,

An Introduction To Taiwanese Food: Chicken Bums & Stinky Tofu

One thing we’ve discovered while travelling is that the CouchSurfing website is an amazing way to meet people who, well, just want to meet people! Regardless of whether you are staying at their house, many in the CouchSurfing community are open to getting together for a meal or for showing you the sights around their hometown.

It’s an amazing way to make friends, learn about a city and a country and hopefully provide a good friend in return and often, an opportunity for practicing English. So far we’ve made several friends through CouchSurfing, even though we’ve only been guests at a few houses thus far.

Our first week in Taipei had us meeting with a Taiwan native, Ken, and a couple of his friends. After meeting up for coffee we all decided to grab something to eat. The three of them were determined to take us for some traditional Taiwanese food. We settled on a popular and quite busy restaurant with absolutely no visible English.

couchsurfing friends taiwanese traditional food

We let them choose the dishes and order, although they did consult us before ordering a few of the dishes to make sure we could eat certain foods. We generally have no reservations when it comes to trying food so we told them to order away!

We were incredibly excited to be shown Taiwanese cuisine from those who would know best and thus, we had our first official introduction to traditional Taiwanese food. After the meal, we spent the next few months in food heaven trying what we could in an attempt to make our way through as many Taiwanese food options as possible. We even put together a list of the food we tried as a guide to Taiwanese food!

1. Fried Chicken Bums

fried chicken butt taiwan

Don’t be surprised if you hear them called chicken asses as it appears to be the translation used most often. Since that night, we’ve read and heard some comments about it being an odd thing to eat. To be honest, we didn’t really think too much of it. We eat most parts of the chicken in North America and the butt is really just the extension of the thigh on the chicken but it does take a lot to make either one of us to consider a food disgusting, or inedible, before we’ve tried it.

Having said that, even one of our Taiwanese friends thought the dish to be unappetizing. It is a common food to find at night markets and food vendors around Taiwan. Ours were fried and seasoned nicely and served with green beans. It was one of our favourite dishes of the night and definitely something we look forward to having again.

2. Stinky Tofu Spicy Soup

spicy stinky tofu soup taiwan

You can smell it from quite a distance and once you have, the smell won’t soon leave you. It has a way of clinging to your olfactory receptors and holding on for dear life despite how desperately you work to rid yourself of it. A combination of rotting, cooking garbage, body odour and soured milk, it’s putrid scent becomes easily recognizable as you walk by a stall amongst the markets and vendors of Taiwan. That, in a nut shell, is the reason why it is called stinky tofu, or Chou Doufu.

You can easily find fried stinky tofu at any night market as well as many street stalls and restaurants.. The stinky tofu spicy soup is something we first saw at the restaurant that night but have since seen around town, albeit less frequently than it’s fried counterpart. As we mentioned, both of us generally save our criticism of food until after we’ve tried it, no matter the description or type of food we are eating. Stinky tofu, though, had us both pausing.

We were told that traditionally, this dish is made by soaking the tofu pieces in a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, such as cabbage, and meat. It can also include shrimp, fish, herbs and pretty much whatever else the cook decides to use. The brine is left to the fermentaton process for days, weeks or as long as several months, which explains both the smell, and our hesitation to eat it.

Our Taiwanese friends tried it first and told us that we would be fine as it “wasn’t stinky enough”. Apparently, the stronger the smell, the better the taste. It ended up being different than we expected, probably in large part because of the spicy soup that downplayed the, ‘not-so-stinky’ tofu pieces. Since, we’ve grown pretty accustomed to the smell and it has become far less offensive to us. We’ve even ordered eaten stinky tofu on several additional occasions, in various different ways, and enjoyed it!

3. Pig Intestine

 

Fried pig intestine, or chitterlings, is actually a common dish in many countries throughout Europe and Asia but was not something we had previously tried. We were served narrow pieces of fried pig intestine, sliced down the middle. The casing was crispy while the inside was tender and although seasoned, it was not included with any additional sauces as is often the case (or in a soup as it can be served as well). Carolann felt the taste to be strong and overpowering and left this dish for the others in favour of the chicken butts but Macrae enjoyed the dish and helped the others finish it off.

4. 3-cup Chicken – San Bei Ji

3 cup chicken taiwan

3-cup chicken is a popular Taiwanese dish that gets it’s name through the recipe which involves mixing a cup each of three different sauces: soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. Tender chunks of chicken (typically bone-in) and veggies filled this dish that was savory but with a touch of sweet. You could definitely pick out the flavour of the garlic also used to complement the sauces. We ate this over cooked rice and it was absolutely delicious and one of our favourite dishes of the evening!

5. Water Spinach/Morning Glory – Kong Xin Cai

 

We ate a lot of morning glory in Thailand and thoroughly enjoy the vegetable, so we were pleasantly surprised when it showed up on the table as one of our vegetable dishes. The Taiwanese version was quite similar to what we had tasted in the past but had slightly more flavour to it and definitely more chunks of garlic. It was great and apparently a common veggie here in Taiwan.

6. Radish Omelette – Cai Fu Dan

radish omelette taiwan

We’ve discovered a common ingredient used here in Taiwan – radish. Although the radish omelette was our first encounter with it in the country, we’ve since eaten our fair share of radish-containing meals and enjoyed every one. This omelette was delicious and is actually a quite simple traditional recipe – basically it is exactly what it’s name would suggest an omelette made with dried radish (and also green onions) – and this one was quite flavourful with garlic and other seasoning added.

 

Since that first meal, we’ve tasted an ever-increasing number of Taiwanese dishes and foods and have had an amazing culinary experience. Stay tuned for a follow-up on Taiwanese food and traditional meals we’ve had while touring around the country and its many night markets… you won’t want to miss hearing about some of these seemingly bizarre foods!!

 

Disclaimer: We tried our best to write down, ask and record the names, in Mandarin, of the dishes we ate. Should we have misspelled or misnamed any of the dishes, please let us know so we can make the corrections. We hope to get some complex dish names down before we leave Taiwan but so far we’ve just got the essential food names down!

Have you ever tried any of these dishes? What did you think? If not, would you try any and if so, which ones? Comment below and let us know!

 

 

 

, , ,

Top 5 Cafes In Northern Thailand

 

As coffee shops are often our go-to places to get some work done, we’ve spent our fair share of time in cafes, sitting in front of our laptops with a hot (usually iced for Macrae) cup of coffee in our hands. Thailand, like many countries we’ve visited, has a ridiculous number of coffee shops. It often leaves you wondering how they all manage to stay in business.

We’ve come across some interesting cafes throughout the whole of Thailand but none that serve a coffee as delicate and smooth as those of the North. There is something magical about the mountain coffee bean in that region. While touring up there we had the pleasure of visiting some great places that not only serve up a mean cup of coffee but usually ended up surprising us with the quality of their food and baked goods. We found a few cafes in Northern Thailand that we just had to tell everyone about!

Losing Yourself In a Cup of Thai Coffee – Best Cafes in Northern Thailand

There are many cafes that we stumbled upon, and many more to be found, but we’ve listed the top 5 cafes in northern Thailand that stood out for us, starting with number 5 and working our way to, what we think, is the best. All of these can be found in the north of Thailand, be it Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and, let’s not forget, Pai.

#5 Café Amazon

Cafe Amazon Thailand Coffee, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

Amazon Cafe is a great spot to go for a quick morning coffee or a stop during a long scooter ride when nothing else is around. Cafe Amazon has a convenient number of locations across Thailand, usually as standalone shops around gas stations along major roads and highways. Fill up on gas and get your coffee fix at the same time. The coffee is pretty good but we didn’t end up trying any of their attractive looking baked goods.

#4 Pai Siam Bistro, Pai

pai siam bistro thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

It’s as though there is some kind of force from the gods that brings people to visit, and fall in love with, Pai. It may be because it is a quiet town surrounded by mountains and gorgeous rice paddy fields, or that the journey to this place, from Chiang Mai to Pai, is a treacherous drive through the mountains that makes it seem like all other forms of civilization are beyond physical reach.

Pai Siam Cafe Pai Thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

Finding Pai Siam in this sleepy town was a godsend. With its delicious cakes and cookies, it brewed, in our mind, some of the best coffee around. We even found out about the affiliated beautiful boutique hotel, Soi One Bedrooms, while we were there and enjoyed a blissful last night in town. You could truly lose yourself in the peace and serenity of Pai and like many that have traveled here, you may find yourself staying for a very long time.

#332 Coffee Hill, Off Hwy 1095 to Pai

Coffee Hill Rest on drive to Pai, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

During our 762 hair-raising turns through the mountains to Pai we chose to stop at 32 Coffee Hill for a break. This place offers some amazing local coffee, fruit shakes and some truly incredible views of the mountains.

The only way of ensuring a visit to this café is by navigating your own way to Pai – either by renting a car or a motorbike. Keep in mind that f you take a minibus from Chiang Mai to Pai your chances of stopping here are slim-to-none as they stop infrequently. This is a great place to take a break from the drive and grab some coffee, made from those delicious mountain coffee beans, before continuing on your way.

#2 Namton’s House Bar, Chiang Mai

Namtons House Bar Coffee, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

While staying at the chic Swiss Lanna Lodge in Chiang Mai, Namton’s House Bar was recommended as a great place to eat. It was clear upon entering, that Namton’s has mastered the trendy-meets-comfort feel. Patrons are warmly welcomed even if just stopping for a coffee (iced of course) or a drink after a long day behind a computer. We would recommend it for more than just that – the food at Namtons is exquisite.

Teat in Namtons Chiang Mai, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

The chef, “M”, is self-taught, loves his job and has a passion for food that shows through his culinary work. The menu is inspired by Japanese cuisine and each dish is a flavourful, delicious plate of perfection. If you’re looking for great coffee in Chiang Mai, you’ve found the place, but if you venture to order something off the menu, you won’t be staying for just one cup.

#1 Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie, Chiang Rai

Polar Cafe Chiang Rai Thailand, one of the best Cafes In Northern Thailand

After a long day of riding to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai on our trusty steed (150cc SkyDrive Scooter) we opened up the TripAdvisor app (like every other time we didn’t feel like venturing out and finding a place on our own to eat) and right at the top, rated #1 for breakfast restaurants, was Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie, we found it intriguing that a cafe was ranked #1 and we just had to check it out.

Walking in it looked similar to every other cafe we have ever been to: cookies and cake in their baked goods counter display, a chalkboard menu and some smartly placed decor. We ordered some breakfast, tea and iced coffee. The breakfast was great – it was a western style spread – and the tea and coffee was exceptional.

Polar BOulangerie and patisserie Chiang Rai Thailand

What stood out was the coffee, just like everything else here, is reasonably priced and you get more than what you would expect. The iced coffee comes in a mason jar – yes like the one your grandmother used to jar her homemade jam. Now that’s enough coffee to get you through the whole day! There is no fluke that this is #1 on TripAdvisor.

Our Continuing Quest For Great Coffee

pai siam coffee art

We continue our search for good coffee in every town and city we visit and love when we find a cafe that not only satisfies our craving for a great cup of java but is also a place we feel we need to recommend to others. You can definitely expect to find more suggestions on cafes and who knows, you may even bump into us!

 

You Can Do It Too!

Ours is considered a digital nomad life. We move from place to place bringing our work with us as we go. We generally don’t know what it will be like when we head to a new place and usually rely on coffee shops as good places to do work and connect to WiFi – our mobile offices around the world. Sometimes, when we step inside a coffee shop, set up our computers and take a sip from our mugs we feel like we’ve stepped outside the often crazy world of travel and the unknown and we feel a bit like we are home.

Travelling in northern Thailand and looking for a great cup of coffee? You can find the above mentioned cafes at the following locations:

Amazon Cafe – All over northern Thailand, usually at rest-stops and gas stations

Pai Siam Bistro – located along the Pai Walking Street, you can find this Bistro beside and behind the Pai Siam Shop which sells beautiful handmade lampshades

32 Coffee Hill – You’ll find 32 Coffee Hill on your way to Pai from Chiang Mai along highway 1095.  For GPS coordinates use: 195 Moo 4 T.Papae, Chiang Mai Ban Pa Pae 50150

Namton’s House Bar – this great coffee shop and restaurant can be found at 196/2, Chiangmai-Lumpuhn Road, Muang, Chiang Mai East of the Ping River.

Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie – While in Chiang Rai, you can locate our, and TripAdvisor’s, number 1 place to find coffee at: 366-366/1 Trairath Rd. T. Viang A. Muang Chiangrai, Chiang Rai 

 

Have you found a different cafe in northern Thailand that you think should make a ‘top cafe’ list? Let us know by commenting below!!

 

, ,

Should You Choose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Disclaimer: We have heard conflicting information about this sanctuary in recent months and several comments of cruel acts being witnessed towards the elephants. We have not substantiated these claims and for certain reasons seem untrustworthy.

We visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in its infancy in 2014. Since then, the sanctuary has undergone an expansion and many changes. Please continue to read for our experience, what we looked for when choosing an elephant sanctuary and be sure to do your own research and due diligence in selecting where to go. Please make sure that this place is still an animal friendly place to visit.

Stroking her trunk and attempting to speak soothing words, I stared at the beautiful creature, mother to the younger of the three elephants who was now playing in the water and rolling around in obvious pleasure. Standing barefoot on the large rock on the edge of the stream, I braced myself, my legs shoulder length apart. My fear of slipping abandoned me quickly as I stood, eye to eye, with this giant, gentle beast. Her head turned slightly and I felt the inquisitive gaze of her one eye roam over me as I continued to speak praises of how beautiful she was, how in awe I was of her. Slowly and with obvious intelligence, she turned her head so the gaze of her other eye now met my own. In that moment when our eyes locked, I felt the connection and a soul deep understanding of just how majestic these creatures are; I knew that this was a moment of significance in my life and one I wouldn’t soon forget.

CHiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary experience

Hunting for The Right Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai Elephant




Elephants. They were the reason we decided to go to Thailand. Sure, we would have ended up there eventually while travelling Southeast Asia, but as Macrae had been to Thailand two years ago, we had thought we would explore different countries first.

It’s true Thailand is cheaper than many other countries and allowed us a prolonged, 2 month visa but while both of those were contributing factors, the main reason we went was to see elephants. Being the first, and pretty much only item, on Carolann’s “bucket list” so far, we decided to make sure it was crossed off. And so, after our week in Beijing we headed to Northern Thailand. It took us almost a month to find an elephant sanctuary to visit. We were determined to find one that treated the elephants humanely and that we felt comfortable supporting.

Carolann had bookmarked an elephant sanctuary several years ago (she’s been dreaming of interacting with elephants for as long as she can remember) called Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES). Unfortunately, being a well-known sanctuary for rescued and retired elephants, BLES books up fast and did not have any openings until May 2015. So with that unfortunate turn of events, our hunt began. (note: BLES is now booked up for all of 2015)

We heard of the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). Another fairly well-known sanctuary, well-visited by tourists, Elephant Nature Park also takes in rescued and retired elephants. We heard only positive things about the park but something told us to keep looking. ENP is well advertised and fairly popular and we thought we may be able to spread the support to lesser known sanctuaries, if they existed.  And so, our search continued.

Disclaimer: We have heard conflicting information about this sanctuary in recent months and several comments of cruel acts being witnessed towards the elephants.

We visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in its infancy in 2014. Since then, the sanctuary has undergone an expansion and many changes. Please continue to read for our experience, what we looked for when choosing an elephant sanctuary and be sure to do your own research and due diligence in selecting where to go. Please make sure that this place is still a animal friendly place to visit.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Through research and word of mouth we heard of elephant “sanctuaries” and parks but quickly discarded each one as potential places to visit. We either read a review mentioning the poor treatment of the animals or saw that riding the elephants would be part of the program. It wasn’t until the week we had planned to leave for Bangkok that a local known as Uncle in Hang Dong (South of Chiang Mai) handed us some pamphlets that we found what we were looking for.

Dangers of Elephant Riding

Still in its infancy, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary opened in the middle of 2014 and currently has four elephants (although there were only 3 when we visited). Browsing the website and their Facebook page, we read information and reviews and decided we would take a chance as it seemed to fit the requirements we had:

  1. There is no riding of the elephants – despite their large and strong build, elephants do not have the spines to support a rider. Long days of being ridden, either bareback or with a saddle, can cause painful damage to their spines not to mention the additional pain caused by the saddle itself and the wear on their feet from walking all day with improperly supported weight.
  2. Chains, bull hooks and the like are not used to subdue, coerce or manage the elephants – In Thailand, there is a long-standing tradition of training elephants for the tourism industry. The training method, called the Phajaan or crush, is exactly as it’s English translation would suggest – a method to crush the spirit of the animal. Bullhooks and chains are part of this method and are usually continued to be used while tourists are enjoying their ride through the jungle.

We ended up learning that there was so much more to this sanctuary than we originally believed and were so thankful we happened across it.

Mamma Noi: Elephant Rescuer, Hostel Owner and Mother To All

 

chiang mai elephant jungle sanctuary elephant interaction

Upon researching, we learned that the elephant sanctuary is affiliated with a hostel in the heart of Chiang Mai – Baan Khun Hostel. Owned and operated by a small in stature, but big in heart, woman affectionately called Mamma Noi, this hostel is also fairly new and highly rated. We decided that we would stay the night before we went to see the elephants at Baan Khun Hostel and make it easy to hop on the truck for the ride to the sanctuary the following morning. Baan Khun Hostel Was our first experience with hostels in Thailand and this one seemed to be loved by everyone in residence. Free tea and coffee, cookies and bananas, Mamma Noi made sure everyone was happy and was a warm and friendly host. We sat down with her for a while to ask her questions about the elephant sanctuary and her involvement in it.We discovered that the sanctuary was, in part, borne out of Mamma Noi’s lifelong love of elephants.

Elephants have a complicated and often contradictory existence in Thailand. On the one hand they are revered, considered holy creatures that have helped build the country and it’s temples. They are also still used for labour – poked, prodded and broken to the will of their owners at a young age – they are used to transport heavy logs with their trunks and chained in order to control them. For many people we spoke to in Thailand it is considered a trade-off: the elephants are fed and are kept secure where they cannot cause harm to villages or cities and in return, they work. Others feel they are capable of finding food on their own and that it is not the fault of the elephants that their habitat was taken over by humans and that they may cause damage should they wander through.

Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary review

More recently, the tourist industry has proved to be an additional revenue stream for those who own elephants. Riding an elephant is now “the thing” to do when in Thailand. The excitement and thrill of travelling on such an incredible and large creature seems to mask the obvious signs of maltreatment. It’s much more fun to focus on being atop an elephant, staring at the jungle around you then to take a look at the saddened eyes, the ears full of holes from the spikes of the bullhooks used to break them and later, steer them, or the obvious strain carrying a heavy basket full of people all day causes. It’s also an issue that is only more recently being brought to light and to the attention of travellers.

Through her ownership of the hostel, Mamma Noi heard many horror stories from her guests about the treatment of elephants on various jungle treks and elephant parks around Chiang Mai and she wanted to help create a place where elephants would be treated well and could exist freely, peacefully and happily.

 

With Help From the Karen Hill Tribe

Karen Hill Tribe Village near Chiang Mai

The sanctuary is located within a Karen Hill Tribe Village north of Chiang Mai. During our visit, we were able to spend a great deal of time with one of the residents of the village, Robert. All smiles and soft-spoken words, Robert is one of the cornerstones of the sanctuary and he, along with his family and the rest of the village, played an essential role in the formation of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Not only was part of the family’s land donated for the elephants to roam, but the people of the village worked together to develop and sustain the sanctuary as it is –   they bring people to the sanctuary, guide them through the day, prepare lunch, make handicrafts to sell and of course care, daily, for the elephants.

Through collaboration between Mamma Noi, Baan Khun Hostel and the hill tribe, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary became a reality and although, at the time, they were only able to afford the three rescued elephants (with one baby on the way), they all told us that they hoped to be able to increase their funds in order to take on more elephants in need.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We also learned that in addition to the one day visit with the elephants, overnight stays in the hill tribe were also available and we decided that it would be important to stay, at least one night, in order to get a full picture of what Mamma Noi, Robert and the people of the hill tribe offered and were trying to accomplish.

 

 

You Can Do It Too

Places that will allow you to interact up close and personal with animals offer amazing experiences. It can be difficult sometimes to parse out those that contribute to increasing awareness for animal welfare and responsible tourism, and those that are more concerned with the benefits of the tourism industry. We’d like to think that this post and our future posts regarding the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary will help tourists make an informed decision about where they choose to visit with elephants and what type of interaction they choose to participate in.

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

 

Do you know of another elephant sanctuary (or other animal sanctuary) not mentioned that treats their animals humanely, either in Thailand or elsewhere? Comment below – we’d love to spread the word!

 

 

 

 

, ,

Why We Missed Our Flight To Vietnam

Carry on suitcases backpacks

From Vietnam to Taiwan

“Why don’t we just NOT get on our connecting flight and stay in Taiwan?” That was the question that lead us both here, to Tiapei, Taiwan and a completely different travel schedule from what we had planned when we left southeast Asia and headed home to Canada for Christmas.

With our ticket to Vietnam already booked, we didn’t give much thought into changing our schedule. Sure, we realized a little too late that it was probably not the best country for us to head into next. While we both want to get there eventually, there are certain key factors that made it unsuitable for travel right now.

For one, our budget would have to include travel visas which we were going to purchase while in Canada and would allow us up to 3 months. Depending on the current stamping fees in Vietnam, the total cost would have been a minimum of $175 CDN for the both of us. In addition to this, we read in one report that Vietnam is rated second worst for internet connectivity…in Asia! Having left Malaysia, ranked fifth-worst, before Christmas and suffering some pretty brutal periods of poor to no internet connection we decided that if we were going to pick up our post frequency, develop some online initiatives and prevent any more grey hairs from growing, we’d better think carefully about whether it would be a smart decision to head to Vietnam at this point in time.

Added to the poor internet connection, a country-wide ban on many websites, including Facebook, Twitter and many US email providers would force us to use backdoor methods that frankly, we just don’t know very much about. We would run the risk of continued periods of downtime and while there are ways around these problems, and many digital nomads have survived before us, we were not ready to test our problem solving skills and patience.

How We Decided on Taiwan

Streets of Taipei Taiwan downtown city

We started looking for cheap flights from Vietnam to other countries nearby and figured we’d just take another flight right after we landed. That’s when we realized we already had a flight, bought and paid for, to Taiwan. As it was our layover destination we started thinking about whether we could just stay. Just get off the plane in Taipei and keep walking. As our decision to NOT stay in Vietnam hinged on some important factors, so did our decision about whether we would stay in Taiwan or not.

It came down to these four points:

1. As Canadians we are able to get a 90 day landing visa, free of charge. We are able to remain in the country and explore it to our hearts content without paying for a tourist visa.  If you are interested in travelling to Taiwan, be sure to check if your country of residence has visa-exempt for entry into Taiwan.

2. In the same report that ranked Vietnam’s internet as next to last, Taiwan’s internet was ranked higher than even the US – and so far so good. In Taiwan we have been using the Magic Jack app without any issue unlike our attempts in Thailand and Malaysia. This time around the reception is clear and we aren’t attempting ridiculous positions in order to get, and maintain, reception. We started to feel as though our bodies were being contorted like the rabbit ears on old TVs!

traditional taiwanese cuisine taiwan food

3. After a quick bit of research we learned that prices are reasonable and the food is good! If you’ve read some of our other posts on the site or seen our One Modern Couple Facebook profile, you’ve probably noticed that we base a large number of our decisions on food, particularly our endeavours to find good food. Hearing that Taiwan has good food was just one more check mark in the pros column and over the past few days here in Taipei we’ve found some pretty great Taiwanese food and are excited to keep exploring the culinary landscape of the country.

4. Taiwan is located in northeastern Asia and as the flight was 16 hours from Toronto to Taipei, chances are we wouldn’t be in the area again for a while since we plan to keep heading west. We figured we might as well take advantage of the location and visit some of the countries in the area before we head back to southeast Asia and then, hopefully, onward to Europe. It helped to read more about the country from one of our fellow blogging couples – MyTanFeet – and it gave us some added encouragement to finalize our decision.

What It Took To NOT Board A Flight

streets of Taipei Taiwan city

You’d think it would be fairly simple to just forgo getting on a flight that has been booked. While it’s not incredibly complicated, there were a few things that were unexpected.  For one, it took several phone calls to our airline’s Toronto and L.A. branches in order to confirm that there was no way we could change the second flight to another location and date for a fee.  Since our flights were “married”, they came as one package and one price from Toronto to Ho Chi Minh. We then confirmed that all we would need to do was to inform the ticket kiosk that we were not getting on the second flight (no need to worry about tagging the baggage correctly as we are only travelling with carry-ons).

Taipei tower taiwan 101 building

This is where things got a bit complicated. Once at the airport, we informed them we did not need a second boarding pass as we would be staying in Taiwan and not entering Vietnam. After consulting with his superior for a lengthy period of time, and giving us some odd looks, the attendant at the counter told us we would need to do three things:

1. Provide them with the number of days we planned to spend in Taiwan as we did not have a return ticket through them – we did purchase an exit ticket out of Taiwan before we left and were able to give them all the information

2. Pay the airport taxes for Taipei – this ended up being an additional $11CDN per person and was paid directly at the check-in counter. After the large amount of airport taxes already paid on the flight for Toronto and Vietnam, Macrae had a hard time digesting this fee – even though it was only $22

taipei taiwan downtown streets in the city

3. As they were unable to do anything more than leave a note explaining our circumstance, we were told we had to call the airlines once we reached Taipei to explain to them that we were not getting on the second plane. This ended up being unnecessary as, when we reached Taipei, a stewardess for our next flight was waiting for us and we explained the situation to her.

Upon landing, we had no trouble getting through immigration, getting our 90-day visa stamped (after providing our total planned days in the country) and finding our way to the bus terminal to take us into the city.

 So, What Do We Think Of Our Choice?

101 Building Love Sign Taipei Taiwan

We can’t believe how glad we are that we decided to change our plans. We’re sure we will love Vietnam when we do get there but we are absolutely in love with Taiwan, the people and the culture and would’ve missed an amazing experience had we not thought to be slightly spontaneous and jump into our sudden change of plans with both feet.

 

You Can Do It Too

Sometimes all you have to do is step outside the box and the plans that have been made and the possibilities present themselves. It’s very easy for us to get stuck on our schedule and plans and forget that things are rarely ever set in stone. The change in plans and flights didn’t cost us anything and the price of the ticket would have been the same had we had bought a direct flight to Taipei instead (fortunately, the flight was purchased using points so it was an even bigger non-issue). The only thing that changed was our mindset. We knew earlier on that Vietnam was not the best option for us but the ticket had been purchased months prior and we didn’t delve any further into our options. Once we realized that we had a choice and that our future plans were ours to dictate, we started thinking outside the box and ended up making a deviation to our plans that has turned out to be for the better.

Opening yourself up to different opportunities doesn’t just apply to travel. Sometimes stepping away from a situation and your fears and looking at what is possible will present you with a new and exciting option that may end up being better than your original plan. Don’t be afraid to seize a new opportunity or forge a new path!

If your change does involve travel and you are looking to make a flight change or destination alteration there are several factors to take into account.

  1. If you are simply doing what we are doing and NOT taking a connecting flight, you may want to check with your airline carrier to see if you can change the second flight for another date and time OR get an open (any date, any time) ticket for a small fee.
  2. If they don’t and you are just forfeiting the second flight, make sure to notify the check-in counter in the event there are extra airport taxes to be paid as it may cause some complications at your new destination. Having knowledge about the entry requirements is always important wherever you go as many places require a return ticket or exit ticket and some places require a visa purchased in advance. (As an aside, we are still not sure why our airline didn’t happily accept our change of plans over the phone and use the opportunity to re-sell the ticket)
  3.  If you’ve purchased your ticket through a third-party agency or points redemption service, you may want to give them a call first to see if they can provide any support or mediation with the airlines

 Have you ever forged a new path or made a huge change in your plans? Was it difficult to do and did it pay off?

 

,

5 Unexpected Places To Watch The Waves

The feel of sand between your toes, a soft breeze blowing through your hair, the smell of the water and fresh air wafting to your nose, and of course, the sound of the waves as they crash upon the shore. There really isn’t anything the two of us enjoy more than taking a trip that affords us the opportunity to be near a body of water. What we’ve learned while travelling is that you don’t always need a coastal beach in order to enjoy a body of water or watch the waves form.

So we’ve partnered with Holiday Lettings and TripAdvisor to show you five incredible places to watch the waves – or riding them – from the beach to the city to, even, the desert.

Five Top Places To Watch The Waves: From The Coast To The City

You don’t have to be by the seaside to enjoy the beauty of a wave. From the powerful surf crashing along the rugged Cornish shore to Arizona’s striking wave-like canyons, here are five fantastic locations for wave watching from Holiday Lettings.

Cornwall, UK

Cornwall UK Waves - one of the best places to watch the waves

Photo credit: Tim Green (license) via flickr.com

Head west to Cornwall to soak up the UK’s wildest weather. Winds drive directly over the Atlantic and pound the waves into turmoil: witness it for yourself from quaint Porthtowan or Portreath’s picturesque harbour. Just don’t forget to wrap up warm for your coastal stroll and treat yourself to a hot chocolate at a toasty beach-side café afterwards.

Keep your walking boots on and venture cross country to Gunwalloe Cove, where you can wander round the little fifteenth-century church sheltering by the beach. You’ll hear the waves when you’re inside this ‘church of the storms’, even on a relatively quiet day. Watch out for the smugglers’ passage carved into the rocks as you walk up the village’s cliff path too.

Maui, Hawaii, USA

Maui Hawaii USA Waves - one of the best places to watch the waves

Photo credit: Jeff Rowley (license) via flickr.com

Hawaii’s most celebrated big wave reef break may officially be called Peʻahi, but it’s better known by its nickname, Jaws. Well, its waves are as ferocious and unpredictable as any shark attack. In winter, powerful winds form vast swells surging up to 27 metres high. The location was chosen for the opening sequence of the James Bond film Die Another Day.

When you’ve dried off, you can hike to the top of the majestic Mount Haleakala and breathe in the breathtaking views over the lunar landscape and rain forests. Why not visit the fantastic Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm nestling on the volcano’s slopes and take in the spectacle of over 55,000 fragrant plants? Head to Ho’okipa Beach Park and admire the green Hawaiian sea turtles taking the sun on the far end of the beach.

Munich, Germany

Munich Germany Waves - one of the best places to watch the waves

Photo credit: Jaan-Cornelius K (license) via flickr.com

Is the Eisbach the world’s weirdest wave? You certainly wouldn’t expect to see a one-metre tall and 12-metre wide vertical wave in land-locked Bavaria. It’s a brilliantly engineered standing curl at the centre of a thin man-made stream that runs through Munich’s main park. You can join the admiring spectators who often assemble here.

You’ll find lots of other things to appreciate in Munich too. Wander round the quaint Marienplatz square at the heart of the city, or sample local delicacies at one of the excellent beer halls – Hofbrauhaus is one of the country’s most famous. Tour the Residence Palace: the Bavarian monarchs used to live here, and it now houses a rich display of interior decoration ranging from porcelain to tapestries.

Bremgarten, Switzerland

Bremgarten Switzerland waves - one of the best places to watch the waves

Photo credit: Voyager (license) via Wikimedia.org

Plunge into the deep blue icy water of the River Reuss’s standing wave: you can ride it on a surfboard or in a kayak, then go with the flow through one of the country’s most picturesque towns. On a sunny day, you might have to wait for over 30 minutes for your turn, but it’s well worth it.

You can visit the country’s oldest tree (an 800-year-old linden) in nearby Linn. Roam round the nearby Schloss Habsburg, a stone fortress straight out of a fairy tale. Take in the extensive collection of Impressionist art at the local Stiftung Langmatt museum, where there’s a chilly Monet painting of ice floes at twilight.

And for something completely different…

Arizona, USA

Arizona USA Waves - one of the best places to watch the waves

Photo credit: Katie Darby (license) via flickr.com

Arizona’s Wave is one of the world’s weirdest geological wonders: its multi-toned sandstone troughs intersect and swirl into amazing structures. Decide for yourself whether the merging pink, yellow, red and green rocks form a beehive, a castle or a chute. The changing light alters the shades and shapes, turning this site into an amazing natural kaleidoscope.

There are other amazing landmarks in the area: you can visit Antelope Canyon and step into an awe-inspiring stone sculpture; you’ll also be inspired by Rainbow Bridge, one of the planet’s tallest natural bridges at over 88 metres tall and 25 metres wide. You can find out more about the region’s fascinating indigenous culture at the Navajo Village Heritage Center.

 

 

Holiday Lettings Trip Advisor

Published in Paradise

 

In November of 2014, the two of us took part in the Tropical Writers’ Workshop in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Although we were initially hesitant to change our travel plans and budget to accommodate the course, this 2 week workshop was better than we could have possibly imagined and through it we learned an incredible amount about travel writing, website design and social media and made some amazing new friends. One of the highlights of enrollment in the course was the chance to contribute an article to a feature on the island of Koh Phangan for South East Asia Backpacker Magazine.

Both of us were given a topic to research and write about and we are incredibly proud to announce that the issue of the magazine is now available!

Check out the free download of issue 34 (Jan-Feb) at SouthEastAsiaBackpacker.com and take a look at pages 12-21 for the Koh Phangan feature by us and our fellow attendees.  You can find Macrae’s article Top 5 Places For Sunset Drinks on pages 14-15 and Carolann’s article Homesick For Hamburgers on page 17.

 

You Can Do It Too!!

Sometimes taking a step outside your comfort zone or deviating from your schedule will afford you some incredible experiences and opportunities. We decided to listen to the old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and enrolled in the workshop – and what we gained was invaluable knowledge, great friends and opportunities we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps enrolling in something like the Tropical Writers’ Workshop isn’t what you are looking for to broaden your own horizons and take that next step, but if it is, a new workshop is starting on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand in March and we would be remiss if we failed to mention this great opportunity to those who may benefit from it!

, ,

A Guide to Pai, How We Slice It – Part Three: What To Do

What To Do In Pai

The thing we noticed about Pai is that it is all about doing, or not doing, whatever you want. Whether it’s going on a paid tour, exploring around Pai on your own, or just staying close for the day, it all works. Pai’s casual vibe was a welcome respite from the faster-paced Chiang Mai where we stayed for the majority of our time in the north of Thailand. Aside from finding great food in Pai, there are several other attractions we think are worth seeing while in Pai.

Pai Mountain View THailand

Since we had driven our scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai we already had transportation covered. If you took a bus, or another method for getting to Pai, not to worry, there are scooter rentals, bicycle rentals, taxis and tour options available. Just be conscious of the going rate and competitive pricing and bargain if possible.

 

Natural Attractions in Pai

Oftentimes, when travelling the tourist traps and attractions overshadow the natural beauty of a place. Sometimes, natural attractions are all but eliminated in order to make way for tourism. Pai, while being a popular and well-travelled tourist destination, amazingly still retains much of its natural state. Bright green rice fields, waterfalls, hot springs, picturesque mountain-scapes and even a canyon, Pai is a perfect place to escape and enjoy some of the most incredible natural attractions Northern Thailand has to offer.

 

Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon Thailand

While we were unable to spend a great deal of time at the canyon due to a fast-approaching thunderstorm, we managed to take a brief walk along the canyon’s treacherous looking paths after climbing the cement stairs to the top. Although it didn’t look like what one would think a typical canyon should look like, it was just as much of a heart-stopping view. Narrow paths winding through the tree tops with thousands of years of erosion causing some fairly dangerous looking areas with 100 ft drops on either side. With no rails or handholds at all, this is definitely not for the faint of heart and most certainly should only be attempted by the most sure-footed. We ended up taking a short walk along a less dangerous looking path with several feet of space between us and the edges. Carolann’s innate sense of survival (which she adamantly denies as being fear) prevented any attempt at the narrow paths, especially with the incoming storm.

things to do in Pai thailand canyon

It is definitely worth a visit, to take in the view from the canyon and even to check out the paths that are clearly still utilized. It’s only a short scooter drive from the walking street and the drive takes you through some beautiful scenery. With no admission fee, and only a short staircase to the top, it’s an interesting attraction and another one of the amazing natural views of Pai.

Drive Amongst the Rice Paddy Fields and Mountains
Pai Rice paddy fields Thailand

With scooter and bicycle rentals readily available, and at a decent price, one of the best things to do in Pai is simply explore the natural beauty surrounding the town. A bike ride will take you past rice paddy fields where you can see people working the fields of lush green vegetation. The mountainous backdrop adds to the beauty of the view and we enjoyed taking drives amongst the rice fields and through the mountainous roads around the center of Pai.

Waterfalls

things to do in pai waterfall

On one drive we decided to make our way to one of the waterfalls known to be in the area. We drove Northwest and found our way to Mor Peang Waterfall. The drive was a bit rocky and winding but we passed through several small village areas with locals as well as some beautiful natural scenery. It was mid-afternoon and pretty busy but it was still an interesting place to walk and visit. Though we didn’t go in the water, there were many people swimming and climbing the rocks of the waterfall. Additionally, there is Hua Chang Waterfall just east of Mor Peang, Pam Bok Waterfall near the canyon and the Pai Hot Springs to the Southeast of the town. For those looking for more of an adventure, Mae Yen Waterfall, located within the forested jungles of Pai, can be accessed only by foot. About 2km outside the centre of Pai (by scooter), the trek takes approximately 3 ½ hours and takes you to a rarely visited, pristine looking waterfall.

Viewpoints

pai lookour thailand

There are various marked trails to viewpoints accessible via motorbike. Some, like the viewpoint near the Chinese Village, require an entry fee around 20Baht. Others, also well-marked, are free. We decided to go on one of our adventures and find our own viewpoint. We climbed a rather steep hill a short ways away from the Mor Peang Waterfall and looked out. The over 180 degree view was stunning. A panorama of mountains, fields, vegetation and skyline. We highly suggest making your way to a viewpoint, marked or unmarked.

Other Attractions in Pai

Wat Phra That Mae Yen

Although we didnt’ get a chance to visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen, the temple on the mountain, it was difficult not to see the giant Buddha statue marking it’s location. From nearly any place in Pai the Buddha is visible on the distant mountain and we were fortunate to be able to learn more about it and see photos through our friends, the Wagoner’s blog post “Perfectly Pai Photo Essay”.

Pai Walking street

We mentioned the walking street when we discussed where to stay in Pai. Set up daily around 6pm, vendors line the man street in Pai with stands of food, souvenirs and goods. The smells of the food cooking wafts through the streets enticing those passing through and although the same vendors appear to pop up night after night, there seems to always be something new to see. While this is the main highlight of the night, you’ll definitely be far from bored exploring the stands each night and popping into different restaurants, cafes and bars as you go.

WWII Memorial Bridge

WWII Memorial bridge Pai thailand

We decided to visit the memorial bridge on our way out of Pai. Located off Highway 1095, the route into and out of Pai from Chiang Mai, the memorial bridge serves as a reminder of the Japanese occupation in World War II where it was used by soldiers to transport goods across the border to Burma/Myanmar. The iron and wood bridge is now only for foot traffic for tourists visiting and provides an interesting historical landmark worth a quick visit while in Pai.

Enjoy & Relax

Like we mentioned, Pai makes you feel as though you should be doing, or not doing, whatever you want. On one of the days we were in Pai, we found ourselves relaxing. We strolled along the streets in the day time, stopping into a coffee shop for a quick break, continuing on for meals and exploring the centre of town. We relaxed on an outdoor patio for dinner and then headed to the walking street for another leisurely stroll amidst the vendors. It isn’t fast paced in Pai, despite the growing tourist economy there, and one of the benefits of this is the ability to just enjoy your surroundings and relax.

After reading our three part series on where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Pai, would this be a place you’d consider visiting? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Check out Part One of “How We Slice It” to read about where to stay in Pai and Part Two about where to eat in Pai.

If you are planning to make the trip to Pai, be sure to check out our past posts including our Tips on Getting to Pai, our drive from Chiang Mai to Pai.