Category Archives: Taiwan

Taiwan, Days 4 and 5: Highlights

After getting back from Taroko Gorge, we were extremely tired, and didn’t do a huge amount. We dropped our bags back at your hostel, and went for lunch at Modern Toilet. Modern Toilet is a theme restaurant, based around toilets. You eat out of toilets, you sit on toilets, you get your desserts in toilets, your drinks come in urinals – you get the idea. I had been previously and the food left a bit to be desired. I figured I’d give it another go though – unfortunately it was a tad worse!

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Appetising!

We spent the rest of the day wandering around shops in Taipei, and trying foods and drinkks we came across. It was delicious! I had my first ever Cheesesteak – Amanda is from Philadelphia, and hadn’t had a cheesesteak in years! She assured me they tasted at quite authentic!

The next day we rode up the gondola on the outskirts of the city. We waited a while to get into a crystal cabin, where the floor was glass and see through. It was worth it!

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Aren’t Amanda’s earrings pretty?

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At the top, we wandered round and found a hiking trail. We decided to go for a wander, even though we were both completely inappropriately dressed for it. It was a nice walk through tea fields, flower gardens and rolling hills.

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You know a trail will be good when the entrance is this cute!

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We ended the day at the top of Taipei 101. Unfortunately my camera batteries were dead so I don’t have anny good photos!

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Taiwan day 3: Taroko Gorge!

Taroko Gorge is the one reason I was determined to visit Taiwan again. We didn’t get to do it the first time round (mid 2011) and have been itching to go back and see it ever since.

Amanda and I got up early, and bought tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus through the park. It was much cheaper than any of the tours we saw, and allowed us to go at hour own pace,, so completely worth it.

Our first stop was the Visitor Information Center. We figured we’d stop here, get our bearings and walk to the first trail. The area around the Visitos Center was extremely beautiful. Unfortunately, we soon discovered the most of the road to the first train was a never ending tunnel!

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You know you’re going somewhere beautiful when it’s this beautiful before you even start. This area actually reminded me a lot of Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand.

We soon arrived at the first trail, the Shakadang Trail. It was a pretty walk. Most of the trail was paved – something Amanda and I found quite hard to deal with when we set out on a day’s hiking! Eventually, however, the trail turns into one that is indigenously owned. They we happy to let us continue down the unpaved part of the trail, and it was so much nicer to actually feel a part of things, and not just walk alongside on a paved trail. The walk lasted maybe 1 1/2 hours?

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After walking the trail, we headed to the end of the gorge for lunch. The area was stunning.

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There were monkeys. Chilling.

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Minecraft inoshishi!

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Finally, we went for a short walk through Swallow Grotto. It was nice, and there were amazing rock formations, and small holes in marble where swallows rested, but it was overrun with tour groups, and again we had barely any room to move.

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Taroko Gorge is definately a highlight of Taiwan. I would go again, given the opportunity!

Thirsty?

Never has paying double for a bottle of water been so worth it…

Taiwan – day two: Ticket to Ride

Day two had us up early, due to a minor time difference and our body clocks being on work time. I consider this a good thing, as it enabled us to make the most of our days. Our day began with a visit to the Longshan temple. This is the most famous temple in Taiwan, and is bright, noisy and electric. The temple itself is ornate – a direct contrast to Japanese temples, which tend to have a very contemplative and reflective feel to them. There were extra decorations up, celebrating the year of the snake. While we were there, there was some sort of service going on, with a number of black robe adorned women chanting. There were also a number of tour groups milling around, so it was quite crowded. These tour groups were a lot more polite than those we had encountered the previous day.

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Outside the temple

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I loved this guy!

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After the temple, we stumbled across a bakery. Amanda was much smarter than me, and stocked up on a range of delicious looking breads, meaning she had something to nibble on whenever we found ourselves hungry and without easy access to food. I instead decided just to get one egg tart. The tart itself was delicious; rich, creamy egg custard in flakey pastry. We found a small park nearby to enjoy breakfast then set off toward our next destination – the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.

We made our way to the memorial grounds, where we were impressed with the grandeur of the National Theater and National Concert Hall. As we neared the memorial, we were disappointed to find that it was closed. Reading the notice posted, we found that it was closed until the day after we flew back to Japan! With mild frustration we wandered for a few minutes, but soon became bored. We went to the edge of the square to see what else was in the vicinity. It turned out the botanic gardens were a short walk away – score!

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The (closed) memorial

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The National Theater and National Concert Hall…. And Amanda!

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We wandered a few blocks to the entrance of the gardens. They were small and compact, but provided a nice green space, contrasted with the bustle of the city outside. They weren’t very crowded – a handful of people using this oasis to exercise. There were a lot of squirrels, too. Being from New Zealand, I never grew up around squirrels, and therefore get far too excited whenever I stumble across them. This instance was no exception. I spent a good ten minutes taking blurry photographs of half-hidden squirrels. Soon they became over confident and started too seem a little less cute, and a little more scary, plus Amanda was being patient as ever, considering she’d flown across the ocean to find herself staring at squirrels – something not so uncommon around her native Philadelphia, so I decided we should move on. The fact we had a train to catch was probably Amanda’s true saving grace – I’m sure the squirrels would have been perfectly safe to keep watching from a metre or so back.

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Greatest. Creature. Ever.

Soon it was time to depart Taipei for Hualien. Sadly, the time we took finding the correct platform meant I couldn’t grab a proper bento for the train, so grabbed bread from the 7-11. It was ok.

The scenery from the train was stunning. Tall mountains, densely covered in thick forest to our right, and the ocean to pur left, where jagged rocks jutted out silver sea, with the occasional isolated fisherman balancing one one of these rocks. We passed through a number of charming and not so charming villages, eventually cleaning into green checkered rice fields.

After three hours we arrived in Hualien. We found our hostel, Sleeping Boot, and stumbled out in the rain to find a beef noodle soup that had been recommended to us by the hostel staff, then headed back and retired to bed fairly early.

 

Taiwan – day one: Attack of the Tour Groups.

I recently spent 5 days in Taiwan with my neighbour/ bridemaid/ amazingly patient friend, Amanda. We woke up bright and early on the day we were to leave. Far too early, actually. 5am – and we were already sleeping at the airport. Both of us were grumpy and tired – Amanda moreso than me, as I had splurged for a booth in a rest station, but she had braved the airport itself, rather unsuccessfully, as there was a fellow passenger who seemed to want to chat and make noise at all fo the inopportune moments possible, like 3am.

We stumbled through check in and immigration, I picked at a bowl of curry udon, then we boarded our cruelly early flight to Taiwan. We flew Peach, the new low-cost airline based out of Japan (Japan’s first). The flight was pretty uneventful. I did notice that they took their name seriously – about half of the foods for sale on board were peach flavoured.

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Breakfast Udon, aka I have lived in Japan too long and feel a compulsion to take photos of bowls of noodles.

We arrived in Taipei at 9am, and hopped on the bus to the metro, then caught it to our hostel. We stayed at Mango53 Inn, and could totally recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei – clean, safe, excellent location and really friendly staff.

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We were greeted by this guy at the airport. Note the cute Taipei 101 he is carrying.

For our first outing, we decided to visit the National Palace Museum. This museum has the largest collection of Chinese art in the world. This was my second visit to Taipei, and I was really excited to visit the National Palace Museum again, as I had a fabulous experience my first time around, and they regularly rotate their collections (the museum has about 600 000 pieces and displays about 3000 at any one time). We bought our ticket and entered, excited to spend a leisurely afternoon wandering through ancient Chinese artifacts. Unfortunately, it was anything but relaxing.

ImageOne of the lions outside the museum. I will upload one of the pictures we took outside the museum once I get it off Amanda!

The exhibits were great – those which we actually got to see. The museum was completely overrun with tour groups. Tours of over 50 people, all crouded around each exhibit. There were points where Amanda was literally pushed out of the way by tour groups, and on more than one occasion we were just swarmed, suddenly caught in a mass of people. A number of the staff were also quite blunt, making the whole experience frustrating. The exception was the Japanese tour groups we came across, who were lovely and polite. I honestly had never seen anything like it. At one point there was a staircase in the museum (a grand, wide staircasethat was unaccessable, due to the crowds of people blocking it. Eventually, we escaped the tour group mahem, and made our way to the tea house on the top floor (rather difficult to even get to, as we had to navigate through the tour groups). Honestly, the museum really is fantastic, but the entire experience was ruined by the tour groups. I haven’t come across anything close in my life – and I live in Japan, where people take tours for EVERYTHING.

The teahouse was lovely. The food really was delicious. We enjoyed a range of dim sum – my favourite was the bamboo shoot and shrimp dumplings. We were so tired from travelling and then having to navigate the tour group that we spent well over an hour just relaxing in the tea house, before braving the last section of the museum.

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Beautiful tea.

After surviving the museum, we headed over to the Shilin Night Market – the largest night market in Taiwan. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours strolling the streets. We bought a few pairs of earrings, and Amanda bought a really cute bag. The vendors were really friendly, and it felt a lot less pushy than a lot fo the night markets I have visited.

We eventually got tired and headed downstairs to the foodcourt. It was hot, smelly, delicious mahem. After wandering around to get our bearings, we sat down to a dinner of oyster omelet and spicy dumplings. It was cheap (a couple of dollars for two of us) and delicious. We grabbed a few more snacks on our way out of the market. Amanda especially enjoyed munching on small, whole fried crabs, while I had the most amazing pepper steak bun – crispy on the outside, and extremely rich and flavourful on the inside. Perfect.

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After dinner we were feeling extremely tired after a long day, so we went back to the hostel and crashed.