there are 8 segments altogether with 8 floors on each of them.  In Chinese culture, 8 symbolizes prosperity.  The segments were meant to look like a stack of 8 ancient chinese ingots; for me they like a stack of boxes that's all.  No wonder the popular humor about it looking like take-away boxes in Western-Chinese restaurants.  There's also the ruyi design adorning the building.  Ruyi is a curved decorative object used as a sceptre in ancient Chinese folklore to symbolize power and good fortune.

We went up to to the Observatory Deck which was on the 89th floor where we you will get a bird's eye view of Taipei.   There's a NT$500 admission fee for it and we had to wait around 15 minutes in the queue which i thought was reasonable.  The elevator that brings you up to the observatory deck is supposed to be the world's fastest elevator; it can go up to 1010 meters per minute although we didn't see it reach that speed during our ride,  There's also an outdoor viewing area on the 90th floor.
Bird's eye view from Observatory Deck.
A must see thing in the tower would be the wind damper; another world largest and the only one open for public viewing in the world!  Imagine it as a giant pendulum with a diameter of 5.5 meter and weighing 550 tons; suspended over 5 floors (92nd to 87). It's purpose is to counter tower movements during severe weather weather conditions like typhoons or earthquakes.  Read that it recorded its largest movement of 1 metre during the recent typhoon on 8 Aug which was a week after we got back from our trip! 

The damper baby
After coming out of the tower, our plan was to head to Din Tai Fung for dinner which is world famous for its Shanghainese xiaolongbao.  Although we have tried  their food in KL several times, we wanted to try if we had luck to get a table here, where it all started.   Sadly, luck was not on our side. When we saw waiting was 45 minutes, we said Forget It!  Maybe hoping to try out at this branch was too wishful, should have plan to go to their first restaurant at Xinyi Road for early lunch instead, maybe this would have been wiser, just maybe...

Off we went to Raohe night market after that, simply for the reason that it is said to be the most popular one in Taipei city.   Unfortunately it started to rain while we were making our way there.  We got down at Houshanpi station (based on some research i did) which was quite a long walk to the market.  The right station would be Songshan; the market is just across the street from the station.  However, we did pass by Wufenpu on our way to the market.  Wufenpu is the fashion paradise in Taipei.  One will find extensive collection of apparels at affordable prices.  Having said that i didn't buy anything because we were rushing to fill our stomachs!  If you intend to shop at Wufenpu, do take note that most of the shops are only open in the afternoon (around 2 to 3pm).   We didn't enjoy much at Raohe too because of the rain.  Imagine walking in a pasar malam with umbrellas; wet feet and all; something that you wont catch me dead doing in KL!  We ate at one of the restaurants while waiting for the rain to stop.  Obviously restaurants were all packed for the same reason that we had.   If you ask me, i think it's ok to skip this market if you don't have the time.

Raohe Night Market; Rain or shine?
If you decide to go to Raohe, drop by this beautiful temple beside the entrance to the market.  It's really something that is hard to miss if you got to the market by taking the MRT.  Ciyou Temple has a history of more than 200 years and is dedicated to Goddess Matzu.  Intricate designs and beautifully lit at night.

Ciyou Temple
Our plan for Day 4:-
How to Go
Foodie Trail
1.  Jingtong
2.  Pingxi
3.  Shifen
4.  Jiufen

What I would change:
Put up a night in Jiufen
1-3. MRT to Taipei Main St>Train to 
Ruifang (Tze Chiang Limited Express>
Pingxi Line Train

4. Bus from Ruifang (#1062/788)

Important Note:
Preferably buy train ticket to Ruifang  
one day in advance.

Stalls/shops at old streets

Day 4 was another early start as i anticipated that it will take us a whole day to cover our plan. Hitting the Pingxi Branch Line old railway line this time.  This is a 12.9 km single track line that was originally built to transport coal but now serves as a means of transportation and tourist attraction. There are 3 popular towns along the line namely (Pingxi, Jingtong, Shifen).  I must say this place is fully commercialized (read very touristy) but i am not one that really minds this as with it comes cleanliness, convenience and comfort.  Remember seeing scenes of countless lanterns lighting up skies in visit Taiwan promotional materials or in friends' photos?  This place is renowned for it.  These lanterns are supposed to fly your wishes to the skies with hopes of them coming true.

To get on the branch line, we took a train to a town named Ruifang.   We boarded the train to Ruifang from Taipei Main Station which was only 1 MRT station from Ximen station which was very close to the hotel we stayed in.    Some advance planning is needed to catch the train to Ruifang.  First of all, go for the Tze-Chiang Limited Express, this will get you there within 45 minutes.  This express runs at hourly basis, that's the reason why you need to plan in advance otherwise you will be wasting a lot of time waiting for the train.  You can check the train schedule here.  The other thing that would be a good idea is to buy the tickets in advance.  You can even do it online here.  I noticed that there was this online booking facility but it didn't strike me that it could be difficult to get seats. We were told we could board the train but there wouldn't be seats.  We decided to go for it since we didn't want to wait for the next train.  Thank God, they had a coach for cargo like bicycles and we could sit on the floor in that coach otherwise we would have to stand the entire journey.  Lesson learnt the hard way!

Once we got to Ruifang, we bought our Day Pass for the Pingxi line.  Take note again, train is on hourly basis.   Look out for the schedule (take a photo of it if you need to) and plan your time carefully to catch the train when you get off at any of the stations along the line.  Although it was supposed to be an old railway line, trains were modern and clean but it could get crowded since this place is very popular.  Charming scenery along the line;lush greenery, flowing river, gorges, waterfalls, old houses that are barely feet away from the track.

We decided to go right up to the last stop which was Jingtong and work our way down.  Jingtong was previously a coal mining town; today what remains are monuments of its industrial past turned into tourist attractions.  Now a quaint and sleepy town if not for tourists who dropped by to take a peak at its history.  It also houses one of the oldest wood built train station inherited from the Japanese rule era.  One thing that catches the eye would be lots of bamboo poles with wishes written on them hanging from practically anything that can hold them; along the gates of the station, trees, bridges etc.

There's a museum dedicated to the coal mining industry just beside the station.  The 2 storey building housing this museum was previously a dormitory of the Taiwan Railway Administration.  Unfortunately, i couldn't make out much of the relics since there were no English descriptions.

Next up was Pingxi.   Didn't do much here except to walk about along the old street and hunt down some food as we were hungry by then.  Furthermore the heat was too much to bear to do anything under the sun.  We tried the popular shaved peanut brittle ice cream spring roll which was refreshing.  Bits of peanut brittle shaved from a huge brick of it wrapped  together with yam ice cream and fresh cilantro using a piece of spring roll wrap.   Very unique and refreshing.  The other thing that i enjoyed there was this porky pau that had melted cheese on top.  The shops on the old street reminds me of the village where my ah mah lived; with some packaging who knows it can be as popular as this little town too!

Our final stop on this railway line would be Shifen.  This is where we intend to send our wishes to the sky and apparently this is where most people do it, i noticed although it was in Pingxi that the tradition originated.  Lots of stalls selling these lanterns, food and souvenirs; very touristy i warn you..  There are choices of  1 color, 2 or 4 color lantern; the more the colors, the more expensive they are.  It cost NT$100 for the single colored one which we got.  I think it's worth the price for the experience.  They will provide brushes and ink to write your wishes on all 4 sides of the lantern, help you take photos then release the lanterns to the sky.  The stall that we bought it from even provided water from the well to wash our hands for good luck.   The gesture may sound childish or old fashion but somehow seeing your lantern take flight gives a wishful and magical feel to it :)

We also walked all the way to Shifen Waterfall.  The height of the fall is 20 meters with a width of 40 meters making it the broadest one in Taiwan.  It's nice enough but not spectacular and it's a bit too far to walk from the train station.  I didn't take note of the distance but it was easily a 20 minute walk; once you get to the entrance gate it's another ascending walk up slopes. I wouldn't recommend walking all the way from the station if you are travelling with the elderly or kids especially on a hot summer day; just not the best thing to do.  We took a cab which cost me NT$100 to get back to the station from the waterfall.

Shifen Waterfall
If you have enough time to spend leisurely in this park, the walk would be well worth it.  It is a nice place to relax and breathe a little slower.

Close up on the fall 
We made our way back to Ruifang after all the fun in Shifen.  Our next destination was JiuFen.  To get there; we took a bus from Ruifang.  Look out for pieces of paper stuck on walls at Ruifang station for directions to the bus stop where you can catch a bus to JiuFen.  As you get out of the station, turn left and walk down the road.  The bus stop is opposite a Wellcome convenience store.  Look out for bus no. 1062 or 788.  Jiufen turned from a prosperous gold mining town to a tourist attraction after mining activities came to a decline.  As the town is built on hilly terrains from the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, one gets an amazing view of the ocean.  Interestingly the name when translated means Nine Portions; said to have came about because in the early years there were only 9 families living in this village hence they request for 9 portions every time shipments are sent there.

The main attraction in this town would be the Old Streets; windy, narrow, uphill, cobblestoned with shops on both sides selling lots of local delicacies, handicrafts and souvenirs.   This place is infamous for taro balls although surprisingly it's not its birth place, apparently it's Ruifang; a must try if you are there.  Indeed, they were really good; a softer yet chewy enough texture and has a stronger taste of the main ingredient like yam or sweet potato.  There are a couple more highly recommended food like peanut ice cream rolls, fish balls, glutinous rice cakes etc that i have read about but unfortunately the famous ones were packed and probably because we were not too hungry (had noodles at a stall opposite Ruifang train station and it was yummy!) plus feeling a little lethargic after a whole day out. Btw, i found that souvenirs are cheaper here than in Ximen, so if you find any interesting ones, just grab them don't hesitate!

Away from the busy shopping streets, the place is pretty quaint.   Lots of alleys to explore; you will come across many tea houses, restaurants and b&bs nestled among houses that the locals lived in.  You get that serene, cosy, laid back lifestyle feeling here.  My only regret was i didn't plan to put up a night here; that would have given me a lot more time to soak up this place.

Our plan for Day 5:-
How to Go
Foodie Trail
1.     National Palace Museum
2.     Tamsui
3.     Beitou
4.     Shilin Night Market

What I would change:
Beitou first then Museum, 
Tamsui, Night Market

Important Note:
Check opening hours for 
Beitou Public Hot Spring/
Museum and plan 
1.     MRT to Shilin>Bus (#R30/255/304)
       to Museum
2.     MRT to Tamsui
3.     MRT to Xinbeitou
4.     MRT to Jiantan (NOT Shilin)

 1. Stalls/shops at old streets 
 2.  Yong He Soy Milk King
      (No. 30, Hankou Street)

Day 5 was our last full day in Taiwan.  We started a little late today; not that we were running out of place to go but i wasn't feeling too comfortable with the amount of cash that i had left :(  Most of the spendings were paid by cash.  This is also another lesson learnt; you don't find money changers easily like what we have back home.  You can only do it in banks (and designated ones only) apparently. So, i had to wait for the one nearest to our hotel to open (Mega International) before we could continue our travel.  Since we time to spare in the morning, we decided to find a breakfast place that is famous among the locals named Yong He Soy Milk King.  They have you tiao, scallion pancakes,  xiao long bao among others to go with soy milk which is their specialty.  Verdict?  I wouldn't say it's extraordinary but if you come across one of their stalls it's worth a try; especially if you are looking for a typical local breakfast.

Our plan for today was to travel along the Red Metro Line.  Stops planned were National Palace Museum; Tamsui, Beitou and Shilin.  To get to the National Palace Museum take the MRT to Shilin station.  Walk out of the station towards a bus stop where you will need to catch a bus that will take you there (Bus no. R30, 255, 304 among others), it is best to ask the bus driver.  There are signs that will guide you to the bus stop.  This museum is a must go place if you would like to learn or appreciate Chinese history, culture or art.  It's has the largest collection of Chinese Imperial artifacts in the world ranging from jade, ceramics, calligraphy, bronze, costumes, curios, books etc; over 600,000 pieces to be exact but i read somewhere that only 1% is exhibited at one time.  As they say, this is the mecca!  Rent the audio guide to gain a better understanding of the artifacts.  You will find it beside the ticketing counter; and yes there's an entrance fee for this.  Young ones can get a discount with your Youth Travel Card.  They also provide free guided tours both in English and Chinese.  You can even register online here but take note that it has to be 3 days in advance.  It would be good to start from the Orientation Gallery, it gives you a broad idea of Chinese history chronologically and highlights on artifacts to look out for during the rule of each dynasty.

There are 2 artifacts that people flocked to view in this museum namely the Jadeite Cabbage and Meat shaped Stone; there is a snaking queue for them and thank god they are manned by the officials making it bearable.  It took me around 20 minutes queuing time to view them for maybe 3 minutes?  I thought it was worth the wait.  These 2 pieces are really amazing artwork, they look so real!   The Jadeite Cabbage (the bokchoy kind) even had a locust and katydid camouflaged among the leaves despite being a small piece of sculpture.  The meat shaped stone looked like a piece of 'tungbo meat' (a chinese braised pork belly dish).  This dish is made using a whole slab of pork belly with layers of fat between the lean ones.  This piece artwork look exactly like the pork in the dish.  The top layer was stained to a darker shade, was of a rougher surface and had tiny little holes on it resembling hair follicles on the skin.  Below the 'skin' you will see layerings of fat and lean meat in different shades making it very realistic indeed.  Hats off to these masters from ancient times, just amazing!  Like most museums photos are forbidden and there are officials going around to ensure people abide to the rule.

Our next stop was Tamsui.  This is a town by the sea; well known for stunning sunsets.  You will see a long waterfront promenade once you step out of the MRT station.  Lots of stalls throughout the entire stretch, snacks, funfair kind of games, knick-knacks, bicycles and scooters for rent too.  Mother and son gave the bicycle for 2 a try.  There were many locals at the park too with their children and dogs to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.

 Like every other popular town, Tamsui has its old street too and they are all out to woo tourists.

The other popular attraction in Tamsui would be the Fisherman's Wharf.  We took the ferry from the promenade to get there, just tap your Easy Card to pay for the ride.   The Lover's Bridge would be one of the most photographed spot in Tamsui.  I read that it is illuminated with a variety of colours at night.  I didn't have enough time to stay till night though.

Lover's Bridge at Fisherman's Wharf
Our next stop was Beitou; place famous for its hot springs.  Now, had it not been because i had to go to the bank, this would have been my first stop for the day simply because the weather is already hot enough without getting into a hot spring at a later part of the day.  So, i swap it around to be the last instead which turned out to be a wrong decision.   We spent too much time at Tamsui and by the time we got to Beitou it was almost dark.  We missed the opening hours of the Public Hot Spring and the Museum.  All we managed to do was to wander a little in Beitou Park.

This beautiful Tudor style building is the Beitou Hot Spring Museum
Another place that is listed as tourist attraction in Beitou is the Public Library.  It indeed is a very attractive building, look more like a resort to me.  Even those who are not studious would want to be here.  This is Taiwan's first green library.  Huge French windows around the building maximise the catching of natural light and by night the illumination makes the building standout strikingly amidst the greens.

Beitou Public Library
Our last stop for the day was Shilin Night Market.  Said to be the largest night market in Taipei.  I have to agree it is huge!  There are so many roads branching out from the main market street.  Indeed difficult to decide where to start and where to stop!  Personally, i enjoyed this market the most.  One is spoilt for choice here, you will find everything under the sun here ; well. it felt that way :)  I even got gifts for my doggie here, they have doggie ambassador  to parade their stuff :)  I don't have any blog worthy photos to share here, i was seriously into shopping and eating since this would be my last chance to shop at night markets. 

Day 6, time for us to say goodbye Taiwan.  Flight leaves Taipei at 3.55PM, so we still had a few hours to spare in the morning which we spent eating and doing last minute shopping at Ximending. Had our last round of pearl milk tea, lor bak pyng, carrot cake, oyster omelet, mango shaved ice etc.

The Red House was the last attraction that we visited.   This building which was built in 1908 was originally a market but was turned into a theater in 1945.  A very eye catching building with its red bricks and octagonal shape resembling the Chinese bagua.  There are some exhibits in the building on its history plus a souvenir shop and a cafe too.

To get to the airport, we took a taxi to the Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A.  From there we took the express bus #1819 which was the same we got to the city from the airport.

Some snacks for loved ones at home.  Cute crispy pancake cookies from Kobayashi on the left and the infamous pineapple tarts on the right.

So, that was it; a summary of our trip to Taipei.   Really glad we did it; the time spent with my boy on our own is priceless.  There were ups and downs, there were mistakes and lessons learnt along the way; there were times when we got on each other's nerves but we had a great time.

This might not be the best itinerary; just an account of how we did it.  On the sideline, i hope it will be useful to some of you if you are planning a trip there :)

Yours truly signing off  with the love of her life!


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