Friday, October 31, 2014

Taiwan 101: Three (3) Places and Activities In Taipei Worth Paying For!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

After keeping these  Five (5) Mandatories In Taipei To Save Some Bucks, here are the three (3) places and activities worth our hard - earned money, during our visit in Taipei, Taiwan.

1. Taipei 101 Observatory - Php 732 each
Taipei 101 is still one of the most popular attractions in Taiwan being the current third tallest building in the world and the world's tallest building in 2004 until 2010. This skyscraper has 101 floors above ground and 5 floors underground. But while you can view the building at no cost, the real enjoyment comes in actually experiencing the Taipei 101 Observatory by paying NT$ 500 (Php 732) each for adults. The fee allows one to experience riding the worlds fastest elevators on earth with a speed of 1010 m/ go up to the 91st floor, and view the worlds heaviest and largest wind damper, the only operational wind damper in the world exposed for public viewing at the 89th floor. On a good day, you will have a 360 - degree panoramic view of the surrounding areas at the indoor observatory in the 89th floor and if you are lucky, you'll be able to go up to the outdoor observatory at the 91st floor and view the tip of the spire that reaches 508 meters above the ground.

2. Window On China - Php 585 Discounted Price
Window on China Theme Park is an amusement park, water park and miniature theme park rolled into one.  For the admission fee of NT$399 (Php 585), we were able to globetrot around the world's famous architectures of Taiwan, China, Europe, Asia and America in miniature sizes, and enjoy themed amusement rides like  a hair - raising giant splash during our jumbo wave journey in mysterious Egypt, sailing on Euro Riverboat around Europe's awe - inspiring churches, windmills and cathedrals, a Lungchuan Tea Plantation delightful and scent-ful ride on board the Tour Train and up-high adventure on WOC Ferris Wheel affording a great view of the whole theme park. We were also able to rekindle the kids in us for a day with live entertainment and shows as well as kiddy rides that let and left us - screaming out for joy aboard Jumping Stars, going to the galaxy far beyond on Wipe Out, having an ultimate thrill adventure on Crazy Rapids, bumping (with hubby) on Bumper Car, and climbing aboard the Mining Train

3. Taipei Zoo - Php 88
Taipei Zoo is a zoological garden located on the far end of Taipei City, and occupies about 90 hectares of sloping land set against the backdrop of high hills and lush greenery. The entrance is only NT$ 60 (Php 88) which will allow you to visit the different zones based on their habitats and climates - Desert and Outback, Asian Tropical Rainforest, African animals, Temperate Zone, Formosan animals, Noctornal and Bird World. The crowd favorites are the PandasKoalas and Penguins and these are kept in glass enclosures. The Panda crowds are managed by having a ticket and you have 20 minutes to go around following a large group. All the other attractions can be enjoyed at your leisure. 

4. Maokong Gondola SIngle Journey Ticket - P22
To be able to visit the whole zoo in 3 to 4 hours, we took the Maokong GondolaTaipei's "first tourist gondola"to the top of the hills then took the tram to see the Giant Panda enclosure. A single entry journey cost us NT$ 15 (Php 22)  and allowed us a bird's - eye view of the tea fields area and magnificent scenery of Maokong while inside one of the 30- crystal cabins.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taiwan 101: Three (3) Quirky Foodies - Yucky, Naughty & Smelly! Which One Can You Handle?

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda - Isidro

Taiwan doesn't disappoint if your taste buds are ready for some off the wall, outrageous foodie experiences. I have listed three (3) quirky food presentations - one is yucky, the other is naughty and another is smelly. Which of the three (3) I was able to try? Find out this one journey to foodie gutsy-iness:

Toilet 2 - Strawberry Ice Cream Shaved Ice (NT $120)
Modern Toloet Address: (2F,7, Ln. 50, Xining S. Rd., Taipei City
Ice Cream parfait served on Taiwan's women toilet bowl (NT $ 120) and cola drinks served on men's urinal (NT $ 120) are just some of the quirky stuff served at the Modern Toilet Theme Restaurant in Ximen District in Taipei City. As the name implies, you'll expect that food on the menu are link to something "toilet-y'" and served on different miniature toilet bowls, urinals and tubs. Since we already had a full dinner at Taipei 101, we only have room for desserts and drinks. We ordered Toilet 2, an strawberry filled ice shaving with ice cream on top, raisins, small round bread and crispiesIf food presentation does not spoil your appetite, this is such a tasty generous dessert you can order (just don't imagine actual toilet you've seen before while eating!). At NT $ 120, this is a pretty good deal (considering bubble milk tea and shaved ice concoctions in Taipei cost as much for a small portion). However, the coca cola for the same price as the ice shaving is very expensive since it is only NT $ 20 at nearby vending machines.

Entrance of Modern Toloet and Actual Toilets Seating Inside
I heard about this bathroom-toilet themed resto long before our trip to Taipei, and although I am very picky with food, I thought I should try this even once in my lifetime. Glad we had the chance on our last night in Taipei (October 10) to visit the Modern Toloet after a bit of finding following the tourist map. We had fun snapping photos of the actual unused toilet bowls used as seats and the poo - inspired decors of this modern resto.

Stall Selling Naughty Corn Dog in Shihlin Night Market

Penis - Shaped Waffle Corn Dogs is another quirky Taiwanese foodie where I am putting my reputation on check (lol). Despite the odd shape, this is just an ordinary corn dog which is a very popular street food in Taiwan. For kinky feel, the corn dog is wrapped in hotcake batter that is shaped into a male private part which became an instant hit for girls. I didn't try one (for obvious reason) so I can't tell you what it taste like, but in your trip to Taipei you can find a lot in Shihlin Night Market or Ximending.  

One Stall Selling Stinky Tofu inside the Shihlin Night Market Food Court
I really loved tofu, but I can't handle Taipei's traditional, smelly fermented bean curd called Stinky Tofu being sold in Night Markets. It smells like rotten meat or garbage, so even taking pictures was a challenge because I have to cover my nose and walk fast whenever we pass by stalls selling stinky tofu. My friend ate Cristy Antonio has got her bragging rights for taking the plunge and tasting this smelly snack and finding it very delicious. But I wasn't convinced hahaha. Stinky Tofu are sold either fried, steamed, or stewed.

How about you? Are you gutsy enough to try all or one of these Taiwanese foodie during your visit to Taiwan? 

Friday, October 17, 2014

TAIWAN 101: Our Five "Musts Know" To Save Some Bucks While Enjoying Taiwan!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

A Welcome Sign at the Taoyuan International Airport Terminal 1
We were able to enjoy every minute of our post first wedding anniversary trip to Taiwan last October 6-11, 2014, without breaking the bank, by keeping in mind these Five (5) Taiwan mandatories:

1. Visit various Night Markets For Introductory of Taiwan. Regardless of the length of your stay in Taiwan, a visit to one or several Night markets should be inserted in your busy itinerary for  a pulse of the night life and a real cultural immersion as it plays an important part in the lives of the Taiwanese.Taiwan has over a hundred street markets that operate in urban and suburban areas from early afternoon until after midnight each with own specialties. Depending on what you are looking for - food, shopping, activities or entertainment, there surely is a night market you can visit. For four (4) nights that we were in Taipei, we visited Shilin Night Market, the most famous and largest of all the night markets, Tamshui Old Street Night Market, a night market with a view of the Danshui River and Lover's Bridge, Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market (or Snake Alley) for "unique" delicacies like snake meat in the menu and Ximending Night Market for the "youth" vibe and modern stuff.

2. Be Sure To Sample Taiwan's Cheap Snacks. Of course, your visit to the Night Markets will not be complete without a wide sampling of typical Taiwanese snacks that are not only cheap but very delicious and an authentic representation of Taiwanese culture. In one night, have your own "All-You - Can - Eat Braised Snacks" for dinner, which  could include chicken wings, tofu, mushrooms, red bean cake, Shihlin sausage, scallops, shrimps, squid balls, pepper pie, and rice sausage, etc. For rice lovers like hubby, you can head to food courts for a sit - down dinner of braised pork rice, oyster omelet, soup dumpling, etc.Usually the drinks like pearl milk tea (or bubble tea) or juices can be bought from a nearby stalls specializing in drinks only. Taiwan Night Market does not have a concept of "combo" meals!

Sin Ron Hotel is infront of the Shilin Night Market and Shilin Cinema
3. Stay at Hotel near Shilin Night Market. Since Night Markets are "Not-To-Be-Missed" during your visit in Taiwan, it would be wise to stay at a hotel near them. We saved a lot of commutes when we stayed at Sin Ron Hotel (upon my Taiwanese friend recommendation) located right at the Shilin Night Market which closes very late at night (usually 1am) so there are a lot to explore at night without spending money for a cab ride.The hotel is also in front of a Cinema which is what we prefer because hubby likes to watch movie as part of our foreign country trips. We watched "Gone Girl" starring Ben Affleck at 11pm until 2:40 am, but we were in our bed in a minute. There is also an MRT nearby - Jiantan Station which takes only about 3 minutes walk so it is very accessible to all tourist spots in Taiwan. The food is also cheap around Shihlin since the hawker stalls and restos cater to students, there being a university nearby. But aside from a very good location, Sin Ron Hotel is also the cheapest accommodation around the Shihlin area, at NT $ 1,200 (or about P 1,772) a night that comes with complimentary wifi, centralized A/C, hot and cold shower, slippers and toiletries (but very small towel so you may want to bring your own). The nearby hotel is quite expensive. 

4. Buy A Metro Easy Card on the first day. Be sure to buy an Easy Card for NT $100 and then load it up with whatever amount you need during your stay in Taiwan. The Easy Card can be used at all MRT stations (or Metro), buses and other establishments like Taipei Zoo / Moakong Gondola and is very easy to add value.  At the end of your trip, don't forget to return the Easy Card and get a refund of NT $80 since the charge for the use of the Easy Card is only  NT $ 20. 

5. Register For Free Wifi on the First Day. Aside from getting tourist maps, be sure to register for a free wireless internet access as soon as you arrive at tourist offices aTaiwan has become the first place in the world to offer free wifi access to tourists. Show your passport to staff at the counter with yellow colored small letter "i" icon)  in airports, train stations or Metro stations. You will then be given an account number, which will allow you to access the free basic WiFi, which has a speed of around 1 Mbps bandwidth per second. You can immediately upload your pictures while waiting for the Metro!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dim sum: Small Easts Feasting That Touches Our Hearts (and Stomachs)

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

My husband and I travel a lot for work and so our meal time is usually sporadic and quick. During these times, it is a good thing that we could grab and enjoy a "touch of heart" or Dim sum from three (3) of Chinese restaurants - Hap Chan Tea House, David's Tea House and Yang Chow, for the so-called fast "small eats" feasting. 

Dimsum is a traditional Cantonese food preparation consisting of variety of dumplings, steamed and fried dishes served in small basket steamers, and usually paired with tea. But since we don't drink tea, we usually have our dim sum with ripe mango shake, either congee or soup, and add plain or fried rice and meat viand with our orders. 

Hap Chan Tea House in Lipa City
Hap Chan Tea House is an authentic Hongkong Tea House which started in Manila with a small store in 1997. To date, it has fifty - five (55) branches nationwide. We frequented at their branches in Lipa City, Urdaneta, Pangasinan, Katipunan (Quezon City) and in Eton Centris in Quezon City.

Dimsum Galore: Chicken Feet, Hakaw, Spareribs
with Tausi Sauce paired with Hot & Sour Soup, Ripe Mango shake
I love Hap Chan's Hot & Sour Soup (P200 -small) since it is flavorful and just enough sourness to tickle both tongue and my empty tummy. For dim sum, we ordered Hakaw (P100) chicken feet (P85), and Spareribs with Tausi (P85) which are perfect to eat with plain rice and ripe mango shake (P75). Our meal is so filling that it can easily translate into a full meal but feels light on the wallet and easy to digest!

David's Tea House in Calamba City
David's Tea House 

With twenty one (21) branches in the Philippines, it is easy to spot this resto to experience the taste of Hongkong. We dined at the David's branch in Calamba City twice and have tried their version of the Hot and Sour Soup and a separate orders of their dim sum (4 pieces each) before we learned of their Dim sum Platter.

We love their  Assorted Dimsum Platter for only P230 since we can each have a piece of six (6) different types of dim sum like sharks fin dumpling, shrimp siomai, hakaw, fried spring rolls, kuchai dumpling and beef balls (for Red).  We also ordered the Nido with Quail Egg soup (P260) which is sooo good, Yangchow Fried rice (P205), spare ribs with tausi, and ripe Mango Shake (P95).

Yang Chow at Shopwise Libis, Quezon City
Yang Chow Dimsum and Teahouse (not sure if it is the same as the resto here in the Philippines)

When I missed a meal and my stomach can only take soft and light fare, Yang Chow in Libis or Eton Centris are the destinations that come to mind. I like their various "congee" which cost between P100 to P120 depending on the flavors.

I ordered the Asado Congee (P100), Mango Shake (P80) and of course their Dimsum Platter which consist of an assortment of fried spring roll, shrimp siomai, kuchay dumpling, Japanese siomai, hakaw, and sharksfin dumpling for only P220, slightly cheaper than the platter of Davids.

With dim sum's plentiful assortment and these Chinese Tea Houses around, I can have a little of everything in a snap. No more missed meals for me despite the busy schedule.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Luzon Travel: Tagaytay's Relaxing Sights!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

When my US - based friend Emma told me that she is coming over here for only a week to wed and then celebrate afterwards, I jumped at a chance of being able to check out a new destination before summer ends. But she wants something near the airport, with lots of chances to relax, have a massage, eat lots of fruits, and savor Filipino buffet dishes, and then repeat the same cycle the next day. I waited in anticipation to hear what could her "dream destination" be. To my chagrin, she told me she wants to visit Tagaytay, where I practically been "staycationing" weekly since my wedding there in September last year.

Perfect View for our 8th month-sary as a couple. 
Of course I was a bit disappointed that I won't be able to visit another place before summer ends, but I am happy to know that my favorite place is fast becoming a popular destination for my friends abroad who are in search of a romantic getaway sans a long travel. And why not? With Tagaytay's short distance from Manila, cooler climate all - year round and an awe inspiring  view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, relaxation indeed is inevitable. Activity is optional. 

Here are my TAGAYTAY's Recommendations for ultimate relaxation:

Add: Zone II Brgy. San Jose, Tagaytay City, Cavite 4120
Sleep in Luxury. I booked the couple at Estancia Resort Hotel, which is the same hotel where we had our wedding reception and honeymoon and love it there! True to its resort concept, the hotel is located on a rolling terrain of verdant forest with colored-themed rooms built far from the noisy road and with lots of greenery in between the rooms. The hotel also has swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, playground, game / function room, and billiards. 

For a Greece-inspired look, relaxing ambiance and easy access to a breathtaking view of the world-renowned Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, we chose a room at the Santorini cluster. The blue and white colors makes for a great photo ops. The room is spacious and has a veranda where you can experience nature at its best. 

Address: Mahogany Avenue, Tagaytay 4120
Dine on the Cheap. Since Emma loves to eat Filipino dishes, Tagaytay does not fail with its ubiquitous budget-friendly restaurants serving local dishes. One of such places is the Mahogany Market Eateries with lots of restos offering the best bulaloadobokare-kare, crispy pata and several seafoods. Not a fancy place but clean, and food is really delicious. And take note, there is a free wifi and free senyorita bananas for desserts. At the nearby market, you can buy fresh vegetables and fruits for half the price than those you can find from the many stalls along the road. Nothing beats a good meal to relax.

Address: Cuadra Street, Brgy Asisan, Tagaytay 4120
Get Relaxed like Ms. Gina Gil Lacuna, the current holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest collections of jigzaw puzzles in the world, who told us that making puzzles was therapeutic for her. She displays all her 1,028 puzzles in different sizes, dimensions, colors and themes at the Puzzle Mansion museum which you can see for an entrance fee of P100. The location of the Puzzle Mansion on top of the mountain, is to me, relaxing in itself!  

AddressBarangay Buck Estate, Alfonso, Cavite, 4123
Garden Bliss.For Emma, the best way to relax is by having massage but she seldom gets one in the US because it cost between $45 to $60 for an hour. So we brought her to another nature's best kept secret - Sonya's GardenIt's Sensuous Garden Spa has an array of massage services from traditional Pinoy hilot, Swedish, Shiatsu, Thai and Tuina and you can choose to have any body parts that needs the healing power of touch of experience masseuse for so much less. I love getting my whole body massage there, drinking their tea and resting in their charming quiet space with soft blanket afterwards. 

But Sonya's Garden is more than just a spa - it is also a popular wedding venue, bed and breakfast, Panaderia, and a place to enjoy a tasty vegan foods. As we visit this place, Red and I were not only get relaxed, but felt like the newly weds, Al and Emma.

This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for May 2014 with the theme Luzon Lovapalooza, being hosted by Marvin the Pinoy Adventurista!

Check previous Blog Carnival topics in Estan Cabigas'

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Selfie Alphabet: Finland!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

"Long before Oxford Dictionaries declared the word Selfie as its 2013 word of the year, I have already been taking a photograph of countries I visited with me in the photo. I am featuring all my selfie photos in alphabetical order! (For the introductory post check this link on Australia)

Today's feature is FINLANDa large and sparsely populated country in Northern Europe bordered by Russia to the East, Norway to the North and Sweden to the West. In July 2007, my good friend Beth (& her then hubby Roland), Atty. Jojie, Sheena and I took an overnight cruise aboard Silja Serenade  from Stockholm to Helsinki, the capital and largest city of Finland. As it was our first trip together, most of our Helsinki photos are group shots! 

In front of Helsinki Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

But I scored a selfie in front of the Helsinki Cathedral, a bright white with green domes neoclassical building towering above Senate Square. Known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, this distinctive symbol of Finland's capital is actually the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and built in 1830-1852 for the Diocese of Helsinki. Today, the cathedral is one of Helsinki's most popular attractions not only for tourists who attend religious events (as the church is still in regular use  for services worship and special events like weddings) , but also for those who love to take photos, just like me!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Selfie Alphabet: Brunei Darussalam

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

"Long before Oxford Dictionaries declared the word Selfie as its 2013 word of the year, I have already been taking a photograph of countries I visited with me in the photo. I am featuring all my selfie photos in alphabetical order! (For the introductory post check this link on Australia)

My trip to Brunei was featured in Cebu Pacific's Smile Magazine Trip Journal
for October-November 2013 issues

Today's feature is Brunei or Negara Brunei Darussalam in Malay language. Regaining its independence from United Kingdom on January 1, 1984,  it has officially been regarded as the tiniest sovereign state or country in the world. But despite its size, Brunei is also one of the wealthiest country with its large oil fields in Southeast Asia. So in September 2011, I and my parents Lito & Cristy, my youngest brother Joel and then newlyweds Jojo & AA Riguerra traveled to Brunei's capital and largest city, Bandar Seri Begawan with a golden expectation (to see the gold that glitters!).  For this reason we checked out and photographed from every angle, the iconic Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque which dominates the skyline with its golden domes and the Kiarong Mosque whose domes and minarets shine like gold at night.  We also headed out to the Sultan's Palace not only for a free sumptuous feast [ since we happened to be there during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri] but also for a chance to see more golden walls and ornamentation. 

However, my favorite Selfie photo in Bandar Seri Begawan, has no trace of gold in it. It was taken inside the grounds of Sultan Omar Ali Saiffudien Mosque and shows a portion of the replica of the 16th century mahligia or royal barge anchored in the lagoon beside the mosque.  The mahligia was used to stage religious ceremonies, like the reading of Holy Koran competitions in the 1960's to 1970's.  I like this photo because it evokes such tranquility and peace, and a sense of contrast between the traditional abaya (the long black robe I was wearing while barefoot) and the colorful background.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Selfie Alphabet: Australia!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

Long before Oxford Dictionaries declared the word "Selfieas its 2013 word of the year, I have already been taking "a photograph of me" in the countries I visited. So in the book "2,100 Things To Do Before You Die", I added to the handy checklist the task "Take Selfie Photos in A to Z countries of the world". It means I have to be in at least 26 countries that represents the Alphabet, from A to Z. To date, I've already been to 36 countries but still haven't been to any countries that starts with letters "D" for Denmark, "E" for Egypt, "L" for Laos, "O" for Oman, "Q" for Qatar, "Y" for Yemen and "Z" for Zimbabwe. So since completing the  Selfie Alphabet may be a long shot, I thought of blogging this month of April about those countries I already have selfie photos! Wooah! that's more than a whole month of blogging and that's not a prank!

AUSTRALIA debuts this series. It is the sixth country of the world in terms of land area and comprises six (6) states - New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. In June 2009, I visited the capital cities of New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria,  respectively  Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne !  

Of the three (3) capital citiesmy trip to SYDNEY was the most memorable in terms of taking photos. Unlike in Melbourne and Tasmania where I checked out tourist spots with companions, I was on my own, going around this famous harbour city and capital of New South Wales! Yet, I managed to take a lot of photos with me in it, simply because I wasn't shy asking strangers (who are friends I haven't met)  to take them for me. 

At the Pylon Lookout of Sydney Harbour Bridge

I particularly love this Selfie taken by mother and son, McKenzie and Caleb from Boulder, Colorado (USA) atop the Pylon Lookout of the world famous icon Sydney Harbour Bridge. In the picture, I was pointing to one of the most popular visitor attractions in Australia the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, a multi-venue performing arts centre which formally opened on October 20, 1973.  Each year, more than seven (7) million people visits  this most distinctive building of the 20th century which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 28, 2007. 

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Mhe-Anne is an explorer that:
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