Tag Archives: Taiwan

I see, I do

Back in December of 2010 I was visiting Taiwan for the second time, seeing the southern parts of the country that I had missed on my first, typhoonriddled visit.

I had started the trip at Tarako Gorge, where I had hoped to see some macaques up close , but the closest I got was seeing one from the tour bus. After sharing my dissapointment with my friends and family I was bombarded by stories of how lucky I am that I did not see a monkey in real life. According to some of my family, in-person encounters with wild primates  lead to stolen shiny things, personal injury and other unspecified traumas. I will admit, even with these warnings, I was still disappointed.

I concluded the trip in Kaohsiung, taiwan’s second largest city.  I liked Kaohsiung a lot, but the weather was a bit windier than I was comfortable with.

Have you ever strolled a street lined with palm trees on a blustery day? Don’t. It  sounds like a fun game, but dodging coconuts is less amusing in reality.  I veered away from my planned route in an effort to avoid a death befitting Wile E. Coyote. In fact, I altered my route so dramatically that I decided to change some of plans entirely.  Looking at the map I saw that I was now a relatively easy walking distance from Shoushan,  or Ape Hill.

I seized the opportunity and walked towards the park.   When I arrived, I saw these guys guarding the entrance.

I knew that there were monkeys living in the park but I misunderstood the exact situation.  I thought that the monkeys on Shoushan would be like the moose in Algonquin Park: numerous and not an uncommon sight, but happy to avoid humans when possible.  I was wrong.  The macaques on Shoushan were more like the (former) rabbits at Uvic: everywhere and surprisingly fearless.

Before entering the park I had throw out my food and carefully stashed my camera inside my backpack.  I even removed my watch and earrings.  I was determined to avoid a monkey mugging.

My overly-cautious ways paid off.  As I walked through the park, alongside the other tourists, I did not once get attacked by a macaque.  Although that might be due to the fact that I am not a giant banana.

At one point I got a bit more confident and I stopped to take my camera out of my backpack and throw it around my neck.  I walked, with a death grip on my camera, for a few more minutes, not quite daring to raise the camera to actually take a picture.  But then  I came to a bend in the path with a group of people.  When I approached the group I saw that they were watching a mother and baby macaque, happily sitting on branch about six feet from the footpath.  I really wanted a picture but I was really afraid of upsetting the mother.  So I stood still while other people came and left, taking pictures. Eventually the crowd thinned a bit and I decided that the mom looked pretty happy. She had been watching the crowd watch her for quite a while and she did not seem at all alarmed.

So that’s how I got this shot:

And that’s the story of how I crossed off “see a monkey (or macaque) in the wild” from my bucket list.


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February 12, 2012 · 3:49 pm

Proof of Life

Dear Internets,

I am not dead.  February was a bit of a funny month. I spent it overcoming  a whopper case of jet lag, getting re-acquainted with family and friends, and studying for a major job interview.  Now that the interview is done (and I’ve begun the two month wait for results) I feel like I can finally start to tell you the stories from my travels.

It will take a while to get all of my thoughts and tales organised. I think that I will start with New Zealand and then backtrack and talk about Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau afterwards.  For now I’ll leave you with a few photo teasers.  Also, I’ve added a subscription button on the blog. If you would like to get new posts emailed to you, just click the button at the top right of the blog.



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And now I begin to slowly make my way back to Kanada

Well, I’m finished my Korean chapter.  My last day of teaching was Thursday and it went pretty smoothly.  Some of my students made cards for me and a few gave me small gifts. So that was nice and it made me feel like I’d made some kind of impact. But then one of my more advanced students wrote “You will go back to Kanada now.” So . . .  maybe not that big of an impact.

The other teachers got me a cake and we had a little goodbye gathering before they went to teach the rest of their classes for the night (I only had three classes on Thursday.) I’ll really miss a lot of the people I worked with and a lot of the students. For the most part, however, I’m glad to be done the contract and able to move on to new adventures.

Speaking of new adventures, I’m in Taiwan!  I made it to Hualien on Saturday and I took a trip to Taroko Gorge on Sunday. I had been feeling wary of going because it’s such a large tourist draw, but I suppose some things draw lots of people for a reason. The Gorge was beautiful. I was really excited to see it, and even  more so when I realised how few people there were. (Apparently a lot of people are scared to visit the Gorge because there was a bus accident a few months ago.)


Safety first!



I was really hoping to see a monkey and was somewhat successful. We saw a monkey when we were in the van. Also, there was a statue of the Macaque at the visitor’s centre.  It wasn’t an up close encounter, but I guess it might have to do.


The closest I got to having my camera stolen by a monkey. Some day . . .



Now I’m in Tainan, where I spent the day touring some cool and some not-so-cool historical sights.  But more about Tainan later . I’ll leave you with a view of the Shakadang River, as seen through the holes in the walls of Taroko Gorge.



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Taiwan, part III

On my fifth day in Taiwan I woke up early and headed to the train station.  My destination was Ruifang, where I was to meet up with the Pingxi Branch Rail Line, a 12-kilometre segment of rail that has been kept open for tourism.  It was a public holiday in Taiwan so I was a bit concerned about how busy things might be; however, I was pleasantly surprised.

My first stop on the line was the tiny town of Pingxi. Pingxi put itself on the map with its famous Lantern Festival and the train station is appropriately decorated with beautiful lanterns, even outside of festival season.

In the off-season, the reason to go to Pingxi is hiking.  About five minutes from the train station there is a trail with a series of crags to climb. Fortunately, the crags require zero technical skill because they have stairways carved into the rock.

Have I mentioned how hot it was? Well, I was dripping sweat even before I started the hike. Still, I chose a crag and climbed up.  I won’t lie: it was a bit intimidating to climb. Unlike a normal mountain trail, where you can look around, the only thing I could see was a staircase leading straight up.  Still, it was worth it to get the view from the top.

If you squint then you can see the lady who climbed the other crag with an umbrella.


By the time I had climbed to the top of the first crag it was about midday.  I was running low on water and I was dripping sweat so I decided to leave Pingxi and head to my second destination of the day.

You should know that the centrepiece of the Pingxi railway is the Shifen waterfall. It is 40 meters wide and is said to be quite spectacular. However, it is also the biggest tourist draw and you have to pay to get into the park to see the waterfall. I decided to pass on Shifen and instead I got off the train at the deserted Sandiaoling station.

After about five minutes of walking along the train tracks I reached the trailhead for the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail.  The trail was not part of a park, so it was free, and I only saw a handful of people. (Although, keeping in the spirit of hiking, they were the nicest people I met in all of Taiwan — which says a lot.)  The main part of the trail takes a few hours to hike and takes you past three waterfalls. The first one is pretty magnificent, but you can’t get very close to it.

Sandiaoling Waterfall #1


After the first waterfall the trail changes from fairly flat and well groomed to a more challenging terrain.  About an hour into the trail I arrived at the second waterfall.  This waterfall was cool because you could walk almost right behind the waterfall. (I suspect that during the rainy season the waterfall does, in fact, fall right in front of the trail.)

Sandiaoling Waterfall #2

Again, the trail got even more difficult. There was a ladder carved into the side of a cliff at one point and some serious clambering to get up to the last waterfall. It was absolutely worth the effort.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice, but I felt like I had stumbled onto a waterfall movie set.

Sandiaoling Waterfall #3

By the time I reached the third waterfall the sun was started to get low in the sky. I hurried back along the trail so that I could catch the train back to Taipei. Sadly, I was at the end of my time in Taiwan.  However, Taiwan, as it turns out, is always thinking of its tourists. As I waited in the airport on day six I was feeling really sad to be leaving. I had such a great trip but I really wished I could have seen more. And then I saw this:

Hello Kitty waiting lounge in the Taipei International Airport.

Suddenly, I felt at peace with leaving. So thank you, Taiwan, for giving me so many reasons to love you, and one very good reason to leave.

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Taiwan, part 2

If you’ve read part one then you know that my trip to Taiwan had a bit of a rocky start.  If this had been a year ago then I would have been pretty upset that my trip’s plans had fallen apart. Fortunately, I have learned that travel is just like the rest of life and that plans fail.  So, I had read a lot and had some great sleeps, but by day four of my trip I was very ready to get out of the city.

Thankfully, after a few days of listening to the wind howling and seeing the grey  of the city against the grey backdrop of fog and cloud, I woke up on day four to sunshine and beautiful blue skies.

I headed to the bus station and caught a bus to Keelung, which is about 30 minutes Northeast of Taipei.  Keelung is a port city and it smells like ocean.  I headed to the information desk to ask which bus I needed to get to Bitou Cape. The staff at the information center were wonderful, even after I ended up going back two more times for clarifications. (The bus network in Taiwan is notoriously complicated.) Eventually I did make it onto the bus, one with a bus driver who –-miraculously–  spoke English.  I started to worry a little bit because my guidebook told me the bus trip would be about twenty minutes and after a half hour I still was not at my destination. My worry wasn’t too extreme though because the scenery was stunning.  I figured that no matter where I exited the bus I would find something awesome.  After about an hour the bus pulled over and the driver told me that this was where In wanted to be. He even gave me directions to the trailhead. I don’t think that I can describe how beautiful the hike was. Here are a few of the things I saw:


I was taking a break in one of the hilltop sun shelters, snaping some shots of the views, when I glanced down and froze. About a foot away from me was the biggest spider I had ever seen in my life. I know that this picture offers no frame of reference for size, but please believe me that it was significantly larger than my hand.  I decided to leave the shelter and upon exiting I saw that there were at least two more of these giant spiders residing in the shelter. Eeek! I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently my new spider friends were a type of Nephila Maculata. They are  among  the largest spiders in the world, but they are also relatively harmless to humans.


Nephila Maculata, AKA: AAAAH!




Bitou Cape views


The valleys were filled with butterflies. They were everywhere.  I did a little photoshoot with some of these black and white butterflies; however, it turns out that butterflies are about as cooperative as puppies when it comes to staying still for photos.  Oh well, here’s one shot:


Large Tree Nymph butterfly


After my hike I caught the bus back to Keelung. I wandered around the city for a bit. If my main complaint about Taipei was its greyness then Keelung was the perfect antidote.  I walked through Keelung Miaokou, which is a night market but still has plenty of activity during the day. I also climbed up to Chungcheng Park, which overlooks the city.


Keelung Miaokou



A temple on the outskirts of Chungcheng Park


It had been a hot day. The only thermometer that I saw was in the shade, but it read 33°C. I had been walking in the sun all day and I felt that I had earned a bit of time relaxing in the park. It was there, sitting in the park and overlooking the harbour at sunset, that I realized I was going to be the bus seat-mate whom I would normally avoid. I stank.  It was with this bit of self reflection that I decided to head back to Taipei to shower and sleep.  I still had one more day of adventure ahead of me and I wanted to be well rested.


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Taiwan, part I

I’ve been having a bit of a stressful time for the last few weeks. Nothing too dramatic, but my time in Korea will be wrapping up before I know it (three months left, but I suspect the fall will fly by) and it’s time to start getting things in order for my life post-Korea. Getting things ready to leave Korea is, perhaps unsurprisingly, proving to be just as difficult as getting ready to come to Korea.  Fortunately, last week was Chuseok, which is a bit like Korean thanksgiving. The actual holiday was Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but my school was also closed on Monday. This meant that we had a whole six days off. I considered using my time to travel within Korea a bit, as there are still a few places that I would like to see. However, Chuseok is one of two major holidays in Korea. It is the time when EVERYBODY leaves Seoul and goes to their hometowns to visit with family. It is not the time to travel in the country if you can avoid it.

Instead, I went to Taiwan. My plan was to stay in Taipei the first night, get rested up, and then head to the South-East coast and do some hiking. I arrived in Taipei early Saturday afternoon.  And then this happened.

Typhoon Fanapi hit the Eastern coast of Taiwan On Sunday, flooding many towns and cities in the southern parts of the country, closing down airports, cancelling trains and generally causing havoc for most of the country.  I was unable to get out of Taipei on Sunday, although I spent most of the day trying to. The staff at the train station first told me that trains would be running in the evening so I spent most of the day shuffling between the train station and the adjacent bus station, trying to find a way out of the city. Late in the afternoon I admitted to myself that I would not be leaving Taipei that day, and that there was a chance I would not be able to go south during this trip.  So I checked into a hostel for a night and formulated my plan B.

On Sunday night I listened to and felt the wind shaking the building. By the time Monday morning came around there were conflicting reports about the damage that the Typhoon caused throughout the country, especially in the south. I read that roads were flooded or blocked with debris.  I  heard that a hospital in Kaohsiung had exploded, however that seems to be untrue.  Regardless, I decided that even if I could get out of Taipei, the trails that I wanted to hike could very well be closed.  I decided, somewhat reluctantly, to stay based in Taipei for the rest of my trip.  (Taipei is an ok city; I just didn’t want to be in a city at all.)  The good news is that there are a ton of great day trips to take from Taipei.

On Monday I had big plans to take the train to Keelung and then bus out to a place called Bitou Cape. I headed over to the train station and bought my ticket for Keelung. As I waited on the platform for the train to arrive, about two minutes before the train was due to arrive, I realised that the Chinese characters on my ticked did not match the characters in my guidebook. I went back to the gates so that I could exchange my ticket for a ticked to the right place. However, after some “discussion” (i.e. lots of pointing and miming) with the man at the gate he assured me that I had the right ticket and I needed to run to catch the train. So I ran and got on the train.

I was, in fact, on the wrong train.  By the time I knew this for sure though I was already about ten minutes out of Taipei so I figured I would go for the train ride and maybe it would take me somewhere great. It didn’t.  The train took me to a small industrial town on the west coast of Taiwan. (But not close enough to the coast to get to the ocean.) Upset, I got on the train back to Taipei.

By the time I returned to Taipei it was late afternoon. It was too late in the day to try to get to Bitou Cape so instead I wandered around the city. It was not a great day and I was feeling pretty pessimistic about the trip overall at that point.  I ended up going back to the hostel pretty early and spending the evening with my book. It turned out to be a good thing that I was so well rested that night though, because the next day was going to be an excellent adventure . . .

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