Houtong and Jiufen, a Taipei day trip.

I felt like I had really explored Taipei City yesterday, even if I hadn’t seen everything there is to see. So I decided to take a day trip out of the City, I was going East to the more mountainous region of Taiwan. I picked up a healthy breakfast of donuts on the way.

As a big anime lover and especially anything Studio Ghibli I was really excited for two places. Houtong, an old mining village that now plays host to a lot of cats and lets you know about it. Plus Jiufen, an old gold mining community that apparently inspired Spirited Away, the classic Hayao Miyazaki anime.

So I took the underground to Shongshan station and from there it was about an hour to Houtong. The scenery was amazing from the train, rolling slowly into the mountains. I arrived at Houtong, and it was everything I dreamed of and more.

As soon as you walk along the bridge over the railway tracks there are cats and cat themed signs and info everywhere. The village itself is small and built up into a hillside, and you basically wander around looking at cats for as long as you like. Perusing the souvenir shops of all things cat related. There’s even a cafe called ‘Meow Meow’.

Interestingly there is another side to Houtong as an ex-mining town. I discovered you could explore a whole mine on a little train. I was on my own, with one girl who worked there leading the way. It was great fun, giant spiders hung ominously in the backdrop as she encouraged me to try my hand at pneumatic drilling and riding my own cart on some tracks.

After this wonderful bonus, I explored a little more of this adorable place, including abandoned buildings, a huge river winding through it and a little hill hike.

I was on a slight time frame, so it was on to the next stop to see Taiwan’s largest waterfall! Shifen falls can be found just a short walk away from the town of the same name. Again, I hadn’t realised that these little towns held so much more. At Shifen I realised that everyone was on the train tracks taking selfies and releasing Chinese lanterns, all with a backdrop of a beautiful old town.

Obviously I took a couple of selfies and pictures of this cute place as I walked past in wonder, and picked up some Tofu and spicy corn on the cob to snack on. It was easy to follow the street along to the waterfall visitors centre. Then from here it was a beautiful country walk over bridges and past huge cliffs to the waterfall.

The location was amazing and they’ve really gone all out so you can enjoy it, you can look at it from various levels depending on how wet you want to get! Plus you could get food and drinks and there was a cute little park to walk through.

Now dripping wet but happy to be out in nature, I stopped and had a beer before heading back to Shifen station. I got some sweet snacks and patiently waited for the next train to take me back to Ruifang then from here I had to jump on the bus to Jiufen, the cherry on the cake. The bus stop in Ruifang to Jiufen is located about 250 metres away in front of the police station numbers 788 and 827 will get you there in 20 minutes.

I couldn’t wait to walk through the little streets, and they didn’t disappoint. Food of every type filled the lanes, with lanterns hanging all around us. This was truly sensory overload in the best possible way, an I picked up a few various bits to eat as I got Spirited Away.

I emerged into a square with some beautiful traditional tea houses that instantly reminded me of Spirited Away and Ghibli. I was so happy! I would have to pass the time til the sun set to really enjoy it though.

So I decided to explore the countryside a little bit, there’s a hike you can do up to the to of one of the mountains, but it would be dark soon and I didn’t want to get caught up there with no light. So I stayed around the outskirts of the town, and I was rewarded with these amazing views out over the mountains and to the sea.

The sun started to go down, casting a golden glow over the countryside. I was awestruck by the beauty of the place. It’s definitely one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

With the sun gone it was time to see how Jiufen lit up at night, and again it didn’t disappoint. I had read that one particular tearoom really stood out from the crowd, but to really enjoy it’s exterior you have to sit in the one opposite.

Eventually I worked out the correct tearoom and got in line. It was a very busy place at night and I probably queued for about 45 mins before I got a little table.

I ordered a beer, and sat looking at this gorgeous wooden tea room, with it’s various coloured lights giving it a surreal glow. I was truly loving every minute of this experience.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and now I had to make my way back to Taipei. I was really worried that I’d struggle as it was getting into the night, but I took a bus back to the train station, got some more snacks for the journey and after just a little wait I was on my way to the City.

I was sad to be leaving Taiwan behind, it had been a totally left field choice to come here, and if I’d known how much there was to see and do, I would’ve extended my stay there for sure. As it was I knew one day I’d be back, and I spent one more night in my little bunker, excited to be going to my next destination, the Philippines!!

Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

Dakeng Hiking Trails, a Taichung Story.

The Dakeng hiking trails were one of the first things I found online to do in Taichung, and I was so excited to finally hike!

I was up early-ish, got breakfast and snacks from the 7/11 and found the bus stop that would take me to the start of the trails.

There are 10 trails that you can follow, ranging from easy, through to medium and hard. 1 to 5 are the furthest from the City and are definitely on the harder side. I decided I would mix it up a bit and start at 1, continue to 5 and finish off at 4. There’s a map below so you can check the routes.

I took bus number 66 to the start of trail 1, it was a pretty long journey but mainly because I didn’t check the times and just had Google maps to help me out!

Armed with snacks, water, and grape soda, I was ready to go. Trails 6-10 are the easier routes which are laid out as paths with only gentle inclines. However 1-5 trails are mostly made up of log steps and stairs which you have to concentrate on a little more as some people have slipped a leg through the gaps and broken bones.

There weren’t many people around when I began my hike, and I soon found myself alone. This was only unnerving when I passed a few warning signs for snakes and hornets! I started thinking…is this going to end in disaster? However I love being surrounded by nature and I wasn’t about to give up.

The beginning of the hike was through beautiful woodland, I spotted some big spiders and I had a variety of butterflies fluttering around me. Then I reached the beginning of the log trail.

It’s a stunningly designed walkway which looks amazing, and as I slowly started my ascent I could glimpse some amazing views through the foliage.

You basically follow the spine of the mountains along, so eventually the thick foliage gave way to an extraordinary green landscape as far as the eye could see. With some pretty huge spiders hanging about.

I won’t lie, I did find it hard going at times, as you climb pretty high. Along the routes are little cabins or picnic areas. These were great to stop in and get some shade, have some food and hydrate.

There were groups in some of these areas cooking loads of different dishes and it looked like everyone was having a great time. The weather was also amazing! It ws so hot I had to take my top off to stay a bit cooler.

By this point I was almost at the end of trail 5, and ready to tackle the hardest route, 4. Luckily for me I did it this way around, as going down was pretty steep and I read that going up is super difficult.

I saw a few big hornets and had read that there were monkeys around too but I didn’t see any. I reached the end of the hike and made it to the main road. I wasn’t sure about buses but after about 20 minutes one turned up!

I jumped on, and then off again in a small village, I noticed a bubble tea shop and an icy cold drink was much needed in the heat.

My next bus appeared and I had a big decision. I wanted to try and get back to the Gaomei mudflats but as I passed through the City I realised it would be another stressful attempt to get there before sunset.

So I hopped off the bus and checked trusty old Google maps for something interesting. I was near Providence University and I spotted a little blue camera nearby on the map. When I got there it was a cool little street with loads of awesome street art!

So after taking some fun pics I realised I was pretty far from my hotel, so I took the bus straight down towards my part of the City. I was starving after all the hiking and couldn’t wait to eat.

Unfortunately I couldn’t really find anywhere near my hotel, until I stumbled upon a little rice place. I ordered kimchi rice and devoured it. Then headed back to my hotel, I was on to my next destination tomorrow. The capital of Taiwan, Taipei.

There are so many amazing and fun things to do in Taichung that I didn’t get to see. So I’m looking forward to visiting again!

Tearing it up in Taichung.

I was so excited to visit Taiwan, it was a complete left field choice. At first the decision was based on the fact it was only £25 to fly from Hong Kong. Once I had done a little research my mind was made up.

The flight was only cheap to fly into Taichung, a City on the West coast of the island. I landed mid-morning and took a bus from the airport to the City Centre. This is when I started to realise just how big the City was, it took around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get across the City to the MINI hotel, my bed for the next few nights.

I chose this hotel because it seemed to encapsulate the quirkiness of Taiwan, and it was close to the train station. I checked in and got to my room which I loved. It reminded me of my room back when I was about 14.

I literally chucked my stuff in and headed out to explore! The first thing I noticed were all the grab machine places. It seemed like there was one on every corner!

My destination was anime street, a really cool little path with classic anime and computer game characters plastered along it. On my way I stumbled upon a cool art moment, lots of little silos with various pieces painted on them. I was already getting more excited about exploring Taiwan!

I reached the comic book lane and it was everything I was hoping for, anime, mario, and Totoro! I was in geek heaven and I used a variety of surfaces to balance my phone so I could take loads of pics.

Do you like milk bubble tea? Is that a silly question? Because Taichung is where the original tea came from! I checked my maps and it was only a short walk to Chun Shui Tang. I ordered the classic and it was so delicious! It was also fun to visit the birthplace of bubble tea.

From here I walked along the river, this area was so peaceful to walk through and the space that has been created is beautiful. I wasn’t sure what to do next so I checked the maps and decide to keep walking till I got to Taichung park.

This park had so many interesting elements, from the lake and bridges to temples and interesting sculptures. I sat and watched the sunset on a great first day in Taiwan.

On my walk back I stopped off at a famous chicken shop that I had been highly recommended. Foregoing my vegetarianism for a night I indulged in some amazing fried chicken.

Then I meandered slowly back to my hotel, enjoying the warm evening and the beautiful architecture.