Monday, December 06, 2010

Taitung & highway 9 and 11

The central mountains separate the east part of Taiwan from the west, leaving the east coast untouched from the modernization that changed green fields into skyscrapers. Eastern Taiwan is known as the Garden of Eden of Taiwan; It is also a place where over half the aborigines of Taiwan call home.

Taitung is located in south east Taiwan, a pit stop for travellers to Green Island and Orchid Island. Despite the fact that Han is the majority of demographic composition in Taitung city,  the city is the biggest aboriginal inhabitation in Taiwan. The biggest tribe in Taitung is the Ami (about 14000 people) followed by Puyuma (4000), Paiwan (1000), Rukai, and Yami etc. The various indigenous cultures make Taitung a great city for an aboriginal encounter. The main aboriginal festival, Malikoda, is held in July and August by Ami tribe, and the Mangayau, is held by Puyuma tribe in December. For details of aboriginal festival schedules and venues, visit Taiwan's Indegenous Peoples Portal (Chinese Only). Taitung is also one of the most important archaeological sites in Taiwan;  Changpin Culture, Chihlin Culture (Huge Stone Culture), and Peinan Culture are the 3 most important prehistory heritages found in Taitung. It is easy to spend 2 hours in the National Museum of Prehistory (opening hours: Tue-Sun, 09:00-17:00, NT$80/person (the ticket also gives you free access to Beinan Culture Park); audio guide avaliable for free rental / ID needed) where you can not only travel back to the prehistory  but also get to know the diversity of the Austronesian Cultures in Taiwan. The water fountain show of the museum is another attraction for visitors in Taitung, the schedules are 11:00-11:20, 17:00-17:20, and 20:00-20:40.

Except for cultural festivals, there are two distinct sceneries scattering along highway 9, the rift valley line, and highway 11, the coast line, from Taitung to Hualien. There are 3 routes of tourist shuttle buses that shuttle in between the tourist attractions in Taitung City (NT$100/person, unlimited access to all 3 routes on the purchase day). The rift valley route takes highway 9 stopping by Beinan Culture park, Endemic Plant Area, Chu Lu Ranch, and Lu Ye Hill etc; whereas the offshore island route takes highway 11 stopping by Forest Park, FuGang Fishing Harbor, Shiao Ye Liou, and Water Flowing Uphill etc. The 3rd tourist bus, Taitung City route, commutes between Taitung train station and Taitung airport stopping by Forest Park, Fruit Street, and National Museum of Prehistory etc. The 3 routes cover most of the tourist attractions in Taitung, however, to really enjoy the beauty of eastern Taiwan, I highly recommend to rent a car and take a few days driving along highway 9 or 11. Day lily sightings during late July to early October attract tourists to stay overnight on the mountains, to witness the moment when the golden hue of the flowers are brought up by the first ray from the Sun, spreading outward until the whole mountain is covered in a golden glow; hot springs wash away fatigue that was built up when driving in the wandering mountain roads and ranches make cowboy dreams come true for a day, etc; these are the excitments that highway 9 has to offer. Driving on highway 11, on one side the moutains are veiled occasionally by mists that makes the landscape look even more majestic and on the other side off the cliff, the waveless shimmering water of the Pacific Ocean contrasts the mercurial mountains making the name "Pacific" appreciated.

Useful websites:
Department of culture and tourism Taitung--the official tourisim website of Taitung.
East Rift Valley Natioanl Scenic Area-- Scenic spots along highway 9
East Coast National Scenic Area-- Scenic spots along highway 11
Wikitravel Taitung-- General information

Car rental tip:
The car rental services are mostly located in a walking distance of Taitung train station (car rentals in Taitung google map). The Union Car Rental has the best price. However, if you are planing to rent a car in Taitung and return it in other cities, you should stick with the HOTAI LEASING CORPORATION(HLC) as you don't have to pay an extra fee NT$1000-3000 if a reservation is made in advance.

A 3 days Itinerary:
Day 1: Visit Gao Tai Flying Sports Park in Lu Ye for sky diving -> lunch at Taitung Yuan Sen Applied Botanical Garden--taste organic vegetables hot pot -> Chu Lu Ranch for a walk -> Beinan Culture Park -> National Museum of Prehistory -> water fountain show at 20:00 -> check in to Aboriginal Culture Hotel (cheap and clean but NO air conditioning)

Day 2: Dulan Sugar Factory -> Water flowing uphill -> Shiao Ye Liu -> Fugang Fishing Harbor for seafood lunch -> Zhiben Forest Recreation Area -> check in one of the hot spring hotels.

Day 3: Day lily sighting on Jean Zen mountain in Taimali (late July  to early October only) -> Taitung Forest Park bicycle riding (you can rent the bicycle at the Taitung Aboriginal Culture Hotel) -> Taitung Railway Art Village.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Green Island

Green island (綠島, Lyu dao) is a small vocanic island located about 33km off the eastern coast of Taiwan. The island was originally inhabited by Ami aborigines who called it Sanasai, meaning the birth place of ancestors. A fisherman, Chen bi Xian, who led the village from Xiao Lu Chou first settled down on the island in 1803 and the Han immigration started. The island was called "Huo Shao Dao" (fire-burned island) in the begining of 19 century (Chin Dynasty) and renamed "Green Island" by the magistrate of Taitung in 1949. There are several versions of stories about how the island was called fire-burned island including the residents would light up torches on the hill of the island to guide fishing boats to a safety return before there was a light house; a wild fire burned down the half island; and the red soil was exposed because the vegetation on the island was destroyed by typhoon in summmer or cold fronts in the winter time creating an illusion from the distance.

Surrounded by Pacific Ocean, the island is an ideal isotated spot for outlaws, and the island was noted as a place that held the most dangerous exiles of Taiwan. There were two prisons on the island: the Green Island Prison that used to lock up the most brutal gansters is still functioning as a prision today; the Green Island Lodge where most of the political prisoners were held during the white terror is now opened to the public for visit.

Green island has one of the three sea bed hot springs in the world (one in Japan and the other in Italy) that attracts a lot of sea bed hot spring afficionado worldwide. The hot spring is located in a tidal flat, in the eastsouth of the island, a perfect spot for sunrise. Sitting in the ocean and feeling the heat of the hot spring surrounding you as the first ray of sun appears is a unique experience.

Except for the sea bed hot spring and exotic vocanic landscape, the underwater world is the jewel of green island. There are over 300 different species of coral in green island including a 13 meter tall Porites lobata that has lived in the Shrlang area for over 1200 years. Every summer the black current brings many different species of fish to the area making it the high season for tourism.


Video by Yang Zhe Ren, National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium.

Transportation:
To the island:
By ferry: NT$ 920/person for a return ticket. Take a ferry at Fugang harbor in Taitung City, check in 30min before departure. You can find the schedule and book a ticket online at http://www.ezboat.com.tw/  (Chinese only).
By air: NT$ 1028/person for an one way ticket. Take a plane at the Taitung airport;  there are 3 flights a day by daily airflight schedule.

On the island:
Motocycle is the best transportation to move around the island, NT$350/day, or you can take one of the tourist buses that depart at 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00 at the Nanliao Harbor. The bus clockwisely circumnavigates the island, it also makes brief stops at  tourist attractions of the island and the bus final stop is the Nanliao Harbor. It takes about 2 hours for a bus trip, NT$100/person. ( for details call 089-671272)

Accommodation:
There are a lot of B&B on Green Island, most of them provide a package tour (about NT$2000 to 250 per person) including one room, green island return tickets, motocycle, snorkeling/ glass boat/ hot spring, night tour for wild sika deer sighting, etc. you can find out more by surfing the B&B info in the following websites:
http://www.gbnb.com.tw/
http://www.yoyogreenisland.com.tw/

Diving:
http://diving.okgo.tw/
http://blog.yam.com/black481861
http://www.089672010.tw/

Sunday, September 26, 2010

South Tainan Station

Yong Kang (永康) and Bao An (保安) Stations are the two most famous stations in Tainan and  the reason those two stations obtained fame is weaved in their names. Departing from Yong Kang to Bao An (South bound), you can read the station names printed on the ticket counterclockwise (clockwise for North bound; Bao an to Yong Kang) and it’s read Yong Boa An Kang (永保安康) which means ‘safe and healthy forever’ so the ticket is a popular collectable in Taiwan. Being one of the stations in the Tainan Urban District  Underground Railway Project (details below), the long forgotten South Tainan Station is remembered again.

Located in an alleyway next to the parking lot of the Abab hotel at Datong road and Goumin road intersection, the South Tainan Station was built in 1943 for unloading reserve supplies for the air force base nearby. It’s 2.67km south of the Tainan Station and that’s how it got the name. The station was destroyed during the WWII and the building now standing was rebuilt in 1950. The station was left unused since 1991and was entrusted to the East district office for maintenance in 2006. In 2010, the Station was transformed from a station to a lounge bar under the 5 year BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer ) contract with the government and started doing business this summer.

The wooden roof, windows that used to sell tickets and two mileposts etc were kept in the renovation. Awards, documents, staff uniforms and railway badges are displayed in the building, it feels like walking into a railway museum instead of a lounge bar at the first glance. Sitting at the outdoor area, a cool beer in hand watching trains passing by, punctuality is not required anymore as leisure is the atmosphere of the station. I imagine passengers aboard passing trains would feel the desire to stop and get off as they see the station now. 

Address: 111, lane 635, Datong rd, sec. 2, Tainan City
Phone: 0926176815
Opening hours: Sun-Thu: 19:00-02:00 with minimun expense NT$150/person, Fri-Sat :19:00-03:00 with minumum expense NT$200/person.

Further reading: The Tainan Urban District  Underground Railway Project on MOTC News
In order to balance regional development, help integrate the transportation system, improve the quality of the environment, and solve the problem of increased traffic caused by the city’s socioeconomic development, the Tainan City Government and the former Taiwan Provincial Government conducted research on the feasibility of railway grade separation in 1993. In 1995, an overall plan was formulated for the Tainan Urban District Underground Railway Project (referred to as “Tainan Project”); in 1999, planning was continued by our bureau’s former Taichung and Tainan Office (changed on July 1, 2009 to the “Central Region Engineering Office”). On September 9, 2009, the project was approved by the Executive Yuan with a total budget of $29.36 billion NT (87.5%, or $25.69 billion, paid by the central government, and 12.5%, or $3.67 billion, paid by the Tainan City Government) and construction time of 7 years, 8 months. After over 15 years of effort, the project has finally been approved and is underway.
 

The project provides the following benefits:
  1. Provides metropolitan areas with fast, convenient transportation.
  2. Balances urban development and removes obstacles to the development of areas along the railway.
  3. Removes nine railroad crossings, four underpasses, and two overpasses along the railway, increasing safety by solving traffic problems caused by crossroads.
  4. Solves public environmental problems such noise and vibrations caused by trains.
  5. Improves the city’s image and urban quality of life.
  6. Increases economic activity, and urban land use value.

Additionally, the Ministry of Transport and Communications will form a working group to steer land development and integration of railway transport infrastructure in order to simultaneously complete railway grade separation works and urban development of the surrounding areas.

The Tainan Urban District Underground Railway Project stretches 8.23 kilometers. It starts in the north at 0.17 kilometers south of Zhonghua Bridge (Yongkang Bridge) on the southern side of Yongkang Station in Tainan County, and runs south to 1.91 kilometers south of Shengcan Road. Major works include:

  1. Planning and design, urban rezoning, and the process of land site acquisition.
  2. Tunnel construction: Cut & cover reinforced concrete box-shaped structure.
  3. Tainan stations: Added two island platforms and additional commuter stations (Linsen Station and South Tainan Station) on four tracks.
  4. Old Tainan station preserved and listed as a historic site.
  5. Surrounding projects: Station’s surrounding facilities, transfer and improvement of freight (military) transport.
  6. Electrical works: Tram line, signal, telecommunication, and station electrical engineering systems.





Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Six feet under

I started writing this article three years ago, after my Mom passed away, but I couldn't finish it. Every time I tried to go deeper, I ended up lost in overwhelming emotions; feeling suffocated and I couldn't put it down in words, until now. It's ghost month again, it is said every year in July (lunar calendar) all ghosts could pass the gate that separates two worlds and re-enter the world they used to live in and enjoy a feast prepared for them. More than 3 years have passed, I can't stop wondering if reincarnation does exist as it is claimed in Buddhism or Taoism, shouldn't my Mom have already reincarnated? The paradox is why those people keep worshipping a wood tablet for the rest of their life while they believing in reincarnation? Don't they wish the deceased had started a new life? Reincarnated or not.

Filial piety is one of the virtues in Chinese, in fact it is the core idea imprinted in Chinese and we are all chained in this invisible shackle. "You should build an altar in the living room as a home for ancestral tablets where the spirits rest and serve them with joss sticks every morning and evening"; " you should kneel and crawl all the way in to the house as when she passed away you were not by her side"; " you should order wreaths or better, towers made of cans and present them in the most prominent location"; you should...". Tons of "you should" during the funeral process and lots of them made no sense to me. It seemed everyone was an expert in this kind of things and the list of suggestions was not suggestions but orders, failing to comply was considered unfilial or blasphemy. Does it really work this way or it's an inescapable exploitation discovered by undertakers?  "How sad it is that none of the kids in this family got married" was an nice comment from the visitors; "How unfilial could you be, no grandson to carry the family name? She must die in regret!" was the mean one. Despite the fact that we did most of the "suggestions" in the funeral, we still couldn't escape the lynching from others with filial piety held as a weapon.

The funeral should be a final chance that the living can do something for the deceased and through the process the living get to grieve. Somehow, Taiwan developed a unique culture in the funeral ceremony like professional daughters who cry with a microphone in funerals (video) or funeral parade (video). "To make it presentable, at least once in a lifetime they are treated as someone important" says the undertaker, and of course the  filial piety works like a charm. It's for the death or for the living that puzzles me, it seems no one knows that you are dead or dying alone is the greatest fear in Taiwanese and arranging such "entertainment" somehow they manage to have the fear contained.

Years back, we had a discussion about "should we ban burning ghost money" in a class. It was started by a foreigner who posted an article in Tainan Bulletin, urging Taiwanese to stop burning ghost money in order to slow down the global warming. Almost all students in the class were angry; outsiders who came from a country that has the highest CO2 exhaustion, riding second-hand scooters that might not even have their exhaust checked to the protest/petition meeting, how ironic. Nevertheless, finding a substitute for ghost money is an ongoing evolution in Taiwanese's beliefs, with or without a protest from outsiders. The funeral business is adapting to the new thinking. The whole funeral that used to take 49 days is now acceptable to be done in 1 week, and the "funeral entertaining" service has became a sunset business. Even though a custom made furneral service can be arranged, without unleashing it from the shackles of "tradition" how much room can it evolve? I wonder.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fussen

Fussen is a small town about 2.5 hours south-west of Munich city by train, it's the start/end point of the 350 km romatic road in Germany. The most famous castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, are located near the town. Travellers by rail change onto buses No. 73 or 78 at Füssen railway station to Hohenschwangau bus stop. I booked a room at Hotel Konig Ludwig in Schwangau, luckily enough, I got on a bus that didn't go to the castles as most of the buses did and 10 minutes later the bus stopped in front of the hotel already.

After checking in, the concierge told me it's better to walk about 10 minutes to the tourist information office in Schwangau Rathaus and then take a bus from there to the castles as not many buses stop at Hotel Konig Luwdig. I went in the tourist info office to get some pamphlets and the staff told me it's about 15 minutes by foot to the castles. Fifteen minutes later, I was still on the road that seemed to have no end and the Neuschwanstein on the hill seemed to be staying away from me at the same distance, it took me about 40 minutes to get to the ticket center! If what the staff told me about the distance was right than I must be a slow walker.

To visit the castles, one has to purchase the tour at the ticket center and arrive at the castle's turnstile at the time that is printed on the ticket. Tours are available in English and German or with an Audio guide. I purchased English tour for both castles, it was a great tour in Hohenschwangau, but I found it too crowded in the Neuschwanstein. It was so crowded that some people couldn't find their way to get in the Throne Hall when our guide started her introduction. So here is the advice: get an audio guide tour for Neuschwanstein. The tours last only 30 minutes, only 7 rooms are opened for the public in Neuschwanstein, and no photos are allowed in both castles. On the path to Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge), you can get a great bird's eye view of the Hohenschwangau. The bridge itself is as famous as the castles as it provides a great view of the Neuschwanstein. However, to get a postcard-view of the castle, one has to cross the bridge and somewhere in the steep terrain is where the dreamy catstle pictures are taken.

It was around 20:30 when I got back to the ticket center and it was empty down there, no cars no people, I was the only one walking on the road. It was until I heard cheers from a bar at the corner of the tourist information office in Schwangau Rathaus then I realized it was the semi-final football game, Germany V.S Spain. I couldn't find a table available in the bar so I ran back to my hotel bar and ordered a small cup of beer, watching the game with everybody. Basically, my tolerance for alcohol is zero, by the time I finished my beer my eyes were all red like I was crying and the game ended with the result that Germany lost its chance to get the world champion by 1 point. Everyone in the room was disappointed and an old man looked at my red eyes trying to comfort me, he said: "oh well, it happens. Anyway, it was a good game, so don't be sad". I nodded and pretended to wipe off a tear from my eye.

2010 world cup this was the video broadcasted all the time in Germany.

I was wondering why most of the guests in the hotel were elders with walking sticks. During my stay, they even had a prosthesis conference held in the hotel and the hotel looked more like a high-end rehabilitation center then a hotel to me. From the Fussen official website I realized that  the town itself is a recognized hydrotherapy spa and "Where health is tradition" is one of the slogans in Fussen. The nature of the town is incredibly beautiful and the biking trails are well designed so the riders can enjoy the nature without worrying about having a close encounter with automobiles.

The bold €6.90 on the board of a Chinese restaurant attracted my attention when I was wandering around Fussen town. It's very difficult to refuse a Chinese lunch buffet for only €6.90, so I went in and the boss spoke fluent Mandarin made me believe that it would be an authentic Chinese delicacy. "Try our spicy & sour soup" said the boss, while I was enoying my food. I am not a soup person, so I smiled and nodded and kept eating my food. A moment later, she went by and said the same thing to me again, "they are so proud of their spicy & sour soup, it must be good" I thought, so I got a cup and gave it a try. I tasted it and had to try very hard not to scream out loud "man this place needs to hire a better chef, the soup is terrible, yuck!" It tasted sweet and sour instead of spicy and sour, actually it's so sweet and sour that I believed someone must had tip over the sugar and vinegar bottle. A few minutes later the boss went by to check on me (she really was persistant in having their guests try the spicy and sour soup) and she bursted out laughing, "that's not the spicy & sour soup, that's sour sauce for salad" she said. I was so embarrassed, even the "foreigners" at the other tables were giggling, I must be one of the few Taiwanese who could not tell the difference between spicy & sour soup and sour sauce. I finally never did try the soup, but their food was good nevertheless.




View Fussen in a larger map

Useful info:
You can search train timetables of Munich/Füssen as well as bus timetables in Füssen via DB Bahn website.  Print-out train timetables are available at the DB Bahn station lounge in Munich.

You can get a discount when purchasing the tour of the castles or the boat cruise in Forggensee with a hotel check-in certificate.  

A boat cruise on Forggensee is possible. There are long cruises (2 hours, €11),  3 boats depart from Fussen Bootshafen at 10:00, 12:30 and 15:00 daily; and short cruises (55 min, 8), 6 boats depart from Fussen Bootshafen at 10:30, 11:30, 13:00, 14:20, 15:30 and 16:30 daily. More infomation at http://www.tourismus-fuessen.de/schifffahrt.html

Hohenschwangau official website:  http://www.hohenschwangau.de/index.php?id=430
Neuschwanstein official website: http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/palace/index.htm

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Munich

My journey in Munich actually started in the Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport. I was transitting via Munich to Dubrovnik, and the connecting time was 10 hours later! I went through every duty free shop in terminal 2, including the Private, a sex toy shop. "It can't be, a sex toy shop in the international airport?", I thought, looking at the sexy lingerie and the cute version of dildos displayed in the window. I walked in the shop and a big flat screen TV was broadcasting pornography; DVD, role playing costumes, condoms and dildos molded from the famous porn stars, sizes for all were exhibited blatantly. I felt the heat on my face when I encountered the smiling staff's eyes. It's a new way to boost energy efficently after hours lingering among the duty free shops, dont' miss it!

I participated in a free walking tour organized by the Sandeman's new europe. Our guide, Travis,  not only had he shown the group the tourist attractions in the city center but also told their histories and tales. it was an informative and pleasant 3.5 hour tour. Walking in the historical sites in the center of the city, you got to admire how precise the Germans are; the city went throught World War I and II, and still it looks just like the way it was back in the old days. Knowing Munich would be a hot zone in the war, Germans took tons of pictures from every corner of the city before the war which helped the restoration of the city.

The BMW Museum is the ultimate attainment of beauty and high-tech. The museum presents the milestones of automobile making through the decades with exceptional lighting and projections. The architecture itself is an extravaganza complimenting the cars. You don't have to be a millionaire to touch these beauties but you wish you were one after a tour in the museum.

Englischer Garten is one of the world's largest urban public parks. Standing on the gravel trail that extends to both sides and dispears in the dense forest, I was indecisive of which direction to go. It was a hot sunny day and blisters on my feet demanded a cool sedation, so I went along the creek toward up stream. It was a big open space, people laid on the grass next the creek, with tops off, enjoying the suntan. I sat by the river bank and soaked my feet in the icy cool water enjoying the sun like everyone else. Then I saw a man stripped off completely in front of me, I looked away, and on the left, 3 naked men were spinning their kids around and everyone seemed cool about it. It then made sense to me, that's why the symbol/acronym of naturism was adpoted from German FKK (Frei Körper Kultur, free body culture).

I wanted to go to the Kaltenberger Ritterturnier Knights Tournament but my timing was not right. If you are there at the right time in July take a look.



Useful info:
If you are getting and leaving Munich via the Munich Airport plus you are staying in Munich over 24 hours, the Bayern-Ticket is the ticket you should purchase. The ticket is valid throughout the entire MVV network, plus the whole of Bavaria, on regional trains. It is available from all the ticket machines in the airport or via the internet or one of the automatic ticket machines at the DB Bahn station.

Muenchen tourist office: http://www.muenchen.de/home/60093/Homepage.html
Public transportation: http://www.mvv-muenchen.de/en/home/index.html
Munich Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Munich
Virtual tour: http://www.panorama-cities.net/munich/munich_germany.html
Toytown--Germany's English speaking crowd:http://www.toytowngermany.com/munich/

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Zagreb

Plitvice Lakes National Park was on my must see list when planning the trip in Croatia, and it seemed the bus commute between Zagreb and Zadar was the only way to get to the park, so I gave up the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the historic centre of Poreč and headed to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. While waiting for a bus to Zagreb at the Plitvice lakes bus stop, I met a couple who were also going to Zagreb and the girl was half Taiwanese from her mother's side even though she couldn't speak Mandarin. Before any bus came, a minivan stopped at the bus stop and a woman asked if we would like to share the van with them, 3 Australians, to Zagreb, so we hopped in the van and enjoyed the nice company and beautiful scenery on the road to Zagreb.

The city is devided into the upper and lower towns; churches and historical buildings are located on the hilly park of the city whereas art museums and greenery parks are scattering in the lower town. The buzzing Trg Josipa Jelacica and the adjacent Dolac fruit and vegetable market are great starting points for a walking tour as they are located on the 'border' between the upper and lower towns. The colorful tiled roof of St Mark's Church makes it stand out from the surrounding buildings. Did the same architect design the roof of the St Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna as well, I wondered. Despite the emblem of Zagreb on the roof, somehow the color tiled roof church looked 'German-ish' to me.

"Zagreb doesn't do many markets, but those that it does do, it does well." The Dolac fruit and vegetable market (06:00-15:00; daily) sells freshly picked vegetables, flowers and fruits from all over Croatia and the antiques market (09:00-14:00; Sunday) on Britanski Trg is a treasure island for collectors. Hrelic (07:00-15:00; Sunday) is the biggest flea market I have ever seen so far. The market is located in Sajam Jakusevac, about 20 minutes away by bus (No. 295) from the city center. From hundreds of meters away, I could see goods laid out on the ground on both sides of the road, it's only when the bus had come to a full stop that I realized how big the market was. Almost half of the market was second hand cars and car parts. I saw CDs, underwear, kitchenwear, anything you can name, even a pig roast, all this in an area that looked like a big garbage dump or gravel pit. A man was having fun with his untopped umbrella, "it's perfect for anyone who wants to get a beautiful suntan in the summer", he said with broken English. That was the highlight of the market for me, charming.

Summer means fun in Croatia. I spent one night in the Park Ribnjak watching people fire dancing with the music; another night sitting in the rain watching Opereta Gala at Scena Gradec. Teenagers with great profiles, shirt off practicing flips while a little boy watched and trying to imitate them. The city is not only fun but has a lot of energy in summer, no wonder it is listed as one of the coolest places to go.



Useful info:
Zagreb has a well-developed and efficient public transport system that consists of trams, buses and trains. The tram network is an ideal transportation in the center of the city (routes and timetable in Croatian) while the local bus system covers the area outside the city center. The price of a single-ticket valid for 1.5 hours is 10 Kuna; a day ticket (dnevna karta) valid for both tram and bus until 4 am the next morning, is available for 25 Kuna at most kiosks. Buy a ticket and punch it in the little orange machine once you enter to validate.

Zagreb card grants you unlimited travel on public transport in Zagreb, discounts at virtually all of the city’s museums, reduced prices at many restaurants, shops, and service providers (discount details). The card is valid for 72 or 24 hours (90kuna or 60kuna) from the date and time entered on the card and is not transferable.

Zagreb tourist board: http://www.zagreb-touristinfo.hr/?l=e

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Plitvice Lakes National Park

There are two entrances in the park, the main entrance on Plitvička Jezera and the secondary entrance at Velika Poljana. Buses from Zagreb stop at the main entrance that accomadates souvenir shops, resaurants, etc. Buses from Zadar stop at a wooden bus shelter and a skywalk that leads into the forest where 3 hotels and the secondary entrance of the park is located.

The path from the secondary entrance leads to the largest lake, KoZjak Lake,  and forms a boundary between the upper and lower lakes. The upper lakes are seperated by dolomite barriers, surrounded by dense forests and interlinked by several gushing waterfalls. The lowers lakes were formed by cavities created by the water of the upper lakes. Most of the water comes from the Bijela and Crna rivers and pool in the Proscansko Lake. There are 16 lakes in the park, all connected by well designed wooden walkways and trails.


View Plitvice Lakes National Park in a larger map



Useful info
Bus timetable:
To get in: seach timetable with autobusni kolodvor, the station of the Plitvice Lakes National Park is Plitvička Jezera. Another searchable timetable is Liburnija Zadar, if you are departing from Zadar (Croatian only). There are discrepancies from two search engines, it is highly recommended to re-confirm the bus schedules with the bus stations. To get out: If the bus is not full, it will take on more people. Bus schedules are posted at information stations near both entrances to the park.

Ticket: if you are staying in one of the hotels in the park, buy a one day ticket and have your hotel stamp on it that will give you unlimited access to the park and all transportation in the park during your stay.

There are many routes in the park (maps) and all are well-marked. You can choose one that fits your schedule and an easy way to see all the lakes and waterfalls is to take a shuttle bus to Okrugljak Lake at the top (St4) and then walk down (red line). Take a boat at P2 to P3 (green line) and then red line to St1. Take a shuttle bus back to St2 where the hotels are located. (Google map above)

Plitvice Lakes National Park official website: http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/eng/index.php

Monday, August 16, 2010

Zadar

I thought my hotel was located in the old town of Zadar which is about 20 min walking distance, 1.6km, from the main bus station. After 15 minutes walking on the sidewalk with cars driving by fast from both directions, I still couldn't see a sign that looked old enough to me. It was a view you would see in any modern city: big roads with lots of cars, high-end boutique shops, tall buildings with opaque picture windows, etc. I couldn't help wonder did I choose the wrong direction again? I stopped in a photo shop to ask for the direction to my hotel and she looked at me like I was a lunatic. "You should take a bus, No. 5, and of course you could always walk if you insist, but it would take at least 30 minutes" she said. A trip in Croatia made me realized that my sense of direction was not as good as I thought it was, so I bought a ticket from her and got on the bus not knowing of which stop to get off. It was my lucky day, I got off the bus by instinct and there it was, Hotel Donat, situated on the grounds of the Falkensteiner Hotels & Resorts Borik, nestled in a large park with pine trees and a pebble beach next to the Adriatic sea.

I got only two days to come out with an itinerary and to get all my hotel bookings done before I could send my application for the Croatia visa (read here), so I picked my hotels by scanning through the prices, internet critics and their locations on the google map. I didn't pay attention to  the details of my bookings so when I was told that 3 buffet meals and drinks from the pool bar were included in the room rate (euro$ 81), I was happy even after I finally realized that the hotel was 4 km away from the old town, 6 km from the main bus station. It was a beautiful sunny day and Zadar was my last chance to dip in the Adriatic ocean, I spent the whole afternoon getting suntan while drinking refreshing cool drinks from the pool bar.

The compact old town of Zadar is overshadowed by the surrounding modern architecture. Even in the old town what attracts people the most is the world famous high tech designs, the sea organ and sun salutation, and clubs/bars run by UB40's producer Nick Colgan and drummer James Brown. When St Donat's church (one of the best preserved pre-Romanesque buildings in the world) is no longer in use for religious ceremonies together with the Roman Forum next to it becomes a theme background of an outdoor cafe shop, it is the Venetian lion on the town gate that tells the fading histories of the city while cars drive through it.




Useful info:
Take bus No. 2 or 4 from the main bus station to the old town of Zadar. A bus ticket in one direction costs 8 kuna while a two way ticket costs 13 kuna. Two way tickets are only available for purchase at Kiosks.
 
Local bus routes: http://www.liburnija-zadar.hr/kolodvor/flash_gradski.php
Intercity bus routes: http://www.liburnija-zadar.hr/prijevoz/flash_hrvatska.php
Searchable timetable (Craotain only): http://www.liburnija-zadar.hr/kolodvor/raspored_linija.php

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sibenik & Krka National Park

Saying goodbye to Trogir, I went north to visit the Krka National Park. Located in Šibenik-Knin county, central Dalmatia, it is just about 15 kilometers away from the city of Sibenik. There are 7 daily buses that commute between Sibenik and Skradin via Lozovac (2010 timetable, intercity line, ŠIBENIK - SLAPOVI KRKE - SKRADIN). Departing from Sibenik bus station, the bus drops you outside Skradin's old town. You can pay the park admission fee at either Lozovac or Skradin entrance; the price includes a bus (from Lozovac entrance) or boat (from Skradin entrance) ride to Skradinski Buk where the walking trail starts.

I wanted to take a boat ride to Skradinski buk so I bought a ticket to Skradin. Somehow the idea that Lozovac entrance was further than Skradin stuck in my mind (maybe because Lozovac is located at the upstream of the national park?) so when I saw the first parking space of the Krka national park and all the "touristy looking" people seemed to be all getting off the bus at this stop, I was confident that I must have arrived at the Skradin entrance. I bought a ticket and was ready for the boat ride even though I couldn't see a boat. I asked the staff where could I take the boat and she told me the shuttle bus would take me there. The shuttle bus stopped in front of an information/ticket booth and the staff came out selling tickets for the boat excursion, I was totally confused, the boat ride should be included in the admission no? It wasn't until I saw the boat docking by the river bank at the other information booth at the other end of the trail that I realized I got off the bus too early and I took the Lozovac entrance instead of Skradin.

The Skradinski Buk is the longest and the loveliest waterfall on the Krka river. Wooden trails built on water take you deep into the flourishing forest making a close contact with waterfalls possible. In fact, at the bottom of the Skradinski Buk you can swim in the icey cold water with the most magnificent waterfalls in the area as background. I saw a man climb up the cliff and dove into the water; girls in bikini posed for photoshoots; babies happily tapped water in fathers arms on shore; seagulls waited by the falls for fish; a snake submerged into the water luring fish to take the bait.., it was paradise for everyone.

It takes about 2 hours to circumnavigate the Skradinski Buk (if you only stay on land) and that's just a small propotion that the Krka National Park has to offer. A boat excursion to Visovac Island, Roski slap, the Krka monastery and the Early Croatian fortresses of Trosenj and Necven is also availabe with extra price 50-130kn based on the journey you pick. Details refer to the google map and the official Krka National Park website below.


View Krka National Park in a larger map

Sibenik is often overlooked by tourists and served as a pitstop enroute to the Krka National Park. Churches and monasteries, stone houses and mansions, all are ornamented by portals and heraldic crests, Sibenik is one of the 7 UNESCO Heritage sites in Croatia and the highlight, Cathedral of St James, was constructed entirely of stone and is reputed to be the world's largest church built completely of stone without brick or wood supports. Well, after exploring the city of Dubrovnik, Split and Trogir, Sibenik seemed a bit plain at first glance. I got back to Sibenik from Lozovac and waited under eaves of the public library to open for internet access (opened at 18:00; 10kn for 2 hours) while pouring rain hit. An hour later, the rain stopped, I walked out of the library and it seemed that the historical city came back to life with the touch of golden rays from the sky, like a miracle. Jugglers and a mini circus were busy entertaining the crowds whereas a ballet was staged in between the town hall and the cathedral of St James. It was the trademark of Sibenik, International Children's Festival, that has been held during the last week of June and the first week of July annually for the past 40 years. I bought a popcorn and sat on the stone road with crowds enjoying a "mosquito movie*" in Hrvatska, even though I didn't understand what they were saying in the movie, I laughed like a kid.



Useful info
Sibenik buses timetable: http://www.atpsi.hr/index-eng.asp
Krka National Park: http://www.npkrka.hr/#/pocetna/?lang=eng&p=
Sibenik time: http://www.sibenik-times.com/ 
Explore Sibenik :http://www.sibenik-tourism.hr/eng/
Grad Sibenik: http://www.sibenik.hr/index-eng.asp
Tourist board: http://www.sibenikregion.com/en.html

* In Taiwan, a mosquito movie is a humourous term for an outdoor projection at special occasions like a local temple ceremony where people tend to get bitten.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Split & Trogir

A boat ride from Dubrovnik to Split not only saved me from a time consuming passport check at the border of Bosnia but also gave me a chance to stop by Korcula and Hvar islands en route to Split. After eight and a half hours sailing on the Adriatic, I arrived at Split around 18:30 which was still not too late to find my accommodation for the night. On the Lonely Planet map of Split, the Diocletian Palace is a walled city but in reality the buildings are either built over the walls or the walls are gone, either way I couldn't find the walls and ended up walking much farther then I should have. An orchestra rehearsal in the Trg Republike caught my attention, I walked in the square and seeing the Hotel Bellevue made me realize how far I was away from the "used to be" walled palace, and I finally navigated myself back to the B&B Kastel 1700.

I couldn't find any restaurants that were recommended by the hotel staff, so I went to one of the restaurants listed in Lonely Planet to challenge their language skills as in the book it stated: Sperun, is a favourite among the foreigners possibly because the waiters seem to speak every language under the sun. Well, it had proven that Mandarin is still one of the tough languages to master even for waiters who seem to speak every language under the sun. And the secret of its popularity among foreigners in this restaurant was, my personal feeling, good hospitality: the chef moved among the customers and a free bottle of water service made this a cozy restaurant.

From a postcard of the old Diocletian Palace, the city was divided into 4 quarters by two straight roads crossing in the center of the city. Each wall has a gate named after metals: gold, bronze, silver and iron for north, south, east and west gates, respectively. From the eastern to western gates, a straight road, Kredimirova, separates  the imperial on the southern side from the northern side that was used by soldiers and servants as living quarters. Today, the definition of the old city walls are lost in buildings; bars, shops, restaurants and local residents mix with historical sites, museums and cathedrals. A few turns in the labyrinthine streets in Diocletian Palace, I couldn't tell which direction was north, so I put maps away and just followed my heart then I heard acapella singing from the Vestibule. Like a miniature Pantheon in Rome, the echo in the Vestibule creates the best stereo system for such an enchanting acapella performance.



I loved Trogir at first sight. Trogir is a small island about 30km north from Split, it is connected to the mainland and Ciovo island by 2 bridges on each side creating a 360 degree natural canal that surrounds the island. Unlike Split, it is much quieter and relaxing. Luxury yatchs docked at the trogirshi channel, sitting on a bench by a wide seaside promenade that hosts bars and restaurants, I watched the crowd flow in the sunset. It was so peaceful that I was startled by occational loud exclamations coming from the soccer fans in restaurants behind me. If you ever go to Croatia, you must stop in Trogir, it is a gem.



Useful information:
All public transportations, train, bus and ferry, are next to the Split harbor that is about 300 meters away from the Diocletain Palace.

Split Card is available at the tourist office in the Diocletian palace. 36KN/5Euro for one card and it is valid for 72 hours; the best part is if you are staying in Split for 3 days you can get it for free! The card gives you free access to most of the city museums, half price discounts to many galleries and tons of discounts on car rental, restaurants, shops and hotels. (Details at : http://www.visitsplit.com/15145/split-card/)

Diocletian' Palace Map: Insideoutside

Trogir online: http://www.trogir-online.com/index.asp

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Walking in the old city of Dubrovnik with gelato and Venitian-mask shops on both sides of the Stradun, I had the illusion of being in Venezia, Italy. The broad straight Sradun brought me back to reality but I got lost again in the intoxicating blue Adriatic ocean, felt that I was on an island of Greece. Is the fusion atmosphere of Italy and Greece the secret of Dubrovnik that attracts millions of people every year? I had to slow down my pace as the stone road of Stradun was slippery smooth, a result of years of polishing by tourists, and that's just as well, I could gain a better control of my agitated heart and appreciate the pearl of the Adriatic, slowly.

From the bustling main street that hosts most of the tourist sights: the most famous landmark of Dubrovnik is the Onofrio fountain and next to it the third oldest functioning pharmacy in Europe, is in the Franciscan Monastery & Museum and the medieval knight sculpture at Luza Square that used to be the official linear measure of the Republic, etc; to alleys where restaurants and bars set tables in and locals hang out their laundry to dry overhead,  they all blend in naturally.

A walk on the old city walls and forts perfects the tour in Dubrovnik. From above, a stupendous panoramic view of the city unfolds, on one side the walled city and on the other the ocean and all its activities. I saw a labrador swiming in the blue Adriatic and it puzzled me that in the land of Dalmatia I hadn't seen a single Dalmatian? (but I did see cats everywhere). Walking on the walls that were built in the 13th century, I imagined soldiers patrolling the fortifications and then I saw two men dressed in traditional costumes guarding the drawbridge at Pile gate, one of only two entrances to the old city, the other being Ploce gate, a reminder that the drawbridges were once actually raised every evening, the gates closed and the keys handed to the prince as the golden hues of sunset colored Dubrovnik at dusk.

As I waited to take some sunset pictures, I noticed a wedding party in the courtyard of the excelsior hotel. Summer in Dubrovnik it seems is wedding season, and love is in the air all around. Jubilant revelers drive back and forth honking their horns, it seems from every direction, mixed in with some soccer fans, whose team has just won their match at the world cup. It's definately party time in Dubrovnik and the city is alive with joy and celebration in this summer holiday season.
 
Photosynth of Onofrio fountain

Panorama of old city harbor

Panorama of old city walls

Panorama of new harbor

Dubrovnik photostream


Useful info:
Transportation:
From/to airport:
Atlas shuttle buses (35KN/5Euro/person) (tel: (020) 442 222; www.atlas-croatia.com) depart for Dubrovnik after the arrival of every regular incoming flight.

Around Dubrovnik:
Dubrovnik's buses run in the city as well as to suburban areas such as Cavtat. You can buy the city bus tickets from the driver directly, 10KN, or from any tisak (kiosk) for 8KN. The ticket is valid for all local bus lines within an hour after validating it in the yellow box on a bus. The time table of the bus can be found on the company, Libertas Dubrovnik, website: http://www.libertasdubrovnik.hr/. Bus map of the city: http://www.libertasdubrovnik.com/gradska.swf

Dubrovnik City Card:
The card is on sale at all cultural institutions in the city of Dubrovnik and all of the information office of tourist boards. Facilities included in this offer are the Maritime Museum, Natural History Museum, House of the Marin and the Dubrovnik City Walls, Art Gallery Dubrovnik, Cultural and Historical Museum, Rupe Ethnographic Museum and Gallery Dulicic-Masle-Pulitika.
Daily Card, 130KN, includes free entrance to 8 cultural institutions and 24h public trasport rides
Weekly card, 220KN, includes free entrance to 8 cultural institutions and 20 public trasport rides

Websites:
The Dubrovnik times
Dubrovnik wikitravel
Offical tourist office

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Croatia

Years ago, a similar photo was attached in an email and it claimed that the photo of such natural wonder was shot in Nantou township, Taiwan. The email was forwarded rampantly, almost everyone in Taiwan was looking for this dream world that had never been found. After a few months of searching in vain, a media found out that the photo was actually taken in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, and that's how Taiwanese got to know this country: the country of origin of the Dalmatian; Marco Polo might be a Croatian who was born on Korcula island (ref 1); the origin of the tie is actually an accessory of Croatian military frontier and the fact that there are 7 UNESCO heritages (historical complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian (1979), old city of Dubrovnik (1979), Plitvice Lakes National Park (1979), Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the historic centre of Poreč (1997), historic city of Trogir (1997), the Cathedral of St. Jacob in Šibenik (2000) and the Stari Grad Plain in the island of Hvar (2008)) in a land of 1.5 times bigger than Taiwan in size.

One day in April, I got a note from my boss who asked me to paticipate in a hepatocellular carcimona conference that would be held in June in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I registered for the conference and booked the flights immediately, just in case my boss regreted it or something.  One month before my departure, I called my travel agency to remind them that it's about time to prepare visa application and that's when we all realized another common mis-understanding we had about this country: Croatia is a member of the EU.
Croatia applied for European Union membership in 2003, and the European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in early 2004. Candidate country status was granted to Croatia by the European Council in mid-2004. The entry negotiations, while originally set for March 2005, began in October that year together with the screening process.
The accession process of Croatia was derailed several times due to the Irish rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon in a referendum, and then later by the insistence of Slovenia that the two countries' border issues are dealt with prior to Croatia's accession into the EU.
Quote from wikipedia
Dispite the fact that Croatia isn't a member of the EU yet, tourists from most countries don't need a visa to get in, even for people from China as long as they have a valid schengen visa, but that's not the case for Taiwanese (Visa requirements overview). There is no Croatian embassy in Taiwan. Mailing applications for a tourist visa used to work via Japan or Malaysia, isn't applicable anymore. I got 2 options: one was to transit via Vienna and apply for the visa at the embassy in Vienna city, the other option was to have a travel agency send my application to Beijing on my behalf. I couldn't afford the risk of not getting a visa for the conference after flying to Vienna, so I paid a travel agency NT$10,400 (about USD$330, the official price is USD$51) to send my application to Beijing. Four days before my departure (it took 24 days for me to get the visa), based on my itinerary, I finally got the visa that was valid only for 13 days.

Dispite the jarring experience in dealing with Customs (even the Customs officials had difficulty trying to find records of visas issued to Taiwan) I was very happy to meet locals on the street level who recognized that I was from Taiwan, not a provice of China nor a misspelling of "Tailand/Thailand". Maybe it's because we share a "similar" history of changing national status? Nice people, great histories and cultures, glamorous natural wonders, and intoxicating Adriatic ocean, traveling in Croatia was one of the best memories of my backpacking expeciences.

Every year more than 10 million visitors spend their annual holidays in Croatia (the national population of Croatia is about 4.5 million), most of them are German and Italian. In the Asian tourist polulation, Japan definately is the number one of the list. Running into a Japanese tourist group seems inevitable while traveling in Croatia, I got kids greeting to me with "ko ni ji wa" at least 3 times a day. I had a stereotype that western countries were more civilized with etiquettes for scenes such as people who don't line up for a bus or who fight for a spot to take pictures, as this takes place in Asia. Traveling in Croatia, I had the deja vu feeling of being in China. People from every direction swarmed the bus stop, regardless of if there were lines of people waiting when a bus approached; stepping on someone's toes in order to take a photo... then I realized civilization and etiquette go out the window while people are on vacation that applies to all mankind.

Even though I only planned my itinerary in 2 days, it covers 5 out of 7 UNESCO heritages in Croatia and most of the sightseeing hot spots; here are my footsteps: 
  • 4 days in Dubrovnik: conference and old city sightseeing 
  • Ferry to Split via Korcula island and Hvar island (Jadrolinija)
  • 1 day in Split: historical complex with the Palace of Diocletian
  • 1 day in Trogir: historic city and the Cathedral of St Lovro
  • 1 day in Sibenik: the Cathedral of St. Jacob and Krka National Park
  • 1 day in Zadar: historic city and sea organ and sun salutation
  • 3 days in Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • 2 days in Zagreb: upper-town sightseeing and markets


View Croatia in a larger map

Useful websites:
Croatia National Tourist Board, the offical tourist website of Croatia
Wikitravel of Croatia, general info about traveling in Croatia
Croatia traveller,  a former lonely planet author of Croatia
Visit Croatia, a travel guide
Find-Croatia, lots info such as bus map...
Croatia Homepage, hundreds of links to everything you want to know about Croatia
Balkanology, good info on travel in Croatia and southeast Europe
Adriatica. net, allows you to book lighthouses all along the coast
Autotrans, public transportation timetables
Autobusni kolodvor,  Bue lines and routes, timetables...
Hotel Accommodation,  a meta-search engine that works very well with searches and compares prices from most of the hotel booking systems.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ma-Kau Ecological Park

The Ma-Kau Ecological Park is composed of Cilan Forest Recreation Area, MinChih Forest Recreation Area and Giant Tree Garden. Originally, it was operated by the Veterans Affairs Commission; in April 2005, the ecological park was entrusted to the Coconut Tree Co. under the ROT (Rent-Operate-Transfer or Rehabilitate-Operate-Transfer) agreetment. The park is named after a spice tree, May Chang (Litsea cubeba; Aromatic litsea), that can be found abundantly in Cilan mountain (Cilan, 棲蘭, means habitat of orchid ). May Chang is called "Mountain Pepper" in Mandarin and "Ma Kau" by the Atayal aborigines in Taiwan. "Ma Kau" is the symbol of prosperity in Atayal, as the result, the whole ecological park was named "Ma-Kau Ecological Pak" by the Coconut tree Co.

The Ministry of the Interior proposed to add Ma Kau Ecological Park in the national park list in 2003, but it is now still one of the national parks with undefined status due to protests by the local aborigines. The cover range of the national park was preliminarily planned to a total area of about 53,000 hectares, including Wulai township, Taipei County, about 8,700 hectares, DaTong township, Ilan County, about 21,000 hectares, FuXing township, Taoyuan County approximately 9,200 hectares and Jianshi township, Hsinchu County, 14,000 hectares.

MinChih Forest Recreation Area (明池國家森林遊樂區, NT$120, free for MinChih resort guests; opening hours: 08:00-17:00, Map) is located at 68KM landmark of the Beiheng highway (highway no7), 54KM east to Ilan City and 68.5KM west to Dasi township,Taoyuan County, a border of Ilan and Taoyuan County as the old name "ChihDuan" (meaning the end of a pond) indicated. It was renamed "MinChih" (meaning clear pond) by the Minister of Defence,Chiang Ching-kuo, in 1964. The pond is an artifical lake built on a high altitude natural marsh, 1050-1700 meters above sea level. The landscape design was adopted from the Yuan and Song Dynasties creating a garden in garden style. A few cypresses stand in the pond as pens, the pond itself represents an ink slab and the water is the ink with mists wafting on the the mountain like a water ink painting, the pond expresses the beauty of Chinese calligraphy. A trail with low white walls on both sides leads to a garden in the garden, a roofed wall that seperates the garden into half, on one side is a landscape with waterfalls, ponds in a greenish cypress forest; on the other side, the ground of the courtyard is covered with white cobblestones. The deliberate broom marks on the ground creates an illusion of water marks on a pond, very Zen atmosphere, a great meditation room. Using water bouncing back into a jar that is berried underground creates echos that sound like piano notes is part of a re-creation of Japanese Tea Ceremony.





The Giant Tree Garden is in the Cilan mountains, located on road No100 in Datong township, Ilan County, 21 Km to MinChih Forest Recreation Area, 26Km to Cilan Forest Recreation Area. It's the most dense redwood plantation left in Taiwan. Even thought it was opened to the public in 1991, the area is still a restricted area that alllows a maxium 720 visitors per day. To visit, one has to make a reservation with the Coconut Tree Co. (Tel: 02-2507-1339, Fax: 02-2507-3826, email: dvt@yeze.com.tw details below). There are 62 cypresses in the area over than 400 years old and 51 of them were nicknamed after some celebrities in Chinese history according to the year they were born. Trails in the area are 3.1km in total, can be devided into 2 parts, 1.2km of easy walking for about 26 tree sighting and 2.3km for all tree sighting.

This is one trip that I could easily recommend for anyone who would like to enjoy the incredible beauty of these majestic trees.

Booking the trip
Online booking:
Departing form MinChih or Cilan resort
Departing from Taipei Registration: 07:45 at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, MRT exit 4; departs at 08:00 to MinChih Forest Recreation Area, Giant Tree Garden, returns to Taipei around 20:30.

Telephone booking: 02-2507-1339

Time Table:started on Jan. 20, 2010
Departing from Cilan resort
Departing from MinChih resort
Departing
Content
Departing
Content
07:50
Arrival 08:50
Tour finish 11:20
Meal for 30min
Departing for Cilan resort 12:10
Arrival at Cilan resort 13:10
07:30
Arrival 08:30
Tour finish 10:50
meal for 30min
Departing for MinChih resort 11:30
Arrival at MinChih resort 12:30
10:30
Arrival 11:30
Tour finish 14:00
Meal for 30 min
Departing for Cilan resort 14:50
Arrival at Cilan resort 15:50
10:15
Arrival 11:15
Tour finish 13:45
Meal for 30min
Departing for MinChih resort 14:20
Arrival at MinChih resort 15:20
13:20
Arrival 14:20
Tour finish 16:50
Departing for Cilan resort 17:00
Arrival at Cilan resort 18:00
13:00
Arival 14:00
Tour finish 16:20
Departing for MinChih resort 16:30
Arrival at MinChih resort 17:30

Price:
  1. For resort guests: adult, NT$600/person, 3-12 years old child: NT$450/person, child under 3 years old: NT$100/person.
  2. For non guests: adult, NT$800/person, 3-12 years old child: NT$550/person, child under 3 years old: NT$100/person.
  3. One day trip from Taipei: adult, NT$1290/person on weekdays, NT$1490/person on weekend,  3-12 years old child: NT$990/person, child under 3 years old: NT$100/person. The price includes transportation, entrance fees, lunch at MinChih resort, guide and insurance.
  4. Shuttle bus service NT$600/person; route: 08:00 Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, MRT exit 4 Taipei; 09:00 Ilan Train Station, 09:50 Cilan Forest Recreation Area, 11:00 MinChih Forest Recreation Area; 13:30 MinChih Forest Recreation Area, 14:30 Cilan Forest Recreation Area, 17:00 Ilan Train Station, 18:00 Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, MRT exit 4 Taipei.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Old Buildings New Spirits

Tainan was the first city built in Taiwan. Winding ancient streets, old lanes full of traditional snacks and elegant old style buildings that blend into the modern urban areas; these are the hidden treasures that are often overshadowed by government graded historical sites.

The Foundation of Historic City Conservation and Regeneration realizes the conflict between the contemporary urban development and historic conservation. Historical spaces constantly underwent a total reconstruction instead of renovation and ended up losing their unique historical charms. In 2008, the foundation organized the first "old buildings new spirits" series of activities in promoting 18 renovated old buildings in Tainan city, which aroused public concern for old buildings. How to get a balance between a functional modern construction and old style architecture is becoming a trend. In 2 years, 40 bulidings that met the criteria (over 30 years old and had been renovated for new use) were selected as examples for the second run of this architectural renaissance in Tainan.

I spent a few weeks wandering around the alleyways in Tainan city trying to collect comemorative stamps and take photos. As the slogan printed on the pamphlet says: "the longer you stay the more you'd discover", I've found a lot of nice surprises that I'd never have found if not for this campaign. Most of the owners were friendly even if you were just stopping by for the stamp collection. Take a look below to see some examples of these hidden treasures.

Click on the google map for detail information of each building and the exact location.


View Old Buildings New Spirits in a larger map

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The accidental weekend

Like every other year, I reserve a vacation at this time for firefly and tung flower sighting. This year, the date was set for April 23-25. I booked a room in the Dongshi Forest Area and waited for the date to come anxiously. I kept on hoping for beautiful weather on my trip even though the Central Weather Bureau forecasted otherwise. It was raining on and off all the way from Tainan to Taichung, after checking in I went  for a walk hoping that I could still see some tung flowers on the trees. A few minutes later I found myself lying on the ground, in the mud with decaying tung flower to be exact, and one of my shoes was 2 meters away in a bush.  A couple went by and pointed out to me where my shoe had fallen, I picked it up and hid my face, quickly returning back to my room to hide my embarrassment and a possibly broken thumb.The rain kept coming so I didn't see any fireflies that night.

The next morning, I went to the bee farm, thankfully the rain had stopped, so the bees were all flying around. I stopped to take some pictures and got my lens very close up to the honeycomb to take a picture (should buy a macro lens) and then one bee flew into my hair; not knowing how to get it out I asked for help from one of my friends standing next to me, who started to gently blow at the bee, while at the same time the bee keeper screamed in Chinese "Don't blow!" then I felt the sting right at the top of my head. So I want you all to know if you hear " Bu Yao Chui" in Chinese it means "don't blow!"

I took this pic near the sun moon lake, check its EXIF for condition and GPS location if you are interested.

Firefly