Laveanne Lavender Fields: A Touch of Provence

This summer for me is a time of exploration in my own country’s backyard and to my delight, I didn’t have to venture far to discover something extraordinary. Lavender fields! Laveanne Lavender Fields is about an hour away from Toronto.

My friend Karolina joined me on this adventure one warm sunny July day.

We decided to take the scenic route to get to Laveanne, as opposed to the highway and we were in for a treat. We not only passed by little charming towns, but also saw so many greenery and rolling hills. The further away we were from Toronto, the more surreal it felt that we were travelling somewhere abroad.

When we stepped onto the property of Laveanne, we felt like we were transported into the lavender fields in Provence, France. The view of more than 10, 000 lavender plants was breathtaking and the fragrance of them were definitely in the air.

At Laveanne, July is blossom month. I was glad that I took some time out during July to visit this lovely haven with Karolina.

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We started our early morning at the charming boutique and were in heaven browsing through so many lavender products, mostly made on site. Then we strolled through the plant nursery. Finally we stopped in front of the big maple tree outside and were greeted by our yoga teacher, Elizabeth. She guided us on a 60 minute gentle yoga class outdoors and then a 30 minute meditation walk through the lavender labyrinth. Elizabeth gave her students an option to walk through the labyrinth barefoot or with shoes. I chose barefoot, so I can feel more connected to nature, and at the same time draw energy from earth, which is a practise known as “earthing”. I loved how earthing was combined with the walking meditation here!

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At the end of yoga class, we visited the pop-up restaurant on the terrace, overlooking the lavender fields, and enjoyed a variety of lavender infused food. Everything was so delicious!

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We originally anticipated spending a few hours here and ended up spending the whole day! We took time to stroll through the fields, take photos, and bask in the sun on one of the benches. Time seemed to just slip away quietly in this beautiful and tranquil environment.

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In the words of Karolina, “I felt like I was at a spiritual retreat.” Truer words were never spoken. Laveanne is a sweet haven where one can find peace and beauty away from the hustle bustle of city life, and feel rejuvenated body, mind and spirit at the end of the visit.

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Ottawa: The Tea Party Cafe

Last Tuesday I was in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, to continue my own celebration of our country’s 150th birthday. I was on the hunt for a cool cafe with character because for me, a visit in a city is not complete without exploring at least one cafe or tea shop! Luckily for me, my cousin Flo, a local of Ottawa, knew just the place to take me!

Located on a quiet street inside the historical ByWard Market, The Tea Party Cafe is a cute cafe with two floors, and its own private patio, perfect for tea sipping and chatting with friends under the sunshine.

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It has a charming yet funky vibe, with Alice in Wonderland drawings all over the walls.

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We arrived around noon, and it was still calm. There were a few people outside in the patio, and only one table was occupied inside.

For vegetarians and vegans, the lunch menu was a delight. There were a variety of healthy options to choose from. I selected Daal Curry with basmati rice while Flo chose Thai Tofu Curry with basmati rice. We decided on the large size ($8.50) for our vegan dishes as opposed to small ($5.50), and were not disappointed with the generous portion size and price. Both dishes were extremely fresh and delicious!

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After our lunch, we ordered the “Cream Tea” for dessert, which included a pot of tea and their famous scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Tea Party Cafe has over 50 types of tea to choose from including a series called “Alice in Wonderland”, which goes nicely with the theme of this cafe. The fun part of selecting our own tea was we could walk up to the tea shelves and open up any jar of tea to smell it, before deciding which one we wanted!

I opted for Japanese Kyoto Cherry Rose while Flo opted for Jasmine with Flowers. Both teas had strong flavours associated with their flowers. We enjoyed the taste of both!

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We got very lucky that we were served scones fresh out of the oven, since they ran out of all ingredients after the Canada Day long weekend, and made a stop that morning to buy the ingredients for the scones. With a dollop of clotted cream and a spread of strawberry jam over the scone, the scone simply melted into our mouths. As claimed by the cafe, they are definitely the best in the city!

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At the end of our meals, we came to the conclusion that The Tea Party Cafe is a nice cozy peaceful place to hang out with your friends, over yummy food, desserts and teas!

Next time I’m back in Ottawa, I would love to try their afternoon tea menu. The best part is that they also offer a vegan version of the afternoon tea! For a vegan afternoon tea, they only need two orders and 48 hours notice.

If you’re ever visiting Ottawa, check out The Tea Party Cafe!

Website: http://www.theteapartycafe.com/ottawacafes/

5 Must-Dos in Seoul

When I wrote my “10 Vancouver Must-Dos List” for summer 2014, some of my readers asked me if I could do one for South Korea when I returned end of August that year. I began it and never finished it. I sincerely apologize. Recently I’ve had quite a few people ask me about what to do and see in South Korea, which prompted me to find this draft and complete it.

Although it has been delayed, I finally managed to compile one and it’s been updated since my last trip to South Korea in Spring 2016. Instead of writing “10 South Korea Must -Dos List” as was the original plan, I will now divide them up by cities. This post will focus on the must-dos in Seoul. 🙂

As someone who loves to travel, see the world and have new experiences, I know that I should really take every opportunity I get to venture off to another place in the world that I’ve never been before. However, there is just something about South Korea that holds a special place in my heart. I have been to this beautiful and dynamic country 5 times in the past 6 years. Every time I return, I love it even more. ❤

There’s just so many fun things to do, see and delicious food to eat in South Korea!

Here are my top 5 things to see and/or do while in Seoul:

1. Shopping in Myeongdong & Dongdaemun

If you’re a shopaholic like me, Seoul is the place to be. It’s a shopper’s paradise! From fashionable clothing, shoes, fancy hair accessories, jewelry, makeup, face masks to gadgets, Seoul has it all. Moreover, depending on your style and taste, you can go from high end to affordable trendy. Two of my favourite places to shop in Seoul is Myeongdong and Dongdaemun.

Myeongdong is considered the shopping mecca in Seoul. It has endless stores from international brand Forever 21, H&M, UNIQLO, to popular Korean brands. If you feel like you’re done with Myeongdong, hop over to Dongdaemun. At Dongdaemun, you can literally shop till you drop, since shops close at 5am! You can slowly shop at every floor of the shopping malls all night, and re-energize with some food in the food court so you can continue shopping into the early morning! I love both Migliore (lower end mall) and Doota (higher end mall) because you can find lots of local designers and brands!

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I loved seeing and eating such colourful cotton candy at Myeongdong! If you’re there, try looking for this street food stand! 🙂

 

2.Insadong

I love this area as you can see Korean culture come to life through its traditional arts. Also, Insadong is filled with lots of delicious Korean food places (including street food, look for “Dragon’s Beard Candy” to try!), tea houses, art galleries and unique shops (check out Ssamziegil Mall). For me, the best part in Insadong is appreciating cultural art such as the Korean ceramics, paintings, antiques, jewelry etc. I always enjoy buying souvenirs here for myself and others as they are not only one of a kind but also handcrafted.

For more information:

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264354

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/south-korea/articles/the-top-10-things-to-do-in-insadong-south-korea/

 

3. Bukchon Hanok Village

If you want to get a feel of living in a traditional Korean village, this is the place to go as you explore it. This village has many alleys and traditional houses known as hanok from the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). This is an actual neighbourhood where locals reside so tourists are asked to respect the peace and quiet of its local residents when wandering the alleys and taking photos. There are also tea houses, cafes, restaurants, cultural centres, galleries, museums and guesthouses spread throughout this neighbourhood. This is a wonderful place to learn more about Korean history and culture!

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Bukchon-Hanok-Village_/263#

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/villages/bukchon-hanok-village/

 

4.Gyeongbokgung Palace

A trip to Seoul is not complete without visiting this beautiful Main Royal Palace of the Joseon Dynasty!

For more information:

http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng/main/main.jsp

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/palaces/gyeongbokgung-palace/

 

5. Cheonggyecheon Stream

If you want to find some tranquility in this busy city, this urban park is the perfect place for it! It’s more than 15 feet below street level and surrounded by small waterfalls, greenery and many overhead bridges.

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Cheonggyecheon-Stream_/35#

 

*Worth Exploring: Hongdae 

For entertainment and nightlife, check out this vibrant youthful area that never sleeps! It is known for its indie music and urban street art. It is also filled with all night dance clubs (many close at 6am), bars and independent cafes etc. When you come here, there are often live street performances. Aside from the lively nightlife, shopping is great in this area too!

10 Things Yoga Taught Me

In the beginning of 2016 I delved deeper into yoga by completing my 200 hours yoga teacher training in New Zealand and ended the year, and began 2017 with a yoga retreat in the United States.

Aside from practising the asanas, mantra chanting and meditation that are all part of yoga, it is the yoga philosophy which I call “life lessons” that has a profound impact on how I think, act and feel now.

Yoga taught me…

1. The most important time is NOW.

Life is short and nothing stays the same forever. Everything is in constant motion and change is inevitable, so enjoy, be mindful and live in the present moment.

2.The most important person is the person you spend time with NOW.

Whether you are at home with your family, or at work with your coworkers or elsewhere with others, be mindful and present with them.

3.The most important pursuit is making the person you are with NOW happy.

For me this means bringing joy to those around me, so be kind through thoughts, words and actions.

4. To let go!

Whether it is things, people, emotions or situations, letting go is essential to be able to live in the now and enjoy it at the same time. What is done in the past cannot be undone, so it stays in the past, and the future is uncertain, so why not live in the present? Also letting go of things that no longer serves you is important, whether it is a relationship that has run its course or possessions that may be tying you down or you actually no longer need, but you’re still hoarding it.

5.To spend time in nature as it grounds us in the present moment and calms the mind.

6. To trust the universe to provide.

Trust what you’ve done, it is enough.

7. To stay open-minded and open-hearted.

When you do this, you’ll be surprised by what you learn from people and situations and most importantly, about yourself!

8. Self-care is essential.

In order to help others and be there for them 100%, taking care of self first is crucial, so “me time” is not selfish and it’s also a form of meditation.

9. To cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

It has been scientifically proven that grateful people are physically and mentally healthier, experience more joy, have higher self-esteem and are more resilient in difficult life circumstances. Therefore, practising gratitude is a no brainer!

10. To breathe deeply.

On a daily basis we tend to forget to breathe deeply due to our hectic modern lifestyle. Inhaling and exhaling deeply has great benefits for our health such as reducing stress and promoting relaxation, and improving the digestion. In addition, breathing deeply equates to longer life.

 

I hope this post inspires you to live mindfully and joyfully this year.

May your 2017 be filled with wondrous little moments and you enjoy them as they are unfolding! 🙂

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Best Vegan Restaurants in Taipei

Another reason I loved living in Taipei is its diverse and endless options for vegans. From cheap local vegetarian/vegan buffet eateries to expensive westernized Vegan restaurants, the vegan’s eating choices are limitless.

I’ve recently had a request from a reader who will be travelling to Taipei next month for a list of vegetarian and/or vegan restaurants. Her request motivated me to write a blog post on my top 5 favourite vegan restaurants in Taipei, which I’m excited to share with you!!

Whether you live in Taipei, or plan to visit it someday, I hope you find this information useful. 🙂

 

1. 全國健康素食餐飲連鎖

This is my favourite local vegetarian/vegan eatery. When I was studying Mandarin at NTU (National Taiwan University), it was always my go-to lunch place. On my way to school, I would quickly go in and select the many types of vegetarian or vegan dishes and put them into a takeout box, and I usually pair that with a bowl of purple rice or vegan sushi. I love all the dishes here because they are super healthy, fresh and delicious. Unlike other local buffet eateries, I find this place uses the least amount of oil in their cooking. The cost of one meal is determined by weight. The staff will put the selected food on a scale and tell the customer how much it costs. Depending on how much food I put into my takeout box, my meals are usually between $100 NTD ($4 CAD) to $150 ($6 CAD). You just pay $10 NTD (42 cents CAD) for a bowl of rice.

When one is not rushed for time, one can also sit in and enjoy the meal, and the self-serve free soups of the day. There is always one salty soup and one sweet soup, which is considered a dessert. After finishing the meal, one takes its plate and tray with the cutlery outside to clean; there are clear sections for recycle, compost and garbage.

全國健康素食餐飲連鎖 is a vegetarian buffet chain and it’s all across Taipei. My favourite location is at No. 314, Section 2, Fuxing S Rd, Da’an District. The closest MRT station to this location is Technology Building Station (Line 1, Brown colour).

For more info: https://www.facebook.com/chv1996.com.tw/

 

2.Ooh Cha Cha (自然食)

This is a cute little plant-based whole-foods café with a few tables where you can come to get your “North American” vegan fix. It’s very popular so it’s often crowded. I highly recommend the green smoothies and the bowls. My favourite bowl is the gluten-free “Friendly Macro(biotic) Bowl” which has pesticide-free brown rice, organic quinoa and local baby greens served with all the goodies for the guts: sesame tempeh, wakame, ginger kimchi, alfalfa sprouts, purple cabbage with cashew cream.

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During the winter season, they also make a vegan version of red beans and rice (quinoa is used instead) which is simply flavourful and hearty. Almost every time I finished my yoga class, I would go directly to Ooh Cha Cha just to eat this for lunch, along with a green smoothie as part of a combo deal.

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If you have a sweet tooth like me, their raw cakes are to die for!

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For location, hours and more info: http://www.oohchacha.com

 

3.Mianto (米愛多)

This is a cool and modern restaurant tucked away in a residential area near Da’an Park. It specializes in international vegan cuisine. Everything ordered here is delightful and all homemade! I especially enjoy the curries and desserts here.

For location, hours and more info:  http://www.mianto.tw

 

4.Vege Creek (蔬河)

For a quick, affordable and healthy vegan meal, I highly recommend this place. I think it’s a very fun place to eat because you get to choose the ingredients to put into your bowl of noodles. You can also choose the type of noodles from ramen to thin noodles. Once all the ingredients have been selected and paid for, the chef cooks them and will call you when your bowl of noodles are ready, and you can eat it at the communal dining table.

I usually go to the original store which is near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. It is always busy in the evenings as it is a small space. From experience, most diners don’t linger after a meal. They come solely for the purpose of eating, and then they leave, so the waiting time is decent.

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For location, hours and more info: https://www.facebook.com/VEGECREEK/

 

5.The Green Room

I have never tasted such delicious Thai food in my life (and I’ve been to Thailand!) and the best part is that all the food is vegan! This restaurant is a must try culinary experience if you’re in Taipei! The Green Room uses local products for its food, so I love how it supports local farmers and being environmentally friendly. The atmosphere is very warm and inviting.

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My absolute favourites are the Thai Crispy Spring Rolls, all the different types of curries served with Turmeric Thai Rice and Ginger Soy Tea.

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For location, hours and more info: http://thegreenroomtaipei.com

10 Most Beautiful Sunset Spots in the World

They say no two sunsets are ever the same. Through travelling and living abroad, I’ve discovered that I love watching sunsets, whether it’s strolling down the streets in Taipei, biking in New Zealand’s countryside, or making an event out of it by watching it in a famous scenic spot.

I find the waiting period between day and night where I can observe the sky’s changing colours very calming for my body, mind and soul. There is a respite from the busy day to fully relax and to be truly aware of my surroundings using all my senses. It is a time where I can check in with my breath, a gentle reminder to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of nature. To me, the sunset is the moment where magic and peace happens.

I’m excited to share with you 10 sunset moments I’ve captured while in France, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Japan. I’ve also included some travel tips of these places if you’ll go there one day to see the sunsets. Enjoy! 🙂

 

1.Paris, France

Walking the 704 steps up the Eiffel Tower, instead of taking the elevator, during late afternoon to catch the view of the whole entire city during sunset is well worth it!

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2. Taipei, Taiwan

In my opinion the best view of the city during sunset is not on top of Taipei 101 but at the top of Elephant Mountain. Don’t be afraid of the daunting steps of the Elephant Mountain hiking trail. A mere 15-20 minutes hike will take you to the serene resting spot of big rocks where you can sit and watch the sunset, or the pavilions where you can stand and watch it.

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3. Tamsui River, New Taipei City, Taiwan

As the sun goes down, it casts a golden hue to the river, therefore it’s also known as the Golden Riverside. Visiting the Tamsui Old Street Night Market, which is right next to the river, will be the perfect end to the night!

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4.Guanshan (Kenting), Taiwan

CNN has chosen this as one of the top twelve most beautiful sunset spots in the world. It is indeed beautiful but be prepared for the large amounts of tourists at the top of the mountain! Wait for the big crowds to disperse after the sunset before heading back down the mountain. It will be dark but I think to be able to hear the sounds of nature (cicadas singing) coming out at night is so soothing to the soul. 🙂

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5. Han River (Seoul), South Korea

I was on the tour bus during traffic jam when I saw this beautiful sunset over the Han River.

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6. Gyeongju, South Korea

I was standing on the rooftop of my hanok (traditional Korean guesthouse) in what was once known as the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty. The sunset was stunning as I could also see the ancient style roofs too!

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7. The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Australia

While driving down The Great Ocean Road, making a stop at this famous place is a must and seeing the sunset is like icing on top of the cake!

This sunset was simply awe-inspiring. Like Guanshan in Taiwan, be prepared for even bigger crowds!

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8. The Outback, Australia

Another name for this area is Red Centre, as the vast land is covered by endless red rocks, soil, sand and mountains. The wild beauty of the Outback has truly captured my heart and anywhere you stop your car to see the sunset is gorgeous, as can be seen in the photos below.

Many people travel to the Red Centre to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), plus the sunrises and sunsets as backdrops. I was lucky to be able to see two sunsets of Uluru at different angles. The first day I saw the silhouette of Uluru against the sunset backdrop and the second day I saw it glowing red as the sun went down.

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9. St Kilda Beach, Melbourne, Australia

This is the perfect spot for watching the sunset on a beach and then seeing the cute little penguins come ashore after the sunset. Cameras are not allowed to take photos of the penguins, because it will scare them.

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10. Miyajima, Japan

Two words to describe the sunset here with the Otorii gate: magical and tranquil. Most people come here for a day trip so by the time it’s sunset they leave. Therefore, it’s extremely peaceful and quiet observing the changing colours of the sky with a small crowd of people. I highly recommend at least an overnight stay on this beautiful island at a traditional Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

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Finding Affordable Yoga in Taipei

It’s now September, and most people say goodbye to summer and transition into their “back to school” routine or life. I remember exactly a year ago I moved to Taipei to start my life as a university student again, learning a new language. At the same time I wanted to maintain my daily yoga classes as I’ve had back in Canada, preparing myself for my yoga teacher training in New Zealand for February 2016, which meant finding a suitable yoga studio to attend classes regularly.

To my disappointment, I did not find a lot of online English information on yoga in Taipei, so I hope by writing this blog post, for those of you who are currently thinking of finding affordable yoga classes in Taipei, this will help you! 🙂

The big fancy yoga studios in Taipei (True Yoga, Pure Yoga, Space Yoga, and Yoga Journey) are very expensive since once has to sign a one year contract with them on top of initial membership fee. These studios are very rigid with their one year contract, so even if you opt out before 12 months is over, you still have to pay the full year. Another undesirable factor in joining these studios is that some of these yoga studios may charge foreigners a higher fee than a local; I found this out when I visited one of the locations of True Yoga. The sales representative told me because I’m a foreigner, I have to pay higher. I found that very discriminatory. Needless to say, I found these big fancy yoga studios unappealing in terms of the high pricing ($150-200 USD/month) and big class size (maximum 50 in a class).

When I was about to give up on ever finding affordable yoga classes with a smaller class size while living in Taipei, an American classmate introduced me to her neighbourhood yoga studio: Bodhi Yoga. At the same time I discovered that if I knew better Mandarin, I would be able to find smaller yoga studios with affordable pricing.

During my year of living in Taipei, I’ve discovered 3 nice affordable places to do yoga, and below, I’ll describe them briefly to you:

1.Bodhi Yoga

What it offers: Hatha Yoga, Hatha Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow, Prenatal Yoga

When: Daily yoga classes from morning (time varies each day) till 8pm at night

Where: They have 2 locations in Taipei, Guting and Songjiang. I’ve only been to the Guting location since it was close to my university and it was convenient to youbike there or take the MRT, as it was right in front of exit 1, Guting MRT.

Cost: drop in fee=$650 NTD, for first time users you can pay this price and get the second class for free (buy one get one free deal)

They also offer various packages for students such as 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or 12 months unlimited. Students can also buy 20 class or 40 class package deals. I chose the 3 months package for around $350 USD.

Why:Friendly front desk staff (receptionists) and fellow yogi classmates,a variety of yoga teachers with different styles, small class size (anywhere from 2-15), welcoming atmosphere to relax before and after class (Guting location), free water refill, tea and coffee, yoga mats and props are provided, and many classes offered throughout the day

Website: http://www.bodhiyoga.com.tw/eng/index.html

 

2. Unison Yoga Taipei

What: Hatha, Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga, Yin Yang Yoga, Dance Yoga,  Prenatal Yoga, Kids Yoga, Mommy and Baby Yoga

When: daily classes, a few in the morning but most classes are from 12:15pm onwards till 7:30pm as the last class (time varies each day)

Where: It is a relatively new yoga studio, about 13 months old. A few minutes walk from Liuzhangli MRT station.

Cost: first class free, drop in fee=$600 NTD;  10 classes package can be bought for $3600 NTD

Why: Cozy, small classes ranging from 1 student per class to 10, caring and dedicated yoga teachers who take their time to get to know you and chat with you after class if you have any questions, a variety of different creative yoga classes offered such as combining yoga with dance, and there’s also Pilates class, friendly front desk staff, free water refill and light snacks for after class, yoga mats and props are provided, and warm welcoming atmosphere.

Website: http://www.unisonyoga.com.tw/about.php

 

3. Yoga in Daan Forest Park (Harmony Yoga)

What: Any type of yoga style according to yoga teacher of the week. It is run by a group of volunteer yoga teachers who teach donation yoga classes weekly.

When: every Sunday at 9am (usually 1 hour class)

Where: Daan Forest Park (their website has a map to show the location in the park)

Cost: whatever you can afford ($200 NTD is a decent amount)

Why: outdoor yoga with sounds of nature and fresh air found in the city

Website: https://www.facebook.com/HarmonyYogaTaiwan/

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For me, the best part of taking these yoga classes is that they are all in Mandarin, so I was fully immersed in the Mandarin-speaking environment even when doing yoga! 🙂