Driving along Taiwan’s (North) East coast

Almost a month after returning from our trip, I’m finally getting round to posting the last installment in my recap!

Our final day in Taiwan was spent travelling back to the airport. To do this, we drove along the East coast from Hualien up to Taipei. Hualien is roughly in the middle of the country, so really it was more like the North-East coast.

Before we got properly underway, we stopped at Quingshui Cliff, which isn’t far from Hualien City. Quingshui is the highest coastal cliff in Taiwan. It stretches for a length of 21 km, but there’s a viweing area not far from Hualien, which is where we stopped. I think you’ll agree the view is stunning. Look how blue the water is! (It’s the Pacific Ocean, in case you were wondering)

Once we got back in the car, Jan asked me to take some photos while we were driving. Apparantly he has photos that were taken while driving along the Pacific coast in the US, so he wanted some from the other side of said ocean. I don’t think I did too bad a job with the following photos considering they were taken with a crappy camera from a moving car!

We stopped again at a viewing point that looks down on (I believe) Keeling harbour, then we had a final stop at a beach where people were surfing. For the first time on our trip we saw mostly non-Asian tourists! Of course not every other tourist elsewhere had been Asian, but there were a lot more of them about than “Westerners”.

See that last photo with the people on it? The island in the background is called Turtle Island. You can’t tell why from that photo though, so here’s another crappy “taken-while-driving” picture of it from the other side:

Taiwan

Finally, we drove back to Taipei. Jan had been talking about taro balls (taro is a kind of root vegetable, kind of like sweet potato) all week but we hadn’t been able to find them anywhere, so before heading to the airport he wanted to go back to the night market where he had eaten them. First, we needed to find somewhere to park, which was easier said then done! The sat nav kept telling us we’d already driven past the carpark we’d asked for directions to without us ever spotting said carpark! Finally, we managed to park by the main train station. From there, we took a Metro then walked for a bit until we reached the night market, the last one we would visit in Taiwan. Taro is sweet, so before buying that we went fr some dumplings. This time they weren’t bread dumplings but a kind of pasta-like dough. The filling was delicious pork! We enjoyed them so much that, after our first basket, we ordered another. In fact, I would like to eat more of those dumplings right now! That’s how good they were.

So tasty!
So tasty!

Once we were done with the dumplings, we went and stood in the looong queue for taro balls (apparantly they’re popular!). Jan bought some plain ones and some that were filled with pickled egg yolk. I preferred the plain ones – the egg tasted rubbery to me. The plain ones were a bit like doughnut on the outside but then the inside tasted almost like bean curd. It was a bit odd! I certainly wouldn’t have raved about them the way Jan did, but oh well. I was pleased he got to have some again before we left.

Time was getting on by then, so we went and picked up the car then drove it back to the car rental place. From there, one of their staff members drove us back to the airport. The check-in desk wasn’t open yet, so we went and looked at the gift shop and I bought some sweet potato cakes to bring back to work (they tasted odd, for anyone who’s wondering). Then we finally checked in, bought ourselves a drink on the other side and, before long, it was time to board our plane. And thus ends our Taiwanese adventure! It’s a shame we didn’t get to visit the south of the island – I’ve heard Alishan is amazing! But a week just isn’t long enough. Hopefully one day I’ll make it back.

~I am counting Taiwan as my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge with Clare from Need Another Holiday. It also counts towards my 35 Before 35 challenge, item: Visit a continent I’ve never been to before.~

For those who missed them, here are my other Taiwan recap posts:

  1. Initial Thoughts on Taiwan
  2. Taipei, Taiwan
  3. 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan and Sun Moon Lake by Night
  4. Sun Moon lake and driving through the mountains
  5. Hiking in Taroko National Park

Sun Moon Lake and driving through the mountains

I’m about halfway through the trip to Taiwan now. After this, there’ll be two more posts.
Thursday was another early start. The hotel we were staying at next to Sun-Moon Lake was the least westernised of the three hotels we stayed in. The staff spoke very little English and all the other guests were Asian. Understandably, the breakfast was also very Asian. I ate some kind of vegetable omelette, noodles with (I think) pickled vegetables and some slices of what we think was sweet potato. There was also toast and jam for the less adventurous tourist. The breakfast room was two floors above our room and gave a better view of the lake.

After breakfast, we checked out, picked up the car and were off for a drive around the lake. Our first stop was at the Wen Wu Temple, which was built after two other temples had to be torn down due to rising water caused by the building of a dam. I said the temple we visited in Taipei was beautiful, but it was nothing compared to this one. Everywhere you looked something screamed out to have its photo taken, and when you tired of looking at the temple, you could turn around and see a stunning view of the lake. Here are just a few of the photos I took. Sadly, my crappy little camera couldn’t do it anywhere near the justice it deserves.

It was another boiling hot day, so before leaving the temple we treated ourselves to an iced tea, then we drove on around the lake. We stopped again at a pier that I don’t remember the name of (if anyone recognises the view please let me know!). It was incredibly crowded there and, as I’ve mentioned, another boiling hot day. Also, we had a long drive ahead of us, so after taking a few photos we moved on.

Once we’d driven all the way round the lake and almost back to where we’d started, we switched the sat nav back on and set off towards Hualien. Now, as the crow flies, Hualien and Sun Moon Lake aren’t actually that far apart, but the only way to get from one to the other is via the cross-country highway, which leads through the mountains. Basically, to drive from Sun Moon Lake to Taroko National Park (or vice versa), you need to plan in an entire day. Which is why, not long after we started going up into the mountains, we decided to stop and buy some food. At the rest stop, we came across the tiniest little kitty.

Taiwan

We purchased chocolate cake, milk and chocolate mini cookies and some bizarre jam sandwich type things – two slices of white bread without crusts that had been filled with strawberry jam and somehow sealed around the edges. Then we were on our way again, occasionally stopping to admire the view. Here are a few photos I took during our drive – sometimes we were in the clouds, other times we had an amazing view of the mountains below us.

At some point on our drive, we noticed that there was some red tape across the road and a bunch of cars had stopped. We stopped too and Jan got out to find out what was going on. It turned out some workers were securing part of the mountain that had become unsafe due to a rock fall. The section of road was closed, apart from for 10 minutes on every hour when cars would be allowed to pass. We had arrived in between two hours, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes. Then, at 4 p.m., the workers stopped what they were doing (which mostly seemed to involve throwing huge boulders down on to the road!) and the queue of cars was allowed to make its way slowly through the dangerous section of road. Nature at its terrible best! That was the only incident we encountered along the way, and a couple of hours later we were driving through the Taroko Gorge then finally in to Hualien. Having checked in, got rid of the car and dumped our bags, it was time to go in search of food. A piece of paper in our room told us how to get to Hualien night market, so that’s where we headed. We bought one of each of the three types of dumplings pictured below.

Taiwan

The left one is pork and spring onion (my favourite!), the middle is some kind of green vegetable – not sure what, and the right one contained mainly cabbage and (I think) mushroom. I didn’t really like that one. We then found a kind of bar/grill place, so we decided to sit there for a while. They had all kinds of beer from all over the world, but of course we chose ones from Taiwan.

One of the bar workers offered us some shrimps (?) on sticks, so we decided to give them a try. They were coated in some kind of curry powder and tasted quite nice. I wasn’t brave enough to eat the head and tail, but after being told it was ok Jan did eat one whole. Later, Jan ordered some of a larger variety. I only ate one of those – I found it tasted bitter and not very nice, but Jan liked them. And we also decided to try a local craft beer that the bar had on offer. That was very nice! (And washed away the horrid taste of whatever that seafood on a stick was!)

Tasty beer and interesting food was the perfect way to round off our day of driving through the mountains.

~ Taiwan was my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge with Clare at Need Another Holiday and also counts towards my 35 before 35; item: Visit a continent I’ve never been to before ~

921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan and Sun Moon Lake by night

On Wednesday, 27 August 2014, we left Taipei and set off down the West coast of Taiwan. It’s not a very interesting drive by the way – the motorway goes nowhere near the water and all the towns are industrial with very little to see – which is why every single guide book tells you to drive along the East coast (don’t worry, we did that on the way back… and it was spectacular!). Our destination was Sun-Moon Lake, but on the way we decided to stop at the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan (formerly called the Earthquake Memorial Museum). The museum is a memorial to an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale that hit central Taiwan on 21 September 1999 and is located at the site of the former Guangfu Junior High School (some sources say elementary school), which was destroyed in the earthquake. The buildings have all basically been left as they were (with some propping up for safety!) so visitors can see the entire extent of the destruction. After paying for your entrance ticket, the first area of the museum you enter is the Chelungpu Fault Gallery, which crosses the actual fault line along which the earthquake struck. In there, you can see various photos of the aftermath of the earthquake – fallen bridges, destroyed railway tracks, collapsed buildings and people in emergency accommodation. After the gallery, the route takes you outside where you can see the school buildings. Luckily the earthquake struck at about 1 a.m. so nobody was in school at the time! Here are some of the photos I took:

(Click on the photos to see larger versions and read my captions)

There was also an Earthquake Engineering Hall in one of the former school buildings. In the hall, there was lots of information about how to build earthquake-proof buildings and secure items within your home against earthquakes. There were also various “hands-on” exhibits, where you could, for example, build various types of houses then simulate an earthquake and see which one collapsed first. The information board in the photos above is from the Earthquake Engineering Hall. Next, we headed into a newer building where there was a 3D film showing a story about the earthquake. The film was obviously aimed at children, but there were a few interesting bits. Then we moved on to another room. There, we were told to choose a cushion to sit on and not to move once the show had started. On one side of the room were objects that were just randomly placed on shelves, while on the other there were items that had been properly secured. First we were shown images of an ordinary school day (supposedly the day before the earthquake), then came a simulation of the 1999 earthquake. The lights went out – because it happened at 1 a.m. when it was dark – and the room shook. There was a brief pause, then came the aftershock. Once the quake was over, the screen continued to show images from the actual rescue effort that followed the earthquake. Then the lights came back on and we could see which how well the objects on each side of the room had survived the earthquake. All in all, the museum was a real eye-opener, especially coming from a country where an earthquake means a tiny tremor that may or may not even be noticeable. Seeing the devastation that the quake caused was sobering and certainly made you think about the power of nature! There is also a geological museum at the site which looked to have a lot of information, but unfortunately we were in a bit of a hurry by that point. Entrance to the earthquake museum is inexpensive and I would certainly recommend it! It’s a bit out of the way and I’m not sure how you’d get to it without a car, but I imagine there’d be bus trips from somewhere in the area.

Once we left the museum, we headed straight for our hotel beside Sun-Moon Lake. By the time we got there, it was clouding over and a few drops of rain had started to fall. Here’s the view from our hotel room window just before the heavens properly opened:

We had a “lake view” room, but mostly we saw the ticket office for the boats 😉 After dropping off our suitcases, we decided to head out despite the fact that it was now raining quite heavily. Food was needed as all we’d had all day was breakfast and a bag of M&Ms from a service station we stopped at on the road! First we headed down to the lake, of course.

Unfortunately it doesn’t quite unfold it’s true beaty in torrential rain 😉 Also, I’ve no idea what happened with the last photo… I’ve only just seen how blurry it is! After looking at the lake we went into a little souvenir shop where I bought postcards and we sampled then bought some rice wine. After wandering around for a bit and getting very wet, we finally decided where to go for food. It was a little road-side stand, but behind it was what looked like a converted garage with a few tables and chairs in! We chose one of each of the things in offer, all deep fried parcels. In the left-hand photo below you can see at the back a long, thin parcel which contained pork, cheese and onions, on the right a round one filled with cabbage and mushrooms and on the left a sort of flatish one that was filled with seaweed. We both loved the pork and cheese one so much that we ordered a second (that would be the terrible photo on the right 😉 ).

I wasn’t overly keen on the cabbage/mushroom one (I’m not a massive fan of cabbage and hate mushrooms!), but thought the seaweed one was tasty enough. I’ve already told you what we thought of the other one 😉 To go with our food, we were given a large cup of sweet iced tea. All Taiwanese cold drinks are sweet! Even the bottles of fruit juice had added sugar.

By the time we’d eaten, it was dark and late, so back to the hotel we went for a good night’s sleep before a full day of driving over mountains the following day! Before bed, I attempted to take a photo of the lake in the dark…

Taiwan

Yeah, the less said about it the better 😉 In my next post, you can look forward to some better photos of Sun-Moon Lake. I can promise you it is stunningly beautiful! Until next time, folks.

~ Taiwan was my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge with Clare from Need Another Holiday. It also counts towards my 35 Before 35, item: Visit a continent I’ve never been to before ~

Initial thoughts on Taiwan

I still have a couple of posts to write on my brother’s visit, but again uploading the photos to WordPress is taking forever, so I’m skipping forward to a general post on my impressions of Taiwan. Obviously I will also be writing detailed posts on our trip with lots of pictures, but this is a start at least. This trip allowed me to complete another item of my 35 Before 35 challenge. Number 29 on the list is “Visit a continent I’ve never been to before”, and I had previously never been to Asia. Thanks, Taiwan! I am also counting this as my August 2014 trip for the Take 12 Trips challenge… so it’s a double whammy 😉 Now here are some first impressions/thoughts:

    • Do not drink on the Metro!! (In Taipei at least). You can carry drinks with you, but don’t even think about consuming them. This rule is taken very seriously! We were told off for this within hours of my arrival. Also, on escalators you stand on the right and let people pass on the left. Again, they are very serious about this and apparantly perfect strangers will shout at you for standing on the left (I did not experience this, but Jan says he did)
    • My reaction to bubble tea
      My reaction to bubble tea

      Bubble tea is weird! It was okay at first, but after a while the “bubbles” just became too much. What is that weird chewy stuff anyway? Also, the one we bought had small white things floating in it, each with a black spot in the middle (a seed, I suppose?). They looked like something I usually find in soup, but there they were in my drink. Weird! They tasted of nothing but had a soft/mushy texture. We christened them frog’s spawn.

    • It’s surprisingly difficult to get by with English in Taiwan. Most people speak a few words (hello, please, sorry and maybe a few numbers), but very few are fluent. An smartphone app or dictionary come in very useful! Jan had two – one that you could use to scan Chinese symbols and it would give you the English translation and one where you drew the symbol yourself – useful when the other one couldn’t read what you were pointing it at, because it was unclear or handwritten, for example. Also, before he left Jan had a Chinese colleague write him a sentence saying “I’m allergic to peanuts. Please tell me if there’s anything here I can’t eat”. If possible, I would highly recommend doing something like that if you’re allergic to anything.
No way was I going to eat one of these guys!
No way was I going to eat one of these guys!
  • I am happy to try most things, but just wasn’t brave enough for all the food I saw on offer, like whole squids on a stick (I’m not a fan of squid at the best of times!) and duck’s heads… complete with beak. How does one even eat a duck’s head? And what is there to actually eat? Surely all the good stuff is in the body? Also, oyster omelette is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Never again!
  • Drivers in Taiwan are crazy! If a light has only just turned red, it seems to be taken as a suggestion rather than an order. Some busy crossings have police standing at them holding sticks to wave traffic on… despite the existence of a light that’s in perfect working order?! And as for the people on scooters… I’m convinced they have a death wish! They’ll squeeze themselves into the tiniest gaps in traffic… some of them even with their small children perched in front of them on the scooter! Madness!
  • I was amazed by the amount of milk/dairy products the Taiwanese consume. I’d always thought Asians were basically lactose intolerant and rarely used dairy products (with the exception of India, of course). In Taiwan, milk tea is incredibly popular… and by that I mean tea made with milk instead of whatr, not just black tea with a drop of milk. At the hotels, I also saw a lot of Asians drinking milk with breakfast.
  • The temples are beautiful. And everyone is so tolerant. We stopped at one small, local temple near our hotel in Taipei to see what was going on (a celebration of Buddha’s birthday, it turned out). One man explained to us how the temple worked, gave us some incense and told us what to do. Then, when we asked whether it was okay to take a photo of the inside (don’t want to be disrespectful), he insisted on taking a photo of the two of us in front of it. His English wasn’t brilliant, but he was able to make himself understood and he was so, so friendly.
  • On a similar note, the Taiwanese are incredibly polite, to the extent that it’s almost embarrassing. They will thank you profusely for every tiny little thing, and one person even bowed his way out of the hotel room after showing me how everything worked. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond…
  • Sun Moon Lake may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and the views of the Pacific along the east coast of the island are stunning! Taroko Gorge is also incredibly impressive. I’m told Alishan national park is also amazing, so I can see I need to go back and experience even more of the amazing sights nature has to offer.

That’s enough for now, I think. More details will follow in individual posts about the places we visited.