HIKER ESSENTIALS: WATER, FOOD, AND GOOD COMPANY

It’s hiking time again! One of the things I love about Taiwan is that I can go hiking any day, visit traditional towns on the same day, and still make it on time to catch the mrt. This time I went to 皇帝殿 (Huang Di Dian), a hiking trail just 30min away from Jingmei mrt Station that starts from the town of Shiding (石碇).  So we got off at Jingmei Station around 9am and walked towards the Jingmei Girls Senior High School where we found the bus stop of the 666 route. The ride was just 30 minutes long, and we got off at Shiding. Shiding is a very colourful town where you can buy some traditional snacks right before the hike.

Make sure you eat well and bring a big bottle of water with you before you begin your hike because the first part is exhausting. It began with stairs we had to climb to get all the way up and start the actual hiking, the stairs are probably like the ones at Elephant mountain times two so it took us over an hour.

When we were done with the stairs, we followed the path with the sign and it didn’t take long before we encountered the first ladders. It got a little bit challenging when we had to use all those long vertical ladders and ropes to get all the way up and down but it was definitely a rewarding experience. We brought some snacks and food along with us and had lunch at the top of the mountains before continuing on our way down.

Once we finished our hiking trail, we walked for 30min or so to Shiding town and took the 666 to Shenkeng town (深坑): The Tofu Capital. This was our first time trying stinky tofu and I felt so glad it was exactly in the place where it was born at. We took a walk at the old street and tried several traditional snacks before catching the 666 to get back to Jingmei Station.

Taiwan makes hiking so convenient and available that you can make use of any free day you have and adventure yourself into this hiking trail. I also made a video of my hiking trip that you can watch if interested.

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City of ancient dynasties

So I’ve been away because I went to China and I’m so excited to share all about my traveling experiences!

Handy tips and info

The first thing I want to point out is that if you’re traveling to China you have to take transportation into consideration! It’s a huge and crowded country so as you can imagine, booking train tickets for long distance rides can be a pain if you don’t plan it beforehand. This is definitely my first tip for anyone moving around China. I’ll share a lot more about my transportation experiences once I get all of my photos and videos back so you can see how it is to travel on a student budget in China. IT WAS DEFINITELY A COMPLETELY NEW ADVENTURE! (you’ll see what I mean if you keep up with my upcoming posts). So, Beijing was my last stop but the first one I’ll share about. Beijing is a huge and modern city with a population of approximately 19 million. (According to the 2010 Chinese Government Statistics Agency). Beijing is the city where you can find a lot of cultural insight about ancient dynasties and the spot close to the Majestic Great Wall. Beijing has a lot of foreigners so you’ll probably find hotels very easily if you book it beforehand.  However, there are some hotels/hostels that are exclusively for Chinese people and don’t usually like to rent to foreigners. We encountered this as we were walking around in a very touristic area looking for a place to stay, and people at these Chinese hotels were usually very rude to us even if we spoke in Chinese to them. So my second tip is to book a hostel before arriving. Lucky for us, we found this cool hostel for foreigners with a great location and a good environment. The name is Leo Hostel and they’re located at a very cool street and just 10 minutes walk away from Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Qianmen subway station. They also offer good tours to their guests. My third tip is to avoid tours or just try to be careful with the tours people offer. It’s very hard to find a good tour as many tours in Beijing can be very expensive and most people will try to swindle foreigners. Unless you don’t want to do your research about how to get to a specific place or if you don’t have enough time, you might be better off taking a tour. There’s a difference though between a tour for foreigners and a chinese tour. Chinese tours are obviously a lot cheaper; but famous for making several stops to take you shopping and this can get annoying at some point. I strongly recommend you to get to the place by yourself, taxis are not that expensive and the subway charges 2 rmb to any station.

Places

tiananmen square   1. Tiananmen Square:  Beijing is a very nationalist city, and you can experience the whole nationalist environment  by going to the famous flag-raising ceremony that takes place at the Tiananmen Square every morning around 6am. If you want to be at the ceremony, you can either take a cab, walk or book it on a tour. If you just  want to visit the place  you can take the subway and get off at tiananmen dong and tiananmen xi station.You can also get off at qianmen station, go through exit A or B, and walk north.

No entrance fee.

great wall   2. The great wall:  The great wall was built in different years, first during the time of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, however little of those remains exist, as it was rebuilt again and again. The existing parts that we can visit today were rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty. Visiting the Great Wall is a must if you come to China, and depending on what you’re looking for you can go to different spots at the great wall. The most famous ones and touristic ones are Badaling ( 八达岭)  and Mutianyu (慕田峪). If you prefer a secret place or camping at the great wall you can ask at Leo Hostel (or your hostel), they offer a tour to a secret place where you pretty much have the great wall to yourself and you can always meet up with other travellers at your hostel to plan a camping tour where you can sleep at the great wall.

Directions: You can arrange a tour, take a taxi, or the bus depending to which spot you want to go to.

Entrance fee: 45 rmb

olympic stadium   4. Beijing Olympic Park: I had to visit the Olympic Park. Ever since I saw the Beijing Olympic Stadium I knew I wanted to be there someday. The famous Bird’s Nest along with National Aquatics Center are just stunning pieces of architecture that take your breath away.

Directions: Take the subway and get on line 8 (the green one), get off at Olympic Sports Center.

Entrance fee: No fee, unless you want to go inside the stadiums.

Bird’s nest: 50 rmb                Water Cube: 30 rmb

Water Park: 200 rmb             Swimming only: 50 rmb

forbidden city     5. Forbidden City: It was the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Since both dynasties believed in Tibetan Buddhism, the palace was full of buddhist sculptures that you can still appreciate at the museums. The palace is a great place to get a clear image of what the royalty lifestyle was like. You can visit the main court and important rooms where the families used to receive foreign guests as well as admire ancient musical instruments and weapons.

Directions: Get off a Qianmen or Tiananmen station, walk through tiananmen plaza and you will get to the entrance.

Entrance fee: 40 rmb / 25 rmb with student ID

Lama temple   6. Lama Temple: A temple and monastery of tibetan buddhism. Once the court of Prince Yong (future Yongzheng emperor), the building mixing a Han Chinese style with the Tibetan buddhism temples styles was transformed into a monastery. Tourists are now allowed to visit the temples, but are not allowed take photos inside.

Directions: Take line 2 (the blue one) and get off at Yonghegong station and take exit C. Turn left as you exit and keep walking straight for 5 minutes and you’ll find the big entrance.

Entrance fee: 25 rmb/ 13 rmb with student ID.

Hutong   7. Hutong Tour: A hutong ( 胡同) is a narrow alley that is usually related to old Chinese villages in Beijing. If you love history, you can get a ride in a pedicab around the most ancient and popular hutongs in Beijing with a tour guide explaining historical facts. The tour price is 50 to 100 yuans per person. You can find the tour guides after you exit the Forbidden city where you will see a lot of Chinese guys offering this tour. Never accept the first price, 40 or 50 is probably the lowest you can get depending on your bargaining skills and don’t pay more than 100, it’s definitely not worth more than that.

I wasn’t able to visit many places as I wanted but these are the places I went to and info you might probably use if you want to go.

Here is a video of my trip so you can get a better visual idea of the places I visited.

And please follow me if you liked my post!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw6Bws_w00UuMXRPaUVPV24yOUU/edit?usp=sharing

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Formosa Mountains

 

I know I haven’t been posting lately, I’ve actually been quite busy with school during this last semester. But it’s summer time now! I’m really looking forward to keep discovering more stunning places and events this beautiful island and its people have to offer.

Let’s travel to 清境農場 (Qing Jing Farm) !

清境農場 is a sheep farm located in the mountains of  仁愛鄉 (Ren Ai Township), in 南投縣 (Nantou County). The farm offers its visitors the opportunity to feed and play with sheep. Qing Jing Veterans Farm includes several facilities such as a tourist and recreation center for visitors, a Swiss Garden, and Hiking trails. And it is only like half and hour away from HeHuan Shan (one of the tallest mountains in Taiwan). If you decide to go during winter time you might be lucky enough to spot the snowy top.

Qing Jing Veterans Farm has its own historical background as well. A large group of people from Mainland China’s southwest border fled to Burmese-Thai-Laotian borders trying to escape from the Communist regime. Attacking forces from these borders finally forced them to escape to Pintung, and later to Nantou’s mountains where they settled down and established this farm.

The ticket entrance to the sheep farm is 120NTD with student ID, and there is a small market inside where you can get some food. There’s one 7-eleven at the visitor center as well. I only went during the day, but if you want to stay longer I recommend you to stay in Puli Town (which is around 40min. away from the farm). The farm area has several beautiful cottage-like cozy hotels, that are quite expensive though. One of the most popular ones and a main attraction within the area is The Old England Hotel, where you can enjoy afternoon tea or coffee with desserts and a spectacular view for approx. 600NTD.

Directions:

One of the cheapest ways to get there is by first getting to 台中車站 (Taichung Train Station). From there you can walk or take a cab to 彰化客運台中站 (ZhangHua Bus Station).  I bought the ticket from the Nantou Bus Company: 台中 (Taichung) to 清境 (QingJing). The one-way ticket was approx. 300NTD. 

If you find this article interesting and would like to watch a video related to my trip, you can click on the following link.

 

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Design, Colors and Food

I traveled to Taichung this past Chinese New Year and fell in love with the city. Taichung is located in the central part of Taiwan. It’s one of the main cities in Taiwan and it has rapidly become a highly industrialised and international city. The city’s motto is “economic, cultural and international city”.

Nice architecture design and nice weather are two things I can say accurately describe my perception of this city. I think everything is more chill and laid-back in comparison to Taipei. One of the things that I loved the most (and I think every traveler/foreigner will find this awesome) is that public transportation within the city is free, you only need to have your easy card and pass it once you get on and once you get off the bus. Just don’t forget to pass it, otherwise you’ll have to pay the fee. (which is only 12 NTD).

I only stayed in the city for two days so I wasn’t able to get to know all of the attractions it offers, but I will share about the four places I went to:

1. 東海大學 (Tunghai University): A christian university founded as the first private university making it the second oldest university in Taiwan. It has a beautiful campus holding its main attraction: Luce Memorial Chapel. 

Directions: The bus you take from Taipei will stop by 朝馬 (Chaoma) station where you should get off. (this is one of the most important and useful stations in Taichung), and then you can take the 106 to Tunghai Village 東海別墅. Other options are 88, 100, 146, 83 to 臺中榮總. They leave you right at the main gate of the university. 

2. 彩虹眷村 (Rainbow Village): Learn about the village that was saved by Mr. Huang from being destroyed by the government. He is the main artist and hero who brought these old walls to life through colourful ways of expression.

Directions: From 朝馬 (Chaoma) station you take the 27 and get off at 嶺東高中. You have to walk two blocks from the bus stop, which is not that far. 

3. 逢甲夜市 (Fengjia Nightmarket): Located next to 逢甲大學 (Fengjia University), it’s one of the largest and main night markets in Taichung.

Directions: From 朝馬 (Chaoma) station you take the bus route 5 and get off at 逢甲大學.

4. 高美溼地 (Gaomei wetlands): Established in 2005, the wetlands here are over 300 hectares. This is definitely a very nice place to enjoy a sunset.  

Directions: From 朝馬 (Chaoma) station you take the bus route 168 in direction to 沙鹿 . You can also take it at any bus stop located at 台中缸爐(台灣大道)Taichung Port Road (Taiwan Boulevard). You get off at 中山高美路口 and from there you take the 178 or 179 and you finally get off at 高美溼地 which is the last stop.

 

I also made a video for you to get a clearer picture of the places and more interesting facts about each.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw6Bws_w00UuR2ctenBQVGNQczA/edit?usp=sharing  

For more photos you can visit:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/116853407@N06/

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What’s going on in Taiwan?

So, what’s actually going on in Taiwan?

You’ve probably heard the news already about students protesting and the recent riot but in case you’re not sure about the reasons behind those protests, I’ll try to explain it in a very simple language for you.

What’s happening right now: 

On March 18 2014 many taiwanese students took over the Legislative Yuan to protest and hinder Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou from passing a trade bill with China. What started as a pacific protest has now become a reason for international awareness as police officers started using violence to stop the protest.

The Background: 

It all started last year in June 2013 when Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou (from the Chinese National People’s Party) signed an economic agreement CSSTA (Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement) with China. The reason for this agreement, according to the Executive Yuan is to boost economic growth. This trade agreement is basically opening doors for Chinese people to conduct business in Taiwan and viceversa. If the main reason is to boost economic growth, then what’s the problem with it?

The problem:

There are two reasons why many Taiwanese students and the opposite party (Democratic Progressive Party) are against the bill. The first one is the way they did it. They signed the agreement without letting the people know properly and behind their backs and after a closer examination of the bill, it was found out that the bill benefits China more than what it benefits Taiwan due to strict Government regulations in China against the freedom Taiwan grants. Many students also believe China is using this economic agreement to disguise its potential political influence over Taiwan. According to many Taiwanese people, this agreement might end up harming the country’s economy, democratic system and national security.

I believe that as a foreigner in Taiwan  I have no right to take a position and criticise a foreign nation’s political and economic decisions, so I will reserve my opinion regarding the trade agreement. However, on the other hand this is my home already and just as the tourism slogan says:  “Taiwan touches your heart”, I can’t help but feel empathy for this country and it’s just very sad to see the violence that has now taken place at the Legislative Yuan building. I’m not taking any position here, but I do admire these student’s perseverance to speak up for their rights as well as their interest and care for their nation’s future. Please help Taiwan bring more international awareness of what’s going on here by sharing any link regarding this situation, and let us pray for this amazing country.

There are two links here: One is a viral essay about the situation and the second one is a video made by some Taiwanese students.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/21/china_we_fear_you_taiwan_trade_pact_essay

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March 24, 2014 · 1:31 pm

Cast Away, True Story

This is the story of a 36 years old salvadoran fisherman named Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who got lost at sea during a storm with a younger mate, named Ezequiel Cordoba; and was found 13 months later at the Marshall Islands where he was rescued. Jose was a fisherman working in Mexico.

Jose Salvador along with Ezequiel Cordoba sailed from the fishing village of Costa Azul off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico on December 21, 2012, and were caught on a storm where the boat was blown off course. According to Jose, Ezequiel, his younger companion died shortly after by refusing to eat raw food. Jose claims he survived eating raw fish, birds and turtles and kept drinking turtle blood, his own urine and rain water.

Jose was recently found on January 30, 2014 at Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands. According to some witnesses he was barely wearing clothes and shouting for help in Spanish. He was later transported to his native town, Garita Palmera (Ahuachapan) El Salvador, after having left the country 8 years ago according to his mother Julia Alvarenga.  Jose’s family along with hundreds of journalists were ready at the International Airport to receive him.

There are, however many skeptics about this story, and many studies have been conducted by several universities and institutions to test the veracity of his story.  “I thought about killing myself twice, but the only reason I didn’t and the reason I’m still here was my strong faith” said Jose during an interview with CNN. He has been interviewed a couple of times but doesn’t spill many details as he’s still trying to overcome the trauma. In recent news, he asked to be left alone by the media for a while, as he’s still being asked about future books, documentaries and films regarding his story.

Whether the surviving methods or time lost at sea are true or not, the fact of having disappeared for a while and found in a completely different country after many days is already a reason to believe this man is a real survivor.

Here is a link attached to the new covered by the guardian and a video by CNN.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/03/officials-wary-pacific-castaways-story-survival

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Nine Families and a film

九分 (Jiufen) is a town located in a mountain area in the Ruifang District, near Keelung, Taiwan. This town was founded during the Qing Dynasty .The town adopted the name  九分 (literally translated to: nine portions) because the village housed nine families, and nine portions represented the number of orders for every shipment of goods that arrived.

Gold was discovered close to the town during the Japanese rule which led to a gold rush.  It was during this period that Jiufen reached its peak. Due to the Japanese rule, Jiufen still maintains the Japanese facade in its architecture style.

It wasn’t until 1989, that the town regained popularity as a tourist attraction, thanks to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film 悲情城市 (A city of Sadness) set in Jiufen, which made reference to the 228 Incident. The 228 Incident, refers to an anti-government uprising that was suppressed violently resulting in a massacre. This happened right after the end of the  50 years Japanese rule, and against the National Government that took the lead again, which resulted in disappointment among the people. The incident took place on February 28, 1947. This ruling period is known as the White Terror period. The film won eight awards and was the first taiwanese film to win a Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. Here I have attached the link of the review summary of this film.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_City_of_Sadness


Jiufen is a town rich in history and culture. I strongly recommend you to watch this film before going to Jiufen so you can have a deeper historical background of this place. As always, I will give details on how to get there.

You can go to 忠孝復興 站(ZhongXiaoFuxing Station) Exit 1. The bus stop is right across the street. The bus No. is 1062. Taxi drivers at the bus stop will usually tell you the bus already left and that you will have to wait too long for the next one and will try to charge you a lot more. The bus takes from 40 to 50 min and you can pay with your easycard . The bus stop that will leave you close to the main entrance of the Old Street is 舊道.

If you also want to go to the Golden Waterfalls, you can take the 788 from the same stop 舊道 to 黃金瀑布 (Golden Waterfalls) or #856 which is Taiwan Easy Go Bus (The Golden Fulong Line).

Jiufen is one of my favourite towns in Taiwan and I believe is one of the best places where you can buy souvenirs. I hope you can visit this place soon and enjoy everything this beautiful town offers.

Here is a short video of my trip to Jiufen, enjoy.

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