Rediscovering Wan Hua: Bopiliao Historic Block

When I first arrived in Taipei, Wan Hua was somewhere to go when you wanted to visit Longshan Temple and Snake Alley.  It was old, rundown, and a bit dirty.  It certainly wasn't known as an historically-significant cultural area that you would take your young children to.  Luckily, times have changed, and our children can learn about the deep historical significance of the area themselves.

Located on the East Bank of the Danshui River, Bopiliao dates back to 1799.  The buildings are well-preserved. Once the center of business and trade in Taipei, a number of different businesses lined the streets.  For a more detailed history, you read this page of the Taiwan Review.  There is also quite a bit of information posted by various sources if you search online.

The architecture of the street is interesting to adults, and the open space appeals to young children. Children can run in and out of the old stores and see artifacts from yesteryear.

 My children fell absolutely in love with the Heritage and Culture Education Center (HCEC).  Admission is free.  No food or drink can be consumed inside the area. 

When you first enter, there is an outdoor area with a number of traditional toys for children to try.

Enter into the various rooms to use the interactive materials that help children learn about the history of the Danshui River, trade and industry, and education.

A fair bit of thought has gone into the setup.  For example, when you pick up the teapot in this set, it plays a tune!  Check out the radio.

There is a classroom setup, doctor's office introducing some of the most charitable doctors in Taiwan history, and a puppet theater where children can make their own puppet shows.

We stayed in the HCEC for at least two hours.  My daughter cried when we finally had to leave.  The whole area is well-worth a walk around and exploration.  There is no entry fee for any of the areas.

On the way to or from Wan Hua Station, stop by this bookstore.

Address: 10852 台北市萬華區 廣州街101號 Guang Zhou Street No. 101.
Directions: It's a short walk from Wan Hua Station.

Songshan Cultural and Creative Park - Lego and Barbie and That's Not All!

Nature goes wild in the heart of Taipei.

Who would have imagined an old Tobacco Plant could be turned into such an amazing cultural and artistic center?  I remember coming here over ten years ago, to see the Beastie Boys perform at a Free Tibet concert.  At that time, the area was rough, and I was fearful it was going to be torn down and turned into highrises.  Yet, here it is, a wonderful venue for art and culture, and a very safe place to let children of all ages run around in a safe environment, without fear of being run over by cars or scooters.

We parked in the carpark under the elementary school by the park.  The guard told me that was really the best place to park.  There are many buses and an MRT station nearby, too.
Well sign-posted.

We had tickets to the Lego exhibit so we headed over to the area.

Bilingual map.

Wooden decking leads to the cafe and bathrooms.

Lots and lots of great things to see.

Such a temptation; Run baby, run!

Lots of grassy area to enjoy.

Wild, open spaces.

Way down there is the entry to the Lego Exhibit.

The "Nathan Sawaya Art of Brick" Lego exhibit is doing the international rounds.  In Taipei until October 14th, it's actually a very artistic installation and not really aimed at children.  Because the models are not put up far from visitors, I saw many parents with toddlers getting frustrated with their kids.  It was just too tempting for the little ones. Especially the dinosaur!  My children (6 and 8 years) were old enough to appreciate some of the art ideas behind the models.  My daughter was told off for walking too fast and cried, but that was our only issue.  The poor custodians were very busy making sure people didn't fall on the models.

My son's favorite model.

Cost is 250/person, 220/students, with little ones free.  I was lucky enough to get tickets off Gomaji, so they were half-price.  I don't think I would have been excited if we had paid 250 each.  It was great for adults or older children with some artistic inclination but I wouldn't recommend it for real little ones.  We went during the week and it was not crowded at all.  They are selling a lot of LEGO items in the store at the exit of the exhibit.

Yay! Barbie!  I found some of my Barbies in there.

Great value is the TWD80 tickets to see five exhibits by local artists. Barbie was included in this.  You get an armband that gets you into the five exhibits.   My kids LOVED the moving buckets and the room with the fake mirror.  Very dark, very scary, very cool.

I highly recommend the giftshop to find things to take home for friends and family.  The items in the store have a high design aesthetic, and the price range is wide enough to cater for every budget.
No misunderstanding this sign.

I recommend this park as a place to go and relax with your baby or toddler to let them run around, with your older children to introduce them to art and culture, or for yourself to get a break from the chaos of daily Taipei life.

Address: No. 133, Guangfu South Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (Please access from No.553, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd)
Official Site: http://www.songshanculturalpark.org/en/

Opening hours:
Inside the park: Indoor areas: 9:00a.m.~6:00p.m. Inside the park: Outdoor areas: 8:00a.m.~10:00p.m.
Outside the park (including the Ecology Pond and areas surrounding the boiler room): Open 24 hours
The above hours are general opening hours. During special circumstances such as exhibitions or activities, the hours will be posted on the park’s official website and social networking platforms.

National Taiwan Science Education Center Summer 2012

Definitely a regular "must-do" for those with children kindergarten-age or older (or even younger if you are looking for a nice play space, in the basement of the center), the National Taiwan Science Education Center has permanent and special exhibits throughout the year.

We recently visited the museum, in particular to see the Secrets of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum and the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Exhibition. While we were there, we also got to see the beautifully arranged Our Land Our Story –Environmental Aerial Film and Photo Exhibition.  Running until November 30th 2012 and free as part of the ticket entry to the museum, the aerial images by Chi Po-Lin are breathtaking.  Chi aims to not only show you the beauty of Taiwan, but also highlight the damage we are doing to the island through our thoughtless acts.  It is part 2D and part 3D.  Certainly not only for children.

Learning about semiconductors.
Another special exhibit that was "really cool" was the semiconductor exhibit.  It's really hands-on.  My son sent my friend an email using the tools available, and my daughter drove a virtual car to learn about conservation and fuel consumption.
Green transporation.

The 3D moving theater in the basement is an experience.  You start in a little room (standing up, no chairs) where you see an introduction video.  Then, you go into the theater and belt yourself into your seat.  We watched a 10-minute segment of "Yogi Bear", where the bears are flying an old plane.  The seats move round so you feel like you are going up, down, left, and right.  My kids thought we were going to see the whole movie so were disappointed when it stopped so soon.  I was pretty happy to get out of the chair!  This was in Chinese and I wasn't offered any headphones.  Tickets are TWD100 each.

Official website: http://en.ntsec.gov.tw/User/index.aspx
Address: N0.189 Shihshang Road, Shihlin, Taipei, Taiwan 111, R.O.C Tel: 886-2-66101234
Holidays, summer/winter vacation:9:00am-6:00pm | Tuesday-Friday:9:00am-5:00pm

Closed on Monday ( Summer/winter vacation exceptions)


Secrets of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum and the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Exhibition, National Taiwan Education Center

Back in 2010, I wrote a little about the National Taiwan Science Education Center in Shilin.  We went back there a few weeks ago, to see the exhibit showcasing models of the Terracotta Warriors of Emporer Qin Shihuang.  I got discount tickets through my kids' school.  At the regular price of 250 for adults, 220 for students, and anyone under 115cm free, it's still well-worth the price.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what was going to be in the exhibit.  I just looked at the flier from school and thought, "educational, good value, something to do".  Upon entering the exhibit on the 7th floor of the Science Education Center, I found out I was at this exhibit:
The first ruler to unite all of China was born in an unremarkable horse-breeding tribe of the far west. The rise of Emperor Qin Shihuang was a perpetual marvel.The reemergence of his underground kingdom and terracotta army after the deep sleep over 2,000 years under layers of dust has astounded the whole world. In the Secrets of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum and the Terracotta Warriors and Horses exhibition, visitors will explore the mystery of this long hidden palace through digital reinterpretation and re-creation and witness the former glory of the Qin’s empire.
Emperor Qin Shihuang was the first Chinese emperor to unify China. He created the first centralized empire in Chinese history, established the earliest extent of what is Chinese territory today, and was the first ruler in Chinese history to declare himself “Emperor”. Being a controversial figure, he had many brilliant accomplishments but many of his deeds are also greatly criticized by later generations. Emperor Qin and his terracotta army created the legend behind the eternal emperor.
Broken into five sections, the exhibit area is beautifully set-up. With plenty of bilingual signage and descriptions, the kids and I could get a lot of out of the materials. The young guide was really helpful and spoke enough English for my son to understand what she was trying to explain to him.

The favorite with all all the children going through the exhibit was "Ask Qin Shihuang".  A giant hologram stands upon a stage.  Children ask him questions (in Chinese), and he answers them!  The looks on kids' faces was delightful.  As were some of the questions...

We spent about 40 minutes in this exhibit area, and then another two hours in the other parts of the museum.

From the official site:
Special Exhibit
Admissions and Hours
Open: June 30th 2012 (Sat.)~October 7th 2012 (Sun.)
Opening hours: AM9:00~PM6:00
(Normal weekdays during non-summer vacations, open until PM5:00)

Cats, Cats, and More Cats... 侯硐火車站 Houtong Train Station

I'm allergic to cats.  I'm a dog person.  But, I have two children that I'm trying to take to interesting places in Taiwan, so when I read about this "Town of Cats" just a few train stations away from Taipei, I decided to take an antihistamine and visit the "Cat Village" at Houtong Train Station.

Had a few camera problems, but you get the idea.

It was pretty crowded on the local train, but most people got off at Reifang (also a good spot to stop).  We carried on to Houtong, one of the many ex-mining townships on the Coast.  Coal mining was a big industry in Taiwan during the Japanese Occupation era.  The last coal mine closed down in the mid-1980's.  Houtong is known for the mine pit that opened in 1935.  And, its cats.

At the station, you can purchase a postcard with a cat image on it and post it back to yourself, or anywhere else in the world. For TWD30, you can make a DIY souvenir coin.  Or, you can just head up to the houses on the hill across the railway tracks to see the cats.

It was already pretty hot when we got there.  People ignored the signs "Don't bring your dog/Keep your dog in your arms", "Please be quiet" and "Don't feed the cats".  This was very frustrating for my daughter, who was intent on lecturing people on the importance of following the rules.  I have NO idea where she got THAT from...

My son loves cats and spent a long time with each friendly kitty.  It's a bit of a hike around the little paths and it smells like cat poop, especially in the heat, so for me it was not that much fun.  It is not stroller-friendly, and you would have to watch a toddler like a hawk on the path.  My daughter couldn't take it anymore and walked by herself toward the station, so my son had to cut the cat admiring session short.  There is a cafe and DIY room up on the hill but neither were open when we were there.

It got a bit hot and noisy for the cats and people.
View of the trains from the village.
I was more taken by the view across the river, and decided we should go look at the landmarks over there.  We headed over to the visitor center and cafe for a  look.   The visitor center is small but very well done.  They have a working,  multilingual, interactive screen to introduce the area and history of the mine. There is some very nice artwork done by a famous artist who spent years recording the lives of miners.  And the coffee in the shop is very good.  Be prepared to wait for service.  The menu is all in Chinese.

Vistor Center

I was watching the weather!

Outside seating at cafe.

Nice grassy area with path down to the Keelung River.

Rapids on the Keelung River.

Riverside walkway.
 After a break, we walked over the old bridge.  The original one was built in 1920 to transport coal.  It was also a means of transportation for people.  The one still there today was built in 1965.  There is some serious restoration work going on and I can see this being a very good historical site in a year or two.  Signs are bilingual.

Walking on the bridge that is under restoration.

Very nice toilet block across the bridge.

All-in-all, it was a nice day out.  The train is cheap. You can use your Easycard to pay for the train.  I guess it's about 45 minutes from Taipei Station.  I would try to time it so you could also go to Reifang (maybe even the Coal Mine museum).  Having read so many people rave about the cats on blogs, I was pretty disappointed with what it was, but it's something to see.  I recommend the place more for the coal mine history and the chance to take a walk than the Cat Village.

Destination: 侯硐火車站 Houtong Train Station
Suitable age: Five and up (not good for strollers)

Taipei Astronomical Museum

Over the years, we have visited the Taipei Science Education Center several times, but always skipped the Taipei Astronomical Museum across the lane.  After visiting for the first time early in August, the kids have been nagging me to take them back, and we finally made it again last week.  If you have a spare half-day before school starts, take the kids and enjoy their "Kids are Free" summer deal (not that it's unaffordable usually.)

You purchase tickets at the vending machines in the lobby.  Staff are very helpful so just look overwhelmed and they should come over.  You can buy tickets to:
The main exhibits
The 3D moving theater
The IMAX theater

The theaters are in the basement.  The IMAX space videos are a very nice introduction to the stars.  At the time we visited, they were showing one about the constellations we can see from Taiwan ("Star Show").  It was a mixture of cartoon and real images.  My five-year-old understood enough to come home and want to see the night sky.  English translation in headphones is available.

Part of an "archeological site" showing what our generation will leave behind.

The main exhibit floors are spacious and really child-friendly.  Children can really visualize the Earth's position in the Universe, and learn about space technology.

Telescopes with portable stepstool so shorter kids can still use them.
On the fourth floor, there is a "cool" spaceship ride that takes you through a worm hole into an alien world.  It's TWD70 a ticket, and until the end of the month it's "buy one get one free".  The ride is about ten minutes long.  The first time, we rode it together (each capsule can fit one adult and two children).  The second time, I let the kids ride it alone and I waited at the third-floor exit.  The English-language narration is really good.  There is a button inside your capsule to let you choose English or Chinese.

From inside the spaceship.

There is store on the first floor where you can pick up science books, telescopes, and space-related items.  On Saturday nights, they open up the telescope so you can view the night sky.

It's stroller-friendly.  Toddlers might enjoy a bit of a run through the exhibits but won't get much out of the education-side.  I'd suggest taking little ones in after a run at the wonderful park next door, or having a picnic after the museum trip.  I'd put suitable ages at five and up.

Closed Mondays
Address:  No. 363, Jīhé Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111 (臺北市士林區11160基河路363號)
Tel: +886 2 2831 4551
English Website: http://english.tam.taipei.gov.tw/