Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shopping for a computer

Ended up buying a HP 15.6" i5 with i5-7200, Full HD 1080, Nvidia GeForce for wife. 

Surprise gifts are the best.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Day 1 - KK to Taipei, to Taichung

It's the time of the year for travelling: one week before school holidays, when flights are cheaper and students pass idle time in school. Managed to get promotional tickets from TigerAir Taiwan for less than RM500 return, about six weeks prior to the trip.

We were in Taiwan two years ago with the whole family. I was impressed with the artistic creativity and the civic mindedness of the Taiwanese people, and it is due to be back again to soak into some of those goodness. This time round, it's just me and Ryan. The two younger kids won't enjoy the kind of travelling that we plan to do... backpacking, lots of walking, and cycling. 

As we've done Taipei, Taroko and Hualien previously, this time we'll be going to central Taiwan a.k.a. Taichung, Yilan and pass some time in Taipei at the end of the trip.

@ Kota Kinabalu Airport

Ours was a late afternoon flight. Ryan attended school in the morning. Mummy sent us to the airport. That was our striped TigerAir plane in the background.

I would say the TigerAir flight attendants looked great and energetic in their working outfits. Cheerful attitudes too. Much better than the overdone AirAsia flight attendants. 

@ Taoyuan Airport, Taipei

No idea how the pilot managed to cut the flight time from 3.5 hours to just 3 hours. Glad to arrive earlier in Taiwan, coz we have another 2 hours of bus travel ahead. Surprisingly, at 8pm the immigration queue in Taoyuan Airport was really long. The airport provides free wifi, wow!

We grabbed some Subway Sandwiches at the airport shop, and boarded the next bus to Taichung. Wow, the bus also had free wifi and charging points for handphones.

@ Taichung

Reached Taichung 2.5 hours later, it was already 11pm. Had a fast supper in 7-11, then walked to our hotel nearby.

Tired but glad to arrive at our hotel finally. Looking forward to nine days of adventure ahead.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Day 2 - Taichung, Xitou, Sun Moon Lake

@ Taichung

We stayed in Moon Lake Hotel in Taichung. At RM118 per night, the breakfast was surprisingly good. 

Free flow of porridge, buns, noodles, soya etc.

Walked 5 minutes to Gancheng Bus Station to get a bus to Xitou. Turned out that there was no station at all, but a number of little bus stands spread out along the street.

The bus company had a peculiar way of selling tickets... get your seat number first, then only pay for the ticket at the counter. We were glad that it was a weekday, so the queue wasn't long.

We are the youngest passengers in the bus. The rest were senior citizens heading to the Nature Education Area for some stroll and fresh air. We paid NT145 for the tickets, and their tickets were waived. 

@ Xitou Nature Education Area 溪头森林国家公园

We just took some photos outside the nature park. Entrance was NT200 and you could spend a whole day hiking in the park. We had luggages and was only planning to spend a couple of hours Xitou, so we did not enter the park. Again, senior citizens only needed to pay NT10 for their waived tickets. A great way to get the grey-hair folks to exercise.

Would probably come back for a half-day hike in another time.

Stalls selling fruits and vegetable outside the nature park.

@ Xitou Monster Village 溪头怪物村

This little themed village of sorts was just beside the nature park. It was recommended by our Airbnb host in Taichung.

Pinocchio guarding the fruit stall at the entrance to Monster Village.

The village was decorated in red, white and black, with Japanese styled lanterns and arches.

Cute monsters.

Rather than clearing the land for construction, the village had chalets built around pine trees, making the buildings blend in harmony with nature. Brilliant.

Souvenir shops and stalls.

Interesting decor in a hotel nearby.

@ Sun Moon Lake 日月潭

From Xitou, we took a shuttle bus to get to Sun Moon Lake. Journey was 1.5 hours. Checked into our lodge, which was centrally located just across the road where the bus stopped. Our host recommended that we spend the afternoon doing the boat rides, and go for cycling early morning the next day. Great idea.

@ Shuishe Pier

Boat tickets were NT100 for unlimited rides for one day. The boats would go stop at three piers across the lake, and we were free to hop on and off the boats that belonged to the same company. They stamped a red mark on our hands to signify which company our tickets belonged to.

It was a hot afternoon.

An interesting temple-style boat.

Thoroughly enjoyed the boat rides. The captain cracked jokes to keep the passengers entertained.

@ Xuanguang Temple Pier

Climbed a little hill to reach a temple with a view. This area was famous for its tea-leaf eggs, but I think it was over-rated.

@ Ita Thao Pier

Of all places, we bumped into Pastor Jerry, our church pastor who came with the Perpaduan Anak Negeri team to learn about culture-promotion from the Taiwanese aborigines. 

Look at how creative are the Taiwanese at marketing their aboriginal culture. They have the talent of making things look cute and artistic. Imagine the costumes of Sabahan natives displayed in such a way, it would look fantastic.

There were many stalls selling snack food, but we were looking for a proper meal. We settled for microwaved pasta in 7-11.

That's how they market wild board meat and lemang, with a classy front and attractive signboards. In contrast, the shabby sinalau bakas stalls (see below) in Sabah would turn off most tourist except the bravest ones.

About diversifying products... they packed glutinous rice and some flavorings into a grilled chicken wing, branded it as "must-try" delicacy in Ita Thao, and sold it for NT65. Genius.

Mix and match wild boar meat and then market them as a variety of "exotic meat sausages".

You never imagined a fried banana fritters (pisang goreng, ubi goreng) stall could be so attractive.

We walked into the souvenir shops and were very impressed with the range of products that the Taiwanese created out of little bits of wood. 

Beautiful wooden musical boxes, perfect gifts for the romantic at heart.

The boat rides ended at about 5.20pm. It became misty as the sun went down.

God gave them a beautiful lake, and they packaged it beautifully into a major tourist attraction.

@ Carton King Restaurant

There was this restaurant where the furniture (including tables and chairs) was made of carton material. They have an adjoining shop selling a variety of carton merchandise.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Day 3 - Sun Moon Lake, Jiji Rail Line, back to Taichung

@ Sun Moon Lake 日月潭

Woke up early coz we intended to do some cycling before the sun gets too hot. Took our rented bicycles at 7am (NT100 for a whole day). For that the price you get pretty basic bicycles, nothing fancy. You would need to top up a for a performance bike if planning to do the 30km round-island ride, which entailed some steep climbs. It is best to look around and choose a bicycle that you delight in and negotiate a price, rather than buying bike rental coupons from the lodge without seeing the bicycle first.

Weather was great, the air was chill... perfect for a morning ride. There was a lovely 12km cycling track that curved along the most scenic part of the lakeside. As it was mainly flat ground, ordinary bikes would suffice.

Part of the track was on wooden platform.

I had a city bike with a front basket, and Ryan had a small mountain bike. Both bikes had gear shifters. I think it's time to upgrade Ryan's kiddy bike at home.

Beautiful beyond words.

Riding safely away from the main road.

Now we could say... been there, done that.

Observation decks for visitors to admire the stunning views of the lake.

Morning lights are the best.

Getting a feel of autumn colours.

Returned the bicycles, had a quick bath, checked out and bought tickets for our next destination. These triangular rice cakes wrapped in seaweed a.k.a. "triangle sushi" from 7-11 soon became a main part of our diet for the rest of our trip in Taiwan.

We had wanted to return early to Taichung coz there was nothing more to do in Sun Moon Lake. Our Airbnb host in Taichung then suggested that we spend more time exploring other areas in the vicinity rather than going back early to Taichung. And so we took a bus to Checheng, the final station of the Jiji Rail Line.

@ Checheng 车埕

That looked like a hydroelectric station.

The Visitor Info Centre was absolutely helpful. They gave us a map and sightseeing tips, helped to store our bags, and there were water refill stations. This is how you treat tourists like VIPs.

Ryan got excited over decorative rubber stamps.

@ Log Museum 木业展示馆

Checheng was an important timber processing centre in its heydays. The Log Museum kept alive memories from those glory years for the younger generation to reminiscent.

Being a favourite spot for field trips, there were busloads of excited school children and teenagers exploring the area.

DIY session where kids tried their hands at assembling a wooden box.

Knock out some tins and you win a soft toy.

A teacher patiently explained the history of the timber industry in Chechen. This, is how you make history lessons come alive.

Log-storing pond.

Ice creams to keep cool on a sunny afternoon.

Pork chop rice for lunch. Ryan was holding up a toy hoping that I would buy it, but I didn't fall for it.

Fooling around with railway paraphernalia.

Decorative trains on display. Bride at the back must be thinking... "Hey kid, get out of the way!".

@ Jiji 集集

The train station was an interesting building. "Attractions" were at least a kilometre away, so there was nothing much to see within walking distance. There were many bicycle rental shops just outside the station, for those who intend to spend a couple of hours exploring the little town. 

We found a Carton King shop with a rocking horse made of carton.

Waited for the next train to get to Ershui Station.

The train was oozing with colours and cuteness. We had a band of grandma BFFs on outing as company. Senior citizens in Taiwan really know how to enjoy their golden years.

Hey, we found a lion on the train.

@ Ershui 二水

With about two hours of daylight left, we quickly rented bicycles to explore the countryside.

There was a cycling track which ran alongside the railway tracks.

Passed by a replica jet fighter.

The cycling track passed through delightful farms and orchards.

That's how a cute vegetable sculpture should look like. Much better looking than the boring lettuce statue in Kundasang (see below). Taiwanese have the magic touch of adding aesthetics to things rather than settling on being functional.

As the sky darkened, we return our bicycles, had dinner and took a night train back to Taichung.

@ Taichung 台中

Pleasantly surprised that our lodge was so spacious and classy. Thank God for a wonderful rest to end the long day.