Showing posts with label maokong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label maokong. Show all posts

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Silver Stream Cave and Waterfall (銀河洞越嶺步道)

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This short hike (more like hellishly steep, but short, stair climb in nature) is quite well known, covered in Taipei Escapes, Taipei Day Trips, and blogged by David on Formosa. I hadn't done it before, though, so I thought I'd add a few photos. It begins in Xindian (or Maokong if you are so inclined), snakes up (or down) a stair-trail through the mountains and takes in a slender silver waterfall backed by a cave, into which a retro little temple has been built.

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It will also get its own entry under "easy day hikes in Taipei for lazy people" (updated!) as you can easily begin this hike around or even after lunch time and arrive in Maokong with a comfortable amount of daylight remaining. Its fairly unchallenging nature - unless you hate stairs (and I do) - proximity and short duration are perfect for those who want to do something but didn't get up until 10am.

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I like this hike because it connects two disparate parts of the greater Taipei area: Maokong/Muzha and Xindian. You go up the long, ridge-like Maokong mountain, stop at a waterfall and temple on the way, pass a short trail to the summit (you can head up there if you like - but there's no view) and then come down to the road across the street from Maokong's cable car station. Straight up and straight down.

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There are buses and such you can take to get there; you can take any bus headed along Beiyi Road (Highway 9 or 北宜公路) towards Pinglin and get off at Yinhe Road (銀河路), hiking up from there.  However, it's only about NT155 to take a taxi from MRT Xindian to the trail entrance (tell any driver you want to go to 銀河洞越嶺步道 on Yinhe Road), so why not just do that?

Or you can go the other way - take the gondola to the top of Maokong, and directly across the street start hiking up the hill past the temple under renovation, turning behind a house (should be marked), past an old stone house, and up some more on a concrete path until you hit the woods again. Past the summit and then down, down, down to the waterfall and Xindian, and catch a bus on Beiyi Road back to the MRT. This way involves less uphill hiking and few, if any, uphill stairs.

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But we went the hard way, and ended up in Maokong at a great time for tea and snacks, hanging out until sunset and dinnertime. We went to my favorite teahouse on Maokong, 山中茶 - I like their fried sweet potato and their lemon diced chicken (檸檬雞丁).

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This trail is very much discovered - solo hikers (it's very safe) and large groups, often with dogs, meander along it, stopping for lunch near the temple. The temple itself was built sometime after the KMT landed in Taiwan, and tiles painted with a story in Chinese marking this fact, plus the obvious non-fact that "everyone in Taiwan celebrated Retrocession Day" (uh, NO THEY DIDN'T) and a list of temple donors.

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 You can walk behind the waterfall up a path just beyond the cave - the path continues, but it's better to take the path up to the right of the temple for a quicker ascent to Maokong.  photo IMG_5387.jpg

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Friday, June 7, 2013

The Most Atmospheric Coffeeshops in Taipei

Ya Zhi Lin Coffee on Guiyang Street

A long while back I posted my rundown of the best coffee in Taipei. While it's not a comprehensive list, it's one borne of personal experiences. Those places are still all among my favorites, and I update it regularly.

That said, there are so many other great coffee drinking choices in Taipei that may not warrant making it onto the "best" list on the merits of their coffee, but still deserve a mention for their friendliness, atmosphere or both. From posh to studenty, from knickknacky and warm to cool and minimalist, from fashionable to so uncool it's cool, here's my list of the most atmospheric coffeeshops in Taipei. There is some overlap between these two lists - I think it's justified!

Caffe Libero (or failing that - it can be hard to get seats - any number of coffeeshops in that immediate area).
Jinhua Street Lane #243 #1 (金華街243巷1號), near Yongkang Street's Shi-da end

This one near Yongkang Street also makes my list of "great coffee" and "great desserts", so you know it's a winner. The atmosphere here includes a long porch with outdoor seating, eclectic vintage chairs (think Grandma's Victorian Good Red Velvet vintage, not meet-cute '50s vintage) and old milk glass lights.

Formosa Vintage Museum Cafe
Xinyi Rd. Sec 2 #178 3rd Floor (totally innocuous building)

Really just a few tables in a small space crammed with one guy's personal collection of fascinating Taiwanese antiques and vintage items - free tour with an order of tea or coffee. The only food is basic cookies, but it's worth it to just hang out here among all the old stuff with a cup of something. Great selection of vintage-style postcards for sale.

Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 Lane 60 #1

A newer, artier place in Gongguan with odd fashion items hung below faux goat heads, low tables and an achingly hip staff. The food and coffee are good but not excellent, but it's a good place to meet someone for a non-alcoholic drink (although they can and do spike coffee and hot chocolate).

Booday Cafe
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18-1 (along the park between Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRTstations)

Hipster-friendly cafe with warm, welcoming natural light above a boutique selling handmade-in-Taiwan items. Their best coffee is the India Mysore or the Taiwan coffee and the desserts are pretty good, too.

Old Tree Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 1 #60

Very old Taipei "institution" full of cranky old people - many of them Mainlanders - old wood furniture from the '60s and '70s, jet fuel coffee, right smack on an unappealing section of Xinsheng S. Road (somewhere in that stretch between Xinyi and Zhongxiao, I think past Ren'ai), but worth going to for the atmosphere once inside. This one's in the "vintage before it was cool" stage of hipster evolution.

Futai Street Mansion (actually tea more than coffee)
Yanping S. Road #26 near North Gate
延平南路26號, 北門附近

A very small cafe serving basic drinks and light snacks (think cookies) in, you guessed it, the Futai Street Mansion (Yanping S. Road, just southwest of North Gate, or Beimen - one old-style manse in an area that used to be entirely made up of such architecture. It's been renovated by the government and open as a public space. The wood inside is all Taiwanese cypress, so it smells divine. You can wander the house and have tea, and I think coffee, in the gift shop.

Whose Books
Roosevelt Rd. Sec 3 #308-1 2nd Floor (entrance at the back, in the lanes)

A used bookshop in Gongguan, smack at the end of Xinsheng S. Road where it hits Roosevelt (entrance from the back, in the lanes on the other side of Roosevelt). Small coffeeshop among a sea of used books (English books upstairs). Yes, you can grab books to peruse and order a coffee or tea in the cafe as you decide what, if anything, to buy. Discounted or free drink if you donate books. The coffee isn't great, but it'll do, and I like the verbena herbal tea. I like the old square Chinese-style table.

Cat's Got Nothing To Do Cafe
Maokong - turn left after exiting the Gondola and walk past the first bit of development, until you reach the place with the white umbrellas and great view.

A small outdoor setup on Maokong with a fantastic view of the Taipei Basin towards Guanyin Mountain and Danshui. Look for the white umbrellas (from Maokong Gondola station, the best view is at the tables on the right side of the road).

It's easy enough to find. Exit gondola station, turn left, keep going past the first clutch of stalls until you get to a coffeeshop, not teahouse, like setup of white umbrella-topped tables.

Shake House
Wenzhou Street Lane 86 intersection behind the Lutheran Church and across from Bastille, near Xinsheng S. Road, Gongguan

I mentioned this before under "best coffee", and am mentioning it again for its atmosphere! With decrepit mismatched chairs, upside-down flower pot pendant lamps, a floor that feels like it'll give out at any moment, a somewhat treacherous bathroom and an impressive collection of LPs (although they often just play music off of an iPod), the studenty vibe of this friendly place can't be beat.

Nancy Coffee
Near the Chongqing/Huating/Tianshui intersections south of Nanjing W. Road

I love this 1970s throwback so much that I wrote an entirely separate blog post on it, even though they have no wifi, terrible jet fuel coffee and very mediocre snack sandwiches. It's in one of my favorite neighborhoods - southeast of Dihua Street, not far from the Chongqing-Tianshui intersection, and shows its age, and the age of the historic neighborhood around it. Really just a retro place, cool "before it was cool", in that it's totally not cool but I think it's cool, which makes me maybe a proto-hipster?

Yongle Market Coffee
Yongle Market, Dihua Street

Head to Yongle Market (that ugly thing that looks like a municipal monstrosity attached to the lovely old brick and wood-screen market on Dihua Street), where the ugly building hits the lovely building there's an outdoor coffeeshop with plastic seats, umbrella-topped tables, terribly saccharine 1950s music, mediocre coffee but pretty good choices of fresh fruit smoothies and milk blends. I like this place because it's smack in the middle of the action on Dihua Street and outside, so you can watch the comings and goings of people who spend time or do business there, and it's a good choice for a pleasant day when you don't want to be behind a pane of glass.

Drop Coffee
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 #149-11

I also mentioned this one in my "best coffee" post, because it really does have some of the best coffee in Taipei (also, some of the most caffeinated). Situated in an old Japanese house, across the street from another one that's still a private residence, with an open coffee bar that you can sit at and watch your siphon brew be made, it's also got a lot of atmosphere.

Coffee, Tea or Me
Wenzhou (溫州)Street north of Lane 86 and just south of Xinhai Rd.

This spot, across from La Boheme (which used to be great, but their food went downhill and they no longer have a cat) in an area rife with coffeeshops, has a scruffy, studenty vibe with an open-ish, woody seating area, mismatched lamps, an old-skool espresso machine, good wifi, artsy posters and postcards and a very grumpy cat who likes to sleep on that espresso machine.

Red House (Ximen, not the outdoor balcony bar I like in Shi-da - that's cool too, but they don't really do much in the way of coffee)
MRT Ximen, Chengdu Road #10

The famous Red House Theater, with great coffeeshop inside

 Everyone knows this historic site near Ximen (MRT Exit 1), but not everyone realizes there's a lovely coffeeshop cafe inside. When I first moved here it was where the gift shop is now, with colorful chairs, the same CD played every day and very good focaccia sandwiches - and the market behind it was unused space. Then it became Cho West, which was classier but less welcoming. Now it's something similar (may still be Cho West actually) but has a more comfortable feel, with vintage tables, crochet throws and knickknacks. When in Ximen and not at Fong-da (which has great coffee, a cheap breakfast and good beans for home brewing) I like to come here to enjoy the atmosphere before shopping in the relatively new market area for entrepreneurial artists and designers.

Fong-Da Coffee
#42 Chengdu Road, Taipei (just up the street from Red House)

It would be blasphemy not to mention this old Taipei institution with its old school formica tables, huge plastic tubs of snacks, sundaes and delicious coffee (including a very good Taiwanese coffee) - it's modern and popular but with a fun retro kick. Also a great place to buy whole bean coffee, and they sell coffee cups and saucers with their name and logo. I have one!

Mono Cafe
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #349

IMG_2971 This is a more minimal, eggshell-paint-and-blonde wood coffeeshop with a friendly, talkative cat just north of NTU on Fuxing S. Road. The music is usually pretty palatable, they seem to be somewhat into photography, the food is not bad - it won't change your life but it's pretty solid as food goes - and their Bailey's latte (not to mention their Cointreau latte) are both fantastic, as is their matcha milk (think like a milky matcha tea). I like the big blonde wood tables, excellent, if you can grab a whole one, for anything involving a group - and also fine to just grab a corner if you're a pair or on your own. There isn't a lot of seating but the place feels spacious thanks to the light colors and pretty minimal design.

Rufous Coffee
Fuxing S. Road Sec. 2 #333

Some of the best espresso in Taipei is brewed here - try the Irish coffee, the iced cognac coffee with ice cream, the iced banana mocha espresso, and for something lighter, the honey cinnamon latte. A total contrast to Mono's sense of space and light, this place is tiny, dark, with soft chairs and tons of knickknacks and arty bits&bobs - and they are practically right next door to each other! Good people-watching from the waiting-or-smoking seats outside. Hard to get seats - often crowded. Great place to hole up on a cold, dreary day.

Lin Family Garden Cafe
Ximen Street #9, Banqiao, New Taipei City (MRT Banqiao or Fuzhong)

IMG_1168 This almost obligatory cafe in the Lin Family Garden in Banqiao feels like it was placed here by government decree, but you really can't beat it for outdoor style. You can dip a coffee or tea and enjoy the very (very) historic Qing-era surroundings in the cobbled courtyard. It was closed the last time we happened by, but had plans to reopen and should be in full swing now.

Little Chiu (Xiaoqiu)Cafe, Zhuzihu, Yangmingshan

Sadly, I can't find an address for this place (but I can ask a friend and update later) - it's a lovely, not too twee coffeeshop on a hillside near Yangmingzhan's Bamboo Lake (the one where you can pick calla lilies). It's near, not on, the lake, but the view from the coffeeshop and lawn on a clear day is astounding and lovely. Pretty good sweets, coffee and tea, too.

Yazhilin Coffee (雅之林研磨咖啡)
Guiyang Street Sec 2 #133


You want atmosphere? This place in an old wreck of a shophouse, with lots of local color, is the place to go. With local residents stopping by to drink and talk with their tiny dogs, a market-like area and Qingshui Temple nearby, this Wanhua Guiyang Street stop is one of my hidden-gem favorites. Shhh, don't tell anyone. What I love about Wanhua, Dalongdong and Dadaocheng is running into cool places like this...they're everywhere, but you have to walk by them by chance to find them, you can't usually look 'em up.


I wanted to add Zabu on Pucheng Street to the list, but sadly, they are closed. I blame the reactionary assholes in the Shi-da community (and who must have a lot of guanxi in the government) who got all the best places (except Red House) shut down. Fuck those guys, and fuck Hau Lung-bin, their idiot playtoy who went along with it.

Update: Zabu is back! You can find them at the tippy-top of Tianmu. Go all the way to the end of Zhongshan Road where it terminates in a traffic circle (somewhere above that, past very expensive luxury apartments, is the down-mountain entrance to Tianmu Old Trail) - heading uphill towards the circle, Zabu is on the left just as the road terminates and the circle begins.

#175, Zhongshan N. Road Section 7, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan

More Updates:

I also recommend:
Cafe Classic/Flying Cafe/品客經典咖啡
台北市大安區雲和街48之1 - Da'an District, Yunhe St. #48-1 (off Shi-da Road)

This place is not actually all that atmospheric, and they have neither good wifi nor good 3G service, but there are three adorable cats and all of them are basically friendly (one doesn't like to be picked up though). There's a fat grayish-white longhair, a puffy black longhair and a shorthaired folded-ear cat. The coffee's not bad either. But really I'm just a sucker for cats. A great place to study because you won't be distracted by anything on wifi or 3G!

Anhe 65 - a big comfortable space at Anhe Road Sec. 1 #65 (安和路1段65號) in the basement - great for days with bad weather - with two cats - one friendlier than the other, good coffee, excellent sandwiches and a little shop. Sometimes booked for events.

Cafe Prague
Da'an District, Wenzhou St. #50 (closer to Shi-da and Heping Road than Gongguan)

I can't find a website for this place, but the atmosphere - very European (or at least trying to be, and succeeding more than most places) with polished wood floors and furniture (including tables with delicate chairs that might make you feel like a bit of a hulking mass), a grand piano, one well-placed statement vase full of cut flowers, a long, shining wooden coffee bar and friendly, uniformed staff will make you feel more comfortable than you might at first think when you walk in.

Yaboo Cafe
Yongkang Street Lane 41 #26

Comfy, hipsterish place with pretty good sandwiches and coffee. They have lots of big tables and some cushioned seating, 
too. Although there is lots of space, you may have to wait at busy times (on weekends, mostly) because its proximity to 
the main drag of Yongkang Street make it very popular. There are 2 cats - a big yellow one who hides a lot and a little gray 
one who likes to sleep in a specific chair and doesn't mind being petted. Good wifi, good service,
 good atmosphere.

Dihua Street #76 (迪化街76號)

Fleisch has food too, but you can definitely go there and just enjoy a cup of coffee. In a converted shophouse (which doesn't have that much of a historic feel from the inside, although interesting Taiwanese souvenirs - the handmade artsy kind, not the fake Chinese kind - are on sale on the lower level, with more seating upstairs), they're right on Dihua Street near the Xiahai temple, and serve good lattes in large bowls rather than mugs.

Film Studio Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 70 #6

A good option in Gongguan - where all the best cafes have gone ever since those crusty old reactionary jerks ruined Shi-da, with big wooden tables that can seat a group. Bring your Macbook to look like one of the in-crowd, and if you're a large group I believe you can make a reservation.

A8 Coffee
Heping E. Road Sec. 3 Lane 67 #8 / 和平東路三段67巷8號 between MRT Liuzhangli and Technology Building

A8 Cafe's dark, chic space

This large, brick-walled, wooden-tabled coffeeshop with square windowpanes is run by Bunun aborigines and has basic coffee, alcoholic drinks, juices, meals (which smell pretty good), desserts (not bad) and large tables as well as sofas and cushioned chairs for groups. It's rarely totally full and has a cool aborigine/art/industrial/retro chic vibe that I like. A latte and a dessert (all desserts come with a free little pannacotta with fruit topping along with whatever you ordered) will run about NT300.

Cafe Mussion
Heping E. Road Section 2 #134 on the edge of the National Taipei University of Education campus, MRT Technology Building

This place has floor-to-ceiling windows with a modern-shabby-chic look to it - a small dessert selection and weathered-wood tables of various sizes (some low with soft chairs, some regular cafe tables, some large tables and bartops for groups). I love the thick tables and kind of want one for my house. The "academic coffee" (no idea why it's called that) comes in the coolest two-layered clear glass cup ever.

Covent Garden Coffee
#8 Lane 18 Nanjing West Road - 南京西路18巷8號 - along the lanes bordering the old railroad park that runs along the red line MRT from Chang'an Road up to Minquan W. Road, south of Zhongshan Station (between Nanjing and Chang'an Roads)

This place looks like it was featured in a "Country Decorating - Back In Style!" photo spread in Better Homes & Gardens in 1976 or so. It's '70s retro meets "country" - think lots of dark wood, pumpkins and needlepoint and dried herbs and handmade wooden clothespin dolls and your mom's kitchen chairs.

And I love it for that! It's nothing like you'd imagine Covent Garden to be, but it hits that '70s vibe so well.

Coffee is pretty good, the desserts are "eh".

Confucius Coffee
The Confucius Temple, Hami Street

It's really just a coffeeshop in a temple, and not particularly special on the inside, but it's in the Confucius temple! And the last time I was there (a long time ago; they've since renovated), they had cute napkins with a cartoon Confucius on them that said "Confucius Coffee".

Temple Court Coffee (廟口咖啡)

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Yongji Street Lane 517 Alley 8 #12-3 (or, from Houshanpi MRT walking along Zhongpo Rd. to Wufenpu, walk past most of Wufenpu to Zhongpo North Road #50 or's basically right at that temple).

South of Songshan Station you'll run into Wufenpu Fashion Market, bordered on one side by Zhongpo Road, which runs into MRT Houshanpi station, Along that road near Wufenpu is a small temple. In that temple, facing the road, is a small coffeeshop right between carved stone columns. LOVE IT.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Taiwan Valentine

"My Taiwan Valentine" being different from "My Taiwanese Valentine", of course. If I had a Taiwanese valentine I think Brendan might be a leeeeeeettle upset.

First, enjoy this. Watch the video, too.

And enjoy this. I think next year Brendan is getting Easter candy and a bag of hammers.

So generally we're not big V-day celebrators. Not because I'm anti-Valentine's day, but rather that I'm anti-crappy chocolate (and most of what's sold on V-day is crap). I'm also, while not the sort who says "I don't want to feel pressured to express my feelings by marketing behemoths for their profit" (although there's some truth to that), I am the sort who has come to realize how unimportant the day really is when you're in a good relationship. I have found that stuff like this takes on outsized proportion when things are bad - like you need that planned expression of affection on the corporate-mandated day to prove to yourself that things really are OK. When things are good, you don't care as much about meeting these expectations.

For me anyway. Some folks are in great relationships and still place importance on days like this, and that's fine too.

But, Brendan and I still like to spend time together, and figure there's no harm in having some of that time be around Valentine's Day. This year, however, we're both working in the evening. In a few short hours I'll be back on the HSR to Hsinchu to teach in the Science Park. Since the day itself is not that important, we had our Valentine's Day Love Fest on Sunday - and took advantage of the gorgeous weather.

We took the Maokong Gondola   - I know a lot of people worry about its safety but I personally think it's fine. I've been on it many times and do not fear that something will go wrong. They should change the name, though. "Gondola" is a dumb name for a cable car, and it's doubly annoying to have to teach students what a "gondola" is and then shrug my shoulders when they ask why that was the name chosen for the cable car.

As you can see, we shared a car with a group of women from SE Asia. At first I thought they were Filipina (I thought they were speaking Tagalog) but now I'm not sure - they didn't say much. They could have been Thai. I know they weren't Vietnamese by the language spoken. They spent most of the time taking glamour shots of themselves, though, not chatting - so it's hard to say.

This is a tough time of year to take the Gondola - with the cherry blossoms on Maokong in bloom, if the weather is even remotely decent and it's a weekend, the thing is packed. We were blessed with a lovely, clear day on Sunday, so we had to wait about an hour to board. They were handing out required "reservation" tickets with boarding times. We arrived at 1:37pm and were handed a ticket for 2:30-2:45. We expected this, though.

There aren't as many cherry blossoms on Maokong as on Yangming Mountain, but enough that the easier task of taking the gondola - vs. driving or taking a bus up Yangmingshan - is a good alternative. They also bloom much earlier in Taiwan than elsewhere (esp. Japan) due to the warmer weather.

It's fairly common in every country where Valentine's Day has made some inroads - it's certainly known in Taiwan - for people to celebrate it when they're young and in love and forget about it when they're old fuddy-duddy marrieds (like me!). I kind of understand that: as I said, if your relationship is good, then Valentine's Day, birthdays, other holidays etc. stop becoming a barometer of your relationship status or "goodness", because you don't need them.

What I've noticed in Taiwan, though, is a different sort of not celebrating Valentine's - in the US you'll get the V-day haters, and the ones who are romantic but not on that day, or the ones who are fine without romance but don't really announce that. You get those who say "oh, we don't bother" but they rarely explain it with "because we've been married for so long". Usually there's an implication that there's romance elsewhere or at other times.

I think this couple had a similar idea
for how to spend the day
In Taiwan, you get the older married folks who not only admit to not celebrating Valentine's, but  say that it really is because they're older and married, and, you know, everyone knows that old married folks don't have romance (that last part isn't actually spoken, but it's implied heavily in the tone), that's for crazy young kids. Not that I ask, but I get the strong sense that there is an acceptance of less romance in these relationships overall. Not so much that they don't bother with Valentine's Day, but that they don't bother with that kind of romantic expression at all.

I can't be sure of this, of course - many American couples wouldn't necessarily cop to having a romance-free marriage, and I could be reading the tone wrong in Taiwan, and be adding an implication that wasn't intended: perhaps the tone used merely conveys a deeper sense of privacy about such  things.

But, you know, while divorce - at least in Taipei - is reaching numbers that rival the US's divorce rate, the whole concept of divorce being acceptable, or no-fault divorce, or even "wow, it's not the woman's fault, we can't automatically blame the wife for not being pliant or dutiful enough" divorce, is fairly new in Taiwan. The idea of remaining single by choice or because you  have high standards is new, too - especially for women. It's a more recent change, which means that old feelings of "you marry because it's socially expected, you have kids because you should and you stay in that marriage even if you're not happy, and even if that can't be fixed, even if your husband as a mistress" still linger. I could see how that would bring about a feeling of "eh, people who have been married for awhile don't have, don't need and shouldn't expect romance or love" which might be echoed in the comments I hear.

But enough dreariness. The weather was so balmy and rejuvenating that, between soft pink sakura and bright blue sky, who can help but feel that love is a beautiful thing?

After walking around - and dodging traffic - we settled in at Mountain Tea House, a short walk from the gondola station but beyond most of the crowds. We go there often, because the view is good and the food is tasty. I especially recommend the Lemon Diced Chicken (檸檬雞丁).

As per my blog's namesake, I brewed lao ren cha and we talked, chatted, ate snacks, and quietly read or studied Chinese. I don't consider retreating behind a book to be unromantic (retreating behind a computer or iPod is more unromantic to me, not sure why) - part of what makes our relationship so great is that we can both be quiet and doing our own thing, and still feel a vibrant connection. That's important - because who can talk all day and all night to one person? Even if you have that early chemistry that makes you want to just spill your guts and talk for hours, it eventually fades (not completely, but it does) and something needs to be there to replace it. A connection that transcends conversation.

We also spent a little time taking glamour shots of ourselves.  Here's my frank admission: while I'm fine with being curvy and average looking in real life, there are two things I know are true about my looks:

1.) I am really not photogenic. At all. Even if I look fine in real life, I look terrible in most photos. I'm OK with that, too, until I actually see the photos, which I quickly delete or de-tag.

2.) I have one really great feature. One thing that, when I look in the mirror, I think "wow, that's just great. That looks good". One thing that helps me be totally OK with being otherwise completely average-looking. I won't tell you what it is. I think I've mentioned it before, and anyway it should be pretty clear. 

So, when good photos of me come along - which happens about once a year, if that - I milk those babies for all they're worth, because it'll be awhile before more good ones are taken.

But first, some glamour shots of my super handsome, I mean really handsome, I mean "da-yum how did I land me such a hottie" husband.

I *heart* the green eyes
I mean I love him regardless, I'd love him even if his face got all messed up or he gained 200 pounds. I'd love him if he was not so good-looking...but you gotta admit, I lucked out in the Hot Husband department.

Then, Brendan took some shots of me, when the sun was providing good light:

We stuck around past sunset, because I love the night view from Maokong. I also have a camera now that has a timer, so I can set it on a flat rail and take decently focused night shots, as though I had a tripod.

Then we ventured down to Nanjing E. Road for dinner at Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen, but that's not terribly exciting - just tasty!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Back End of Maokong

We went hiking up the backside of Maokong today, starting at the gondola station (which was frighteningly deserted) and winding our way up, over and across to Maokong Peak. Maokong Peak seems much higher than it is (about 560 meters) because of the tricky terrain - nothing an enthusiastic hiker in good shoes couldn't cover, but still requiring ropes and a good sense of balance - when you get there, you feel you've climbed much higher.

We were originally aiming for Erge Shan, but when we realized exactly how far it was, we scrapped that plan and stopped early. You see, we'd wasted the morning with a hearty 'hiker's breakfast' of cranberry scones, muaji-red bean buns, toast with jam, pomegranate, oranges, apples, coffee, goat milk and of course Bailey's Irish Cream (breakfast of champions!). If you set out at 11:30 from Jingmei, you aren't going to make it to Erge Shan in a day.

The hike starts at the trail behind Sanxian Temple (not sure about the Pinyin there), which is directly across from the final stop of the (hopefully not erstwhile) gondola. Climbing lots of stairs, you pass a small tea farm run by a friendly man and his dog...

...and then eventually make it back into the shade, where rockier, more 'natural' stairs take over. By 'natural' I mean "better looking, but less comfortable to climb."

Hiking aficionados will be happy to hear that the stairs end here, and what begins is a real trail. Dirt, rocks, tree roots and everything. An honest-to-goodness hiking trail! So much of hiking in Taiwan, especially around Taipei County, is stair-based that it's a relief to finally do something that really feels like walking and not just, well, stair climbing. The scenery also gets a lot greener.

...with lots of really big bugs to gape at.

The signage is not very good as the trail progresses, but there's always at least one sign to point the way if you speak Chinese. Not far after a lovely clearing the trail splits in two - take the lower; the upper goes to an electrical pylon. Then a narrow ridge of a trail (one member of our group did fall off, but only fell a few meters into the undergrowth) winds along, with hiker's ribbons and lots of signage...if you can read Chinese. Fortunately most of our group can.

At only one point in the trail is there no signage whatsoever; there is another lovely clearing with bamboo and a flat rock, perfect for a picnic. Heading towards Erge Shan/Maokong Peak, awhile later you will reach a T-junction with no guidance. (Head left). You'll pass a bamboo clearing with a camping/BBQ area and after a few tricky sections requiring ropes, you'll be at the top.

We tried to descend the fast way, that is, straight down, but soon became discouraged with the condition of the trail in this area, as well as the 70 degree straight drop. We're not entirely convinced it was a trail, and with fading daylight we felt that it would be much smarter to just head back the way we came.

All in all, Maokong Peak is a great idea for a quiet day with great weather, when you just want to get out and walk around in nature. The views are mostly obscured by forest growth and bamboo, but the air is clean and you can make it there and back in half a day.

We settled in at a teahouse (Mountain Tea House, next to Red Wood House). Mountain Tea House may not have a very original name, but they're friendly and down-to-earth and their upper balcony has the requisite amazing view of Taipei. They also have mountain pig, lemon diced chicken, mountain vegetables and other delicious items on the menu for around 200 NT/plate. The lemon chicken comes with diced sweet potato and is served in a tart, tangy sauce. I highly recommend it.

One more thing before I sign off for the day - go to Maokong, people! The tea is still great, the teahouses are still there and the view is still the best in the city (and I work on the upper floors of Taipei 101 a few times a week; I should know). Did you know former president Lee Tung-hui refused to have the teahouses, which were illegal at the time, torn down because he loved them so much. Well, Lee might be KMT but he's got good taste in tea and views, that's all I can say.

It's not as expensive as you think to drink tea at some of these places, and the food is generally pretty good at the more homey ones, the ones without all the tourist frippery.

And yet, because the gondola is out of service, nobody's there! On a beautiful Sunday night, with a bright night sky and reddish clouds rolling in over a spectacular view, we were the only customers in that teahouse, and looking in the others, all were doing slow business. Nevermind that the gondola is perfectly safe (I have a good source and I believe this person) and should never have been closed in the first place. You can still get there for about 200 kuai in a taxi - which is nothing, if you're sharing with friends - or take the Brown 15 bus from Taipei Zoo station every half hour. Any teahouse owner will happily tell you when you can catch one back.

Not only will you enjoy the treat of having Maokong all to yourself - no crowds, no irritating music, no shouting kids, no tourists - but you'll be helping out a sector of the economy that is really feeling the economic crunch.

Go to Maokong!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Old Man's Tea: Teahouses in Taipei and Around

Tea set in Pinglin

This is by no means a comprehensive list of teahouses in the Taipei area - it just makes note of a few of my favorites. I was posting it on LP Thorn Tree and thought, "hey, this oughta be a blog post!" So here it is.

Pinglin is where the tea museum and many teashops and at least one good teahouse are (as well as chances to see tea grown, picked and sorted). The main drag is basically an agglomeration of tea shops, many of whom sell tea harvested from their own fields near (or in) town. A half-box of tea will cost about 400NT, and full boxes usually go for more than that. Smaller canisters are often available. You can also buy "green tea" gooey things with pickled vegetables inside, tea candies, tea caramels, tea-flavored-goop filled cakes and other assorted goodies.

The entire area is decorated with a "tea" theme, as well - especially the bridges.

The museum has good English signage with some amusing twists - the machine that turns the tea leaves over, for example, is called the "turnovering machine". When you pay the NT 100 entrance fee, you get a complimentary bag of silk sachet local tea.

Next to the museum is the shop that sells high quality tea at high quality prices. They also sell tea products - tea caramels, tea and chocolate gummy cookies etc. etc..

"Tea bridge"at Pinglin

Next to that is a lovely traditional-style teahouse. Prices are per person, not per packet of tea. One packet will happily sate two people, but the rule is that you have to buy one packet for each visitor.

Tea shops in town will often let you drink tea for free if you buy some, or will charge you a few hundred kuai if you don't.

There is also a gold Guanyin and small shrine at the top of a nearby mountain - to get there you have to walk behind a middle school and up a lot of stairs. Along the way you'll see tea being grown and harvested. A walk along Pinglin's backstreets will similarly yield people sitting casually in their doorways sorting picked leaves.

Venture out of town to find more tea planting areas as well as a lovely river with many swimming fish. You can easily walk along the river and it rounds out a pleasant day's trip.

Views from the Guanyin in Pinglin

To get to Pinglin, go to Xindian MRT and as you exit, turn left and head up the road. Past the 7-11 there is a bus stop where all Pinglin-bound buses stop. They come approximately once every 30min to an hour. The trip takes approximately one hour. The last bus leaving Pinglin for Taipei departs around 6pm. There are also buses to Yilan earlier in the day.

Closer to the city, you can go to Maokong in Muzha district of Taipei. There is a cable car up there from Taipei Zoo MRT station. Take the bus or walk a ways to get away from the touristy area and you'll run into some wonderful tea houses.

Us at a teahouse in Maokong.

The "Tea Receation Area" (sic) and the teahouse near it both have spectacular views of Taipei. (We usually go to "山茶館" - the unoriginally named "Mountain Tea House" in this complex. "Redwood Tea" (紅木茶) also looks nice.

If you find yourself in Mountain Tea House - fantastic. I recommend the sweet potato leaves, mountain pig and lemon diced chicken.

A few kilometers away from the gondola - yes there is a bus - there are more tea houses. These are quieter and often more intimate, but they lack the wonderful views of Taipei city.

There are also several hiking trails in the area, and Zhinan Temple makes for a good stop.

There are tons of teahouses off the last stop of the gondola - feel free to walk and take your time.

To get to Maokong, take the MRT brown line to Taipei Zoo and turn left as you exit. After a strip of touristy spots you'll come to the gondola. Come early on weekends because lines get long. You can also take a bus from Taipei City Hall MRT (BR15) or from other parts of Muzha (BR10) A taxi from Xindian or Taipei Zoo MRT will cost 150-200 NT.

In Taipei city, some good teahouses and shops include Wang's Tea near Dihua Street (it's not right on the street) at #26 Lane 24 Chongjing N. Road) where you can see tea production machines in the back though they are usually not being used. I recommend their High Mountain Oolong and Oriental Beauty - Wenshan Pouchong is good too. Their matcha is the best value for money I've found. I often buy their teas sold in round tins as a gift for people back home, and it is always appreciated. This is also a good place to pick up tea accessories, cups and other items.

There's also Wistaria House, which was closed for renovation when I originally wrote this post, but is now open, and I do intend to go soon. This is a landmark of Taipei, a historic site in its own right, has been featured on film and is a great way to experience old Taipei.

I particularly like Yue, a teahouse on Wenzhou Street near the Gongguan branch (NOT Shida branch) of Bastille. It's just north of Wenzhou St. Lane 86 and there's a willowy tree outside. Good tea, free snacks, food served, and the teahouse itself is beautiful. Japanese style cushions, some tables have fishtanks inside, hanging lotus lamps, and giant painting similar to temple doors, to name a few attractions. To get there, walk north along Wenzhou Street from Gongguan and on the left just past Bastille.

The sign for Yue is not in English. It looks like this: 玥 and it means "relic" (presumably made of jade). The food - especially desserts - here is pretty good, and you can sample many kinds of Taiwanese and Chinese tea. I recommend the kinds where you get a portion of loose tea and a mug - more expensive than a pot of tea at a regular cafe but fun to drink and easier than trying to do the whole "Gongfu" tea making process.

Watermoon is a popular old Shanghai-style teahouse near MRT Technology Building: Fuxing S. Road Sec. 2, Alley 180 #2. It specializes in aged Pu Erh tea. Prices are reasonable but there's a minimum charge - don't feel bad about coming hungry as the food is pretty good.

And finally, there's a teahouse in Bitan across the suspension bridge near Xindian MRT. It's on the left after you cross the bridge and looks out over the river. Good tea, set price 400 NT for leaves, water and your choice of 2 snacks.

To get there, take the MRT to Xindian and upon exiting, turn right and walk past the bus parking lot. Head left and eventually, after a small market, you'll come to a suspension bridge on the right. Cross that and the teahouse is really obvious on your direct left.

You can also buy and drink good tea at Ten Ren shops across the city, or eat a meal of food cooked with tea at their high-end restaurant chain, Cha for Tea. I'm a big fan of their pu-erh based beef noodles.

You might also consider a trip to Jiufen - it's not a famed tea-growing area; in fact, it's famed for its now-depleted gold mines! The old houses there, however, are quite evocative with lovely views, and they do serve good tea. I'll write more about Maokong in another post, but did want to mention it here.

Two photos from Jiufen are shown here.

To get to Jiufen, take a train fromTaipei Main Station to Ruifang and hop on a bus from there. Alternately, you can take a bus from just outside Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT exit 2, at the bus stop in front of the green SOGO.