Around Asia – Indonesia (Day 2: Borobodur, Prambanan)

Today marks the official start of our trip. At 4am, we met our tour operator Salim for the first time. Finally, there is a face to the person I have been e-mailing with for the past few days.

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From Yogyakarta, we drove for an 1 hour to reach Manohara Resort. As a tip, you can opt to stay here as the Borobudur Temple complex is right inside the resort grounds. They also have discounted rates if you are staying there.

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We were one of the first guests that arrived at the resort. While waiting, we had a chitchat with Salim and our driver Yahia (Sorry, but I am not sure how to spell your name). It was nice to know that we were in good company after we got to know them more.

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It was almost 6am when we started lining up to head to the entrance of the temple complex. We were each given a flashlight that you will only use for a few minutes to climb up the temple stairs.

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As we reached our vantage point, I did not expect the huge amount of tourists that visit the temple during sunrise. We had a difficult time finding a decent spot as there will be a blockade from a fellow traveler wherever you position yourself. This was definitely a turn off for me and it somewhat degraded the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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After sunrise is where it becomes better. Most tourists will be moving around the complex giving you more space. As time passes, there will be less and less people around as well. This gave me an opportunity to take a few decent shots of the stupas. Maybe next time, I can just stay behind the complex before sunrise. This way, I can take a clear shot of the complex from the back.

Borobudur sunrise 🌞 #Indonesia #unesco #borobudur #photography #sunrise #agameoftones

A post shared by Paolo Lee (@paolee87) on

Don’t get me wrong but going here should be in everyone’s travel bucket list. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, Buddhist temple I have seen. It’s sheer size, symmetry and design is  mind boggling. Just google some aerial shots of this place and you will be amazed!

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From Borobodur, we headed back to Yogyakarta to have our breakfast and checkout from our hotel. We then went for a quick stop to visit another UNESCO site – Parambanan Temple.

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Also another must-see temple to visit. Although, I prefer Borobudur a lot more than this other temple. Prambanan looks very similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And just like the latter (when we visited back in 2012), it was also under construction during the time we visited.

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From here, we went back on the road to what will be the longest land travel of our Asia trip. Our next stop was to head towards the city of Probolinngo.

 

 

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Around Asia – Indonesia (Day 1: Malioboro Street, Kopi Joss)

Last September, I went on a 12-day trip around some places that I have been wanting to go to around Asia with my sister. It was a long shot when I first thought about this trip. We only had less than 2 weeks to plan when we decided to push through – it was definitely worth it!

To summarize our trip, here is the breakdown of where we were each day:

Day 1: Manila (Philippines) – Singapore – Yogyakarta (Indonesia)
Day 2: Borobudur (Indonesia)
Day 3: Mt. Bromo (Indonesia)
Day 4: Mt. Ijen (Indonesia)
Day 5: Mt. Bromo (Indonesia) – Surabaya (Indonesia)
Day 6: Colombo/Negombo (Sri Lanka)
Day 7: Dambulla (Sri Lanka)
Day 8: Sigiriya (Sri Lanka)
Day 9: Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka)
Day 10: Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – Malacca (Malaysia)
Day 11: Brunei
Day 12: Brunei – Manila (Philippines)

Our first day was technically our “rest day”. We flew with Singapore Airlines from Manila to Yogyakarta via Singapore. I would have wanted to leave the airport to get some chili crabs from Jumbo but decided to stay inside instead. From my last visit (which was last May 2015), I noticed that they already renovated the food court. You can even order from any of the stalls through a vending machine.

From our early morning flight, it was already 5pm when we arrived in Yogyakarta. It was almost 7pm when we finally headed out from the airport. The line exiting from the baggage counters to the immigration took awhile; something I definitely did not expect.

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We stayed at Inna Garuda for our first night. For one, this hotel was built in 1908 which definitely has some history behind it. It is also strategically located in Malioboro Street which is probably the most popular area to go to in Yogyakarta.

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Our visit was timely as they were celebrating Eid al-Adha so there was a lot of happening around the city. The first stop we went to was to try some Kopi Joss (Charcoal Coffee) from Angkringan Kopi Joss Pak Agus. This drink literally has a hot charcoal dunked in your coffee. It is said to have some health benefits from the activated carbon of the charcoal. We also tried some of their chicken satay which was our first meal in Yogyakarta.

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Keep in mind that most (if not all) establishments do not serve pork as with all other Muslim countries. I had to learn this the hard way as I kept forgetting about this and would sometimes ask if they had pork on the menu. Same thing happened when we visited A&W in Surabaya on Day 5. I was craving for some Coney Dog but of course… Definitely my bad!

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How to get here: go to the opposite direction of Malioboro Street and you will find a train track. Keep walking ahead and you will see this establishment to your right along with other stalls and street vendors.

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Afterwards, we headed back to Malioboro Street and walked around for a bit. There are a lot of side streets that you may also want to check as well. We ended up in one of those to try some more local food.

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My sister really enjoyed trying out new dishes but I was the complete opposite. I have a bad tolerance for spicy food which is why I even forgot about taking a photo of where we ate afterwards. I did enjoy some of the Indonesian dishes we tried in the latter part of the trip as long as it was not spicy. We ended up going to a mall close by so I can order some McDonald’s to go before we headed back to the hotel.

It was probably around 10pm at this point and our call time was at 4AM the next day. Little did I know that 4AM was already late compared to the time we had to wake up for the next few days. We asked for it!

Taipei All Over (Day 3: Chia Te, Yayoi Teishoku, Airport Lounge)

Our last day in Taipei was a quick one. Our flight was scheduled around 8 in the evening which is why we wanted to leave by around 4 PM so we can still go around Taoyuan Airport

We headed to Chia Te located just outside of Nanjing Sanmin Station to buy some pineapple cake goodies! This by far is the only pineapple cake brand that we purchase to bring home. I suggest that you order their original pineapple flavor as well as the variant with egg inside.

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Afterwards, I spotted this Japanese teishoku restaurant called Yayoi just a few steps away from Chia Te. Since we did not really plan where we would be having lunch that day, we decided to give this restaurant a try.

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The first thing I noticed is the self service option where you can order straight from the screen on your table. Given that we were first timers here, we were eager to give it a try!

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Again, let me just re-iterate how good Taiwan’s Japenese cuisine is. Their pork tonkatsu rivaled some of the premium tonkatsu places available here in Manila. Price was also very affordable!

After, we headed to Sogo located in Zhongxiao Fuxing to buy some last minute goods in the supermarket. Likewise, we also went back to Zhongxiao Dunhu to visit a store called Hot Dog Toyz where I purchased a few items for my brother.

When we arrived at the airport, it was still quite early. I was expecting a quick check-in so we still have a lot of time to go around. Unfortunately, we had to wait for almost an hour before the counter opened. There were already quite a few number of people in line waiting earlier than us. Good thing was we were the first to line-up in Business Class.

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We had about an hour to go around Duty Free to buy some last minute items. Most of the high fashion brands are offering 50% off on select items. After we rushed around to look for some last minute purchases which included a necktie, some facial cream and a bottle of Japenese liquor, we spent our last 30 minutes in Taoyuan’s airport lounge.

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I would definitely want to come back to Taiwan for the 3rd time this year if there is an opportunity to do so. Until next time!

 

Taiwan (Day 4: Du Xiao Yue, Chia Te, Ximending)

On our fourth day, we headed to have lunch at my favorite restaurant in Taipei called Du Xiao Yue (度小月). The restaurant has several branches imcluding one at Yong Kang Street. I always go to the one located at Zhongxiao East Road.

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This restaurant was introduced by a friend of mine way back in 2008. Ever since then, I have made it point to drop by at least once when I travel to Taiwan.

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I recommend that you order their danzi noodles which is what they are popular for. I always prefer to get the broth based one with the shrimp on top. You will easily see this on the menu.

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You should also their Chinese Sausage (or lap cheong) as well as the mandatory bowl of rice with minced pork on top to accompany your bowl of noodles.

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As it was already our last full day in Taipei, we were pretty much exhausted from the first three days of our trip. We probably managed to do at least 20,000+ steps each day on an average. That is apart from the multiple train stops we took everyday. This was the first time we managed to utilize their public train system during the whole trip. We avoided taking cabs as it was more expensive and only decided to do so when the metro was already closed at night.

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In the afternoon, we headed to Chia Te to buy some freshly made pineapple cake. If you are going to buy some goodies to bring back home, you should try this sweet delicacy. There are other brands out there but we prefer this one.

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I prefer getting the original pineapple flavor or the one mixed with salted egg inside. They also sell other flavors and other pastries you may want to try out.

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At dawn, we headed to Ximending which is probably their hippest district. This area is very popular among tourists as well as young locals.

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Within the main district is the Red House Theater. There was a small bazaar in front of the building when we visited at this time of the year. The shops were selling local trinkets quite similar to what we saw in the shops along Huashan 1914 Creative Park the other day.

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After, we went inside the main area which is a mix of retail shops and restaurants. This is an alternative place to go to if you want to get away from the night markets. It was always a night market stop for us every night except tonight.

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As my family decided to head back to the hotel, me and my girlfriend decided to meet up with a friend who was also in Taipei for vacation. We ended up drinking in a pub near the Red House Theater. Spent a few hours sharing stories about our experiences in Taiwan which were all equally great over some Taiwan Beer.

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This wraps up my trip in Taipei last Holy Week. This place never fails to surprise me with something new even if I have been here several times already. There is still a lot more to discover and see next time!

– The Tourist Pao

Taiwan (Day 3: Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen, Huashan Creative Park, Raohe Night Market)

We continued to travel outside Taipei on our 3rd day in Taiwan. Today, we headed up north to visit Yehliu Geopark. Ever since I saw photos of these geological formations on social media, I have been planning to visit this place when I get to return to Taiwan.

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The geopark is located along the northern tip of Taiwan and you can definitely see the coastline as you head here. Along the way, there was also a fish market and some restaurants nearby. I would have wanted to try these places out if we had the time.

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I initially thought that this place would be along a sandy beach where you could see the rock formations scattered everywhere. It was quite the opposite as access to the site is well organized. Once you enter, you just follow the footpath that will present you the different types of shapes these geological formations have created.

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Among them is the famous Queen’s Head which is probably the most popular rock formation here. There is a line if you wanted a photo op with the queen and the security was quite strict giving a time limit for each visitor.

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Likewise, they prohibit you to trespass the boundary lines around the geopark. We wanted to take some shots along the rocky areas near the shore but be warned or you would get whistled by the guards.

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Amidst the crowd, I can just imagine how beautiful this place would have been if it was left more raw and untouched.

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Our next stop is Jiufen Walking Street located in a mountain town in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City. It is said that this place was the inspiration to the anime movie called Spirited Away. I am not a big anime fan but this movie was a huge blockbuster worldwide. Might be interesting to watch this movie one time.

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The plan was to visit this walking street but I was surprised that this was only part of many other different attractions around the area. You can see waterfalls, hike mountains and visit a gold mine just to name a few.

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It was already late in the afternoon when we reached the foot of the walking street. We decided to grab some food first before we went around

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The highest point we reached was the viewing area to catch the sunset along the mountain coastline.

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Personally, I really like the old-feel of this place. Although most of it is already manufactured to cater to tourists. I would have wanted to explore more but we did not have much time. We needed to head back before sunset as we were travelling back to Taipei. Traffic was a bit of a problem during this trip since it was the high season in Taiwan during this time of the year.

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If you are the artsy type, you should visit Huashan 1914 Creative Park located near Guang Hua Digital Plaza which is a must-visit if you are a techy person. For the latter, I would recommend that you buy memory cards here as they are very cheap. I was able to buy a branded UHC-3 SD card for almost the price of a UHS-1 here in the Philippines. The challenge here is to find the cheapest priced store.

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Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a huge lot that feature multiple buildings that housed various shops selling indie brands, a warehouse theatre of some sort and several hip restaurants. From hand-made trinkets to vintage second hand items, they all have it here. They also have an outdoor auditorium which was showing a local film when we visited.

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If you do not intend to purchase anything during your visit, there is still something for you here. This place is also great for your own photo-op. Once can find your own corner or alley to take creative shots. My personal favorite are the hallways that looked like school corridors. It reminded me very much of the time when I was still an undergrad.

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Another great spot to take photos would be the separate building near the parking lot that is made of red bricks. It had this old school gritty feel that I really like.

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From Zhongzheng District, our last stop for the night was Raohe Night Market. We have been visiting night markets every single day to cap our evening. I would also recommend checking Shilin Night Market as this is the undoubtedly the most popular night market for tourists.

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I must say, this one is our favorite among the bunch! The night market is literally just one long street where all the food stalls are lined-up in the middle up to the end of the street. If all you want is food and no other distractions at sight, then this is the night market for you.

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Up until this point, I can say that bad food in a night market is probably an anomaly. We have not had any unappetizing food so far. Taipei is definitely the place to be if you would like to try some clean and tasty street food. Street food 101!

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Just like every other night, we find ourselves in the night market until its closing hours before heading back…Good night!

Taiwan (Day 4: Du Xiao Yue, Chia Te, Ximending)

– The Tourist Pao 

Taiwan (Day 2: Sun Moon Lake, Fleur de Chine, Ita Thao Village, Shilin Night Market

On our second day, we headed to Nantou to visit Sun Moon Lake. We booked a private van that left around 9:30 am and arrived at the lake at 1:30 pm. At this point, we were so famished and decided to check the nearest hotel called Fleur de Chine. It was only after we left our trip that we realized that this hotel is from the same group as Palais de Chine.

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The hotel mentioned that they had a teppanyaki restaurant called Rainbow Cloud. We decided to try it out as the other restaurants were already closed. To our surprise, the teppanyaki area is located in a very private area and there is no a la carte offered. They only provided us a set menu where the choice for your main course is beef or lamb. I decided to get the beef set!

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I will let the photos do the talking…

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Our lunch was definitely a stunner! The ingredients were fresh and every dish was cooked to perfection! The chef prepared every dish as if it was an art form – very well executed! He made me appreciate teppanyaki cuisine even more. I will definitely come back to eat here again!

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After lunch, we headed to Ita Thao Village. Weather did not permit us to board the ferry right way so we had to wait for awhile until the fog cleared up.

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Alas! We were lucky to be able to take one of the last ferries around. Sun Moon Lake offers a very calm setting with jade-like waters. Although away from the big city, they still offer modern amenities for tourists. You can even find a hostel or boutique hotel if you would wish to stay here, Definitely a must visit if you want to relax from the hustle and bustle of Taipei.

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When we returned to Ita Thao, we went around the small shops and stalls. A must-try when you are here is the pork buns and Assam tea. There is also what they call tea eggs located along Xuanguan Pier. Unfortunately, we were not able to try most, if not all, because of the bad weather. Most of the shops were closed for business that day.

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Other suggested sites to visit around the lake are Wenwu Temple 文武廟Ci-en Pagoda 慈恩塔 and the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway Cable Car.

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It was already 10:00 in the evening when we returned to Taipei City. We decided to head straight to Shilin Night Market for some late dinner.

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Now, this is more like the street market we expected! Time to do some food tripping!

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We tried some blow torched steak, grilled scallops and deep fried mushrooms.

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You must also try the popular cheese potato 王子起司馬鈴薯 located in the entrance of the night market.

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Apart from the numerous food stalls you can try, there is a good amount of stores to shop as well. You name it, they have it! Though this was one of the most popular night markets around, there was not much people around due to the rainy weather. Still, Shilin Market was fully operational when we visited. Way better than last night’s night markets.

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It did not take long when the shops started to close around midnight. Time for us to head back!

– The Tourist Pao 

 

Taiwan (Day 1: Chiang Kai-shek, Chun Sui Tang, Kao Chi, Longshan Temple)

On March 2016, our family booked a last minute trip to Taiwan for Holy Week. The cheapest flight we found was via Cathay Pacific which meant a connecting flight via Hong Kong. I was excited to bring my family around especially my brother and my girlfriend who have not yet been to this country. This is officially my 5th time in Taiwan.

Since our flight was on a Holy Thursday, we left early for the airport as we were expecting heavy congestion with the amount of travelers leaving the country. When we reached Terminal 3, I was surprised to see the total opposite. There was light traffic in the airport and the check-in process was smooth sailing. Maybe we were lucky because we booked an early morning flight.

I was also surprised that half of our flights (MNL to HKG and HKG to MNL) were booked for Premium Economy seats. I am well aware that our round trip flight was priced slightly higher due to the peak season and last minute booking but it was still relatively cheaper than booking direct for that seat category. Seems to me that they opened the higher class seats for the same economy price. Lucky!

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For our hotel, we stayed at Palais de Chine near Taipei Main Station. The hotel has an old French-style that is evident right when you enter the 1st floor. Their main lobby is situated in a higher floor.

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Although size might be on the small side for some, the sleep quality was good for me. The down blankets were just plain awesome! The only negative might be the open style bathroom. Most notable their bathtub/shower area that is only separated by a curtain from the room. The sink is also part of the room. You need some time to get used to this setup.

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I was not able to take photos but you should also try their breakfast buffet. They had a great Japanese selection when we visited which is a bonus as I love Japanese food. Our luck streak continued even after check-out as several of our breakfast meals were not charged. The hotel was fully booked when we stayed so they did not bother to look for the other receipts and gave it to us for free. Thanks Palais de Chine!

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First thing we did after check-in was to head out for lunch. More like lunches because we ate twice! Our first stop was Yong-Kang Beef Noodle. (MRT Dongmen Station Exit 4, Orange Line, tel: [886-2] 2351-1051) Although I have been to Taipei several times, I have never tried any of their famous beef noodles. It was raining that time but people still lined-up at this place.

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The verdict: It was okay but I was expecting something else. I have tried a similar dish in Chinatown here in the Philippines and I still do not understand what is it with beef noodles. Maybe, I should try a different place next time.

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Our next stop was Kao Chi 高記 (台北市永康街5號 5 Yongkang St, Taipei City) which is located in the same area. Maybe just 5-10 minutes of walking from Yong Kang. If you are into xiaolongbao, then this is the place for you! We tried several dishes like the steamed and fried xiaolongbao as well as the salted egg bao.

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We decided to try Kao Chi over the more famous Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 (台北市信義路二段194 – Start of Yongkang Street) which is located in the same area. I would have gone here as well if we had more time to spare.

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At sundown, we headed to our first tourist attraction. The famous Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Park. Given our schedule, I would have wanted to bring them here during daytime but seeing the memorial at night was a unique experience as well. There was almost zero tourists around and maybe just a few local students around the area.

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While you are at the memorial park, go and try Chun Shui Tang 春水堂 which is widely accepted as the inventor of bubble tea. It is located in the building on the left side if you are facing the memorial.

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Our next stop was supposed to be the observatory deck at Taipei 101. However, we were already 10 minutes late before their final call. You can also try Din Tai Fung here as theyhave a branch inside the mall.

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We just took some photos from the outside. The rain did not stop us!

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For dinner, we headed to Longshan Temple where there were also several night markets and attractions nearby.

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We checked both Guangzhou Street Night Market and Huaxi Street Night Market.

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Quite frankly, it was a bit of a downer as there was not much action going around. We were quite late when we got there at around 10:30 pm. It was also raining profusely the whole day. Lesson learned: Visit night markets a bit earlier the next time!

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Before headed back to our hotel, we took a few photos of the infamous Bopilao Old Street. Too bad it was closed at night as well.

Taiwan (Day 2: Sun Moon Lake, Fleur de Chine, Ita Thao Village, Shilin Night Market

– The Tourist Pao