Sunday, February 12, 2012

beitou - the place to be a witch

In an effort to cement our relationship with How-Tai we once again rode the bus to Taipei. This time was different because we were going to NEW Taipei City. Yes that's right, I'm actually showing them something else besides Taipei :P To get to Beitou is pretty easy since it is reachable by the MRT. However to get to the touristy stuff you need to transfer trains and ride the Xinbeitou Line which is nicely decorated. Unlike the Neiwan Train which is only nicely decorated on the outside, the MRT train for Xinbeitou has a nice interior too with flat screen tvs and information tables scattered throughout the cars. We kept trying to get a seat at the info tables but we always got cut off by little kids or seat blocked by the elderly.

xinbeitou platform at beitou
tv and wallpaper - fancy

A long time ago when the Ketagalan plains aborigines lived here they called Beitou, Patauw which meant "home of the witches." Beitou is known for its hot springs but unfortunately we didn't try any of them while we were here. When we got out of the Xinbeitou station we were on the hunt for food but any restaurants around the area were super expensive and none of them seemed that appealing so we stopped at a Welcome Bakery.We would have gone to a McDonalds or the Jack in the Box but there were crazy lines at each of them.

This bread was good, on par with my garlic bread from How Sweet. Inside there was ham and melted cheese! I like how breads in Taiwan on the outside look like they don't have a filling or whatever but when you bite into it you get a little surprise. Of course if I could understand Chinese I'll probably know which bread was which. Right across from the station exit there is a park with a water fountain show that occurs every hour on the hour. It was nothing spectacular but since we were in the area I rushed over to see the show and when I thought we had just missed it I was super disappointed. In Beitou you can find museums like the Ketagalan Culture Center, which is dedicated to local aboriginal civilization, and the Beitou Hot Springs Museum. However both of these were closed due to the New Year celebration. What a bummer! Oh well it just gives me a reason to come back here again. Everything that is touristy and a must see destination in Beitou is along one straight route directly across from the Xinbeitou Station exit, the walk is pretty easy and every couple of few there is something to see and take pictures of. One of the only buildings open to the public during the holiday was the Plum Garden. The Plum Garden was the summer getaway home for a famous calligrapher Yu You-ren. We had to take our shoes before entering the building and everyone was given a pair of slippers to wear around the place. No worries I saw people cleaning the slippers after every use. The top level of the building was built in the Japanese style while the bottom floor had Western influences. However we couldn't go downstairs so I can't tell you if that is true or not but all the wooden floors and silk screens everywhere was really pretty. There wasn't much to see in here just a bunch of empty rooms with a few of Yu You-ren's work. There is English information found throughout the home and there is also an information center here if you need any brochures about Taiwan.

pretty japanese architecture at plum garden

I can confidently say that the most popular tourist spot in Beitou is the Thermal Valley. Looking at this place you can see why the Ketagalan aborigines called it the home of witches. The green sulfur waters in Beitou is special in that it is only found in two places in the world, Beitou, Taiwan and Akita, Japan.

I'm not a big fan of asking strangers to help me take a picture because first I don't like approaching random strangers and second I don't like to stand there awkwardly while they take the picture. Good thing Phil has no such hang-ups and would approach anyone he thought would be able to handle his SLR and take a decent picture. Most people he asked would stare at the SLR and be like WTF no handy point and shoot and then get confounded when they look at the screen and don't see anything because Phil has it set so you have to look through the viewfinder to take the pic. Thanks to Phil I have awesome photos of the three of us, though at the time I was like ugh lets not bother another person who can't use your camera correctly forcing him to ask more and more. Well a lot of times Erica had to step in with her Chinese skills to help ask since I guess Phil's English and him miming taking a picture wasn't enough.

This picture was so cute I just had to put it up. I hope it isn't F.O.E.O (for our eyes only) Phil! Haha I love how it was so hot and steamy that their glasses fogged up. I got no such problem with my perfect vision :P Be warned while the Thermal Valley does look pretty awesome, there is a sulfurous smell here which basically means it smells like rotten eggs or old urine. Lovely. Since we had such a mysterious and witchy atmosphere, we were playing around pretending to cackle and cast spells. However those pictures will not be seen but be sure to hit up my scrapbooks in a year or two from now and I'm positive all embarrassing photos that I cannot show to the public due to F.O.E.O will be there in print. Haha! Make sure you get to the Thermal Valley early because there is a gate that will be shut around 5pm.

After the Thermal Valley, we walked on to find the Puji Temple. On our way there we saw a long line of people waiting to eat ramen. We were thinking that was kind of crazy for some noodles but since we had time and we wanted to know what was so special about this place we decided to wait in line. It took a long time to finally get into the restaurant and thankfully we had a small group so we could bypass the bigger groups to share tables with other customers. The restaurant workers didn't speak any English and there was no English menu. Thankfully I could say "What is your most popular dish?" in Chinese, although when I finally had to say it to the waitress I ended up butchering it and Erica came to the rescue again!

seaweed flavored ramen
kimchi flavored ramen

Honestly the noodles weren't that great, not worth the wait, or maybe cause I've had better so it didn't seem all that amazing. I liked the pork the best, savory and full of flavor. The total came out to be $290 NT with the noodles ranging from $110-$200 NT and the pork cost $30 NT. We tried to find the Puji Temple but couldn't find it so headed back to Taipei. Made a stop at the Shilin Night Market to eat some more. Glad to have Phil along because he's always wanting to buy random foods to try and then I can try it too without having to spend money. Haha!
sticky rice or nuòmǐ fàn

There was a long line for this bao place. The bao was pretty decent but doesn't explain the length of the line. Maybe because it was cheap? The sticky rice was ehh, not soy saucy enough for my taste. Also my grandma makes it way better with way more toppings.

These dumplings were delicious! Small and doused in soy sauce. Super cheap too! This time I brought them inside the Shilin Night Market instead of just the outer fringes where all the shopping is. We spent a long time trying to find the exact pair of Converse shoes for Erica to buy. They have a different shoe sizing system here and sometimes different American sizes would equal the same Taiwanese shoe size. Erica finally bought her shoes and we were chatting up the sales person asking him if he knew if there was a Yes Tea! in Taipei and asked if he bought shoes from the place he worked at. The answer being no and we laughed because there are cheaper places to buy knock offs then actually paying so much for the branded stuff.

The Details
Plum Garden
No. 6, Zhongshan Rd.
tel: 02-2897-2647
hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm
free admission

Manlai Hot Springs Ramen
tel: 02-2893-7958
If you keep walking up the hill after exiting the Thermal Valley area you will see the restaurant next to a steep set of stairs behind the stone wall with directional signs on it.

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