An Adventure into Northern Canada: Yellowknife

My four day trip into this part of my country is an eye opener in many ways.

Before boarding the flight to Yellowknife, I had a very busy month of teaching, holiday prepping and celebrating. There was no time to do any research on Yellowknife other than having scant knowledge of it as being extremely cold in the winter.

To my embarrassment, I thought Yellowknife is the capital of Yukon. My fellow traveler friend F.Y. corrected me that it is actually the capital of Northwest Territories. Also, the image I had of Yellowknife was not true. Instead of a tiny remote, barren and outdated place, it is much bigger than I envisioned with all the modern amenities you would find in a big city. Of course, in comparison to Toronto, Yellowknife is much smaller.

We were staying in the heart of the city at Quality Inn & Suites, so everything was accessible by a short walk from the  grocery store (Independent Grocer), Shoppers Drug Mart, restaurants (Boston Pizza, Black Knight Pub) to several banks (TD & CIBC). Our hotel was attached to the Centre Square Mall, so it was convenient to get there without putting on our jackets and snowpants. Tim Hortons and A & W were in this mall.

 

 

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The frigid temperature of Yellowknife is definitely true. On the first day we arrived, it was around -35 but it felt more like -50. When breathing outdoors, I felt the chill air hurting my nostrils and cheeks. Needless to say, dressing in layers was paramount especially during the nearly five hours we were outside at night (9:30pm-2am) waiting for the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) to appear. By the last day of our stay, we mastered dressing in layers quickly and staying relatively warm.

*Here is my rule of thumb for layering during winter in Yellowknife:

Head- wear a head warmer, a toque and the hood from your coat

Neck- wear one to two scarves depending on how much cold you can tolerate plus one breathable scarf or neck warmer to protect your cheeks/lower face from the elements

Eyes- if you wear eye glasses, wearing a pair of ski goggles is a must since the eye glasses will definitely freeze and/or fog up; even if you don’t wear eye glasses, the ski goggles can protect your eyes from the cold

Upper Body- one to two base layers, one sweater, one fleece top/jacket/sweater, one light down jacket, one thick Goose Down Parka

Lower body- one to two base layers, one pair of leggings, one pair of fleece-lined jogging pants, one pair of insulated snowpants

Hands- one pair of mittens/gloves as base layer, one thermal mittens/gloves on top

Feet- two to three pairs of thermal/insulated socks and a very good pair of snow boots made for at least -40 weather (I bought mine from the Canadian brand Baffin and my feet were very cozy warm)

 

Here are some other important facts I learned while staying and travelling in Yellowknife:

1. On top of layering clothing, hand warmers and toe warmers have to be the final touches to stay completely warm if spending a lot of time outdoors (e.g. Aurora hunting, ice fishing etc.). The brand “Grabber Warmers” is the best out there. It really heats up quickly and lasts for a long time. Any other brand pales in comparison in terms of keeping warm for long durations.

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Image taken from https://www.amazon.com/Grabber-Outdoors-Hour-Hand-Warmers/dp/B00GVKUWE2

2. Forget about dieting or eating clean! Eating a lot of food to pack on the fat to protect yourself from the extreme cold temperature is oh so important. Besides, I found my body was craving for constant food. Bread, butter, cheese, potatoes, hot chocolate, anything goes!

3. Packing extra food in the luggage is a smart move! I learned that from F.Y. who packed half of her luggage with our snacks and meals. As a foodie, I always love to explore the area I travel to and find locals eats. However, in Yellowknife I found the weather so unbearably cold that once we returned to the hotel from our daytime activities, I didn’t want to go out again to find food. These snacks and meals came in handy. We usually had a big local meal for lunch and then for the evening we ate these packed food before going Aurora hunting at night.

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Some examples of our meals and snacks. We also brought Campbell soup and Kraft Mac and Cheese plus hot chocolate powder.

4. Bringing a thermos to sip a hot drink (my preference is hot chocolate!) while Aurora hunting is much needed! And snacks of your preference.

5. The sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm. during winter so make use of the daylight!

6. Napping before Aurora hunting is a good idea so you have energy staying awake for at least 5 hours late at night and early morning!

7. A regular cell phone and/or camera will either freeze or work very slowly since the battery is not used to such frigid temperature. I noticed people with DSLRs had no problem taking photos!

8. Almost all restaurants and shops are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

9. Yellowknife has a diamond mine. Diamonds were discovered in the early 1990s.

10. Homelessness is a big issue in Yellowknife. It seemed everywhere we went in downtown, we encountered the homeless. Seeing so many of them wandering around and trying to keep warm in the extreme cold weather really broke my heart. 😦 I have been reading about this issue since returning home, and also asked one of the local guides on the last day of my stay how tourists can help. From her suggestion and my research it looks like we can give monetary donations to a few organizations helping the homeless. I found this website which lists four shelters/organizations in Yellowknife: https://www.yellowknife.ca/en/living-here/shelters.asp

If you are interested, feel free to read about them and perhaps you would like to make a donation too. 🙂 I plan to make some donations.

 

My highlights for this adventurous trip were…

-driving my own dogsled at sunset around a snow-covered lake!

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-participating in an Aboriginal Ice Fishing demo by our guide William (I helped pull the fish net out from the hole) and then eating fresh whitefish that we caught at Great Slave Lake. The homemade Aboriginal meal of whitefish chowder, pan-fried whitefish and bannocks was so hearty and delicious!!

 

 

-enjoying the frigid chill air of Yellowknife and the sceneries along the way as we walk into Old Town Yellowknife.

 

 

 

-eating at the funky popular little restaurant Bullock’s Bistro in Old Town. It is set in a heritage building from 1936 and serves fish fresh from Great Slave Lake. The walls and ceiling were decorated with tourists’ notes and memorabilia which was very cool! We were served with their freshly baked bread and rich butter and ordered the “King Fishers Haul” whitefish combo where we could choose to have the fish deep-fried, pan-fried or grilled, plus have fries, salad or both (half and half) to go with it. The portion size was very generous and when we finished eating that day we didn’t have a big dinner. Tip: To avoid being turned away since it is very popular, it is advised to make reservations at least 3 days in advance. They also take walk-ins but it may be a long wait depending on how busy they are.

 

 

-enjoying the sunset and view of the city and Great Slave Lake on Pilots’ Monument, located on “The Rock”, the highest peak in the city.

 

 

-seeing the Aurora Borealis with my naked eye!! According to our guide, usually on a clear night, the Northern Lights are guaranteed to show up. However, on the first two clear nights we were there, we had a very difficult time spotting it. Only people with DSLRs were able to spot it. Finally on our last night we felt so fortunate that she finally danced for us on and off in various forms! Being there in person witnessing this beautiful phenomena was incredible and I have to say, the pictures don’t do it justice.

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On our last night, we were also treated to waiting inside the warmth of a tent in between viewings of the Aurora Borealis. Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

 

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

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Photo Courtesy: Olivia Wan

 

Overall, despite the extreme freezing temperature of such I’ve never experienced and the long exhausting wait for the Northern Lights each night, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with my dear friend and feel enlightened by getting myself acquainted with this remote part of Canada. I would love to return to Yellowknife someday during warmer weather to see the Northern Lights with other colours like magenta and violet!

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Canada’s Best Kept Secret: Pelee Island

As part of my Point Pelee road trip this summer, we visited Pelee Island for a day trip. We stayed in Leamington, a town nearby and the “Tomato Capital of Canada”, for a few nights. For us, Leamington was the gateway into Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island. Both places were the highlights of our road trip and from Leamington, it took about twenty minutes by car to get to the park or ferry dock.

Since we wanted to spend as much time as we could on Pelee Island, we arrived about one hour early to buy the 10am ferry ride, the first ride of the day at Kingsville Ferry Dock. Passengers are only allowed to buy one way ticket to and from the island. We liked the flexibility of this ticketing system. The cost of a one way ticket is $7.50. The duration of the ferry ride to Pelee Island is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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Passengers can take their own bikes and cars over to the island. Cars need to be registered and paid a fee ahead of time, in order to ensure a spot on the ferry, especially during the busy season of summer. Information can be found here: https://www.ontarioferries.com/en/home/

Once we arrived at the island, we immediately walked over to Comfortech, the only bicycle rental store on the island. Comfortech is about a few minutes walk from the ferry dock. We rented our bikes all day for $25.

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After studying the map of the island, we decided to bike around the whole island via the Waterfront Trail at our own pace since we had until 7pm to return our bikes. The bike route was approximately 30.3 km and the map estimated that it would take us anywhere between 2.5-4 hours to complete it, not including time spent at each point of interest.

The weather on that day was warm, sunny and breezy: perfect for biking all day!

We saw many gorgeous sights along the way…

We made a lunch stop at a popular bakery  and deli with the best vegetarian breakfast croissants and fresh baked goods on the island…

We stopped once in a while to park our bikes to explore trails…

And sometimes we took a break on beaches…

Our last stop was at Pelee Island Winery, where we did wine tasting and bought some wines that were only produced on the island and not sold at LCBO…

We found one day on Pelee Island too short of a time. Next time, we would like to stay overnight or a few days at one of the cozy inns so we can explore the island at our leisure.

If you enjoy a slow pace of life, and being surrounded by the beauty of nature and friendly locals, then Pelee Island may be your kind of paradise. All in all, Pelee Island is definitely Canada’s best kept secret!

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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 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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Macau: Must-Dos & Hidden Gems

It has been almost 8 years since I last visited Macau, and it certainly has changed a lot over the past few years. It definitely lives up to its reputation as being the Las Vegas of Asia. The last time I was here, there were only a few hotel casinos, and this time I’m astounded by the sheer amount of hotel casinos that have popped out all over, the area has developed a lot! Since I’ve also been to Las Vegas before, I have to say that the words that come to mind when describing these hotels are: newer, grander and fancier!

Since I’ve done all the big touristy things in Macau last time, this time I was just enjoying seeing it through new eyes and want to share with you the big must-dos that I think are worthwhile, and the hidden little gems that I uncovered while staying here for a few days.

 

First thing first, let’s do the big must-dos.

1.Casinos

Everyone says it but really, visiting the casinos is a must!! There are free casino shuttle buses that take you to the casinos from the Macau Ferry Terminal to Taipa, where all the newer casinos are located, and you can also take them back to the terminal or elsewhere in the city. I’ve only had time to explore Galaxy, City of Dreams and Studio City (sister casino to City of Dreams) this time. Even for non-gamblers like me, just seeing the sheer size, creativity and design of each hotel, is enough. Plus the eating of course. 🙂 I highly recommend “Din Tai Fung” inside City of Dreams. 🙂

 

2. The House of Dancing Water

Seeing The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams: I love, love, LOVED IT A LOT!! It has everything: a love story plus all the thrilling actions including diving, acrobatics, motorcycle stunts, dancing etc.! The money is definitely worth paying for. In my opinion, it’s even better than Cirque du Soleil’s O in Las Vegas.

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3. A-Ma Temple

It’s the oldest temple in Macau and located in the southeast part of the peninsula, at the top of the mountain. Without transportation, it is quite hard to come here, but the trip to come here is so worth it. There are less people here, and it is very tranquil. Furthermore, the views are pretty.

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After visiting the temple, we walked to see the huge statue of A-ma, the sacred goddess of the sea. The temple plus the statue are made to commemorate her since she blesses the fishermen. Therefore, the temple and statue face part of the sea.

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Here is a good website with detailed description of the temple:

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/macau/a_ma.htm

 

4. Tasting Portuguese food

Since Macau used to be a colony of Portugal, there is an abundance of Portuguese restaurants to choose from. I recommend trying Fernando’s at Hac Sa (Black Sand Beach). It may be a little bit out of central Macau, but the trip here is worth it as the food is delicious and the atmosphere is warm and rustic. I think a visit to Hac Sa Beach is not complete without visiting Fernando’s as well. 🙂

Fernando’s website: http://www.fernando-restaurant.com/index_en.html

 

5. Macau Portugese Egg Tarts at Lord Stow’s Original Bakery

The egg tarts from here are famous, and having them at the place of origin is best! You can either buy the egg tarts as take out, or if you would like to sit down and savour the egg tart with a cup of tea or coffee, then I’ll let you in on a little secret. 😉 Behind the bakery, there is actually a tiny cafe associated with it, where you can dine in. It’s a great place for afternoon tea with friends and/or family!

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Lord Stow’s Bakery (Original Shop)
1 Rua do Tassara, Coloane, Macau
Tel: +853 2888 2534
Opening Hours: 10am – 7pm Daily

 

And without further adieu, here is the list of little hidden gems in Macau that are often overlooked:

1. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Since I was studying in Taipei, I knew there is a Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, to honour Sun Yat Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China. I was surprise to find one in Macau as well! It’s interesting to note that this was originally the Macau residence of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. He used this house occasionally till his death. It is opened daily from 10am-5pm, except on Tuesday.

 

2. The Mandarin’s House

This used to be the home of a well-known Chinese literary figure, Zheng Guanying and his family. It was constructed in 1869. The government has decided to preserve this place as part of Macau’s rich history and cultural heritage, opening it to the public. I enjoyed spending a few hours here roaming around the nooks and crannies of this heritage home, and learning about its history.

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A detailed description of the Mandarin’s House

 

3. Breakfast at Piu Kei Hung Heng

This is a small hole in the wall breakfast place where the locals come for breakfast, so to experience the local way of life, I highly recommend coming here for one morning or more. 🙂 In my opinion, the congee (rice porridge) is one of the best I’ve tried, and its texture is quite different from what I’ve eaten before. It is very smooth and light, it’s like drinking a good bowl of flavourful water. The steamed rice noodle rolls, cut up into mini pieces, served with peanut sauce, soy sauce and spicy sauce, is to die for!

Address: https://www.mlocal.biz/eng/biz/4e6698d26249fb3109000235

 

4. Eating the best pork chop bun at Jardim da Flora (Flora Garden)

This cafe is hidden inside this garden. From the entrance you need to walk a bit and turn left once you see a little lane, passing by a playground. The cafe is located at the top of a building. It has a tiny indoor seating; most of the seating is outdoors. The pork chop bun is one of Macau’s most famous and popular snacks. The bun is crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside, with a piece of salty pork chop in the middle. The reason I think this pork chop bun is the best I’ve had in Macau is because the pork chop is not deeply fried like many cafes here, that all you can taste is the oil. Instead, the pork chop bun is lightly fried and the taste of the pork really stands out. This pork chop bun is best eaten hot or warm!

 

5. Taking the shortest cable ride up in the world at Jardim da Flora

It opens from 8am till 6pm daily, and it takes 80 seconds to reach to the top of Guia Hill, where the Guia Hill Municipal Park is located. The trip costs MOP $3 one way or MOP $ 5 return. The park is a great place to stroll around, appreciating the green landscapes, and visiting Guia Fortress, built in the early 1600s in an attempt to protect Macau from naval attacks.

A panaromic view of Macau can be seen at the top of Guia Hill.

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Lunar New Year in Taipei & Next Adventure

As promised, I’ll be sharing with you how I celebrated Lunar New Year in Taipei. Today is the second day of Lunar New Year! 🙂

When I arrived to Taipei end of summer last year, I was excited that I’ll be spending Lunar New Year here, and was looking forward to it, because I thought it would be more festive than in Canada. To my shock, it is not as festive as I imagined it to be; even my local friends admit that Taipei is the least festive city during Lunar New Year. The main reason is that most of the people who usually crowd the streets and MRT stations are actually transplants. They live in Taipei because of work and when it’s Lunar New Year, they return to their hometown to celebrate it. I learned that over 50% of whom I assumed were local Taipei residents return to their hometowns. Therefore, the past few days have been eerily quiet and empty, since most stores close too. I’ve actually been enjoying the peace and quiet the past few days, with less people on both the streets and subway.

Nonetheless, there are some little festivities around the city to remind us that it’s still Lunar New Year, such as red decorations and Lunar New Year sales in stores that are opened during this holiday.

Below, I’ll share a few photos with you so you can get a feel of Lunar New Year festivities:

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Of course Taipei 101 Mall is decorated and it’s opened to tourists. 🙂

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Inside of Taipei 101 Mall

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Another department store with beautiful red decoration at front door

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I thought it was cool that even Krispy Kreme celebrates Lunar New Year and sells Lunar New Year themed donuts!

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Top row, sells a few kinds of Lunar New Year donuts, the monkey one is so cute! 🙂

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Of course lots of stores sell Lunar New Year decorations…red means good luck! 🙂

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Some typical New Year snacks Taiwanese eat as introduced to us by my Mandarin professor. 

 

I was very happy that my landlords invited me to go grocery shopping with them and experience the hecticness of buying food to prepare the two most important meals/dinners of Lunar New Year: New Year’s Eve & First Day. It was most crowded with people at the grocery stores and the markets. That was where I felt the most festive atmosphere! 🙂

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This is Hua Gao (literal translation: Flower High); it’s a very yummy sweet cake that is eaten during this time because it means in whatever endeavour you pursue (e.g. work place) you will be promoted to a higher level. 

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Busy Nanmen Market on New Year’s Eve

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I was told by many Taiwanese friends that I won’t be able to see a lion dance in Taipei, but they were wrong! On the first day of Lunar New Year, I was woken up by loud drum sounds so I quickly went to see where the noise came from. I was really thrilled to see the lion dance from afar, on my apartment balcony. This lion dance went on for about 20 minutes in front of the department store. Very festive indeed!!

Eating homemade New Year’s Eve and First Day of New Year dinners with my warm-hearted lovely landlords and their family was a very wonderful experience! I learned it takes them the whole day to prepare such a feast!

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New Year’s Eve Dinner

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First Day of Lunar New Year Dinner

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I found it very interesting my landlords decorated even a refrigerator door with red Spring scrolls. They told me that wherever there are doors, the red Spring scrolls must be put on. The Chinese character on the fridge door means “full”. The word full signifies that all year long one is never hungry, and have enough to eat. 🙂

Living in Taipei has been beyond what I expected…I’m filled with happiness every day and feel so blessed to have met so many warm-hearted and caring souls, and exposed to so many different exciting everyday adventures!!

I am now off on my next adventure, to New Zealand for my 200 hours yoga training and some travelling down under and some other countries for the next few months.

I will not bring my laptop while travelling, but when inspired by what I see and experience, will try my best to share with you via instagram. On the right hand side of my blog, I’ve added an instagram link (violet_everydaygirl), so feel free to click on it whenever you want to see where I am in the world! 🙂

Like this sweet dumpling soup that my landlords are sending me off with (they say it’s for good luck this year and will encourage me to be the best person I can be as only sweet thoughts and words will come from me), I wish you all a very sweet Year of the Monkey, and wherever you are or go, may only sweet and good things follow! ❤

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With love and gratitude,

Violet 

 

 

Weekend Trip to Taichung from Taipei

One of my classmates invited us to tour her ancestral home in Taichung, so I took up on her invitation with another friend and away we went, making it into a weekend getaway. We thought we might as well stay overnight to check out Taichung. Taichung is located central west of Taiwan, and it’s the third largest city in Taiwan.

We picked January 16th, Election Day, to go; not a smart move as we found out the day before and on the day of. However, being foreigners in Taiwan, when we picked that weekend in advance, we honestly had no idea it was Election Day. We learned that the Taiwanese are extremely patriotic to their country and take their voting right seriously. Many Taiwanese work in Taipei but their home city is elsewhere, so they went home to vote. Therefore, bus and train tickets on Friday and Saturday were SOLD OUT! Travelling by bus and train to Taichung are the cheapest options, so people actually bought them in advance.

However, if not for Election Day and the sold out bus and train seats, we would not have discovered the convenience of travelling by Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR). Yes, it’s triple the price of bus ($250 NTD) and double the price of train ($380 NTD), but very well worth it, in my opinion. We got to Taichung in 50 minutes as opposed to 2.5 hours if we travelled by bus or 2 hours by train. I’m a big fan of the High Speed Rail now; it’s the best way to see Taiwan. Compared to travelling within my own country, $30 CAD ($675-700 NTD) one way is so cheap to go to another city that’s far! The only downside I can think of taking High Speed Rail to Taichung is that the HSR station is in Wurih, 20 minutes away from downtown. Nonetheless, there are plenty of taxis and public buses that go downtown.

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Because all reserved seats on HSR were sold out, we saved $25 by getting non-reserved seats ($675)! Non-reserved seats are slightly cheaper, and non-reserved sections are from cars 10-12. On our way to Taichung, we got lucky and found seats. However, on our way back to Taipei, we had to stand but standing for 50 minutes is not tiring at all.

We took the taxi to our friend’s ancestral home from the station which was about 20 minutes away, so we paid around $250 NTD. For the rest of our Taichung trip, we either walked or took the public bus. Public buses come around frequently and it’s the cheapest ($15 NTD) way to see the city if you are not rushed for time. We were thrilled when we discovered that our Taipei’s Easycard worked on public buses in Taichung, so we used that to pay our bus fares!

Here are highlights of my short trip to Taichung:

1.The Wufeng Lin Family Mansion & Garden

This is my friend’s ancestral home which is now open to the public by appointments. To see the inside, visitors are required to either join a tour, or request for a private tour guide. Our friend booked an English-speaking tour guide for us so we could really understand the history behind this magnificent site. I learned that my friend’s ancestors, the Wufeng Lin of Taichung, used to be one of the five powerful families in the early days of Taiwan.

This mansion compound is beautiful from architecture, detailed carvings to the layout inside etc.

I took some photos of the place, and will share with you here. 🙂

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Detailed pattern/carvings on a window. Do you see what they are supposed to represent? If I remember correctly from our tour guide, they are turtle shells. Turtles represent longevity and the Wufeng Lin wished that for themselves and their descendants.

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The view from the tea parlor, where we rested and had a nice cup of homemade herbal tea.

The next photo shows the doorway leading to my favourite part of the mansion: 大花廳 (direct translation: Big Flower Hall). It is absolutely gorgeous in here.

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The Big Flower Hall was where the Lin family used to entertain guests, and also where they could enjoy outdoor theatrical plays, performed on the exquisitely designed stage below.

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This is where outdoor seats were placed for family members and guests to enjoy the plays.

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Stage as seen from outdoor seating area

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A close up of the detailed carvings on stage, including the ceiling with a flower, very fitting for the Big Flower Hall.

Something visitors can do at the Big Flower Hall is play dress up! Traditional clothing is available for free, and visitors can choose any outfit they want and wear it to take photos with the beautiful backdrop. Of course we couldn’t resist, so we dressed up and had fun taking a variety of photos, in front of a big tour group of American tourists, who were watching. 🙂

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For location and hours of operation to The Wufeng Lin Family Mansion & Garden, see:

http://travel.taichung.gov.tw/en-us/Attractions/Intro/1049/The-Lin-family-Mansion-and-Garden-in-Wufeng

 

2.Drinking the original bubble tea at 春水堂 (Chun Shui Tang)

Bubble tea was invented in Taichung in the late 1980s and this tea house claims to have invented it. We didn’t have time to go to the flagship store but went to the one located inside ModeMall, as it was more central. It is located very near to the train station. The bubble tea was really good…not too sweet and the tapiocas were small and extremely chewy just the way I like it! 🙂

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We ordered two traditional Taiwanese snacks to go with our bubble tea and were not disappointed. The brown sugar mochi and pork shao mai were delicious!

More info on Chun Shui Tang Tea House:

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/chun-shui-tang-cultural-tea-house

http://chunshuitang.com.tw/

 

3. Feng Chia/Fengjia Night Market

We had a blast at this night market from eating, people watching and shopping! It claims to be the biggest night market in Taiwan, and we definitely agree it is. It seems to go on forever from street to street, packed with many people, waiting in line to buy street food,  or going into shops to buy things. The vast size of it is astounding and we have now declared it as our favourite night market in Taiwan because of the wide variety of food options available, and the shopping is simply amazing, so many choices and oh so cheap! We bought beautiful stylish good quality wallets for just $100 NTD! Both food and shopping at this night market is so much cheaper than in Taipei. Since we didn’t have enough time to finish exploring this night market, we made a pact to return in the summer time to do more eating and shopping! 🙂

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This Japanese savoury pancake that I bought from a stall (right photo above) was so yummy! I got tuna with all the extra toppings for just $65 NTD! It was large and filling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More info on Feng Chia/Fengjia Night Market:

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taichung/feng-chia-night-market.html

http://travel.taichung.gov.tw/en-us/Attractions/Intro/850/Feng-Chia-Night-Market

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/fengjia-night-market

https://www.englishintaiwan.com/shopping-in-taiwan/taichung-night-markets

 

4.Miyahara Branch of Dawn Cake (日出宮原店)

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter and desserts, like me, then this place is paradise for you! This building used to be an eye clinic built by a Japanese optometrist by the name of Miyahara. However, it has now become a pastry/dessert/ice cream shop with a restaurant, all owned by Dawn Cake.

The interior design has a “Harry Potter” feel (see photos below) and it is definitely a tourist and/or foodie powerhouse. The main floor sells a variety of its special sweet products, beautifully packaged, from honey, chocolate, jam to traditional cakes, all promoted by its fine-looking employees, dressed in traditional clothing. Outside they have an ice cream shop, where tourists and locals can buy its ice cream specialty and eat it outside, standing.

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Since it was a rainy day and we wanted to treat ourselves, we decided to go all out, and dine on the second floor of Miyahara, where the restaurant was located. As we approached the stairs, we were politely greeted by a host, and then ushered upstairs for a very scrumptious and special dining experience including excellent attentive service!

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The layout at the table for each dining guest: There are 3 menus for each guest. If I remember correctly, one was for tradition Taiwanese dishes, the second one was for desserts and specialty dishes, and the third one was for drinks.

We learned that the Moon Pavillion Sundae is Miyahara’s signature dessert, the must-eat that every tourist or foodie needs to have at least once while in Taichung. The ice cream shop downstairs sells it as well, but with no fancy seating available like at the restaurant.

The sundae is ginormous, can be easily shared between 2-4 people. It costs $450 NTD (approximately $19 CAD). We get a choice of 4 ice cream flavours and 5 toppings. There are 10 unique flavours available: Irwin mango, Kyoho grape, Heiye lychee, Lugu green tea, Ceylon black tea, raisins Mascarpone, cactus and native pineapple yogurt, Alpaco 66% floral & fruity chocolate, Vanuatu 44% milk chocolate and Uganda 80% smoked chocolate.

We were very overwhelmed with all the interesting ice cream choices, since we have never tried some of these flavours and wanted to try them all, but could only choose four. Our server patiently described each flavour for us, and made suggestions (e.g. pair a sweet one with a not so sweet one etc.) until we made our final four choices: Heiye lychee, Lugu green tea, cactus and native pineapple yogurt, and Uganda 80% smoked chocolate.

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Once the four ice cream flavours were put in front of us, our server came over with a huge movable tray filled with the special toppings. When she lifted the lid, we were astounded by the variety and the sheer size of some of these toppings. For example, the pineapple cake was quite big. In the end we decided on these 5 toppings: pineapple cake, soft cheesecake, a cacao ball, hard fruity jelly candy and the butterfly pastry.

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Our sundae was decorated carefully by our server and at the bottom of our ice cream serving bowl, was another hidden sweet secret. There was mascarpone cheese which allowed us to dip our butterfly pastry and cone pieces into it.

Our final verdict is that the Moon Pavilllion Sundae was decadently delicious and worth every single expensive dollar! 😉

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On our first day in Taichung, my friend asked what’s a Canadian food, and I proudly told her poutine is very Canadian. She said she never had it before and as luck would have it, it was at this restaurant! So, we also tried another food item on the menu: Poutine (French fries with gravy and melted Gouda cheese).

Even though it’s not authentic, the presentation and flavourful taste of this poutine definitely made up for it!

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The french fries were elaborately stacked into a pyramid, and our server poured the melted gouda cheese with flair as we “oohed” and “aahed”. 

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Next he poured the gravy on top. I was pleasantly surprised that pieces of meat was added to the gravy.

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Final presentation of Miyahara’s Poutine. 🙂

More info on Miyahara:

http://www.rtaiwanr.com/taichung-city/miyahara

https://www.travelking.com.tw/eng/tourguide/taichung/miyahara-eye-hospital.html

In Chinese: https://www.dawncake.com.tw/

 

And there you have it, my whirlwind weekend getaway in Taichung, with my two new friends from Taiwan! We think Taichung is a city worth visiting especially for foodies and shoppers. We also heard that Taichung is the gateway to other nearby natural scenic attractions such as Sun Moon Lake and Alishan. Many people use Taichung as the main base and do day trips to these places. Therefore, we are definitely returning to Taichung this summer! 😀