Lantern Festival in My Motherland – Taiwan!Kollecting Koordinates - Lantern Festival

This post about the Taiwan Lantern Festival is sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

If you didn’t know already, I was born in Taiwan and I can’t praise my motherland enough. The food is to die for and the people are one of the friendliest in the world! What better way to experience authentic Taiwanese culture and hospitality than to visit the Taiwan Lantern Festival?

Also known as 元宵節 (Yuan Xiao Jie), it’s considered one of the most significant festivals in Taiwan. The first full moon of the Chinese New Year shines on the 15th day of the first lunar month- this is exactly when the Lantern Festival takes place. You can say that it’s the grand finale of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

History and Background of the Taiwan Lantern Festival

元 (yuan) refers to the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar, and 宵 (xiao) refers to ‘night’. In a nutshell, the Lantern Festival symbolizes unity, prosperity, and new beginnings. The whole idea is to celebrate the coming of spring and a fresh start to the year ahead.

So how did the Lantern Festival come about in the first place? There are tons of legends and myths surrounding the origin of this festival. Some say the celebrations are to ward off evil, others say these festivities welcome deities. One legend talks about pleasing the Gods, another explains that firecrackers and red lanterns are to distract an angry emperor.

Whichever story you believe, this important event is where the Taiwanese gather with their loved ones to welcome a brand new year filled with happiness and good fortune.

Festivities include making lanterns, solving riddles, and eating 湯圓 (tangyuan), which are glutinous rice balls with sweet or savoury fillings. Growing up in Taiwan, it was a yearly tradition for my family to gather at my grandparents’ house in ChiaYi to make sesame flavoured tangyuan from scratch. The kids would run around with decorative lanterns and play with firecrackers, under adult supervision of course!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

One of my favourite desserts: tang yuan! It’s usually served hot in a sweet soup but you can find this cool twist at Tong Hua night market!

Taiwan Lantern Festival

The first Taiwan Lantern Festival was held in 1990. Since 2001, the official national Taiwan Lantern Festival has been hosted in different cities every year, with each year being bigger and better.

This annual event features dazzling laser and light displays, parades, live music, and various performances. If you’ve been wanting to watch lion and dragon dances, acrobatic acts, fireworks, and folk art skits all in one place, this is the place to do it! Visitors can also check out booths selling traditional handicrafts and snacks.

YunLin County in the mid-western part of Taiwan has been selected as the host of the 2017 festival, which marks the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac. The venue will be decked out with lanterns, lights, and art installations, including a gigantic rooster lantern installation at the exhibit!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

The giant zodiac installation last year- Year of the Monkey! Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi

Running concurrently is the Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi, a small village in New Taipei City in northern Taiwan. People from all over the world visit Ping Xi and Shi Fen year-round to release sky lanterns with their wishes written on them.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival - Sky Lanterns

My friend and her hubby at Shi Fen station. Photo cred: Angel at Also There’s This

During the actual Lantern Festival, thousands attend this one-of-a-kind Sky Lantern Festival after dark to launch lanterns into the night. Imagine countless glowing lanterns slowly rising and lighting up the black sky with everyone’s hopes and dreams!

2017 Taiwan Lantern Festival – Event Info

Event Page:  Taiwan Lantern Festival
Dates: February 11 – 19, 2017
Location of the 2 exhibits:

  • Between the HSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) YunLin Station and the Agricultural Ecological Park (Map)
  • BeiGang township – surrounding areas of ZhongShan Rd and the Tourist Bridge (Map)

For more information, please visit Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s official website or check out their Facebook page.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Heading to Taiwan? Make sure you try these must-eat dishes while you’re there!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

The Ultimate Food Guide to TaiwanKollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Food Guide

Born in Taiwan, I revisit my motherland every few years since my parents still live there. Taiwanese food is probably the biggest thing that gets me excited about visiting! These flavours are exclusive to Taiwan (as well as my mom’s cooking, and now my own!) and they signify home. We’ve created a Taiwan food guide featuring our favourite dishes and where to find them.

Taiwan food guide

1. taiwanese beef noodle soup

The beef is braised for hours until it melts right in your mouth, with broth so good you’ll want to slurp the whole bowl. Topped off with some chopped pickled cabbage and green onion, this bowl is heavenly. You can customize your bowl; from the thickness of the noodles, to the meat to tendon ratio, to the level of spiciness. To complete your meal, order some side dishes to share among your table. You can’t go wrong with marinated beef tripe and pork intestine.

My family lives in Hsinchu City; our go-to place is called 段純貞 or duan chun zhen. Without fail, there’s always a massive line in front of the restaurant. I love the texture of their hand-cut noodles, the tenderness of their beef, and the flavour of their broth.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

2. Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang

This literally translates to small intestine in large intestine, but it’s really just char-grilled sausage. It’s usually served like a hot dog, with sticky rice sausage instead of the bun, and a huge piece of Taiwanese sausage instead of the hot dog. You can find this at street-side vendors or night markets.

Our go-to place has been around since I was little! My mom used to be a highschool math teacher and she taught the owner’s daughter. They serve this dish chopped up in a bento box drizzled with their house special sauce, with pickled vegetables on the side.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

3. chiayi turkey rice

Yes, the real deal has to be from Chiayi. My mom’s side of the family is from this city in mid-southern Taiwan and this is the dish they’re famous for. Our go-to place is called 噴水火雞肉飯 or pen shui huo ji rou fan; it’s so good that people living in other parts of Taiwan would make a trip out here just to eat it! Unlike other restaurants where they serve you shredded chicken, these guys are very generous with their portions and the turkey is served in juicy slices. They have other things on the menu too but their signature turkey rice is the best. Don’t forget to order bamboo shoots on the side- they complement the rice so well!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

4. rou yuan (bawan)

More commonly referred to as Bawan (in the Taiwanese dialect), this is AS’s favourite dish. This is a translucent, gelatinous disc that’s filled with braised pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and herbs. They are deep fried to give the exterior a slight crunch and drenched in a delicious sauce. There are 2 kinds of bawan: the ones you find in northern Taiwan are usually red, smaller, and resembles more of a ball (right). The ones in the south (left) are flatter, more transparent, with a different kind of sauce. Both are very yummy!

My favourite bawan stand is in Chiayi, just a few blocks from my grandpa’s old house. This stand has been around for longer than I’ve been alive!

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5. rou geng

You can eat this with or without noodles (image above on the right). Growing up, my brother and I ate rou geng mian for breakfast every weekend. This is a thick soup containing pork and fish paste nuggets, bamboo shoots, and shitake mushrooms. The broth is loaded with black vinegar, white pepper, and lots of cilantro. A hearty meal that warms you right up!

6. traditional taiwanese breakfast

Speaking of breakfast…! The combination of dan bing (egg crepe), you tiao (Chinese donut), and dou jiang (soy milk) brings back sweet childhood memories. Some places wrap dan bing over you tiao, but I prefer to have them separately so that the you tiao stays crisp. Part of the breakfast ritual is dunking you tiao into soy milk before you take a bite. What’s even tastier than soy milk is mi jiang (rice milk), made from peanuts and rice.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

7. qing wa xia dan

The direct translation doesn’t sound very appealing (frog lays eggs), but this drink is so damn good when they make it right. They have this on the menu at most bubble tea joints but it ain’t the same as this stand in Hsinchu City. I’m not a big fan of bubble teas but this stand is something else. These guys make their drinks with real lime and lemon, tapioca, and aiyu jelly (made from fig seeds).

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

8. stinky tofu

Found in night markets and street side vendors, a lot of foreigners are afraid of this dish because of the strong odor from the fermented brine that’s used to make these tofus. I don’t think it stinks at all- it smells great! Just a whiff of it makes me salivate! These tofus are deep fried and served with lots of garlic paste, chili, and a side of pickled cabbage. I like to shove everything into the center of the tofu with my chopsticks and eat it in one big bite.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

9. da chang mian xian

Mian xian (or mi sua in the Taiwanese dialect), is a tan-brown vermicelli made from wheat. The thick soup is made from pork bone stock, containing either pork intestines or oysters. A Taiwanese soup noodle dish wouldn’t be complete without loading it with garlic paste, black vinegar, and lots of cilantro!

10. deep fried chicken cutlets

This baby right here is so simple, but so good. It’s just a piece of chicken hammered down to make a patty, marinated for a few hours, and dipped in batter before deep frying. There’s a lot of hype about this place in Shilin night market that sells them as big as your face. I think it’s a tourist trap as the flavors aren’t great and it can sometimes be quite dry. Quality over quantity, people!

I like the place my mom always gets it from. The meat is ridiculously tender, juicy, and flavorful! The cherry on top is the plum seasoning they sprinkle over the deep fried patty. YUM.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan food guide

11. tofu pudding dessert

Douhua is my all-time favourite dessert. I eat this all day, every day when I’m in Taiwan. There are 2 kinds: one with a pudding-like texture that come in original, egg, and chocolate flavors (left), and another kind made from real soybean, topped off with mung beans, barley, and soft peanuts. When it’s cold out, you can also have it hot with ginger sugar syrup. It’ll warm you right up!

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12. 鼎泰豐 or din tai fung

This is a restaurant that was founded in Taiwan in 1958. Today, it has chains worldwide but nothing can compare to the real deal in Taiwan. This restaurant is famous for their xiao long bao (steamed pork buns), but what I like the most is their spicy chili wontons. Everything on the menu is to die for, and you really can’t go wrong with any dish!

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How dishes in this Taiwan food guide have you checked off?

Read more : Taiwanese three cup chicken recipe

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Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Food Guide

Our Guide to Bangkok, Thailand

After 3 days of exploring the Kingdom of Wonder, we arrived in Bangkok in the Land of Smiles.

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Getting Around in Bangkok

We used the BTS and walked. The only time we used a cab was to get to the airport and that was because it was early in the morning, which meant little to no traffic. Traffic can get pretty crazy in Bangkok, so I’d stick with using public transportation unless you’re trying to get to places that aren’t along the skytrain lines. You can find the most up-to-date information on routes and fares here.

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To get to the Grand Palace, take the BTS and get off at Saphan Taksin. Sathorn Pier is right below this station. Wait for the orange flag express boat (they’ll collect fares on the boat, don’t fall for scammers at the pier) and get off at Tha Chang Pier (N9). Follow the large white wall after you exit and you’ll reach the palace entrance soon after.

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Where to Stay in Bangkok

After comparing locations and prices, we chose airbnb over staying at a hotel. Hotels aren’t expensive in Bangkok by North American standards– you can get a decent 4-5* hotel starting from $150. I didn’t see a point in splurging on a fancy place since we’ll only be using our room to sleep. We ended up paying $30 a night for a clean, fairly new apartment that is only a 2min walk from Banchaek Station.

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What to Do in Bangkok

Shopping Complex

Siem Paragon is one of the biggest shopping centers in Asia. It’s fancy as hell! We didn’t buy anything but it was still nice to walk around and see what well-off folks can afford. It’s also filled with restaurants and entertainment (Siem Ocean World is in the basement). MBK Center- a more affordable mall with low-mid range stores- is also close by if you’re looking to shop.

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Grand Palace (500 baht)

Take the BTS and ferry to the Grand Palace. If people tell you that it’s closed- ignore them because they’re touts trying to scam you. Actually, just ignore everybody until you’ve made it inside to the legit ticketing booth. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately! Your shoulders need to be covered and your bottoms have to be at least knee-length (elephant crop pants are perfect).

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Wat Pho (100 baht)

The golden reclining Buddha is about a 10-15min walk from the Grand Palace. You’ll need to remove your shoes before you get inside (they have these bags at the entrance that you can use).

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Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew

If you’re not templed out like we were, check out Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew. I’d wait until after the sun sets (or just before) to visit Wat Arun because it looks beautiful lit up!

 

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Cooking Class

This is one of the favourite things we did in SE Asia!! We signed up for an evening class at Silom Thai Cooking School for 900 baht. If you sign up for the morning class they’ll take you to a market to pick out the ingredients. We made 5 dishes in total- it was so much fun! The only downside is that prep work is done on the ground, so if you have back problems this can be a bit challenging.

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What we really liked about this was that we each got our own station. We went to a class once at the Pacific Culinary Institute of Culinary Arts on Granville Island and that was a nightmare. Food prep and cooking with noobs that don’t even know you have to use a different knife to cut proteins vs. vegetables? NAH. Silom Thai was great- you make your own 5-course meal on your own with a great instructor, from beginning to end.

 

What to Eat in Bangkok

AWYIS the best part about Bangkok. The food!

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Som Tam Nua (Siem Square)

This restaurant serves the best wings ever (115baht). Is there crack in it? Because this stuff is addicting. Their somtam (papaya salad, for 85 baht) is very yummy, too. HOWEVER, their service is  absolute GARBAGE. At first we thought it was because we’re tourists but we realized that they treat locals the same way. All of them looked as if they hate life with a passion. They’d ignore you a couple of times before they acknowledge you. We even saw one of them picking his nose as he was cleaning up a table. Nasty! We’d still come back, though, because the wings and somtam are that addicting haha.

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Queen of Curry

This place is a 5min walk from Sathorn Pier. Their curries are amazing! Service is great, too.

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After You Dessert Cafe

Are you a pastry addict like me? If so, head on over to this famous cafe because their honey toasts are so delicious. And fattening. But who cares! We shared a ferrero rocher one- even the insides oozed with buttery goodness.

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Thip Samai Phad Thai

The line is ridiculously long for the best pad thai in town (supposedly). We got lucky and didn’t have to wait at all because our guide helped us order takeout from this place on the way back from our tour.

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Street food

Eat to your heart’s content with the cheap food stalls on the streets but be very careful if you have a weak digestive system like me! We went to a market close by our condo one morning and while the food was very tasty, I got mad runs a few hours after 🙁

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Kollecting Koordinates - Bangkok