Cordillera World (Baguio City, Benguet)

Cordillera World

Cordillera World

Before we left the ever-popular Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Alber, Jandy and I visited the nearby Cordillera World, one of the newest attractions in the City of Pines located on the left side of the Mines View Tourism Office.

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

A pet project of Mr. Roland Cayat, this travel destination was opened last March 2011 through the help of some local investors and the support of the members of the Mines View Barangay Council.

Registration area and donation basket

Registration area and donation basket

A showcase of the rich heritage of the original mountain tribes of Northern Luzon, it is also an excellent vehicle to support a local advocacy and special program that helps out-of-school youths to go back to school or to finance and support their young families. There is no entrance fee but voluntary contributions from generous visitors to support the project are accepted.

Cordillera World (1)

Cordillera World (4)

We entered this second floor mini-museum/souvenir shop via a narrow wooden stairway whose risers feature salutations of “welcome” in five local dialects. Once inside, we had to register our names before taking photos. Do go around the displays, we walked on wooden sleepers laid on a gravel bed..

Cordillera World (2)

Cordillera World (11)

Here, we learned more about the lifestyle and culture of the highlands, seeing and sometimes touching ancient tools, clothing and accessories used by different tribes of the Cordilleras.

Cordillera World (7)

Cordillera World (8)

Visitors can even wear colorful, woven native costumes and feathery headdresses, as well as of being armed with hand-made bows, arrows and spears, and take photos as many times as they like.

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

At the center of the museum is a life-size replica of an Ifugao house decorated with animal skulls, woven tapestry and palay. From a viewing deck, we enjoyed the same spectacular view of the Cordillera mountains as seen from Mines View Park.  Beside it is their version of a “wishing well” (actually a pan filled with water).

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

A "wishing well"

A “wishing well”

Unique souvenirs sold here include Ifugao wine, CD that contains local Ifugao music to savour the culture even more, wood carvings and statues, pure honey, feathered headdresses and dream catchers that are hung around the place.

Cordillera World (10)

Cordillera World: Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.

Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong (Lucban, Quezon)

From the church, Jandy, Maricar, Violet, Lanny and I walked towards Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong, situated just behind the church where, we were told, we could buy the best Lucban longganisa.  It was raining heavily, so we brought our umbrellas with us. Established in 1958 (incidentally the year I was born), Eker & Ely is one of 10 longganisa makers in town.

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Their Lucban Longanisa is sold by the dozen –  P150 for big longanisa and  P55 for small.  I bought two dozen packs of the former while the others bought packs of the latter.  It’s a good thing we arrived here in the morning as their longganisa is usually sold out by afternoon.

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Longganisa hung on poles for buyers to see

Aside from their bestseller longganisa, the store also sells different delicacies made in Lucban and other parts of the country.  The list includes macaroons, coco jam, broas (the local version of ladyfingers), uraro, miki lucban, piaya, pastillas, mazapan, galletas (egg cracklets) espasol, achara, espasol, coco vinegar, peanut brittle, peanuts, cashews, etc.

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Lanny, Violet and Maricar deciding on what to buy for pasalubong

Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong: 114 A. Racelis Ave., Lucban, Quezon. Tel: (042) 540-3304.  Mobile number (0920) 237-9056.

How To Get There: Lucban is located 160.36 km. from Manila and 23.7 kms. north of Lucena City. From Manila, it can be accessed via the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX, exit at Turbna) and the Manila East Road.

 

 

Central Market (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our ice cream treat at Sorya Shopping Center (we were again to return here for supper), Osang, Violet, Jandy and I continued on our way to the nearby Central Market, a Phnom Penh landmark and “must see” stop just a 5-min. walk away.

The Central Market

The Central Market

The large, bright ochre-colored Phnom Penh Central Market or Psar Thmay  (“new market”),  built in 1937 in the  Art Deco style,  consists of four wings branching out into vast hallways and dominated by a central dome.  When it first opened, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia. Its initial design and layout were done by French architect Louis Chauchon and its construction work was supervised by French architects Jean Desbois and Wladimir Kandaouroff.  During the Franco-Thai War, the market was bombed heavily by Thai aircraft, causing heavy damage, and it had to be temporarily closed. After the end of World War II, the market was rebuilt in the modern style. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.

The market interior

The market interior

Within the four wings as well as around the compound outside,  almost anything you can think of are on sale.  The extensive amount of products that are offered for bargain include electronic equipment, second hand clothing, watches, bags, suitcases, gold and silver curios , dried and fresh foodstuff, jewelry, cheap t-shirts, kramas (Khmer scarves), antique coins, pseudo-antiques, clocks, fabrics, shoes, flowers, luggage, books (including photocopied travel guides) and lots of souvenirs (key chains, ref magnets, postcards, etc.).

The market's huge dome

The market’s huge dome

Central Market: Neayok Souk, Phnom Penh 855.  Open daily, 5 AM – 5 PM.

Sorya Shopping Center (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our National Museum and Royal Palace tour, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I made our way, on foot, back to our respective hotels to rest and freshen up.  After an hour, we again met up, this time to go shopping for souvenirs at the nearby Central Market.  Again, we made our way on foot.  Along the way, we decided to make a short stopover at the 8-storey, Western-style Sorya Shopping Center, located just one block south of the Central Market.

Sorya Shopping Center

Sorya Shopping Center

The first real mall in the city, this 40,000 sq. m. airconditioned shopping oasis, the largest in the city, was quite large, with passenger elevators and escalators (then a strange novelty when it opened in 2003).  Inside were a number of Western fastfood restaurants at every level ( Pizza Co., Master Grill, Kentucky Fried Chicken,  BBQ Chicken, BBWorld, Lucky Burger, etc.) plus a a variety of shops selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, toys, imitation watches, latest release DVD copies and some electronics and appliances.

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

As we entered the lobby, we encountered a lot of “demo” booths promoting products such as a stainless steel multi-tiered steamer; a stride-glide exerciser; a hand-held vacuum and recliner-massage-chairs.  Osang and Violet each tried out the foot massager.We  also each tried out a sundae treat (US$2.30 each), with many premium quality toppings such as Mars, Snicker, Oreo Cookie, etc., at Swensen’s, a premium ice cream parlor which originated from the U.S.A.  It opened its first branch in Sorya Shopping Center in September 2007.

"Cooling off" at Swensen's

“Cooling off” at Swensen’s

The well-stocked Lucky Supermarket, the first supermarket set up in Phnom Penh (and now the city’s largest supermarket chain), has a branch at the ground floor. On the upper floors there  a 3D cinema complex (Sabay Cineplex, Level 5), roller skating rink, sporting goods store (City Mart Sports Supply, Level 4) and games arcade.

Swensen's sundaes

Swensen’s sundaes

After shopping at Central Mall, we all had dinner at the  local food court at Level 4. Virtually all varieties of dishes were available at very reasonably prices of US$2.00 to 5.00. However, their coupon system was a hassle as we had to buy a ticket first before ordering food from any outlet.

Food Court

Food Court

Though less colorful than the traditional markets, Sorya Mall was still a such a good place to cool down, hang out or simply to take a break from the ‘culture shock’ that hit us when we arrived in Phnom Penh.

Food court fare

Food court fare

Sorya Shopping Center: 11-13 Preah Trasak Paem (Street 63),  Phsar Thmei 2 Commune , Daun Penh District, Phnom Penh.  Tel: +855 23 210 018 and +855 16 700 001. Open daily, 9 AM to 9 PM.

Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop

Come morning, after breakfast, it was time to check out at our inn for our return trip to Manila. We all boarded our hired jeepney and made our way, out of the poblacion, along Sagada’s narrow, Bontoc Road which was filled with parked vehicles and people, it being market day.  

Sagada Weaving & Souvenir Shop

Past the St. Theodore’s Hospital, the traffic began to ease and we were soon on our way. We made a stopover at the Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop.  This pioneering weaving firm is one of the town’s biggest employers. Here, we got to interview Mr. Ezra Keithley Aranduque, the owner who showed us around the weaving area (his weavers were on leave, though, it being the holidays).  This venerable Sagada institution, an offshoot of the now-defunct weaving business of Lepanto Crafts established in 1968, was started in Sagada by the late Andrea Bondad (Ezra’s mother) in 1978. The cloth was originally woven from thread obtained through trade with lowlanders.

With Mr. Ezra Aranduque

Today, they produce and sell, at reasonable prices, quality products hand-woven by backstrap looms, such as backpacks, purses, hats, ponchos, shoulder bags, wallets, slippers, blankets, place mats, table runners and other products.  They also sell traditional Cordilleran clothes such as tapis (traditional-style Igorot skirts), wanes (men’s g-strings) and bakget (women’s belts with tails).  All these are also sold in select stores in Baguio City (Benguet), Bontoc, Kalinga and Apayao.

Jocie tries out a loom

According to Ezra, his weavers use traditional, intricate Cordilleran designs which consists mostly of vibrant red and black stripes on a white center panel with additional red, yellow, black and green motifs such as oweg (snakes, a fertility symbol) and tekka (lizards, a symbol of longevity) running through it.  Rivers are represented by zigzag lines, and mountains and rice paddies by triangles.

Sewers at work at the souvenir shop

The tapis, wanes and blankets are woven using 2 distinct patterns – the simpler kinayan or the more elaborate and popular pinagpagan.  They spent more than one month to produce just 28 m. of this durable and strong, handwoven fabric which has vanished from handwoven fabrics produced in the region. In 2011, the Bureau of Trade Marks of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Bureau of Patents has granted Sagada Weaving patent certificates (IPO Certificate of Registration No. 4-2009-006672) for its local design described as consisting of a diamond and 2 half diamonds forming an X design of any two colors.  The Bureau of Patents also granted Sagada Weaving (Patent Registration Nos. 3-2009-00441 to 00446) exclusive rights, throughout the country, to make, use, sell or import an industrial design which consists of  6 color combinations with diamond and X designs.

 

Finished souvenir products

Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop: Bontoc Road, Nangonogan, Sagada 2619, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0918) 927-6488 and (0919) 557-1431 (Mr. Ezra Aranduque). E-mail: weavings@sagadaweaving1968.com and sagadaweaving1968@yahoo.com.  Website: www.sagadaweaving1968.com.

Banaue Grand Terrace Viewpoint (Ifugao)

After breakfast at Halfway Lodge, we all returned to our jeepney and traveled 3 to 4 kms. (25-mins.) uphill from the town, along the Banaue-Bontoc Rd., to the Banaue Grand Terrace Viewpoint, one of three viewpoints in the town.  The other 2 viewpoints are the NFA Viewpoint and the Dayanara Viewpont, named after 1994 Ms. Universe and former Aga Muhlach girlfriend Dayanara Torres (who later married singer Marc Anthony but has since been divorced).  This would be my first visit to the place as, during my first 2 visits , I just used the town as a jump-off point to Batad Rice Terraces. Besides, the town’s undulating tin roof tops and overhead, tangled electrical wires, weren’t exactly an endearing sight for me.

This popular photo spot, situated on top of a plateau at the outskirts of the town, affords a perfect view of the 2,000 year old, man-made and iconic Banaue Rice Terraces (the one we see in books, magazines, postcards and the PhP1,000 bill) and the magnificent valley to the poblacion. 

Though not included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription, due to the presence of numerous modern structures around the area (making it score low in the integrity criterion of UNESCO), these rice terraces are still a National Cultural Treasure under the Ifugao Rice Terraces.  The early morning cast an extra dimension to the rice terraces. The terraces, on a rather steep incline, occupy a narrow, high spur in the mountain. The best time to see these rice terraces is from February to May when it is least likely that the views will be obscured by fog or clouds. 

View of the town proper from the viewpoint

Elderly, smiling Ifugaos often come here in full tribal regalia and tourists can pose for the camera with them, for a fee or donation of course, or you can be dressed in partial tribal regalia (headgear and shawl) then leave a small donation for its use.  

Dressed up in tribal gear

At the viewpoint are a number of roadside souvenir shops crowded in a small area. They sell a variety of handcarved woodwork, from the iconic bul-ol (rice gods placed in village huts and granaries), spears, canes to Chinese dragons.  They also sell food (strawberry jams and preserves, peanut brittle, wine, etc.), textiles (sweaters, caps, T-shirts, shawls, etc.), ref magnets, trinkets, furniture and basketry.

Also with the area was an inn (the 3-storey Viewpoint Valley Inn) and a restaurant (Banaue Heritage Cafe & Restaurant).

Viewpoint Valley Inn
Banaue Heritage Cafe & Restaurant

There were also wooden scooters on display.  One in particular, with the ornate dragon design, caught our fancy.  We each took poses (at PhP10 per shot) on this scooter.  Also, if we wanted to, we could have taken it on a test drive (for PhP50) down the road but the absence of a built-in brake held me back.

Trying out the dragon scooter

A Walk Through Manila’s Chinatown

After canvassing for lighting fixtures along Soler Street, I decided to explore Manila Chinatown via  the Arch of Goodwill Arch, a  Chinese archway (paifangwhich marks the east end of Ongpin Street, named after Don Ramon Ongpin, a Chinese businessman who supported the Katipunan movement in 1896. The Arch of Goodwill, one of several which acts as a spatial marker to welcome visitors into a different cultural sphere, commemorates the friendship between the Filipino people and Chinese immigrants.

The Arch of Goodwill

The Arch of Goodwill

Manila’s 66-hectare Chinatown, located just across the Pasig River, opposite  the walled city of Intramuros, was originally for  Chinese Catholic converts only. In 1790, non-Christian Chinese were allowed to move into Chinatown. Our first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, was born in Binondo.

Ongpin Street

The terribly congested but colorful Ongpin Street, home to many gold and silver jewelry stores, herb-scented Chinese medicine shops, spacious restaurants, little teahouses and well-stocked groceries, is flanked at each end by the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz (Binondo Church) in the west and the Baroque-style National Shrine of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (Sta. Cruz Church) in the east.

A Chinese drugstore

A Chinese drugstore

Manila’s Chinatown, the oldest in the world (established in 1594), is known to the Filipinos as Binondo (derived from the Tagalog word binundok meaning “mountainous”), to the Filipino-Chinese community as Chi Lai (市内), a Hokkien term for “inner city,” and by tourists simply as Chinatown, a common reference to an area where there are a lots of Chinese and Chinese businesses. Most of the people in this district are of Hokkien ancestry as most of their ancestors are from Fujian province. My ancestor, Sing Lok, also from Fujian, arrived in the country in 1750. He later changed his surname to Locsin and adopted the Christian name of Agustin.

An Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli branch

An Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli branch

Chinese heritage and traditional Chinese institutions are very evident in Manila’s Chinatown and, once I passed the Arch of Goodwill, I began to find icons, institutions and features typical of most Chinatowns. Unlike in other parts of the city, the horse-drawn calesa is still alive and well here.Unlike the Chinatowns I have visited in other Southeast Asian cities, this one in Manila is really very busy on Sundays.

A sidewalk fruit stall

A sidewalk fruit stall

The street signs in Chinatown, some decorated with dragons, are also often bilingual and sometimes trilingual. with Filipino, English and Traditional Chinese script.  Even signages are bilingual, as businesses here cater to the cultural and religious needs of the Filipino-Chinese population. Restaurants offer a wide range of Chinese food while other shops offer the latest CDs VCDs from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, religious goods and festive fruits that are in season.

A Chinese gift shop

A Chinese gift shop

A long time (since 1912) fixture in Chinatown is Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli, reputed to be the home of the best-tasting hopia (a popular Filipino bean filled pastry) in country.  It has a number of stores in Chinatown, selling 22 variants of hopia, including ube, nangka, buco pandan (my favorite) and cheese variations.  Some bakeshops even carry their hopia products. They also sell other traditional Chinese delicacies such as tikoy, glutinous balls and ube pao.

The calesa is alive and well here

The calesa is alive and well here

Chinatown is known for the having the best volunteer fire-fighting unit in the city, the residents’ response to the frequent fires that strike their community. Their fire engines, often sponsored by individuals or organizations, are highly visible all over the district. Eng Bee Tin has also set up Txtfire, the largest volunteer firefighting organization in the Philippines (with more than 4,500 affiliate firefighters nationwide), and have donated 10 ube (violet)-colored fire trucks, one of which I saw parked beside Binondo Church.

An ube-colored fire truck donated by Eng Bee Tin

An ube-colored fire truck donated by Eng Bee Tin

A street-side temple with an altar was also built along Tomas Pinpin Street. Here, people come to light at least 3 joss or incense sticks (hui), make offerings or donations, recite a prayer to the venerated image of Sto. Cristo de Longos (a miraculous crucifix found by a deaf and mute Chinese in an old well in Longos), make a prayer request, then take two crescent-shaped jiaobei blocks (or moon blocks) and throw it to answer a yes (identical faces) or no ((opposing figures) question.  Truly an intriguing fusion of Roman Catholicism and Buddhism.

A roadside shrine dedicated to Sto. Cristo de Longos

A roadside shrine dedicated to Sto. Cristo de Longos

As I strolled and enjoy the proverbial sights, sounds and smell of Chinatown, I knew that I have reached the district’s boundaries as I saw another Chinese archway at Ongpin North Bridge.

Ongin North Bridge Arch

Ongin North Bridge Arch

Embarcadero de Legaspi (Albay)

From Daraga, I made a short stopover at Embarcadero de Legaspi, a major waterfront development fronting the Legaspi City‘s main harbor.  Bernard and I previously had an evening coffee here 3 days before.  The mall is just a short jeepney ride from the Governor’s Mansion (where we stayed overnight).  Located on a 15.477-hectare property on reclaimed land, Embarcadero sits at the foot of Kapuntukan Hill (Sleeping Lion Hill). Owned and managed by Embarcadero Land Ventures, Inc., it is now the Bicol Region’s premier urban mall and shopping center.
 
Embarcadero de Legaspi
This world-class lifestyle hub for tourists and locals is home to retail spaces, restaurants, markets, a host of branded specialty boutiques, a major civic space (Embarcadero Celebration Plaza), a supermarket (Puregold), a classy hotel (Ellis Ecotel), themed indoor amusement center (Playland) and a bowling alley.  Its picturesque, landmark lighthouse, with its beaming searchlight, doubles as the office of the city’s 91.5 Magik radio station.
 
Embarcadero’s signature lighthouse
The seaside area, a favorite hangout place (the mall stays open until midnight), has a host of open-air paluto restaurants where one can sample the freshest seafoods, the well-known Bicol Express and mouth-watering laing, all while sipping a bottle of cold beer, watching the ships’ lights and listening to a live acoustic band.
 
For adrenaline junkies, Embarcadero also hosts the city’s second zip line (the other one is available at Lignon Hill).  To try, climb the lighthouse and zip line 350 m. down, traversing the waters of Albay Gulf, to the other end of the breakwater, getting a magnificent view of majestic Mayon Volcano along the way.  There’s also a seaside go kart track (PhP75 per 2 laps inclusive of protective gear), jetskis (Php1,200 for 15 mins.), environment-friendly Segway PT (PhP200 for 15 mins.) and E-tricycles for rent (PhP50 for 2 pax per 15 mins.)
 
Embarcadero de Legaspi: Port Area, Victory Village, Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 481-1000.
 
Rides to Embarcadero de Legaspi, via brightly-colored, eco-friendly electronic E-jeepneys and E-tricycles, are available at the Battle of Legaspi Monument.  There’s also a free shuttle inside the mall.

Taipei City: Guang Hua Digital Plaza

It was raining when we woke up on the third day of our stay in Taipei.  It seems the city was also feeling the effects of Typhoon Ambo (international name: Mawar) which struck the Philippines.  Not really a good day for sightseeing much less photography.  Instead, I decided to just check out the Guang Hua Digital Plaza, just south of Song Jiang Rd..  After breakfast at the hotel, Jandy and I donned our jackets and opted to just walk to the mall. Along the way, we searched for, but did not find, the Miniatures Museum along Jianguo North Rd..

Guang Hua Digital Plaza

Guang Hua Digital Plaza ( also known as the“Taipei Akihabara”), attracting tens of thousands of visitors each day, is an indoor, technological and electronics one-stop shopping paradise located  at the intersection of the Zhongzheng and Daan Districts.  It was established in 1973 as a retailer market, originally using the space beneath the old Guanghua Bridge and just specializing in old books (thus the nickname “old books street”).  Within a decade, however, electronics retailers gained presence in the market and surrounding streets.

The ground floor exhibition area

Due to underground railroad construction in 1992, Guang Hua Market was moved to an underground location at the corner of Bade Rd. and Xinsheng South Rd.. By this time, the area became known for electronics, with many new stores opening, and the establishment of other electronic markets such as the International Electronics Market, Contemporary Life Market and Sanpu Market.

In 2006, due to the demolition of the Guanghua Bridge, Guang Hua Market was moved to a temporary location at the corner of Jinshan North Rd. and Civic Blvd.. The temporary building consisted of 5 warehouse-like halls, providing a total of 196 retail stores. Not soon after the market moved into its temporary location, construction began on the current six-story Guang Hua Digital Plaza building, which has been its current location since July 2008.

The lone sporting goods store

Today, the purpose-built Guang Hua Digital Plaza building consists of 6 floors and a basement. The first floor houses an exhibition space for new electronic products and a food court. The second and third floors are the new locations for the 196 vendors of the original Guang Hua Market while the fourth and fifth floors are the new locations for the vendors of Xining Guozhai Electronics Market. The sixth floor is reserved for repair shops, education classes and offices while the basement floor is for parking.

A camera store

Even with the rain outside, the building was pulsating with a steady stream of IT gadget lovers fervently shopping for the latest desktop computers, laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones, electronic accessories and parts and related gadgets and peripherals, many of which are Taiwan-made, at this sprawling mess of shops selling everything electronic.  There’s  also a lone sporting goods store and stores selling VCDs and DVDs (mostly Taiwanese or Chinese titles).

A store selling VCDs and DVDs

However, checking out their prices, they still can’t match prices in Hong Kong but they could compete with European and U.S. prices.  My problem here, especially when you need to techno-speak, was that most of the vendors don’t speak or only speak a little English.  The foreign tourists I saw shopping here were accompanied by their English-speaking guides.  I had no such luxury.  Oh well, maybe next time.  We returned to the Gala Hotel the same way we came to Guang Hua – by walking.  We made a stopover at a MacDonald’s outlet for a take-out lunch of burgers then backtracked to our hotel.

Guang Hua Digital Plaza: 8 Civic Blvd., Section 3 (between Jinshan and Xinsheng Rds.), Taipei City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2391-7105 and (+886-2) 2341-2202. Open daily, 10 AM-9 PM (closed on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month). Website:www.guanghuamall.com.tw.

How to Get There: take the Bannan Line to Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station, Gate G1, and then walk for around 10-15 mins.

Taipei City: Hwahsi Tourist Night Market

From Longshan Temple, Jandy, Isha and I walked, a few streets away, to a nearby night market to do some souvenir shopping.  A well-lit Chinese-style arch pointed us to an excellent night market divided into two segments. We went to the part of the market with the roof called Snake Alley a.k.a. the Hwahsi Street Tourist Night Market, said to be the oldest night market in Taipei. The surrounding area is the local market. Night markets are listed among Taiwan’s most popular tourist spots.

Gateway to Hwahsi Tourist Night Market

The “Tourist” in the official name is something of a misnomer as the market is a bit overrated and can be a bit creepy, if you are not into snakes or exotic foods.  One store had one of these huge writhing, white and yellow serpents at their shopfront (the snake handler cum store owner, however, didn’t allow me to take pictures).  Snake meat, according to traditional Chinese lore, have health (and libido) enhancing properties (something to do with this reptile’s impressive length).  Before its conversion into a night market, Snake Alley used to be notorious for its prostitution (banned since the 1990’s).

Its no surprise that snake meat (and snake blood, bile or sperm is mixed with a local liquor called gao liang) is served up as dinner at rows of eateries within the market. These eateries also serve red bean soup, Taiwanese-style muah chee, danzi noodles (also called tan tsai noodles), thick cuttlefish soup, eel noodles, shrimp in wine, grilled Taiwanese sausages, etc. There are also eateries serving even more unusual and “special” (and controversial) turtle meat and soup, stir-fried mouse as well as crocodile meat. Truly a place for people who live by the motto “I’ll try anything at least once.”  It just so happen that we weren’t one of those people.

Apart from the eateries, the night market is actually just one row of shops selling bags, cheap watches, hats, DVD and VCD movies, and souvenir items such as fans, place mats, key chains, Buddha figurines,brass sculptures,  jade amulets, etc.  Isha bought some these souvenir items as gifts for friends back home.  I bought a number of brass key chains.  There were also shops selling sex toys as well as kinky key chains (some were smaller, brass key chain versions of the wooden Ifugao barrel man, a man in a barrel which, when lifted, triggers a spring that releases a penis).  There were also a number of legitimate massage parlors (offering foot, half body or whole body massages) and stores where artists sell their paintings.

Kinky brass key chains

Having finished our souvenir shopping, we took a taxi and dropped off at the first MacDonald’s outlet we saw.  After another burger dinner here, we all boarded another taxi, dropping off Isha at her hotel before proceeding to the Gala Hotel.  It was now very late in the evening and, quite tired from a fruitful day of sightseeing and shopping, decided to call it a night.

Hwahsi Street Tourist Night Market: Hwahsi St., Wanghwa District, Taipei, Taiwan. Tel: (+886-2) 2336-9781. Open daily, 7 PM-2 AM.

How to Get There: from Taipei Main Station on the Blue Line, go two stops west to the Longshan Temple MRT. Come out  Exit 1 and take a right.