Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taipei Accommodation: Fun Taipei Backpackers

We booked a private room for four at a hostel called
No. 116 Chengde Rd. Sec. 4
Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan

No. 116 Section 4 Chengde Road was our address for five days, but we accessed the building through its entrance on Hougang Street. The building did not give any clue that it was a hostel. We only knew we were in the right place because of the No. 116 by the door. No. 116 is five stories of apartments and I am guessing the owner of the hostel owns some apartments in that building and had his units converted into "private rooms."

Half of the private room for four

The room assigned to us was a bit cramped but good enough. It had two queen sized beds, a TV and DVD player, a refrigerator, an air conditioning unit, WiFi, and an ensuite bathroom. For NT$1600 (weekday rate; about Php2400) or NT$2000 (weekend rate; about Php3000), it was a pretty good deal.

Location was a plus, too. Convenience stores (OK Mart and 7–Eleven) were just around the corner, so too was the Bank of Taipei. Exit 2 of Jiantan Station was just five minutes away (about 300m). And Shilin Market, the largest market in Taipei, was about 650m or 10–minutes away on foot.

Fun Taipei Backpackers. Was it really fun then? If your idea of fun is meeting other travelers, then the answer is no. We did not see any other guests at Fun Taipei Backpackers...because, as I found out on our last day, private rooms were in a different building from the dorm rooms.

Dorm rooms were in another nondescript building along Wenlin Road. Location was even better: just 100m from Exit 1 of Jiantan Station; and just a 3–minute walk to Shilin Market.
The common room at the dorm (Photo from their facebook page)

There were 28 beds in total at the dorm, from a 3–bed dorm room to a 6–bed dorm room. A bed would cost from NT$400 (about Php 600) to NT$650 (about Php975) per night, depending on the room type and the day (weekends cost higher). All dorm rooms had common bathrooms.

Dorm room (Photo from their facebook page)

When we checked out of the private room (check out was at noon), we left our bags at the common room at the dorm (our flight was still at 1AM). The manager was also kind enough to let us use the shower before we left for the airport. The hostel — its dorm rooms, common rooms, toilets, and shower rooms — upon my inspection, was spic and span. If I was traveling alone, I wouldn't mind staying at the dorm.

Visit these links to book a...
Private Room at
No. 116 Chengde Rd. Sec. 4, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan

Bed (Dorm Room) at
No. 27 Wenlin Road, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wine Lessons in Planet Grapes

I am the ape in grape. 
No culture.
Knows nothing about wine.
But maybe I am right where I need to be.
In Planet Grapes.
To get a little culture.
Without the drama.

Level 4, New Wing, Ayala Center Cebu
(032) 266 0526

White wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling.
White plate: Thai-spiced crab cake, danggit, fried oyster mushroom, chicken isaw, quail eggs, squid balls 

Lesson #1: White Wine
Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay. Riesling.
All looks (and smells) the same to me.
But with the help of Luke (you can ask any of the Planet Grapes staff about wine),
I got a crash course.

Sauvignon Blanc: acidic; goes with seafood
Chardonnay: creamy; fermented in oak barrels (otherwise, it can taste like Sauvignon Blanc); goes with fish and poultry
Riesling: dry or sweet; aromatic; goes with sweet and spicy food

White wine should be served cooler than red wine.
It should be chilled hours ahead and taken out 20 minutes before serving.

Sauvignon Blanc (sip)
Water (gulp to cleanse the palate)
Chardonnay (sip)
Water (gulp)
Riesling (sip)
I still have no idea how the adjectives relate to my tastebuds.
But, what the heck, I am preferring the Riesling.

Red wines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Red plate: salted egg rice, BBQ pork spareribs, rib-eye steak, penne putanesca, beef tapa, BBQ garlic chicken wing

Lesson #2: Red Wine
Pinot Noir. Merlot. Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir: fruity; food friendly; lighter color; goes with pasta (red sauce) and pork
Merlot: smooth; darker (color) than Pinot Noir; goes with pasta (red sauce) and beef
Cabernet Sauvignon: full–bodied (no idea what that means); darkest (color) of the three; goes with red meat

Should be chilled 20 minutes before serving.

I take a sip of each and...
I am still clueless.

Wine: Gewurztraminer
Sweet plate: Banana creme brulee, original creme brulee, durian creme brulee, bite–sized turon

Lesson #3
What was lesson 3?
I have not wrapped my head around all the information from the first two lessons,
but the wine has wrapped itself around my head.
I sit and enjoy my sweets.

Planet Grapes' Enomatic (wine dispenser) machine (left) and the reloadable card used for the machine (right) 

Planet Grapes is a good place for apes like me and non–apes like you to start becoming a wine expert (although I think I am hopeless). Their little Italian Enomatic machine (it's like a wine vending machine!) lets you try different wines from just a sip, a half–glass, to a full–glass. And if you find something really good, bottles of wine are also for sale.

Thank you Planet Grapes.
I got a little culture (or so I think).
And I got a little drunk too.
But I am still an ape.

Watermarked photos from Planet Grapes.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Buhisan Damn

Officemate's head pops above the cubicle divider and says, "Hike on Saturday at Buhisan." Then he sends an email and I look at the invite list and it's mostly girls. I sign up, not because of the girls, but because I assume it's an easy hike. Or maybe it's really because of the girls.

The Saturday hike starts off easy enough...
down the slope, in between trees, on a clear path.

Over flat land covered with rocks and pebbles...

...then my officemate, who is leading the group, tells us this will be a river trek.
For a distance we continue walking on rocks and pebbles.
But still no water.

And then we see a small stream: "River trek, at last!"

Our leader takes us over some boulders to a small waterfall with a small pool at the bottom.
Thinking we are already half way, I ask, "Is this our rest stop?"
"Rest stop?" and then he laughs.
He invites everyone to take a dip, but half the group decline and just relax in the shade.
(What he doesn't say is that we are only a third of the way through.)

After the "rest stop", we continue our hike, skipping from boulder to boulder
and sometimes splashing in the water.

Then a quick photo stop by this tiny waterfall.

And onward again over boulders...

Scrambling over neverending boulders, which reminded me of Mt Apo...

...only worse...

Because some boulders are too high for my short legs to reach
(and my body is too heavy for my weak arms to carry),
my friends help out and haul me over:
one pulling my arms, the other pushing my legs.

And in another area, I cling to some vines
while someone struggles to pull up an equivalent of a large sack of rice.

Then I realize we are already in the woods and I heave a sigh of relief.
Goodbye river. See you never!
But it is a sigh of relief expelled too soon.

The steep hike in the woods continues over dried leaves
and under fallen trees...

And one last challenge...
when I face a wall of crumbling soil that is as high as my head.
My friend, using all his muscle power (again), pulls me up,
and I land on a pile of dried leaves,
where I crawl uphill until I am a good way away from the edge.

Damn Buhisan, I underestimated you.

Thank Yous are in order:
To H. Villarante and F. Casinillo for the muscle power.
To H. Villarante and M. Unat for the photos.
To S. Ortega for the moral support.

Buhisan Damn by the numbers:
Estimated number of hours for this hike: 2
Actual number of hours for this hike: 3
Number of weight lifters needed: 2
Number of muscles pulled: 3
Number of bruises acquired: 4
Number of scratches obtained: 5
Motorcycle from Jollibee Labangon to Buhisan Php 25/way
Lunch bought from Labangon market Php 30

Tips (that I learned after this hike):
Wear sandals, shorts, and leggings (optional) for this hike.
Eat a big meal before embarking on this hike. (I did not eat a big enough meal and was hungry an hour into the hike.)
Bring at least 1.5L of drinking water. (I brought just 1L of water which had to be rationed til we got to the end of the hike.)
Bring trail food and don't forget to eat it. (I brought some trail food but only ate one and was tired and starving by the time we entered the woods.)
Bring an extra shirt. (I did not bring an extra shirt and on the way home everyone was looking at me like I just got out of a mud bath.)