Window on China – Taoyuan County

During the weekend, I had a chance to talk to my cousin who has relatives living in Taoyuan county of Taiwan. We were talking and planning our next trip to Taiwan so she can visit her relatives and probably get a free tour around Taoyuan. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) is located in Taoyuan and is Taiwan’s main international airport. If you wish to make a stop at Taoyuan a few days before heading to Taipei, there are many attractions and night markets to visit and sightseeing. In addition, the High Speed Rail (HSR) station in Taoyuan can whiz you off to Taipei in 25 minutes.

Taoyuan has also been a popular tourist city among locals and international travelers, where many international travelers choose to make a stop for the beautiful and fabulous Taoyuan attractions  … (Taoyuan Travel)

I’ve only been to Taipei and no other parts of Taiwan so I hope to get to travel around Taiwan again and spend more time the next time I visit. I look forward to visit Taoyuan and one of the earliest theme parks that established in 1984. The park is consisted of 3 areas, including Mini World, Water Park, and Amusement Park.

The Mini World is divided into Mini Taiwan, Mini China, Mini Asia, Mini Europe and Mini America, where visitors may find scale models of famous buildings and developments of each country or region (Taiwan/Taoyuan/Window on China)

And the ticket price is TWD $599 which is around USD $20 for an individual.

Bok, who blogged his visit to Window on China on his 5th day trip in Taiwan mentioned about another Window on China at Shenzhen, Gongdong, China which is much bigger and nicer. For more information on Shenzhen Window on China, please click on this link. At both them parks in Taoyuan and Shenzhen, you can see vivid replicas of the world’s wonders, historical heritages and famous scenic sites. You can visit many reproductions of famous sites from different countries in this theme parks. It’s so cute and lovely. It’s right for those who love to take pictures like Bok and his friends.

I like miniatures and I like to take pictures. This place would be great for me. I feel like I get to visit around the world in one place. How great is that? How many people want to join me?

Besides the Mini World, Bok also recommended Doreamon mini showcase area. It’s fun and reminded a lot of my memories when I was little, Doraemon was and always my favorites.

If you would like to see more pictures from Window on China, please visit Bok’s blogpost.

I feel like I can spend my whole day taking pictures around the theme park and enjoy a great and fun time with friends. That’s why I always think going with a group of friends is better than traveling alone because like these places, you really want to have fun together and take a lot of pictures, etc.

I hope to see you in Taoyuan. Have fun traveling!

See you in Taiwan!

When was the last time you visit a full-service retail travel agency?

With today technology over the Internet, anyone can find good deals from travel websites such as Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, Orbitz, etc. An article, Get a Travel Agent reports “Travel agencies often have better deals than websites. Agencies frequently belong to franchise groups or consortia that can negotiate better rates with key suppliers.” From my personal experience, it’s not completely true though it might save you some money if you’re looking for airfare and hotel or tour package that most full service travel agency offers with tour guide to your travel destination. However, I was able to find a better rate that was less than $200 the rate my travel agency told me on my last trip to Saigon and stopover to Taipei for a week. I was traveling with family and friends and planned the trip on my own. We can now find deals on websites which save you money on flight and hotel or even car. There’s also vacation packages or other deals.

I agree “Travel agents went out of style with the advent of travel websites. Why pay commissions to travel agencies when you can make travel plans yourself…?” It is expensive to use a travel agent. The fee a travel agent charges will also depends upon the agent. Someone would argue that a lot of online booking sites like Orbitz and Expedia charge a booking fee as well. Well, the fee is lower than what we have to pay to the agent. Another important point is every travel agent is different and has a different area that they specialize in. That’s why it’s important when planning a trip to find a travel agent that specializes in where you want to go.

Finding a travel agency is one of the three choices I discuss in my issue series. The other two are choosing to go on your own, which is solo travel or going with a small group of people – friends or family. There are pros and cons for each choice we make and we should choose one that benefits us when travel. We want to have fun, relax and enjoy at the same time.

There are a few tour packages I found online which has their physical stores located in San Francisco and San Jose, California. Like any other travel agencies, Sunlight Travel provides and handles your airfare, hotel reservations, foreign visa and tour packages to  around the world, Asia, Europe, Africa and South Pacific. If you look at my previous example from Sunlight Travel, the 5 Days Taiwan Breakaway by Cathay Pacific, that was one of the many packages Sunlight Travel offers. They also have 6 Days, 7 Days or even 8 Days tour package to Taiwan. Most of these tour packages include airfare, hotel and tour guide that take you around Taiwan.

Unlike my last sample, 5 Days Taiwan Breakaway by Cathay Pacific, I want to focus on Taipei and here is 8 Days & Nights Taiwan Island 2012 – Package tour from Sunlight Travel.

We need to look at the general information provided by the agent. Then look at the schedule/itinerary to see whether we like it or not. Then look at the price. In this case, we’re looking at the departure in November to December and the price charge varies by hotels. What I see on here is vague so I would need to contact the travel agency and get more information. And of course, you can all find other packages if you couldn’t find the one you like on this website.

In my previous post, I talked about Budget, Companions, Conveniences, Experience, and Safety.

Gray Cargill, a publisher of a blog focused on solo travel talks about Solo Travel or Tour Travel? Which Adventure is Right For You? stated “the tour will be more expensive than traveling independently. As a solo traveler, you can always save money by choosing less expensive hotel, food, and transportation options.” Gray also mentions tour travel may be something people prefers if they like to know about the costs in advance so that they can stick to their budget and stay within when they travel.

Well, if you like to have more people to go with, you either choose to go with a tour which you can socialize with a big group of people and get to know others. Or you can go with your friends or family which I prefer because you can share your experiences as well as having fun altogether. Otherwise, you can solo travel.

Talking about conveniences, tour travel can be much easier when it comes to “research hotels, restaurants, activities, attractions, and transportation options” according to Gray. Someone else does all the planning, booking and transports you everywhere you need to go. It’s also much safer that way since you’re be with a tour group. But a solo traveler, likes to explore on their own and decides where they want to visit, etc. I personally did a lot of research when I visited Taipei. Since I went with a group of 6 people, we split up the research and make our own plans. However, things changed as we went. There are so much we can do in Taipei that we don’t have to plan anything because it’s crowded everywhere especially at night markets, lots of foods and shops.

Unfortunately, I have difficulty searching for blogs that people went on a tour. Most of the blogs I found are either went with friends or family or solo traveler. I personally like to travel with a small group because I feel like the more the merrier with someone I know and someone i can share my greatness to.

Well, I hope you will have fun in Taiwan and I will try to post more blogs next week. Also, please visit my previous blog posts for more details.

This post is edited on May 6, 2012.

The More The Merrier

A full-service retail travel agency is not as popular in America as they are in Asia or other countries. There are a few travel agencies I’ve seen around the Bay Area, especially those located in Chinatown, Inner Richmond or Inner Sunset. They have brochures of different type of tour packages that are available. You can visit Yelp for more information to find a travel agency around your neighborhood. I would recommend going to the site to get brochures or visit their websites (if there is one) to find out what’s available that best fits your likes and needs.

For example, one that I found located in San Jose, called Sunlight Travel, they are a full service travel agency that provides and handles airport transfers, airline and hotel reservations, foreign visa, rental car reservations, resort and cruise vacations, specialty tours, etc. They offer quite a few tour packages to Taiwan. Giving one of the many tour packages they have, I want to talk about the 5 Days Taiwan Breakaway by Cathay Pacific that they offer.

Here is the price & itinerary:

Notice there are tabs that you can click to find more information. You really want to read extra careful on any policies they stated and payments that need to be made, etc.

When you first look at the itinerary, you might not have any ideas of what they are. So it would be great to take a moment to do your research and get a sense of where you’ll be going. Most of the attractions tour travel takes their groups are the attractions in the city without any doubt.

Gray Cargill, a publisher of a blog focused on solo travel talks about Solo Travel or Tour Travel? Which Adventure is Right For You? discusses the cost that you pay for tour package/tour travel verses solo travel. He stated “the tour will be more expensive than traveling independently. As a solo traveler, you can always save money by choosing less expensive hotel, food, and transportation options.” Gray is right about the cost for tour travel because it’s always for the most part far more expensive compared to something you can share with someone (friends or family) you go with or by yourself. You will have more choices to choose to meet your budget. Gray also goes on and says tour travel may be something people prefers if they like to know about the costs in advance so that they can stick to their budget and stay within when they travel. Looking at the above price charges, the airfare and hotel are included.  The price is based on seasons and between adult and child. Moreover, I assume the admissions to attractions are included. This is the price range you will often see when you research for a tour package. There are also small charges that need to be made during the trip as well. So you have to think for all the possible costs and expenses that might come up during the trip.

Gray talks about companions when people go on a tour, “you will have a built-in group to socialize with”. If you like to socialize with new people, a tour may be a right choice for you to get to know the people you travel with. However, a solo travel “provides you with more time for self-reflection and solitude.” Up to this point, I still believe travel with friends and family can lower your costs and you have companion during your trip. Of course, you can always have your time alone. What I did in my previous trip was, sharing one apartment in Taipei with 5 others, friends and family and we split the cost, it was so cheap compared to staying hotels. And I like our apartment because it’s convenient to where we take the MRT and there is washer/dryer and stove.

Tour travel can be much easier when it comes to “research hotels, restaurants, activities, attractions, and transportation options” according to Gray. “Someone else does all the planning, all the booking, and transports you everywhere you need to go. You don’t even need to speak the language of the country you’re visiting. You just need to show up.”  That’s very funny because that’s what I said in my previous post about a lazy way to travel. You don’t do anything. Everything has been set and you just have to follow. It will depend on what type of person you are. If you don’t want to do any research and just accompany somebody that goes on a tour, then you might just follow. You can save a lot of time from doing all these research. I however enjoy doing these research to get a heads-up of what I will be seeing or where should I go see and what’s the history, etc. about a location or types of activities. Tour leader can also give you more details about the locations as well.

Talking about safety in Gray’s article, “Safety is less of a concern when you go with a tour group.” He also said “Research ahead of time the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of your destination and pack your street smarts” if you solo travel. Well, that’s why doing a lot of research is very beneficial especially if you’re new to the country. And it’ll be much safer if you go with a tour group. Just remember to not get lost in the crowd. It can be very crowded at some attractions that you need to pay extra attention and follow your tour leader at all times. In my previous post, I mention and a leader and a follower. If you’re not someone that like to follow, then a tour travel may not be right for you.

The last point that Gray mentions is “Breadth and Depth of Experience,” it’s about the freedom and experience you get when doing a solo travel. I agree with one of the point he made is “With a tour group, you might feel rushed through some activities you’d like to spend more time on.” That’s one of the big problem I dislike about traveling with a tour group because I like to spend as much time as I like. I don’t want to be under a time pressure. A few things I want to share about tour travel that has not mentioned above is you have to wake up early and you have to pay tips to your tour leader every day.  

So, which is right for you? What do you prefer? Have you planned out your trip?

Unfortunately I have difficulty searching blogs that people go on a tour and share their experiences. Most of the blogs I read are either went with friends or family or by themselves, very rare do I see people went on a tour, although, it’s not a bad idea. USA Today Travel also has some tour packages from SITA World Tours, The Oriental Caravan, Absolute Travel and Oriental Travel. Beside that, I also found an article on travel agents can give us a better deal because of the database/sources they have.

One of the old blog in 2006 from Keong, from Singapore, spent 18 days in Taiwan with his friends and made some new friends in Taiwan. He went around Taiwan and said, “will never forget the wonderful experience…having met friends that I have knew online and also made new friends…” and of course there are plenty of blogs that I read from people going with friends or by themselves to explore Taipei, like My Kafkaesque life, the blog is very interesting and informative for someone who never visit Taipei and planning to. It’s one of the many blogs I have read before I went to Taipei.

It’s so much fun to go with a lot of people. The more the merrier! So I always like the idea of going with others like friends and family, someone that you want to share a great experience with, your lover? Well, I always think everyone has different perspective and can decide which one is right for them.

It’s very interested as I bumped into some travel websites especially with this one where you can customized tour packages at Sunshine Travel to mainland China, Hong Kong and other Asia destinations such as Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. They offer flexible services giving their customers a freedom to design their own itinerary or modify the package to fit his or her specific needs. I find it very unique and special. They also offer some tour packages to Taiwan.

Another one you might be seeing is tour travel per location or perhalf day, etc.

Plan on Your Trip

“Taiwan Touch Your Heart” is an introduction clip to promote Taiwan. It shows the culture, the people, the nature and places all around the island of Taiwan. I briefly mentioned some of the attractions and activities like night markets from the video in my previous posts which I concentrated in Taipei. Taipei City is the capital of Taiwan, and the core city of the largest metropolitan area of Taiwan. This video shows all types of activities that you can do while visiting Taiwan. It’s not limited to shopping, eating, sports, ceremonies, festivals, etc., you name it, and maybe you will be surprised. It’s a must experience that I highly recommend friends and family to visit Taiwan. It’s also the reason why I’m writing my blog on Taiwan. It’s a great experience for my friends, family and I. We all love it and I want to share this experience to everyone. We plan to go again this year but hoping that we can have more time to visit all parts of Taiwan. Let join me to come to Taiwan and enjoy this amazing journey.

Have you ever run into problems when deciding to travel on your own, with a small group – friend or family or with a tour travel? In my series of blog post, I will discuss this issue and give examples of each situation. I will go into more details to give you the pros and cons or the benefits and disadvantages in the next blog or so when we focus more on arguments. If you are lucky not to run into these problems, it might happen to someone you know or even to yourself at some point in time. It’s better to get your head around this before you run into the problems. In addition, I will provide some of the tools and tips I found reading the travel sites that can be useful when planning on your trip.

First of all, consider the three choices I have earlier: 1.) go by yourself, 2.) go with a small group of people, 3.) go with a tour group. Which one do you think is right for you?

If you choose to go by yourself, you are an independent that believes in freedom. I know a few people that love to travel on their own. They want to have a great time exploring a new country. Imagine that you have a group of people and they all have different opinions, which one can you follow. That’s impossible. Why create a problem when you want to relax on your trip and think nothing but to travel? This is the reason why people like to travel on their own. Not only that but they can change their itinerary any seconds. They can go anywhere and at any time without considering others.

And if you like to go with a small group of people, you’re like me. Let me share my story, it’s my last trip where I went to Taipei, Hong Kong and Vietnam back in January 2012. First of all, I love to travel. And it was my first time visiting Taipei and Hong Kong. I was amazed by what I saw in Taiwan that changes my life. All I can tell you now is I LOVE TAIWAN. If you are like me that love eating and shopping, come to Taiwan. Take my words and be ready for a new adventure. Well, I went with friends and family and it was great except we spent a small amount of time going different directions. We were split to 2 groups because we just cannot walk in a group of 6 in a small alley, it was very crowded, big that it takes us forever to walk to the end. Well, that’s my story. Other than that, I enjoy going with a small group because I like to share the feelings of happiness and my experiences to my loved ones. I feel it’s a great way to bond our relationship as a family and friends. I like to have companions because it’s memorable that we can take pictures or see things with our own eyes and together. Don’t you think so???

Last but not least, the most I think “lazy way” to plan a trip is to get a tour package that has everything that you need to go on a vacation or a trip. The itinerary is there, you can either decide the time of when you want to travel and the hotel you want to live in and they will give you a price. It might be a little expensive compared to travel on your own but in this case, you don’t have to plan anything that it was already planned. I wouldn’t say it’s all bad but it’s not as “unique and interesting” as a trip can be. Usually these tour package is around one week long or can be a very short period of time. If you don’t have much time but you want to travel to Taipei, you can find some special deals online. The reason why I don’t like to go with a tour group because I like to take my time, I like to decide where I want to go and not what people have decided for me. Some of the places the  tour group planned might not be right to you. Well, the good thing is really what I said for lazy people because they can be with a tour group which lead them around Taipei and introduce them to places or can be an interpreter for them, etc. You basically do not need to do any research except for the tour package and the right timing. In the next blog, I will go in to more details and continue on which adventure is right for you? 

A recent article on gives you the list of 8 websites for your search of your dreams hotel. For more information, please click on the article, “8 Cool New Tools for Finding the Perfect Hotel”. It tells you what the website is best for, what it does and how it works, etc.

Here are the 8 websites:

1.       BlackBid

2.       DealBase

3.       HotelSweep

4.       Hipmunk

5.       Momondo

6.       Room 77

7.       Room Key

8.       YourRoomKey

Getting Around Taiwan *Edited: Taipei City of Taiwan*

            Taiwan welcomed more than 6 million visitors in a year for the first time ever in 2011 …

According to Asia Pulse, total arrivals and leisure visits from China rose by 6.2% and 1.4%, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2011, compared with 71.4% and 137% year-on-year increases in 2010. Even with the increase percentage of visitors from China, it was below the travel industry experts’ expectations. Japan, however, was the biggest contributor to approximately 10% increase in 2011. In a recent interview with CNN, Roger Hsu, secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China said, “We were originally estimated a drop from Japan visitors because of the March 11 earthquake.” Due to Taiwan’s strong support to the Japan’s disaster, it creates closer ties between Taiwan and Japan which may have driven Japanese travelers to come. The total arrivals from Japan are expected to increase in the following years.

Here is a list of airports in Taiwan. There are 10 civil aviation airports on the Taiwan main island and 8 on the outlaying islands. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) is the largest airport in Taiwan, located in Taoyuan County. It was formerly called Chiang Kai Shek (CKS) and may still be referred to CKS on map, airports or even the travel guide book.

In addition, it would be depends on where you want to visit. Most first time visitors or foreigners stop at the TPE airport, and then there are buses that connect with the High-Speed Rail (HSR) station in Taoyuan, which can then whiz you off to Taipei in 25 minutes. I personal think it’s rapid, inexpensive and expedient.  

According to Lonely Planet travel guide to Taiwan, finding a way around Taipei was much easier today than it was decades ago. The Taipei Metro (MRT) makes getting around the city easy and convenient. Every MRT has a map, labeled in Chinese and English that points the way to almost every sight worth visiting. I think it’s very easy to use and very directive. Maps are available at every station and in English-language; it boasts a decent mounted map of the surrounding area featuring temples, department stores, parks and other points of interest. The system would announce every stop in English and other Chinese dialects. Well, the other thing that I like about MRT is safety. They have the gates that automatically open when the trains arrive. During the rush hours, there would be securities standing there and lead the people in the trains slowly. Unlike SF Muni, MRT goes by color of trains. The whole thing was very efficient and quick. LOVE IT! There isn’t much reason to drive in Taipei through both cars and motorcycles. They can be seen around the city of Taipei and can be a good thing to have to explore attractions around the city. With MRT, it can pretty much takes you everywhere around Taipei.


Shopping and Food in Taipei

~Formosa, the food paradise~

Below is the list of local traditional food you can find at night markets. It’s cheap and can be found anywhere around Taipei or around Taiwan.

Beef noodles, noodle soup with chunks of meltingly soft stewed beef and vegetables. What I found special about the noodle soup is the noodle itself, hand-made noodles.

Oyster omelet, made from eggs, oysters and the leaves of a local chrysanthemum or lettuce, topped with sweet red sauce. This is how they made it at the night markets with big pan and multiple oyster omelets are made at once.

Aiyu jelly is made from the seeds of a local fig and usually served on ice – sweet, cool and refreshing on a hot day.

Bubble tea, as known as pearl/boba milk tea was originated in Taiwan during 1980s. It contains small/large chewy balls made of tapioca starch. They’re also called “frog eggs” in most night market places I went to; just to make it sound interesting that foreigner would like to try.

Taiwan sausage, usually made from pork, it is a modified version of the Cantonese sausage which has been emulsified and is much sweeter in taste. Unlike Cantonese sausage, which is almost always eaten with rice, Taiwanese sausage is usually eaten on its own with some garlic. It’s big and purchase by the weight.

Most cities and towns in Taiwan are famous for special local foods because of the Taiwanese passion for food and influences from many countries. For example, Ilan is famous for its mochi. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei is famous for its freshly made soy milk and breakfast foods. Taichung is famous for its sun cakes. And more, many Taiwanese tourists will visit other cities around Taiwan to try their local foods.

It’s truly a food paradise in Taipei. There are so many snacks to eat at the night markets and everywhere you go in Taipei. I would recommend, it might not be a great idea but we all do. It’s what I called, “join the line”. Wherever has a long line, it means something. And trust me, if people are standing there, it must be famous or delicious. YUM YUMM!!! I can’t wait until my next trip to Taiwan. I will explore my way all around Taiwan. I LOVE TAIWAN!!!

Okay. Time for SHOPPING!!! It’s really what you do when you travel, either EAT or SHOP, it’s leisure time. A blog I found on WordPress called, Taiwan’s top five fashion shopping shopper “shopping. You can read for more information and I will continue it in my next blog. I’m sure you’ll do plenty of research when you’re planning on your own. This is just giving you a headstart of what I will be talking about. I just want to share some good information to all of you. I personally shop at most of the night markets have. First of all, the night markets are huge and they have everything you need. They’re at reasonable price unless you want to go to high-class or luxury brands, etc.

Sleepless Taipei

What do you think is unique and special about Taipei?

Street food and shopping are Taiwan’s national pastimes. It’s the main reason for so many travelers to visit to Taipei. My main focus in this post is the life of the Taiwanese people – night markets. It’s not only famous in Taipei but all around Taiwan.

So when you come to Taipei, one of the main things you simply have to do is head to many night markets they have. Night market is a central element of life in Taipei and top attraction to visitors. They burst into lives every night in town and neighborhoods throughout the city. It’s also renowned for quality and variety of foods, as well as its budget prices. You can try or buy almost anything that it’s available at the night market, from food, clothing and household items to family-style games and entertainment. You can see masses of people, snacks galore and shopping at the night markets.

Here is the list of some of the night markets in Taipei. Please visit the links for more pictures and videos.

  1. Shilin night market: It is indisputably the king of night market in Taipei. It has history of a hundred year. It’s the biggest and the most popular night market in Taipei.  There’s an indoor and outdoor marketplace at Shilin. They sell all type of foods and have dozens of vendors. I had visited to Shilin night market twice during my visit.
  2. Raohe night market: I love this place and I went twice here because I shopped for most of my clothing at nearby called Wufenpu, wholesale garment market. The night market itself has the most famous peppered bun and cuttlefish soup that I really love.
  3. Tonghua night market, aka Linjiang: I visited this night
  4. almost every night of my trip because it was closed by to where we lived. It’s not big compared to other night markets but they sell similar foods that are available in other night markets.
  5. Shida night market: Although I haven’t visited this night market, please click on the link for more information. It’s located between the two biggest universities in Taipei. It’s the second biggest night market after Shilin.
  6. Taipei Hwahsi Tourist night market or Snake Alley: It was bigger than I though. There is also variety of vendors on the streets.
For the list of all the night markets in Taiwan, please click on this.
Eating in Taipei can be an overwhelming experience, especially with so many delicious foods to try. There are regional snacks from the island, foods from all over China, Japanese dishes as well as international treats that keep this place pack every nights. Taipei’s night market food is typically quite cheap and they’re often serve in snack type sizes so your dinner at the night market is really like a walking buffet as you walk from food stalls to food stalls trying to figure out which one should be your next tasty morsel. Most of the night markets open late until 2 – 3am.
So now, let’s take some of the closer look at what are some of those tasty food just might be (these pictures are from my trip):

So what’s your favorite food?

“Taiwan’s the best!”