Let’s Scoot out of here! Thanks to the $0.02 promotion 2 months ago, we are Scooting out on a nice Friday morning! Very early indeed, on flight TZ202 departing at 12:55am on 13 Sep 2013 at Changi Airport T1 Gate F50. Check-in was a breeze as there was no queue when we arrived 2.5 hours before flight time.
Flight time was 4.5 hours and we touched down ahead of schedule at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei around 5:25am and were greeted by the beautiful sunrise. It was a very smooth flight, and the plane was very clean with very decent leg space! Descent was very lovely with the countless lights from the grounds that shone through as we watched the skies slowly change from dark to light. Too bad there was a toddler crying for perhaps ⅓ of the time and was sometimes crying directly into hubby’s face so he didn’t get to rest much.
After clearing customs and exchanging more money (S$1 to NT22.62 in Singapore and S$1 to NT22.88 with NT30 administrative charge in Taipei to get an equivalent lousy rate of S$1 to NT22.68), we took our luggage and followed the directions to the stretch of various bus company counters and started to inquire about timings of buses. The friendly guy that hubby first approached directed us to another bus company and yippee! 大有巴士 Citiair Bus No 1960 (NT145 one way) to 捷運忠孝復興站 Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station was available at 6:35am, so we only had to wait 10 min 🙂 Yup, took us an hour to get out of the airport!
After 45 min of bus ride with smooth traffic, we got off at 捷運忠孝復興站 Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station, near Exit 2. Once we alighted, we immediately notice a queue formed up at a small stall by the side of the MRT station building. The signboard said 姜太太包子店 (Mrs Chiang’s Bun Shop) so we decided that breakfast would be 招牌肉包 (Signature Pork Bun NT15), 高麗菜肉包 (Cabbage Pork Bun NT15) and a large warm cup of 無糖豆漿 (Non-sweetened Soya Bean Milk NT20). Very delicious indeed! Especially the 招牌肉包, which was really juicy with the meat juice oozing out with every small bite, like a bigger version of 小笼包… hehe 🙂 The 高麗菜肉包 was also crunchy and the bun skin was soft and chewy which made a very satisfying first breakfast in Taipei!
We then took a slow stroll to 豪麗飯店 (Royal Palace Hotel) to drop our bags and freshen up a bit. After topping up our 悠遊卡 (EasyCard) and prepaid SIM card at the nearby 7-11, we were all set to venture to our first destination of the day: 貓空 (Maokong) via 捷運動物園站Taipei Zoo MRT Station and 貓空纜車 (Maokong Gondola)!
We reached the gondola base station at 8:45am, 15 min ahead of the start of operations and there were already some people queuing. Nonetheless, we got into the first crystal cabin in service 🙂 There is no price difference between the normal and the crystal cabins, but the queue for the crystal cabins will be much longer simply because there are few of these in service.
The glass floor of the cabin was slightly tinted in green, so the greenery below looked even greener, pretty!! It could get quite windy along the way, so remember to spread yourselves out evenly while in the cabin to balance out the weight. One slight issue with the glass cabin was that since we were surrounded by clear glass, the 30 min ride to Maokong under the hot sun kinda felt abit like us being BBQed towards the end of the ride 😮
First thing we did upon arrival at Maokong Station was to go to the Visitor Information Centre. The very friendly counter staff gave good advice on where and directions to go (some places were not opened), and what were some of the more popular food options, as well as helped us with application for permanent free access to Taipei Free Wi-Fi.
We began our exploration of Maokong by strolling to 天恩宫 (Tianen Temple) and grabbing a small pastry item 金枣乳酪饼 (Savoury Date with Cheese Pastry NT30) from a small signboard-less shop 天恩至德糕餅 next to it. Apparently this shop is staffed by volunteers who were seen busy preparing more pastries as we walked around the shop. Tasted light and refreshing, giving us some energy to push on to the 茶推廣中心 (Tea Promotion Center).
Free 铁观音 (Tie Guanyin Tea) was available to visitors who are welcomed to pour themselves a cup and sip while looking at the exhibits. The tea was excellent! Couldn’t resist a second helping. The centre was not big, but gave quite a good overview on the process of tea-making, types of tea, etc.
Next was an early lunch at 阿義師の大茶壺 1楼餐厅 (second floor belongs to another restaurant). The place was empty at 11-ish so we managed to get the corner seats with a very good view 😉 The view was awesome, especially with the very clear and blue sky and gentle breeze! Click on the photo for a bigger view!
We tried the NT1000 6 items set meal for 2 pax:
- 鐵觀音養生雞湯 (Tie Guanyin Chicken Soup) came in a huge pot! The soup was deliciously heart-warming, food for the soul 😀 The taste of tie guanyin tea was very distinct but blended well with the soup. The mushrooms were very delicious, especially the king oyster mushrooms, which was firm to bite, but not tough. Tasted different from the ones we had in Singapore. Loved it! A pity that the chicken pieces did not seem to absorb the flavours well…
- 日式和風過貓 (Japanese Wafu-Style Vegetable Fern aka Diplazium Esculentum) was really fantastic! The bright green fern-like vegetable looked very appetizing. The slightly crunchy veggie was served chilled and with the salty yuzu sauce, it was very addictive!
- 武夷岩茶燻雞腿 (Tea-smoked Chicken Leg) was deeply infused with the smoky aroma and served slightly chilled, so the smokiness was not over-powering.
- 四季春茶燜豆腐 (Tofu with Mixed Vegetables) was a simple tofu dish, somewhat similar to the usual stir-fried vegetables with tofu that we have in Singapore, and a tad too salty.
- 玫瑰玉鑚蝦 (Rose Prawns) was a deep fried prawn dish with generous sprinkling of dried rose petals and sliced red chili. You could eat the shell, but it got more and more spicy as we ate…
- 茉莉綠茶炒飯 (Jasmine Fried Rice) had a lovely light hint of jasmine to it, best eaten while hot.
Free roasted tea was served with the meal, but we think the tie guanyin at the Tea Promotion Center was wayyyyyyyyy better. Of course, there were other tea selections available (extra charges) but we did not try any.
We ate till we were both so stuffed and when we were making payment after the meal, we were given tea popsicles for free! The staff said that they had ran out of the usual smaller popsicles that they give out for free, so we got the retail ones… hehehe. Gotta eat them fast though, since they melted at an alarming speed under the hot sun! Well, it basically tasted like iced Chinese tea… not cloyingly sweet, and was a good thirst-quencher!
Luckily we had a heavy meal, since our next stop at 指南宫 (Zhinan Temple) required a fair bit of walking as the temples were spread apart. The temples were quite nicely decorated but some parts were still under restoration. However, as we had seen similar temples at Kaoshiung / Tainan just few months ago, we weren’t quite wow-ed by this place. We did not finish exploring every part, as we recalled seeing this cute resting area where the tables and seats were similar to the shape of 筊杯 (half-moon blocks used in divination) while in the gondola. But we were getting tired, and also needed to get to 深坑老街 (Shenkeng Old Street) before evening.
While we were trying to find the bus stop to take the bus down the hill to 國立政治大學 (National Chengchi University) to do a bus transfer to 深坑老街 (Shenkeng Old Street), we were somehow directed to walk down the hill instead… so we walked a lot of steps down the steep hills (a hiking trail apparently)… both of us had wobbly legs at the end of the trail… 😥 So we spent about 6 hours at Maokong, with at least 30 min spent walking down the hill… Pengz!
After rehydrating ourselves at 7-11, we went hunting for the bus stop with Google Maps. The bus brought us to Shenkeng terminal station and from there, it was a 10 min walk to Shenkeng Old Street.
Shenkeng Old Street is quite short and could be covered in less than 2 hours. The speciality there is beancurd, so other than 阿珠芋圆 A-ju Taro balls (NT45), we also tried 深坑豆腐冰淇淋 beancurd ice cream (NT35) and 金大鼎串烤香豆腐 (泡菜+花生粉) grilled beancurd with kimchi and peanut powder (NT35).
- With the super hot weather, it certainly felt great to be crunching shaved ice with taro balls at 阿珠芋圆 A-ju Taro balls! We got the taro balls with soup. Since ice and sugar syrup was free-flow, we kept our soup icy cold. The unprocessed taro pieces were delicious! However, we think that the taro balls in Jiufen 九份 were still nicer.
- The 深坑豆腐冰淇淋 (Beancurd Ice-Cream) was a tad expensive for a tiny cup but it was bursting with intense tofu flavour. Not too bad at all, assuming you like tofu in the first place.
- Our favourite was the 金大鼎串烤香豆腐 (泡菜+花生粉) Grilled Tofu, which was tender and didn’t have the sour-ish taste that some other beancurds have. It was quite addictive with the peanut powder and sauce! The flavours available were in combinations of kimchi, parsley and peanut powder, and various levels of spiciness (we chose non-spicy).
As we were walking along the street in search of the most authentic tofu ice-cream under the clear blue skies, we turned our heads for a moment and were stunned by the completely cloudy skies. It was odd! It was as though we were standing in between two worlds – one hot and sunny; the other about to rain… which meant that we better hasten our pace, just in case it started pouring…
After this, we took Bus #666 to 捷運木柵站 Muzha MRT Station and train-ed back to hotel to rest.
Close to 7:30pm, we ventured out to our first night market of the trip: 通化街臨江夜市 (Tonghua Night Market aka Linjiang Street Night Market). From the only exit of 捷運六張犁站 Liuzhangli MRT Station, cross the road at traffic light and make a u-turn, walking till you reach the bus stop. Take bus 292, alight 2 stops later at 三興國小站 (Sanxing Elementary School Stop NT7).
We were a bit tight with time since we still needed to go EZ5 Live House later, so only managed to try these within an hour:
- 木瓜牛奶 (Papaya Milkshake) was diluted with water 😦 so not that nice (NT50)…
- 郭士林葱油饼加蛋 (Spring Onion Pancake with Egg) was deep fried to perfection, very crispy and delicious (NT25)! The entire pancake actually tasted like those deep fried fluffy egg that we can sometimes find in sliced fish soup noodles in Singapore.
- 小楊脆腸滷味 (Crispy Braised Intestines) was very spicy!!! Couldn’t take more than a few mouthful, and it was more tough than crispy…
- 鹽酥雞 (Salted Fried Chicken) was very well-flavoured and very crispy from being freshly deep fried but the major disappointment was the chicken bones!!! Is it normal to have bones?? It was very annoying when one moment, we were happily sinking our teeth into the succulent meat and then the very next moment, hindered by the bones…
Pretty disappointed with this night market 😦 We also had to skipped a couple of stalls with super long queues… There were also many shops selling clothes, shoes, hair and phone accessories but we didn’t really check them out.
After a 15 min stroll, we reached EZ5 Live House at 8:45pm, well ahead of the 9:20pm that we were supposed to be seated. The place was fairly empty but quickly filled up before the first set by 張心傑 started at 9:45pm. Super crowded! We were so glad that we made phone reservations while in Singapore (they do not accept email or Facebook reservation requests). Tickets were priced at NT800/pax, with 2 vouchers that you could exchange for snacks and drinks (each item usually in the range of NT100 to NT200). If you drink alcohol, it would be most value-for-money to use the 2 vouchers to exchange for a small jug of cocktail (worth NT800).
黄嘉千 was the performer for the second set at 10:45pm and she managed to invite 彭佳慧, who was at second floor chatting away, to the stage to sing! Really powerful vocals and very soulful singing. We were sooOooOoooOoo impressed! And 黄嘉千 had a pretty good voice too, plus she was very humorous and really good at interacting with the crowd! There was a third set at 11:45pm but we left before it started to catch the MRT back to hotel.
It was a long day but we had lots of fun, especially at EZ5!
- Scoot doesn’t allow free online check-ins, but counters open 3 hours prior to flight departure, so we usually aim to reach early to avoid long queues and then spend the rest of the time eating and shopping at the airport.
- If you are based in Singapore, after you have confirmed your flight and lodging, call up (+65 6223 6546/7) or email Taiwan Visitors Association (30 Raffles Place, #10-01, Chevron House, Singapore 048622) to find out what freebies are available currently. The freebies changes every few months and are on a while-stocks-last basis. This time, we got a one-way bus voucher between airport and Taipei (can be used with various bus companies, so just check at the bus counter to see if they could be used), pineapple tart voucher (1 piece in a cute box with 2 pieces of nougats) and some 1-for-1 theme park voucher. Previously, we had gotten EasyCards as well. You will need proof of air tickets and lodging to get the free vouchers. While you are there, grab those free travel brochures that will come in handy during your planning of trip, and go to Change Alley / The Arcade next door to check out the Forex rates.
- If you have an existing pre-paid SIM card and want to top up at 7-11, call the teleco to confirm that the top up amount is used for the x-days data plan, and not just normal talk-times. We had the ChungHwa SIM card from our previous trip and the information booklet indicated that we could top up at 7-11 and provided the prices for 1-day, 3-day, 5-day etc data plans. The staff from 7-11 helped us with the activation of the top-up value and said that we could start using. However, the activation was for the normal phone plans, i.e. data is priced per minute, so we couldn’t access the 3G network after 2 hours of usage despite paying for a 5-day plan! It was after calling up ChungHwa support that we were told that we had to call them after topping up and before using of data to request for the data plan. After a few phone calls to and fro, we finally managed to appeal to reverse the charges (since we didn’t make any phone calls or SMS and it was our first time doing top up) and finally got our data plan activated on the first night. Gotta say that ChungHwa was quite responsive… didn’t have to wait forever for someone to pick up the hotline and they really call back when they said that they would 🙂 However, it was really inconvenient as we wanted to be able to check out Google Maps (and hubby wanted to Instagram :-P) on the go.
- The Taipei Free Wi-Fi is usually available at MRT stations or tourist attractions etc. Just look out for the Wi-Fi sign, or TPE-Free / iTaiwan in your Wi-Fi network list. Note that your passport is needed for the application. It’s supposed to be a permanent account, so you can still use it the next time you go Taipei.
- 悠游卡 EasyCard can be used for 臺北捷運 Taipei Metro (20% discount off the single journey tickets) and NT8 off if you transfer from Metro to Bus (and vice versa) within an hour. Throughout the entire trip, we have used our EasyCards for all metro and bus rides, except for the 台湾好行 Taiwan Tourist Shuttle from Jiufen to Jinguashi… because we forgot to ask if we could use it… haha! Change is not provided in the buses, so you will have to prepare the exact change if you prefer to use cash.
- At Maokong Gondola, it is possible to buy a value pass at NT100 + NT20 deposit that allows you to have a full round trip + 1 extra ride, and some slight discount at some shops. However, as we had no intention to visit all 3 stations and had initial plans to take the bus at some point, we decided to just use our EasyCard (NT30, 40, 50 to the each of the 3 subsequent stations). We ended up paying NT50 from the base station Taipei Zoo Station to Maokong Station and NT30 from Maokong Station to Zhinan Station.
- Most locals we met were super friendly, however, we noticed some bus drivers could be quite grumpy… probably because they had to face the same silly questions from the travellers all the time! BUT they would still offer advice and directions in their gruffly manner and we were extremely grateful to them! We could have been lost countless of times without them. But perhaps to ease their pains a little, to figure out if you need to tap your EasyCard when you get up, down or both up and down the bus, look out for the sticker at the card sensor or look up at the interior of the bus. Usually there is an indication of 上 (up), 下 (down) or 上下 (up and down) that tells you when to tap. Or do as the rest do 🙂 but of course, just ask when in doubt…
- We chose to stay near 忠孝復興站 Zhongxiao Fuxing instead of 臺北車站 Taipei Main Station because the places we wanted to go to could be reached via the brown MRT line or nearby bus stops. So choose according to your itinerary! And if you need another reason to stay at Royal Palace Hotel, well… the Hello Kitty cafe is just diagonally opposite the hotel 😉
- Scoot : http://www.flyscoot.com/
- 姜太太包子店 : http://mrs-chiang.shop.rakuten.tw/
- 豪麗飯店 Royal Palace Hotel: http://www.royalpalace.com.tw/
- 悠遊卡 EasyCard: http://www.easycard.com.tw/
- 臺北捷運 Metro Taipei: http://www.trtc.com.tw/
- 貓空纜車 Maokong Gondola: http://gondola.trtc.com.tw/
- 臺北公眾區免費無線上網服務 Taipei Free Public Wi-Fi Access: http://www.tpe-free.taipei.gov.tw/
- 阿義師大茶壺 1楼餐厅: http://www.阿義師.tw/ or http://www.xn--eut985eupp.tw/
- EZ5 Live House: http://www.ez5.com.tw/