4 days in Taiwan (Taipei)!

I was so desperate to make an excuse to get out of the office for a couple of days. So I thought of traveling somewhere.  Some of my friends said it’s even cheaper to go to a nearby country than within Japan so I thought of Taiwan having heard that Thai citizens with a valid Japanese visa are exempted from Taiwanese visa. And I can brush up my Chinese, visit new places and EAT all the delicious food there.

I booked a package for H.I.S. – 4 days 3 nights for 30,000 yen with hotel and air tickets included. We got a super great deal. I personally would recommend H.I.S. for international travel package. We picked 自由 (ji-yuu) plan which means no tour is included and we are free to travel by ourselves. Airport pick up and sending are set up by H.I.S. which is very nice. However, with this price, we knew we couldn’t expect the hotel to be Grand Hyatt or anything fancy. The hotel turned out to be quite small but nice room in a nice area so I guess that’s more than enough. But the plane…that’s another story.

Now let’s get to the travel part!

Day 1: Tokyo -> Taipei, Ximending, Shilin night market

We left Tokyo in the morning by an airline called ‘Sccot’ スクート, a low cost airline I’ve just first heard of. My impression with this airline is NOT good at all. They plane was not very stable. It felt as if I was in a roller coaster ride for about 15 minutes when it started flying.  After everybody got to sleep, they also woke us up by ringing bells to sell ice cream.

We finally got to Taipei airport in 3 hours. There, we exchanged our money. We thought that the rate would be cheaper there but actually exchanging at Narita airport gives better rate. We exchanged only 15,000 yen for the trip.

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Our hotel is located in a shopping district Ximending- Ximen MRT station. They say it’s like Harajuku/Shibuya of Taiwan. We  walked around and ate a few things before heading to the famous Shilin night market!

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We tried a lot of food at the market and bought a lot of souvenirs. The food was great. We also found so many strange things as well.

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And the bubble milk tea, my favorite drink, is so good in Taiwan as it’s the origin of bubble milk tea.

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I have to say the MRT is very convenient and it’s quite easy to get around in Taipei. Lucky that we can also speak Chinese so that helps a lot too. If you visit Taipei, Shilin night market is a place you MUST visit. It’s full of interesting food and stuff that you don’t see very often. This picture is an example- a massage using knives at a shop called Alien study center!? It’s actually  not as scary as it looks and felt a bit good somehow.

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Day 2: Chiang Kai-Shek, Tamsui, Zhonghsan area (mall), Taipei 101

Staring off our day at Ximending since we had to get on the MRT from Ximen station. Everything was still closed at that time. But we found this amazing food on the street. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s made of flour..kind of like Roti (Indian food) and we can order eggs or pork and so many other toppings to add to it. I ordered the original one with eggs. My friend ordered a pork one. It was delicious and very cheap!

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After that we went off to Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall (國立中正紀念堂). There, it locates a monument in the memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, former President of China.  Next to the monument is a National Theatre and National Concert Hall. The area is surrounded by a big park. We were a bit surprised to see all the teenagers gather to dance and practice their performance at the memorial square. Unfortunately, the memorial hall was under construction. But the whole area was still beautiful. The weather, however, was extremely hot. Bring a hat when you visit this place!

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After visiting Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, we decided to go to the last station on the red line, Tamsui (actually it is read as ‘Dan-Shui’). It took us around 40 minutes from Taipei city center. It is  located by the seaside in Northern Taipei. It is popular for Fisherman’s pier/wharf, the food, water activities, and the outdoors such as clycling.

We went straight to the market for lunch and found so many interesting food. The picter below on the left is fish balls with noodles inside and the right picture is pork…it was our lunch!  Other than this, we found interesting food and drinks such as almond drink, black eggs, and so many others. I bought some of them back to Japan. 😉

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After lunch, we headed for a walk around the beach. The sea breeze was so refreshing despite the hot weather. Many people were cycling, taking a boat ride and others. I was very impressed with this place locating close to the city and so peacefully lively at the same time.

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Even with a full stomach, you can’t go wrong with another cup of bubble milk tea. I recommend this shop with the nuber 50 in the logo. It is a franchaise all over Taiwan. There is another shop I like called Cha Time but I prefer this one more since you can personalize your own cup. You can choose from the jelly or the stuff to put inside, the size of the bubble(pearl?), then the sweetness from 10% to 100% (I personally chose 70% every time). The taste is very good. I personally like the normal size of pearls in the bubble milk tea and the grass jelly is also a very yummy one.

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After Tamsui, we went back to the city center. We wanted to rest a little since it was such a hot day so we decided to go to the big mall in Zhongshan area. This area has a feeling of Shinjuku-sanchome. We went to Mitsukoshi mall having heard that it is one of the biggest malls in town.

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Then, we headed to Taipei 101! The landmark of Taipei which is a skyscarper with a mall inside. It used to be the tallest building in the world as well. I love the exterior and interior design of the building very much. It is unique and very grand. There are many offices in the building as well.

We got there by shuttle bus from Taipei city hall station. We went to eat first. The food court in the B1 floor is AWESOME. Various choices to choose and not expensive either. We went to the restaurant on the same floor where they have dumplings and real Taiwanese/Chinese style food. The best I’ve ever had!

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Then, we went up to the observatory of Taipei 101. Waited in line about 40 minutes till we got to go up. The night view of Taipei city was beautiful. The observatory is wide and organized. We could see the whole city and how it is nicely arranged.

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We took a taxi back to our hotel in Ximen that night  since we stayed until the building closed and there was no more shuttle bus. Even around 20-30 minutes on a taxi, it only costed us 280 yuan (less than 1,000 yen).

Day 3: Longshan temple, Sun yat sen memorial hall, Taipei 101, Shida night market

Starting off very relaxing on the 3rd day because the flight on the next day was very early. We went to Carrefour supermarket to see some interesting products they sell in Taiwan. I got a lot of instant ramen, snacks, sauces and others.

I couldn’t wake up to have breakfast at the hotel so I went to a convenient store and bought Taiwanese oden. This is the bag they gave me. Reminded me of my art class when I was little.

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After a full stomach, we headed to Longshan temple but before we got there, we passed a place which is some kind of a historical center. We couldn’t read all the Chinese explanations so we only knew that the area used to be a school and an important place for ceremonies in the past..also related to the period when Japan colonized Taiwan.

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Finally, we got to Longshan temple. Again, it was very hot. We prayed and stayed for a while before another cup of bubble milk tea and lunch at Taipei 101 food court.

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After lunch at Taipei 101, we went to Sun Yat Sen memorial hall. It is a memorial hall for Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China’s national father. Inside the hall, Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s life and legacies are displayed there with an enormous monument of him similar to that of USA former president, Abraham Lincoln. There was a small ceremony for changing military officers as well.

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Outside the hall is like a square- a multi purpose ground for people to exercise, fly their kites, walk their dogs, etc. The place was lively and sort of bright.

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We could see the Taipei 101 building from this place as well. It is only a station away and it is actually within walking distance.

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Another great day in Taipei!

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Finishing off with Shida night market. I had the best pork bun (?), fried chicken and so many other food at this market. My friend also tried the smelly toufu, too. After eating like it was our last meal, we went back to the hotel and get ready for a 6 AM flight.

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The flight was too early. Maybe we should have paid a bit more for them to arrange a better flight. I would definitely do that next time.

We had a great time this trip. So glad to be able to travel again. Taiwan was great and I hope I get to go again someday.

Just FYI – Taipei MRT map

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Impressions on Dec 5th, 2012 – Long live the King of Thailand!

This post, I want to take you all out of Japan and to my home country a bit – Thailand. 🙂

I’ve been in Japan for a long time since I became a college student. Now, I am working so I don’t get to go home as much as before. Lucky for me that I am working on a project of launching a new company in Thailand so I get to visit Bangkok a couple of times already. At the start of December, I got to visit home again and this time, I went there during the King’s birthday week. December 5th in Thailand is H.M. the King’s birthday and a national Father’s day as well. The trip home this time was special. The event on December 5th was so impressive I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

I want to share my experience on December 5th, 2012 when H.M. the King came out on the royal palace balcony for the 6th time since he has been on the throne. This is the King’s very rare public appearance. The experience was magical. The reason I want to share my experience on the King’s birthday this year is because I know a lot of people cannot truly understand what it’s like to be born in a country with a monarchy, the values and cultural norms that come with it and others.First, I will share my experience on that day.

December 5th, 2012

8:00  My parents, my aunt, my cousin, and I got out of our house by car. According to the announced schedule, the King will leave the hospital around 9:40 and come out at the balcony palace at 10 AM. So, we tried to be early. But clearly we were not early at all compared to hundred thousands of people who had waited and camped in front of the palace the day before (See the pic for evidence!). From the car, I could see everybody wearing yellow shirt, which is the color of the King. In Thailand, all our birth days (Sun-Sat) each has color. I could also see so many people heading the same way.

8:30 We parked our car not so far from the palace. Well, about 2 km away from the area. After that, we had to take a taxi to go into the area since it was too far to walk but not many cars could go in.

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9:00 We got off and started walking into the road that the King and the royal family will pass by. Everywhere looked yellow that day (literally) ;). We couldn’t decide whether to go into the sea of people to see the live screen of the balcony or to see the King shortly when he passed by car. The area in front of the palace was already full and we couldn’t go in. And the ground in front of the palace is huge!..Imagine how many people were there that day.

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Yellow for the King.
Blue for the Queen.

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9:30 We finally decided to see the King when he passes by. So we went to the road where he will come. It was exciting. We kept checking the news and talking to people who were waiting for the King at the hospital to see if he had gone out or not. There were still so many cars! The police took a long time clearing them all out. Once the road was cleared, we were asked to line up nicely and sit down. Sun glasses off. We all had two little flags in our hands-Thai flag and the King’s symbolic yellow flag…then..Everybody started singing the King’s celebration song and waving the flags. I had never felt so impressed of anything like that moment before.

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9:50 We heard the cheer of joy and ‘LONG LIVE THE KING’ from the other end of the road. That’s how I knew the King has arrived! The parade started by a few police in motorcycles. Then, some bodyguards’ cars. And then, it was the King and the Corwn Prince in a van! I was on the third row so I could see him so clearly. He looked well in person despite his age and appearance on TV. I was very glad he looked so healthy. Tried to take some pictures but couldn’t because my hands were shaking. All we did was doing the same thing as everybody, shouting ‘LONG LIVE THE KING’!!!

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The King was in this car!

10:00 The King came out to the Royal Palace Balcony finally. The Crown Prince, the government and some people started making a speech for his birthday. Then, the King started making his own speech. The screen was showing the King, the crowd, and the people making speeches. He made a great speech and the event ended by all the royal family members came out to the balcony behind him. It was pretty impressive.

11:00 After the event ended, we all started to walk back but since there were about 200,000 people at the same place, we all got stuck. It took a while to get out. The funny thing is, I got to meet so many people I haven’t met in a long time. My school friends, teachers, and others. People came from everywhere. We were tired but felt so fulfilled and happy.

12:00 Home after a long walk back to the place we parked our car. It was a great event!

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This event was so great to me because there are not many chances like this. Obviously, it was difficult to see the King clearly even if we were there. But the fact that so many people came out mostly to pay respect and show their love for the country, was amazing. Not many times these days that all of us would be united and strong. With all the political turmoil, conflict of interests, social problems and so many things going on, this event was almost like a reminder of the willpower, peace, and unity that are important in each society. As the King said that day, ‘I believe that we will be safe from all the treats with unity, goodwill and organization of people’.

Why Thai people love the King? I believe that Thai people know this well. Thailand has a very long history of Monarchy. This current King of the Chakri dynasty is the 9th King. Thailand changed to democracy in the era of the King number 7 of the Chakri family. Thus, Thai culture and way of life have always  rooted with the royal family. Even before the big change to democratic system, the King, as the leader of the nation would be the one  developing the country and taking care of people’s well-being. This has always been the role of the King, disregarding the time and the state we are in. The King is not related to politics in anyhow and is not obligated to do anything. But after all the things King Bhumipol has done for the nation for more than 6 decades, he gains all the love from us all.

King Bhumipol was born and raised in Switzerland when his brother became the 8th King of Chakri Dynasty. Unfortunately, he was assassinated.  So King Bhumipol had to become the King at the age of 19. He promised to reign the country with righteousness and dedicate to the country as much as he can. He has kept his promise and become the heart of the land, the strength of the nation that is always respected by everyone in the nation.

The King launched more than 4,000 projects dedicated to solving the nation’s problems and developing the country. As for the King’s biography, legacies, and projects, I will not write down in here but I will link some good informative sites for those of you who are interested.

The King’s projects

Short biography

Biography and legacies

Thai people always respect the royal family and it is rooted deeply in Thai culture. The Kings of Thailand take care of people’s well-bring, support education, and others. In Thailand, all university graduates receive graduation certificate education from the hand of the King or the royal family! My mother was lucky enough to receive it from the King. This means that education is valued. A lot of things in Thailand are related to this sense of values. I also remember that in the past when we had conflicts of 2 sides within the country, the King called in the leader of each group and talk the sense out of them and problem solved! Although he has no political power, people respect him enough to listen and stop hurting each other. The country went  back to being united. I’m not sure how well I am explaining but I hope you get the picture. 🙂

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Unfortunately, nothing is this world always go smoothly. With today’s political problems and people dividing into sides, I am not sure how the country will be in the future. All of the values we have related or non-related to royal family can soon be vanished if all everyone think is to find the best way to access the most benefits for themselves. I am hoping that people will find it in their hearts to maintain the goodwill and see what is right.

I don’t know what will happen to my beloved country and what future lies upon us, but I do believe that the good will win. We just need to do what we did on December 5th, 2012 – focus on the good, be united, patient, good to each other, and all of the wonderful things can happen. 🙂

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Royal March Road’s (my own translation) annual decorations

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People gathered to pay respect to the King (this is only part of the whole crowd).