Taipei, Fulong, Toroko, Taipei; Ah the stories!
22.09.2007 - 26.09.2007 33 °C
As a foreword, we are truly happy with all the comments and interest that has been generated around this blog. Thank you to everyone, and we miss you all very much! As for this particular blog – no it’s not a computer glitch in the dates, this blog only brings us up to September 26th, despite the fact that its mid-October when its making its debut. To our defense we have been literally and figuratively trying to survive! However all those exciting details will have to wait till next time, for this blog is about the adventures of Taiwan!
To start, Korean’s celebrate Thanksgiving in mid to late September, and they call it Chuseok. (As an aside, Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all!) This very popular holiday gives families five days to get together, which was apparent from the stories of people spending close to 12 hours in a car to visit loved-ones on the other side of the country. Astonishing since South Korea can fit inside of Lake Ontario. Nevertheless, for us it meant an early and unexpected vacation opportunity!
The story to Taiwan is an exciting one which brings us in the midst of many exciting and ‘testing’ moments throughout our vacation. And it starts with Michael going to the store to pick up some last minutes supplies (damn airlines and their 100ml rules, it kills backpackers!). Inadvertently this led to running into some friends at the local mini-stop, which escalated into beers and finally eating some street meat that even to this day, makes him sick to see it. To spare much of the gruesome details, this led to a case of mild food poisoning that decided to make anything he eat become ‘unsettled’. Which was evident in the apartment before he left, on the bus to the airport, and oh yes (this is where the ‘testing’ part of Monique and Steph’s friendship comes in) twice on the plane strapped in at takeoff!
Once on stable ground we all felt a little better, and with a nice relaxing limo ride into capital city Taipei we were ready for anything. Well almost anything. We went directly to a hotel we booked online for the first night. And thinking like travelers we booked the cheapest room possible in a relatively nice hotel. It has all the amenities including a great breakfast buffet which later on one of us unintentionally skipped out on the bill for. However, this is not to most deceptive thing we did while visiting this lovely establishment. It turned out that our room was no larger then what one unfortunate university student in residence would dwell in. You have all seen them! A single bed made for a half of a person and enough floor space so that someone had the opportunity of sleeping on the ground. And this is what we later did. Cram all three of us into this little room, but not before we had an opportunity to go out to the town!
We went straight to the centre of Taipei where we first recharged on a lovely curie dinner and mapped out what it was we wanted to see. Afterwards we went to Longshan Temple which was a beautiful exhibit of culture in amongst a gritty part of town. The initial courtyard showcased two waterfalls with lots of greenery which juxtaposed the vibrant red, gold, and blue from the temple.
Once inside we were delighted to stumble across a traditional ceremony which involved hundreds of people chanting a hymn while marching around with incense in honour of ancestors that have passed. The centre of the temple is a building where men and women dressed in black robes perform or lead the chant. Off the stage or garden is a large brass pot which upon praying for your ancestors, you would place the incense into it. The panoramic photo shows exactly this.
Behind this is a series of other structures where three separate rooms host three goddesses; the center one being the goddess of journey, who is commonly visited by even the non-spiritual backpacker who hopes for pleasant journeys.
Afterward we walked around the less attractive area surrounding this temple. The first market we came across was a narrow dark alley that had everything from the live and decapitated chickens, to the innards of any other animal you may never want to eat. So removed from anything you have ever seen that only a photo could describe it, yet so discussing and offensive we couldn’t take a photo to begin with. Catch 22 we suppose, thus no photos.
Once we had a chance at eating at one of these fine establishments / throwing back some beers / be treated like kings to being there in the first place, we decided to move on. And since the night was no upon us, we thought of no more fitting place then ‘Snake Alley’. This was similar to the previous area with a little more class.
To put things in perspective to the previous spectacle, it’s common to see a snake show where a snake would be fed a live rabbit and then after digesting it, the snake would be cut open and the blood from its liver would be extracted and drank as a powerful aphrodisiac. Yeah! See the snake!
And now the aphrodisiac.
This whole experience was quickly rewarded with Taiwanese foot massages for Monique and Steph, which was a wonderfully let slightly painful experience. This was also accompanied with a new desert called snow ice, which was little ‘flakes’ of ice cream that was highly perplexing as to why it would not fuse together, yet very tasty.
As the night progressed Michael set off to the hotel having flashback of the snake and the airplane ride over, while Monique and Steph set off to downtown for a night out. Only to be dropped off in the middle of a deserted night scene, which as they progressed deeper and deeper and became more desolate then where they first started. After finding the first cab they decided to call it a night and go back to the hotel so the three of us could plan the rest of our trip.
In the morning we were up early and off to the north-east region of Taiwan. The first train ride took us out to fairly large city called Keelung. After arriving we scouted out the region and determined that this area was much similar to Taipei, and lacked a certain quality that we were looking for.
So we decided to catch an empty train farther down the east coast to a destination called Fulong. Upon arrival we sought out to find accommodations. We were directed to a place called Budget Hotel. And after a long circular walk, and finally being led there by a local we had arrived. The place was modest, but exactly what we needed since we had previously been sleeping on the floor, despite it having an eerie assimilation to motel room featured in the movie “Vacancy” (couple stays in a motel, find a movie that turns out to be of other people being killed in the same motel room, blood guts, etc.)
Once free of our belongings we headed down to the beach. It was a truly gorgeous beach that had some locals doing water sports while others were hanging out. However to our surprise the beach was predominately deserted.
(Sorry photo just staring to get the hang of photostich)
One figures climate is a relative thing, and what still seemed like a nice yet slightly overcast day to us, was like going to Wassaga Beach in October to them. Nevertheless Monique and Michael were able to make the most of it. We both were able to put our feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and later we found a fantastic beach bar that featured half priced Heineken’s and some of the most chilled out jazz music heard to date.
Needless to say some good time was spent absorbing the waves, sounds and sun. Later that night we set off to get some dinner and find out what there was to do in this very quiet village. The severity of how small the town was would be quickly summarized when some English speaking locals laughed at us when we asked were the good bars were. They replied that the local Seven-11 was the ‘spot’ where people hung out, and that everything else was closed. We then spent a fair proportion of the night hanging out as the three of use having some drinks and working out the next leg of our adventure before we decided to call it a night.
The next morning we were off father south down the east coast to a very scenic region of the country called Toroko Gorge. Despite the train being deserted of tourist (indicating we had made the wrong choice) we were absolutely delighted with both the mountainous scenery on the way down the east coast, and the city of Hualien which was home for the next day. Once we found a place to spend the night we set on to discover the sights of Toroko Gorge which was about 30 minutes away.
One again the story of Taiwan is one of trials and tribulations, and the concept of taking a civilized bus tour to Toroko Gorge was not in Michael’s plans. Michael’s perception (which could not be persuaded) was to convince a local shop to rent mopeds to us, and then drive to gorge together on a more adventurous journey, unobstructed from souvenir shops and what not. After some broken English debates with a series of shop owners we had our mopeds! However the conditions were that the only two drivers could be the two individuals with their Canadian driver’s license on them. One of which was Steph, who has not ridden a bicycle in her lifetime. The magnitude of panic on Steph’s face while straddling a running moped was indescribable. Even more panic stricken, was the shop owner when he over heard Michael’s comforting words of wisdom “just give gas and hold on”. This adventure was being quickly dismantled by the moped owner, who was unwilling to hear Michael’s persistent arguments of how Monique would be an adequate drivre (absent of the driver’s license). In spite of this he allowed Monique to do a test run around the very congested city block with Michael on the back, upon which he let us set off on our adventure as planned.
The drive to Toroko Gorge was just as eventful. The three of us quickly discovered that we had broken several traffic violations in the first five minutes, and that cars and trucks had no problem equally violating our personal space around us as lines on the road were merely regarded ‘suggested places’ you should drive. Upon arriving at the foot of the gorge we had become aware that our moped decision would be a rewarding experience. To set the scene, Toroko Gorge is a valley in between two mountains where as rain rolls down the mountain side it picks up soil and sand sediment and then is swept down the Toroko River. This murky water rushes down the river and acts as a ‘sandblaster’ on the walls of the gorge, and consequently exposes the natural marble beneath. Creating scenery with beautiful mountains and a river that is literally lined with beautifully coloured marble rock walls. We took the mopeds along the road that was carved into the side of the mountain and were able to stop and see some beautiful sights. Sharing this road with tour buses and the occasional rock or mud slide from a previous rain storm was a little bit scary.
(Again, photo stich went a little nuts on us, but it allows one to understand Toroko)
After driving into the gorge for sometime we decided to stop at an elegant hotel and sit down and have some dinner at the restaurant. The food was terrific, however when we got out, we noticed it had started to rain. At which point one finds it fitting to explain that before we set off into the gorge we stopped at the tourist information building to get some idea of what to see. And we were specifically told that due to the rainfall hiking trails were closed and we were advised to be careful. As we stepped out of the hotel and saw a deserted parking lot, we only then knew that the severity of this message must have been lost in translation, because there was not a car or bus in sight. Just two lonely mopeds and a heck of a journey back to the hotel. With blinding rain, water covered twisted roads that edge a steep drop and had the occasional debris on them; our hands were white-knuckled. Monique deserves utmost recognition for showing a strong personality by being able to face the dangerous situation on a moped by herself ,despite the eminent risk.
We finally made it back to the hotel and spent some restful time drying off. After which we poked out to see which kind of night life may exist in a small town on a Monday night. After wondering around and getting some suggestions from a group of locals we ended up at a small venue that was hosting a live band. This unlikely discovery was a good one with cheap beer and a Taiwanese band that was breaking out all the classic rock hits. Upon having a couple more drinks we began to schmooze with some local patrons, and were able to experience some good company and the culture which we sought out for.
The next day came quickly for us and it was time for us to make the journey back towards Taipei in order to catch our flight the following day. After packing up our soaked clothes we headed to the train station. Once we got there we discovered that it was incredibility busy. Noted before this was Thanksgiving, and with twice as many people traveling and half the trains we were potentially stranded. It turns out someone was looking out for us because minutes before we showed up at the ticket booth, they decided to run an extra train. We managed to get tickets for this train that left in two hours, but it wasn’t until we need to kill time did we decided to investigate it further. It turned out that it was a train with no assigned seating which meant first comes– first served. Equipped with this information we knew we had to get on this train and fast. We burned up some more time just relaxing and eating but then we decided to go to that platform to get an early spot. And again faith was on our side. Not a minute after arriving far too earlier for the train, it decided to roll up – and we were not the only ones who knew about the urgency of getting onto it quickly. The last seconds are much of a blur, but it involves as much as 20 people at each door pushing frantically in to get a seat. …. And we were the lucky ones! The train ride was three and a half hours and it was packed. We stopped at every stop between Toroko and Taipei, and it became more packed the father we went. This did not stop until the conductor squeezed by all the standing or people sitting on luggage to sick notes on the doors saying that no more room in this car.
The country side was nice to see. Taiwan is a very diverse nation and away from its capital exist mostly poorer areas, which remains inserting to see the total compilation of a nation. The picture below captures this elegantly with one of the less prominent towns we passed through in the foreground, while the Taipei tower rests in the background with the sunset.
Once back in Taipei we decided to stay in the more exclusive region of town. With department stores with all the common designer names and restaurants lining the streets, we were out to make our last night grand. We started with an exquisite Thai Dinner followed by some drinks at a common establishment called “Brass Monkey”. Michael broke away for a bit and went downtown to discover the ‘camera’ district. After an unsuccessful journey the three of us were reunited for an evening of gallivanting over the city.
The next day we used up to sight see in Taipei. The Taipei tower or ‘Taipei 101’ is to date the world’s largest building (until 2008 when Dubai will take that prize). Coming from Canada and seeing the CN Tower frequently, it was daunting to see that Taipei 101 makes the CN Tower look like a toothpick. This was an impressive work of architecture that has the equivalent of two or three Eaton Centers as its base with any major designer store inside. Protruding from which is a structure that looks like stacked oriental gift boxes that measures in at a massive 508 meter (1,650 feet) tall building with almost 400 square meters (4,400 sq. ft.) of floor space per floor, right up to the 101th floor! An impressive structure that we didn’t have the chance to go up in, but non the less is a landmark from anywhere in the city.
Finally we split up once again before our flight. Monique and Steph sought after full body massages that entailed a women three times their size digging her elbows into all of their muscles. Which was a little painful during the process, however they felt like butter afterwards. Michael on the other hand returned to a district that was lined with camera stores that feed of haggling tourist to end up purchasing a new camera (no not another one lost, upgrading to some new equipment; please forward any suggestions on proper use to him).
Afterwards we were reunited to close the chapter of Taipei. We took a cab to the airport and spent the majority of the time in the airplane and bus back to our city in Korea just adsorbing the last five days. Taipei was a wonderful experience and despite the challenges, was a delightful trip. We leave you hear with some random photos and our wishes to all of you (where ever in the world you may be joining us from). Stay tuned for more from back home as we have already lived up some interesting stories! Cheers!