Wednesday 26 June 2013

Taiwan: Hualien

We didn't manage to Couchsurf in Hualien so we stayed in a hostel (Sleeping Boot). It took us around 15 minutes from the train station to get there but the hostel was really nice and clean. The staff who greeted us was extremely friendly, told us where we could go, what we could eat, etc.

At first glance, Hualien doesn't feel that different from the other cities but the roads were definitely a lot less busy. We walked around the small city center in the evening and went for a free traditional dance performance at the Shi Yi Street (石艺大街). I was invited (dragged?) upstage to dance with the performers. It was quite fun even though I was just waving my arms around. Hualien doesn't have much night life, though I heard from the people in the hostel that there are a few bars, not many but still present.

We set off early the next morning, caught the bus to Taroko Gorge (太鲁阁) and hiked up the mountain for THIS VIEW (picture above). The hike was no joke, you're basically going around the mountain, the steps are really steep and you have to watch your head. We were gasping for breath and sweating buckets at the end, but it was all worth it.

We almost missed this! Thank goodness we met the Japanese lady from our dorm and she told us that this place is really beautiful so we got off the bus and walked along the Shakadang trail (沙卡礑步道). The water is so crystal clear and blue! Love it. It was a really pleasant and tranquil walk, the walkway is fenced up but as you walked further in, the fence disappears and you can actually walk riiight next to the stream. I'm really glad we came without a tour because I heard one of the tour guide going 'you have 45 minutes to walk around, so you can only walk in for about 20 minutes and have to turn back.' We spent about an hour going in? So the whole trail actually took us about 2 hours.

Qi Xing Tan (七星潭) is a pebble beach and it is the first pebble beach I've ever seen. I thought it was just amazing. We had lots of fun picking pebbles, writing messages on them and leaving them around the beach. (I hope that's not considered as pollution oops). And it was just a really great place to sit down and enjoy the breeze and the sound of the crashing waves, albeit your butt will ache a little.

I wish we had more time in Hualien because it's my favourite city in Taiwan. A lot of people had told me that the East coast is more beautiful than the West since more people live on the West bank but we've already planned our trip centered around the West coast because it is more accessible (which makes sense since there are more people there). And it was a pity that part of Taroko National Park was closed due to thunderstorms and we didn't manage to cycle around Qi Xing Tan because my friend fell sick. I'd recommend staying at least three full days in Hualien to enjoy everything it offers.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Taiwan: Kaohsiung

I love exploring markets. To be steeped in the smell of fish, the vibrant colours of exotic fruits, the incessant chatter - it provides a snapshot of the everyday lives of the locals. Plus, you often find good and cheap food near these markets.

I liked the beef noodles and the dumplings. The beef noodles stall only opens for around four hours a day, until they are sold out. I rarely eat beef noodles but the beef was tender and chewy, and the sauce complimented the dish nicely. If my memory serves me right, this is shacha (沙茶) sauce and it's got a slight nutty taste to it. The dumplings were SO good, they had just the right amount of filling and skin, the right balance of meat and vegetables and they were not too salty nor too bland. Of note is the Geng (焿) soups, featured in the foreground of the second last photo. I didn't like it but it is one of the more eminent Kaohsiung dishes. The soup itself was starchy, like shark's fin, and similarly it was rather tasteless. The 'fish sticks' (I assumed these were made out of fish, but we've tried variations like duck meat Geng soup which was equally bland..) inside the soup were of no particular taste. I failed to appreciate this dish sadly..

Lotus Pond (literal translation of 莲池塘) wasn't on my plan but it was on the way to our next destination so we decided to stop by. It's basically a Chinese styled pavilion by the waters? Not really my cup of tea but it was a nice walk. If you enjoy Chinese architecture, this is a nice place to drop by.

This was the place where we were heading to - Rainbow Military Dependents’ Village (左營自助新村). Don't ask me why the English name is so strange.. It's a bit like Rainbow village, an abandoned village where the walls are alive but bigger in scale. This is where girls go crazy snapping photos anddddd I'm no exception. You have to admit, this place is really cute, lively and just flowing with creativity. Look at those clocks, empty bottles stuck on the wall! However, be warned: this is also a mosquito breeding ground, especially during the rainy season. We've got the bites to prove it.

"All this began last summer vacation when Chung Hui-jung and Huang Hsin-ying, two graduates from Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages, came to the village and lost their way. They ran into a security guard and asked him if it were ok to paint on the walls. He told them they could paint as much as they wanted, as the place was going to be torn down anyway. And that’s how it all got started." -Taipei Times

Pier 2 Art Center (驳二艺术特区) is a place which features container art. As you stroll along the river, you can see plenty of containers spray painted by the side. There were also a few pubs I think and a concert hall where a huge robot stood (a prop left from a Mayday concert). And when you reach the end of the walk, this amazinggggg night view of Ai He (爱河) opens up in front of you. I absolutely loved the viewing platform. The floor is dotted with blue lights which looked like a gazillion stars under your feet. And there are no bright street lamps to shine on you, making you feel as if you've blended into the backdrop, feasting your eyes on this unsuspecting city. It's definitely worth a visit if you fancy a beautiful night view!

Qijing (旗津) is an island off the coast of Kaohsiung, easily accessible by ferry. The nearest MRT stop is Xi Zi Wan (西子湾) but you still need to walk a bit to get to the boat quay. A ferry across cost NT15 (NT12 for students). I had high expectations of this island. I thought it was going to be an island without buildings, just grass, romantic walkways, lighthouses and a great view. But nah, locals do live there and you can find a row of street vendors, a market and a small park. We could only enjoy the night view since we got there pretty late (hindered by the pouring rain) and everything was closing. But I believe that it would make a nice day trip in better weather, you can cycle around the island and enjoy the sun, the sand and the sea.