Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Weekend in Taipei: 10 Things to Do in the City

Just like Palawan, an unexpected trip was sent my way when I qualified for AXA's incentive trip to Taipei. Featuring AXA's top 120 agents nationwide (I lucked out!), I was so happy that I was given a chance to explore another popular Asian destination that, admittedly, wasn't on my list for 2016.

All aboard EVA Air, travel time was approximately 2  hours and 10 minutes. Some delegates were on board Philippine Airlines, I heard they got a warmer welcome there with customized head rests and all.

We arrived in Taoyuan International Airport at 6:30am, tired and sleepy. But, AXA had planned our 3-day escapade so our schedule was bursting with tours, lots of buffet breakfasts and lunches (burp), plus a fun Gala Dinner.

For first-timers, here's a rundown of places you can visit and things to do if you're headed to Taipei for the weekend:

1. Visit the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

Built in memory of the Father of Republic of China Dr. Sun Yat-sen in 1972, it's a popular venue for cultural and art events throughout the year. One thing we realized early on, it's so hot in Taipei! On our first day it was an astounding 37.7 degrees -- the hottest in recorded history (according to the guide).

2. Get lost in Eslite 24-hour Bookstore

This immense and very popular bookstore features five floors of art materials, clothes, books, journals, magazines, indie creations (accessories, bags, etc.), skin care products, and food choices.

travel guides
a more interesting version of an old classic: Jenga
a sartorialist's dream closet
3. Have your photo taken at Taipei 101

This 101-story tower is the largest and tallest green building in the world. The tower was created to withstand typhoons and earthquakes, and is a must-see when you come visit. Just be aware that visiting Taipei around July means you'll be exposed to the scorching summer weather! We were toasting in the photo below!

Taipei 101 also has a shopping mall that houses high end brands such as Jo Malone, Cartier, Chanel, De Beers, Panerai, etc. 

Tip: Go to the lower ground floor (their food court) for delish teppanyaki, ramen, and katsudon. 

4. Shop 'til you drop at Shilin Night Market

For the avid shopper and foodie, you may require two trips to Shilin Night Market to satisfy your cravings. It's sort of like Bugis in Singapore, except there are more interesting (and weird) food offerings plus a lot of funky shops. Here's a peek:

It's only NT$ 30 from the Grand Hyatt to Shilin station

The train system and rates are similar to Japan where the number of the station would denote the price of the ticket/token. Okay, I know you've been waiting for the famous hawker food stalls so here they are:

Wagyu Beef Cubes - NT$100
kanin na lang ang kulang!
Fried Milk, around NT$45
Large scallops!

The fruits were also supersized! Kristine and I bought mango chunks for NT$200, they were deliciously sweet and ripe. An order can actually be shared by 3 people.

Of course, you have to try Hotstar Chicken. It's  now in the Philippines but best to try the authentic version. I'm not a fan of too much breading so I just got a chunk from the guys' orders.

NT$150 for this insanely huge piece of breaded fried chicken

Got more time? You can fish for your own prawns and have them cooked. Sort of like Dampa in Manila, the perfect opportunity to check if your date has high EQ.

Here's a sample of all the clothes and abubots you can buy at Shilin. Reminds you of our very own Quiapo or Divisoria, right?

5. Ride the Maokong Gondola Cable Car and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city

If you're in search of Taipei's famous teahouses then you have to go to Maokong, a quaint village located atop a mountain.

Take the Gondola ride (approximately 20 minutes), enjoy a striking view of Taipei City, then alight at the peak. If you're lucky, you might even get the glass-bottom cars for that extra thrill factor -- I am scared of heights, after all.

6. Check out the Pandas at Taipei Zoo

While we detest and do not support caged or performing animals, the thought of seeing a live panda (and koalas) was too enticing. I won't be able to see these animals again anytime soon, much less for free, so we braved the very unforgiving weather and headed to the panda showroom.

The very cute panda is gloating because it was in an air-conditioned enclosure while the humans were all roasting outside.

7. Immerse yourself in Taiwanese culture and history at the National Palace Museum

Taipei's National Palace Museum houses 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artworks and artifacts.

The most intriguing and precious artwork is the Jadeite Cabbage with two locusts.

What started out as a cracked, cloudy chunk of two-toned Jade (only pure green flawless Jade is regarded as valuable) was later carved by who they call a Chinese Master Carver, and was transformed into the Jadeite Cabbage we know today. 

Tip: Cameras, backpacks, and mineral water bottles are not allowed. These have to be checked in and the lines are usually long. So please avoid bringing these or leave them in the car. 

8. Visit the Alice in Wonderland-themed cafes in ATT Fun

A couple blocks from our hotel, Grand Hyatt Taipei, is ATT Fun mall which houses high street brands like Zara, Pull & Bear, MUJI, and Forever 21. On the 4th level is the Alice in Wonderland-inspired cafe strip. The story goes, there are 2 sisters (the Queens) who always argued over dessert so they decided to split the kingdom. One end of the floor is called Afternoon and the other is Midnight, each with different takes on dessert.


I would highly recommend going to Blanc Neige du Japan in the Midnight section, try their Mochis and Cheese Tarts (so creamy!)

A matcha mochi filled with ice cream and red bean, only NT$100 if I remember correctly. 

we asked the girl to split the Cheese Tart among the 3 of us for sampling
Their cheese tarts are to die for! A freshly baked cup is only NT$85 and it's the creamiest and richest cheese filling I have ever tried, ask them to heat it before you dig your teeth into it.

Tip: Love sneakers and Birkenstocks? Troop to the 3rd floor and shop, they're cheaper here than back home in Manila. 

9. Stay at the [spooky] Grand Hyatt Taipei

Leave it to AXA to choose the best hotel in the metro -- and also the most interesting. While on the way to the airport, someone sent me this news article about Grand Hyatt being one of the most haunted hotels in the world. The hotel is fully aware of its gruesome past, so there are Chinese sutras in all the rooms and the lobby to ward off spirits.

There were some reports from fellow AXA qualifiers of spooky encounters, mostly from those staying on the 13th floor. We were, [un]fortunately on the 10th so no personal experiences from me and Christine (my roommate).

An intricate wooden sphere made of logs will greet you as you enter the hotel. Created by Korean artist Lee Jae Hyu.

10. Buy pasalubong -- chewy nougat and peanut candy

Nougat is one of the things you should definitely try and bring home from Taipei, and there are numerous pasalubong shops sprawled along Shilin. But for the original and chewiest nougat, go to this store:

As I can't read Taiwanese, I can't tell you the name of the store. But message me and I'll tell you how to get there from the train station. Thanks to Christine for introducing this to us.

The AXA Philippines Gala Dinner

The night's theme was Meteor Garden (that famous Taiwanese soap that took the Philippines by storm years ago) at the posh Amazing Hall Restaurant.

The highlight of the evening? Getting called up on stage along with other [lucky] qualifiers and asked to do a Sanchai and Dao Ming Si with top branch head, Mr. John Tan. We didn't want to sing and dance like the others, so we chose drama – with our fake Taiwanese accents, no less.

A video posted by Kira (@kirasworld) on

Sadly, we didn't win but we had so much fun. So nice to be able to release my aggression once in a while. Jk. Hello, Mr. John Tan! *waves*

The back story plus some musings

When my manager congratulated me and told me I had made it to AXA's incentive trip to Taipei, I thought, "Hey that's so cool!" And then proceeded to fly to Siqujior for my solo sojourn. I never really thought much about Taipei, it wasn't on my places to visit this year and I was already looking forward to my plotted trips for the next 6 months. I was on the fence about going up until the last minute when my manager exasperatedly told me, "Pumunta ka, it will be fun." So I nonchalantly packed my bags half-expecting a working weekend with office mates.

My EQ was tested many, many times during the trip as I am used to travelling alone. I didn't want to wait for my companions, I didn't want to be rushed, I didn't want to follow a schedule. There was a moment when even I considered ditching the full day tour on the second day and go out exploring on my own. But where's the fun in that? I didn't want to be that person who didn't go out of her way to socialize and get to know the other qualifiers. I figured, we were flown here for a reason and I might as well celebrate that. So I stuck it out and had the best time of my life.

No matter how stubborn I am to change and how challenging having a sales job is, I knew I had made the right decision transferring from a regular job to AXA. But I had no idea how the company valued us as employees until I actually hung out with the big bosses, the MDRTs, the unassuming but well-known GAMA awardees, and fellow first-timers. It was then I realized how much of an impact we have on society, how huge our responsibilities are as Financial Planners, and how we all work hard and party harder. This is definitely the company I would want to support, represent, and work with.

So thank you, AXA Philippines, for this amazing opportunity! And thank you to all my clients who made this possible. I look forward to the next incentive trip with my fellow Wonderful World Financial Advisors and Managers :)

Do you also want to go on a trip for free? Then join our team! We are constantly on the lookout for fun and hardworking individuals searching for work-life balance. And believe me, we are a fun bunch! Email me at axa.kiraramirez@gmail.com.

Saving for your future? Looking at starting a retirement or travel fund? We can help! Email me at axa.kiraramirez@gmail.com and I'll hook you up with our AXA products. 


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