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Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun

Kyoto – Autumn Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera

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Autumn Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera

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Taiwan – Experience a Scandinavian Getaway at Yilan’s North Zart 北方札特

Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿
From natural environments, cold/hot springs to a wealth of scenic attractions, Yilan is one of the best areas in Taiwan for a leisurely getaway with loved ones, and North Zart is one of the most unique and beautiful minsu in the region. Made entirely out of wood, it feels as if you were momentarily transported to the cabin lodges of Europe.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿North Zart is located about 15 minutes away by taxi from Yilan Train Station. It offers 13 rooms for doubles all the way up to 6 persons in a room split between two buildings. If you are travelling in a big group (more than 10), you can consider booking a whole building exclusively.

Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Santa Claus greets you as you approach the entrance of the wooden cabin building. Feels like Christmas all year round!Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Amazing sunshine smiling down at us. The minsu can help to organise BBQs outside here at night.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Lovely outdoor area to chill outYilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The minsu built the palace theme building a year after the opening of the wooden cabin theme building. The owner conceptualized the design of the entire area, including the landscaping and gardens outside. Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Amazing living hall which comes with a deepsea aquarium and a TV capable of playing 3-D movies.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿For the literary ones, pick up a book from its library and immerse in a good read at a favourite corner in the minsu.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Lovely decor all aroundYilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The fragrance of Chinese fir used to build the minsu permeates the spaceYilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The owner Mr Lin, is a coffee aficionado – you definitely have to ask him to make you a cuppa coffee. We enjoyed chatting with him as he shared with us more about the minsu. I must say he is very meticulous, as you can see the thought and effort that was put into setting up the place, and all the little things done to give the place a warm, homely feel. His family helps to run the minsu too.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿How I am feeling right now – happily contentedYilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Breakfast is served at the basement of the wooden cabin building.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿It offers a typical Taiwanese breakfast.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The double room was spacious and well-stocked with beverages and snacks.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The bathroom was just as spacious.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The Rrom for four persons came with a fake coconut tree lolYilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿I loved the balcony which overlooks the garden.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿Some of the rooms also overlook the rice paddy fields behind the minsu which belongs to Mr Lin.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿And one of the highlights of the minsu – a cold spring! What an amazing treat!Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿The minsu by night looks surreal, and I am tempted to laze my vacation away all day.Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿We got into a little mischief at Luodong Sports Park nearby (you can borrow a bicycle from the minsu for a nice ride in the morning) – with some fireworks and sparklers :)Yilan: 北方札特 North Zart 民宿We enjoyed our stay at the very pretty North Zart as well as exploring Yilan’s attractions. As public transport is not readily available in Yilan, I would suggest you book a car or take a taxi. By day you can explore numerous scenic areas such as Meihua Lake, Wai Ao Beach (black sand!), Turtle Island or attractions such as Lanyang Museum and Jimmy Plaza while by night you can visit Luodong Night Market for some local eats. Jiaoxi Hot Springs is also not too far away.

北方札特 North Zart
Address: 269, Taiwan, Yilan County, Dongshan Township, 廣安村廣興路682巷132號
Email: espcat@gmail.com
Tel: +886 918 612 581
Website: http://www.northzart.com.tw
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NorthZart
View Map https://goo.gl/maps/WgqGJNMR7pS2
Booking website: http://www.kitravel.com.tw/booking/northzart/index_en.html
Room Rates: http://www.northzart.com.tw/contact-fee.html
Getting from Taipei to Yilan

Bus
1) Kemalan buses (葛瑪蘭客運) at Taipei Bus Station Taipei Main Station. Fare: About NT$129 Travel time: About 50 mins. Website: http://www.kamalan.com.tw/route.php
2) Capital Star buses (首都客運) at Taipei City Hall MRT Station near exit 3. Fare: About NT$120 Travel time: About 50 mins. Website: http://220.128.122.55/businfo.html

Train
Taiwan Railways to Yilan Train station. Travel time: About 1hr 30mins. Fare: TWD 200 – 250
Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA): new.twtraffic.com.tw/TWRail_EN/index.aspx
Train ticket prices: service.tra.gov.tw/tw/ticketprice/excel.aspx


Getting from Taoyuan International Airport to Yilan
By Bus:
1) Take Kuo Kuang Express buses from the airport to Taipei Main Station. Travel time: About 1hr 10mins. Fare: About TWD 115
2) Transfer to buses to Yilan (See Getting from “Taipet to Yilan” above)


Getting from Kaohsiung to Yilan
1) Take THSR train to Taipei Main station. Travel time: About 2hrs. Fare TWD 1,490.
2) Transfer to buses to Yilan (See Getting from “Taipet to Yilan” above)

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Film Camera Shopping – Love at First Sight

Siam TLRI have been shooting with a DSLR for two years now, and I wanted to really get back to the basics of photography with a fully manual film camera, as a way to move on to the next higher level. So I made it a point to visit Siam TLR, which came highly recommended to me by my photography friends, during my recent trip to Bangkok.

I stepped into the shop with nothing specific in mind, and I knew I had found THE ONE when the first camera that the owner showed me was this amazing green ostrich vintage darling. It was simply love at first sight.
Siam TLR
Siam TLR is relatively easy to get to, being located at Mahatun Plaza which is just next to Phloen Chit BTS.Siam TLRTake Exit 2 or 4 from Ploen Chit BTS. You can see Mahatun Plaza from the BTS itself. You do not need to walk into the building; Siam TLR is located at the side of the building where 7-Eleven is.
Photo source: Siam TLR
Siam TLR
I can remember the sense of anticipation as I approached the shop…which vintage hottie will I be bringing back with me? :)Siam TLRThe spacious shop is basically an enthusiast’s workroom –  rows and rows of lovingly-restored vintage cameras sit atop shelves, looking pristine and almost mint. You can feel the love and pride of the the owner, who started out Siam TLR 10 years ago as a hobby and online resource for Thais who were interested in old cameras. Khun Surasak restores all the cameras himself at the workroom, and if you are looking for an Olympus, Polaroid, Lomo or Kodak vintage camera, you are at the right place.
Photo source: Siam TLR (I was so excited, I forgot to take photos :p)Siam TLRMe with the owner Khun Surasak – he is so superbly nice and patient! I think he was rather amused with my excitement as I feasted my eyes on my rare green ostrich leatherette Olympus OM1-N (1972 model – which happens to be older than me!). Khun Surasak told me “10 years in business, and this is the first time I see this green one!”

The bimbo in me asked Khun Surasak many, many questions about how to use a film camera, and he answered every single one of them with ease. He speaks a smattering of English, which really helped since my Thai was limited to ordering food and asking for prices or different sizes lol. It feels very different when a shop owner loves his cameras versus one who is only interested in closing a deal.Siam TLRYou know I am into a serious relationship when I not only get the camera, but a family of lenses. All the equipment were in amazingly good condition, and Khun Surasak threw in the lens filters – how absolutely kind! I am so gonna take good care of this special camera, and everytime I click on the shutter button, I will remember the friendly and kind man who sold me this treasure. I will be back for more, Siam TLR! :)

Siam TLR
Address: Mahatun Plaza Building Ground Floor, Phloen Chit Road
BTS: Phloen Chit
Tel: +66 (0)8 1431 0351
Opening Hours: 11:00AM till 6:30PM daily
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/SiamTLR.Shop


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Indonesia, Bintan Island – The Sanchaya: A Bespoke Getaway

The Sanchaya, Bintan Just 45 minutes away by ferry from Singapore lies The Sanchaya, a newly-opened luxury beachfront retreat set across 23 acres in the northern Lagoi Bay development of Bintan Island. With twenty one private villas and nine suites, the private estate is filled with hand-picked treasures and artefacts that gives an insight to the varied cultures of South-east Asia. Everything at The Sanchaya (which means ‘collection’ in Sanskrit) is bespoke and well thought-through, from the custom-made furniture, freshest produce cuisine, personalized activities to detailed attention from the ever-smiling staff, offering guests the ultimate pampering. A weekend getaway option to Bintan Island never seemed sexier ;)The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is the only property on Bintan Island with its own VIP Lounge at the Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal. Express immigration and customs clearance is handled by the estate staff. All you need to do is to chill at the lounge upon arrival while awaiting your personal transport to the private estate.The Sanchaya, Bintan A look at the huge VIP lounge. The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya is just a short 15-minute drive away. All their drivers are native Bintan Island residents, so feel free to ask them about any places you would like to visit. The Sanchaya, Bintan We were warmly received at the estate with a welcome drink and bright smiles from The Sanchaya’s Estate Companions who remembered our names. Impressed. The Estate Companions are trained by The British Butler Institute which is recognized as the leader in butler and hospitality training worldwide.The Sanchaya, Bintan Check-in to a blissful stay! The decor of the estate is tasteful and every detail is taken into consideration.The Sanchaya, BintanThere are more than 175 unique styles of custom designed furniture at The Sanchaya fabricated by more than 250 Indonesian artisans. Look at those amazing-looking floor tiles, custom-made for the estate. The Sanchaya, BintanMajestic-looking The Great House which forms the main part of the estate. The Sanchaya, Bintan The estate’s all-day dining let guests eat whenever they feel hungry instead of allocated mealtimes, serving à la carte breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner as you wish – a big PLUS point for a sleepyhead and forever-hungry piggy like me :p The Sanchaya, Bintan Fancy a delicious-looking yoghurt for breakfast? The Dining Room uses the freshest market produce of the day, and the restaurant aims to satisfy all cravings whether on or off-menu. The Sanchaya, Bintan During breakfast, the traditional Jamu Gendong lady will visit your table offering a healthy and refreshing Jamu drink, an Indonesian natural medicine based on ancient tradition which uses local spices and root-tubers unique to this area. The Sanchaya, Bintan After breakfast, relax on these inviting rattan rocking chairs and take in the beauty of the beachfront estate. The Sanchaya, Bintan Located in The Great House overlooking the pool and beach , The Salon and Library has the feel of European salons in the 18th and 19th centuries. Check out its selection of rare books or simply relax over drinks with the rest. By the way, those intricate leaf-shaped ceiling fans are custom-made too. The Sanchaya, Bintan I can’t wait to sink into the grand-looking leather couches. Elegance and grandeur permeates every corner of The Sanchaya. Awesome for a profile photo too :pThe Sanchaya, Bintan The estates also houses a huge wine cellar of old and new world wines that can rival a respectable restaurant. Cheese, chocolate and wine tastings are held here too.The Sanchaya, Bintan I was impressed with their super well-stocked cheese and charcuterie selection. Am I really on Bintan Island?!?The Sanchaya, Bintan Admiring the lovely scenery outside while enjoying a glass of wine. That’s what I call a real holiday :) The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya fronts an ivory-coloured beach with views of the sea where I am told you can spot dolphins and turtles. What’s best, is that you can enjoy The Sanchaya’s bespoke full club bar service where bar artisans will create a handcrafted cocktail a la minute on a traditional jack tray, set up right next to your deck chair. My personalised cocktail will be named Spunktitude Rocks ;)The Sanchaya, Bintan Forgot to bring your swimwear? Simply stop by the well-stocked retail shop carrying international labels. I might just get a new outfit to do a Look of the Day ;) The Sanchaya, Bintan All the villas at The Sanchaya are named after tropical flowers. The Sanchaya, Bintan Villas have separate bedrooms and living rooms furnished with art and luxurious furnishings sourced from across South East Asia, reflecting the romantic colonial style of the residence. The Sanchaya, Bintan A kitchenette great for in-room dining The Sanchaya, Bintan Modern amenities such as Bang & Olufsen TVs are available in both the living room and bedroom. An iPad mini which connects to both TVs is preloaded with movies and music easily accessible via Airpush. I can’t wait to sink into the bed rightaway, and call me when it’s dinnertime? ;) The Sanchaya, Bintan Even the bathroom is an epitome of luxury living, from the claw-feet bathtub, custom bathroom amenities and fluffy bathrobes. I felt like I just walked into a movie set. The Sanchaya, Bintan And I can now shower sitting down :D The Sanchaya, Bintan Welcome to my walk-in closet, I’m all ready for a colonial holiday! :p The Sanchaya, Bintan I can imagine spending the whole day lazing at the private backyard, sipping tea and reading a book like a European lady in the 19th century would. The Sanchaya, Bintan Or throw off my shoes and have a leisurely stroll on the soft grass. And maybe run around the coconut trees lol. You can also request your butler to arrange for off-site activities such as a mangrove discovery tour, visit a traditional Indonesian ‘kampung’ village or go island hopping to Senggarang and Penyengat Islands to see ancient temples, palace ruins and tombs. The Sanchaya, Bintan Lawan Village’s seven Thai-style villas are built around a beautiful man-made lagoon to create a relaxing atmosphere. The Sanchaya, Bintan The décor reflects Thai influences, using elegant furnishings accented with dark wood, soft neutral tones and high vaulted ceilings to create the serene ambiance of a private residence. The Sanchaya, Bintan A well-stocked all-inclusive minibar. We totally dig the blue-white floral kettle (which can be purchased at the retail shop). The Sanchaya, Bintan Even drinking water is a luxury affair here. The Sanchaya bottles its own water on the Estate through a highly specialized process of mineralization to ensure the water is safe and pure.The Sanchaya, Bintan View of the entrance of the estate from The Great House where the suites are located. The Sanchaya, Bintan The Great House Junior Suite feels like entering someone’s living room. A rich someone with good taste.The Sanchaya, Bintan Rooms are tastefully done with personalized stationery and a pillow menu too. The Sanchaya, Bintan I love the sea view from the private balcony. The Sanchaya, Bintan Custom amenities are available, so feel free to come without your toiletries bag ;) The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya Spa offers a choice of indoor and outdoor treatment rooms to experience Thai, Balinese and Swedish massage therapies. They also grow their own herbs for the treatments. The Sanchaya, Bintan Outdoor treatment room. Perfect for a Thai massage. The Sanchaya, Bintan What I found interesting is the range of essential oils that reflect the body’s seven sacred chakras that were exclusively created for the estate. The Signature Sanchaya Oil smelt heavenly, and I was amused by the Root Chakra Oil (is that particularly good for men lol?).The Sanchaya, Bintan Indoor treatment room. See you in two hours’ time ;) The Sanchaya, Bintan It’s mealtime! Food always has that smiley effect on people :) The Dining Room features international cuisine as well as a refined style of Southeast Asian food. The Sanchaya, Bintan A colourful medley of freshly-blended juices to prepare the palate for the feast ahead. The Sanchaya, Bintan The appetizer was a balsamic vinegar reduction with raspberry sauce. I was more interested in the crystal food cover. Such indulgence.The Sanchaya, Bintan Goatcheese served with beetroot and mango which went well with the freshly-baked warm bread and their home-churned butter. Yumz. The Sanchaya, Bintan A fiery-looking Ketam Bumbu Kuning, which is Kepri stone crab cooked in light yellow sambal, carrot, cucumber and local fresh paddy herbs. In the background is the chef who came out to greet us. The Sanchaya, Bintan The tender beef rendang which we enjoyed. The Sanchaya, Bintan For those craving Japanese food, a sumptuous bento box is available. The Sanchaya, Bintan I enjoyed the Ikan Asam Pedas, a spicy and sour red snapper fillet cooked with tamarind, ginger flower and pineapple. The fish was springy to the bite, and the gravy didn’t overpower the fresh taste of the fish.The Sanchaya, Bintan Be sure to indulge in the Estate’s tea offering an extensive selection from Ronnefeldt teas including their own Sanchaya Blend. This blend is collected from small scale farmers who pluck the healthy, green leaves at an altitude of 1500 meters in the Ilam province of Eastern Nepal and is exclusively available at the estate. The Sanchaya, Bintan The Pave of Egyptian Date Molotove (date cream incased in meringue paired with sun ripe mango sorbet) was my favourite dish of all. It was so unique I am still thinking about it. The Sanchaya, Bintan No girl can resist a Molten Bitter Sweet Chocolate Fondant with Madagascar Vanilla ice cream. Or anyone with a sweet tooth. :)The Sanchaya, BintanA tasty Soft Nougat Praline Sensation (pistachio ganache served with caramelized sapodilla & hazelnut foam) The Sanchaya, Bintan This dessert has a grand name of Lavish Lavender (lavender parfait and almond dacquoise with black mission fig and foamed cream) The Sanchaya, Bintan The Gourmet coffee menu features blends that are hand-ground in front of each guest and brewed in a French press. I opted for The Sanchaya custom blend coffee made of four types of Arabica beans sourced from Estates in West Java, Central Java, Lombok and Flores and cultivated at 1100 meters above sea level. I knew coffee drinking was an art, but this was the first time I saw it as a performance, paying homage to a traditional preparation technique rarely seen today. The Sanchaya, Bintan The notion of time is forgotten when you are at The Sanchaya, with no effort spared to make you feel right at home and pampered like a princess or prince. I can’t remember when I am supposed to go home :)The Sanchaya, Bintan The Sanchaya
Address: Jalan Gurindam Duabelas, Plot 5 Lagoi Bay, P. Bintan, Kep. Riau 29155, Indonesia
Tel: +62 770 692 200
Email: welcome@thesanchaya.com
Website: http://www.thesanchaya.com/


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Taiwan – Step into a candylicious fairytale at Cingjing’s Nina de Chocolate 妮娜巧克力工坊

Nina_01

Who can ever resist such pretty bonbons?

Tucked away in the picturesque mountains of Cingjing, Nina de Chocolate is a cute, little candy house making exquisite handmade chocolate bearing interesting flavours with locally-sourced ingredients such as Cingjing gooseberry, kaoliang liqueur and even Alishan wasabi.
Nina_02Located within Florence Resort Villa, Nina de Chocolate reminds one of a candy house found in a fairytale. It is one of the attractions in Cingjing, and people come here to buy their special handmade chocolates home or have tea.
Nina_03
Even their mode of transport is so cute!

Nina_04
The theme of the place is whimsical, and great for families with kids or just about anybody with a sweet tooth (dats me!).
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Enjoy the cool air and have your chocolates at the outdoor terrace.
The chocolate atelier is maintained at an optimal 18 degrees celsius to ensure the best quality of chocolate, so if it gets too crowded, visitors are offered tea and invited to wait at the terrace for a short while.
Nina de Chocolate 妮娜巧克力工坊
With such delicious dessert, everyday is Christmas ;)
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Nina de Chocolate was opened by the owners of Florence Resort Villa as a present for their daughter named Nina who loves chocolate, and Nina also means ‘girl’ in Spanish.
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The interior of the shop is a cosy space with a retail area and chocolate DIY corner. All the girls were naturally attracted to the chocolate. The welcoming shop staff also offer you chocolate samplings *squealing with glee* :)
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Nina de Chocolate uses Swiss Lindt and Belgium chocolate to ensure a smooth, rich taste and no preservatives are used. They creatively use locally-sourced ingredients such as gooseberry and red tea from Cingjing, wasabi from Alishan, Kaoliang wine, Taiwanese black sugar and peaches to create unique flavours.
Nina_09How do I resist this amazing spread – I want to try every single flavour! :p The chocolatier also offers seasonal flavours, do ask for them when you visit.
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My eyes lit up when I saw the alcohol series; there’s cherry liqueur, blueberry liqueur and even rice wine flavour!
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Their attractive packaging makes for awesome gifts to bring home. Do note they do not keep long as no preservatives are used, so only buy if you are travelling home within the next 3 days.
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This is the lucky girl Nina :) By the way, the three Italian gondolas beside her are made of chocolate. They do not melt as the air in Cingjing is perennially cooling.
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These attractive chocolate pops sure make attractive gifts to bring back home for visitors.
Nina_12These chocolate-coated nuts have a slightly longer shelf life, so you can buy them home. They are easy to pack in the luggage too ;)
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These ink stamps are so Japanese-inspired!
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The pretty chocolatier introducing the cocoa bean to us, and showing how to make a chocolate-coated gooseberry which was freshly plucked.

Showing us how chocolate is prepared
Nina_16What’s more special than simply visiting a shop to buy chocolates? We made our own at their DIY chocolate-making class. Classes are held daily and each session lasts about 2 hours with a maximum 15 pax. While you can register on the spot, the DIY classes are pretty popular with kids and groups, so I would encourage you to make an advance booking online if you can.
Nina_17Here’s my very own chocolate mold and decorative ingredients; time to unleash the Picasso in me :)
Nina_18After you are done with your designs, chocolate which was earlier prepared by the staff is poured into the mould and put into the refrigerator to cool for 15 minutes.
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And viola – my masterpieces! :)
Nina_20Proudly showing off the fruits of our labour :) Nina_21
And we indulged in a chocolate feast to reward ourselves ;)
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One of the most special flavours in the shop is this attractive pink-coloured one named Galaxy. Much like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory, it is made up of cotton candy, strawberry crisp balls, Belgium white chocolate and…… jumping sweets which fizzles in your mouth!
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Looking inside of Galaxy – Interesting flavour worth a try :)
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Oooh…the kaoliang rice wine is oozing out of my chocolate! *hic*
Nina_24I love dark chocolate, and the 85% raw chocolate sent me to the moon. I can still remember the feeling of smooth, rich chocolate filling up my mouth. Mmmmmmm…sinful pleasures ;p
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This green wasabi flavour is one of the shop’s most popular offerings – there were only three left! (And I ate two muahaha)
Nina_26Saying it with a chocolate – I LOVE it!
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My master creations all wrapped up and ready to go home with me :)
Nina_28Nina de Chocolate is really a fairytale come true, cos’ we had so much fun and chocolate to last the entire trip – I felt like a child again :) Do drop by for a visit the next time you are in Cingjing!

Nina de Chocolate 妮娜巧克力工坊
Address: 南投縣仁愛鄉大同村榮光巷8之3號 (at Florence Resort Villa 佛羅倫斯民宿)
Tel: +886 (0)4 9280 2988
Opening hours: 9:00AM to 7:00PM
Website: http://www.nina-choc.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Nina.chocolat

Read more of my travels in Taiwan