Friday, April 5, 2013

Visit Japan with HELLO KITTY

Love travelling to Japan? Then you probably shouldn't miss out on this cute little app that was launched by the Japan Tourism Agency last year. It "introduces great places to visit in all of Japan's 47 prefectures and enables users to take a picture at each location with HELLO KITTY".

Muiee Phan, a Singaporean blogger, tried out the app during her trip to Tokyo last year and wrote all about it on her blog. Do check it out if you want to know what it's like. =)

It looks rather cute...although Muiee mentioned that you need 3G or connection to the local wifi in order to access the AR Camera, which is a camera function that comes with a location specific HELLO KITTY stamp. For instance when you launch the AR Camera upon reaching Nagano, you'll get a HELLO KITTY that represents the local culture. =)

Keen to try it out? You can download the "Visit Japan with HELLO KITTY" iPhone app on iTunes for free! Muiee has generously offered to share some photos that she took with the app but for more details, but DO visit her website!

PS: It's in Mandarin. But here's the official website in English for you, just in case!





If you've tried the app too, then I'll love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments below. XD

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Taiwan 2012: National Center for Traditional Arts (Yilan)

Yilan is an amazingly quiet place to relax in. I know people usually rush through their itinerary and do counties like these in a day without an overnight, but I've always been of the opinion that one should fully soak in the place before moving on. We're not in a rat race, ya know. Hehe.

Anyway, this post is gonna be on the National Center for Traditional Arts. Yes, the name sounds boring but really...it's good for at least a few hours' entertainment after your invigorating adventure through the Dongshan River Water Park. It's a boat ride away from the park, so you gotta hop onto a small boat and putter your way there. For those who get seasick easily at even the sight of a boat, you can ride your way there but it MIGHT be a tad far for the physically unfit. =x

But no worries, the boat moves almost immediately after all the passengers have boarded and it's a mere 10 minute trip so it shouldn't be a big problem. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. =)

All aboard!
Tickets for to and fro~ 100NT in total
Windy view from the boat
You can see the Wen-Chang Temple from the river~!
Now, as the name suggests, it's a center for traditional arts. This means that you'll get to see all sorts of cultural and artsy stuff like mini concerts, opera performances, local eats, historical monuments, art exhibitions etc. You can also get to eat stuff like bingtanghulu that are really fruits (like baby tomatoes) caked in honey and huge packets of preserved fruits like plums. There are also shops that sell retro toys like snakes and ladders and other masak masak (Malay word for toys, I think) like these. They will definitely make unique souvenirs for those digital-crazed kid nieces and nephews you have back home. LOL.

Food stalls that will ensure you won't go hungry!
The venue is quite popular with both locals and tourists!
Sheltered seats for the weary and a serene view of the pond,
sometimes you can even enjoy a mini concert while you
rest! =3
Gorgeous, isn't it? 
Entire streets of arts and craft
For those who enjoy collecting BJDs (Ball-jointed dolls), you'll be happy to know that there is one particular shop that sells and exhibits beautiful lifelike puppets that have their very own drama serial! See below for video:



Whoever makes these puppets are just really pro
They look really lifelike, right?!
There are no ugly puppets...really. =x
Each puppet character play a significant part
in the show to represent an ideal or idea. Neat,
huh? Like caricature. =3
Before I visited this shop, I never knew that puppets could make such impressive drama serials the likes of Jing Yong! LOL. If I remember correctly, you can also buy one of the puppets home to add to your collection although the price is quite hefty. Heh.

There is also a soap shop where you'll gain better understanding on how the modern soap originated and its evolution to today's version. For those who want to make their own soap or buy special soaps for unique skin conditions, you can choose from a wide variety of sweet-smelling soaps that are made from natural ingredients and herbs. =)

Sweet smelling soaps you can try out before buying
Soap curving of a turtle!
The good old days of bathing in a tub
Curious about the evolution of soap? Hop on upstairs in the shop
to find out more!
Traditional opera costumes for the ladies, I think
this is a wedding gown for female characters.
This is the garb of a scholarly (and often poor)
man in opera performances
Fabric postcards! You can make little fabric
animals from the fabric on the postcard front
The weather was a bit hot, but it does look like a swell place
for exhibitions. 
A gorgeous view from the other side of the river
Great place for a stroll...in the evening. =x
There is even a temple where you can visit or pray for excellent school results. Wen-Chang Temple was built to honour the Taoist God of Wisdom, Literature, Books and Writing. Taiwan Culture Portal has this to say about him.

"He started out as a mortal by the name of Zhang Ya Zi, a Zhou Dynasty sage who could predict the future and perform great transformations. He is also a God of Education and Learning, who helps students and blesses schools. It is said that it is easy to get on his good side: all you need to do is love books."
Well, then I will definitely be one of his favourites since I love reading and writing. Hohohoho. =3

For those who are unfamiliar with temple traditions (like me), there are also arrows to direct you into the temple through the right door for good luck. Apparently, the right door symbolises a dragon while the left one a tiger. So you basically enter the temple on the right and exit on the left. The temple also features five other gods. And if you want to see how people in the olden days live, you can hop on over to Scholar Huang's Residence; a well-kept place that has been there for 120 years! It was built using the san-ho-yuan pattern, otherwise known as the three winged pattern that symbolises a father sitting in the middle and embracing/protecting his family with his outstretched arms.


Entrance to the temple
My somewhat feeble attempt at taking an
artistic shot of the temple's interior
Scholar Huang's house! 
A place to honour the ancestors and the gods

Display of items that had been used in the past
As I walked through the place, a little girl was
leading her family through the house and
explaining the story behind each item. Quite
entertaining. LOL.

You can't really see it but there is a machine
blowing bubble shooting bubbles into the sky.
A final look as I leave on a boat
Hungry? No worries, for there is a food court on site where there is a large variety of food available. You can nom on burgers, soup noodles and even Japanese food if I remember correctly. Should you want to spend more than a day in the arts cultural center, you can also stay at the Forte Dong-Shan Villa that is situated right next door. Check out its reviews and photos on the TripAdvisor website.

This place is definitely a must-see for people who love traditional architecture and/or arts & crafts. It MIGHT not be Disneyland but I thoroughly enjoyed myself that afternoon. =)

I even got to wear a traditional opera costume for a souvenir picture! Hehe. Oh and before I forget, here's a map of the place. Have fun!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Taiwan 2012: Beautiful ilan (B&B)

宜蘭優質民宿-真水蘭陽白鷺鷥RESORT
Address: 宜蘭縣冬山鄉武淵村東八路130號, Ilan, T'Ai-Wan, Taiwan
Email: beautiful_ilan@yahoo.com.tw (They usually reply in Chinese but you can email them in English if Chinese is not your strong language)

How to get there: You can get there by alighting at the Luodong train station. Book your tickets here or purchase them at the counter that is situated at the Taipei Main Station. Once there, you can either take a cab or arrange for the B&B people to go fetch you. 

View from Luodong Train Station

Review: I love staying at B&Bs in Taiwan. If you manage to pick the right one, your stay becomes all the brighter because the proprietors of these lovely places always have a few tips on where to go or what to eat. This particular B&B that I stayed at was not exactly my first choice, but it turned out to be the best one ever because Steven the B&B owner was a really friendly person who made me feel at home. 

In fact, that was his mission: to make all guests feel as comfortable as possible so they feel like it's home sweet home. To do this, Steven didn't depend on any big-name designer to do up the place. He put the place together with his own personal touches like the pebbles along the corridor and the wooden rocking horses in the relaxation room. He even scattered photos of his own kids (I think) around the place so it really does feel like home. =)

And the scenery...OMGS...it's really damn beautiful. It wasn't as breathtaking as the one in Jiufen but it was still unforgettable. Check out its lovely website here and you'll know what I mean. Hehe. My photos don't really do it justice, but if you're there...you can feel the love and effort that the owners put into the place. The B&B faces the river and it can get pretty bright in the afternoon, but it has that restful vibe that is rarely seen in the hotels of Taipei. 



The exterior of the B&B...quite a zen and
minimalist feel to it, right?

Bobby the resident African Grey parrot...I
wanted to pat him but decided not to press my
luck. LOL.

A beautiful backdrop to the counter and that's
Steven the B&B owner checking me in there. Hehe 

Beautiful greenery to spice up the place

A relaxing space for guests to chill

The bedroom! Steven told me that this room is apparently
very popular with Singaporean visitors~! It's called the 明池森林二人套房 

Dah bed

The bathroom with the AWESOME shower
area cum bathtub

HUGE, right? It comes with bath oils so you can
soak to your heart's content!

A very resort-y feel to the corridor

The staircase faces a river! I love how the water sparkles with
the sunlight.

A swing for those who want to enjoy the cool breeze

Another relaxation area behind the house

There are a lot of empty lands in Yilan...

A touch of cuteness

The place behind the main B&B building where we have
all our meals
According to Steven, the room I booked was extremely popular with Singaporeans. BUT! He does recommend 礁溪溫泉二人套房 because it has an awesome view of the river that can be enjoyed from both the bedroom AND the bathroom plus it has a balcony. You can just open the door in the bathroom to admit the view while you soak in hot water. XD

One thing about this place though...it gets REALLY dark at night and there are absolutely NO shops nearby. I'll recommend you to stock up on the instant noodles in case you get hungry at night. You're also highly recommended to complete your bathing rituals early so you don't disturb the other guests. I guess it's coz when you release the water in the bathtub, it can cause quite a ruckus that echoes loudly especially at night. If you're visiting the night market, be sure to return earlier as well since the owners will lock up the place and it's not very nice to keep them waiting up for you too. =D

Breakfast is provided in a separate little house that is just behind the main building and it's from around 8 or 830 to about 9 or 930am, I think.

How to book: You can email them at beautiful_ilan@yahoo.com.tw with your name, number of guests, type of room and dates you want to book OR you can simply register online. They will get back to you within a few days. They have a couple of booking phone lines as well so you can give them a jingle. A 50% deposit is required, which can be paid via Paypal. If you ask me, being able to email them is a great plus point for me because it's a lot more convenient to email than calling them. Hehe. 

Hotel amenities provided? Yes

Rating: *****

Conclusion: I will highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to get away from it all. Take the time to explore Yilan and recuperate from your daily toils. =)