Taiwan Trip Day 3: Yilan > Sanyi/Miaoli

Day 3 of Taiwan family trip starts with a hearty breakfast at our minsu. Once again, simple fare but with a touch of warmness.

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Driver picked us up for another full day tour after we checked out of the minsu.

First stop:

Miaoli Lavender Garden / Lavender Cottage (薰衣草森林)

Not much lavender was blooming when we were there. But there are some cute installations and green background for photo taking.

If your kids like to do collect “stamps” or “chops”, there are many “stamping-collecting” places all over taiwan. So bring along a little notebook for them to stamp on. Smile

There is also a restaurant but we were planning to head elsewhere for lunch and thus didn’t eat there. Food looks good though.

Went for a quick walk up the “hill”, took photos and went straight for lavender ice-cream! haha… Think the kids were only here for the ice-cream!

You need a car to get here as it is located within the mountains. Decent enough for first timer; otherwise unlikely to re-visit again.

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Entrance fee can be offset with purchases too.

Website: http://www.lavendercottage.com.tw/

Miaoli Storyland

This is NOT a playground. Actually I am not sure if this is the diner’s name except the exterior of the shop has this signage!

It is an obscure and nostalgic eatery in Miaoli which specialises in Hakka food. Apparently, they are quite well known and goes back many years in history.

As my father-in-law (and that makes my husband and sons) is a Khek (dialect group), I wanted to look for Hakka food so he can try them. Our driver brought us here and it was a good recommendation!

We would not have come here on our own as it doesn’t even look like an eatery from it’s name and facade.

It was tough to order as I wanted to try everything! hahaha! We ended up with some of the recommended specialities and some vegetarian dishes as my mum is a vegetarian.

The photos do not do justice to the taste of the food; they taste better than their presentations.

Most of the dishes are good and authentic – the cold chicken was really good! There were plates of muah chee as appetizers and red bean ice lollies as desserts! I am drooling while writing this post!

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Sheng Hsing Train Station (勝興車站)

After lunch and after consultation with the driver, we decided to go to the nearest next stop which will be on the way to our accommodation in Miaoli.

This train station in Sanyi is located within the mountains and on an up slope. It is a defunct old station which has since been converted to a tourist place together with the Sanyi old town which comprises of tea shops (Lei Cha) and miscellaneous souvenirs.

There is supposed to be a 1km underground tunnel which visitors can walk in but unfortunately, the area was closed when we were there.

As most of my photos were deleted, will recommend this blog and this info site for more details.

We ended up taking some photos of railway tracks and shopping in the old town.

Won’t recommend this place unless you like train tracks or want to do some touristy shopping enroute to your final destination.

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宜蘭–薰衣草森林–山度窯烤麵包(要幾天前先預約)-大湖草莓園–勝興車站–龍騰斷橋—苗栗通宵好望角民宿

Yilan–miaoli Lavender Garden–shandu –strawberry farm–ShanXin train station–LongTung bridge–Overnight at Miaoli.

Green Ark

We decided to come here for dinner as it’s on the way to our accommodation for the night at Miaoli. It was a big place with 2 restaurants nested above a gentle slope. Apparently, this is a venue popular for wedding photos and weddings! But we probably came at a wrong season. There were little to look around and it too freezing cold to be outdoors for long.

We literary make a beeline for the restaurant and camped indoors next to the real fireplace.  Food was decent western fare though a little more expensive; but expected for restaurant standards. Restaurant has a wooden and cosy look; lovely for couple dates. Smile

There was a little shop further up from the main entrance where you can buy cutesy souvenirs. I stayed there for a teeny winny bit longer just to warm myself next to the fire place! haha.

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I reckon this place will be better for a summer/spring visit so one can view the flora and funa; winter is way to cold to enjoy the place properly. There is an entrance fee which can be redeem with purchases as usual.

Website: http://greenark.com.tw/home.asp

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And that concluded our day while we check into our next minsu – in Miaoli – in time to take cover for the extremely cold draft/weather passing by for the night. The minsu lady did warn me to bring more clothing specially for that day and supplied us with thermal blankets, but it was still very very cold. More on that in the next post.

Read more on our Taiwan trip:

Day 1: Taipei (Taoyuan) > Yilan

Day 2: Yilan (Happiness 20 Farm > Crayon Art Factory > Traditional Art Center > Luodong Night Market)

Day 3: Yilan > Miaoli

Day 4: Miaoli (Hao Wang Jiao Minsu > Picking of seasonal fruits)

Day 4: Miaoli (Flying Cow Ranch)

Day 5: Miaoli > Taichung (Xinshe Sea of Flowers > Master of Mushroom > Go-Kart > Carton King > La Vida Hotel > Feng Chia night market)

Day 6: Taichung > Taipei

Day 7 & 8: Taipei

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Xi En’s (simple) wish at the Lavender Cottage

Taiwan Trip – Day 1 (Singapore > Taipei > Yilan)

We decided on a Taiwan trip end of Nov 2015 because it was to be a  “graduation trip” (kindergarten only!) for Xi En cum an extended family trip with my in-laws.

I find Taiwan a very suitable place for families and big families! There are many suitable activities for young and old. And the best thing: you can travel comfortably in a mini-van with hired drivers cum guides.

Before we head off, I visited the Taiwan Tourist Office at Raffles Place/Chevron House. Bring along a flight ticket print out or accommodation booking confirmation to redeem free gifts for everyone on the trip. For that month, there were free metro passes which came in really useful as we needed them on the last leg of the trip. There are different freebies every month so don’t miss out. There are some maps and brochures to pick up at the office too.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TTBSIN/ 

Address: 30 Raffles Place, #10-01 Chervon House

Tel: 62236546

Here’s sharing our itinerary for last year; Nov 2015. I know. I procrastinated! If I don’t write now, I probably will never. Confused smile

With Taiwan set as a year-end travel destination, we decided to go with Eva Air because there were decent deals and we I wanted to try the Hello Kitty airplanes! Smile If you are interested in the Hello Kitty planes you can check their route availabilities on the EVA Hello Kitty website.

I have 2 boys so it didn’t exactly thrilled them. But the novelty still worked (more on me than them). Winking smile

Our flight plans were:

To:

BR 215 SIN – TPE (Taoyuan Airport): 1545hr – 2015hrs

Return:

BR216 TPE – SIN: 955hrs – 1430hrs

We decided to travel with the constraints of the plane being a “Hello Kitty” plane as I heard the other EVA planes were older.

In any case, both plane flights went well with no major events unlike our Melbourne trip. Xi En learnt now that he has to take a break after watching the entertainment TV and he needs to eat moderately and he needs to sleep. He did it with clockwork! *thumbs up*

Hello Kitty Airplane photos galore; too cute! :

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Upon arrival, there was a miscommunication that I thought our prearranged driver will be waiting at the arrival area. Only to realise, after buying our prepaid cards, that he is in his car circling around the airport. Maybe it is expensive to park and walk to wait for us? In any case, glad we found each other and started our long drive to Yilan – our accommodation for the night. We took about 1.5 to 2 hours to reach Yilan from Taoyuan Airport.

Note: It is useful to buy the telco cards/packages at the airport if you need connectivity on the go. It isn’t too expensive and there are different no. of days packages. It is useful to connect with your drivers.

Our accommodation for the next 2 nights was at Full Sweet Inn. It is a “minsu” (民属) – otherwise known as a homestay/B&B. Talking of which, it can be somewhat difficult if you don’t speak/read/write Mandarin. Though I do have mandarin education, I still face trouble trying to read the mandarin instructions on some of the localised hotel/minsu’s websites. One small tip: you can use google translate or type in the chinese names of the minsu and you might be able to find the original minsu’s website or someone who wrote about it in English.

There are just too many options in the Taiwan for minsu – reviews on Tripadvisor/Agoda/Expedia – might be able to give good indication of the place.

Full Sweet Inn was nested among paddy fields giving it an idyllic feel. The hosts – Jonanthan and his wife – were friendly and helpful from answering questions to booking, payment and hosting. Rooms were clean and spacious. Breakfast was homely and yummy. There was little to complain about. As we hired a driver, it was easy to move around. Otherwise, I think you do need a cab to get in and out.

Photos of Full Sweet Inn and their reviews on Tripadvisor.

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As our flight came in late, we didn’t do much on the first night except to stock up at the nearby Family Mart. We started Day 2 with proper itinerary which I will share more on the second Taiwan post. Smile

More details on our each day’s itinerary as below:

Day 1: Taipei (Taoyuan) > Yilan

Day 2: Yilan (Happiness 20 Farm > Crayon Art Factory > Traditional Art Center > Luodong Night Market)

Day 3: Yilan > Miaoli

Day 4: Miaoli (Hao Wang Jiao Minsu > Picking of seasonal fruits)

Day 4: Miaoli (Flying Cow Ranch)

Day 5: Miaoli > Taichung (Xinshe Sea of Flowers > Master of Mushroom > Go-Kart > Carton King > La Vida Hotel > Feng Chia night market)

Day 6: Taichung > Taipei

Day 7 & 8: Taipei

Melbourne with kids (Part 1)

I am suffering from travel withdrawal syndrome (if there is such a term for it). You know… it’s like you don’t feel like going back to your regular life and work. In short, I need another holiday to recover from the first.

It’s been almost a month since we came back from Melbourne – the kids’ first overseas trip; our first official overseas family trip. Probably I was the only one worrying myself out with thousands and one things to pack; to plan; to ponder. Perhaps, being the mother, I hypothesize too much about every situation that can happen overseas. Like most mommies, I almost packed the whole house into the suitcases before the hubby stopped me!

This Sept trip came about because Xi En had a thematic study earlier on air-travel, planes, pilots, stewardesses, countries and all that. He came home asking if we can fly in first class. I told him we cannot afford that. He asked how about business class; I said that’s still too expensive. Last try, he asked: “Mom; since first and business class are so expensive, we can fly in economy class where there are lots of people and seats are very small, ok?” (complete with a pleading puppy look). That kind of made us sound so pathetic (pre-school teachers; FYI – errmm… please try to manage our little ones’ expectations ya?) But that got me thinking he’s probably ready to have a look at the world and learn stuff out of the books. I had a chat with Kim and after a quick check on the luring promo-rates airfares, we decided: Yes – we can somehow afford to grant our young boy an economy class plane ride! hahahaa..

Australia was an easy choice as it’s known to be more kids-friendly and a place where we haven’t explored as much. And the flight hours of 7-7.5hours is still manageable in my dictionary for young children. Melbourne because I liked that part of Australia and it’s more “traditional” with trams and all. Xi En loves trains; trams and buses. Without revealing to him that we were planning a trip; we saw his drawing during the Parents-Teachers-Meeting. It’s telepathy huh? 🙂

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Kim and I were somewhat seasoned travellers in our individual and couple-lives. But with kids; it’s a whole new ball game altogether (so we’ve learnt).

Just to share a little on how we “survived” this inaugural family trip.

1) Choose an airline which you are familiar with

We both agreed that it has to be Singapore Airlines while the kids are still young. It’s the only one I am familiar and comfortable with. With good promo-rates, it’s still “A great way to fly”. 🙂

SQ didn’t failed us except one annoying episode. On the leg to Melbourne; we board at 9pm; were served 2 rounds of drinks with nuts at 930pm to 10pm. Dinner was served at 10pm (YES; 10PM!!); complete with ice-cream/coffee tea/wines and all. Clearance of trays and lights out around midnight as it was a full load flight. And when all the kids were trying to doze off; the lights came out again around 2am and continental breakfast was served before landing around 4+am.

The SQ I know loves to give it’s best to passengers; the best value; the best service. But seriously whoever planned this route and the meal services have to reconsider it’s inconvenience to tired passengers. Yes, you can use “do-not-disturb” stickers and all. But with little ones; that doesn’t kind of work when the whole load of passengers are stirred for meal service.

Still I have to applaud SQ for it’s  Krisworld (kept Xi En occupied for hours!); ever-so-well-trained cabin crew; attention to details (kids loved the lunch boxes which came along with the kids’ meals we ordered ahead of the flight) and scheduled on-time arrivals/departures.

2) Pray for the best but be prepared for the worse

It sounds a little “faithless” to say the above. But travelling to a foreign country (with young kids further) always put me in high alert mode. Medicine is my must-pack for all trips. I pray I won’t need to use them; but I packed them so I can sleep at night. Basic medicine such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Charcoal pills, medicated oil, flu and cough syrups, creams are under my essential list. And for Xi En, I packed a Salbutamol inhaler too. Going to Melbourne at the tail-end of winter; I just have to be more than careful that they won’t catch a cold.

I am so glad that the boys did well on this trip except some minor hiccups. We nearly went to go to a doctor when we landed as Eizac came down with a red eye and sticky discharge just before we boarded the plane. We were almost certain that he has an infected eye; but it miraculously cleared up after a day!

As for Xi En, it did seemed that air travel wasn’t too kind to him unfortunately. On both the going and return flights, he threw up his meal (thankfully at the tail end of the flights). Ah ha, a pat on Mommy’s back for packing spare clothes, wet tissues and medicated oil on our carry-on luggage. 😛

3) Travel with family or more

An extra pair of hands and eyes (or more) is always helpful. My mom had always been the kids’ main caregiver; we knew we cannot do without her during travels with the kids. We had to “drag” her along and we are so glad we did! haaa… Probably I am too pampered with help; but I cannot imagine running after 2 active boys while trying to take photos; enjoy the scenery or even just to go to the washroom. That’s why they say being a mom is for life. It doesn’t stop even when your daughter is married with kids. 😛

4) Plan more, do less, enjoy more

Sorry that sounded quite singlish (Singapore English). Basically we did a lot of homework, planned a whole lot so that we can “do less” while enjoying the most out of the trip.

Since I am the one with more time on hand, I researched and narrowed to the places and activities suitable for all. Desperate for time, I simply copied, pasted and printed 2 key things: places of interest/activities and food options. Staying at places with free Wi-fi helped a lot as we planned on the go too. There are a whole lists of helpful apps which you can download to help in your planning. More information on visitmelbourne website. In particular, I found these quite useful:

PTV –  for taking public transport

myMarketsVic – if you enjoy going to markets like my mother and I.

TripAdvisor – popular real visitors reviews’ guide

Melbourne Guide – Melbourne’s official visitor guide. Some online discount vouchers available too.

The ever smarter hubby limited his haphazard-minded wife to only 1 main activity each day while filling small random activities during pockets of lull time. This worked out quite well for us since Eizac is still taking afternoon naps; taking it slower was a great idea.

The whole trip was a 9 days, 10 nights plan. We went from central Melbourne to Philip Islands en-routing at Mornington Peninsula and then back to fringe of city at St Kilda. Purposefully, we omitted The Great Ocean Road after deciding that 7 to 8 hours car road trips aren’t quite up our alley with the kids (just yet).

5) Minimize changes

Knowing my children, they take a day or 2 to adjust to new beds and “a new house”. We do not prefer to have over-excited kids every night and thus to minimize changes, we choose to change accommodation only 3 times; thus averaging 3 nights per location.

After much research, instead of the regular hotels and serviced apartments, we choose to go with the growing popularity of renting others’ houses. Airbnb is a fairly new concept which started a few years to allow the community to rent their extra rooms or houses/apartments to visitors for a short or long stay. I have no affiliation to them whatsoever but they definitely did a good job on their website that it is growing in it’s online presence. The website is nicely done up, user-friendly and everything is transacted online including communication with the hosts.

We picked out 2 places from Airbnb after narrowing search by budget, photos, user’s reviews and communication with hosts – 1 at central Melbourne and the other at St Kilda (fringe of city). It was a breeze to made payment even though there was a slight glitch which Airbnb responded promptly. It’s good that they have an office in Singapore now for easy communication if you face issues. *Tip: Do search online for promo codes before making payments. We chanced upon a DBS card promo which gave us some good discounts!

At central Melbourne, we stayed in a small 2 bedroom apartment with open concept kitchen but location is superb  and within 5 to 10 mins walking distance to Victoria Market, Chinatown, train station, Coles and a food court. The host kindly allowed an early check-in as our flight was early; but the person who was to open the door was late for 20 mins. Thankfully there was a lobby to wait in and not out in the cold. Booking others’ houses do pose such risks that there might not be a reception or concierge to seek help in unforeseeable circumstances. So do minimise the risk with alternative plans in mind when booking through such websites.

The 2nd accommodation we stayed in was at Philip Island which we booked through Stayz – this is also a similar concept to Airbnb but not as user-friendly as the latter. Accommodation at Philip Island was the hardest to decide as many looked dingy, old, remote or too big for us. Finally we picked Waterfront@Waves along The Esplanade. It is located in front of the sea (full sea view!), there is a playground just in front of the apartment (which unfortunately we didn’t get to play as it was raining!) and it is within walking distance to Cowes (the town at Philip Island).

It is a perfect accommodation with a free underground parking lot except a few grouses: No free wifi (I realised only after arriving at the premise). Some of the beds are located in the kitchen and dining area which made it rather unconducive for sleeping unless you don’t intend to cook. We ended up moving 2 mattresses into the living room as futons since the kids are used to sleeping on the floor at home anyway.

The final place we picked was at St Kilda’s neighbourhood near to St Kilda Beach. It was slightly cheaper as it was at the fringe of city and options were more spacious here. This was my favourite stay of the trip with 2 good sized rooms, European king-sized bed, double size bunk bed and a fully equipped kitchen with children cutlery too! The owner also kindly provided a welcome pack with bread, milk, butter, jam, tea and coffee. It is helpful that this host has a child of her own and left some extra diapers (and toys!) for us to use; this came in handy as we ran out of diapers at the last leg of the trip!

There you go; 5 key things which we did to make this trip enjoyable for all. Hope it comes in useful for those who are planning for your inaugural family overseas trips (or to Melbourne) too!

Will be sharing more on the attractions in upcoming posts. Watch this space! 🙂

Updates on the rest of our Melbourne Travelogue:

Flight to Melbourne, accommodations and how to survive travelling with young children

St Kilda, Melbourne city, Puffing Billy, Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market

Melbourne – Phillip Island (Penguins and Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate)

Travel to Melbourne – Moonlit Sanctuary (The Mornington Peninsula)