Saturday, April 19, 2008

Day 9 Monday - Wulai > Taipei Neighbourhood Shopping > Ximending

We had a hearty breakfast at our hotel in preparation for a good workup in Wulai. However as we made our way to the Taipei Metro Station, it started to rain, argh!! again!

Took the metro to Xindian station and transferred to the Wulai-Taipei Bus (NT40, so after scanning your easycard NT15, you have to top it up with another NT25 worth of coins to get a Wulai ticket stub so have them ready to avoid causing a jam) behind the Visitor’s Info Centre located on the right of the one and only station exit. It took about 40mins to travel to Wulai. The bus driver was very friendly and conversant in Japanese. Lots of Jap tourists going to Wulai on the same bus. I think there must be quite a number of Jap retirees staying there and taking the same bus route because he was able to greet them individually by name in Japanese (and no need bus ticket leh!). The bus went past a dam and some bridges before reaching Wulai. You can’t miss it because it is the last stop and you have to relinquish your ticket stub (so no souvenir arr!). Anyways, the driver was very loud and clear in announcing each stop beforehand so no worries.

Wulai looked a little quiet and desolate on this day as we walked in. The Wulai village street was quiet so we decided to take in the scenery and go for hotsprings dip after the tiring walk before returning here for our lunch. The concrete toll gate looked like it was the only thing new there. As we walked over the bridge, we noticed the public springs in the distant right. Can’t miss it with their bright umbrellas but strangely, the only people were guys. Past the bridge is the tram station and there seem to be more activity there as some seniors from a daycare were alighting from vans in front of the station. Took the Wulai Tram (NT50, NT30 for YTC holders), which travelled for a short distance before stopping again. There’s no fixed schedule whatsoever the tram just set off every 10mins or when there is for enough people.

It was a soggy and windy day and we don’t find the Wulai Falls particularly impressive after visiting Taroko. It was a quiet day I suppose. The Brave Plaza near where you can purchase the Aborigine Dance Performance Tickets was cordoned off for renovations and so are some of the buildings in front of it. An Atayal aborigine culture performance was just starting and the lady in front of the ticketing building approached us and offered to let us have the tickets for NT200 at a discount (it is actually a bluff as I had seen forumers post THAT as the full price!).

I wasn’t interesting as I fell asleep mid-performance the time we attended one in Hualien (not artsy enough or culturally inclined I guess) so we declined politely saying that we will consider it later and continued our way to Neidong since we do not have any interest in cable cars or amusement parks. Along the way you can see the design for the railings changed from the one like looked like a giant pestle to the marriage one. We walked past a school that got my mom a little nostalgic about her younger balik kampong days. The rain got so heavy that our umbrellas were ineffective so we decided to turn back after the tunnel as the thought of changing out of our wet clothes and warming ourselves up with a dip was more enticing.

Trudged our way to a crossroad where you can see the Naruwan Hotel and decided to take the left forked path that leads up to the Hotel for a look. Never did much homework on Wulai except on how to get there so we went to the Visitor’s Centre in front of Naruwan Hotel to check out their brochures and ask the staff there for advice on choosing a good place for a hotsprings dip. The lady, a friendly local aborigine was very well prepared for my question (I’m sure a lot of visitors ask her that question) and promptly whipped out a compiled list of hotsprings sorted according to location. We were tired of walking around in the rain so I asked her if Naruwan was a good choice.

She laughed and said that she usually wouldn’t recommend visitors to that place because there are many good and cozy places to go to at lesser prices but if we intend to overnight here then in the posh hotel, go for it. Also told us that the market price in Wulai for hotsprings is between NT100-400 with varying prices due to difference/changes in packages from time to time depending on whether there are 1) Facilities: Spa/Massage, indoors/outdoors, private/public etc 2) Food and drinks provided 3) Charged according to time or unlimited so we should go shopping aka tour their facilities before deciding as it is up to personal preference. NT400 is already quite ex if there isn’t any food/drinks thrown in.

When I asked her about the water quality she diplomatically said they are about the same so it is basically a personal preference but on further conversation she divulged that Riyue is her favourite and because their charge is for unlimited time. There were 2-3 other unlimited time hotsprings resort in Wulai: Longmen and Feng something. She was very informative but I can’t remember them all now. The unlimited time hotsprings are all on the same street - Lover’s Walk so we headed there after asking her for general directions. You can’t possibly miss the street on the left side of the stairs going up to Jolly Wulai Tram (where the statue of a man in traditional aboriginal dress carrying a lady sitted on a chair was located).

On Lover’s walk, the first hotsprings is Yunzitang (Snow Hotsprings?) that looked very large and established but empty so we decided to continue walking. We saw Hotsprings 51 and Changqing (Evergreen Hotsprings which seems to be popular as it is only NT100 unlimited with drinks) just to name a few.

Behind Changqing was a road that leads to the riverside and there were people dipping there so we decided to go and have a look since it is upriver from the one with umbrellas that we noticed earlier and therefore cleaner (since all the dirty water flow downwards hehheh). We took a few photos there as it has quite an ambience: the smoke rising and the green waters etc.

The people don’t seem to mind my intrusion (I respect their privacy, never take pictures of them ok!) and deliberately struck up a conversation with the lady watching her husband dig a deeper hole for himself at the rocky pool by asking her if all the springs is natural or there is some heating equipment placed under the pool to heat up the river water channeled into the pool. Of course she gave me the ‘Are you idiotic’ look before she started to tell me that the heat comes naturally from below ground pushing the mountain springs water up. Since it gets merged with the river water which also comes from the mountains, it is cooler than the usual hot springs so they are digging deeper, not just to get a bigger pool but also get hotter water. So I asked her why I noticed only some parts of the river like here and the umbrella spots downstream have these vents, were there not anywhere else in the proximity? Since this occurs naturally so she can’t say where it will occur even though it is logical that there would be some other spots nearby…We tested the water by putting our hands into the different pools and some seemed hotter than the others.

However, if you look carefully since it was raining, it is clear that much of the surface runoff and drains at the side of the roads end along the riverside, therefore the drain water flows down here yes to the ‘springs’ before merging with the river. We were pretty sure that that is not the really dirty dirty wastewater from houses since that have to be processed before the effluent is dumped and most probably ground/rainwater drained from the roads but what about leaky petrol oil and road dirt? On close observation, some of the rocks nearer the roads were covered in algae and some hotsprings pool actually have the slimy algae coating on the rocks so we surmised that unlike the Beitou Public Springs, it is not advisable to dip here unless you don’t mind bathing in drain water.

We didn’t have the heart to tell them that since they have been bathing there for quite sometime but turned us off from taking our dip here so off we go to shop for our hotspring resort!

In the end, we picked Yufuin 汤布苑 (NT250 + after dip drinks and snacks) as it recently underwent renovated. That was around 12.30pm. Pictures of nice clean facilities displayed outside their entrance. A couple was also shopping in the street so they went in after they heard us talking to the owner at the doorstep :P She explained that it does not make business sense for the smaller riverside hotsprings to have extensive, let alone outdoor spa facilities when we enquired about them because everyone wanted to maximize land usage so private rooms are more common. We jumped at the LV cypress room because the new tub looks clean and smells really aromatic so we went for the private one. It comes with towels, shower, hairdryer, plasma TV, tea area for you to savor/brew your tea and a good view of the river. Not a bad deal I think. It must have been a quiet day for the hotsprings so you can actually haggle with them. We agreed on that price for unlimited time instead of hourly rate on the understanding that we can dip as long as we like but if the premises gets busy, they might have to call us to leave when the hour is up. No problems as we can’t actually dip for so long either. It was very relaxing after a cold morning and we took our time to dry our wet clothes and shoes before leaving at 3+pm. After the dip, we were invited to sit down at their Jap style tearoom right in front of building for some drinks. The couple has completed theirs too so we were just sitting there relaxing when more and more people came in. It must have been the psychology thing again because our resort was the only one that looked bustling down the entire street!

Returned to our hotel at around 4pm and decided we need to do some urbanite activities like shopping to lift our waterlogged moods and ward off suburban depression. Houchezhan looked too challenging in the rain and the bags, hairclips, watches and scarves aren’t exactly our cup of tea so we decided to benefit the neighbourhood economy by browsing around shops nearby Keyman and Shinkong to purchase some gifts to take home. There are numerous bookshops and tuition centres between Onestar Hotel plot and Keymans so naturally there are other complementary shops selling things like electronics, stationery and kawaii things for the teenagers. Browsed around in the area and compared prices. Between the Onestar and Shinkong plots are 2 shopping compounds (3storeys) slotted in the shophouses. One is the Guangnan wholesaler and the other name I can’t remember. They are quite a distance apart actually.

I didn’t find the products (not even electronics as recommended in my tourguide) at Guangnan cheap. A basic black Logitech mouse sold in Giant for SGD$15 cost SGD$17 over there. There are other generic brands of mouse available but I feel that I should use as close to similar item for you to get a feel of the prices.

There were lots of really cheap stationery (much cheaper than Singapore lah) but when I compare prices between the 2 mini shopping, the not-Guangnan one wins hands up. Why I say so? A plain no frills clear folder with 40 pockets was sold for NT35 while it was NT29 (~SGD1.40)in the not-guangnan. Of course to be fair, I must point out they are different brands manufactured in china. Guangnan stocks more cutesy clear folders so I guess these designs cost more (~NT49). Regardless, they are all cheap compared to that sold in singapore which cost ~SGD$2.45. Even a simple project folder (consisting of A4 plastic cover and a spine that you slide in after putting in your paper) that cost ~SGD 0.40 to 0.80 cost SGD$0.24 over there which is practically cost price!

Also, comparing branded cosmetics, certain items, not all were cheaper. An example of a product that is cheaper: Za liquid concealer usually costing SGD 13.90 cost only NT225 (SGD10.32) after 10% discount. However, when I got back to Singapore, Watsons was having a buy-1-get 50% off the 2nd item so if you buy 2 Za concealers, it is $10.42 hehe, not old stock huh. Conclusion: unless you have a clear idea of current SGD price, better not buy. Stocked up on pineapple tarts at Shinkong and saw elevator ladies. Not particularly useful in this modern day except to take up good elevator space nor do I find their services good. Suppose they bridge the divide for older people who find new contraptions (if lifts can be counted as new) bewildering?

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