Cupcake Girl Goes Solo: Taipei 2016 Highlights

Hello again! 🙂 I haven’t really blogged/vlogged about anything lately because life’s been – spoiler alert, I’m quoting Mean Girls – a stressful, surreal blur. Coming back from Seoul, I jumped back to hustlin’ since I needed to recover from the crazy spending I did over there. Haha! I usually budget enough money for trips and always come home with extra money. I also am not a fan of shopping abroad (I like to think I’m frugal ya know). In this case, though, I have had to withdraw extra money because I went over budget. It’s so easy to splurge in South Korea with all the street food, cheap authentic Korean cuisine, skin care(!!!), and Lotte Mart. Admittedly, I only even went overboard because I had to buy new shoes (my feet were bleeding from the only pair of shoes that I brought) and I saw this leather backpack that was perfect for C. Ha! But if I subtract those purchases, my budgeting is perfect. 😛

Another nice life event is my dog, Rox, gave birth to six puppies with her third pregnancy! Her first time had her giving birth prematurely to two puppies, the second one was to three puppies (only one survived but she died a few weeks after my mom did), and now we have three living puppies! I’m not sure if we are going to keep them yet, seeing that three more dogs are a lot of responsibility and I don’t think I am quite capable of taking care of them yet. I’m sending out feelers to friends who are interested in adopting aspins (I ‘adopted’ Rox as a two-month old puppy back in 2009). I hope they end up in good homes. 🙂

I guess that’s it for now, really. As I’ve said, I’ve been spending my time juggling managing the household, my full-time job, my home-based baking gig (aka I bake cakes/cupcakes/cookies for friends who need ’em for some extra ka-ching ka-ching), date nights with C, and.. well, sleeping. I hope things are going well with everyone!

Taiwan 2016 || Taipei 101 + Taipei Zoo

My last day in Taiwan started out with another hefty breakfast from DG Cafe. I didn’t even finish the sandwich because I was just too full!

I literally had no idea what to do in Taiwan when I first booked this trip. Whenever you search for ‘things to do in Taipei’, the first thing that usually pops out is to go visit Taipei 101. This used to be the tallest manmade structure in the world until Burj Khalifa was built.

There’s actually a mall you have to go through from the station to get to the observatory. There were signs everywhere, so it wasn’t really hard to find your way to it.

The entrance fee is 500 TWD, which was the most I spent on entrance fees in Taipei. Come to think of it, sightseeing in Taiwan is cheap. There were so many sights that you can visit for free, and public transportation is affordable as well!

I went there early, and there were only a couple of us in line for the elevator.

I suggest going there early. I decided to get my money’s worth by hanging out at Taipei 101 for an hour. It was peaceful and serene, that I couldn’t help wonder if there really are cosmic beings out there, and if this is what they see on a daily basis. There is always that one moment during a solo trip where I get a bit emotional at the fact that I made it alone. That moment happened here, as I was sitting in the observatory and looking over at the city, where I felt that sense of fulfillment at being able to do the things I never knew I would ever do. 🙂

I like buying snow globes as souvenirs from the countries I’ve been to (ever since I started traveling with my own money). I enjoy thinking about the future glass display I would have custom made for my collection. 🙂 They do have nicer snow globes (none of the weird alien looking things that came with the one from Taipei 101) at one of the bookstores in the airport. It costs less as well!

I knew it was time to leave when tourist groups started arriving. The peace of the observatory was disturbed by all the chattering, and as I’ve said numerous times before, I really am not a big fan of crowds. It suffocates me a little bit. Before you get back to the elevator leading down to the mall, you will have to go through a floor full of jewelry stalls. I didn’t check any of the jewelry they were selling, but the glitzy displays were a sight.

If I had money to burn, this is probably something I would buy. I’m a big fan of florals. Haha!

My next stop was the Maokong Gondola and the Taipei Zoo since both places are accessible from the same station. However, I didn’t check the operating hours of the gondola and just assumed it would be open. Unfortunately, most establishments are closed on Mondays in Taipei, and the gondola is one of them.

The entrance fee to Taipei Zoo is, again, affordable. You can even use your Easy Card to pay for the 60 TWD entrance fee!

Adorable!!!

The map made it seem like it was a small place, but it was totally not. I wish I had more time to explore the zoo as I ended up just marking the things I wanted to see because I knew I needed to get back to the hotel to pack my things before my flight. Maybe the gondola being closed was a blessing. 🙂

Also, Meteor Garden feels! There was an episode where Dao Ming Xi and San Cai went on a date here. Hehe!

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This is where they keep the pandas! There’s also a cafe and a souvenir shop at the top floor.

The pandas they have are by far the most active pandas I have ever seen in my life. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to see pandas and they’re always sleeping! The pandas here are hard to take photos of because they kept moving around.

I personally like zoos and amusement parks. The goal in life is to be a child [at heart] forever. 🙂

I rushed back to the hotel at around 3 PM. This is my last snap of Dihua street. Until we meet again! 🙂

I haven’t eaten anything else yet when I got back to the hotel. The food establishments within the area of the hotel were all closed (because it’s Monday), so I decided to order light snacks from DG Cafe.

Rose Tea

I had their waffles. I swear, their serving sizes are value for money. I couldn’t even finish this whole plate and I was ravenous prior to eating.

Across the street from the hotel is this pastry shop. It has always catched my eye, but I entered it before I went to pack my bags. The displays were so enticing that I bought two bags of their puff pastry – and was disappointed. Ha! It tasted so bland or maybe I’m just used to sweets.

My going home outfit consisted of a thick sweater (the weather forecast while I was packing implied it would be a rainy weekend) and a skirt which made me decide to take a cab to the airport instead of the bus. It was scorching outside, and I didn’t know if I could stand to walk to the station in it. The thing about their cabs is that every time the price increases, the meter beeps. The beeping sound makes me anxious because I was terrified I would look at the meter and see an exorbitant amount. Haha!

I’m in love with their airport. No tanim bala here as you could watch your luggage via a television once you check it in. You are even instructed to make sure you know where your luggage went by doing so.

My sentiments exactly.

There were quite a lot of things to explore within the airport, but my first order of business is food! I realized once I got to the airport is that I was still famished even after all those waffles that I ended up at one of the cafes after immigration. The meal is obviously not going to be cheap, but it wasn’t exorbitant.

After eating, I went around the shops and decided not to buy anything. I usually buy a lipstick or two from Duty Free but there wasn’t really anything that I found interesting (that I could afford at the moment hahaha), so I headed to the boarding gate. I was planning to sleep during the two hour flight back to Manila but couldn’t because my tummy hurt. It may be from all the eating I did at the airport and on the plane. Haha!

I didn’t finish this because it was meh 😛

Taiwan at night.

And that concludes my weekend in Taiwan! 🙂 Admittedly, there were frustrating moments during this trip and times where I would wonder if this trip was more of a hassle than a vacation. I still do not like the fact that my third world passport requires visas to get to amazing countries, but that’s life. Although this trip didn’t run as smoothly as I thought it would, I still fell in love with Taiwan. I’d like to go back and make more wonderful memories, this time with enough cash in hand. Ha!

Taiwan 2016 || Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall + Pingxi + Shilin Night Market

It’s a Monday afternoon while I’m writing this in my brother’ dark room. For some reason, he happens to have the darkest room in our house, and surprisingly, the temperature is a bit cooler – so here I am! I’m not sure when I’m going to publish this post because sometimes I just get into the mood where I can write three consecutive posts in one sitting, and there are days (months, even) where my posts go stale in Draft state while I struggle to finish it. Let me tell you though how my weekend went – I opened up my Facebook newsfeed/Instagram timeline, and saw mostly wedding/engagement/having children posts.. and me? I panicked. I drew up a rough draft of my three-year plan (which does not even include having children) and figured out that at this rate, my income wouldn’t be enough to accomplish all the things I want to achieve in my life. I think I’ll start looking for sidelines because I need more income sources.

Now that the anxiety over the future has somewhat subsided, I’m here writing about my birthday weekend yet again, because even the simple thought of traveling puts me into a happier state. 🙂

One of the things I like the most about DG Hotel is their big breakfast servings! I don’t have a constant speed for eating but with this huge serving, it took me more than 30 minutes to finish it. It also may be the reason why I was running later than usual on Day 3.

Before leaving the hotel, I asked the staff if there was anywhere I could exchange money. Aside from the Japan trip with chicken boy where I already had all my budget exchanged to their local currency even before I boarded the plane (I have a colleague who exchanges money without the extra costs, super sulit), I usually do not exchange all my Philippine Peso at once. But guess what practical travel tip I learned from this trip: research about currency exchange of your destination. Aside from the airport, most tourists exchange their money in banks. Guess what? Banks are closed on weekends. No TWD on a Sunday? I thought, ‘okay, no problem, I have my Mastercard and I could just go to a convenience store to withdraw money from the ATM’.

I headed to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall confidently. I wasn’t worried about the fact that I only had around 500 TWD left in my wallet.

Before I went to Taiwan, I had no idea what one can see in the country. When I think of developed Asian countries, it’s usually Japan, Korea, or Singapore that comes to mind. It turns out that it is as efficient as them, and it is teeming with interesting sites. It may be a small country, but there are cultural sites mixed in with all the modern shopping districts.

Aside from the memorial hall itself, you can also find both the National Concert Hall and the National Theater here.

The memorial hall was erected for the former president of ROC, Chiang Kai-shek.

From CKS Station, I headed back to Taipei Main Station to catch a TSR to Ruifang Station. To be completely honest, the TSR is a bit more confusing than the MRT. There were different lines using the same track, and I kind of just made my decision on which train to get on to based on the timetable they were flashing on the screen and the color on the sides of the train (should match the color that was on the station map). After a forty minute wait, I boarded the train to Ruifang Station.

The train for the Pingxi line is on the same track you get off to. The train has a one-hour interval, so check the timetable if you decide to get out the station. I made the mistake of not checking the timetable and waiting at the station for a full fifty minutes before the train arrived. When it did, I planned to get off at Pingxi first (which was the farthest), before heading to Shifen to see the waterfall. I did take a photo when we passed by.

Getting off the packed train (when I finally drag C back to Taiwan with me, I’m not gonna go here on a weekend) at Pingxi station was such a relief because I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I have never been a big fan of crowds.

You can easily see how different the city and the countryside is. Aside the Pingxi Old Street, the rest of the area was quite peaceful.

Pingxi is known for the sky lanterns where you can write your wishes on, and light up to fly on the train tracks. The old street was lined with souvenir stores, lantern stalls with mostly uniform prices, and local street food.

More people line up for food stalls with long queues, which in turn maintains the long waiting time for food. I hate lining up for anything, so I ended up trying out the food stalls with similar offerings. Haha!

I swear, food in Taiwan is very affordable. Although I don’t really know what I’m eating most of the time. I’ve been seeing this street food for a while now and decided to try it out at Pingxi.

Of course, I didn’t miss out on more bubble tea! Look at those prices, it’s not expensive at all. Bubble tea in the Philippines cost more!

One of the things that I wanted to do in Taiwan, aside from paragliding, was to go to Pingxi to fly my own sky lantern. I haven’t had the best luck with flying sky lanterns because every single time I have attempted to do so in the past failed. Either we get stuck in traffic or we weren’t able to buy our own lantern. Sky lanterns cost 150 TWD upwards (depending on the colors), and given that I had less than 500 TWD with me, I decided to look for an ATM to withdraw money.

I walked past the old street and looked for a convenience store with an ATM sign. My prayers were answered and I found a Family Mart with an English ATM. However, when I went to withdraw, the machine would not spew out any money. I still did not panic and decided to look for somewhere to sit while I try to connect to the internet and do a quick search for my bank’s contact numbers. I went back to the station where there were empty seats available (the train wasn’t arriving anytime soon) and proceeded to turn on my Data Roaming. It was supposed to automatically connect (as advertised by SMART, my service provider) but nothing was happening. I even reset my mobile phone a few times to try to make it work. I called up their toll-free hotline repeatedly as they give me options after options on how to resolve the issue. I remember one of the solutions was “please remove your sim and put it back in again”, and the irate customer in me retorted, “hello, I’m traveling, tingin mo may dala akong pin sa bag ko??” (roughly translated to “who brings a pin for their iPhone while traveling?”). I was then told that they will make a ticket for me which will be resolved in the next 24 hours. Given that I’ll be leaving the following day, I irritably told them to make sure I don’t get charged for this and to not do anything at all because I’ll already be home by then.

I sat there, trying to think of a way out of this mess, and did something I have never done while traveling solo before. I cried my eyes out. I was so overwhelmed with the fact that I was stuck in a provincial town in Taiwan, alone, with not enough money to even get me to the airport. My Easy Card didn’t even have a lot of credit left, and I was worried I had to top it up to even be able to get back to the hotel. You know that feeling when once you start crying, you could not stop? To make matters worst, there were a couple of people who tried to communicate with me but we couldn’t understand each other. For thirty minutes, I sat there until my hysterical crying subsided, and boarded the train back to Ruifang Station.

I didn’t have a lot of juice left in my mobile phone (I only had 9% battery life left), and when I got off at Taipei Main Station, I decided to try and find a free wifi spot. There should be a wifi spot in the biggest station, right? Luckily, my hunch was right and I headed to Q Square to get my money exchanged. However, they only accept a limited variety of currencies (Philippine Peso not included). Good thing that I had US$28 worth of loose change in my wallet, and was able to exchange it to the local currency. Whew!

Now that I finally had enough money for food, and possibly the bus ride to the airport (if I wouldn’t be able to get any more money the next day), I went to Shilin Night Market. I hopped on the train again and got off at Shilin Station. It’s pretty easy to walk to the night market from there since there were signs everywhere.

I initially thought that the night market would mostly be food, but it’s a mecca for shopaholics. There were so many cheap clothing, and even gadget stores are available in the night market. The photo below does not do justice to how crowded it was in the night market because I snapped this in one of the not so busy streets. But trust me, you better be fine with literally rubbing elbows with strangers because that’s what will happen anyway.

Okay, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I enjoy sausages and I like to try everything that looks like it. Yummers!

I bought a watermelon shake to sip while I roam around and buy more food! Food is layf.

I wasn’t able to take photos of all the street food I ate because my hands were full (with food of course!), and I only got to take a photo of this food stall because there was an obscenely long queue for it and I had to wait long for my chicken! Good thing, I had something to munch on while doing so.

Overall, Day 3 ended up as a learning experience. Ugly crying and frustration aside, it did give me a funny story to tell people when I got home and added to my treasure trove of practical travel tips. 🙂

Taiwan 2016 || Paragliding in Wanli + Ningxia Night Market

I have been asked so many times the variation of the following questions: “do you not love your boyfriend?” (or vice versa), “don’t you have friends?”, and “why on your birthday??”. Often times, I just smile and say nothing and I will be met with the blanket statement of “so brave!”. It’s weird because I’ve interacted with solo male travelers and they don’t get those questions as much as I (and other female travelers as well) do. People also assume that I’m outgoing and friendly, when in fact, I am painfully shy. I don’t even know how to make friends in hostels! People never notice because it seems I have no qualms talking to anyone at work, or even with strangers. What they don’t know is the anxiety I have to battle with every single time I go on a conference call or a board meeting, and the thoughts that run through my head when I talk to a new person. Traveling solo requires talking to strangers, either for help or to make friends, and I like that it pushes me out of my comfort zone.

I treated this solo travel as a birthday gift to myself. The past year has not been the best for me and to be completely honest, I have been living most days on autopilot. When we lost mom to her almost 3-year battle with cancer, I didn’t really have the time to grieve. There was the funeral to plan, the legal documents to file, the house to maintain, and all the things mom used to do fell on my shoulders. I used to live my life for me, and even though I love my siblings, making decisions was harder now that I often take them into account. I was more stressed than sad (gained more weight because I’m an emotional eater). It didn’t even sink in until 3 months later after she was gone. I was on a bus, and I was researching on how to file annual taxes when the first thought that popped into my head was I’ll go ask mom when I get home. Then I realized she wasn’t home, and that I wouldn’t be able to talk to her again. Whatever was keeping me together disappeared, and I literally full on started to ugly cry. On a bus. Headed to Cavite. Yep, not one of my best moments. Now add this to the fact that when I was thinking of what to do on my birthday, I couldn’t help but remember that my mom always threw me an intimate party of some sort. It usually is a surprise. There will be no surprise birthday parties for me this year. None of my mom’s salty birthday carbonara, my room wouldn’t be filled with balloons she inflated herself, and no blowing candles at midnight. The thought of it alone made me want to get away.

I still feel like myself most days, even if circumstances push me to adjust for other people – making sure I work well with teammates/letting go of the ‘cool older sis’ attitude for the ‘proxy mom’ one/compromising with C to get him to fit in perfectly within my world (he does the same with me)/etc. But traveling alone gives me that space to disconnect with people and not care about anyone else but myself. Cliche as it may seem, the silence that it comes with calms my soul and fills me up again. I come home with more to give to the people (and things) I care about. 🙂

THAT WAS SUCH A DRAMATIC INTRO. I was gunning for a short explanation on why I decided to travel alone on my birthday, but I got carried away and it turned into one jumbled mess of thoughts. Haha! I started my birthday with this fabulous breakfast (at 8 AM, no less), from DG Hotel’s DG Cafe. It may not look like a lot, but the serving was huge!

I didn’t really know a lot of tourist spots in Taipei, but I knew that you can go paragliding here. After breakfast, I called Mustang Flying Club in the hopes that whoever answers the phone could communicate in English. There weren’t a lot of resources (by that, I mean blogs) available that was very helpful in how to go about booking the paragliding activity in Taiwan. Tricia Wong’s blog post by far was the best out there so I linked it up (and listed it below as well), in case anyone is interested.

How to go paragliding in Wanli:

  • First of all, this is the website of Mustang Flying Club. Let me save you the effort – it’s all in Mandarin. Unless you understand Mandarin, then good for you.t
  • Call 0932926289 the day before or prior to leaving Taipei (I suggest that you call around 7 in the morning) to inquire whether flights are available. The guy who answers it has a good command of the English language so no worries.
  • If you’re staying in Taipei, leave early! This is important because they also do not fly beyond 3 PM (I think). Travel time is less than two hours by bus. I left past 10 in the morning and got there around noon. The queue was already two pages long. The advantage though of flying past noon is the wind condition is better and we flew higher than the ones who were there earlier. Morning flights do a beach landing, while the ones flying at noon got to do top landing.
  • Get off at Taipei Main Station and go to exit K12. It’s the one that is directly outside Taipei West Bus Station. I got out at M5 and was lucky enough to ask a local who walked me to the station and pointed out which bus to take. He was so nice because he was originally walking towards the opposite direction!
  • Take Bus 1815 (headed to Yehliu). There’s a sign for it, and it’s pretty near the station entrance.
  • The buses have an LED signboard that flashes the stops in both Mandarin and English (with a voice over announcement as well). Press the bell (it’s near the window) to get off at Wanli Bridge.
  • Once you get off the bus, stay at the bus stop and call 0932926289 again to inform them that you are waiting. A shuttle (or a cab) will pick you up and bring you to the flying site.
  • There is a table over by the tents that has a list of names on the queue. Make sure you write down your name (one name per group since you also write how many people are going to go) on it the moment you get there, or else you’ll have to wait longer. Beware though that some people pay to cut the line. There was a group of two guys who came later than I did, and the last person on the queue after me was already two pages long. They conversed with this beefy guy sitting in the tents, handed him some bills, and he went to the list, crossed out the quantity of another group and added those guys (originally 4, turned it to 6). I gave them the stink eye but didn’t really know how to go about it because I was the only non-Mandarin speaker in the area at the time. I had to wait for almost 2 hours to go paragliding. They waited less than 30 minutes for their turn. Ugh.
  • The price for tandem flights is 1600 TWD. This includes Go Pro rental and the instructor will give you the SD card after you land. 🙂

It was so much fun watching people go paragliding. When I got there, I was so excited for my turn – which came in roughly two hours later.

Wear comfortable clothes when you go paragliding, and make sure your knees are covered. They do lend knee covers if you’re wearing shorts or skirts. But why would you do that when you know you’re going to go paragliding?

The view from the top was very relaxing. It was sweltering, though. Bring lots of water (and food) because you can’t buy any within the site and there aren’t a lot of seats in the ‘waiting area’.

The nerves came in once I started walking to the cliff I was about to run off to. The instructions were to keep your legs straight and just keep running until you’re on the air. Do not bend your knees, or jump. I’ve written about this so many times – but physical activities could literally be the death of me. I am clumsy enough that my friends even made a couple of hashtags just for me, #TumbaTuesdays (Tumba is the local word for ‘to fall down’) and #SemplangSaturdays (Semplang means ‘to slip’). There was a time in my life where I tripped/fell down 4 consecutive Tuesdays. The sibs even tease me that I should name my scars because I always have one as a souvenir lol.

I guess it came as no surprise when my first attempt to paraglide had me falling face down on a hill. I had a sweater on but I gained bruises and cuts all over my arms. The brand new jeans I bought from Uniqlo before the trip got ripped, and I had a brand new set of scars in the making. The video is at the bottom of this post! My sister kept laughing because, in the raw video (my face had this terrified and uncomfortable look 90% of the time while paragliding), you can see the staff even teaching me how to run. Haha!

The harness I had on was pretty uncomfortable, and I thought that was usual for this kind of things. I found out later on that it shouldn’t be the case. It turns out that it was too small for me which is why I couldn’t sit all throughout the flight, and why it was too tight on my legs. The wind was so great for a day where they thought it would rain, and we could go on a longer flight, as per the instructor. He was surprised when I told him that no, I would prefer to land now because I felt too constricted. The harness was in all the wrong places – and after a day, bruises started showing in where the harness was.

It hasn’t turned me off paragliding, though. I would like to try it again, but maybe somewhere else where I can easily communicate. 🙂 Here’s a photo of my jeans and feet while on the bus back to Taiwan. The four women who flew before me was also in the same shuttle back to the bus stop. Two of them started shaking the dirt off me (they’re from Hong Kong) while someone checked me for bruises and generously applied ointment. It closed off my wounds by the end of the day and stopped the stinging immediately. Whatever that is, I think I need one for myself.

I got back at Taipei Main Station around 4 PM. I walked around within the vicinity and entered this really huge H&M. The clothes were cheaper than the ones sold in the Philippines, but my wild guess is it was because the sizes were all in XS and S! The reason why I even went in the first place was because it was a western brand and I needed bigger sizes. Haha! I did find this cute skater skirt that was sold for 150 TWD. Win!

I actually saw PABLO while I was on the bus. C and I weren’t able to try it while we were in Japan and I thought it would be nice to have a cake for my birthday. It was good, but I figured out later that I should have just bought those small tarts because, at the end of my trip, I had to leave half of the cheesecake in the hotel room fridge.

When I got back to the hotel (mostly, I just wanted to store the cheesecake in the fridge), I found out that there weren’t really restaurants that served Taiwanese food at that time. I was told though that Ningxia Night Market opens early and I will be able to find something to eat over there so they called me a cab to bring me to the market. One of the hotel staff did show me instructions on how to get there via public transportation, and I used that to go back to the hotel.

This was the only picture of food I ate at the night market because it was such a hassle to hold my phone in one hand while I eat with another. I had ordered so many random food items, I don’t even know which ones to recommend!

It was totally safe to put my phone in my backpack (I saw locals do it), but don’t forget to still exercise caution.

This big ass takoyaki’s stall had a line, so I lined up even if I was already full just to try it. I brought it back with me to the hotel and ate it there. I was not disappointed! I honestly wanna go back to Taiwan with either C, the sibs, or friends. There are so many things I did not get to eat because I had no one to share it with and unfortunately, my tummy is not a bottomless pit!

I went and video called C and the sibs so they can sing me a happy birthday while I hold the cake to the camera. Haha! Yes, I’m quirky like that. I made a reservation for TourMeAway’s pub crawl that night and was supposed to go after I freshened up, but I ended up eating cake while going on a Filipino movie marathon. Ahh, turning 25 and becoming a full fledged #TitasOfManila.

That’s it for my 25th! Here’s the video version of Day 2 (unavailable on mobile devices because of copyrighted content) with notable facial expressions while paragliding. Haha!