Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thrice Taiwan: Staying in Taipei

After our stay in Toucheng Leisure Farm, we headed back to Taipei city. We had decided that we didn't want to spend too much time on the road, especially since we had kids who got car-sick, so we thought the easiest was to stay in an apartment in Taipei, and make day trips out to various nearby areas. 

We had to accommodate nine people, and initially we considered staying in a hotel for convenience sake, since breakfast and room-cleaning services would be available. When travelling, we usually prefer accommodation without frills, since we find that we don't spend so much time there anyway, and that also helps to cut costs. In the end, we decided on getting an apartment, since that meant the five kids could play more together, and it would be easier to feed the kids. It turned out to be a great idea, since the apartment provided way more space compared to a hotel, we had access to a kitchen, and we didn't need to pack, unpack and lug our luggage around Taiwan. 

Finding an apartment that could accommodate so many people was a little tricky though. While there were many apartments available on Wimdu, most did not fit our criteria, except one or two. We finally settled on this apartment (click on the link to view more details and pictures), though we were initially a little skeptical, as there were no reviews posted for this listing. The apartment turned out to be pretty great though: 

Living area. One family would have their meals at the coffee table here as the dining table was tiny.

Dining area, with it's tiny dining table, fridge and microwave.

There was plenty of room, and there was also access to WIFI. However, that required the use of a portable device which had a rechargeable battery that ran out really fast, but after a day or two we got the hang of changing one battery while the other was in use. The apartment had various decorative accents like large vases, which we made sure to keep on the wide windowsills or inside cupboards, to ensure the kids would not knock them over or damage them. 

The kitchen came fully equipped, with pots and pans, a hot water kettle, various cutlery and tableware, as well as essentials for cooking such as olive oil, soya sauce, salt, and tools such as peelers and knives. Dishwashing liquid, hand soap, and even rubber gloves were provided. The only thing we found lacking were regular metal teaspoons, spoons and forks (ceramic soup spoons were available though), so bring some along if you intend to stay here. The dining table was really small, so our friends ended up using the coffee table for their meals, while we used a clip-on chair (we bring this when we travel, since many eateries in Taiwan do not have high chairs) on the dining table for Baby J. 

The apartment was bright and clean, and there were three bedrooms, of which one had mattresses on the floor to sleep four. We stayed in one bedroom and dragged the double mattress over, so that the older two boys could sleep in our room, while our friends took the other two rooms. There were two bathrooms, one which was attached to our bedroom, and one common one, which our friends used. Towels, shower gel and shampoo was provided. 

One thing about Taiwanese apartments: the water heater usually isn't equipped to supply hot water to more than one bathroom at a time, so you'd have to time your baths such that they don't clash, or you'd find that the hot water flow is intermittent (same goes when you are running the washing machine). 

There was a washing machine and laundry area (but no dryer), and that was such a life-saver! The laundry area gets plenty of sun and wind, so we found our clothes dried pretty fast even on cold days. Laundry detergent, pegs and hangers were all provided. 

There were a few tricky things about living in that apartment. The door to our bedroom was spoilt and couldn't close properly, so we had to hold the door closed with a bag. The door would keep banging on windy days, and we ended up having to use the air-con on those days so that we could shut the window. We were told that we would be charged extra if we exceeded a certain level of electrical consumption, so we were careful to switch off all appliances when we were leaving the place. (And speaking of charges, do note that they require an initial security deposit of USD700, which is refunded to you at the end of your stay.)

We had to settle our own breakfast, which was quite easy, since we would just buy food from the market across the street for the adults, as well as bread from the nearby bakery for the kids. We bought milk, butter and yoghurt from the supermarket which was nearby (and milk was also available at the 7-11 which was just next door to the apartment, but that was slightly more costly). 

Trash disposal was another issue. We had to sort our trash into red (recyclables) and blue (other trash) garbage bags, which were provided. However, you can't just dump your trash out on the street for collection. Instead, you have to wait for the arrival of the garbage truck (the truck plays a song which you can hear from far away!), and then make a mad dash down to dispose the bags in the evening. 

Inconveniences aside, the location of the apartment was great. The apartment was a fifteen minute stroll to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall:

The grounds around the memorial hall made for good exploring, and we had a nice time walking around inside too. 

The apartment is also near various eateries. There is a place selling sushi nearby, and a little shop next to the apartment sells various dim sum in the day. The original Din Tai Fung outlet is just a ten minute walk away! (If you do intend to head there, call to make an advanced booking, or opt to go early. Avoid dining there on Friday nights and weekends!)

Lil J demonstrating the art of eating xiao long bao outside Din Tai Fung.

And if the queues at Din Tai Fung are too long, you can try dining at KaoChi instead, which is just a few shops down. Apparently, this was the original restaurant that served xiao long bao and the likes, until Din Tai Fung stole their thunder. The food there is blander that what is served at Din Tai Fung, but is still pretty yummy.

One thing we really loved was shopping at the market, which was located across the street from our apartment (cross the road and look out for stalls in the alleyway which sell veggies, which marks the entrance to the market street). The hubby would go there in the morning to buy breakfast (eg. soya bean milk, buns and noodles), as well as produce such as fruit. There are many stalls (both pushcarts as well as proper shops) to browse on that street, and there is a post box at the end of the street if you want to post letters back home. 

Most produce stalls are closed on Mondays though, and you will find that the spaces are then taken up by other stalls selling all manner of merchandise, such as cheap imitation Lego, hand-sewn leather shoes (those rainbow shoes were purchased at 40% off the retail price, as they were being sold in the market!), and fabric and lace. On other days, most of the stalls sell fresh produce, but you get other interesting pushcarts that sell all sorts of stuff, from cute socks to dried fruit and tea. We were told that these stalls make their rounds through various markets, so you really get a variety of things to buy across a week! We found that the merchandise sold at the market was generally cheaper than what was sold in the night markets and tourist spots, so the local market is a good place to start shopping for all your goodies to bring home. 

The imitation Lego sets we couldn't resist buying.

Hand-sewn leather shoes from the market. It's a pity they only stock adult sizes!

All in all, staying in an apartment really helps you to live like a local (you can read more about other apartments we've stayed in during our travels here), and I'd recommend this place if you're looking to accommodate a larger group (eg. when you're travelling with the gramps or relatives). We did enjoy our stay here, save for the intermittent cold water surprises during our showers, or running after the garbage truck! 

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post. Our entire Taiwan trip was self-funded, and we're sharing the highlights in the hopes that it would help those planning their visit. To read our trip itinerary, go here. You can read about our first and second trips to Taiwan here, and here

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