Friday, November 27, 2015

Thrice Taiwan: What we brought and bought

There are Black Friday sales happening everywhere today, but I highly doubt you'll be finding those in the night markets of Taiwan! But sales aside, I thought our three trips there have warranted at least one post on what to bring as well as the interesting things to buy! 

What to bring
Taiwan gets a lot of rain, so do bring raincoats for the kids, and umbrellas. Or even better, buy an umbrella when you are there, since you'd be spoilt for choice with regards to the range of brollies available! And speaking of weather, check the weather forecast and pack accordingly. It can get really cold up in the mountains in winter, and the best would be to layer since that gives you more flexibility with regards to the fluctuating temperatures. The UV radiation can get quite intense, so do bring sunscreen and hats!

For those travelling with toddlers and babies, you might want to consider bringing a clip-on high chair, as many of the eateries do not have high chairs. Most eateries provide only plastic soup spoons and chopsticks, and do not have forks. As such we found these training chopsticks (from Qoo10) were really useful, if you're travelling with kids old enough to feed themselves. The chopsticks are easy to handle, and even our 4 year old had no problems using them. We also brought along spoons for the toddler, since soup spoons are a tad too large for him. 

The baby carrier would come in handy if you have kids that still need to be carried. Prams can be useful, if you have a kid that can nap in there, and it is relatively easy to navigate the city areas with a pram in tow. Leave the pram behind when it comes to the nature areas though! For more packing tips when travelling with kids, read this post

What we bought in Taiwan
Taiwan is quite a great place to shop! We found that in general, you might find similar products being sold in the night markets and tourist spots, but they tend to be a tad cheaper at the night markets. If there is a local market near your accommodation, take the time to check it out first since sometimes you can get some stuff at an even cheaper rate there! (You can read about our local market buys here.)

Unlike places like Thailand where bargaining is necessary, the shopkeepers in Taiwan don't take very well to bargaining. We usually do ask for a discount, especially if we buy more, but most are quite reluctant to lower their prices, so don't push too hard! However, I find most sales people are really friendly and nice folk, and do not show any signs of unhappiness if you leave their shop empty-handed.

Shopping: Clothing and accessories
The night markets are pretty good for shopping for clothes and accessories, and I've heard that the wholesale area at WuFenPu near the RaoHe night market can be a place to find good deals. However, most posts I've read (like this one) have not had very promising reviews of WuFenPu, also do note that the clothes available follows the changes in seasons. We didn't really bother to hunt for clothes, since clothes shopping with 3 littles in tow is quite a nightmare, but we managed to pick up some interesting finds along the way. 

We found our colourful hand-sewn leather shoes at the local market near our apartment in Taipei (more details here), and these were being sold at 40% cheaper than the retail price at department stores. We were told that the stall makes its rounds around the local markets, and can be found at that particular market only on Mondays, when all the usual stalls selling produce are closed. We also bought some cute socks for the kids at the same market, from another stall that only sets up on Wednesdays.

Ximending probably has the most number of bag shops amongst the tourists spots, and has lots of trendy shops selling all sorts of merchandise. We picked up backpacks for the boys at one of these shops, and I love the prints!

We spotted this shop selling these cute leather pouches in Jiufen, and bought some as gifts (I think there were a few of these shops that stocked these in Jiufen). There was a stall over in RaoHe night market selling similar pouches, but at a cheaper price. However, the shop which we purchased the pouches offered the complimentary service of engraving names on the pouches, which I thought was a nice touch. 

Shopping: Home accessories
I've shared before about these little train carriages, which we bought at a shop over in Shifen (a kind IG follower recently sent me the name of the shop: Shifen Handmade Shop, which has a bright yellow signboard). That aside, the same shop sells all manner of pretty wooden musical boxes and other home accessories.

We bought some of these waterproof mats over at the RaoHe night market, then subsequently found that they were also sold at the local market near our apartment, at a cheaper price (they were sold at the same stall selling socks, that sets up on Wednesdays). These are soft and machine-washable, and are useful if you are training your kid to go off diapers at night. I loved how comfortable these felt, compared to the usual waterproof rubber mats or incopads, and their cheery designs that were cute and not tacky looking! 

The Taiwanese really seem to love owls, and you'll find all manner of merchandise with owls printed on them! The hubs picked this fellow up at the museum over at the Toucheng farm, and we spotted some similar ones made of twine over at a shop near the calla lily farms at Yangmingshan. The shop sells all sorts of gardening accessories, and our friends probably bought most of the owls there, but I'm sure they will restock!

Shopping: Yummy food
There are all sorts of snack galore, so I'd say, just try samples as you go and buy whatever your tastebuds fancy! One of the most popular ones would probably be their pineapple pies, which are sold everywhere. Even some bakeries stock their own versions. We also bought these seaweed snacks for the kids at the RaoHe Night Market: these are strips of seaweed with nuts/seeds sandwiched between, and are addictive and make quite healthy snacks. The kids have almost finished them up, and Baby J demands for them everyday!  

Another interesting buy we spotted at RaoHe was this stall selling this sweet ginger herbal drink. You can buy pre-packed blocks of the ingredients to bring back, and all you need to do is pop the blocks into hot water and stir. We purchased some yummy veggie and fruit chips from another stall in RaoHe, only to discover that the market near our apartment sold them in larger packets at the same price!

Shopping: Kids stuff
Eslite is great for shopping for books, and certain Eslite stores also sell toys and games. In general, I find that their other products tend to be more high-end, so we usually only window shop when we are there. We discovered the Lonpos range of logic puzzles at Eslite during one of our earlier trips, and thought those were pretty interesting, and those are worth checking out if you have kids who are into these things. 

The Taiwanese produce their own range of toys, so it can be quite interesting to visit various department stores to check those out. We've spotted a Taiwanese version of Lincoln Logs, and you'd find stationery stores and market stalls selling imitation Lego. We picked up a few sets in the market near our apartment, and those were pretty cheap (by now you would have deduced we did the bulk of our shopping at the local market!). 

We also purchased a few ocarinas from Jiufen to give as gifts to some of the kids' friends. There are at least two shops in Jiufen which sell ocarinas of all shapes and sizes, and you just need to follow your ears to find them. Each usually comes with a fingering chart and a song-book, and I think those with six holes have a larger note range compared to those with four. These days, they come in such cute designs!

And finally, with all that shopping you might be doing in Taiwan, I must add one more thing to bring along: a foldable luggage tote/bag that you can use for all that extra baggage you'd have at the end of the trip!

PS: This post is part of a series of posts for our third visit to Taiwan. For our trip itinerary, go here, and you can read about our first and second trips to Taiwan here, and here

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Legoland with littles (Part 1)

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you would notice that we are not really fans of themed parks. Children really don't need much to keep them entertained, and I find that the boys are usually content and happy to run about in nature. So we put off visiting Legoland Malaysia for the longest time, even though most of our friends have gone there and have raved (or blogged) about how much their kids have enjoyed it. We felt that it would be better to visit when the kids are older, and we didn't have to worry so much about nap-times, height restrictions, and terrible twos. However, we were recently invited by WTS Travel for one-night's stay in Legoland Hotel, along with passes to the theme and water parks and coach transfer, so we decided to give it a try!

The coach ride was smooth and comfortable. There are two pick-up points for coaches headed to Legoland, and we boarded the coach at the Singapore Flyer. There are quite a few pick-up times each morning, and if you are early, you might find that you are able to board the earlier coach instead, which means more time at the parks later. WTS Travel provides coach transfers, or packages with park tickets and coach transfers, and you can get the details here

The journey was relatively short, so aside from Baby J trying to bounce between me and the hubs, the kids were more or less well-behaved, though we were probably the noisiest family on the bus! We had brought along books and our quiet book, so the boys were occupied most of the time. I would say that driving your own car across is more convenient, especially with the kids all strapped into their carseats. However, should you not have that option, the coach transfer is a great way to head to Legoland. Just remember to pack light (cabin luggages are great), since you'll have to bring your luggage down from the bus when you cross the immigration checkpoint. Do also bring something to keep the kids occupied on the bus, and prep the kids mentally about what to expect, and how to behave when going across (very important especially when you have strong-willed kids, as we learnt!). 

Legoland Hotel has a pretty late check-in time at 4 pm, but we managed to check-in much earlier. If you have littles who still need naps, it's best to check with the hotel if you can do an earlier check-in. 

The check-in process was fast, and the kids were kept busy in the hotel lobby, which had many stations for them to build with Lego bricks, both big and small. 

The hotel rooms are split into three themes: Kingdom, Pirate and Adventure, and a lot work has been put in to transform the rooms to fit their themes, from the wallpaper, carpet, and Lego decorations scattered around the room. We were given a Kingdom-themed room (I had requested not to have Pirate-themed room, since the kids get spooked by skull-and-crossbones motifs). 

You could tell that a fair bit of thought went into making the room kid-friendly, from how they had two sinks in the toilet, one which was positioned lower for easy access for the children, to the inclusion of a box of Duplo blocks for the kids to play with in the room. 

I loved how the room was partitioned into two sections, one for the kids with a bunk bed and a trundle bed, and the other for the parents with a king-sized bed, and a sliding door that you can close in between. That was really handy when Baby J was napping on our bed, since the older two could continue playing in their part of the room. Another thing about naps: staying in the hotel is really convenient, since the older kids can stay in the parks to play, while their younger siblings can head back to the comfort of the hotel to sleep!

The beds were really comfy!

Some complimentary beverages were provided in the room, and I loved how they included decaf amongst the tea and coffee sachets.

I think one highlight for the older two was the treasure chest in the room. You are given a list of clues, and solving them gives you the combination code to open the chest. They were awarded with two keychains and a magnet for their efforts. (A word of caution though, for those who have kids who want to work on their Lego sets when staying in the room: do ensure that they pour all their pieces into a box or tray, since the colourful carpet makes it really hard to find any dropped pieces!) 

If you have littles who take ages to eat, and need their naps, then it might be more practical to have your meals at the hotel, or at the parks, to maximize your visit. There is a mall just next to the hotel that has various eateries, but we opted to eat at the hotel for our dinners, simply because we were just too tired to walk! You can read more about the dining options at the hotel here

Breakfast is provided with the hotel stay, and is served at the Bricks Family Restaurant. The variety of dishes is quite mind-boggling, and the food is pretty good (what you'd get at most hotel breakfasts). We certainly enjoyed all the local food that was served!

The restaurant also serves buffet lunches and dinners. However, they only open at 6.30 pm for dinner, so we opted to dine at Di Mattoni instead, since that was open from 3 pm onwards (but as such, does not offer lunch options). 

Di Mattoni was a cosy little restaurant that served Italian food, and we found the pizzas pretty good and quite value for money! 

Kid's pizza on the left, and a regular pizza (which is pretty huge!) on the right for the adults. 

One nice feature of the restaurant is this large Lego baseboard, which forms a Ninjago picture after many of these smaller plates are filled up with tiny bricks. The older two spent a fair bit of time working on filling up their smaller Lego plates, and had a fun time trying to find out where to put their plates when they were done:

The kids really loved their stay, from the lifts which got them dancing every time they entered, to the comfortable room with all it's Lego and kid-friendly features. As for the adults, we were quite impressed at the level of service, and how all the staff we met were friendly and helpful. Junior J enjoyed his time there so much, he got pretty upset when we had to leave! He now lists Legoland as one of his favourite places to visit. I must say that the hotel rates are pretty pricey though, but a occasional stay in this hotel might be something we might consider, if we want to celebrate a special occasion. You can go here and here to read more about the experience of other families staying in Legoland Hotel Malaysia

Thank you, WTS Travel and Legoland Malaysia for having us!

PS: This is Part 1 of a two part series on our experience at Legoland Malaysia. Stay tuned for our guide to surviving both parks when you have toddlers in tow! 

We were sponsored one night's stay in Legoland Hotel, coach transfers, as well as two day tickets to the Legoland theme and water parks for purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received, and all opinions are our own. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thrice Taiwan: Yangmingshan

We headed up to Yangmingshan on a Sunday. Since it was the weekend, we made sure to head up early, since access can sometimes be restricted due to the crowds. Our first stop were the trails around the calla lily farms:

We had chanced across these farms during our second visit to Yangmingshan (you can read about our first and second visits here and here), but didn't realize there was so much to explore! This round, our driver dropped us off, gave us some vague instructions to walk further in, and then left us to wander about. 

So wander about we did. The calla lilies seem to bloom later in January, but we did spot a few flowers:

The trails make for lovely exploring, especially if you visit in the colder months of December or January. It was really hot when we were there (again, bring sunscreen and hats!), but the kids really enjoyed walking around the area, looking at all the flora and fauna around them. We spotted all sorts of insects, such as busy bumblebees, gorgeous blue-green damselflies, and butterflies. 

One highlight of the visit was the chance to splash about in the icy cold stream! The kids loved it.

There are quite a few places to dine at Yangmingshan, but our driver recommended us to Laohutian for lunch. 

The menu there is mind-boggling, with all sorts of dishes being served. Certain soups and noodles are free-flow. 

They served the best roast pork I've ever tasted!

It's a great place to dine at, but do order in moderation as the dishes can be quite large. The lady serving us kept recommending dishes, so we over-ordered, but we'll definitely come back for the good food. Especially that roast pork!

Another stop we made at Yangmingshan was to Xiaoyoukeng. The kids were fascinated with the sulfurous fumes issuing out of the fumaroles: 

But after awhile, the smell got to everyone. So we walked about abit, grimaced alot for some photos, then escaped to the visitor center. 

We were due to visit some relatives, so we didn't continue exploring Yangmingshan, but this is one place we'll definitely revisit! 

PS: This post is part of a series of posts for our third visit to Taiwan. For our trip itinerary, go here, and you can read about our first and second trips to Taiwan here, and here


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