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Lake Toya, Japan

Spot of Tranquility.

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Little India, Singapore

Spices, gold and splashes of colour!

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Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay

Garden City, City in a Garden.

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Bryce Canyon, USA

Thor's Hammer

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Chocolate Test, Singapore

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -Charles M Schulz

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 (Taiwan)

Before setting off to Taiwan, I was keeping an eye on the weather at Sun Moon Lake. I was hoping for good weather as we had planned to cycle there - CNN has crowned it one of ten of the world's best bike routes for cyclists. I am no cyclist but am always up for some good views while burning off the fats stored from eating at the night markets. 

1) Brief background 

Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan. The area around the lake is home to the Thao tribe. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon. 

You will note that there is an island in the centre of the lake. Lalu Island is considered to be the home of the Thao ancestral spirits. As the Thao tribe consider this island a sacred place, tourists cannot visit the island. 

2) Getting to Sun Moon Lake 

As we were at Taichung, we took the Nan Tou Bus 南投客运 from Taichung. The route and timings are available online and we studied the timetable before setting off to the Taichung Gancheng Station. It took around 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Sun Moon Lake and cost NT$195 for a one-way trip. 

3) Boat trip around Sun Moon Lake 

As we were spending a night in Sun Moon Lake and only reached in the afternoon, our B&B host suggested that we take a boat ride so that we get a flavour of the place. 

We walked to the Shuishe Pier and some boat operator approached us. As we thought it was getting late in the day, we didn't check the prices of other boat operators and agreed to pay NT$300 per person. The boat operator also gave us a timetable of the times that the boats leave each pier. There were 3 stops - Shuishe Pier, Xuanguang Temple Pier and Ita Thao Pier. 

Our first stop was the Xuanguang Temple Pier. 

Even on weekdays, each stop was teeming with visitors.

On the brochure, one of the places recommended was 阿嬷香菇茶叶蛋 (Mushroom Tea Leaf Egg) (1 for NT$13). I didn't try it as I am not a fan of Tea Leaf Egg but my husband said that it tasted very ordinary.

We then walked up to Xuanguang Temple where you could get a bird's eye view of Sun Moon Lake. There is a rock which states 日月潭 and people were queueing up to take photos next to the rock but we did not as we wanted to cover sufficient ground before catching the last boat back from Ita Thao. The relics of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang are in this temple.

We then took the boat to Ita Thao Pier. From Ita Thao Pier, you could take the ropeway to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Or if you are rushing for time like us, you can just walk around Ita Thao where there was plenty of street food. It was the first time we tried a rectangular piece of mochi grilled over charcoal, where you could choose your toppings (we chose sesame and peanut).

We thought that the attractions we visited were average, and the views not exactly great. Was this all that Sun Moon Lake had to offer?

4) Walking around Sun Moon Lake 

After returning to Shuishe Pier, we walked around asking the bicycle shop operators what time they opened the next morning as we wanted to do an early morning cycle before leaving at 10 a.m. They typically open at 8 a.m. which was a little too late for us. Luckily for us, we walked into Merida Bike where the shopkeepers were so accommodating they said we could just give them a call from 6 a.m. onwards and the boss would open the shop early for us. How's that for excellent customer service!

Not only that, the lady shopkeeper also recommended that we take a walk around 涵碧步道 to catch some sunset views. It could not have been a better recommendation.

We enjoyed a cooling and easy walk, complete with good sunset views.

5) Cycling around Sun Moon Lake

One thing I realised in Taiwan was that like Singapore, you cannot trust the weather forecasts. Despite the forecasts of rain, it never rained in Sun Moon Lake when we were there and the weather was glorious.

We called Mr Wang of Merida Bikes at around 6:45 a.m., asking him if he would be able to open his shop for us to rent the bike. Not long after we reached, the shop was open as promised. He was clearly particular about safety, telling us that we should ride slowly in areas where there is tree cover, that we should not speed, and that we should wear safety helmets. We paid NT$100 per hour per person - this may be on the pricier side compared to other shops. That said, their bikes are in good condition. Given that we only had two hours to spare, he also recommended the best route to take.

I recommend an early morning ride because the views are great and there were no crowds to jostle with.

As we only had two hours to spare, we took the route recommended by the owner. There is a brief description of the bicycle route at this link. It was a relatively easy and safe ride. If you are not confident, you can always get down the bicycle and push the bicycle. There are some pretty up and down slopes- if you want, you can always choose to turn around once you reach that portion of the cycling route.

The cycling allowed us to take a good look at the beautiful Sun Moon Lake- views which we would have otherwise missed if we were content to just accept the views on the boat ride.

The thing I did right this trip was to walk and cycle around Sun Moon Lake. If the weather is good, you really get the best views of Sun Moon Lake. If you are up for it, I certainly recommend taking some time to explore Sun Moon Lake at your own time- the boat ride simply does not do it justice! 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Double Scoops

Every time a waffle craving strikes, we head over to Salted Caramel or Double Scoops.

It's always nice to see ice cream shops in the heartlands so you don't have to specially make a trip to town just to satisfy your ice cream craving. The prices at Double Scoops are also reasonable compared to other good gelato shops.

There is a chill vibe in the cafe, with plenty of natural light.

We always order the Waffle ($4) with a scoop of ice cream ($3.50). There is an additional charge of $0.50 for premium flavours. We have tried a few flavours at the cafe, including After Eight and Mao Shan Wang.

The Waffle is a star- it is thick, fluffy and crispy on the outside. The fragrance of the waffle always drifts to our table even before the waffle reaches our table. I used to say that Salted Caramel has the best waffles but I think this is a real contender. The ice cream here is the real stuff- smooth, not too sweet and always has some fruit / nuts / chocolate bits (or other food related to the ice cream) in it.

If you are in the area and craving ice cream and/or waffles, you should certainly head over to Double Scoops.

Double Scoops 
Block 226A Ang Mo Kio Ave 1
Tel No: 6452 0208 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 (Taiwan)

Although there are many branches of Din Tai Fung in Singapore, I seldom visit the restaurant because there was always a long queue. 

However, given that Din Tai Fung's roots were in Taiwan, we decided to head there for some xiao long bao. The founder of Din Tai Fung first worked as a delivery man in a store called Heng Tai Fung, which sold cooking oil. The owner later put the founder in charge of the oil store's accounts. However, the oil store was forced to shut down due to business losses. The founder decided to set up his own oil shop with wholesale oil purchased from Din Mei Oils. To show his appreciation to his boss at Heng Tai Fung, he named his store Din Tai Fung. Later, sales at the store plummeted and he turned to making and selling steamed dumplings instead. 

We decided to go during off-peak in order to avoid the queues. To satisfy our hunger in the meantime, we stuffed ourselves with Ah Zong Mian Xian and drank bubble tea. There was still a queue when we reached at 3 p.m. However, we were surprised that we were instantly shown to our seats in the restaurant, probably because there were just two of us.

For those who want a guide to enjoying the xiao long bao, there is a guide provided at every table, in a few languages. I always thought that the correct method was to bite off the head of the xiao long bao and drink the soup within. However, the guide says that you should poke a hole to release the broth.

We wanted to fulfill our vegetables intake for the day and ordered a 干扁四季豆 (String beans) (NT$130). As it was an appetiser, it was a cold dish. I prefer my vegetables hot but this was fine as well. It was crunchy and well seasoned.

We were contemplating whether to order 5 小笼包 (Soup Dumplings) (NT$21) or 10. We definitely could have done 10 but decided that we wanted to save our stomach space to try something else as well.

When the bamboo steamer basket was placed on the table, I felt like there was so much emptiness surrounding these 5 little dumplings- we should have ordered 10 to fill up the void! There wasn't much time to mope about this though because these little goodies are meant to be delivered from plate to mouth within milliseconds. The thin (yet thick enough not to be broken when lifted with chopsticks) smooth skins contain sufficient amount of slurp worthy soup and bouncy minced pork. Each piece has to have a minimum of 18 folds.

These were the other 5 mini goodies that we had to save our stomach for. We had never tried these Red Bean Dumplings 豆沙小包 (NT$16) but these were absolutely delicious. While this did not contain soup, each skin was wrapped around a generous portion of smooth red bean.

Service was excellent and despite the crowds, the waitresses were polite and one of them even struck up a conversation with us.

A must go in Taipei, just try to go at off-peak hours.

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐
Various outlets
Xinyi Branch
No. 194 Sec. 2 Xinyi Rd
Taipei City
Tel: 02-2321-8928

Opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 10:00 - 21:00
Weekends and holidays: 09:00 - 21:00 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lavender Cottage 薰衣草森林 (Taiwan)

We wanted to do a day trip out of the main area in Taichung and went to Zhongshe Flower Market in the morning by public transport. We hadn't included Lavender Cottage in our itinerary because it would take too long by public transport and we simply didn't have sufficient time. We flagged down a taxi at the train station, directing him to drive us to Carton King. However, instead of driving us to Carton King, he managed to convince us to go to Lavender Cottage instead (of course paying much more) because it would be a waste not to visit the cottage. 

The entrance fee was 150 NT per person and you would get a coin each. You can use the coin at their stores and get 100 NT off.

Lavender Cottage was started by two girls who love coffee and travelling. One worked 6 years in a Taipei bank and the other was a piano teacher in Kaoshiung. They bought a hill and started to grow lavender.

As it was already late afternoon, we decided to grab lunch first before visiting the attractions. Lunch at 森林咖啡馆 was a very relaxing affair and it felt as though time just stopped. We were surrounded by forests and mountains as we enjoyed our lunch. You can have a look at the menu here.

We ordered a Lavender & Pomelo Tea 薰衣草香桔茶 (NT$170). It was a refreshing citrus drink with a hint of lavender.

As I was feeling unhealthy from the previous night of snacking in the night market, I ordered the Mushroom Hotpot (NT$360). The soup was light and the guilt of eating all the deep fried food instantly fell away (who am I kidding). There were different kinds of mushrooms in this healthy hotpot, which was served with a bowl of purple rice.

To end the meal, we ordered an Orange Upside-down Cake with Rosemary (NT$100). I was hoping that it might taste like the magical Orange Pie we tried in Greece but alas, it was not meant to be. This was a butter cake with orange rind in the cake. It was decent but nothing to rave about. 

After lunch, we started to explore the Lavender Cottage.

This has to be my favourite place of the attractions. At 年轮邮局, there is a wide selection of whimsical postcards.

You can purchase the postcards and the staff will help you send the postcards (no additional charge, for international addresses as well) in whichever way you want it. It could be today, a month later, 2 years later or 5 years later. You could send it to yourself, your family or if you want, not send it out at all and keep your inner thoughts a secret forever. There is a table with colour pencils, pens and colourful tapes for you to write your postcards. 

We then proceeded to have our ice cream fix. There was a selection of ice cream, including lavender, berry yoghurt, mint chocolate, lemon grass and rose. My husband opted for the lavender flavour and said that it was pretty ordinary.

You can also redeem a free drink (with a marble in it) per ticket.

One should not come here with the expectation of seeing beautiful lavender flowers because they will be disappointed. I'm glad I read reviews and had moderated my expectations. To begin with, this board states that lavender likes cool weather but is afraid of the rain. However, as Taiwan's summer is hot and rains often, they have purple flowers to replace the lavender between May and September. The lavender is supposed to be in full bloom between January and February.

That said, I think one should not expect much even in the peak blooming season. The lavender patch is rather small and will cause minimal excitement, if any. That said, it was nice to just breathe in the cool air at the higher altitude.

Our last stop was the souvenir shop, which of course sold lavender products.

I felt that my trip here was worthwhile not because of the lavender, but because how this place makes me feel like life can be slower and that we can take our time to be one with nature.

Lavender Cottage 薰衣草森林
No. 20 Zhongxing St
Xinshe District
Taichung City

Monday, April 23, 2018

Blue Sky Bay B&B 蓝天水湾 (Taiwan)

Many tourists choose to do a day trip to Sun Moon Lake. However, as we wanted to throw in some cycling, we decided to spend a night at Blue Sky Bay B&B 蓝天水湾. Only one word can be used to describe this place- Exceptional. 

1) Location 

We took the Nantou Bus from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake. The bus dropped us off at a bus stop around a 7-10 minutes walk away from the B&B. We initially walked past the B&B without knowing as it was a rather skinny building. The location is great- next to a convenience store and within 3-5 minutes walk to eateries. There was a bicycle shop next to the B&B and a whole lot of other bicycle shops within a 4 minutes walk. The Shui She Pier was also around a 5 minutes walk. In other words, this was a perfect location. 

2) Room 

My husband is usually not picky (and typically has no comments) when it comes to accommodation. However, when it came to Blue Sky Bay B&B, he said "Wow, this is the best B&B I have ever stayed at".

The bed was extremely comfortable, the room was stylish, clean and spacious. There were also plenty of channels on the TV. The only minor inconvenience was that our room was on the 7th floor and the lift only served rooms up to the 6th floor. As a result, we had to climb up a flight of stairs. That said, it is a very minor issue which we didn't mind.

The basin was located not in the toilet but in the room itself. Some may be concerned with water splash but it was alright because the floor at the basin area was a different material from the floor at the sleeping area.

3) Toilet 

I get excited every time I see that the shower is Grohe brand- it shows that the accommodation emphasises quality furnishing. I have never encountered a bad accommodation which uses Grohe. The water pressure was strong and the heat consistent.

4) Breakfast

After a 2 hour cycling trip, we came back to the B&B famished. We were happy to see that there was quite a bit of food for breakfast. There were both a small selection of continental breakfast (e.g. ham, cheese, hash browns, nuggets, toast and coffee) and Taiwanese / Chinese breakfast (e.g. tofu puffs, fried omelette with spring onions, soya bean milk). There were also fruits.

5) Service

The lady boss was happy to render her assistance when needed. The people at the reception counter were also ready with a smile. It sure doesn't hurt that there is always nice music playing in the reception area!

For around S$130 a night, this stay was worth every cent.

Blue Sky Bay B&B 蓝天水湾
No. 21 Zhongxing Road
Yuchi Township
Nantou County
Tel No.: 0919-805071, 049-2856815 

Hotel Nafore (Seoul)

Hotel Nafore was one of the cheaper hotels that we saw with a pretty good location and did not look too cramped. 

1) Location 

Finding this hotel was a slight nightmare for me. The taxi driver dropped us off at some random building and while after walking around for some time, we could see the hotel but could not figure which alleys to take to reach the hotel. Do yourself a favour and download the directions from their webpage and/or the instructions given. 

Other than the fact that I reached the hotel with a fever which contributed to my irritation of finding out that cars cannot drop passengers off in front of the hotel (and that you have to navigate alleys to reach the hotel), the location of the hotel was good. It was a 5 -7 min walk away from Jongo 3(sam)-ga Station and a 10 min walk from Euljiro 3(sam)-ga Station, both of which connect to 2 lines each (Line Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5). It's pretty much in the city so you can easily reach the attractions (e.g. you can walk to Myeongdong in around 20 minutes). It is also one minute away from Cheonggyecheon, a stream that looks particularly beautiful at night. 

2) Room

I thought that the room was slightly small but recalled that the floor area of similar hotels in Seoul was smaller. The room was clean and they had international channels available on TV. The beds and pillows were also comfortable.

The toilet was fine, nothing too fancy.

3) Amenities 

This is basically a no frills hotel with limited facilities. They have a simple rooftop garden. There is a restaurant and cafe but we didn't try the food there.

The staff are courteous.

Overall, if you are looking for somewhere which offers good value in Seoul and is not too small, with a good location, Hotel Nafore is a good choice.

Hotel Nafore 
17 Supyo-ro
18 ga-gil, Jongo-Gu

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Indochilli (Zion Road)

Indochilli is my favourite place to go when I crave Indonesian food, so much that I have been there at least 4-5 times in 2017. 

I suggest that you make a reservation if you want to dine there because it is often full by 7 p.m. 

We always order the Tahu Telor ($8.80). Who can resist the crispy eggy beancurd with abundant sweet peanut sauce drizzled over it?

The Kacang Panjang Balado ($9.80) is a simple dish of long bean fried with fiery chilli and aromatic shrimp paste.

The Sate Ayam Madura (S$10.80) is also a must order. It is a juicier, sweeter and chunkier version of the satay we usually eat. It's almost like a grown up version. Instead of the usual sauce with the peanut bits, the accompanying sauce is a smooth peanut sauce, which consistency is like peanut butter. Squeeze a bit of lime over this dish and you get a dish which is sweet and tangy.

The Ayam Pangang Padang ($9.80) is a nicely grilled chicken dipped in Padang style chicken curry. The meat is very tender and falls off the bone easily.

The Nasi Goreng Seafood ($13.80) was a dish I would gladly eat on its own. A slightly sweet, moist and aromatic fried rice with fresh prawns and squids, topped with a a fried egg. 

I tried their Kue Lapis Legit ($2.10) and absolutely loved the layered goodness which was not too sweet. However, the Kue Lapis Legit is always sold out and they always try to sell me the, not so legit, Lepit Legis Surabaya ($2.20) which lack of layers just makes this cake so much less desirable.

Food is good, service is excellent and prices are reasonable.

Indochilli (Zion Road)
54 Zion Road
Singapore 247779
Tel No: 6445 1766