Thursday, June 28, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Shilin Presidential Residence and Rose Garden

The Shilin Presidential Residence was Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek's offiicial residence. He stayed there with his wife Soong May Ling - one of the famous Soong Sisters. The residence is surroundered by a garden of around 9 hectares, and located at the foot of Fushan in one of the most beautiful locations in Taipei. By the time we got to the residence, it was already closed for visitors so we could only have a glimpse outside. It would have been nice to be able to see how the Chiangs lived. They also received and entertained many foreign dignitaries in this residence.

Soong May Ling loved roses so a very large roase garden was created for her. It should look magnificent in Spring when thousands of the roses bloom - but we were there at the end of Winter so the roses were just starting to bloom.

Besides the rose garden, the huge garden ground is also a nice place to explore. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Taipei.

I wouldn'st say the Shilin Presidential Residence is a must visit - especially if you can't get into the residence. But if you have the time it is a nice pleasant break from the usual itinerary.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Dinner at Naluwan Hot Spring Resort

Our stay at the Naluwan Hot Spring Resort came with dinner. It wan't an elaborate feast, but was quite enjoyable as a few local specialties were on the menu. It was augmented with the roasted wild boar which we bought from the Old Street, and lots of beer and rice wine.

Roast duck seems to be a local specialty and is also served on this meal. The meat is not as tender as we are used to, but quite flavourful.

Sweet and Sour Wild Boar Ribs.  They are leaner and gamier then normal pork.

Deepfried Brinjal in a sweet and sour sauce. It's crunchy outside and velvety soft inside. The sauce could have been more interesting - it tasted more like chili sauce from a bottle.

 Braised Wild Mushrooms. This was one of the best dish of the night. The mushrooms were really fresh.

Stir-fried Mountain Veggies - not very sure what the veggie was, but it was  fresh and crunchy. A bit like morning glory.

The Roasted Wild Boar that we bought from Old Street. The skin was no longer crispy but still had some crunch. The meat was very nice - leaner then normal pork and very flavourful.

Bamboo Rice was served with dinner instead of plain rice. The glutinous rice is cooked until very tender, and mushroom and carrots are added for flavour. Quite nice, but we were too stuffed to eat much of this.  

Dinner at the hotel was good, but no where near as interesting as the food at Wulai Old Street. In hind sight we should have canceled the dinner and just go back to the Old Street to sample more of the interesting street food.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Naluwan Hot Spring Resort

A trip to Wulai would not be complete without trying out the hot springs, so we decided to stay overnight. There are lots of options for accommodation in Wulai but most are small establishments. One of the biggest resorts in the area is the  Naluwan Hot Spring Resort, and since our group was quite big we didn’t have many other options. The resort is located a bit further uphill from Wulai Old Town, so you either drive up or use the logging carts that have been converted to carry passengers. Wulai used to be an important logging centre until the 1970s when it was listed as a forest reserve.

The logging cart ride takes only about 10 minutes, but waiting time can take much longer depending on the crowd. In some spots you are literally inches away from the vertical hillside, so it was quite a thrilling ride.

Once you arrived at the upper station, it is only a short walk to the hotel - but the hills are quite steep here. You will also see the majestic Wulai Waterfall, and pass through some shops selling Atayal souvenirs and artifacts.

The resort is in a simple 5-storey building. Facilities are very basic - but they do have a hot spring tub in every room. The bathrooms are very spartan though, so if you really want to enjoy a hot soak you will be better off going to one of the many local spas. For that you need to head back to the Old Town.

View from our hotel room.

The Wulai Waterfall is right opposite our room.

Staying up in the mountains is quite an experience. The air is fresh, the scenery is beautiful, and there is not much else to do so it makes you slow down -  just relax and enjoy the natural sights and sounds. The hotel facilities are limited to a small exercise room with a ping pong table, and a very small karaoke room where where all 20 of us squeezed into with a few other guests and had a great time singing and drinking rice wine we bought from the Old Street.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Wulai Old Street Part II

Like a kid in a candy store, every time you visit an old street in Taipei you want to try everything because they all look so good. You really need to go with a strong and empty stomach.

The best way to navigate an old street (which I only discovered after the visits unfortunately) is not to rush into the first thing that you see. You may regret later when you see something better but your tummy is already too full. So take your time to stroll through the street, look at whats available and then back track to the ones which look most interesting. If in doubt, ask the locals for help - most of them are very friendly and more then willing to share their personal favourites.

The food choices at Wulai Old Street are literally endless. It will not be possible to try everything, so look out for the ones that look most promising. Thsi shop sells lots of traditinal Atayal dishes like wild boar meat, rice cooked in bamboo (similar to our "lemang" in Sarawak), etc. 

Bamboo Rice is very popular and you can find it in many stalls here.

This is one of the biggest and most popular shops along the street. The tables are always full. What's good here is the large Meat Balls served in a clear broth, and the Hot Spring eggs which are supposed cooked in the hot spring water. The eggs are hard-boiled, but the yolks are still creamy inside.

They also produce rice wine here which is very similar to the "Tuak" back in Sarawak.

The ever-popular wild boar meat skewers. The lively Atayal cooks keep things interesting.

At the end of the Old Street, there is a bridge which take you to the other part of the small town centre. Over there are some restaurants and cafes that overlook the river, and also some day spas where you can relax and enjoy a soak in the hot spring water.

Looking back towards Wulai Old Street. It is not very big - but packed with goodies !

A trip to the Wulai Old Time is very enjoyable and you should definitely make time for it when you are in Taipei.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Wulai Old Street Part I

Wulai is an area in the hills around 1 hour drive from Taipei. It is home to the indigenous Atayal Tribe, and is also a popular spa retreat for the locals due to the presence of natural hot springs. One of the reason for its popularity is that the hot springs in Wulai don't have the usual strong sulphuric smell, unlike other popular hot spring areas in Taipei.

Wulai is also famous for its Old Street which is today probably a bigger attraction then the hot springs. Like most of the other old streets in Taipei, the focus is on food. It is basically one narrow street with shops on both sides selling local delicacies, products and souvenirs.

On the way to Wulai, you drive through some beautiful mountain scenes.


Wulai gets pretty crowded on weekends and holidays. You normally park a bit further out and take a short walk to the Old Street.

One of the first things that caught my eye - whole roasted wild boar. It looked so delicious I just had to ta-pau (takeaway) some for dinner.

There are so many things to try. 

Some of the queues are very long. You do need some patience if you want to try the good stuff here.

More in Part II of this post.