Monday, June 7, 2010

Hands up those who love Taiwan!

I've been working a few years now, and realised I haven't once sponsored my parents for any overseas trip, so I think it's time I did. At first I wanted to bring them HK, for unadulterated eating and shopping, but my mum's more into sight-seeing and I've noticed her fascination with Taiwan, so I decided to go for Taiwan (affordability was a factor too) although I've backpacked there once before. I'm not a fan of tour packages, but out of pure laziness, I decided to book one via Chan Brothers at the NATAS fair back in March. It's the 7D Classic Northwest Taiwan package.

Of course, my brother's come along for the ride, and the lucky dude, doesn't need to pay a thing (cuz he's not working), and so my Dad paid for his share. Oh well.

The airline we took was China International. In my honest opinion, not the best there was, but it's still better than Garuda (and that is another story). I was pretty surprised when the stewardess announced that CI had some kind of cooperation with Garuda (perhaps to share their fleet of planes?). Bad weather ensued 3 hours into the flight, and the plane was lurching umpteen times like we were on a roller coaster. Needless to say, those of a weaker constitution threw up their lunches during the ride (my mum included). Seriously, I've never taken a flight where so many people threw up, the gagging noise was literally everywhere. However, in fairness, I think the main reason was because the plane was relatively smaller than the usual Boeings owned by SQ, and so more prone to the mercy of the air turbulence and extremely heavy downpour in Taipei. Not a very good start to a vacation, I guess.

We were pretty late in arriving in Taipei, and sad to say, passing through customs wasn't a breeze at all. I think we had the good fortune of passing through this custom officer on his first day of work.


(In Mandarin, translated, of course)
Him: Where are you staying in Taipei?
Me: ? I don't know, we weren't given the address, we'd be moving hotels everyday anyway.
Him: Don't you have a tour guide? Get him to tell you, otherwise you can't pass.
Me: WTH?? (under my breath)


Anyway my family and myself had to get out of the queue, I quick dialed the Taiwanese tour guide's no, asked him for our Taipei hotel, wrote it down on the customs form and begged to get back into queue to clear customs. Super peeved, I tell ya!

Anyway we finally met our Taiwanese guide. His name is Francis, a cute, dimpled guy, who looked in his late twenties/early thirties (later I came to know, he's 32). Got on a mammoth tour bus (made to ferry 30, I think) together with 10 others in the tour group. Pretty fortunate cuz I really dislike big tour groups. We had no tour leader from Singapore, since our group's very small, so Francis is the only guide.

And off we were to Ilan for a "farmstay" at Ilan Leisure Farm. I had to type " ", because if this place were a farm, then Hotel 81 would be a goat pen. It's Shangri La, for goodness' sake!


 


Firecrackers, it was lit later!

The hotel looked like a charming bed & breakfast, its reception is housed in a wooden lodge, there was smoking firewood for warmth in a corner, and cobbled stone pathways leading to our rooms. It was late at night though, and I couldn't take half decent photos. Ok, maybe that's an excuse, I'm just not a good photographer.  :(





A smoking log, how cozy is that?


After a 10-course dinner whom nobody can finish (seriously, they intend to fatten us up during this trip), we headed to the courtyard to catch the after-dinner entertainment organised by the hotel staff. Mainly lighting of firecrackers, performance of the Ma Zu (diety who watches over the seas), rolling tang yuan, spinning tops, duckling race (I kid you not) and release of the heavenly lanterns which was what I was waiting for, I didn't really care for the rest.





This costumed guy was literally walking straight towards me, I almost stumbled getting this shot


Sorry for the crappy photos, but you get the idea.





The ducklings were the sweetest things ever. So yellow and fluffy, and very much asleep. Later they were roused awake to compete in a race, where all of the hotel guests could place bets. For the closet pundits in all of us.


Ducklings fast asleep in a box before their big race

  

Meet "Xiao Hei", the cutest black mutt with the cutest collar.
He/She's the first of many, many shots of dogs that I took during this trip.



 Writing wishes on the heavenly lantern/"kong ming deng".
To make it look more authentic, I wrote chinese characters, and vertically down. haha.




Top spinning competition 



Restraining the ducklings that were eager to start the race (btw, no. 2 won)


As you can see from the photos, it was drizzling throughout, and I was worried that we couldn't release the heavenly lanterns. Thankfully, the rain remained a drizzle and the slight breeze helped carry the lanterns up to a decent height. It may be an Ilan tradition and all, but at the back of my head, I was wondering if we'd be creating pollution by doing this. Francis reassured that someone will be picking up the lantern remnants. He also shared that in the past, one of the lanterns fell on someone's house and caused a fire. As such, it was mandated that such activities be restricted only in areas with no residences in the vicinity. I forgot to ask him about the origins of this tradition though.


Lighting our lantern



4 shots of heavenly lanterns up in the air



The cobbled walkway back to our hotel rooms


It's a pretty action packed first night, I must say. Hopefully I'd manage to follow through with the rest of the trip when I get the time.

2 comments:

sel said...

You show a different side of Taiwan which I haven't seen before. Love the ducks, heavenly lanterns (they had it in Phuket too) and the gigantic bubbles! In Phuket, they didn't have restrictions of setting off the lantern in non-residential areas, so we saw a guy set off a heavenly lantern which floated dangerously near the balcony of a very tall hotel, wonder whether it had landed there. Hmm...

Anw, I love Taiwan for its food! The coffin-breads, shilin chicken, bubble ice tea, chua4 bing1 (Taiwan ice-kachang), fried mushrooms, mee sua, giant sausages, etc etc... Drooling while I type this...

Fleurgal said...

Wow I'm surprised they have heavenly lanterns in Thailand too. I think likelihood of fire hazard is high if they're not careful.

Yup, I love that coffin-bread too!! Absolute favourite. Along with the rest - winter melon juice, "frog's eggs",tea eggs.. Trying to post the rest of the days, but blogger is super slow!

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