Category: Uncategorized

Vietnam was Pho-nomenal

I was never super interested in visiting Vietnam until this past year. I had heard mixed reviews of backpackers loving the contrast between city life and nature, while others complained about the pushiness of the local touts and the constant hard selling tactics they used on travelers. Sarah and I decided to see for ourselves. A couple of my study abroad friends had taken trips to Vietnam and loved it…it was time for us find out first hand.

Vietnam is actually a very large country. There’s so much to see and discover between the southern city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), and the northern capitol of Hanoi. We started our trip in the largest and most populous city of Ho Chi Minh City. I remember walking out of the airport after waiting for hours to get through the visa line, to an incredibly humid day and a SEA of Vietnamese people. As I’ve said before, Sarah and I love to stay in AirBnB’s for multiple reasons, but one reason in particular, is the inside scoop of how to get to the accommodation. It’s hard to explain the feelings of arriving in a foreign country and having to walk out the airport doors to an unknown world. It’s very overwhelming especially when you have a million Vietnamese taxi drivers grabbing your arms and bags trying to get you to take their “cheap” taxi. Luckily for us, our AirBnB host gave us excellent instructions on how to get to the apartment while not getting horribly ripped off…like most first timers do.

Other than the extra dollar the taxi driver made us pay for having two bags or something, we made it to the apartment in one piece, not broke, and very sweaty. One note on the weather, Vietnam is ridiculously humid. We thought Taiwan was bad, Vietnam was insane. Plus our apartment was on the fifth floor with no elevator J

Ho Chi Minh City was fantastic. It had a large city look and feel, but was walkable if you had time. Sarah and I stayed right on the edge of where the uppity financial district meets the “everyday life” part of the city. We spent our days sampling the local coffee and the delicious Vietnamese Pho soup, while literally dodging the hordes of scooters on our way to shop for handicrafts at the Ben Thanh Market.

img_0596img_1361img_6997img_0609

Another reason we loved Ho Chi Minh was the great backpacker vibe and nightlife. We enjoyed our nights scoping out tiny eateries and rooftop bars. The night that stands out the most was our first night in Vietnam. We were roaming the city streets searching for a restaurant in the pouring rain and quickly decided to run under an awning to get some cover. A group of 3 people from the Netherlands asked us to join them. Eight hours later we had exchanged hundreds of stories and made new friends…just from getting out of the rain. It’s one of the greatest joys of traveling. It’s meeting people from every corner of the world, not being afraid to look dumb or act a certain way, casting all judgements aside and swapping stories about life.

img_7091

img_7012

img_7010

We spent roughly four days in Ho Chi Minh and decided it was time to move on. We took a 1 hour flight north into Da Nang city. This was the closest airport to our next stop and one of Sarah’s favorite places of the entire summer…Hoi An. Hoi An is considered the most atmospheric and romantic town in Vietnam. This little town sits on a river with old women offering people the chance to light a lantern and float their wishes down the river. The cobblestone streets are lined with lanterns and buildings built centuries ago. Hoi An had an old town feel that was so calming and enjoyable. We rented a motorbike during the day and cruised through the miles of rice paddies to the pristine coastline of central Vietnam. We’d haul out the hammock and hang or lay out at the beach and read. Hoi An was paradise not only during the day, but at night as well. We’d rent bikes in the evening and pedal to the old town and eat local Vietnamese cuisine over a 25₵ beer. It felt like a candlelit, date night dinner with Sarah every night!

img_0636

DCIM105GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO

From Hoi An in central Vietnam to Hanoi in northern Vietnam, we decided to take the local train. The ride was a measly overnight, 18-hour trip. I was actually looking forward to this ride because we booked sleeper berths to relax the ride away. We shared the 4 bed berth a nice couple from Switzerland and made it to Hanoi.

img_0647

img_3554

We arrived in Hanoi early in the morning and walked to our hotel in the popular French Old Quarter. Hanoi had a much different atmosphere than Ho Chi Minh. It was more cramped, with little alleys and streets darting around like a spider web. It seemed like we ran into an older Vietnamese woman, balancing baskets with a pole over her shoulder, with her triangular rice hat, on almost every corner. Others were crowding around little stove tops with beef noodle soup brewing, while sitting on little plastic stools for breakfast. Hanoi felt…local.

img_0658

img_0652

img_0662

We spent our two days in Hanoi strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, walking through the shops in the Old Quarter filled with knock-off goods and trinkets, and almost getting runover by a million motorbikes screaming through the city streets. Meal time was our favorite time in Hanoi. Sarah and I both concluded that Hanoi had the greatest food in all of Vietnam. There wasn’t much of a nightlife scene in Hanoi, so we found a little corner shop that we ate at every night. It was a tiny little place that looked to be family run, and the food was unbelievable. The soups and meat were to die for.

img_0669

From Hanoi, we took an exhausting but very worthwhile day trip to one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam and all of S.E. Asia…Halong Bay. What made this Bay so breathtaking were the hundreds of limestone islands that rose up outstandingly from the ocean, covered in jungle vegetation. For the day tour, we boarded a junk boat which was essentially an old Chinese sailing ship that was used for sailing around the Bay. It was an overcast day, but we thoroughly enjoyed taking the kayaks around the cliffs and exploring the islands up close.

DCIM105GOPRO

DCIM105GOPRO

Our last stop on our Vietnam tour was Tam Coc, Ninh Binh. This part of the trip was completely last minute and not planned….and turned out to be our favorite part of the trip. Tam Coc is loosely referred to the Halong Bay on land. For us, we thought it was even more impressive than Halong Bay. The area was stunningly beautiful. The limestone cliffs and flowing rice paddies were never-ending and the colors that erupted over the cliffs at twilight were spectacular. It was such a peaceful setting. We stayed at a little B&B and enjoyed looking at the scenery from the porch in mornings and taking hikes through the cliffs during the days. The main attraction in Tam Coc was to get in a row boat and have a heavy Vietnamese lady row you, with her feet, between the cliffs and through tunnels along the river. It was probably the best $5 we spent the whole holiday.

DCIM105GOPRO

img_1460

DCIM105GOPRO

Other than the sweltering heat, you were awesome Vietnam!

A Second in Singapore

After a beautiful week soaking up the sun and surf in Indonesia, we made our way back to the airport only to find out that our flight to Singapore had been cancelled. Crap. I had purposely booked a full day and night layover at one of my all-time favorite city states, Singapore. Again, I visited Singapore 5 years ago on my previous SE Asia tour and fell in love with the city. It’s literally a melting pot of people, colors, religions, and languages squeezed into one of the most technologically advanced and wealthiest cities in the world. Jam packed into this concrete jungle are areas for anyone’s tastes. In one day, you can visit Little India for your slice of the Hindu culture, haggle in Chinatown, or shop ‘til you drop on Orchard Road. Immediately upon landing at Changi International airport and onboard the conveniently placed MRT line from the airport to the city, you are surrounded by people from all over the globe. I love that feeling.

IMG_6967-2

Anyways, back to the cancelled flight BS. If any of you readers get over to SE Asia, avoid Jetstar Airways like the plague. Horrible airline on all fronts. We found out our flight was cancelled when we got to the airport and went up to the counter and asked to get rescheduled onto the next available flight to Singapore as we needed to catch a connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The Jetstar agent looked at us like we were idiots. He basically told us we were sh*t out of luck, go find another way. We couldn’t believe this! We ended up having to race around the airport asking every and all airlines if they had anything available to Singapore. Thankfully we found a flight for 7 hours later that evening, but we had to pay for it out of pocket, but even more disappointing was not being able to spend the day in Singapore.

Fast forward 9 hours and we finally landed in Singapore at about 8pm. I was in a very bad mood, and to top it off, I lost one of my flip flops. That really ticked me off. We weren’t flying out of Singapore until the following morning at around 11am, so we decided to make the best of our situation and go into the city. I originally had lofty plans of hanging out along the river at Clarke Quay over a nice dinner, spending time in Little India, and winning my money back at the ultra-lux Marina Bay Sands Casino and Resort.

IMG_6991-3

None of that happened which disappointed me, but we were able to spend some time walking around the Marina Bay and the gardens, and finally laying on a bench watching the city lights of downtown Singapore. It wasn’t the ideal day, but it worked out. Sarah was still able to get a glimpse of one of my favorite places on earth.

IMG_6963-2

We took a cab back to the airport around 12:30am tried to find a dark, quiet place to sleep. It just plain sucks to sleep in the airport.

photo-3

That was a long night of waking up every 15 minutes with a sore back. Thankfully our flight to Ho Chi Minh City was right on track. Off to Vietnam!

Sea Turtles and Rice Paddies

The end to our time in Taiwan was incredibly bittersweet. On one spectrum, we were very sad to be leaving the place we came to love, but on the other hand, we were GEEKED about our 2 month jaunt around Southeast and South Asia!
After waving goodbye to a group of our closest friends at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, with our backpacks in hand, we were aboard a very cramped, direct AirAsia flight to stop number one…Indonesia!
Indonesia is, uncommonly known, the fourth largest country and has the highest Muslim population in the world. With over 18,000 islands, it’s a diver/snorkeler/layer outers dream come true. It was the perfect place for Sarah and me to start off our  summer of travel. She could tan the day away while I was able to revel in the underwater world with my favorite marine fish.

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO
We flew into Denpasar International Airport on the super popular island of Bali. I visited Bali 5 years ago with my younger brother Jordan and his friend, Alec Green and we had the time our lives. I really wanted to share those experiences with Sarah, so we started in northern Bali in a place called Ubud. Have you ever read the book, “Eat, pray, Love?” In a nutshell, it talks about a girl who falls in love with an Italian guy while practicing yoga amidst the enchanting rice paddies that surround the villages in Ubud. My brother, Al, and I really regretted not going to Ubud last time, so I made it a point to visit this time. It did not disappoint! Southern Bali, especially the Kuta, Seminyak, and Legion areas are incredibly busy and don’t have a lot of local culture to experience, so Ubud was a great choice to start the trip.

IMG_6884 IMG_6890

It was about a 2 hour taxi ride north of the airport and we were dumped literally into the rice paddies. We spent the first 3 days in vacation mode…wandering through the paddies, watching the rice farmers gather their rice, laying out by the pool, and indulging in the native Nasi and Mie Goreng noodles.

IMG_6880 IMG_6896

IMG_3280
A highlight from the previous trip to Indonesia was the Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno make up the Gili Islands, which lie about a 2.5 hour boat ride from the eastern shore of Bali, or a 15-30 minute boat ride from Lombok. 5 years ago, these were off-the-beaten path, unspoiled islands. At the time, many locals lived on the largest island, Gili Trawangan, and us guys were excited to be on a slice of paradise that the hordes of travelers hadn’t discovered yet. I knew Sarah would love this place. We debated and debated on which island to stay on as the smaller two islands were very laid back with not much to do once the sun went down. Present day Gili T had lost its “untouched” luster a little bit as many new restaurants and guest houses had popped up over the past 5 years. We weighed the options and ultimately decided to stay on Gili T. Although we lost some culture, it offered more opportunities for dining and accommodation, but most importantly for me, was the night market.

DCIM104GOPRO

Gili T is the only island with a night market run by the local people, serving freshly caught fish, and unique chicken and beef dishes. Every night was spent scarfing down the delicious Indonesian cuisine washed down with a Bintang brew discussing the two most asked questions in the backpacking world, “Where’ve you been?” and, “Where you off to next?” Where in reality, no one actually really cares, because they’ve probably been there or they’re heading there next. Same stories over and over!

IMG_3327 IMG_3326
We spent our days snorkeling in what had to be one of the best off-the-beach reefs in the world. Just a few steps in the water and we were surrounded with fields of soft coral swaying to the waves, and colorful clownfish and moorish idols swimming through the mazes of hard stony coral. We even got to swim next to several majestic sea turtles!

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO

We took one day to visit the smallest island of Gili Meno. The “port,” was very small and that was where all five of the island’s restaurants were located, with some upper class guesthouses surrounding. But once we walked 15 minutes farther down the beach, we could’ve been on our own private island in the South Pacific. It was unbelievable. We snorkeled among some of the finest reefs in the world with not a sole in sight…couldn’t beat that.

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO
It wasn’t all paradise though. For the two months we were gone, we tried to stay within a budget of $30 dollars per night for accommodation. Now, that’s not that hard to do considering you can stay in a 40 person hostel dorm room for $6 per night, but do you want to be sleeping with 39 drunken people? Toss up. If you would’ve asked me 5 years ago, $6 a night was the the way to go – no matter what. Nonetheless, I’ve grown up a bit, and have really enjoyed having our own place. We used AirBnB whenever possible. Rather than your typical, sterile hotel room, AirBnB is a website where anyone can put their homes/vacation homes/treehouses/boats/castles up for rent. Sarah and I love to use AirBnB because it offers a true window into the lives of the local people. Instead of a one bedroom, one bathroom hotel room, we’ve stayed in 30th floor; three bedroom condo’s overlooking skylines of some of the biggest cities in Asia….all for a fraction of the price.

IMG_3378
When places like the above didn’t work out or AirBnB didn’t have budget options, it was good ol’ hostelworld. We did our best to stay away from the dorms rooms and at least get our own room. This usually meant $30 for a board for a bed, giant cockroaches, and a mosque prayer playing over the loud speaker and an ear splitting level from 2-5AM EVERY single night…basically our experience on Gili T. Other than the hostel we stayed in, Gili T ruled. It’s one of our all-time favorite spots. The mixture of local culture, beach, ocean, and nightlife made for an incredible week. Indonesia is a must for anyone taking the hike to Southeast Asia.

IMG_3374

Last Days in Taipei

Where to begin? It was one heck of a summer and a lot has happened, things learned, and new places explored. I’m going to begin a series of blog posts that I wasn’t able to get to when we were traveling this summer. Time to fill you in!

June 30, 2015 was officially our last day as Teacher Kyle and Teacher Sarah the English teachers. What a year it was…already, as we look back and reminisce on our teaching days, it brings back challenging but great memories. We’ve come to the conclusion that teaching really has it’s ups and downs, perhaps more than any other job we’ve ever had. There were days that were just plain fun. The kids were joking around, paying attention, and listening. I loved introducing my older kids to things like paintball or sim city and see their eyes light up with imagination. They actually wanted to write journal entries about these topics. Can you believe that?!

IMG_3243 IMG_3146

Other days were extremely frustrating and draining. You know the feeling when you finally get out of work after a bad day and just want to hit something? It happens with teaching, too. You FINALLY get all your first graders sitting in their seats after 20 minutes of everyone (actually no one) needing to go to the bathroom… and then Emma drops her gigantic pencil case. An explosion of every type of pen, pencil, eraser, whiteout, ruler, scissors, tiny anime creatures, and stickers scattered all of over the floor. Commence 9 first graders rolling on the floor laughing uncontrollably. The first couple times it’s kind of cute, but after repeating this on a daily basis, it gets old, real old.

All in all, teaching was a valuable and rewarding experience. We remember our first week of teaching and how nervous we were and how much easier it got as the weeks went by. I don’t know if any of you readers remember my first post on teaching, but I’ll recap a bit. We taught for an English institute that was an after school program for the Taiwanese kids. We taught the kids after they had been in their regular Chinese schools all day. Our school was also a for profit institution. This made our jobs interesting. We would run into kids that were great students but others really gave us a run for our money. I had a 7 year old student who wrote me a note telling that I should go to H-E-double hockey sticks (he wrote the real thing). How does a 7 year old know that word?! With the school running for profit, there was nothing I could do about it. The school needed the tuition money. At times it was incredibly frustrating not getting support when it was needed. On the other hand, we had kids that were very serious about their English learning and it was exciting to see how much their English levels improved over the year. Our last day at school, we gave all the students our facebooks and we have been in touch with some of them, which is very cool. I hope to stay in touch and see where they end up in life. We truly learned how to interact and work with people of all ages from a culture far different than ours.

IMG_3244

Our last few days were busy saying our goodbyes to all the wonderful people we met over the past year. What a weird feeling saying goodbye to the people we called our family while we were in Taiwan. Sarah and I spent an entire night with our night market family. They threw us a huge goodbye party with all the people we encountered there this past year. We felt truly loved and felt we had made not just great friends for the year, but friends for a lifetime. Sarah put together an ABC book for our little kiddo’s so they could continue their English learning through memories of the foreigners from America. We had spent so much time getting to know this family who literally didn’t speak a lick of English. Sarah, who barely speaks a word of Chinese, was able to connect and develop a relationp with Joan and the kids through smiles, hugs, me translating, and her trusty English-Chinese dictionary 🙂 We ate until we were stuffed and I was challenged by every macho guy around the table to an arm wrestle…weaklings 😉 We are excited to visit Taipei and especially our 737 night market to see our “family” again one day.

IMG_3178 IMG_3177 IMG_3175 IMG_3174 IMG_3173

IMG_3160

Fast forward one more day to July 1, our last day in Taipei, Taiwan, our home for the last year. What a strange day it was. We moved out of our apartment at 9am and we weren’t leaving until 1am that night, so we had all day to ourselves and our backpacks. We wanted to hit all of our favorite spots one more time. It was such a surreal feeling as we sat in our hammock looking over our favorite Bihu Lake. Were we really leaving tonight? Our time here was finished…already? The place we’ve come to love…when would we come back? The feelings were all over the board…Excited, sad, apprehensive. It was done. Our time in Taiwan was done and we had a freaking blast of a year. We met some amazing Taiwanese friends who we already miss dearly. Thank goodness for snapchat! We also have to thank them profusely for the caravan ride to the airport. Literally all of our friends packed into 3 cars just to take Sarah and me to the airport. How awesome is that? We were a little overwhelmed with the love from our friends.

IMG_3255 IMG_3226 IMG_3227 IMG_3209 IMG_3258

We couldn’t help but put on big smile as we walked to the departure gate and said goodbye to Taipei.

Kyle & Sarah

Home vs. Taiwan

Hi,

As our time winds down here in Taiwan, Sarah and I have really been reflecting on the past year. What have we experienced? What have we learned? How can we apply our time here to our life back in GR? It’s always been very entertaining and intriguing to have “honest hour,” with our guests…to listen to what differences they saw and felt while visiting Taiwan. Now, as we prepare to leave Taiwan, it’s our turn to have our “honest hour.” I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the differences and quirks Sarah and I have come to know while living here. I, by no means, want to disrespect anyone or anything, but just want to share some of the cultural differences and how they have affected us.

1. Toilets

The infamous squatty potty. Actually, I just read an article the other day how the Western world is pooping all wrong. The sit down toilets we use to drop the number 2 are not designed for ideal trajectory. How often do you hear people struggling to push it out? That can’t be good on the ol’ b-hole. What’s the answer? The squatty potty! It’s basically a pit in the ground where you crouch down nice and low and let it go. Apparently, the squatting angle is the perfect angle for optimum results. Who knew? However (I know this would make a lot of Dad’s angry), you aren’t able to enjoy your evening newspaper and relax…I think I’ll stick to the Western style. Sarah, on the other hand, loves the squatty potty!

image

Fun fact: When I was experiencing the squatty for the first time, I was sure I had everything aimed just right. PLOP. I looked behind me and there it was….right BEHIND the hole. CRAAAAP (pun intended).

2. Transportation

It’s been an adjustment not having a car to quick jump into…but it’s been reallllly nice not having to drop $40 a week on filling the tank. No car, no scooter, no bike….although hindsight is always 20/20. A bike would’ve been a great purchase 10 months ago. It’s been the subway and walking. The MRT system in Taipei is absolutely fantastic. Within about 40 minutes you can be anywhere in the city for no more than $1.50. Instead of $40 a week on gas, it’s $40 a month on the MRT card…not too shabby. We also live only one MRT stop from our school, so we walk there and back, 20 minutes each way. Great excuse for some exercise.

image

image

3. Trash Day

I love this one. I wish I could embed a video on this blog to show you a live feed, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Anyways, walking home from school one night, Sarah and I happened upon what looked like, a giant gathering outside of all the apartment buildings. All of a sudden we hear Beethoven’s Fur Elise playing over a loud speaker…ice cream truck? Awesome, I would love an ice cream cone! Psych! The garbage truck was blaring classical music while rolling up the street. Now, that’s awesome!

Most people here don’t have a trash service like we do at home, so once a week they bring out their trash to the street and throw it into the Beethoven-playing trash truck. Hey, at the least the song makes trash day a little more enjoyable.

4. 7-11

7-11 just straight up owns over here. From our building alone, we can walk to four different 7-11’s within the same walking distance. There’s literally a 7-11 or Family Mart on every single corner or road. They’re not your average 7-11 either. I know what 7-11 you Grand Rapids people are picturing when I talk about 7-11…yea, that real shabby one on Fulton and Lane…way different! The 7-11’s over here offermuch  more than your Coca-Cola slurpee.You are able to pay every utility bill, buy a gourmet latte, eat lunch, and purchase any type of sporting or entertainment ticket you can imagine. On top of all that, instead of having your recent online purchase sent to your house, you can have it sent to the nearest 7-11 for pick up!

image image

5. Winter Clothing in Summer

Summer months in Taiwan are hot…ridiculously hot. It’s 100 degrees with 100% humidity. For us, the last thing we’d ever think of wearing on a day like this are a coat and a pair of jeans. But when you look around, you see many people wearing sweaters, jeans, coats, hats and a popped umbrella to protect their face.  People here cover up when it’s hot. They avoid the sunrays like the plague. Us Americans could really learn a few lessons from our Taiwanese counterparts. Although I like to get my tan on, you can definitely see the positive affects of staying out of the sun on the middle aged people here. They look so young and their skin is flawless.

image

6. Scooters vs. Trucks

Scooters are everywhere, and they are not just used to transport people. Scooters are the most convenient mode of transport for people AND things. You will never see a GMC 2500 or a Ford F350 on the road here, but will see a million Yamaha 50cc scooters! It’s amazing what you will see on the back of those units. We’ve seen everything from an extension ladder to a 10 foot high pile of clothes….and the occasional family of five!

image image image

Yes, there is a baby hidden in there!

7. Markets vs. Meijer

This difference has been an enjoyable experience for us to get used to. We love walking through our local day market on a Saturday morning. They are so full of life with people searching and bargaining for the best price on star fruit or pig tongue. If you ever get the chance to go to Asia, make sure to visit the local markets. This is where you get a true taste of the everyday life. Other than Costco, there is nothing remotely close to a Meijer. We have a grocery store next to our house, but it is small and expensive. For our staples, we head to the market. Unlike at home where you can easily drop $150 once a week for a weeks worth of food, we tend to spend $5-$10 everyday on what we will eat that day. There’s usually nothing wasted, where at home I could probably count a shelf’s worth of half eaten boxes of snacks. We hope to combine these two very different methods of grocery shopping when we get home. Trust us, we definitely miss Meijer. It makes us smile thinking of being able to buy everything we want in one store!

IMG_6007 IMG_5840 IMG_5804

8. Chinese

This is a no brainer. There are two official languages in Taiwan: Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese. Just about everyone can speak both languages. Taiwanese is generally spoken amongst the older generation, while Mandarin is used by everyone else. I started learning Mandarin as a freshman in college and came to Taiwan my junior year for the first time to study it more in depth. Chinese is a very difficult language to learn and is vastly different from English. First and foremost, there is absolutely no alphabet, rather each character stands for a word. 我 = I, 愛 = love, 你 = you, 我愛你 = I love you. The no alphabet thing makes it very difficult to read and write..especially write. It comes down to root memorization. It’s a constant flipping and flipping of flashcards. They say you need to know about 3,000 characters just to make sense of a newspaper.

The grammar side of things, compared to other languages, is rather easy. Remember when you had to learn the male and female of every word in Spanish? Remember all the conjugations you had to memorize? Chinese has neither of these. In fact, other than adding 了 to a sentence or two, there aren’t even any tenses to learn. The basic structure is as follows: 我們今天晚上想要喝一杯紅茶 We today tonight would like drink one cup black tea. Not too bad!

Lastly, and most importantly in terms of speaking, are the four tones. Chinese is a tonal language and requires its learners to memorize the tone of each word. Depending on the tone of your word can change the meaning drastically. It can be extremely frustrating when I’m trying to say something, that I think is right, but turns out my tone was wrong and the person has no idea what I’m trying to say. For example, if I were to say “Mom” using the flat tone, that would be correct, but if I said “Mom” in the falling then rising tone, I would be calling her a horse. Need to know your tones!

I love learning Chinese. It’s a difficult but very rewarding language to learn. It’s always fun asking for something at the market in Chinese and getting a response of “you speak Chinese?!” It’s also opened doors to many friendships that I otherwise wouldn’t have made. Sarah has even learned some Chinese! She is able to go to the market by herself and buy the things she needs. I’m so proud of her 🙂

9. Hospitality

Lastly, you can’t beat the hospitality of the people here. Everyone has made us feel so welcome. From our night market family to our friends in Neihu, they have spoiled us beyond words. Whenever we bring guests to the night market or go out to eat with our friends, we are treated to endless amounts of food. They are just so proud of their home and are excited to share their culture with other people. This is something we are looking forward to bringing home to America. Instead of saving that $10 for who knows what, why not share a share a pint of your favorite beer with someone? We are going to miss our friends and their hospitality immensely.

image image

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it gave you a window into the life and culture of Taiwan and its people. What an amazing country to call home for a year!

Kyle and Sarah

Benny & Jenny Invade Taiwan

Yes. Definitely time for an update. It’s been WAY too long and I apologize. Blogging is a lot more work than I anticipated and it’s so easy to say “Ahh, I’ll just write it next week.” Well it’s been 6 weeks and it’s time. I’ll regret this 6 week lapse in posts a year from now when Sarah and I want to live our time again through the posts. Oh well, it’s my own fault.

Anyways! Time is winding down… It’s scary. It’s just amazing how fast the time has gone. Where did this year go? Amongst delicious food and fantastic experiences, it’s been filled with lots of visitors! We added to that list two weeks ago with Sarah’s younger brother Ben and his girlfriend Jenny. We’ve had just about everyone from our families (sorry Luke!) visit us over the past year and Ben and Jenny didn’t want to miss out. Originally, they weren’t sure if they could make it with the timing of school letting out and their summer jobs, but what the hay? They couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of the most BA countries in the world. So after 32 hours of missing flights, changing airports, and long layovers, they arrived in the hot and humid country of Taiwan. Let the fun begin.

I don’t need to go into detail about the usual itinerary for our visitors…I think I’ve beaten that to death in the previous posts. What we DO like to do with each pack of visitors is to do something unique and different from the rest. We knew Ben and Jenny were coming off a travel high with their recent interim trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, so we had to get them out into the beautiful mountains of Eastern Taiwan in Yilan/Hualien.

Another one of my favorite things to do with the visitors is to get them into a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable…where they feel like a fish out of water. Taipei is easy. Sure, it is much different than the USA, but it is an international city. There are Starbucks and McDonald’s at almost every MRT stop. Pizza Hut and Dominoes are also littered around the city. It’s a culture shock arriving in Taipei, but you really feel that shock once you get out of Taipei, the way of life outside the big city. That is when you feel, “Wow. I am a long ways from home.” That feeling is what is so rewarding when traveling. Experiencing a way of life vastly different from the one you are accustomed to.

We started out the weekend taking the local train to Wai Ao beach in Yilan County. It’s a super quiet coastal “town.” It was super quiet that weekend, almost like a ghost town. Ben and Jenny were a little wide eyed, trying to wrap their heads around their new surroundings. We stayed in a nice little hostel on the coast as our headquarters for exploring the surrounding area.

image

We arrived early and decided to take a short hike in the mountains as we waited for our room to be prepared. Quick fact: weather in Taiwan can change drastically within minutes. Sunshine one minute, torrential downpour the next. We set out on the hike with sunshine and within minutes…torrential downpour. We were literally soaked to the core. It was a blast..plus, good memories happen when things don’t always go as planned.

image

The weather stunk the rest of the day. We decided to just bomb around in the ocean with what we were wearing on the mountain. Might as well get it clean while swimming in the sea. We ended the night with a couple brews huddled under an umbrella playing euchre. I was also able to play a few tunes on the hostel’s guitar.

The next day was why we came to Yilan in the first place. Sarah and I had heard about a super remote hike to an enormous waterfall. Can’t beat that! The directions were very obscure and went a little something like, “take a left at the big rock,” or “continue down until you see an acorn.” Haha, maybe not the acorn part, but you get what I mean. We traveled a few hours out of Taipei hoping the waterfall actually existed and that the directions would get us there. Anyone we talked to had never even heard of the waterfall we were trying to find.

image

The start of the trailhead was actually at one of the most famous waterfall attractions in Jiaoxi, Taiwan. We were really hoping we didn’t get suckered into going all the way there just to climb a million man made steps to see a super touristy attraction. Luckily for us, the directions told us to, “take a left at the big rock, and continue the opposite direction.” Good, we wanted to be as far away from that trap as possible. We continued along the path and we were soon greeted with the jungle. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by nothing but greenery and spectacular views of the mountains surrounding us.

image image

We finally came upon the part Ben and I had been looking forward to…river trekking. The trail stopped at the river and the rest was up to us. Time to get the feet wet and traverse up the river. Our first stop along the river was a small waterfall descending into a little watering hole. We had fun jumping in it from the rocks and cooling off a bit.

image

We continued our river trek trying not to totally slip and fall and finally came upon Yuimeikang Falls. Wow! It was one of the coolest waterfalls I had ever seen and we could literally stand in it! We were all pretty awestruck. We had no idea what the waterfall would be like, so we were more than overjoyed. It was absolutely amazing and we all agreed it was one of the best hikes we had ever been on. Totally worth the trip!

image image

It was a fun week for all of us. We were never in high school with Ben or Jenny, so we had never had a lot of time with just the two of them. It was a great week of just spending time with each other and truly getting to know them. We spent the week checking out the Taipei 101, touring the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, walking through Dahu Park, cycling along the Neihu riverside, and climbing Tiger Mountain.

image image image image

Our favorite night of the week was going to one of our favorite restaurants. Sarah and I met some guys at this restaurant a while ago and we have been hanging out with them ever since. They wanted to give us what they call, “a great memory” of Taiwan. We were treated to a table filled to the max with any and every dish you could possibly think of and plenty of Taiwan beer to go around. It was such a fun night introducing Ben and Jenny to the hospitality of the Taiwanese people and of course, introducing them to some of our good friends in Taiwan.

image image image

What an awesome week! We’ve loved having our families visit us over here. It’s been a blast introducing them to our Taiwanese life and the people in our lives. We will truly miss the people and places over here.

image

Stay tuned. I promise it won’t be six weeks again.

Kyle and Sarah

 

我們最喜歡的地方:第二部分 Our Favorite Places: Part II

Hey everyone,

Time for part two of our favorite places in Taipei!

1) 台北 101 Taipei 101

I think you all must know by now that I have a building crush on the Taipei 101. It’s such a beautiful building isn’t it? The Taipei 101 is located in the Xinyi District of Taipei and in 2004 was the tallest building in the world. In 2010, it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Now, it is the sixth tallest building in the world. How many floors do you think it has? You guessed it…101! For those of you who do not know, Taiwan experiences lots and lots earthquakes, ranging from barely feeling them to definitely feeling them. You would think building one of the tallest skyscrapers in Taipei wouldn’t be a great idea, but thanks to the Taipei 101’s 660 ton mass dampener, it can withstand wind gusts up to 135mph and is one of the most stable buildings ever constructed in history. It’s design is similar to that of bamboo, which symbolizes learning and growth. It’s a great example of ancient symbolism and modern technology. Pretty sweet huh?! I love this building. Another cool feature are the lights. The lights on the building are a different color each day.

IMG_1808

IMG_1842

IMG_1175

2) 紅色的蘋果商店 Red Apple Store

This is a local store that Sarah has dubbed “our Target.” It’s a little shop right down the road from our apartment across the street from Bihu Lake. Although it’s a very small store, it packs a punch. You can literally buy anything here…anything from shoes, stationary, and groceries, to fish tanks, chinese yo-yo’s, and beats by Dre. If we are ever in a pickle and need something, Red apple is the place to go. Another great thing about it? It’s cheaper than dirt. I would say it’s a cross between a dollar store, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target. Sarah definitely loves this place.

IMG_2738

3) 河畔 The Riverside

We always knew there was a large river flowing through Taipei, but it was hard to tell where it actually flowed. Little did we know that the river flowed right through Neihu (our neighborhood). It’s kind of hidden amongst the highrises of Taipei, but once you reach it, it’s a beautiful place to hang out. All along the river there are bike paths to ride along and countless green areas to play soccer or work on your Taiji. On the weekend, you can see thousands of locals having picnics and kids and adults playing baseball or softball. It also offers a fantastic view of the Xinyi District. We love roaming the parks of the riverside on the weekends.

IMG_2673

IMG_1796

4) 西門町 Ximending

Ximending is more of a younger/hip part of Taipei. It’s also one of the few areas that is pedestrian only. It’s called the “Harajuku,” “Shinjuku,” or “Shibuya,” of Taipei. For those of you who don’t know, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Shibuya are very famous areas in Tokyo, Japan. Ximending is home to Taiwan’s fashion, subculture, and Japanese culture. You can get a tattoo at the countless open air tattoo parlors, eat at Modern Toilet, or shop at the many jewelry and clothing stores scattered among the walking streets. Although we don’t go here too often, it’s been a favorite amongst our visitors.

IMG_2062

IMG_2597

5) 忠孝復興/忠孝敦化 Zhongxiao Fuxing/Zhongxiao Dunhua

Another downtown area of Taipei. This area is very convenient for us and one that we visit quite often as it’s right off our MRT line. It’s safe to say that this area reminds people of Times Square in New York. It has lots of buildings with bright neon signs littered across them. We go to this area if we are craving Western food as it’s home to a myriad of bars, cafes, and international restaurants.

IMG_2566

6) 國立中正紀念堂 Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

I’ve mentioned this site many times in previous blog posts, because it’s a staple on our itinerary of things to see when we have visitors. This memorial was built in honor of the former President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). A couple things to note: The roof is octogonal, which represents the number eight. Eight is a number associated in Chinese culture with abundance and good fortune. The memorial hall has 89 steps leading to the entrance which represents the age of Chiang Kai-Shek at the time of his death.

IMG_1946

On the same grounds as the memorial, there are also the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. These two buildings are stunning examples of Asian architecture, both of which are very impressive to look upon.

IMG_0990

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual tour of some of our favorite spots in Taipei. Althought Taiwan is a small country, it really has so many things to see and do. It definitely has been an incredible place to call home for a year 🙂

Kyle and Sarah

Taipei Eats

Hey!

Time is a flying by. It’s crazy how fast the year is going. So many amazing experiences, sights, and FOOD. For this blog post I thought it’d be fun to give you a glimpse into some of our favorite restaurants over here. The eating life for us in Taiwan is much different than it is at home. Looking back at home life in GR, it’s pretty crazy how much money we spend on groceries and eating out. The culture of food here is quite different. It’s more expensive for us to buy groceries from the local supermarket than it is for us to go out. We tend to eat most of our lunches at home, but go out for a meal every night. If you eat local, you can easily have a hearty meal of rice, tofu, pig blood, stinky tofu, and meat vegetables for just a couple bucks. When you want to “splurge” and go out for a nice meal, it will hardly put you back $20. Here is a glimpse at some of our favorite restaurants in Taipei.

1) Toasteria

This is my all-time favorite restaurant in the whole world. My first time in Taiwan, my roommate Tuukka and I, happened to stumble on this place when we were on a break from class…my life hasn’t been the same since. It’s a mediterranean/grilled cheese sandwich joint. It’s a hipster place and is a local foreigner hangout. My sandwich of choice is the four cheese grilled cheese while Sarah’s is the pesto, goat cheese sandwich. We probably eat at Toasteria two times a month…although I could eat here every single meal!

IMG_1980IMG_0418

2) Dumplings

Ah, the delicious steamed dumplings. Our favorite dumpling place was originally at our local 737 night market and it was always jam-packed. Huge lines of people waiting to eat the pork filled steamed dumplings and the hot and sour soup. The stall has now moved into a store front down the street from the night market in order to take on the growing demand for the fantastic dumplings. Ten dumplings for the low cost of $2…can’t beat that. We eat dumplings probably once a week. Soo good.

IMG_1238

3) Korean BBQ

We found this restaurant within the first few months of being here while roaming the streets of the  Zhongxiao Dunhua area. This is probably the most “expensive” restaurant we eat at, and is a fan favorite of all our visitors. The meal is composed of two elements. The hot pot and the grill. You start by ordering a soup or broth and choose your favorite vegetables to boil in the hot pot. Next, you order your favorite meats from an enormous selection ranging from lamb and chicken legs to oyster balls and pig intestines. It’s a not your typical sit down and eat-your- plate type of restaurant as the grill and hot pot are directly in front of you on the table. It’s a constant grill, stir, and eat sequence. The best thing about this place? It’s all you can eat and all you can drink for 2 hours for a reasonable price of $15 per person.

IMG_1535

IMG_1529

IMG_1532

4) Beef Noodle Soup Place

This is a new favorite of ours and one that was discovered when the Brower parents and Hannah were visiting. We were wandering our neighborhood looking everywhere for somewhere to eat and we just decided to try it. What a great discovery! It doesn’t have a name but serves some of our favorite beef noodle soup. It’s definitely a hole-in-the-wall as it’s tucked away, basically inside a house. We’ve been eating here at least once a week ever since, and for $2, we are stuffed.

IMG_1209_2

unnamed-2

5) 737 Night Market

I’ve talked about this night market numerous times, but it HAS to be included into the list of our favorites places to eat. Terry serves up a mean “Terry’s special,” which is Chinese vegetables, lamb or chicken, with a chili and garlic-induced peanut sauce. His son and daughter-in-law’s stall serves a delicious chicken and rice and Sarah’s favorite sweet tofu. On top of those specials, and if you happen to come on a night when people are generous, you are garuaranteed to try something you have never even heard of. The pigs blood on the other hand…not so good.

IMG_0990

6) Yvonne’s Restaurant

It’s not officially called Yvonne’s Restaurant, but we gave it that name because our friend Yvonne introduced us to this great place. It’s become one of our favorites and is usually our Thursday night spot after we finish teaching. It’s located in the Neihu business district, one MRT stop from our apartment and is frequently home to a lot of business people grabbing a meal after work. Each dish is around $3 and we usually order two to four plates to share. We love this restaurant because it has a great atmosphere and it’s fun to order multiple dishes to pass around. The only downfall to this restaurant is the garlic…so, so, so much garlic. Let’s just say when you wake up the next morning, you think you have a garlic clove permanently stuck in your mouth. How about that for morning breath? Oh, it’s also a Heineken bar, so it’s the closest thing to a bar we have around our apartment 🙂 Can’t beat an ice-cold Heineken after an exhausting day of teaching our lovely students 🙂

IMG_0907

IMG_6534

 

IMG_1781

This is just a taste of some of our favorite restaurants. Sarah and I always say we already miss the food here in Taiwan and we haven’t even left yet! The food in Taiwan is so freaking delicious and we are going to miss eating all of it so much when we head home. I guess we just have to eat it up while we can!

Hope you all have a great week!

Kyle and Sarah

 

Browers Invade Taiwan: Excerpts From Mom Brower

Yo yo yo! Time for a new blog post. As some of you may or may not know, we’ve been busy with visitors! Sarah’s Mom, Dad, and younger sister came to Taipei to hang out with us and get a window into our lives over here. What a great week it was. Taiwan is a place The Brower’s had never even thought about before and us living here gave them a great excuse to come check it out. I think it’s safe to say that had an amazing, eye opening experience as they lived our life for a few days.

With that being said, Mom Brower kept a daily journal and documented their everyday travels, sights, smells, and tastes. I thought it would be fun to change up this blog post…this post will be excerpts taken from Mom Brower’s journal to give you a different and new point of view of what it was like to be in Taiwan.

So from the eyes of Mom Brower:

Day 1

Slept like babies and ready to see the city! Ready to set out for our first MRT ride to Tea Mountain. Rode the gondola up, up, up to Tea Mountain! The weather was a sunny 90 degrees…beautiful weather! The views on top were beautiful! We enjoyed vanilla milk tea at an outdoor tea garden overlooking Taipei.

IMG_6560

After a bathroom break back at the apartment, we were headed to Houshanpi to experience the crazy streets of Taiwan and a hike up to Tiger Mountain. Spectacular views on top of a cliff with no fences! We ended the night strolling through Raohe Night Market and then headed to 737 for steamed dumplings and soup. What an eventful first day!

IMG_8246

Day 2

After a smorgasbord of pastries from the local bakery, we headed out to the coastal town of a Danshui. We shopped, embraced new adventures, foods, and people. The first “new taste” was bubble tea! We liked it….but what are those little black balls really? After exploring and walking for hours, Hannah got a little hangry (hungry and angry). We were vey indecisive about where to eat, so we ended up going for “gas station” chicken at 7-11 🙂 We regrouped and headed for new culinary adventures. We sampled fried squid and Taiwanese ice cream cones. The area offered a beautiful view of the water, city, and a little tranquility.

IMG_6650

IMG_6645

After Danshui we headed to Shilin Night Market and it was BUSY. We got sucked into the crowds as we passed booth after booth of food, clothing, and more food! Well, we did it! We all tried the infamous stinky tofu. Final analysis of the tofu…Some almost threw up and no one needed a repeat…But we were all feeling proud for trying it.

IMG_1276

IMG_1304_2

Day 3

He is Risen! Great devotions on this Easter morning. We headed out to their familiar and our unfamiliar surroundings. Bought some baked goods, bubble tea, and slushies from the different day markets. Got some anti-itch cream for Dad…lots of walking 😉 Picked up some fruit and found a table at tranquil Bihu Lake for a nice brunch. Such a gorgeous place in the middle of extreme busyness. Definitely a place that was needed after being surrounded by throngs of people. We then went down to downtown Taipei, the “Michigan Street of Taipei.” High rises, business district, upscale shopping, and many restaurants are all here. We all went to the top of Taipei 101 to take a look of Taipei from up high. Amazing views from the observatories!

IMG_0994_2

IMG_1050_2

IMG_8848

Day 4

Sunny and 90! Took MRT to the end of the green line and boarded an extremely crowded bus up to Wulai, Taiwan. Standing room only, hairpin turns….very, very scary ride. Body to body we mosh pitted all the way up the mountain.

IMG_1105_2

Finally, we made it to our destination. What we found was beautiful Xindian River, suspension bridges, and mountains. Absolutely gorgeous! We walked through the old street and sampled meats, fish patties (ew), noodles, bamboo rice, and others. We hiked to a waterfall and took an old logging train back down. We finished the day trip with hot springs along the river…what an experience that was. Lots of older Taiwanese people soaking in what seemed like, “their” pools. We got lots of stares as we were the only 5 Caucasian people around. We were able to jump into the river to cool off and get back into the hot springs. What an awesome day trip! On the way back, we stopped at Kyle and Sarah’s night market and ate fried rice and beef noodle soup…delicious and exhausted.

IMG_1107_2

IMG_1309_2

IMG_1288_2

Day 5

MRT to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. There we viewed the beautiful temple-like theaters and monuments. We met an English speaking tour guide who singled us out and gave us special spots for viewing the changing of the guards at the memorial. Very similar to the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Very interesting.

IMG_1984

We ate at the infamous 3 story KFC for lunch per Hannah and Kyle’s request 🙂

IMG_1982

For supper, we roamed the area looking for a good place to eat. Couldn’t find anything everyone agreed on. Finally, stopped at a little night stall and ate a delicious version of beef noodle soup…Yum!

Day 6

Today we visited the pandas and the other animals at the Taipei Zoo. As Tea Mountain is at the same MRT stop, we decided to ride the gondola up for a second round. Sampled some black and Oolong tea at a tea house. For dinner we went to one of Kyle and Sarah’s favorites…Korean BBQ for a 2 hour dinner. We LOVED this meal. All you can eat and drink! It was here that Kyle sparked the thought provoking conversation of “biggest surprises, best/worst, and what can we learn from this experience?” Honest conversation over a great meal.

IMG_6823

Day 7

Took a hike to Dahu Park that was “just around the corner.” Everything was always “just around the corner” here in Taipei. Lots of good walking! Viewed the nature, greenery and the waterfall. While the kids were working, we went to Miramar, another upscale shopping area, to ride the giant Ferris wheel. For dinner, we headed to Kyle’s all time favorite restaurant, Toasteria. Delicious sandwiches. Exhausted after another great day.

IMG_1349_2

Day 8

Wufenpu shopping! Consisted of thousands of street booths with inexpensive clothing for sale. Couldn’t believe the narrow alleys with all the scooters and dogs 🙂 shopped the morning away! At night, we headed to Kyle and Sarah’s night market. This was our true window into their lives for the past 8 months. It was here we met their “family.” Being an observer, it was clear that there was a bond between our children and the night market family. Despite our obvious language barrier, they would bring us different foods and drinks to cheer with. We were glad Kyle could interpret and dialogue for us 🙂 They noticed I liked tea, so they brought over tea after tea and even gave us lessons on the tea culture in Taiwan. Kyle and Hannah took a crazy scooter ride home from the locals to end the night. SO MUCH TEA 🙂 I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about this night. No words to describe how God had blessed our children by providing them with people to sit with, learn from, and just bond with. Proof that with a language barrier, a smile is universal 🙂

IMG_1443_2

IMG_6969

IMG_6993

Day 9

This morning we observed Teacher Kyle and Teacher Sarah’s school! Played some games and had an Easter egg hunt with Sarah’s class. We walked through some markets on the way home and ate some pastries. We headed back to Miramar so the boys and Hannah could hit some golf balls at the city driving range.

IMG_7027

IMG_7050

At night, we went to Ximending to eat at Modern Toilet…Hannah’s pick. We ate some familiar pasta and poop ice cream 🙂 Lots of rain, lots of people, and lots of umbrellas!

Day 10

Last day in Taiwan 😦 Today we went to the 737 day market to shop for some souvenirs. We walked around the day market and looked at the different fruit and clothes stands. For lunch, we enjoyed a local “box lunch.” After packing back at the apartment, we went back down to the Taipei 101 area to soak it in one last time. We ate at the Taipei 101 mall and had a delicious mango shaved ice for dessert!

unnamed

Closing thoughts from the Brower family.

“Goodbye Taiwan. You have allowed us to embrace your culture, amazed us with your crowded streets and busy markets. We have been impressed with the refreshing bubble tea, multiple bakeries, and tried many of your “interesting” foods. We have ridden your MRT and dodged the thousands of scooters. We have been in awe of the beautiful mountains and waterfalls. You have made our world smaller as we came to realize that, despite the differences, you love and treat your families just like us. We all appreciate our new understanding of people, and although the language is a barrier, we realize more than ever, that a smile is universal.”

I hope you enjoyed the different view of Taipei from Mom Brower. We had a fantastic week showing them around Taiwan. We are so thankful they were able to experience this amazing country with us for the week.

Until next time!

Kyle and Sarah

我們最喜歡的地方:第一部分 Our Favorite Places: Part I

Hey everyone,

Sounds like Spring has arrived back in the mitten…That’s awesome! However, I am a little jealous of my fellow motorcyclers getting their bikes out of winter storage. Hope you are all enjoying the warmer weather and getting outside!

Nothing too huge going on over here for us. We’re just enjoying Spring time as well. Can’t beat long walks and sitting outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

As I don’t have much to write about this time, I thought I’d outline some of our favorite spots in Taipei. So far I’ve only written about our life and what we do with our weeks…I think it’ll be fun to give you a deeper look at some of our favorite places in Taipei.

1) 士林夜市 Shilin Night Market

Shilin night market is about a 40-50 minute MRT ride from our apartment, but is one of our favorite night markets in Taipei. Not only is it one of our favorites but it is the largest and most popular night market in Taipei. We’ve been there on week nights and weekends and it’s amazing how different the experience can be. On week nights, the streets tend to be mellow and you are able to stroll the countless lanes browsing the knick-knacks without much problem. Now, take Saturday night. The second you alight the MRT, you’re hit in the face with just an insane amount of people. Rather than walking the lanes looking at the latest Korean sweaters, you are now shuffling your feet trying to stay upright. Ever been in a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert? Yup, that’s what it’s like.

IMG_1451

IMG_1457

Sarah and I like crowds. We love the energy on a Saturday night at Shilin. Once you make your way through the main road, it does open up for some breathing room. Once it does, you can truly enjoy the night market and it’s various fashion and souvenir shops to the stinky tofu and almond juice stands. It’s a shopping haven if you’re into the latest and greatest Asian styles. It’s also a snackie and food lovers paradise. You name it, you can probably find it at Shilin night market.

IMG_0885

2) 美麗華百樂園 Miramar

This may sound lame and I know I’ll get some crap from Nate Adema, but Sarah and I like to go to the mall. I actually like going to malls wherever we travel because they’re great places to people watch. For some reason I enjoy walking through the food courts and browsing the books at ESLITE bookstore. What do everyday people eat? What are they reading?  It’s interesting.

Miramar is an entertainment park and mall three stops via the MRT from our place. Other than UNIQLO, the only department store I can find clothing that fits me, we don’t really shop. We go to Miramar to see a movie, or go to Carrefour (similar to Sam’s Club), or for our weekly sushi fix. There’s really nothing terribly special about Miramar, it’s just a really nice place to chill and get a bite to eat. Oh, there’s also a giant Ferris wheel to ride, too!

IMG_2033

IMG_1744

3) 碧湖公園 Bihu Lake

Ahhh good ol’ Bihu Lake. Sarah’s all-time favorite place in Taipei. Without Bihu Lake, I don’t think Sarah would’ve survived. This lake is only a 5 minute walk from our place and it’s a place of tranquility and peace. Sarah runs or walks around this lake at least 6 days a week and I usually join her before school during the week for a couple laps. I think you can call it her ‘happy place.’ It’s not a large lake as it’s only about one mile around, but it’s always full of Mom’s pushing their babies or the elderly getting their exercise in.  We’ve sat on the shores of this lake many nights just soaking in the peacefulness and enjoying the stars that are so easily missed in Taipei. Bihu lake is probably not in any tour books, let alone a hot spot for a vacation to Taipei, but it’s definitely been a highlight for us. We will miss this place.

IMG_1036_2

IMG_0632

4) 七三七夜市 737 Night Market

Another local favorite of ours and a place I’ve mentioned numerous time in previous posts. We like to call this ‘our night market.’ It’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment and very near to Bihu Lake. Unlike Shilin with it’s numerous lanes and stalls, 737 night market is roughly one street with mostly food stalls lining the street. We tend to eat here 2 or 3 times a week. If you have read some of our previous posts, we have come to know and love a few of the cooks and regulars at this night market. Terry, our all-time favorite cook and his wife, Lily, along with their family have taken us in like their own. We love going to 737 and playing with their children and grabbing a bubble milk tea from our buddy, Eddy. Whether you want to sample the pepper fried ‘snackers,’ or fried pigs blood on a stick, or the less adventurous fried rice, it’s a great place to get to know the Taiwanese people and their endless hospitality. Side note on the hospitality…be prepared to eat some very interesting dishes! You never know what will be brought over next. Guess that’s the fun of it 🙂

IMG_0970

IMG_1898

IMG_0976

IMG_1231

IMG_1621

5) 貓空 Maokong

Maokong is located at the very end of the brown line on the MRT. This mountain/area used to be the biggest tea growing area in Taipei. Now Maokong is a popular place to soak in the tea drinking culture and get great views while you’re at it. There are many footpaths and trails in and around Maokong, but we love to take the gondola. For $1.50 one way, you are given a fantastic 20-30 minute ride up the mountain. You cannot beat the views of Taipei from the Gondola. If you’re lucky and have time to wait in line, you can even ride the glass bottom gondola to the top.

IMG_1540

IMG_1546

IMG_3064

At the top, you can mosey along the road trails and taste Taiwanese sausage and sit down overlooking a panorama of Taipei sipping a hot or cold glass of some of the best tea you will taste in your life. If you’re into a relaxing, cultural experience Maokong is an excellent place.

IMG_0764

6) 信義區 Xinyi District

As much as I enjoy the outdoors and hiking the various trails around Taipei, I’m just captivated by foreign cities. Yes, you can experience the wildlife and the beautiful natural landscapes in foreign places, but the cities are just full of life. If I could pick one place to spend my time, it would be downtown Xinyi. I love it down there. It’s home to my other love, the Taipei 101 (more on the Taipei 101 later), and so many other awesome things. Xinyi is the trend-setting, modern and most cosmopolitan area in Taipei. I love this area at night as the lights charge the city into a vibrant place. Opposite of the night markets where you’re never quite sure what you’re going to eat, Xinyi is home to world famous restaurants and eateries. Although we can hardly afford some of these places, there are a few restaurants that make perfect date nights. We love walking the brightly lit pedestrian areas catching a chinese yo-yo show, watching the different street performers, or listening to soon-to-be pop stars of Taiwan. It’s a hopping place always full of activity.

IMG_0915

IMG_2074

I hope you’ve enjoyed Part I of our favorite places in Taipei. These are definitely going to be a few spot we’re going to miss when we go home. Taipei is an amazing city with so much to offer for every kind of taste. We’re having such a great time immersing ourselves into Taipei.

Happy Spring!

Kyle and Sarah