Thursday, April 27, 2017

Biking and walking down the Taroko Gorge:

We headed to the East Coast of Taiwan for two nights.  Our destination was the Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’stop tourist destinations.  The Gorge is a part of a large national park with steep mountains and narrow valleys. 

We took a comfortable train on a two hour journey, much of it along the coast.  The sea views were interesting.  The large number of processing factories was a little unsettling – were we headed to a spoiled playground? No, of course not. It was a well managed natural area, untouched by large scale industry. 
Xingchen
We were picked up by the lodge host and taken to the Taroko Lodge.  We went for a brief walk before we met the other guests and were taken to the nearby larger town for dinner in a simple local restaurant.  The other guests turned out to be 2 international families and 2 international school teachers from...Bangkok.  In a small town, on the edge of Taiwan, there were 13 people taking advantage of Laos/Thailand New Year holidays.  It’s a small world

The next day were were driven in seperate group up the Taroko Gorge for a day of walking and biking.  This was a very pleasant way to see the natural sites at a pace of your own choosing, without being on a tour bus.  The weather was mild, even verging on cooler by the end of the day.  It made for pleasant walking conditions.  And the general direction of travel was downhill so we couldn't complain about the biking leg either.
taroko walk bike
The scenery was stunning and there were some impressive tunnels through the rock.  Traffic was not too bad, but when biking we didn't stop too many times for sight-seeing aiming to get to the next destination. 
Taroko valley
 There were plenty of tunnels on the walks and in half of them a torch was needed to light the way.  And there were plenty of ‘danger of rockfall’ signs, encouraging you to keep moving.
Taroko
As well as the general natural beauty and trails, we walked to a number of temples.  Bicycle theft is not a major issue here.  At each stop we parked our bikes and wandered away for the time we wanted.  The Lodge owner was following the group as support in case of flat tyres etc, but was not checking on the bikes.
man-made taroko

  It was a very good day, which we enjoyed and recommend.  We wanted to stay another night in the Lodge, but it was fully booked.  We instead took the train 12 minutes down the line to the larger town of Hualien where we spent the night and had a wander around before returning to Taipei.

A couple of uncanny likenesses?
taroka

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taiwan, escape to the ‘Heart of Asia’

Lao New Year is a great opportunity to make the most of some statutory holidays to get a good break away.  And it is a perfect time to visit Taiwan, not typhoon season, warm not hot and only a bit of rain in the forecasts. 

We arrived into Taipei and got onto the train into the city.  Two things immediately stood out: the transport system is well signposted and efficient and there is plenty of green spaces around the city, obvious bike lanes and families using them…are we really in China?…actually not really.

We had a hotel Relax V, near the Taipei Main railway station and it was the ideal base for the first two nights.  We arrived late in the afternoon and then wandered out for a reconnaissance mission.  We concluded we were not going to go hungry in this city based on the enticing street stalls everywhere we went. And that proved to be the case. 

Our first find was the superb Pepper Pork buns.  Like a small pie, the ball of meat is placed on a bed of green onions (scallions) and the bun dough shaped around the filling. 10s of buns are prepared waiting for current batch to come out of the the tandoori type oven.  And all the time more and more people line up eagerly awaiting the buns.  And when they are ready they are crispy, almost short pastry like and the filling is delicious.  All for NT$50 (about NZD $2.50)
pepper buns

We had also lined up a coffee place, Notch, and then just around the corner some of the most delicious bread for breakfast.  The girl in the bread shop was so kind the first day explaining to us what each bun was.  A hip cafe Drip, provided some comfort food ( so good we returned one other day as well) and a dark “Japanese style’ Beer
taipei food2
We also managed to do some sightseeing!  Thankfully most Chinese signs are supplemented with English, and even if we got lost, someone would have helped us.  We stopped once to decide which direction to go, and someone came up and asked if we wanted help.

The Longshan temple was one of our first destinations as we walked the neighbourhood.  Buzzing it was the centre of community life.  Also appealing was the large (man-made)waterfall feature along one wall. 

Longshanb
Longshan2
Everywhere we walked there were parks or masses of flowers.  It is a very tidy, green and pleasant city.  And we have never seen so many turtles in the ‘urban wild’  Almost every pond we saw, had masses of turtles piled up in water feature rocks.
peace park
taipei
We visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial – a massive-scale edifice.  In the memorial Hall, a smiling Chiang Kai-Shek beams down, guarded by two soldiers.  The changing of the guard is a tourist spectacle and plenty of people crowded around to watch the spectacle.

Chang Kai Shek
Chang Kai Shek2
change guard
Outside we saw an interesting man walking his 5 or 6 tiny white dogs, with their tails and ears dyed pink (just the dogs, not the man )  There was also a rather good park sign prohibiting all the normal activites in public places such as littering or overnight camping.  There were a few other prohibitions such as no clothes drying  or own desks and chairs – which suggest these may have been an issue in past?
taipei3