Leofoo village 六福村

One place which I feel is a must-visit for children visiting Taipei is Leofoo Village (六福村). Ted enjoyed himself tremendously and it was the place he talked most about when we returned to Singapore.

Leofoo Village is essentially a very large amusement park about 2 hours’ bus ride away from Taipei central but if you want to save on the long commute to and fro, you have the option of staying in their resort nearby. Since this was our first trip abroad with the little boy, to minimise the shifting of our heavy luggage around, we decided to stay only in one hotel in Taipei throughout our trip.

We started our journey by making our way to Songshan Airport station via the metro. The bus terminal is located right outside the airport, and there are signs within the metro station that point you to the bus terminal. We took the E-go bus which would take us directly to the park. The link is in Chinese, but you won’t miss it because it is the last stop on this route.

The strange thing is, you do not buy your tickets before you board – you sit on the bus for about 1 and a half hours before you arrive at Longtan Station (龙潭总站) and you alight for 5 minutes to purchase tickets. It’s NTD 1200 per adult for a round trip (Taipei to Leofoo and back to Taipei) and it includes the entrance ticket to Leofoo Village. For us, it worked out to be less than SGD60 per person and toddlers enter free! After purchasing your tickets, you show them to the bus driver and continue on the rest of the journey to Leofoo Village.

It’s a long journey (about 2 hours on the bus) so make sure you bring food and entertainment for the children. We had brought along some snacks, a banana and an ipad and although I don’t really like to rely on the ipad too much, it’s really great for such situations when we really just want a little rest.

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When we first entered the park, we were greeted by loud upbeat music. After a short walk, we came to a central clearing where there was a procession of floats and mascots waving enthusiastically from them. It was Halloween season when we visited, so most of the floats were Halloween themed.

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Leofoo Village is made up of a number of smaller themed parks and I think it is not possible to explore them all in one day. With a toddler in tow, we only managed to explore a fraction of the parks.

The first part we visited was the Safari, which is pretty much like a small zoo. There were animals such as tigers, camels and birds in enclosures for you to observe up close.

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There is also a bus ride that takes you into the safari area where tigers, lions and monkeys roam freely. We were there on a weekday that didn’t fall within the school holidays so the park was not crowded. We waited about 15 minutes for the bus. We saw about 10-15 tigers, 10-15 lions and about a 100 monkeys roaming freely and over a rather large expanse of space. It was pretty fun because some of the animals came up really close to the bus and we could see them really close up.

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There were also some animal themed rides within the safari park. This baboon one was our favourite. It’s a rickety car on a monorail which moves by a manual pedal. The ride takes you around the safari park and you can see some of the enclosed animals such as baboons, flamingos and tigers from above. The fun part was you can take your time to pedal (although we had to be considerate of the people waiting in line for their turn on the ride) and you can spend a little more time at certain spots where the animals were and pedal really quickly when you move to the next spot.

It was a great hit with Ted, who would constantly mention the “big brown car” that he took.

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We found a mini Ferris wheel with only 6 cars which was perfect for little kids. There is no height limit for this ride although there is a minimum height limit of 90 cm for most other rides.

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We also took a couple of other rides for children – some twice.

We took a leisurely boat ride that went around a little pond.

We took a ride on some spinning birds in which you could control the birds’ vertical movements. We took it twice in a row because Ted enjoyed it so much.

We also sat on a large boat that looked like a mini viking and which we thought was only going to sway gently back and forth. We got a surprise when it started spinning but it got Ted grinning excitedly. He insisted we take it again and again but twice was all we could manage.

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There were plenty of rides for bigger children and adults – many of which we did not sit on mainly because of height restrictions and the fact that some of them looked a little dangerous. There were rides that went in many giddy loops and some that went vertically up several storeys. We explored the park leisurely and then settled down for a quick dinner.

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For the ride home, we simply waited at the bus stop outside Leofoo Village for the next E-go bus. It would go straight to Songshan Airport station but it made a few stops around Taipei city central. We decided to hop off at a random place within Taipei city which was brightly lit and looked like it had some big shopping centres and stopped there for an evening walk before we had dinner and headed back to our hotel.

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If I ever visit Taipei again, I would certainly come back to Leofoo Village, but I think this time, I will arrange for a stay within the resort so that we can spend more time exploring the park.

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Shifen

The weather was good and we decided to spend our day at Shifen (十分) and explore the rustic old streets described by the guide books.

We took the subway to Taipei Main Station, followed the signs to the Taipei Railways Administration (TRA) counter and bought ourselves tickets to and from Ruifang (瑞芳). The tickets cost NTD 76 (<SGD 4) for reserved seats and the ride was about 45 minutes in each direction.

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At Ruifang (瑞芳), we purchased day passes for the Pingxi Line (平溪线) for about NTD 68, which on hindsight, was not a great idea. The trains on this line come infrequently and it is unlikely you will have time to visit more than a couple of places on the line unless you start your journey early and plan your trip really well. A return ticket to and from shifen (十分) would have cost us about NTD 40 each.

While waiting for the train to arrive, we explored a little around Ruifang Old Street (瑞芳老街). It was a quiet street that didn’t look like it saw or expect many foreigners given that most signs were written in Chinese and most of the food stalls were selling “古早味” or “old school flavoured” local dishes and drinks. There was a Taiwanese mother exploring the streets with her 5-year old daughter and we thought this was probably the sort of place young mothers in the cities bring their children to show them what life was like in Taiwan when they were growing up.

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We were told that this line gets incredibly crowded on the weekends but on this late weekday morning, being one of the first few to queue up to get onto the train, we managed to find ourselves a seat. Lucky us!

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The main attractions of Shifen (十分) are the 2 streets of shops built along the train tracks. It was bustling with visitors (from what we could tell, there was a good mix of local Taiwanese, Chinese and Hong Kong visitors, with the occasional Singaporeans, Koreans and Japanese).

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Most visitors are here for the Sky Lanterns (天灯). You write your wishes on these giant lanterns (each colour represents a category such as love, wealth or health) and then you release them into the sky where you hope they will reach someone who can grant those wishes. It has become commercialised enough that most people touting these were telling us about how the backdrop from a certain location is more beautiful and that they can help take photos of us from certain premium spots.

There were plenty of people setting the lanterns off even during midday but this place gets crowded in the evenings when the dark skies make a beautiful contrast against the light from the lanterns and you can see the lanterns go up a long way.

We had intended to purchase ourselves a lantern to set afloat after lunch, but Ted, being tired out from the long journey, fell asleep even as we were having lunch, and we abandoned Plan A.

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We had 2 large pieces of Taiwan’s famous deep fried chicken chop for lunch. I know, we are bad parents, but there were not many toddler / stroller friendly eating places here, and we just wanted to get lunch out of the way so we can continue our holidaying.

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As Ted fell asleep shortly after lunch, we decided to explore the streets, in particular the Shifen Waterfall, which a lot of guidebooks claim to be 15 minutes away from the station. It wasn’t. It was more like an hour’s walk towards the Shifen Visitors’ Centre, after which you still need to cross a suspension bridge to get to view it. Unluckily for us, we were told after our very long walk there that it was closed. We sat around to enjoy the greenery for a while anyway before we made our way back to the station.

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We took some more random pictures on the way back to the station.

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We didn’t spend more than a couple of hours at Shifen and by the time we were back in Taipei, the sun had already set. I think next time we will plan our travelling time more wisely, or just splurge on a taxi ride that will bring us comfortably to the many tourist areas around the area.

Taiwan 2014 – Sunworld Dynasty Hotel

We wanted to book a room for 7 nights in a row. We were bringing Ted along with us and as it was his first time abroad, we wanted to make sure that the stay was comfortable without too much shuffling of hotels. See my previous post on my criteria for hotel selection.

We made the mistake of not booking early, so only the very large hotels had rooms for 7 nights in a row. It turned out that I was able to get a good corporate rate on Sunworld Dynasty Hotel and we settled on the Executive Club VIP room. The perks were that we had access to the executive club which had happy hour from 6-8pm daily during which you have access to a buffet of finger snacks and alcoholic beverages. There were also hotel staff there who would serve you drinks and attend to your needs.

It turned out to be not a very practical perk for us as we spent entire days outside the hotel and only came back to the room to sleep.

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The hotel room was clean and although a little smaller than we expected for the price we paid, it was spacious enough for us. It came with a large king-sized bed, which comfortably accommodated the 3 of us at night.

Our hotel package also came with 4 bottles of drinking water daily and free access to the mini bar which had a small selection of tea bags as well as 3 cans of assorted beer and 3 cans of soft drinks.

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What we really loved about the hotel was the breakfast selection. We could choose to eat at the more cosy and private executive club room at level 12 or we could choose to eat at the restaurant at level 1. We went with the latter everyday because the selection was much greater.

There were a seasonal fruits and salad station, a cheese and pastries station, a cooked food station, a Chinese dumplings and dough fritters station, an omelette and sunny side up egg station, a noodle station, a porridge and broth station as well as a fruit juice and coffee/tea station.

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Having a good hotel breakfast really made a difference in our trip because it means we left the hotel satisfied and full of energy. We also didn’t have to rack our brains about getting breakfast for Ted. Taipei has plenty of good breakfast options but they are mostly oily and heavy and wouldn’t be suitable for a fussy toddler.

All in all, we rather enjoyed our hotel stay as the staff were really friendly and greeted us warmly every morning and evening when we arrived back in the hotel. It is also conveniently located in the city central and a short walk away from Nanjing Road East Metro station. We deliberately chose a hotel located in central Taipei as we like the idea of taking the Metro around to explore the city. It worked out well for us and we would certainly consider this hotel again for our next visit (it will be our 4th visit!) to Taipei.

 

Taiwan 2014 – Taipei Zoo

On our first full day in Taipei, as the weather looked promising, we decided to go to the zoo. We took the Metro along the brown line to the Taipei Zoo station and walked about 2 minutes to the zoo.

The entrance fee is NTD 60 per adult and free for children below the age of 6. This is about SGD 3 which is really cheap compared to the Singapore Zoo, which costs SGD 28 per adult ticket.

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What was really great about the zoo was that there is a section called the “Children’s Zoo” which is visible once you enter the zoo. There were farm animals such as ducks and roosters and popular animals like a cow and a water buffalo. It was fun because Ted could recognise and talk about these familiar animals.

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The zoo was huge and were divided by the regions in which the animals can be found. For instance, in the “Africa” zone, you would see giraffes and hippos, and in the “Asia” zone, you would see some tropical primates.

The zoo was very friendly for people with strollers and we did not find it difficult to navigate the place with a stroller. We also really liked the fact that a lot of the enclosures had see-through barriers or barriers just low enough for a little toddler to be able to view the animals from the stroller. This was a great bonus because it meant we did not have to stop and pick Ted up from his stroller at every exhibit.

We did, however, allow Ted plenty of time and space to run around and explore the zoo by himself. We also collected a few giant leaves (we didn’t hurt any trees – these were fallen leaves that we picked up from the ground) along the way which we later carried back to our hotel as souvenirs.

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At the entrance, we were also given 2 small yellow slips of paper with a designated time slot to view the pandas. Everyone is given a 10 minute time window during which to queue up to visit the pandas. These are apparently their most popular animals because there were long queue markings drawn on the road outside the panda enclosure and it seems like during the peak periods, a rather long wait is expected to catch a glimpse of these rare animals.

We were lucky this time, because we visited on a weekday during non school holidays and we were able to immediately enter the building that housed the pandas. There was still a short queue that leads us past the glass walls of the panda enclosure but that moved rather quickly and we were able to snap some pictures of the pandas lazing around on their branches.

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After visiting the giant pandas, we carried on to explore the rest of the zoo, which was huge, and saw some other popular animals such as the elephants and the hippos which Ted loved.

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This was my second trip to the Taipei Zoo, and I think I would be back again. It is educational, fun for children, easily accessible by the Metro and an inexpensive excursion.

 

 

Taiwan 2014 – Travelling from Taoyuan to Taipei by Bus

 

 

We had several options to get to Taipei from Taoyuan International Airport. One was using the hotel limo (NTD 1900) and one was to grab a taxi directly from the airport (we did not check but it would probably be about NTD 1000) but we settled on the cheapest option, which was to take a bus. That cost NTD 280 for 2 adults and kids ride for free!

It was not difficult to find the correct bus to take as we had done our research online prior to arrival.

We followed the prominent signs to the bus terminal in the airport and went straight to the FreeGo Bus counter. We purchased tickets for Bus 5502 that took us straight to our hotel. If this is not the route you want to take, there are many other bus options available from Taoyuan Airport.

The person manning the ticket counter will give you directions to the numbered waiting station. In our case, it was number 7. The bus is expected to come every 30 minutes and from our experience, tends to arrive on time at the airport.

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It was a large spacious single deck bus. It was a rather odd timing, about 5 pm on a Tuesday, so there weren’t many passengers. There were about 5 other people on the bus with us, mostly local Taiwanese, and we had plenty of space to ourselves taking pictures at the back of the bus. The journey took about 1.5 hours and we had a good chance to take in the night scenery of Taoyuan and Taipei. In Taoyuan, you see a lot more of the countryside and as you approach Taipei, you start to see more neon lights and the brightly coloured city.

Hello, Taiwan! See you later, Singapore!

Ted’s first airplane ride was better than we had hoped. He was given a colourful headset which he enjoyed playing with even before it was plugged in, and they gave him a little deck of cards with which to play.

See you later, Singapore. Hello Taiwan!

We had bought him an adult ticket (or at least it cost the same as our adult tickets) so it seemed there was no option online for a kids’ meal. As a result, he was served the regular adults meal although they will serve him before they push the food trolleys out. That worked fine for us, although I am keen to find out what they serve children on airplanes. I will take note to request for a kids’ meal next time.

Taipei, Taiwan 2014 – Choosing a baby and toddler friendly hotel

It’s Ted’s first trip overseas (and my first one since I was pregnant with him) and although we were terribly excited, we were also extremely nervous about whether he would adjust easily to the new environment.

To make it easier for him, we chose a country where the food and culture are somewhat similar and choose to go at a time when the weather wasn’t too cold. Taiwan in October is excellent because it’s just like being in an air conditioned environment all day. An extra jacket in the backpack would do very well for the evenings or nights.

Some things we considered when selecting a hotel for our little baby / toddler:

1) Location

We expected to take the metro rather often so we chose one that was close to a central metro station. Of course, we could get around by taxi everyday but taking the metro is part of the holiday experience when visiting a foreign country. Also, we wanted to be able to show Ted the view of the city from the trains.

We also chose a hotel near a central metro station and on a metro line we expected to be travelling on often to minimise travelling time. Children tend to get restless on long commutes.

Choosing a hotel that is easily accessible from the airport is also a big plus. You could always take a taxi but if you happen to stay in a hotel that is along the airport shuttle bus route, that’s a cheap and convenient way of getting to your hotel and back.

2) Breakfast selection

The hotel we chose had to have a good breakfast selection. You can probably scan through the Agoda reviews to see if any guests commented on the excellent breakfast spread or take our word for it that Sunworld Dynasty Hotel had a great breakfast variety.

This is important because toddlers can be picky eaters and you want to make sure your entire party, including the little toddler / baby is well fed for the long day of sightseeing ahead. A hungry toddler is a grouchy toddler.

Also, we’ve been to Taiwan twice and our experience is that Taiwanese breakfast options are generally heavy and oily and not especially suitable for  children.

3) Large, clean hotel

We’ve stayed in hotels which claimed to be 3 stars but the room smelt musky and smokey. We chose a renowned business hotel that we knew would be comfortable for our stay there.

We selected a executive VIP room (we are typically very frugal when we travel as a couple but went on a little splurge this time for the baby) which offered us fruits from their executive lounge throughout the day. This allowed us to pick up some fruits from the lounge in the morning for our day out or at night for supper. We found that the bananas and apples that we took from the lounge every morning served us very well to keep Ted happy while we were waiting or queuing for activities.

4) Same hotel for the entire stay

We wanted to minimise travelling as we had 2 huge luggage bags and a stroller to lug around and made sure we booked with a large hotel that could spare us a room for 7 nights. We could have booked with a smaller hotel but unfortunately we started scouting for hotels only 1 month before our trip and none of the smaller hotels had any room that was available for 7 days in a row. This is also important because we did plenty of shopping, and not having to change hotels during our trip made it very convenient for me to do plenty of shopping and pack only on the day before we left for home 🙂

All in all, we were rather pleased with the hotel that we stayed in and the service was also excellent. If we were to go back to Taipei again, this would definitely be on my list for consideration again.