10 Things to do in Taichung

Taichung is one of the larger cities in Central Taiwan, where most people just stop by for a few days or even one day on the way to other more popular destinations like Hualien. Everyone was shocked when I told them I’ll be staying in Taichung for a week. Most people were convinced I would be bored to death staying in Taichung for such a long duration. Retrospectively, I would beg to differ. Maybe because my style of travelling has evolved to one of being chill and relaxing, soaking in the vibes of the city. I’m perfectly happy spending my afternoon sitting in a cafe and having good conversations.

Taichung is a nice place to spend your holiday in, with laid-back vibes, cheap food, cheap shopping (for girls mostly). The whole city runs mostly on buses so you end up spending a lot of time travelling from place to place so that’s a downside. But other then that, do check it out when you have a few days to spare in Taiwan!

1. Cycling the Dongfeng, Houfeng trail
Definitely one of the most beautiful cycling trails I’ve been on. I loved it so much, I actually cycled on it twice!

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There are two wonderful parts to the trail, the first part is the tunnel. It’s a much welcomed respite from the blazing sun, and the temperature is much lower in the tunnel itself. The tunnel is about 1.5km, meant for trains in the past! Each direction only has a single narrow lane, so I was quite jittery especially on my first cycling trip with the weekend crowd.

At the end of the tunnel, a beautiful bridge awaits with a large stream underneath. It was simply breathtaking, and this is the second wonderful part of the trail. We spent quite a lot of time taking photographs on this bridge and also admiring the scenery.

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The rest of the trail was not as memorable but it works out nicely as good exercise! There are multiple bicycle rental shops at the start of the trail (we started near the Horse Stables) that offer good rates. For those who cannot cycle or are feeling lazy, the shops offer electric bikes! For those feeling romantic, there are tandem bikes available. For me, I chose the good old sturdy traditional bike.

2. Cycling in Tanya Shen Green Bikeway
Another cycling trail that I enjoyed was the Tanya Shen Green Bikeway because of the beautiful trees lining both sides. It’s not just a bikeway but a trail for the locals to do their daily walks. The greenery makes for a nice escape from the dull greyness of the city and the trees provide a nice shade from the a scorching sun.

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It’s also quite easy to get to, with bus stops at various points of the trail. However, beware of the lack of bicycle shops. We found a bicycle shop online, only to find that it was closed when we reached. According to one of the ladies we asked for directions, the bicycle shop closes whenever it wants to. So cross your fingers that the large bicycle shop is open!

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If it’s not, you could do what we did and borrow from the shop located at the start of the trail. First and foremost, you won’t notice it is a shop because it looked like a mess. The shop owner isn’t the most organised person, the bicycles are piled up. To get a bicycle, the owner rummages through his pile to present you one. It’s quite funny, it’s cheap, it’s not the best bicycle out there but it gets the job done! Just cross your fingers that you won’t suffer the same fate as us.

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3. Catch the Sunset at Gaomei Wetlands
This is one difficult place to get to but when you get there, the sunset makes all that misery disappear. It is amazing to see the sun setting, past the horizon, right in front of your eyes. The wetlands get really crowded during the weekends or public holidays, so I would advise to go on weekdays instead, unless you love the crowds. Remember to bring along a bag to put your shoes in so that you can walk on the wetlands. I gave that a miss because of the crowds and the fussiness of carrying my shoes around while carrying my camera. But Weiling was a less fussy person and had pretty shots amidst the mudlands!

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4. Chun Shui Tang
Apparently, this is the shop where Bubble Tea originated from. And it was also the shop which I frequented the most during my Taiwan trip. They have many outlets around Taiwan, almost like a Din Tai Fung but with amazing bubble tea. If it’s winter/ cold outside, you have to try the hot bubble tea, you can’t find anything like that in Singapore. Or more like, you won’t enjoy a hot bubble tea in our weather. But in Taiwan when it’s cold, a hot bubble tea is a warm comfort to your tummy.

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They serve dishes too if you are looking for a reliable lunch/ dinner place, or a snack place to refuel before more shopping. One dish that I particularly loved were the sweet potato leaves with radish foam. I’m amazed that they could elevate the humble sweet potato leaves with this dish. Other dishes that I tried were the braised beef noodles, fried turnip cake, stewed tofu with rice cakes (not a fan of rice cakes to be honest), kungfu noodles (they weren’t generous with their ingredients).

5. Shopping at Yi Zhong Jie
This street is meant for the university kids so the shopping is priced reasonably but you sometimes have to dig around for good stuff. The local brands are well-established in this street though, with multi-levelled shops. One of my favourite shops was Theladywore, with well-designed clothing at half the price compared to Singapore!

6. Shenji New Village on Saturdays
A previous dormitory compound built by the government, now refurbished into hipster shops to showcase the art and talents of young Taiwanese people. The main shops are wonderful to wander around, with shops that sell cleaning brushes made of animal hair (bought a horse brush to clean my bottles from there), dried flowers, stationery, to name a few. Amidst all that wandering, you might find yourself in one of the cafes sipping on some freshly brewed coffee.

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On Saturdays, the place gets even livelier, with pop-up stalls being set up along the walking pavements. I thoroughly enjoyed myself here!

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7. Night lights at Mitaka 3e cafe
Perched on top of a hill, you have to come here at night when the city of Taichung lights up. The whole experience was quite magical, to say the least. The food was passable, the coffee was not bad but the view, the view is something you come for. You will have to take a taxi here and come early to watch the sun set!

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8. Play with dogs
Taiwanese people love dogs and cats, so many households own a pet. With friendly Taiwanese owners, there were so many dogs we could play with! I remember walking past a dog park near the main train station, and we just wandered in to play with all the cute little doggies! And another time we saw a Shibu inu outside a house, we tried to play with it but it kept ignoring us. The owner saw us and came out with some of the dog treats just so that we could play and take a photo with it! Wonderful people with wonderful dogs 🙂

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9. Xinshe Flower Market
This is definitely meant for tourists but the flowers were pretty and we had fun taking photographs amidst sunflowers. This flower market is near the Dongfeng Houfeng bicycle trail, so you can always head here before or after cycling!

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10. Overnight stay in Sanyi Town
Sanyi is famous for its wood-carving but it has quietened down in the past few years. Our Taiwanese friend mentioned that a couple of years back, this town would be teeming with tourists and artists working hard at their woodwork but these days, the town seems empty and the artists less frequently seen. I found this Airbnb in Sanyi Town which is run by an artist. At night he conducts classes to introduce you to wood-carving and we went for it! It’s $20 for about 2 hours, and it is definitely a workout for your arms.

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The town also has a museum that displays woodwork from artists all over the world. You might think that woodwork is mostly traditional, but you will be surprised to find abstract art expressed in the medium of wood. I was very amazed with the many thought-provoking art pieces.

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There is also a walking trail near the museum that brings you up to a tea plantation. It was so foggy the morning we walked it but it was a fun experience. It’s a relatively easy trail that will take you about half an hour up the hill.

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place that you should visit in your next vacation. The rolling greens of tea plantations, the endless Indian ocean, the friendly people and the pocket friendly choices for accommodation and food are reasons you should consider it for your next holiday.

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Sri Lanka is very well visited by the Indians (due to proximity) and the Europeans (due to its British colonial history and it’s cheap prices?) but not so by Singaporeans. When we were there, we were the few Southeast Asians roaming about and everyone assumed we were from China. Sri Lanka is an up and coming travel destination and my advice is to go there asap before the prices start going up!!

There has been outpouring of investments into Sri Lanka due to the immense potential for growth ever since the civil war ended in 2008. Lots of luxury holiday destinations are being built up and lots of jobs are being created for the Sri Lankan. In fact, Tourism is one of their top national incomes. So go there before it becomes overcrowded like Bali and overly touristy!

However, be warned that it is still a developing country and hence the travel conditions are less than ideal. For example, the roads in the central highlands are extremely winding because they follow the natural contours of the hills, or it is likely that the road leading into your hotel (even if it is a 5 star one) is a dirt road suitable for only one vehicle to pass.

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Since Sri Lankan is not very popular in Singapore yet and finding information may be confusing at times, I’ve compiled my To-See, To-Live, To-Eat list, in addition to some advice.

My 8-day itinerary was as such-
arrive at 12am from Singapore
stay overnight at Airport Green Hotel
2 nights in Stafford Bungalows (near Nuwara Eliya)
2 nights in an Ella Airbnb
1 night in Jetwing Yala
2 nights in Hotel Calamander Unawatuna

As you can see, we made a loop travelling from Colombo to the central highlands, then down South before returning to Colombo. If I had to choose my favourite place, it would have been Nuwara Eliya. Maybe because I am more of a green, hilly, mountain-ey kind of person rather than a beach person. Before I start rambling on, let me share with you my lists.

To-See
1. Tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya

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These tea plantations are on hill after hill as you drive through the Central Highlands. Take your pick as to which plantation you would like to visit. As we were staying in Stafford Bungalows, we had a morning tour around their own tea plantation and also visited the nearby Pedro plantation. Some would charge you for a factory tour, my advice is to just do it once to see the machinery and the processing of tea leaves. It is quite an interesting learning process!

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After finishing with the factory tour, you should walk around the tea plantations to see the women plucking the tea leaves. It’s incredibly hard work as they carry 10kg of tea leaves on their back while plucking leaves at lightning speed under the hot sun. A lady showed us her hands and they were all callused up ): And she was only 30 years old. You can take a photo with them, but they expect a fee. I would encourage you to take a photo with them and stop to talk to them for a while, they are really friendly. It’s okay to give them some money also especially because their wages are low, they earn about US$5 for 4h of plucking. They can work in the morning from about 8am -12pm and then afternoon from 2-6pm, so you are most likely going to bump into them!

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I would give Finlays tea factory at Ella (near 98 Acres Resort) a miss because the staff were one of the most unfriendly Sri Lankans we met (that is an achievement in itself) and the green tea they produced tasted terrible. Furthermore, you have to pay for the tea-tasting! The Finlays green tea is different from the Japanese green tea we are used to, the aroma is much milder and the stronger ones leave a bitter aftertaste.

2. The beautiful Southern Coastline

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Stop and stay at any of the coastal towns just to enjoy the ocean breeze and marvel at the incredible Indian Ocean. I stayed at Unawatuna, which is deemed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. It had a touristy vibe to it because there were many homestays and seafood restaurants on the beach, but the beach itself was indeed lovely. If you want a nice relaxing beach holiday with cocktails in the evenings and lots of food choices, then Unawatuna is for you. Lots of people were sun-bathing and bobbing in the waters throughout the day. Swimming is not advised because the waves are really strong and there wasn’t a lifeguard in sight.

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If you want to learn surfing, you can try it at Welligama where there are lots of surf schools. From the road, we could see lots of beginners tumbling with the waves. If you would like to do whale-watching, you can visit Mirissa. We gave whale-watching a miss because we were concerned about safety, since it was a developing country and the Indian Ocean is a scary place (we are scaredy cats).

3. Moonstone Mines or other Gem Mines

Sri Lanka is rich in semi-precious stones, so ladies, this is an opportunity for your guy to splurge on you. There is a whole range of semi-precious stones that can be found, from pink topaz to the blue sapphire. These semi-precious stones are considered inexpensive jewellery but they are pretty, so they are used as costume jewellery.

If you are driving around Sri Lanka, then there will be mines along the roads for you to visit, or ask your driver to bring you to one (they definitely know a place). Our driver brought us to a Moonstone Mine which was really interesting because they showed us the whole process, from collecting the gravel and stones from 12m underground using a pulley system, to washing and separating the moonstones from the rest of the stones/ sand to cutting and embedding it. The tour ended with a visit to their shop where lots of jewellery were on sale. The prices are definitely much cheaper than what you would get elsewhere (at least for Singapore), with a huge moonstone ring setting you back by about 40USD.

If you do not have the opportunity to visit a mine but would still like to purchase some gems, then it is advisable to go to a reputable shop with a certificate from the government, so that you are assured that the gems are real. Make sure to ask for a certificate when you buy your gem.

To-Live
1. Stafford Bungalows

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One of the most beautiful places I have stayed at in all my travels. The drive to Stafford Bungalows was extremely long from Colombo, especially because Stafford is a 1h drive from Nuwara Eliya. However, the long drive was worth it. Upon entering the gates of the bungalow, you are greeted by the sight of trees, blooming flowers and the tea plantation. The garden was my favourite place to relax at, and the Management encourages guests to do so. They placed comfortable lounging chairs in the garden for you to soak in the surroundings, and serve breakfast and afternoon tea in the garden. One night’s price includes afternoon tea, a 4-course dinner, breakfast and morning and evening walks.

Price: $$$$

2. Jetwing Yala

When we first entered the hotel, all that we could utter was ‘wow’. The view was unparalleled; you had the Indian Ocean right in front of you at almost every corner of the hotel. Being situated near Yala National Park, it is not uncommon for hotel guests to spot elephants and wild boars roaming around the hotel grounds. Unfortunately for me, the elephants did not come say hi to me, because they already visited the previous night ): Hopefully, you would have more luck!

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Also, the facilities were great, the furnishing was modern, the swimming pool was well-maintained and there were beach chairs for you to laze around by the ocean. The dining experience was memorable too! For dinner, we sat under the stars in the open air while feasting on freshly grilled seafood. The hotel prides itself in getting most of its ingredients from their own organic farm and making their own curd. I loved their curd! My greatest regret of the trip was that we only stayed here for 1 night. I would definitely be back!

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Even if you aren’t interested in going for the safari, many people still stay here to relax because it is away from the hustle and bustle of beach life and the service is impeccable. In fact, we were not very impressed by the Safari because there weren’t many animals to see. Even though we saw the elusive leopard from afar, most of our time was spent driving around the national park trying to spot animals. There are definitely better Safaris out there in the world, so if you’ve been to one already, I would say, just give this a miss.

Price: $$$

3. Airport Green Hotel

Run by a local and recently refurbished 1 year ago, this place was a good resting spot right after we landed at 12am. It is located just 10 minutes away from the airport and has 3 rooms. The rooms are clean, the local breakfast of hoppers and eggs provided was yummy and the owner was very friendly and helpful too!

Price: $

To-Eat
1. Grand Indian at Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

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The best Indian food I have ever eaten.

That statement shall be kept there until I visit India. But this meal was so satisfying. Fresh naan with butter chicken and really delicious tandoori chicken at great prices – what more could you ask for????? You have to try this place if you are in Nuwara Eliya.

Price: $$ ($10-$15 per person)

2. AK Ristoro, Ella

This restaurant is set up by a local who married a Japanese lady, and serves Italian and Japanese fare. We did not try the Japanese fare but we tried their pastas, twice. We came back for two consecutive nights because the pastas were so delicious. Their kitchen is an open one, so you get to watch the Sri Lankan chefs whip up your al dente pasta.

They have lots of sauces / ingredients available but the most memorable combination that we tried were – anchovies and cabbage aglio olio,

Price: $$ ($10-$15 per person)

3. Galle Face Hotel Sea Spray, Colombo

I would travel to Colombo just to eat at this place again, and actually live at the beautiful Galle Face Hotel. As the flights home to Singapore were at a strange timing of 1am, we had the opportunity to dine at the Sea Spray restaurant in the Galle Face Hotel. It was ironic that even though we spent 2 nights along the beach in Unawatuna, the best seafood we ate was actually found in the city Colombo. Another ironic thing is that you can’t find the famous huge Sri Lankan crabs in Sri Lanka because all of them are exported, so what’s left are tiny crabs. Anyway, what I loved about this restaurant was their sides. Their rice was cooked so fancifully, I could just devour the entire bowl. They also serve homemade bread in the shape of fish (!!) with fancy butter. Yum! And of course, the seafood was fresh and the tuna steak was done perfectly with a perfect price of $13.

Price: $$$ ($20-$30 per person)

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Croatia (I) – Split

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A beautiful country known for its beaches and islands, Croatia has become a popular tourist destination. More popular destinations in Croatia include Split and Dubrovnik. Day trips to nearby islands or waterfalls are often made from these places, but if you are looking for a chill holiday, you can turn those day trips into overnight stays.

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Possible day trips from Split include
1. Plitvice
2. Krka waterfalls
3. Omis
4. Hvar

Possible day trips from Dubrovnik include
1. Mljet Island
2. Elafiti Islands

However, I did not manage to fit all these trips into my itinerary for Croatia but I’ll be writing in detail about the trips I managed to make. One thing I realized about Croatia is that there is limited information available about the destination itself, so I’m trying to plug in the gap here to make it easier for future travellers:>

Split
Top things to do in Split would be to

(i) hike up Marjan hill for the great views
(ii) wander around the town
(iii) visit the markets

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The hike up Marjan hill was tiring but well worth it because of the gorgeous view. There are many viewpoints on the hill overlooking the Adriatic sea, making it a relaxing afternoon trip. As the sun sets, head down the hill and have dinner at Konoba Marjan which is conveniently located at the foot of the hill. If prices aren’t to your liking, there are many other good restaurants located on that street, one of which includes Café Sperun.

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Wandering around Split by foot is one of the best things you can do in Split. The Diocletian Palace or what remains of it, makes a nice attraction and photo. I suggest passing up on the Diocletian basements because there isn’t much to see. Besides the palace, there are small narrow streets with interesting restaurants and random flea markets. There is also a Zara and Bershka for the shopaholics like me. Prices of these shops are definitely cheaper than in Singapore/ Asia.

Must visit markets in Split would be the daily market located near the bus terminal and the fish market located in the Diocletian palace compound. The daily market, opened from 8am to 2pm, has a section dedicated to fresh produce and local products, and another section dedicated to souvenirs. So if you’re looking for trinkets to buy back, the daily market is the place to go. The fish market is an interesting sight, with the fishermen displaying their catches and using metal weights to weigh the fish. If you stay in a self-catering apartment/ airbnb and love to cook, do consider purchasing some fish or mussels from the market and head home to cook. We did just that, and bought 2kg worth of mussels at only 15 kunas per kg. It was our first time cleaning and cooking mussels but the hearty pot of mussels at the end was worth the effort. Though our airbnb host left a bad review for us for messing up her kitchen. Oops!

Food recommendations

1. Buffet Fife
Very popular amongst tourists and even locals because of its generous portions. Trust me, the portions here are gigantic for the price you pay. I ordered a fish soup and grilled bream, cooked Dalmation style at prices easy on the pocket. Croatian fish soup reminded me of home because soup is such a Cantonese thing and a regular feature at home cooked meals. The fish soup, served in a huge metal bowl, was very tasty and had rice in it. Our fish came in a large silver platter, with 2 fishes for each person. In Croatian standards, 2 fishes is a double serving. Restaurants usually serve 1 fish per portion. In some sense, you win some and you lose some because the fish wasn’t the best I’ve tasted but with that price and portion, Fife still wins my heart.

Trumbićeva obala 11, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 345 223

2. Konoba Marjan
Marjan is THE place for fish. Portions are comparatively small though but the fish you get is one of the best in town. I tried the fish platter for two which was a nice, holistic tasting platter of ocean fish. The platter had scampi, Class I fish like Tuna (with a delicious sear) and Class II fish like hake. Service was fantastic too, with the waiter patiently bringing out the catches of the day on a silver plate and explaining it to us twice with a wide smile on his face.

Senjska 1,Split 21000, Croatia
+385 989 346 848

3. Appetit
This eatery is located on the second floor of the building but do not fret, because it is super easy to spot. It can be found in the same building as Billa in the Old Town. Their prices are standard, about 120 kunas for a fish main and 90 kunas for a risotto. Must tries are their grilled fresh fish and the cuttlefish black risotto. The risotto was the best I’ve tried in Croatia.

Ul. Pavla Šubića 5, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 332 549

4. Kantun Paulina
Looking for Croatian street food? Pauline serves authentic Cevapi, a minced beef sausage that is pocketed in warm fluffy bread, topped with the local red pepper salsa, at 25 kunas. The perfect thing to get if you need a quick meal on the run or maybe some fuel after climbing Marjan Hill.

Matošića ul. 1, 21000, Split, Croatia
+385 21 395 973

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