Sunday, May 3, 2015

Taiwan Touched My Heart!

Targeting more mountains to conquer with the hope of doing extra traveling around the place where they are situated is one of the great things I am delighted the most. I have always been saying that. Perhaps, I would not travel that much if it weren't for mountain climbing. Oh yes, I may do some sort of travel but I guess it could have been selected destinations only. And here I am again, finding myself to the place that I have never imagined before. And the best thing about it is that it allows me to enter into new discoveries. What I’m trying to say is that, I am simply thankful to this found passion, because it pushes me to continuously learn and explore.

One of my dream destinations in Asia is Japan. I could instead go there and chase this dream right away. Yet for now, I decided not to prioritize it as learning about Snow Mountain in Taiwan, for some reason I could not also explain, was more convincing for me to pursue for the meantime. True enough, I didn't regret it because getting into Taiwan is one of the unforgettable trips I've ever had.

But there are also disadvantages of climbing and city tour at the same time. Particularly if you only got limited period of stay, your strength is divided. That is, you cannot do an all-out tiring tour prior to the climb and also if you opted to do the tour after the climb, your strength may already be limited if not totally deteriorated. But of course, the great thing is you still had the chance to do some tour and pay some visit. In short, unless you adjust the number of days that you’ll be staying, you will never maximize the tour.  Well, take note that the main purpose is still to climb the mountain, right? So I guess, that’s still fine. Getting a side trip is just a bonus.

And there you go, I just had a memorable Taipei tour before and after our Snow Mountain hike!

Tamsui as a New Discovery and The Cherry Blossoms Experience

The original itinerary of ours dictates to have our first day in Taiwan as also the Day 1 for our climb which should start in the afternoon. However, due to some reservation issues, we just had to start our trek the following day. T’was still great! We got a chance to roam around the city and get familiar with the transportation particularly in riding the bus and the train. I believe, the hostel that we stayed at (Socket Hostel) is very reasonable and convenient being accessible to many landmarks and train stations in Taipei. We decided to go to the Yangmingshan National Park as they say, we might find cherry blossoms there in this season. It was February and the place was exiting the winter season and welcoming spring anytime soon. It’s a long week Chinese New Year celebration and cherry blossoms normally coincide with it. We were so excited!

But this excitement would not equate witnessing of it that easy. Maybe we’re not used to the place and we were first timers. Maybe there’s just a language barrier. Or maybe the Google Maps just couldn't give us the exact directions. I was a little vexed on the Google Maps that I wouldn't like to rely on it in the future. Whew! We were more than 30 minutes waiting for the bus, asking and asking. But they could not help us even if we were keep on showing these results in Chinese characters. It says we must ride a 204 bus and then a train going to Dangshui. Where the hell is Danshui? And from Danshui we should ride another bus.

Please, Google Maps, be reliable!

Before wasting one hour with nothing being accomplished, I suggested to walk to the nearest MRT station which is Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall and from there, look for Danshui station. It was near yet too long for a walk. Only to discover that the Dangshui we were searching for is actually “Tamsui” station. Like a joy in the face of a child, we impatiently continued and departed for Tamsui reviving our excitement to get there. It was the last station of MRT red line. 

At the MRT
I admired the organised transportation in Taipei particularly their subway station. It’s as organized as that in Hongkong, only that the latter’s people seems to be rushing and in a hurry. I was amused at the crowd of Taiwanese people going to Tamsui, perhaps they will also visit Yangmingshan, I said to myself. 

Tamsui, being the last station, made the trip quite long. More than 20 minutes I guess. We finally arrived at the said station and from what we saw, the place looks like an amusement park good enough for family time. We asked the small tourism office upon arrival. Ooops. There you go! That’s not the place where we can ride a bus to Yangmingshan. We were instructed to go back to Beitou Station where shuttles leaving for Yangmingshan are stationed. Before we left Tamsui, we decided to take advantage of the time and wander around to enjoy the place. It’s a new destination anyway. 

Roaming around!
Oh, what a giant kropek!
We rode the MRT and travelled back to Beitou. It took around less than 10 minutes. 

Close to the park itself, we can already see the undeniably astonishing pinkish cherry blossoms. Upon arriving, we immediately went to the area where there are richer cherry blossoms. 

Wow, seeing them for the first time was unbelievable. It was dreamlike. 

And hey, these ones are in Taiwan. In Asia, it’s more popular in Japan, right? Even in Wikipedia, it doesn’t mention that there can also be found in Taiwan. :))

I googled what cherry blossom is and found it in Wikipedia.

"A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is called sakura after the Japanese."

We moved to the other part of the park and viewed more beautiful flowery areas and gardens. It was just so nice. Not only that we see pinkish or reddish sakura, but the whitish ones as well.

For our lunch in Yangmingshan, found a small eatery near the entrance.

Stinky Tofu on set!
Now, because it was Chinese New Year and a lot of people was going out. We found it hard to go back to our hostel. Buses were full. So we walked away from the park until luckily we’re able to get a cab and transported us to the Shipai MRT station.

So tiring! So I say, good luck to our feet and legs! On a positive note, we could consider it as warm up prior to the climb the next day.

The Unexpected Challenge and New Found Friends

It was our Day 4 in Taiwan and we just got back in Taipei from the successful 3D/2N climb at Snow Mountain in Taichung just in time with the set schedule in our itinerary, certain that we would still have an ample time to do some city walk and even food trip. By 3pm we’re back in the hostel and we were gladly received by the owner, Danny, telling us that our things were kept safe and unmoved.

With the only problem informed to us that one blanket, one comforter and a pillow case were stained by something reddish, most likely caused by a fabric, we just had to face and resolve the issue. Following the hostel’s rules, any damaged thing should be paid NTD800 per piece. It’s as if you will be buying the whole thing. Wow, so what should we do with such things plus the fact that they will be additions to our baggage during our flight back to Manila? Danny, in his opinion told us that based on experience, it’s something that cannot be easily removed, worse comes to worst, it could never be removed. On the other hand, he gave us another option – to wash it and remove the trace of the stains. Then it would be fine with him.

We rushed to any laundry shop that we could ever find around the area (even in malls where laundry shops could not obviously exist). Unfortunately, the stuff weren’t accepted telling us that it’s impossible to remove the stain. Qitter and I decided to go back to the hostel to confirm if we could instead pay though credit card, but it was unreasonable as using the card overseas has a corresponding taxes to be paid. Our remaining companions, Bev and Pau knocked at the antique shop called VD Studios owned by a couple that Bev met in her first day in Taiwan asking if they know any nearby laundry shop where we can ask to wash our stuff. When Qitter and I got back at the antique shop, they said, this couple, Daniel and Lucia Ketter, was offering their washing machine and detergent inside the shop. Only that we had to buy a Clorox! What a blessing! And what more blessing is greater than meeting this two beautiful, kind people n the middle of this challenge.

(L-R) Lucia, myself, Pau, Qitter, Daniel)

Oh the Clorox! – the only thing that could probably solve our problem at this time. We rushed again to the nearest grocery store, Wellcome. Tenen!!!! We, of course, would opt to pay for this NTD99 worth of Clorox than break our pocket in paying such “NTD800 per piece” thing.

The memorable perfect solution! :-P
So here we go! Pau and I led the washing of the stuff while Bev and Qitter  Can you imagine that these things would ever happen to us? We could have resumed our tour in Taipei instead of washing these things abroad? I wished it could have been a joke or a bad dream, but it’s not. It was a reality, it was a reality that I was washing these fabrics! Haha! 

Oh my! "Washing Galore!

We left the machine for an hour. We decided to give some treat to the couple but  they refused saying that a beer will do. After buying some foodies and beer (Taiwan beer) we had a great time of chats and laughters. We learned more about the couple. I wonder how they were convinced to help strangers like us. From my understanding in our conversation, there was one time in Daniel’s travel when he also experienced to receive a help when we needed it the most. Daniel is an American. Lucia, on the other hand was a simply nice, native Taiwanese. The couple was very  accommodating in every way. It was nice talking to them.

When we checked the washed stuff, amazingly the stain vanished. I would say it’s a miracle! Again, what could be more considered miracle than receiving God’s protection and provision  through this couple as an instrument to help us.

Night Market in Shilin

Learning and reaching the Shilin Station (red line), I first thought of the authentic Taiwanese cuisine in the Philippines deriving its name from here. Shi lin is one of the largest night markets in Taipei and where street foods and eateries are found. 

To be honest, since we headed to this area from our washing moment (apart from the climb itself of course), we were a bit tired already that we could not accommodate extended time of walking anymore. Our stay in Shilin was not that maximized but we were able to make our tummy full. Frankly, I could not take their famous stinky tofu (although I tried it in Yangmingshan in our first day). Waaah! I always tell myself that I won't always be able to make the most of my travel if I am too sensitive in trying the local foods.

Fried Squid and Milk Tea

Elephant-shaped hotcake (This is only one of the shapes that are available)

But well, if you want to taste the flavours of Taiwan, this place is a must-see. Other nearest MRT startion is Jiantan too (also in red line).

Last Day in Taipei and a Relaxing Walk to Taipei 101

Who would leave Taiwan without visiting this famous landmark?

Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, is a landmark supertall skyscraperin Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan. The building was officially classified as the world's tallest in 2004, and remained such until the opening of Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. In 2011, the building was awarded the LEED platinum certification, the highest award according the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, and became the tallest and largest green building in the world. (source: Wikipedia)

We decided not to take a train but instead walk from our hostel to get to Taipei 101. I was amazed at how the city is too quiet, serene and organised and people are seemed to be disciplined. The parked bicycles and motorbikes, the clean surroundings --- I was surprised because they just leave these things in the designated areas and no one is attempting to steal them.

Finally we reached the Taipei 101. 

We looked for an authentic Taiwanese restaurant called Din Tai Fung where the famous Xiao Long Bao can be found. 

with a giant Xiao Long Bao :)
Our other option was actually Modern Toilet restaurant but we would not want to miss the Taipei 101 which is on the other side, so we just decided to eat at Din Tai Fung.

I was convinced not to take the Conservatory and sightseeing at the top. Being able to get to the once highest tower in the world is enough. Perhaps it’s not my choice to spare some bucks for it. Besides, we should be able to arrive at the airport for our flight back to Manila in the afternoon.

As you may see, we only got the chance to visit few places in Taipei but still it’s worthy of our time.
Cherry Blossoms. Successful climb in Snow Mountain. Good weather. Taipei 101. Taiwanese food. Good people. Chill weather. I would say the trip is worth it. Taiwan truly touched my heart. 

A touchscreen TV in my seat during the bus ride to airport.
And it has many choices to view from! ;)

Just like what one of their tourism logos trying to convey to its visitors and tourists "Taiwan: Touch Your Heart" --- I felt the warm home in this island, the welcoming atmosphere, the joy in drinking tea and chatting, and the sincere desire of this country to touch any visitor's heart.

Would you also like to add Taiwan in your travel bucket list?

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