About Carrie Kellenberger
Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.
Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.
Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger
A carefree tour is nothing short of a blessing these days. It is a leisure that only few can afford in time and in money. It is an escape from the burnouts of noisy cities, polluted lanes, stressful work, social strife and much more. It is a journey to peace.
But then you know it is short lived, so you just want to make the most of it. You get cameras, bookmark places, and make a long list of shopping spree you would like to do on various points of your trip. You want to tell the whole world of your whereabouts time and again. You are not going to miss out on your friends and family back home.
Travel Experiences You Always Wanted to Have – And Share!
Whether it is an exotic massage on a beach in Thailand, a crazy dance with village farmers, or even a long drive with your childhood friend in his Lamborghini, you have an irresistible urge to show it off to the world, just like you have been seeing it long until your own journey.
It is your turn to brag. You have planned to update your entire social world about whatever new comes through each mile you travel. You dream not to miss a single check-in on Foursquare and Facebook, you will be able to make use of Instagram in much of a celebrity way, you will say hi to your WhatsApp contacts from several places. And you would fill all of your random thoughts on those tiny, 160- character Tweets.
Internet Freedom Does Not Travel As Freely As You
Wait… counting on social media and internet is pointless if you are unaware about cyber controls outside your country. Yes, the internet may not be as ‘free’ as it is in your own state. Many countries, like Egypt, Syria, Korea, China and even Turkey, have enacted strict censorship laws which affect things you can (or can’t) do over the internet.
In South Asian countries like Iran, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, you may not be able to stream even YouTube. Yet, there are others who place overly offensive watchful eyes on you online activities.
The bottom line is – you would not have the same level of internet liberty as you have it back at home.
Internet Censorship and Surveillance around the World
Like landscapes and climate, internet censorship takes different forms in different parts of the world. Even Australia, Italy and France have laws which may restrict your online activities.
Indeed, censorship and surveillance hurts everyone from students and businessman, and from travelers to office workers. Here is a map of internet censorship around the world. Keep this in mind as you travel.
The black zones, representing most of the countries I have already pointed, are worst affected by online censorship. Censorship laws in these countries are at the mercy of oppressive, dictatorial and often corrupt regimes.
The red zones, comprising much of Russia and Australia, face high levels of state-sponsored online surveillance. If you live or are on a tour to one of these places, you get to expose a lot of your personal online activities to surveillance monitors.
The yellow zone states are not known to have any brutal internet controls. But yes, passive censorship tactics are applied for certain types of objectionable or controversial content. Yellow zone countries include much of Americas, North Africa and India.
The handful of countries in the blue zone region is safe from active censorship or surveillance, including African countries. In Central Africa, however, internet is a rarity, and so is censorship. It is a good idea to forget good internet while on African land, let alone censorship!
Getting Help from a VPN
A VPN service is a great way to regain any lost internet freedom you would experience in your travel trip. It is an online service you could use to unblock restricted websites and applications online, anywhere in the world. It tops up your internet connection with a native IP so that you can enjoy internet in the same manner as you would have back at home. A VPN just erodes all censorship worries you might have during your trip.
Most VPN services are compatible with almost all internet-enabled devices, including PC, smart phones and lap tops. With a VPN in place, you could easily surf and engage on Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Netflix, Twitter and any other website or application.
Because online data through VPNs go completely encrypted, you can be safe from hackers and cyber criminals, especially if you are in the habit of using public Wi-Fi and hotspots, the treading grounds of online thieves.
Finally, VPNs help you access geo-restricted streaming websites and services like Netflix, Pandora, Last.fm, Hulu, WWE Player, iPlayer and others. Most of these streaming services are US or UK only, but with a VPN you get a native virtual seal which gets you full access to all of your native content on these channels. You are not going to miss what’s in the latest episode of your local soap operas if you have them online with a VPN.
A restricted internet will spoil all the moments of your trip you wanted to share with your friends and family back at home. Don’t become victims of censorship. And don’t be hurled by surveillance monitors, hackers and cyber crooks outside your country.
The months of December through March in Taiwan are truly a gift from Mother Nature, in my humble opinion. Taiwan gets hit with some cold weather in winter, and inhabitants of the island do complain vehemently about this (mainly because of the lack of indoor heating), but overall, January through March are a welcome change in my mind.
A gorgeous clear blue sky comes along to just often enough to stave off the drudgery of dealing with a long winter, and no one can deny that most of us look forward to soaking in Taiwan’s hot springs at least a few times.
Winter in to me means that Taiwan’s flower seasons start anew, and winter produce becomes available in abundance. Cherries and strawberries can suddenly be found everywhere, and other exotic fruits that we only see once a year make a brief appearance.
The custard apple is one such product, and while it may not be considered to be a beautiful fruit with its knobby green bumps and giant black seeds, it can certainly be called one of the most delicious!
Taiwan is home to a variety of custard apples known as sek-kia; the fruit is delectably creamy, white and beautifully sweet. It really tastes like you’re diving into a cup of custard, except this custard is all natural.
It’s that delightful. Fruit has never tasted so good.
Driving around Southern Taiwan in Taitung County, you’ll see family-owned custard apple stands and blue farm trucks carrying bushels of this fruit all over. Taitung County is home to close to 5,000 hectares of custard apple cultivation areas in Taiwan, with Taitung County’s Beinan Township producing approximately 40% of the crop. Taiwan is famous for producing a hybrid of custard apples as well, called pineapple-custard apples. The main seasons for this sweet fruit is December through February.
Taiwanese refer to the fruit as Buddha-head fruit because of its resemblance to Buddha’s head. (This is one of Taiwan’s many endearing traits – Finding similarities between their world and Mother Nature, hence Little Taiwan, the Taiwan Sweet Potato, the Queen’s Head Rock, etc.)
Custard apples in Taiwan are also known as sugar apples. Despite being sweet, the glycemic index of the custard apply is quite low, and they come loaded with vitamin C, thiamine, potassium, and dietary fibre. They are an exceptionally healthy fruit that have been touted for their anti-diabetic properties for hundreds of years in India and the Peruvian Andes. Custard apples are bought ready to eat. Served raw, you can simply cut one in half and scoop the sweet, white flesh out, but they’re also great in smoothies, and they’re pretty yummy in dessert dishes too.
You can also find custard apples in Taipei grocery stores and night markets, and if you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon a local vendor like I do every once in a while. I never fail to buy at least a few. Taiwanese custard apples are typically much larger than your average custard apple, and they spoil quickly, so I always keep in mind that I can only eat so much. They only last a few days in the fridge after they’ve ripened, and they get damaged easily if they are mishandled or chilled for too long. They’re ready to eat if the fruit gives slightly when squeezed gently.
Have you ever tried a custard apple? What did you think of it?
One of the strangest foods I have surely eaten was on a cross-country trip from the Republic of Georgia’s Kakheti wine region to its capital city of Tbilisi.
Having spent the day visiting the village of Sighnaghi (Signagi) and its surrounding villages and stunning cathedrals, it was late afternoon by the time we got on the road and started heading back to Tbilisi.
As we passed through small villages and communities, I noticed small groups of women hanging out on the sides of the road next to metal stands adorned with dozens of long candle-shaped objects swaying from twine. I asked our driver what the women were selling, and he said that they were selling a traditional type of Georgian candy.
Churchkhela is a popular food in this area, and it combines two favorite Georgian ingredients – grapes and nuts. These long strings of dried nuts get their strange appearance from being repeatedly dipped in a thick, boiling mixture of fresh grape juice and wheat flour.
Almonds, hazel nuts, walnuts, and even raisins are used in churchkhela recipes. The result is a healthy and delicious snack that locals commonly refer to as Georgian Snickers bars.
A popular snack in Russia, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, churchkhela is sold throughout Georgia. The best churchkhela in Georgia is made in the Kakheti region, which is famous for its wine and vineyards. You can find churchkhela throughout Georgia, but if you’re only stopping for a visit in Tbilisi; the best place to buy it is along Kote Abkhazi Street.
I purchased a few churchkhela for my last few days in the Republic of Georgia, and they were quite tasty. The sweet flavor of the concentrated grape juice complimented the taste of the nuts. I learned later that week that many people consider churchkhela to be a great portable snack. Interestingly enough, Georgian warriors used to carry churchkhela with them while they were at war because they provide energy and strength. They’re basically the Georgian equivalent of an energy bar.
What do you think? Would you try churchkhela?
I have never been particularly afraid of heights; being an avid tree climber and several years of gymnastics lessons cured any doubts I might have had about heights many, many years ago.
Looking up at a tiny netted wooden walkway situated 130 feet above the forest floor made me gulp a bit though.
If you’ve never been tree canopy walking, I strongly urge you to try it. It strikes a healthy balance somewhere between hiking and rock climbing. Tree canopy walking turned out to be my kind of activity, given that my health does not allow me to undertake strenuous or physically challenging activities like bungee jumping or downhill mogul racing.
When I found out that we could do some tree canopy walking on our road trip through Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Borneo, I called it as one of ‘my’ trip activities. In other words, that means John can’t object, since I then had to do an activity with him of his choosing. (He choose to drive to the Tip of Borneo, but that trip didn’t go so well.
A trip to Sabah isn’t complete without visiting Mount Kinabalu, and a soak in the hot springs at Poring Hot Springs in Renau sounded delightful after wandering around Mount Kinabalu.
We had high hopes for Renau. Unfortunately, our time there didn’t turn out as expected.
Located in the foot hills of Mount Kinabalu, the area is best known for the Poring Hot Spring and Nature Reserve. The hot spring is managed by Sabah Parks, and the various accommodation options and dining facilities are managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, which is where we were headed for a two-night cabin stay.
The hot springs are located in a clearing in the forest, and you have to cross a short suspension bridge over Mamut River. A wooden pathway leads past a grove of giant bamboo, fruit bearing trees, and flowering plants. The walk is really beautiful, but I can’t comment much on the hot springs, mainly because it was extremely busy while we were there, and the pools were not at all clean. I’ve read that this is normal at Poring Hot Springs, since the complex relies on its guests to change the water in the tubs. The tubs were filthy and we took one look at them and decided we weren’t going in.
Sorry, we’ve didn’t bother to take photos. They were that disgusting.
Unfortunately, we had already booked and paid for a cabin at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges for two nights. It’s common for us to check a room before we pay for it, and we knew we were overpaying when we decided to stay there since there was nothing else available in the area at that time. We never thought to check the facilities, though, and that’s a mistake we won’t make again.
Our cabin was clean and basic, but it wasn’t worth the $100USD we spent to stay there. That was our first experience with being grossly overcharged in Sabah because we were foreigners, and we quickly grew to despise Sabah for that reason. We were overcharged everywhere we went. The only break we caught was in Kota Kinabalu proper, when we happened upon a local seafood restaurant that didn’t charge exorbitant prices or cater to tourists.
Since we had arrived later in the evening, we figured we’d stay, get up early, take advantage of the local attractions, get a good night’s sleep and get out of there the next morning. John managed to get our money back for our second night stay, thankfully. The only way he was able to do that was by complaining about the state of the hot springs and the local attractions, which were still open and charging full admission even though there was nothing to see at two of the attractions. (There was nothing blooming in the tropical garden and only a few visible orchids in the Orchid Conservation Center.)
A favorite activity by far. The walk leading up to the walkway was really pretty, and it was partially landscaped with a firm wooden walkway and stair cases. We passed under some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen before climbing up to reach the suspension bridges. The walkway stretches out over 500 feet through the treetops. Perched at the top of the rainforest canopy, we were able to see birds, monkeys and all sorts of wildlife. We were the first ones there that morning, so we had everything to ourselves until we stepped foot on the last bridge. Admission costs $1.70USD.
If you hike a little further onwards from the Canopy Walkway, you’ll find two picturesque waterfalls in the area that are easy to find. Kipungit Waterfall can be reached in 30 minutes, while the larger Laganan Waterfall requires around an hour and a half of walking. We spent the rest of our morning visiting these waterfalls before heading back to the hot spring area to see the other attractions on the complex.
The Borneo Butterfly Farm focuses on conservation and research, and it’s home to several rare species of butterflies. (This attraction didn’t have any butterflies, although they charged us to go in. We had to ask for our money back when we came out.)
There are also two gardens on the complex. A five-acre tropical gardens was within meters of our cabin. There’s also a 10-acre orchid conservation center that’s home to over 500 species of orchids – the largest orchid collection in Sabah. Although the center wasn’t in full bloom, there were still a few beautiful orchids to be seen.
I’ve read that the rafflesia flower blooms here, but it only blooms a few days each year, and sadly, we missed it. These flowers are known for being the heaviest flowers in the world. They’re also well known for their foul smell.
We were advised at the entrance that Jackie the Orangutan was home and welcoming visitors. She was rescued as a young orangutan, and ended up making her home at the recreational center. She’s fairly tame and very precocious. It’s worth your time to stop by for a visit and hear her story, if you like that sort of thing. The center has rehabilitated five endangered orangutans in the past.
All of these attractions operate independently and most of them charge additional fees in addition to the park entrance. This tendency to charge for every single thing, and on some occasions, being charged twice the going rate because we’re foreigners, was something that we really grew to dislike about Sabah. Our biggest beef by far with Poring Hot Springs was, of course, the hot springs, or rather the state of them. The other attractions on the complex aren’t enough of a draw on their own. It’s really a shame, because the area is beautiful, but it certainly isn’t worth the drive there or the exorbitant cabin prices.
Have you been to Poring Hot Springs? What are your thoughts?
Poring Hot Springs
- Entrance Fee: Adults $5; children $3.50.
- Open Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Food: Restaurants at the Poring Hot Springs are managed by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges, the same company that manages accommodation. You can bring your own food.
- What to Bring: Towels are not provided. Rubber sandals for walking around the pools.
- Camera Fee: $1.75USD to use your camera on site.
Eat breakfast with an orangutan. Hand-feed a kangaroo. Get dangerously close to lions on an African safari. Ride an elephant. Observe the shenanigans that go on in the animal kingdom while we humans are lost in the world of dreams. You can do it all – and much, much more – during the course of a day (and maybe a night, too) at the Singapore National Zoo.
Beauty, diversity and a world-famous reputation
Of all the zoos on this planet of ours, Singapore’s is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, diverse and, quite frankly, epic. It has now won the Singapore Tourism Board’s Best Leisure Attraction Experience award no fewer than nine times. Having been open since 1973, it has developed a world-famous reputation for its exceptionally naturalistic, open habitats. The 26 hectares that make up its grounds are actually part of the Mandai Rainforest, which continues beyond the zoo’s boundaries into the Upper Seletar Reservoir.
Innovative, immersive animal adventures
Rather than merely viewing animals on display, the Singapore National Zoo encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the experience. The enclosures include special features, like elevated platforms that enable you to look giraffes in the eye; underwater galleries where you can be privy to the secret lives of pygmy hippos, otters and crocodiles; and glass observatories through which you can see lions and cheetahs in action.
Wild Africa, Frozen Tundra and the Australian Outback: global habitats
The zoo has made an impressive effort to replicate various natural habitats from all over the world. In ‘Wild Africa’, found in the zoo’s southeastern section, you’ll encounter white rhinoceroses, giraffes and meerkats grazing alongside cheetahs, African wild dogs, zebras and lions. ‘Frozen Tundra’, the zoo’s most recent addition, transports you into the Arctic, where you’ll see raccoon dogs, two wolverines who are actually brother and sister, and Inuka, the first polar bear in the world to have been born in the tropics.
Another nine habitats comprise the zoo’s grounds – the Fragile Forest, the Australian Outback, the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, the Treetops Trail, Gibbon Island, the Primate Kingdom, the Reptile Garden, Critters Longhouse and the Tropical Crops & Orchid Garden.
Dining with orangutans and going behind-the-scenes
A diverse array of unusual activities is also on the zoo’s menu. Many incur an additional charge, but they’re worth it. Every morning between 9am and 10.30am, the onsite Ah Meng Restaurant hosts the ‘Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife’. Visitors enjoy an international buffet with a family of orangutans for company.
There are also numerous wildlife tours, giving you the chance to ‘go behind-the-scenes’ with zookeepers, engage in hand feeding and get up close and personal with some species. Plus, if you’re not keen on walking and would prefer to see the zoo by some other means of transport, opt for the rolling comfort of a tram, the old-fashioned romance of a horse-drawn carriage or a boat.
Finding somewhere to stay
For a really special accommodation experience, it’s hard to go past the Parkroyal Pickering Street Hotel in Singapore. It drew headlines upon opening last year for its exceptionally green design, which includes 15,000 square meters of stunning sky gardens. Every fourth level of the hotel’s twelve storeys is overflowing with tropical foliage, including frangipanis and palm trees. Plus, the location is pretty convenient, across from Hong Lim Park and overlooking the Singapore CBD, and there’s a long list of indulgent facilities: an entire floor dedicated to wellness with a terrace pool, spa and elevated running track; a rooftop Orchid Club lounge affording 360 degree views; and luxury suites.
The nitty, gritty details
You’ll find the zoo at 80 Mandai Lake Rd, Singapore, 729826. It’s possible to catch the MRT on the North-South line and then take a connecting bus. Alternatively, board the Singapore Attractions Express Service, which travels direct from various points, including Orchard Road, Little India, Beach Road, Suntec and Chinatown.
The zoo’s opening hours are 8.30am-6pm daily. Final ticket sales happen at 5.30pm. Tickets are $28 per adult, $18 per child (3-12 years old) and $12 per senior citizen. Online bookings attract a 5% discount. For enquiries, call the zoo directly on (65) 6269 3411 or get in touch via email at email@example.com.
I have said many a’ time that eating is a national past time in Taiwan. There is no shortage of Taipei restaurants to choose from, and you can find everything from simple Taiwanese street food dishes to five-star international cuisine all over the city.
Eating out in Taipei is a lot of fun, and while it’s rare occurrence for me to stumble across a restaurant that I don’t like, it can still be tough to find restaurants that will blow your mind with their creativity and delicious offerings. These are the best restaurants in Taipei, in our opinion, at least the ones we happen to love.
This American-style burger joint offers the best burgers in Taipei, in our humble opinion. We know, because we’ve tried most of them, and while there are some truly excellent burger restaurants in Taipei, Bravo Burger has been our reigning champ for the past three years. Their burgers are thick, juicy and well seasoned, and they’ve mastered the art of offering the perfect bun with their burgers.
Taiwan isn’t well known for its American food, but if it’s a gourmet burger experience that you’re seeking, look no further! Bravo Burger has been so successful over the past four years, they’ve opened three branches in Taipei, and they’re ALWAYS busy. Meals are reasonably priced at NT$240-NT$350 including a side and drink. They’ve got a wide range of burgers from traditional classics like their bacon cheeseburger to unusual concoctions such as their peanut butter burger. They also offer great milkshakes.
Located at: No. 13, Lane 24, Section, Roosevelt Road, Taipei at Gongguan MRT Exit 4, No. 2, Lane 140, Section 3, Minquan E. Road, Taipei at Zhongshan Jr. High School MRT Station, and No. 72, Section 4, Civic Boulevard, Taipei at Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT Exit 1. Featured photo to the left: Bravo’s Jumbo Burger.
Beer & Cheese Social House
We’ve recently discovered Beer and Cheese Social House, and we love the food and the cool atmosphere. Oh, and the MASSIVE SELECTION OF CRAFT BEER! Owned by Shawn Kidd, a fellow Canadian and beer lover, Beer and Cheese Social House is a much needed addition to Taipei’s pub scene.
Each beer special, known as a flight, features three types of beer and three hand-picked artisanal cheese pairings. They also have a tasty selection of artisan sandwiches. Their pretzels are pretty yummy too! Prices at Beer & Cheese are affordable, although some of the artisan beers on the menu are a bit pricey. We think it’s worth the price, though, since you can’t get these beers anywhere else in Taiwan.
House pints are available for as little as NT$220, and you can score a one liter bottle of beer on Big Beer Tuesdays for NT$300. Keep an eye on their Facebook page. They hold events regularly.
Located at: No. 169, Section 2, Jiànguó South Rd, Daan District Taipei City at DaAn Park or Technology Building Station
Berliner Bar, Bistro, and Bakery
This is German cuisine done right! The Berliner Bar, Bistro and Bakery is located just off Civic Boulevard. They’re tough to find though, online and in person, but I promise that it’s worth the search time!
This is one of our favorite restaurants in Taipei because they offer pure comfort food. Berliner offers a wide variety of German breads, and their weinersnichzel is excellent. We usually go for their sausage combo, which is served on a wooden board with two types of German bread and spread, alongside an iron skillet with sausages that are smothered in sauerkraut and mashed potatoes or fries.
Located at: No.22, Alley 40, Lane 181, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District
Calcutta Indian Food
Indian food can be expensive in Taiwan, but Calcutta is very affordable and they offer good value for the price. Calcutta has recently moved to a new location in Ximen. They operate out of a food court, but they have a full-scale restaurant that serves an excellent array of Indian favorites. The restaurant is owned by a brother-sister team who lived in Bengal City. Dishes are priced between NT$190 and NT$280. Our favorites are the vegetarian daal, butter chicken, and the chicken vindaloo, but I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu and it’s all good!
Located at: 70 Xi Ning South Road (B1-2) in Ximending, Taipei
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is known all over the world now, thanks to its famous xiaolongbao and dumpling recipes. You’ll find Din Tai Fung franchises in places like Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, but we bet you didn’t know that it got its humble beginnings in Taipei. The restaurant is so popular, even Tom Cruise had to give it a try when he visited Taiwan in the summer of 2013!
Soup dumplings and dumplings are on order here, and at any given time, you’ll see a team of cooks in Din Tai Fung’s open concept kitchens pumping out handmade dumplings at a frantic pace.
We like Din Tai Fung because it’s cheap and delicious, and we know our food will be served piping hot and made to order. Plus, it’s always a quick meal. They don’t take reservations though, and it’s not uncommon to have to wait for your table for up to an hour if you arrive between during lunch hour or dinner hour. Lucky for us, they’ve got several locations throughout the city of Taipei. Taiwanese dumplings from Din Tai Fung featured to the left.
Located at: Various locations throughout Taipei, including Taipei 101, SOGO Fuxing, and Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT.
Dozo Izakaya Dining Bar
Dozo is an upscale Japanese beer hall that is beautifully decorated. It’s one of the trendiest places in town, the service is terrific, and the food can’t be beat. The menu is stocked with yummy treats like meat skewers, seafood dishes, and sushi rolls, but our favorite is the Seven Spice Flavored Tun, which is served cold with romaine lettuce.
We only go to Dozo once or twice a year because their dishes aren’t cheap. Dinner for two will probably set you back at least NT$2,000-NT$3,000, but it’s certainly worth visiting at least once while you’re in Taipei! Photo featured on the right.
Located at: Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station.
Vegetarians in Taipei surely rejoice over the massive salad bar at Dressed. The cafeteria-style restaurant offer giant salads and sandwiches, yummy soups and healthy smoothies. Sandwiches and salads are made to order, or you can choose from a delightful array of fresh produce and vegetables.
Plates of salad greens can be tough to find in Taipei, but Dressed has you covered with 18 chef-designed salads or you can build your own salad and add toppings like baby spinach, arugula, goat cheese, avocados or dried cranberries. They also feature a great selection of wraps and artisan sandwiches. I’m a big fan of their Ultimate Turkey sandwich.
The prices here aren’t cheap, but it isn’t any more expensive than the prices you’ll see at a full scale restaurant or bar. I personally think the prices are worth it, considering there’s nothing else in Taipei quite like Dressed.
Located at: No. 169 Anhe Rd, Sec. 2 near Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station
We haven’t been visiting Galerie Bistro as much since they stopped offering their Saturday brunch menu, but it’s still a nice place to visit if you’re looking for a place that offers a beautiful ambience and tastefully decorated plates of food.
Galerie Bistro offers a mix of American, French and Italian cuisines at a unique location in the alleys of Nanjing West Road. The restaurant is situated in a three-story mansion that was built during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. There’s also a gorgeous enclosed patio and garden with comfortable chairs and sun umbrellas.The star attraction here though, is the food. Their Reuben sandwich and California grilled chicken melt are served with a good portion of thin-cut French fries garnished in garlic and cheese. The crepes are also one of our favorites. If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, you can splurge on roast beef and Fine de Claire oysters imported from France.
Located at: #2, Ln 25, Nanjing W Rd, Taipei City
Japanese bbq restaurants in Taipei are fairly ubiquitous, and they’re all pretty much the same in regards to menu items and pricing. We like Hinomai Yakinuki on Civic Boulevard because we’ve been going there since 2006 and they know us.
They’ve got a great selection of meat and vegetables for you to grill, and they offer an all-you-can-drink-beer special that our guests always enjoy. This is where we take friends and colleagues when they’re new to Asia and they’ve never had a personal grilling experience. The free Haagen-Daaz ice cream at the end of the meal also tops things off nicely too.
Located at: #157 at Civic Boulevard, Taipei
Juanita’s Burritos and Tacos
There used to be a time when Mexican food was impossible to find in Taipei, but recent years have seen an explosion of Mexican style restaurants opening up. We think Juanita’s offers the best food at the best prices. You’ll find burritos, burrito bowls, salads, tacos and nachos on their menu, with a number of toppings to choose from. Grilled chicken and steak are options for those who like a little flavor, but the real heroes of this menu are the spicy pork carnitas and the beef barbacoa. I really like their chunky guacamole and homemade nacho chips, while John usually opts for the chili cheese nachos.
Located at: No. 51-1, Lane 160, Section 1, Dūnhuà South Rd, Daan District, Taipei City
Opa! Greek Taverna
When we told our son Caleb that Opa! serves flaming cheese, his eyes grew as round as saucers. We took him that night and he enjoyed his meal so much, it become our go-to restaurant this summer. Taipei has been traditionally lacking in good Mediterranean cuisine, but not anymore. Opa offers large portions of traditional Greek dishes at very modest prices.
The menu is extensive, offering a great variety of dips, appetizers, salads, gryos, souvlaki, and my absolute favorite: their home made moussaka. Opa! has bechamel sauce down to a science, and this is what keeps me coming back for more. Since the portions are generous, this is a great restaurant to share at.
Located at: #51, Lane 240, Guangfu S Rd, Taipei City
When I want Vietnamese pho, this is where I go. I’ve tried a number of pho dishes in Taipei, but Pho Hao is exceptionally good. Judging from the number of visitors there each time I go, I’d say that others agree. This place is always packed! The prices are very reasonable, and they’re one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in town that use skinny rice noodles rather than wide rice noodles. Their broth is also bursting with flavor, good down to the last drop! There are a number of different kinds of pho on offer at Pho Hao. Try your pho wet or dry, with or without meat. We promise you’ll love it!
Located at: No. 43, Lane 190, Section 1, Dūnhuà South Rd, Daan District, Taipei City at Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT
There are many takes on sushi restaurants in Taipei, but there’s only one NCISushi. The dishes are fantastic and you get excellent value for your money. This is our new favorite restaurant for 2014. We visited back in November 2013, and we raved about the Salmon-licious and seared tuna to anyone who would listen until we got back to Taipei in January. Since then, we’ve been back twice! NCI stands for Northern Californian Inspired, and the sushi dishes here are some of the best and most unique dishes we’ve had in Taiwan.
Located near: Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station.
This restaurant is one of my favorites and it seems to be one of Taipei’s best kept secrets. It also happens to be owned by my good friends Tamin and Rachel Wang. We would eat at Tamin’s Place a couple times a month if they were closer to Banciao, but since we can’t, we always know we’re in for a treat whenever we visit.
Owner and head chef Tamin Wang serves specialty dishes such as his signature mentiko mushrooms, bbq-ed pork jowl, crispy tofu skin and grilled mackerel, as well as traditional rice dishes and udon noodles. His prices are VERY affordable. Tamin’s mentiko mushrooms are pictured to the right.
Located at: No 23, Alley 6, Lane 621, Zhongshan District, Taipei
Thai Beer House in Ximen
This tiny family-owned restaurant is pretty much a mainstay in Taipei. It’s been around for as long as I’ve been visiting, and I’ve been going since 2006!
The lady who runs this Thai-Taiwanese fusion restaurant has been there for ages, and anyone who has been to Ximen probably knows where her restaurant is located. If you don’t, walk behind the Red House Theater and look for the Bear Bar. The Thai Beer House is located next to it. It has a Korean restaurant on the other side, and you’ll know it by the colorful photos of food pasted on the front doors.
Thai Beer House offers an English menu, and their staff mostly speak English. They offer a great mix of Thai and Taiwanese dishes, and the beer is cheap. I think they serve the best Pad Thai in town. They also make a mean spicy fried chicken breast.
Located behind the Red House Theater in Ximending.
If you’re a sandwich lover, you’ll LOVE Toasteria.
Taipei’s Home for Grilled Cheese, offers an astonishing array of grilled panini sandwiches. You won’t find Diet Coke, skim milk, or no low fat cheese at any Toasteria locations in Taipei. They only serve the good stuff!
From basic grilled cheese paninis to their pork Cubano, you’ll find over 40 panini sandwiches to choose from, all grilled to perfection and served with Toasteria’s signature fries and mustard sauce. The Cubano at Toasteria is featured on the right.
Located at: Toasteria has several locations throughout Taipei. Their flagship shop is at Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station.
VVG Bistro brings its patrons a unique dining experience flush with local produce and homemade recipes that are sure to knock your socks off. Bistro is one of six VVG establishments owned by Grace Wang, and each location is beautifully decorated, making your dining experience a truly special one.
I like VVG Bistro’s brunch specials best. Their rustic plate of Eggs Benedict drizzled in Hollandaise sauce, their chicken roulade and their pasta dishes are all excellent. If you’re lucky, they’ll have their chocolate and marshmallow fudge cake on display. Good cake can be hard to find in Taipei, so I always buy a few slices whenever I’m near VVG Bistro.
Whether you sit on the outdoor patio or inside its kitschy interior, VVG Bistro offers you a unique dining experience and Very Very Good food.
Located at: #20, Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 4, Taipei at Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station
The Canadian in me really, really loves Whalen’s poutines. This is closest thing to authentic poutine that you can get in Taipei. All they’re missing are the cheese curds!
Whalen’s is a classic Canadian diner that serves up old-school cooking in the Da’An District. The owner makes everything from scratch, and if it’s not on the menu, he’ll do his best to make sure you get what you want. We recommend the Classic Canadian Poutine or the Lumberjack Poutine if you’re nursing a hangover. Other menu favorites are Whalen’s Cheeseburger and his breakfast skillets. The portions are extra-large, so bring your appetite!
Located at: No. 145, Section 2, Anhe Rd., Daan District
We all have trouble deciding where to go when we have a holiday, but seek no more. Spending your holidays in Thailand is an ideal family vacation if you want to taste delectable cuisines, shop and experience the rich Thai culture. From culinary delicacies to succulent wineries, Thailand offers much more than you could imagine from an ordinary holiday.
Most people head straight for Thailand’s beautiful beaches and islands, but don’t miss out on spending some time in Bangkok. Asia’s City of Angels is nothing short of fantastic, with plenty of options for everyone. Colorful Buddhist temples, cruising the Venice of Asia in a river taxi, bustling markets, cheap shopping and world-class museums and galleries are just a few things you can enjoy in Bangkok.
And the food! The glorious, wonderful food! Eating out in Bangkok is simply wonderful, and there are no shortage of restaurants and street carts to try out. BBC’s article on The best of Bangkok’s street food reinforces the idea that Thai cooking should be a highlight for anyone visiting Bangkok.
So where does one go for great food in Bangkok?
When seeking a great place to dine at, the restaurants and food stalls located in Thailand provide a gastronomers heaven. You may wish to indulge your taste buds at Roti-Mataba in Banglamphu, which earns Bangkok its reputation for excellent food, or sample some of the delicious street food served at Victory Monument. Dishes here are bound to provide a heart-throbbing kick-start to some of Bangkok’s culinary wonders that await you.
Don’t miss out the ubiquitous Pad Thai. Really, Pad Thai anywhere else in the world simply doesn’t hold a candle to what you’ll experience in Bangkok.
‘Som Tam’ may also satisfy your appetite. Som Tam originates from the northeast of Thailand. It contains slight differences depending on the region, but is easily summed up as a delicious, spicy papaya salad with a healthy dose of heat. Often this dish is accompanied by barbecued chicken with several lumps of sticky rice.
Food dominates the streets of Bangkok, and it can be a challenge to locate quality dishes. Avoid eating at tourist shacks, which tend to be overpriced and lacking flavor. The best way to find great Bangkok street food is to explore the city on your own and keep the following rules in mind:
- Are the tables and dishes clean? You’re better off somewhere else if you spot dirty dishes on the sidewalk next to the cooking station.
- Is the condiment tray clean?
- Are there lots of customers? Lots of customers means food is being produced quickly and probably hasn’t been sitting out for long.
I have heard a lot about Jiufen in Northern Taiwan. It was once a prosperous mining town that experienced a tourism boom in 1989, when Ang Li, the Taiwanese film-maker (think Brokeback Mountain), made a film called City of Sadness there. Since then, everything I’ve read about Jiufen has said it’s a must-see attraction in Taiwan. I have been hankering to take a look since I arrived in Taiwan.
I decided not to take the easy way to Jiufen. Instead I opted for hiking over a small mountain and entering the town from behind. Early one Saturday morning, my friends and I took the 8:25 train and, after an hour or so, got off the train in Houtong. Like Jiufen, Houtong is an a
bandoned mining town, which, according to locals, was taken over by cats after the coal veins dried up and the miners went elsewhere. In recent years, Houtong has branded itself Cat Town in hopes of drawing some tourism to jumpstart the economy there.
After getting off the train at Houtong Station, we crossed the bridge and made a left, walking for about ten minutes along Houtong’s main road before we turned right up a mountain road. The asphalt eventually gave way to a dirt path.
From there, the trail turned sharply up. It was littered with abandoned stone houses, dilapidated by scavengers. As we climbed higher up the mountain, there was a slightly romantic to the mountain path we were following. Pretty pebbles and stones were strewn everywhere, and they seemed to be swallowed up by the green jungle. There was little worth mentioning about the climb, though it was this part of my journey that I loved the most.
We climbed for an hour or more, winding our way up the steep path. Then, suddenly, the jungle gave way to scraggly, temperate trees; we wound a path through the trees and, on the other side, we realized we had passed over the ridge. From our vantage point, we could see Jiufen languishing below us. The road into the tourist town was saturated with tourist buses.
We climbed down to Jiufen and looked around. I have read that Jiufen has remained popular because of its traditional style of architecture, but, with the crowds it was hard to get a feel for much that was traditional. Plus, the old street was more of a tacky tourist trap, with the same fried food and kitschy trinkets you can find all over Taiwan.
Getting off the beaten path in Jiufen was more rewarding. Away from the crowds, we found a gold museum (80$NTD regular admission). The museum was small and not particularly professional, with exhibits strewn about in glass cases. Still, they had pools in which you could pan for gold along with some several glow-in-the-dark stones that the museum workers were excited to show us. Plus, they had lots of old photos and information on the history of Jiufen.
For example, originally, Jiufen got its name in Mandarin, “Nine Portions” because the little village had only nine houses and was so remote that, whenever anyone came up from below, they were supposed to bring back nine portions of some sort of food to share with each house in the village, as this was often the only way that they could get food they had not grown themselves.
Once we tired of Jiufen, we took off to Jilong Mountain, a tall but easily surmountable peak that lingers above Jiufen. At the summit, you can look down the face of the mountain as it plummets into the sea and up and down the raggedy east coast of Taiwan. The hike is short, only a little more than an hour to go up and down. Definitely worth it, just for the great views from the peak.
As with so many things, the journey, not the destination, was the part of this day trip that I liked the most. I was a little disappointed by Jiufen, but I think that is mostly because of the crowds. If you can avoid the crowds, I would definitely recommend going to this abandoned mining town, especially if you do it by hiking from Houtong.
Getting to Jiufen
Getting to Houtong is easy. There is an 8:25 train that leaves from Taipei Main Station every morning from platform #4. If that time does not suit you, there are trains leaving throughout the day, but make sure you get a local train that stops in Houtong, otherwise you will go pass right by your destination.
Getting off at Houtong is easy enough. Leave the station, go straight through the small plaza to a little museum and then turn left. Within four or five minutes, you will come to a bridge on your right. Cross the bridge and head into old Houtong village. From there, continue walking for about 10 minutes until you see a small road on your left that looks exactly like this:
Turn right on this road, which quickly becomes a stone-laid path. From here the directions are easy, just keep going up. Follow that path all the way up the mountain and down into Jiufen, which you can see from the top of the ridge.
This is a guest post from blogger Lee Moore, author of VeryStinkyTofyu.com.