Little Liuqiu Island

August 22, 2012 at 5:00 am | Posted in outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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As the owner of the hotel opened the door to our room, we couldn’t do anything but laugh. The entire floor space was taken up with four floral-patterned mattresses laid side by side. It wasn’t even really a hotel. It was more like a block of houses which rented by the room and provided a home-made breakfast.

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But it didn’t matter. We hadn’t come to Little Liuqiu to spend our time in a hotel. We’d come, like all the other tourists on this holiday weekend, to enjoy the seaside. But, unlike everyone else, we barely spoke a word of Chinese and this made it all more of a challenge.

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On the terrace outside, the steps to the shallow beach were pointed out and an offer of snorkeling plus free DVD was given. We had other plans. With jerky movements, we managed to back our rented scooters out of their cramped lots. Helmets on and cameras in our bags, we began riding.

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Our destination was anywhere that looked good. We stopped to pose by Vase Rock. We snapped pictures of unknown temples as we sped past. We bought squid balls on a stick and ate them with bubble tea while we wandered past souvenir shops selling jokey T-shirts and sequined baseball caps. Some other tourists took pictures with us, complimenting our pale skin. We crawled on hands and knees through Black Dwarf Cave and wandered through the jungle foliage of Wild Boar Ditch. We laughed at the college girls trying to get a family of stray cats to pose for a photo, then tried to do the same.

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The island was only 6.8 square kilometres and we must have circled it a few times during the two days we were there. But we kept riding. Kept being cooled by the wind whooshing against our bare legs and arms. Kept feeling the thrum of the scooter. Kept trying to straighten our hair for the five minutes of freedom it would have before a helmet was plonked back on it.

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Somewhere, amongst our stops and starts, along a road that led from somewhere to somewhere but which we hadn’t a clue about, we saw a sign. A sign for a beach. So we turned right.

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Scooters and cars were parked haphazardly along the small lane, so we dismounted and took the first free space. The road ahead became a rough concrete ramp leading into dirty sand. But as the ferns and banana trees to our right began to thin, we saw the beach; a mile or so of pale, shelly sand. Two huge chunks of fossilized coral sat randomly, creating shade for people to sit in and nooks for holding possessions while their owners waded in the grey-blue water.

We slipped off our flip flops and clothes and left them in a pile, our cameras hidden inside it. Then we ran, all four of us, towards the small waves.

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Sun Moon Lake

August 6, 2012 at 6:28 am | Posted in outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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Sun Moon Lake is the biggest natural water body in Taiwan (although at 7.93 square kilometres, it’s not really that big).

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Like most ‘tourist attractions’ in Taiwan, facilities are overpriced and it’s prone to being flooded with tour groups.

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Which is not to say it isn’t enjoyable eating street food, taking boat rides and visiting temples.

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There are tons of hiking trails around the lake and it’s easy to escape the crowds just by venturing along one of these.

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Although the surrounding mountains are not so high, there are still some quite lovely views.

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The top of the Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔) gives a good overview of the whole lake.

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We took an early bus from Taichung and arrived before 9am. It was easy to find a hotel in November, but harder to find a cheap one. There are quite a few touts selling boat rides, some who speak English, although – this being Taiwan – none are pushy.

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Food on my doorstep

July 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Posted in miscellaneous, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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I can never take delicious photos of food. I don’t know how and I don’t have the patience to set up a good shot before tucking in. You’ll just have to take it for granted that everything here is really, wonderfully tasty.

I live in the centre of town, surrounded by hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food stalls. Everything is literally no more than five minutes away. If I choose to travel further (10-15 minutes) I also have the option of the best Thai restaurant outside of Thailand, and a quite decent Italian, as well as more Chinese/Taiwanese/Hakka food. But often I’m too lazy for that.

Clockwise: Vietnamese baguette, boiled dumplings, ‘Japanese style’ breakfast, rice-noodles and duck on rice.

Clockwise: fried rice, hot and sour soup, octopus balls (balls of almost Yorkshire pudding-type batter, filled with cabbage and octopus), ‘Chinese burrito’ (soft pancake filled with beansprouts, cabbage, marinated tofu, pork and crushed peanuts).

Left: Japanese restaurant. Right: the finished product.

Choose whatever vegetables, noodles, meat, tofu, dumplings (and other things I can’t identify) that you want. Pay. Wait a few minutes while they boil it in tasty broth, drain it and smother it in thick soy sauce. Eat it.

Left: chicken pho – Vietnamese restaurant, Right: eel set and pork fillet set – Japanese Izakaya restaurant.

Alishan : Small trains and giant trees

January 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Posted in heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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The oldest tree I saw was 2,000 years old. There used to be lots of trees like this in Alishan, but during the Japanese occupation many were cut down. Narrow-gauge railways were built to help transport the wood for export. Nowadays tourism has taken over from logging and the trains carry people not trees.

The Alishan Forest Railway was badly damaged by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 and much of it remains closed. However, you can still ride from Alishan to Zhushan (which most people do to watch the sunrise).

I hope one day I can go back and take the train from Chiayi direct to Alishan and say hello to the ancient trees again.

Alishan : in Micro

January 13, 2012 at 1:03 am | Posted in heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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When I visited Alishan in December, it was around 12°C. A very fine mist made everything damp and much colder than it really was. The forest seemed to absorb sound. The trees towered up, but I looked down at the micro-world around me, which was a whole little forest by itself.

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