Sunday, November 20, 2011

We're Off for A Last Binge Trip! Taiwan Part 2 - WOC, Leofoo & Weichuan Pushin Ranch

7th November 2011

After a whirlwind of activities for the past 3 days (was it 3 days already?), we packed our luggage, and bid a very sad farewell to Hotel QUOTE in the morning.

We hired two taxis and spent about 1 hour on the road, heading to Hsinchu. Our destination? Windows on China, the famous miniatures park, where we could see the leaning tower of Pisa, Great Wall of China, Stonehenge and other historical buildings, all miniatures of course.

We arrived on a slightly gloomy, drizzling late morning, dumped our luggage at the customer services counter and proceeded into the park. The miniatures are all very well done, with intricate details craved into the buildings, though the weather had taken a toll on them.

We took the miniature train to the amusement rides section of the park, and the kids started to go crazy!

We first sat on the river boat ride, taking in more sights of the miniature buildings, and got warmed up. It was followed up with the mini Ferris wheel for the kids, then the vertical lift and drop ride, which even Lauren sat and giggled hysterically each time the ride dropped!

After that they ran to sit the log trains, then the mini Viking, and after that the crazy jeep rides which they went round the track 3 times.

We then took a break and sat the huge Ferris wheel, taking in the sights and beautiful scenery from the cabins. It was windy and cold but it was also serene and peaceful….

And after that, what’s there but more rides again!

But the biggest surprise was the roller coaster ride, which ALL the kids loved, even Lauren! It was a small but very fast roller coaster ride, and all of them clambered on board sat on it for at least 5 times! They each took turn sitting in the front, and switched seats after each ride, laughing with joy, so that was the highlight of the park for them. J After a quick lunch (again!) at the café, we headed to the indoor section where they sat on mini-bumper cars, and wandered through the indoor playground very much like Go Go Bambini.

By 430pm, the park closed and we meandered through the vast park and out the exit. We collected our luggage and asked the customer Service Officer to help get us 2 cabs as our next destination was Leofoo Resort, a safari-themed resort sum amusement park about a 5min ride away. Only 1 cab arrived though and by then it was getting dark and chilly. The lights at the park switched off and the place turned a little sinister, making the dads a little worried. We bundled all the kids into the cab and the women headed off to the Resort first, leaving the men there to wait for the 2nd ride.

Upon arriving at Leofoo Resort, we checked-in at the reception while the kids wandered out to stare in wonder at the animal enclosures right outside the hotel balconies.

Leofoo Resort is known for their unique hotel rooms directly facing safari animals’ enclosures. The hotel property is set in a huge ‘U’, and in the middle is a large paddock with giraffes, zebras, antelope, a group of flamingos in a shallow pond and 2 really big rhinos. Set slightly apart, is a lemur island where a big family of lemurs live, and in the stream, a garble of ducks.

Sounds cruel? Hmm, I guess to hardcore animal activists, it may appear so, but the animals appear very probably cared for, with healthy coats and premium feed for their food. We also spotted a 1 week old baby in the small family of zebras, and baby lemurs hanging on to their moms, so the animals must be happy and well-settled down enough to breed :) The hotel also took special care to outfit windows with reflective glass, so the animals were oblivious to all the spectators gawking at them.

We checked-into our rooms which was really spacious with 1 double and 2 single beds, for 4 of us. At teh end of the room, was the window. We tried to look out for the animals wandering next to our windows, but it was too dark, so we gave up and headed out for dinner at the hotel restaurant before turning in for the night.

8th November 2011

A bright and early morning – the moment we woke up the first thing we did was open the curtains to our hotel room window and woah, we were looking at natural animal behaviour at its best... You could see the animals up close, meandering about and going about their early morning activities.

We saw the flamingos preening their feathers, and dunking in their heads with their scooped beaks, fishing for food. We saw the giraffe wander by our window and gaze on the foliage left in containers on tall poles by their keepers, we saw the playful baby zebra play tag with its parents and galloping at break-neck speed around the paddock! And we saw the lazy rhinos wallow in the thick mud and snooze in the early morning sun. I plunked the girls on stools facing the window and left them there, totally mesmerised by the sight while preparing for our day.

We headed to the hotel for the breakfast buffet before grabbing our gear and heading out to the free shuttle bus to Leofoo Amusement park, just 2 min away.

The park was fairly quiet, which was great for us J There were groups of school children on excursion, but other than that, there was only a handful of people around. Divided into 5 parts, Leofoo amusement park is a sprawling and vast area covering 5 different ‘world’s, similar to Disneyland: The animals Safari section, The Western Americas section, the Middles East Section, and the Fantasy world section, and the wet park section, which is closed during winter months.

We headed to the animals Safari section first, where the children got to feed the ponies with carrot stick, pet the sheep and goats, see the orang utans, and lastly ride the miniature horses, something which Lauren did happily.

After that, we boarded the train for a ride out to see Buffalo, giraffes, geese, Hippos, wildebeests, mountain goats, and other animals. The herds of these animals were huge! There were numbers ranging between 20 – 50 and they had a lot of space to rest and move around, and breed, judging by the large numbers.

The children then headed off for another round of rides, spinning roller coasters, galloping horse and carriage ride, carousel, flying carpet ride, another carousel, scenic boat ride, the Viking, which saw all of us laughing at a giggling Lauren.

The cherry on top of the cake? The riverboat plunge that saw our TIMID Shannon urging her Daddy to go on it with her! It’s basically a river boat ride that brings you to the top of TWO mountains before plunging you down two ravines, one higher than the other, complete with water splashing, and almost guaranteeing you wet clothes. Shannon enjoyed it so much that they went on it again, surprising Mal and me, you mean this is our shy and timid girl???

Wendy and I also indulged in the scary adult rides, such as the 360 degrees CIRCULAR ride where you sit in a train which brings you 360 degrees round, and leaves you dangling upside down, the HUGE Viking ship (my favourite ride), and Freefall ride, which was so fast we were not prepared at all! One moment we were looking at the beautiful scenery at the top and the next, we were freefalling to the ground, so fast I think we left our hearts at the top!

But the scariest of all the rides was the screaming condor, a massive ‘U’ shaped ride, with an underground tunnel in the middle of the U. We get strapped in, with feet dangling, and we were hurtled at neck-breaking speed to the top of one end of the U, spiralling around the way. Once at the top, we hurtle back to the ground again, backwards this time, and back Up the sky again at the top of the other end of the “U’, and then to top it all off, we freefall back down again, back through the underground tunnel and back up again to the other end. This goes on for 4 more times before the ride stops. At the end of the ride, Wendy and I looked at each other and burst out laughing – our hair was literally standing out straight at the sides, the effect of the intense force of the wind!

While we the daredevil moms were playing with our lives, the responsible dads bought the kids to one of the park's ice-cream parlours to distract them and treat them to ice-cream.

Mal asked the kids to do 'Angry Face', 'Sad Face', and 'Happy Face!'

Alfred managed to get the bakers there to prepare a birthday cake in record time and sneaked it out without letting Wendy’s Mom see it, as it was her birthday! By the time we walked out of the park, it was deserted with only a handful of staff clearing up and heading home as well. The resort staff picked us up and sent us back to the hotel for a quick shower, birthday celebration, dinner and then its lights out!

9th November 2011
Shannon and I woke up really early and it was a very cold and rainy day today. We got bundled up in warm clothes and headed out to snap a few nice shots of the animals and of the resort before heading off to breakfast.

The kids headed off to the kid’s playroom for a while, while the dads packed up our luggage. Our last stop for this trip – Weichuan Pushin Ranch.

We left leofoo and headed to Weichuan in rainy weather. Weichuan Pushin Ranch is a commercial ranch which allows visitors to get up close on the workings of a cow farm. Weichuan supplies about 40% of the milk in the local Taiwan market, though the actual farm is not located here but elsewhere.

This vast farm sees many visitors during weekends, and there are pig races, sheepdog handling demonstrations, sheep wrangling, as well as cow milking activities. Besides free milk, and ice-cream, There is also a lake where you can boat, and you can also try our hand at soap making!

Alas, the weather did not cooperate with us, and it was raining and raining and raining when we arrived! It rained the whole day, and with the gusty wind blowing rain into our faces, it turned horribly cold. We managed to let the kids try their hand at making milk soap, and we managed to reach the barns to see the baby calves, mother cows, ponies and pigs, but that was about it.

We headed back to our chalet, and prepared for a night of bbq.

The customer Service officer was nice enough to allow us to bbq right at our veranda, and she sent a handyman to help to blow torch (yup you got it right, blowtorch!) our charcoal and fire starters to get the fire going. That was the quickest I have ever seen a bbq fire get going!

We couldn’t finish the heap of food we got in the meal package! Two packs of fish, 1 pack of pork, 1 pack of sausages,1 pack of Taiwan sausages, 1 pack of meat and fish balls, 1 pack of beef, 1 pack of chicken, 2 packs of rice cakes, 1 pack of mushrooms, 1 big green lantern capsicum, 1 pack of sweet potatoes, 1 pack of corn, and 1 bottle of coke, complete with a bottle of bbq seasoning sauce, black pepper sauce, and butter!

But it was great bbqing in the cool evening, sitting around the living room, eating and watching TV, haha!

The night temperature dropped to 20 with gusty winds and rain, and we switched off the air-conditioning in the house. I dressed the girls in two layers of pyjamas, and covered them with a thick quilt blanket before letting them settle down for the night.

10th November 2011

After a simple breakfast, we headed to the travellers shop and stocked up on milk sweets before leaving the ranch for the plane ride back to Singapore. We arrived at the airport very early, and wandered around the transit area until it was nearly time to take off, only to be told that the plane was delayed for 1/2hour. We then walked around some more and finally boarded the plane. And once on the lane, more bad news, Taoyuan Airport had closed all but 1 of its runways and now there was a jam of planes waiting for clearance to taxi off and depart off that single runway. The pilot announced that we would be stuck on the tarmac for another 2 hours! It was really lucky that we were onboard a SQ plane, and the crew turned on their in-flight entertainment system for us so the kids could stay entertained!

We touched down in Singapore close at 830pm, 2&½ hours past our original arrival time, whew!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We're Off to Taiwan for A Last Binge! Part 1 - Taipei 101, Babyboss, Danshui, Pingxi

By Shannon's Mommy!

This year will mark the end of Shannon's kiddy years and the start of her Primary School life. While it is a rite of passage for all children in Singapore, it fills me with a little apprehension and lots of excitement. We really wanted to bring the family for a fun-filled holiday during the 'off-peak' season for one last time before we are forced to join the main stream tourists heading for jam-packed pricy holidays in either March, June, Sept, or December, YUCKS! So we are off to Taiwan for a LAST BINGE TRIP!! :)

And this time, Wendy and family are joining us, hurray!

4th November 2011

We reached the airport bright and early at 630am, thanks to trusty Seeni and his Maxicab. The girls were excited and after meeting up with Wendy, Alfred, Ben and Ethan and their Ah-ma, we headed off to the airplane for an uneventful SQ flight to Taipei.

The SQ air stwardess serving us was great, she was friendly, helpful and really good with the kids, thank you Ms Chang Yun Chan! Thumbs up to SQ for having this good air stewardess, its rare to see such good service nowadays!

We arrived in Taoyuan airport at about 1pm and headed to Hotel Quote, Taipei, in two taxis. The journey was uneventful and we arrived at the hotel about 2pm+. Due to a screw-up with the travel agents, we have had to change hotel plans 3 times before we finally got a confirmation with Hotel QUOTE, so it was a relief to see that the rooms was up to and even beyond our expectation.

This hotel is part of the SLH (Small Luxury Hotel) brand, like the former Beaufort Sentosa, and the hotel sure didn’t disappoint! It did not have a swimming pool, and with only about 40 over rooms, the breakfast area was really tiny. But the staff at the hotel were extremely friendly and helpful and our rooms was great! We had to pay an upgrade fee to move from a single superior room to 2 rooms connected by a common main doorway, as the hotel does not provide extra beds or baby cots. But it was well worth the extra cost as the rooms were luxurious with free wifi, a iPod docking station, high quality bedding, well-appointed bathrooms, plushy towels and bathrobes and oh sooo comfortable mattresses! Our main bedroom even had a smart & modern coffeemaker, and a tiny enclosed balcony!

All rooms in the hotel also enjoy unlimited minibar access, with the pantry drawer and fridge stocked up with Oreo cookies, chips, canned drinks and beer! The girls were thrilled with their own cosy room, with a king-sized bed, huge bathroom and a 36inch flat screen TV all to themselves. Lauren claimed the room by removing her shoes at the doorway and plunked herself onto the fluffy bed!

The staff also took the time to show us the 24hour lounge, equipped with coffee maker, cookies, M & Ms, nuts, biscuits, all kinds of chips, fruits, puddings, buns, cakes etc! The fridge was stocked with unlimited free flow of drinks (Milo, tea, juice, milk, fizzy soda), some in travel sized bottles, so we could just throw one into our bag for our daily travel! Kids Heaven!

That’s not all the lounge had – they had huge glass vases filled to the brim with free bath salts (I counted 6 vases, all filled with a different fragrance), disposable shavers with shaving cream, hair bands, Toothbrushes with toothpaste, shower caps etc. Whatever you see in a standard hotel bathroom, you can just grab a handful at the lounge... it’s that easy :) The manager explained that they wanted travellers to feel totally at ease in the hotel, and be able to get whatever they needed, much like their own home, hence the free accessibility :) Luckily they haven't met TOO many kiasu Singaporeans to withdraw thie compliementary service, cos' you all know what some SIngaporeans would do.... pour the contents of the whole vase into their suitcase!

So much for praise for the hotel! We finally settled down and freshened up before leaving the hotel at about 5pm to Taipei 101. We were hoping to catch a spectacular sunset as the sky was very clear that day, but little did we know that the sun set by 530pm everyday in the winter months! By the time we reached Taipei 101 at 6pm, it was totally darkness!

We braved the long queue of about 1 hour, and grabbed a quick dinner at one of the food courts in the shopping area before heading up again and gaining access to the top. The night view was a maze of endless twinkling nights, and we managed to get out to the outdoor observatory for a better view. Being so high up there, we could actually feel the building swaying with the wind, stabilised by the enormous damper (round metal ball) located in the centre of the top few floors.

After a quick descent in the world’s fastest lift, (20sec to travel 98 stories), we left Taipei 101 and headed to RaoHe Night market. The market was bustling with crowds and the smell of Taiwan sausages and smelly tofu was everywhere. We walked the streets and sampled the Taiwanese eats, XXL Chicken cutlets, Sausages, ice jelly, rice-cakes etc, all very yummy... but after a while the kids got whiney and we headed back to the hotel for a good night rest.

5th November 2011

We woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Babyboss. Babyboss is an indoor play area which is very unique in concept. Children enter into the play area at a fixed price, and when they enter this playground, they enter into a transformed ‘mini city’ with ‘shops’, ‘offices’, parks, and a ‘airport’ Kids can pick a profession and enter into these ‘shops’, get dressed in the profession, to learn to ‘work’. At the end of the 20 – 45min ‘work’ session, they get paid in babyboss currency. They can do as many professions as they wish and once time is up, they can head to the redemption shop to select items for purchase and pay with their babyboss money.

The kids started out very tentatively, they refused to try many professions, probably out of shyness. But once they started on the first one which was to be an architect, they warmed up very quickly. Outfitted in cure orange helmets, and grey vests, they shovelled sand and built building blocks in front of a construction site and got paid for their effort!

And after that, it was no stopping them! They went on to do Dentistry, where they brushed teeth models, and extracted loose teeth from a dummy patient (complete with dentist chair and lamp, and forceps thongs!).

Shannon and Ben then went on to be Dunkin Donuts staff and learned to glaze and decorate donuts, which they got to keep and eat!

After that, they were paramedics and got driven in an ambulance to aid an injured dummy, swapping iodine on its wounds, and placing him on a stretcher back to the emergency room.

And lastly, they donned on red helmets and became firemen, sliding down poles, and operating a miniature fire hose, complete with spouting water to put out orange fires (orange lights) in a warehouse!

And all this time, what was Lauren up to? She vehemently refused to take part in what the other kids were doing, and were content just to....

I find this picture of her looks like Taiwan's fast talking Matilda Tao! Any of you see the resemblance?

Armed with their hard-earned money, they exchanged them with stickers, and we left babyboss feeling totally satisfied!

We then headed to Danshui to see the Lover’s bridge with plans to have a good seafood dinner for once!

In a funny, twisted way, every friend who heard that we were heading to Taiwan would say ‘oh lucky you, good food in Taiwan!’ But the truth is, we either ate in food courts cos we just didn’t have time to go search for food, or just grabbed whatever was available then cos we were occupied (fries and nuggets at Babyboss cafe)! And the whole trip was like that.. I have vague impressions of some street streets, but no raving reviews of any famous eats on this trip! But I we were almost desperate for a proper sit-down hearty Chinese meal!

We arrived Danshui too late to catch the sunset (again!) but we took some very beautiful pictures of Lover’s bridge. The reflection of the light of the bridge on the water presented a gorgeous photo opportunity, no wonder there were people camped out at the pier with complicated huge DSLR cameras and tripods!

We then headed to the seafood restaurant and bagged ourselves two live fish, live prawns, live crabs, vegetables and tofu dishes for only SGD $100 for all of us, 5 adults and 4 kids, not bad huh?

After that, it was a leisurely walk by the pier and playing with little street-bought plastic helicopters with blinking lights. The atmosphere was festively lively, and thongs of people walking by the shops and window shopping.

Little Mischievous Lauren did some window shopping of her own and the end result? While I didn't get a handbag I saw and coverted, SHE left Danshui with her very own Minnie Mouse Suitcase! The little monkey had been clambering after her own suitcase after seeing Shannon lugging her princess cloth bag on rollers, and had been pestering us for a Minnie Mouse one every time she sees one in Singapore.

As luck would have it, sitting squarely at the entrance of a shopping mall in Danshui, on the way to the toilet, was a gleaming red, Minnie mouse 20inch hard case, amidst all of the other dull and large suitcases. And as luck would have it, she WOULD pass by it, while waiting for her sister to come back from the toilet…. need I say more? *roll eyes*

6th November 2011 (Sunday)

Upon hindsight, if you would ask me what I could have done differently, I would have planned the Pingxi day trip either on a weekday, or rented a driver to take us there and back. Then we could have avoided the horribly jammed packed train and crowds and probably got in enough time to see Shifen as well. Oh well, next time!

Pingxi is a little quaint town where you can release sky lanterns into the sky, carrying away all your good wishes to the heavens above, but for us, it was more for the unique experience.

We headed out and changed trains in Taipei to get to Pingxi on this day. We left the hotel fairly early, but factoring in travel time, and changing trains, it was almost 11am by the time we arrived at Pingxi.

We sampled their unique shaved-peanut popiah wrapped ice-cream which was very delicious, and went searching for a shop selling sky lanterns.

We finally found one away from the crowds and selected a multi-coloured lantern which is supposed to represent different wishes. We then painted our good wishes on the sides of the lantern, much to the amusement of the locals I’m sure, as most of our wishes were in horizontal left-to-right English and not the traditional up-to-down mandarin! And we didn't know sooo many chinese characters! Wendy was smarter and used her phone to check on strokes, so in the end we copied a few from her family's lantern!

The shopkeeper then helped us bring the night lanterns to the bridge, and lit the oiled wad of paper at the bottom, sending heated warm air into the lantern and lifting it. At the count of 1-2-3, we let go of our lantern and watched it fly up into the sky, bearing all our good wishes.

After a simple chinese lunch of fried vegetable, tofu soup, eggs and hainanese chicken with rice, we squeezed aboard the crowded trains and headed back to our little blissfully peaceful hotel. I so wanted to stop at Shifen where the train tracks roll in between the pictureques village streets but it was getting late and dark, and the train was horribly crowded, so we didn't in the end.

En route back to the hotel in Taipei, Wendy stopped by a bakery and bought a Mango cake for a very special celebration, BEN'S BIRTHDAY! We headed back to their room, sang Happy birthday and cut the cake, much to the delight of the happy birthday boy.

We then opted for a late dinner at Outback (Haha, of all the food!) purely because it was just by the side of the hotel, and we just wanted a fuss free dinner. The food was up to the usual Outback standard though the servers couldn’t seem to get the varying doneness of the beef correctly. My medium rare steak (yup, I love my meat bloody!) came out well-done the first time, and the 2nd time, it was medium… They were however very helpful, polite and no request was to little. They also offered Ben, the birthday boy free dessert and threw in another complimentary slice of cake for us.

After a heavy and full dinner, we headed back to the hotel for the night.