Taiwan.

I was browsing through the posts and I found this lying in my local drafts. It is quite overdue but it just feels right to complete the story. Damn, writing about this makes me want to travel..

23.12.12 – 30.12.12

I was glad that I travelled to Taiwan and Vietnam with some exchange people before flying back to Singapore. We planned a 2 weeks Taiwan-Vietnam-Singapore trip and that definitely helped to ease the transition of going home or leaving home, depending on how you perceive it. I left Hongkong with a heavy heart because I didn’t want to leave my family away from home – many I know I may not see again. Because of that, I wasn’t too excited to go to Taiwan. Anyhow, the day eventually came and the 5 of us, Jennifer, Lex, Kay, Wei Jun and I, left Hongkong for Taiwan on a windy Sunday morning. It was a special trip as well because it was my first time spending Christmas and New Year Day (later in Hanoi) overseas. Of course, it was always special to travel with people who hold different passports. Because I was flying back to Singapore directly after the trip, I was travelling with my 4 months worth of luggage. Not only were my luggage bulky, they were actually breaking apart during the trip. For this, I am really thankful to have awesome travel buddies who helped me through.:) Because I knew that we had to say goodbye and go back to different countries, each day I had with them felt very precious and I didn’t really expect too much from the day. “Anything goes,” I said to myself. In the end, everyday turned out to be fun and memorable.:)

Taiwan was just an hour away from Hongkong but it felt very different from Hongkong. The pace of life is evidently a lot slower in Taiwan and the people there are very friendly and approachable and they certainly helped us a lot as we move from one place to another. I felt more comfortable there as well because I could converse better with the Taiwanese people in Mandarin.

Day 1: Taichung.

We took the airport bus to Taichung from the airport and we didn’t get to see too much of Taichung except the popular Fengjia Night Market. Apparently, it is the biggest night market in Taiwan. I love the night markets in Taiwan – delicious, cheap street food with a wide range of variety. What’s more we were travelling in a group so we got to sample a lot of food. As compared to Hongkong people, the Taiwanese people do not seem too interested in shopping because while the food streets were packed with people, the shops were mostly empty.

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I came across this shop in one of the shopping malls in the night market and that really formed my first impression of Taiwan – a safe country in which people could leave their shops unattended like that.

Day 2: Sun Moon lake.

We took a bus from Taichung to Sun Moon lake early in the morning and so we had ample time to see the beautiful and peaceful lake, to get to the different attractions around the lake by ferry and to, of course, eat more local delicacies. I absolutely love the tea egg, fried shrimps and the apple bananas. We splitted into two groups in the later part of the day because we wanted to do different things. What I remember best from that day was when I was walking along a random road with Jennifer and discussing how to reach the sunflowers by the hill, we met Sylvia and her mother. 🙂 It was a very nice feeling, one that is difficult to describe, when you see someone a few days after you said goodbye to her and thought you would never see her again. That makes me believe that it is a “see you again” and not “goodbye”. We hung out for the rest of the day and we went to the Man Mo Temple and watched a beautiful sunset together. We thought we saw a missile in the sky but it turned out to be just an airplane and I remember feeling somewhat disappointed. That was a beautiful day.:)

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Day 3: Sun Moon lake + Nantou.

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It was Christmas and we were in a place that didn’t celebrate it. I certainly didn’t imagine spending Christmas this way, I thought I would be in crazy Hongkong, enjoying the festive mood. In the end, I spent the day cycling around the lake. The cycling got intense at some points when we had to go up pretty steep slopes. But it was very nice to enjoy the sight without too many tourists around us. Then, we were being moved to various places (mainly food stops) in Nantou by our driver and we did star-gazing at night. Coming from a city that has light pollution, I really enjoyed staring at the many constellations in the sky and learning their names. All in all, it was a great day with a good mix of natural sights and food.

Day 4: Qingjing + Taroko Gorge.

Qingjing, a place that Google doesn’t have too much to say about, is a beautiful mountainous region. We visited the Green Green Grassland in the morning and that was actually a sheep farm. I never imagine myself visiting a sheep farm in Taiwan. We got to walk with, touch and feed the sheep as well. I love places like this, they made my worries go away.

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We were moved from one place to another by our driver, he was a nice person who told us fun facts about Taiwan and treated us to some local food. The road from Qingjing to Hualian was quite winding, I was lucky not to get motion sickness. I remember the one of the safety belts at the back not working and that makes the trip a little more exciting. We visited a few places along the way, including a very old tree, but what I remember best was the Taroko Gorge. It was magnificent, I was pleasantly surprised that the Taroko Gorge was actually quite long. That was also where I took several vertical panoramas. I remember we went to a beach at night and ate squids from the street food vans in the rain. Just visualizing that night in my mind brings a smile to my face, I can’t believe this happened in my life. 🙂

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Day 5: Hualian + Taipei.

We reached Hualian at the end of Day 4. So we began the day by touring Hualian, Hualian is a very small city actually, it doesn’t have a metro system or public buses so we relied on taxis to get around. It was fairly interesting because once we got onto the taxi, the driver gave us his name card and asked us to contact him when we wanted to visit the next place. Initially, I thought it was unneccessary but it turned out to be pretty handy and he became our pseudo private driver. Furthermore, because we kept getting him to take us around, he didn’t charge us to the meter so it was a win-win situation. We had breakfast at a stall which sells good soy bean and then we visited a quiet beach with huge waves (I think it was South Beach Park) and just hung around the area.

We took the train to Taipei later on and the train journey was around 3 hours. Apparently, taking this “slow train” is one of the must-dos in Taiwan, the scenery was beautiful as we saw the agriculture in Yi Lan and the Pacific Ocean. Buying the train tickets was a little intense though, we had to buy them online and because it was the holiday season, we had to keep hitting the refresh button to get tickets for all of us. Then, we had to print the collection forms and collect the tickets.

We reached Taipei in the evening. Lex’s Taiwanese friend was our local guide in Taipei and he brought us tothe Taipei 101 to see the skyline followed by Shi Lin Night Market for more street food. What struck me when I was at Taipei 101 was that the announcements were made in Mandarin, then Japanese and last English, I never thought I would hear Japanese announcements outside Japan. After that, we went to this hotpot restaurant. The food was nice but we were just a little too full from eating the street food to properly savour it. I was a little astonished when they served the watermelon juice in test-tubes and put them in a test-tube rack. As a chemist, it just does not feel right to drink from a test-tube. 😛

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Day 6: Taipei.

We visited several sights in Taipei – Tamsui, Jiufen and Keelong. Tamsui felt like the new territories of Taipei. We ate their famous fish balls and tofu and strolled along the coast. There were three piers, each with their own tourist attractions, so we took the ferry and slowly visited them.

Jiufen was apparently the where the old gold mines were and it was developed into a town during the Japanese occupation so it has a lot of Japanese influence. It was made famous because it was the setting for the popular Japanese movie Spirited Away. We had to take the train followed by taxi to get there. It was a pretty town and I heard a lot of Japanese spoken there. We watched a pretty sunset while drinking tea and then we went on to eat more street food.

The last stop was Keelong, the night market famous for its seafood, located not too far from Jiufen. We ate plenty of squids among other delicious street food there.

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Day 7: Taipei.

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We only had half a day in Taipei because we had an afternoon flight to Hanoi to catch. We went to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall and watched the changing of guards which happened every hour. I was not too impressed with the performance actually, it felt too fanciful. I wish I knew more about Taiwan history though, the Freedom Square, to some extent, reminds me of the Tiananmen square in Beijing.

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