Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two days itinerary in Tainan county--winter version

In Nansi township Tainan county, a hill that used to be called Banana Mountain is now the biggest plum tree plantation in Taiwan and was re-named Meiling (梅嶺, Plum Peak) by the former vice-president Hsie Dong-Min. Every year, around New Year, Meiling attracts tons of tourists for not only the snowy white plum blossoms but also its speciality: plum chicken (梅子雞, boiled chicken with pickled plums). Facing north, you overlook the Tsengwen reservoir on a sunny day; to the south, the greenish Yunan basin is unveiled. The Meiling Scenic Area is one of the most famous hiking spots in Tainan. There are 9 hiking trails in the area and the Guanyin (2.5km, 1.2 hr, difficult) and Wulong Temple (0.9km, 80 min, easy) trails are the two most well-known. (More hiking info)

The miserable experience of my friends attempting to go to Meiling by public transportation and ending up being trapped at the Meiling Tourists Center, was an important information to share. Apparently, the bus to Meiling only goes to the tourist center which is about 5 km away from the trails and plum blossoms. Like every tourist attractions in Taiwan during the weekends, it's almost impossible to find a parking space. From the parking to Guanyin temple is a pleasant hike, plum blossoms line both sides of the concrete driveway all the way up to the temple. You can also take the stairs which lead you into the forest, away from the driveway. For those looking for a real hike, they may continue the journey by taking the trail on the side of the temple.

Wen Chuan Mei Zi Gi (文川梅子雞, add: 115, Zhong zheng rd, Nansi township, Tainan county; tel:06-5751886) is probably the biggest and the most popular plum chicken restaurant in the area. It's right next to the parking lot with a big fountain in the middle of the restaurant. The owner's daughter is married to a foreigner who sells ice cream in the restaurant on weekends. Even though there is no English menu, you don't have to worry about what/how to order in that restaurant, instead finding a table would be your biggest challenge.

After the lunch, I headed to the county highway NO 175 via provincial highway No3, and county highway 174. County highway 175, connects Baihe and Dongshan townships, is also known as 175 coffee highway as coffee trees in Dongshan township are mostly planted alongside the road. The history of coffee plantation here can be traced back 60 years, when tourism become popular in the area, many coffee shops were built right next to the coffee farms between mile marker 9k to 20k of county highway 175. Da Chua Hua Jian (大鋤花間, 109-17, Gaoyuan village, Dongshan township, veer off the hightway 175 around 11.5k; tel: 093972311) is one of the distinctive coffee shops on the road. Sipping organic coffee in the tree house was a luxurious indulgence.

County hightway 175 ends/starts at the Red Leaf Tunnel of the Guanziling Scenic Area. The King's Garden Villa, located at the upper part of the Guanziling old street away from the bristling hot spring hotels, has great male/female naked hot spring 'nude soup' (NT$300, free for tenants, 09:00-22:00) and lovely cabins to stay overnight. Guanziling hot spring belongs to alkalinity carbonate hot spring, the murky and satiny texture is a result of a mixture of shale particles, a variety of minerals, salts and sulfur when spring water gushes through the argillite. The hot spring has a temperature of around 76 degree and is regarded as one of a kind peculiar mud hot spring (Nichuan, 泥泉) in Taiwan. Currently only Japan, Italy and Guanziling has this kind of hot spring around the world.

It's easy to spend a day in Guanziling Scenic Area, the google map below marks most of the tourist attractions and 4 recommended routes in the area.

Itinerary in brief: Day 1: Meiling hiking-> lunch at Wen chuan restaurant->afternoon tea at Da Chua Hua Jian, 175 coffee highway-> dinner/hot spring/sleep at The king's Garden Villa, Guanziling. Day 2: one of the recommended routes in Guanziling Scenic Area.

View Guanziling in a larger map

Public transportation to Guanziling: Take a train to Shinying Train Station, the Shinying Bus Station is across from the train station. The bus ride takes about 40-50 mins from Shinying to Guaziling Lingding park (NT$69).
Time table: (check official website for update)
from Shinying to Guanziling: 07:00, 07:50, 08:40, 10:00, 12:10, 14:30, 18:15
from Guanziling to Shinying: 07:50, 08:40, 09:30, 10:50, 13:00, 15:20, 19:05

From Chia Yi train station:
Take Chia Yi Bus No:7214 (NT$81)
Time table: (check official website for update)
 from Chia Yi bus station to Guanziling:
07:00, 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:30, and 17:40
from Guanzhiling to Chia Yi bus station:
08:30, 09:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:40, and 20:00

Friday, February 05, 2010

Credit cards and foreigners in Taiwan, an endless battle no more

"I earn more than NT$100,000 every month and my wife just stays at home collecting my money, yet, no banks would issue me a credit card while my wife has 3 platinum cards in her wallet" Sounds familiar? Being an outsider, one of the obstacles in finance is that no bank would issue you a credit card even if you can find guarantors to endorse for you, unless you are a manager in a big company. Well, except for asking your wife/friends to pay for you when it's needed, you do have other choices in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, ATM cards all have a chip embeded in the front of a card and a magnetic stripe on the back. When withdrawing domestically, ATMs verify the pin, 6-12 digits, you've typed in with the info in the chip; when withdrawing overseas, such verification, 4 digits pin, goes through the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. A Visa ATM Debit card replaces the ATM magnetic stripe with a VISA magnetic stripe, a card that serves as an ATM card as well as a VISA card. Like any VISA credit cards, a VISA ATM Debit card can be used in any VISA merchants both domestically (Taiwan) and in foreign counties. It works as a debit card, the balance is directly deducted from your bank account and there is no delay in payment functions.

There are 15 Banks in Taiwan issue VISA ATM debit cards, including Chinatrust Bank, Taichung Commercial Bank, Taipei Fubon Bank, Taishin Bank, Taiwan Business Bank, Shin Kong Bank, Taiwan Cooperative Bank, Mega Interbational Commercial Bank, First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Commercial Bank, Cathay United Bank, Union Bank of Taiwan, Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC and the post office. Anyone who opens a savings account is eligible to apply for a VISA ATM Debit card, including foreigners.

Currently, only 6 banks allow internet online use, they are: Taishin Bank, Hua Nan Commercial Bank, Chinatrust Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Taiwan Business Bank and Cathay United Bank. You should find your name, dates of validity and expiry, as well as 2 account numbers, your savings and VISA numbers embossed on the cards that are issued by those 6 banks. On the others, you will find no embossing nor your name, but a statement "Electronic Use Only" on the front of the cards.

Since the ATM magnetic stripe is now a VISA stripe in a VISA ATM debit card, when withdrawing overseas, it is considered as "borrowing" cash from VISA. Therefore, except for paying an international withdraw processing fee to the bank, a VISA international exchange settlement surcharge will be added on top of your withdrawl.