Taiwan 2016 (Part 3)

Day 7: Kaohsiung, Taipei

Last night the husband went to the night market leaving me and my aunt with the kids so I had to keep the older one entertained. I fished out the kindle and asked her to read on her own. Surprisingly, after going through her usual picture books, she picked a My Little Pony book with minimal pictures and that just a few months ago she couldn’t even tolerate me reading to her because it was too long and boring. Last night, however, she finished reading 3 whole chapters on her own! I’m so proud of the speed at which she is learning to read and write. We had a great night at our beautiful harbour view room where both kids slept well except they took turns fighting for space with me. 

Finally, we are nearing the end of our one hotel a day life. We’re going to spend 2 nights in Taipei then back to Singapore yay!

Today started with breakfast from food trucks opposite the minsu. The food is mostly delicious except a 酸辣汤 that is sour but not at all spicy. Sandra had almost half a serving of 玉米蛋饼 all by herself. The 碳烤三明治,黑白炒,水煎饺 and 蛋饼 are all quite delicious.

After breakfast we set off to 驳二特区 for photos with some statues and graffiti. It’s old warehouses converted into an art district. 

After that it’s off to 踏风大道 or 星空大道 which is a tunnel with constellation artwork and old scrub longs leading to a viewing gallery with sea view.

Thereafter we took the ferry to 旗津 which is supposed to be good for seafood but as it was close to breakfast and we were melting in the hot sun, we went for iced dessert instead. The famous 大碗公 is bigger than the children’s heads, possibly even bigger than an adult’s head. But there were lots of delicious ingrediants and the 4 adults plus 1 child almost finished it up. There was also this horoscope game which entertained the kids while waiting. It was also an educational opportunity to tell the children that these things are not real. Because we are so much dessert we couldn’t fit in anymore lunch so had to give the fresh seafood at 旗津 a miss.

And then our 5 hour journey back to Taipei begins. Good thing Sandra slept well. Sandra has rosy cheeks from all the heat.

In the middle we stopped at 清水休息站 for lunch. Food at Taiwan’s food court is not too bad and cheap. It usually comes with a portion of boiled green vegetables, at least for the Taiwanese food options so it is also reasonably healthy.

By the time we reached Taipei it was quite late so we went for a quick dinner at a Thai-Yunan restaurant near our hotel then brought the children back to the minsu to sleep while my aunt and Cousin went to 地下街 for some shopping then to 士林夜市 for 棺材板.

Day 8: Taipei

The next day we started with going to 十分瀑布 and then to 放天灯. Weather was terribly hot but the older child enjoyed the 天灯. We also had 土鸡 and 番薯叶 at a local restaurant, which was really delicious. Even Sophia the fussy eater ate a lot.

After that it’s off to the Taipei zoo, with koalas and pandas. The animal collection was quite good. Pity it rained soon after we arrived. Also because of the rain, the cameras didn’t come out much.

When we came out of the zoo, the guide suggested going to a Lego themed cafe where we can have tea and the kids can play. However we opted to go straight to the Raohe night market that was in the itenerary early so that we can end the day early. 

Day 9: Taipei, Singapore

By the final day, everyone was sick. Sandra seemed to be falling ill again because she was fussy in the night and extra sleepy in the day. Daddy and mummy were also decidedly sick, only Sophia is going strong. Maybe there is some good coming out of the Swimming lessons!

We went for breakfast at 蜂大咖啡 which has minimal service but pretty good coffee and western style breakfast set (ham, egg and toast). After that we proceeded for a second breakfast at 阿宗面线 which was nice but I can’t get used to seeing the fatty large intestines in the noodles. We then had a short walk around Ximending and it’s time to head to the airport!

To our pleasant surprise, there were sunny hills and Vigor Taiwan outlets in the airport so there was actually no need to head to the city outlets. It’s good for replenishing things that we regretted not buying though, which really amounted to just popcorn that my Cousin wanted. I sort of wanted sunny hills but, then again, it’s available in Singapore and the price difference is not that great so I didn’t end up getting any.

All in all its a very tiring trip and we established that Taiwan is a pretty good place for the kids. We’ll probably go again but to fewer cities and have more free and easy components where we get around ourselves on their train and bus system.

Taiwan 2016 (Part 2)

Day 4: Yilan, Miaoli, Taichung

The next morning, whether due to excitement at the many things available to play, or due to the light coming into the room from the early sunrise, the kids woke up at 6am. Since they woke up early and due to us not having to take too much out of our luggage because of the many amenities, we managed to be ready to go by 7 plus but because breakfast is only served at 8:30am, we took the kids out on a ride on the bicycles provided free. Glad to find that I can still control a bike with a child in the child seat. But of course I had the lighter and less wriggly younger child. Sophia was much harder for the dad to manage as she is much heavier and she was very scared. There was a bicycle track all around the nature area with many minsu and views of greenery, lotus lakes etc.

Breakfast at the minsu was light and delicious – pumpkin porridge served with a set of 9 side dishes mostly made with organic vegetables the minsu plants.

From there we set off to 梅话湖 but as Sandra was asleep, I did not get off. The original plan was to cycle around the lake yesterday but as the schedule was pushed back by the rain on day 2, there was only time for a photo stop. 

From there we drove about 3 hours to Miaoli to the famous Flying Cow Ranch. We started with a meal at the Chinese restaurant which the rest think is nice and I feel is just passable. Sophia ate a lot though which I guess is an indication that it is not bad.

At the ranch we fed rabbits and goats. We missed the milk feeding for baby goats. Then we rushed to the DIY studios for cookie making. The cookies turned out looking nice but were quite hard. I think the recipe needs a bit of tweaking, perhaps some baking powder. Their recipe may work if the dough is worked more gently so that not so much gluten forms but when it’s done by customers who are unfamiliar it will be quite hard to ensure this.

After this is off to the minsu 叶绿宿 which was relatively new and seems to be receiving good reviews but after 自然捲 anything pales in comparison. Our 4 person room is quite large but the 2 person room is quite small. The windows are also small so the room feels dim. The location is great though very near the night market.

I stayed in to put Sandra in bed and my aunt took care of Sophia. The cousin and husband went to the night market to get dinner. 都教授來自星星的炸雞, 明倫蛋餅 and 甘梅地瓜 are good, 86碳烤雞排 and 官芝霖大腸包小腸 are so so. 

Day 5: Taichung, Kenting

Today we woke up to local breakfast near the minsu as 叶绿宿 does not provide breakfast. The food was simple but tasty.

After this is a 5 hour drive to Kenting, which my cousin wanted to go for water sports.

As a concession to the kids the first stop was 垦丁海生馆 which was a large aquarium. Aquariums around the world are all similar and as far as species selection on display goes, this is probably not the best. However, it’s main attraction is a large water play area, which Sophia enjoyed for one hour with a newfound friend whose name she did not even know. They met at a dry playground and thereafter adjourned to the water play area. We were not forewarned there will be a water play area so had to buy some clothes for the kids to play in. The poor mum had to put up with wet clothes though.

At 5pm we were rushed by the tour guide to a small family operated eatery on the top of 关山 where we can view the sunset and enjoy some delicious local kueh.

After this, it’s off to the next hotel. 美栈 along 垦丁大街. It’s supposed to be a minsu but is large and feels commercially run. The location is right at the head of the night market so it’s very convenient. Comfort level wise it’s average. When we pushed the beds together to prevent the kids from falling off the edge, it revealed lots of dust and strangely feathers. But it’s probably not uncommon among hotels not to clean under the beds.

After dropping our stuff we went to the night market but did not eat much as we were all feeling very “heart” after many nights of fried and grilled night market food. The few things we did eat like grilled squid, fried milk and crispy Xiao Long Bao were not bad.

Day 6: Kenting, Kaohsiung

Breakfast at 美栈 was the most disappointing so far. There are 2 options oriental or wester style. The oriental version is a large bowl of sweet potato soup with half a salted egg and a small slice each of watermelon, guava and orange. The western versions 2 slices of white bread with a fried egg, a steamed sweet potato chunk and a slice of ham. There are also some self service condiments.

We started the day with going to a few photo points around Kenting like 船帆石, 鵝鑾鼻, 最南點, 龍磐草原, 出火 and 南灣戲水. The view was nice at all of these places. Except maybe 出火, which was to me nothing special, just a vent through which natural gas was leaking and therefore can be ignited. Someone went into the fenced area and was trying to barbecue.

Then we had a simple local meal that we just randomly stopped at because the famous 水饺 restaurant that the guide wanted to bring us had a long queue.

After this, it’s off to the long awaited beach for the kids. The whole purpose of coming to Kenting was to play the water activities so I tried them with my cousin. Basically there is a variety of floats or banana boats to choose from, which are all dragged by a jetski. One can also ride pillon on the jetski. We opted for 2 types of float then the jetski. The jetski was fine and fun but the floats feel very dangerous. It felt to me like experiencing whiplash in a car accident when the float bounced violently. Perhaps it would be safer from that perspective to be standing (which is an option for some floats) because the bent knees can absorb the pressure but it also is much more tiring (I tried, requesting the instructor to go gentler). The kids played on the beach and got really dark. But they had lots of fun.

Then it’s off to Kaohsiung. Sandra slept for the first half of the journey while Sophia is strangely alert even after the beach activities.

At Kaohsiung our first stop was to Dream Mall for dinner and supposedly some shopping but unfortunately the 1.5 hours allocated was only enough for eating. Thereafter we checked into 85大楼码头民宿 which was quite an interesting strata title type hotel building where different rooms are bought/rented (not sure which) by different minsu operators. The minsu is traditionally decorated and clean but nothing special in terms of interior fittings. What is great about it is the views of the harbour.

And so concludes the second third of our trip. 3 more days to go, mostly in Taipei.

Taiwan 2016 (Part 1)

For the first time in a decade I am having a holiday whereby I am not worrying throughout the day when can I find time to reply to urgent emails and churn out documents, because I am in between jobs. Ah… The bliss of waking up to only leisure and personal emails, and fully enjoying the journey.

This trip was planned by my cousin Michelle. It’s fun packed but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for families with young kids. Probably better to take parts of it and expand.

We engaged a local guide cum driver who followed us throughout the trip. It’s a highly recommended mode of travelling around Taiwan as it is quite affordable and stress free. You can customise the trip in whatever way you want.

Day 1: Keelung and Jiufen

We set off for the journey with Sandra running rather high temperature that refuses to drop below 38 degrees celcius. The flight there was therefore not the most comfortable. Sandra was fussy and didn’t sleep well. But we survived with basically me carrying her throughout, and the daddy taking care of Sophia.

The first place we went was Keelung night market where we had 红烧鳗鱼,一口香肠,炸鸡排,卤肉饭,and some yummy pork soup and vege, amongst others. Our guide who is from Keelung feels that the night market there is the best. It is indeed not too bad.

The great thing was Sandra finally started perspiring at the very warm night market after not able to regulate her body temperature through perspiration for three days, and she’s now cleared of fever! Unfortunately instead of fever she had diarrhoea in the middle of the night and I even had to wash her pjs on the middle of the night and on our one hotel a night trip I had to take it out to hang for 3 nights before it dried.

After the night market, we went to our first hotel, 九份景栈. Normally it’s not recommended to stay at Jiufen because it can get misty according to our guide. However, my cousin wanted to stay there as she heard the stars can be beautiful. I was too tired to try catch it. The hotel (or should it be called motel) was a small one but was clean and cosy. It’s quite old fashioned but well maintained.

Day 2: Jiufen, Yilan

The second day we woke up to rain and had a delicious breakfast cooked by the lady boss. We started with fabulous pumpkin soup and followed with scrambled eggs and sandwich, all of it was delicious.

After breakfast it was still raining but still we went to 九份老街. The very long flight of stairs up carrying baby and wearing windbreaker was rather uncomfortable so it was a grateful break at the yam ball dessert place. We also had black pork sausage, white bittergoard juice, 雪在烧 and almond milk. At the end we rushed back for Sophia to use the toilet while my cousin ordered 太阳饼 from 李义饼家. 

It kept raining the entire day so we had to skip much of our plan like 十份瀑布 and parks.  Instead we went to indoor places like 金车咖啡城堡 and 金车威士忌噶玛兰酒庄, both nothing to write home about.

We went back to the hot springs hotel early but even then we only had time for a shower each and went out to the nearby restaurants for dinner.

That night Sandra was fussy and wanted to sleep on the comforter, refusing to sleep on the bed itself. I was worried the fluffy comforter will suffocate her in the middle of the night so moved her off the comforter after she falls asleep. That may have been a bad idea because she woke up covered in rashes! The sheets were probably irritating her skin.

Day 3: Yilan

Breakfast the next morning was a buffet spread with porridge and accompanying dishes. There was also green bean soup which I tried to feed Sandra more of to help with her rashes.

Then we covered some of the places we were supposed to cover yesterday but did not due to the rain like 几米广场,亚典蛋糕,山寨村. 

Thereafter we went back to the minsu (自然捲)that we were staying in that night, much to the delight of the kids as this is a very kids friendly place. Not only do they have a slide and lego in the room and a play kitchen area immediately below the room, there are also lots of kids friendly amenities like a bottle sanitiser and bottle soap and brush in the common area, and baby bath and toilet seat in the room. Everything was also very clean and bright. It’s the best accommodation I have experienced so far in the trip. Once I entered, I was extremely tempted to tell my cousin that our family will stay here for the rest of trip until the group goes back to Taipei when they can then pick us up. But of course we didn’t abandon the group.

That night we went to 罗东夜市 and had more Taiwanese snacks like 大肠包小肠,卜肉 etc. We then packed back to eat and the kids ended up sleeping way past bedtime, especially the younger one who usually sleeps early.

Moving! (Not the site :))

We’re moving home today! Highly recommend our movers Watchman’s Home, which is a Christian halfway house for ex-convicts (thanks Alvin for the recommendation!). It’s important for ex-convicts to have the ability to find gainful employment and for the public to support them in sustainable employment. The experience with Watchman’s Home is fantastic. The guys were experienced and pleasant to deal with. It of course helped that my family can communicate with the m in Hokkien but even my non-Hokkien speaking husband rates the experience highly. 

They took the effort to wrap all our furniture carefully and thoroughly even those that we tell them not to bother because they are quite old or not expensive or quite hardy. They were also careful and experienced when taking apart and putting back our furniture, pointing out the places where the people who delivered our bed actually didn’t do a good job and caused damage to our furniture. 

After they left we noticed that a few items meant to be moved were still at home and we called them back. They came back with a smile and took care of it with no complaints at all.

Their charges were also reasonable. Not the cheapest I could find but honestly even for something like moving there is a service aspect to it, and I must say I am extremely pleased with Watchman’s Home’s service. They were patient and gentle while being efficient. Very satisfied customer here!

Hong Kong 2016

For the first time since having Sandra, I’m on a trip without the kids. It’s semi-business so there is only one day for leisure but I’m so looking forward to shopping and actually being able to try on clothes that I woke up at 6am unable to sleep! Here’s my breakfast at 7am. The irritating thing is that it started raining while I was eating. Here’s hoping the rain ends soon enough for me to get to my next destination – Bliss spa – in time for my facial!

Given that the rain continued, I decided to take the mtr rather than walk to my next destination at Kowloon. Upon arrival at Kowloon station, I was ambushed by a bunch of really cute kids selling flags. Of course I made a small donation to the cutest one with gorgeous curls.

Bliss spa was every bit as enjoyable and relaxing as I expected it to be, although the price tag was also slightly alarming. Definitely more than twice the price that bliss in Singapore was charging, no wonder the Singapore one had to shut down. The facilities were amazing though, I didn’t bring swim wear for the jacuzzi but enjoyed the steam room for a bit then used the rain shower with side showers. Ahh…

Incredibly tasty and easy to make granola recipe

We whipped up a batch of granola today with mostly ingredients that we usually have around the house. Homemade granola just tastes so much better than the sickeningly sweet store bought version and is so much healthier. It’s really very easy to make. 

Mix rolled oats (about 200g) with about 150g of nuts and seeds of your choice (in this batch I used pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and almond flakes). Set aside.

Mix 2 tablespoons honey, a splash of vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons oil and a tiny bit of water if your honey is too thick to mix up.

Mix the oat, nut and seas mixture into the  wet ingredients and stir well to coat then spread on baking sheet and put into 150 degrees celcius oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, stir in about 20g desiccated coconut and, if you so desire, dried fruits, and return to oven for 15 minutes. 

Let cool then break into pieces. You’ll never buy store bought granola again.