Exploring Taiwan: Real-life Spirited Away & Houtong Cat Village

February 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

Kicking off the new year’s goal of exploring more of Taiwan, Matthew and I have decided to take a weekend trip to the famed Jiufen (九份), the inspiration behind Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ and Houtong (侯硐), an old coal mining village that became a haven for stray cats. It was a relief to leave Taipei and get some fresh air. The train ride was an hour away and only costed NT.50 (about USD $2), which makes me question myself why I don’t go out into the outside world more.

Jiufen was an old gold mining town that prospered back during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. The town is tucked into the mountains and enjoys a stunning view of the Pacific ocean. The small area meant that the buildings are densely built, narrow roads and alleys that winds around the mountainous town.

I highly recommend exploring Jiufen at night. Mostly because you can avoid the throngs of tourists that visit during the daytime but also because the night scenes were significantly more interesting.

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Nighttime exploring

The quietness of the town at night was slightly eerie and surreal. Besides the random passerby or two, we didn’t come across anyone during our nighttime exploration. It felt like a ghost town, especially with the dilapidated structures and the endless rows of graves. The nighttime sounds that you grow accustomed to hearing in the city, scooters, neighbor arguments, tv sets, were nonexistent. Instead, you heard the ocean breeze and the occasional crickets chirping.

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Jiufen’s characteristic red lanterns and long winding alleys. Lights on, but no one in sight

After walking through numerous dark alleys and narrow staircases, we stumbled across this brightly lit tea house:

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The famous Japanese tea house #themoneyshot

It was just like a scene out of Spirited Away. The dark town backdrop just highlighted the bright building even more, absolutely stunning to look at.

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Taipei on two wheels – Riverside Park

April 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

If you ever considered biking on the streets of Taipei, you may be bombarded with scary riding stories from locals. Most of Taipei do not have marked bicycle lanes or signals. The easy, relaxed atmosphere that bikers enjoy in Amsterdam or Copenhagen is basically nonexistent. The streets of Taipei resemble something of a battlefield, with its army of scooters, manic taxi drivers and monster buses at every turn. It’s a feat that can be daunting for bikers who aren’t comfortable riding in chaotic conditions.

The Riverside Park is the answer to that. Bike lovers can enjoy a beautiful bike lanes while seeing a different side of Taipei. Though never mentioned in popular guidebooks, hunting out bite-size adventures at the Riverside Park is by far one of my favorite pastimes. Riverside Park (河濱公園) is a city-established parkway that wraps itself around the whole Taipei city, running along the Danshui and Keelong River. It’s a quick way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without leaving the city, with extensive bike paths that can take you from southern Taipei (Xindian) all the way to the northernmost part of the city (Danshui). In addition to wide bike lanes, you will also stumble upon an assortment of parks and recreational facilities such as tennis courts, basketball courts, dog parks and more. It’s a refreshingly new way to see Taipei, as it exposes you to different facets of daily life. There are many different parks, entrances and bike rental stations scattered around the city, so it is worth checking out the full map to know which parts of the riverside you want to be exploring.

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Beautiful view of the New Taipei Bridge and the Beitou Incinerator

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The other side of Grand Hotel Taipei in Yuanshan

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Did not know skating rinks even existed in Taipei

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The merry-go-round at 兒童樂園 (Taipei Children’s Recreation Center)

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Clean public restrooms

One of my favorite spots is the dog park @迎風河濱公園 where you can shamelessly pet other people’s dogs without being a creep about it.

Puppy on the left can’t even right now

 There are also designated graffiti walls for people to tag around the park. The walls are painted white periodically, so it’s a good place to get your spray practice on.

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Graffiti wall

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Another section of the wall

Bikes can be rented at stations around the river for around NT. 60/hour. You have to provide a government issued ID or a NT. 2000 deposit if you don’t have an ID. Many people prefer renting UBikes (map), Taipei’s bike sharing service. The first 30 mins is free and then NT.10 per 30 mins for up to 4 hours. There are different rates for 4 hours or more, so be wary of long bike rides. You’ll need an Easycard and a functioning Taiwan phone number for the 1-time registration.

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A UBike kiosk

And of course the delicious food trucks and coffee stands that are available everywhere!

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Delicious!

Have you ever biked around Taipei? Feel free to leave your stories in the comments!

Observing Pisa (Tourists)

July 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Stunning view of Piazza del Duomo in Pisa

While most of my travel companions made the decision to conquer the nearby outlet malls, I opted out of the Prada sales and made a solo trip to Pisa instead.

It was a very warm sunny day

Many people were surprised that I made the trip alone; apparently small Asian girls are often discouraged from travelling by themselves. Keeping that in mind, I made sure to keep a tight grasp on my bag and tried to give off the airs of a black-belt karate master. Travelling alone might be dangerous but people are more likely to approach you if you are alone. I met a lovely Canadian couple who were on their 35th anniversary Italy trip. They were very charming and decided to keep an eye on me during our ride to Pisa.

I still haven’t figured out what the words mean but I liked the colors + Banksy-ish feel

The Piazza del Duomo (“Cathedral Square”) is situated at the heart of Pisa, home of the famous leaning tower of Pisa. You can also find the Duomo, the Campanile (bellow tower), the Baptistry and the Camposanto and the Piazza del Duomo, all surrounded by lush patches of green lawn. The weather was absolutely perfect, 75 and sunny. All I wanted to do was pass out on the lawn with some lunch and enjoy the beautiful architecture around me.

Laidback

Part of the Camposanto Monumentale

View of the Duomo from The Baptistery

The Baptistery

Besides checking out the beautiful and historical architecture, the bountiful supply of tourists from all around the world made for some  fantastic people-watching moment.

You’d think the leaning tower of Pisa wouldn’t be leaning anymore, with the amount of tourists pushing it straight.Though I didn’t get a cheesy picture of myself pushing the Pisa tower (one of the cons of travelling solo), I took way too many pictures of others capturing that exact moment.

Tourist exhibit #1

tourist exhibit #2

Tourist Exhibit #3, #4, #5…

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Observing Europe – Part III (Amsterdam)

March 11, 2012 § 5 Comments

Going to Amsterdam was a spontaneous decision. The Netherlands wasn’t part of my (poorly planned) Europe itinerary and now that I think back on it, I’m not sure why.

It was a freezing cold Saturday and my dad was  already in hibernation mode and firmly entrenched on the sofa. I could barely see his face as he was submerged under a rather impressive  mound of blankets.  Trying to coax him to get out of his nest and to drive us 2+ hours to Amsterdam was like trying to separate a fat kid from his half-eaten chocolate cake. Fortunately for me, I mastered the puppy eyes as a young child and my mom perfected the “she’s-only-here-for-two-weeks” speech. Between the two of us, we managed to guilt trip my dad to abandon his blanket cocoon and into the driver’s seat.

the beautiful canals

During the drive up, my eyes eagerly embraced the lush green pastures, a variety of farm animals, and quaint countryside. Once we left the border of Belgium, windmills began to slowly emerge into the view. The numerous pictures and travel shows I’ve seen all my life slowly developed into something real and tangible, as those same images began to unfold in front of my eyes. It was exhilarating.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Amsterdam. Friends who have visited before, bring back stories of getting high, tripping out on shrooms and watching tons of (unforgettable) sex shows. I have a great relationship with my parents, but I have no desire to watch any sex shows or do any form of drugs with my parents. It’s bad enough when nudity comes up when you watch a movie with your parents, I can’t imagine how awkward it would be to watch a sex show in Amsterdam. No doubt it was going to be a rated PG trip.

One of my marketing projects during college was to write a marketing business plan. My group somehow decided that we wanted to sell bicycles in the Netherlands since apparently everyone owned a bike. Turns out we picked a severely competitive and mature market to try and enter (hence the low marks) but I was attracted by the idea of a bike-friendly environment. I never lived in a city where bikes were the primary form of transportation, so I was pretty intrigued to see how the city would look.

i have never seen so many people on bicycles in my life

Tempted to buy a bike myself!

i love how bike-friendly this city is!

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On A Jet Plane

June 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

Sometimes when I catch an airplane flying in the sky, I like to take a few seconds to imagine the distant countries it’s jetting towards.

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