End of year holiday this year was a hectic exercise, as it involved moving to a new place followed immediately by a long 3 weeks holiday. With our lease at The Sail (Singapore) coming to an end, this is basically my attempt to save some money (by not having to pay ridiculously high rent in Singapore) while we are away holidaying. It’s the first time we moved out of downtown Singapore, to settle in Novena at a condo called Amaryllis Ville, though one could argue Novena is hardly out of town! We’ve said for years that we needed to move to the “burbs”, both to save money and also to experience the “real” Singapore. It does mean that I will lose the luxury of getting out of bed, and drag myself to work in just 5 minutes! (I know… first world problem). It’s now 6 MRT stops away, which is hardly far, but it will be quite an adjustment to my lifestyle. Having said that, Ethan’s new school will literally be next door!
As for our holiday, the hectic move did mean that we didn’t put as much attention to plan the holiday itself. However, I did make hotel and flight bookings that included:
- 10 days in Southern Taiwan (Kaohsiung and Tainan)
- A week in Okinawa (Japan)
- A week in Tomamu (Hokkaido, Japan) for skiing
As for the exact itinerary of each stop, it was essentially a holiday where most of the time, we didn’t know what we were doing until we got up in the morning and just Google searched on the fly to see where to go and where to eat. Very very little pre-planning was involved and we still managed to cover a lot! Despite all that, we managed fine!
For our first stop, it was Kaohsiung (高雄). Whilst I’ve been to Taipei twice, this was my first trip down south. I have to point out that Taiwan does have a special place in my heart, through the approximately 15 years of my teenage / young adult years living in Brisbane (Australia) where it was practically mini-Taiwan where I lived (near Sunnybank). That was where I was introduced to such cuisines as Bubble Milk Tea (珍珠奶茶), rice ball (饭团), deep friend chicken/pork rice etc etc. Plus, my mandarin accent has essentially transformed closer to that of a Taiwanese than my original Malaysian/Singapore accent. So it was quite “refreshing” landing at Kaohsiung International Airport, when I get to actually pull off my semi-Taiwanese Mandarin again!
To settle ourselves in, we pretty much spent the first day sorting out “stuff”. We checked ourselves into a popular hotel among families with younger kids at Legend Hotel @ Pier 2 (秝芯). It’s by no means a 5-star hotel, but it does have kids cartoon art painted throughout the hotel. Ethan seemed to have liked it, though it probably lasted only about 5 minutes before he lost interest.
Secondly, I spent some time sorting out our ‘mode of transport’. Given the lack of pre-planning and my extreme preference for ‘low cost freedom’, I long booked a scooter before the holiday. Taiwan is one of the few Asian countries where scooters are everywhere and is probably the primary form of transport for most. Whilst I have hired scooters in other parts of Asia(e.g. Indonesia, Vietnam, Thaland etc etc) before, it’s the first time I’ve done so in Taiwan. I even came prepared with Ethan’s helmet pre-purchased on Qoo10 back in Singapore! The folks at 555 Scooter (specifically Justin) was super helpful and got me up and running with a Yamaha scooter. And that is transport sorted!
Thirdly, I got myself a pre-paid SIM card.. to settle the Internet needs of all of us, along with a local number we can call and receive calls within Taiwan. I settled with iBon mobile which was available from any 7-11 stores around Taiwan. It took me a while, but luckily I had a pretty helpful store staff at one of the 7-11 store near our hotel that walked me through submitting the application through the teller machine. In about half an hour so, I was up and running with a Taiwan number and unlimited Internet for the week!!
Lastly, we went to the local immigration office, to sort myself out with a local ID # which they call “統一證號”. Typically tourist probably wouldn’t bother with this, but I needed one to allow me to register for usernames around most Taiwanese based online shopping websites in order purchase online goods. Yes, I don’t shop much in retail shops in any countries I visit (that’s what my wife does), but I do shop online. And no.. I have tried to simply register a username on such popular sites like Ruten and PChome prior to arriving in Taiwan.. both of which required both a local phone number and the “Local ID”. So, after a bit of research, I found out it was a matter of paying a visit to the local National Immigration Agency Office (there is one pretty much in every Taiwan cities) to get this “ID#” that seems very useful, including ability for me to open a local bank account! Anyway, it was a relatively painless exercise, and before you know it, I can finally ‘shop’ online!
Anyway.. after all that hassle, which took up most of the first/second day, we finally started to explore Kaohsiung. Travelling with a 3 year old and a shop-a-holic wife meant that I had to cater to their interests, which meant temples/shrines are out.. hiking is pretty much out (unless I want to break my back carrying Ethan) and national parks are out (unless it involves visiting a kick-ass playgrounds like the ones in Japan). We did check out a few typical places though like:
The quintessential of any tourists tourists coming to Taiwan include night markets in their itinerary. We visited 2 in Kaohsiung including Liuhe (六合夜市) and Pier 2 (駁二夜市) night markets. Both were primarily destinations for us to have cheap food, and where Ethan get to have some cheap fun. It’s a nice way for us to wind down after full day of activities.
Dream Mall (夢時代購物中心)
This is probably one of the biggest and newest mall in Kaohsiung. We loved it so much, we actually came to this mall twice! It is an integrated mall, that included a bit of everything that all of us can enjoy. There’s good entertainment for all of us (besides shopping), like indoor go-kart (which I did my best time of 27.16s) and indoor playgrounds for Ethan. To top that off, there’s seriously good food there too (without the price tag). We found a Japanese restaurant there called Ikki (藝奇) which I can best describe as a Michelin-like restaurant without Michelin prices. It’s the one restaurant that where we went twice (once for lunch, and second time for dinner) while in Kaohsiung. There’s also seriously good pancake to be found there as well called Woosa (Woosaパンケーキ 屋莎鬆餅屋) if you don’t mind the LONG wait. It features ultra soft souffle to die for!
There’s plenty of arcade centres, and outdoor theme park as well that kept Ethan entertained. As we were there just before Christmas, it was definitely a little more decorated than usual, featuring their “Sharing Xmas 2017” event.
Taroko Park / Suzuka Circuit
Taroko Park (大魯閣草衙道) is another out of town entertainment/shopping area near Kaohsiung airport with both outdoor theme park and shopping center. Again, it’s an integrated center with a bit of everything for all of us. The indoor area featured “good enough” shopping for wifey. Ethan had hours of fun (well… actually all of us did) in one of the biggest ball pit I’ve seen at Yukids Island (遊戲愛樂園). The outdoor area features Suzuka Circuit (鈴鹿賽道樂園) where I gotto test my karting skills again. The most annoying part is that you do have to pay a little extra for first-timers to get a ‘license’ just so that you get to drive on it. Now I have to make sure I remember to bring the license back if I ever want to come back here to race again. I can’t recall my best lap time, but I believe it was sub-40 seconds (I’ll have to dig out the paper to confirm). We were only in Japan’s original version of Suzuka Circuit (For the real F1 race) just a couple of months back, and have to say this one is not a bad replica of the original at all.
Pier 2 Art Center
Pier 2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區) isn’t far from our hotel at all, but the area is big enough for us to almost spend an entire day there. People come here for the vast number of street arts littered everywhere. For Ethan though, it’s probably just a giant playground for him to run around. Arguably, the highlight of the day for him was the mini Shinkansen model train that he got to sit on with mummy. For wifey, the whole area is just an excuse for her to take plenty of pictures.
For me though, the highlight was probably the freebie pineapple tarts called “Sunnyhills” given out with a cup of tea in a rather nice cafe setting (yes… FREE). I don’t know what their business model is, but one can only assume that giving out freebies will result in customers actually buying it. I did feel bad afterwards, though it wasn’t long enough for me to actually proceed to buy one. I didn’t see too many people buying it either, presumably getting a sticker shock once they know how much it cost. We left without too much guilt like most did.
Arguably my favourite part of the overall Kaohsiung trip, though we only spent one short evening there. Cijin (旗津島) is an island that’s just a short 5 minutes ferry ride away. The most interesting part for me was actually the fact that, we can just literally ride our scooter onto the ferry to get across! It was cheap, and you don’t need to get off at all! Once we were there, we covered most typical sights including the Tunnel of Star, the beach area, the Fort (旗後砲臺), and lastly the market street where most people come for seafood. We only spent a couple of hours in the evening here, but it was a few hours of good fun!
Food wise, I probably didn’t go randomly try as many cuisines as I wanted to, but if there was one that was most consistently/religiously consumed on a daily basis, it would have to be the classic Bubble milk tea (珍珠奶茶). There’s just something about the sago balls (along with the tea) when you get the original from Taiwan. It’s softer, more chewy.. it just seems to be perfect no matter which one we randomly got it from! Ethan agrees!
Must say it was a great start to our overall holiday. It’s Tainan up next!