A Tour of Taroko National Park

A few weekends ago I explored Hualien City, the county seat of Hualien, with my friend Josh (who by the way is super talented and responsible for all of the pictures of myself that I included in this article.)

I wanted to show him one of Taiwan’s most scenic areas so naturally we ventured to Taroko National Park!

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This was a slightly ambitious one day trip, however from Taipei we were able to make it to the park and enjoy the sights all before it got dark. To maximize your time you just need to be sure to get up early the day of and do some research prior to arriving in Hualien City.

There are two methods of getting to Taroko National Park, the first being by combo ticket and the second by taking a direct train. The two are close in cost, with the direct train being the faster and more comfortable option. For more information on transportation between the two cities, consult this expertly written blog.

Josh and I decided before hand that we were going to rent scooters in order to travel at our own pace and have the freedom to chose exactly what areas of the National Park we wanted to explore. Once we arrived at the train station in Hualien City we were approached by the owner of a scooter rental shop and he quickly escorted us to his nearby shop. It cost $500 NTD (or $22 CAD) to rent them for the day and of course they came with helmets #safetyfirst

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If you don’t feel comfortable driving a scooter there are also buses that will take you there and you can learn more about how to catch it here under the <About the shuttle bus in Taroko> heading.

We were feeling adventurous that day so we found our way there using our good friend Google Maps, however my new favourite app Maps.me is also really good for directions and accuracy! Once you are out of the core city it is essentially a straight shot and the whole ride will take you approximately 40 minutes.

On the way to the park the views of the mountains were beautiful but once we reached an area just outside the park, the beauty we were immersed rose to a jaw dropping level.

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We proceeded to the Visitor Centre and got some helpful information from a very friendly park enthusiast. I recommend doing this just to take a break, go to the washroom, or buy a snack and some water.

We then took a left out of the Visitor Centre, went straight for 500 metres and eventually took a right following the signs for Taroko Gorge. We quickly noticed that everyone is required to wear helmets in the park due to the potential of rock slides, luckily we already had ours.

We road along the impressive Taroko Gorge until we arrived at the Swallow Grotto. The potholes found in the cliffs were especially impressive, not to mention the built in springs.

There is a trail you can walk that is about half a kilometre starting from the beginning of the Swallow Grotto, it’s called the Yanzikou Trail and it offers an up close and personal view of this impressive rock formation.

Since we rented scooters, we continued to ride along until we got to Cimu bridge where we stopped to take in the awe-inspiring architecture complimented by the surrounding astounding landscape.

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The rushing grey water that flows throughout these marble mountains is most likely this colour from the rocks and sediment below it, but there are places in the stream where marble rock is exposed and clear blue water is visible. This combination really is stunning in person and despite being completely natural, looks as if it was painted to be that way.

Next we found a waterfall that we got to observe from a nearby (somewhat nervewracking) suspension bridge. It was pretty wonderful to witness this raw and powerful display of nature.

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Below is a map highlighting the major scenic spots within the Taroko Gorge. You can find out more details on the Taroko National Park website including various tour suggestions.

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Personally, Taroko National Park served as a large reminder of how small we as humans really are. Everywhere you look at in this park, from any angle, you are surrounded by mountains and gorges up to 3,000 metres in elevation. The park is literal eye candy, a dazzling visual experience if you will. The greenery, the waterfalls, the shrines, and statues are all sensational and I guarantee you will say the word “WOW” at least five times during your time there. It is trips like these that emphasize how beautiful this world is and how important it is that we enjoy our world’s wonders in a respectful way.

A Taste of the Pacific Ocean

Have you ever tasted the Pacific Ocean? Maybe an unexpected wave crashed into you right when you opened your mouth to yell something at a friend or sibling?

I realized this past weekend that fortunately, the Pacific is much less salty than the Atlantic! Why is this relevant you ask? Because recently I chose one windy day to go snorkelling and although I likely swallowed an entire glass of salt water, it was extremely worth it.

My friends Sandra, Shiun and I met at Taipei Main Station and took the 1811 bus to LuoDong! The bus ticket will cost you $110 NTD (and the bus leaves at 8:20, 9:20, and 10:20 AM, so naturally we took the latest one.

CAMERAThe stop for the snorkelling is called Long Dong Port.

The location is remote so before leaving make sure to stock up on food, water, sunscreen, and to bring all necessities: bathing suits, towels, sunglasses, etc.

Once we got off the bus we walked down some bamboo stairs, continued straight for about two minutes, and before long saw a quaint shop on the corner that rented snorkel equipment.

For $70 NTD we rented a snorkel and began the journey to the “Dragon’s Hole” for some underwater adventures! The path to the snorkelling cove is straight from the shop (ProTravelTip: remember to follow the people, the crowd rarely leads you astray) and is a tad difficult to get to, unless your parents put you in rock climbing classes as a child.

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It takes about 15 minutes, and my best advice is to just take your time, wear some running shoes, and look before you step/ jump.

Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view and will instantly forget how annoying that rock trek was. Place your bags somewhere on the rocks, strap on that snorkel, and jump in!

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The water was perfect temperature for swimming and we quickly found a spot where, what I like to refer to as Dory’s (ahem Finding Nemo ahem), we’re hanging out!

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After swimming around and taking in the bunches of beautiful coral and fish gathered around them, we spotted a rock formation where people we’re jumping off.

It was about two storey’s high so of course we had to jump off of it. After scaling up the rock formation, with the help of two ropes tied to the rock, I quickly took in the view before taking my leap! Oh, and plugging my nose.

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We swam, laughed, and soaked up the sun during lunch while we reflected about just how lucky we were to explore this hidden treasure at so little cost! After all, it’s important to be in the moment, but in that moment it’s also extremely important to reflect and appreciate what you are experiencing.

There are some days in life we wish we could relive because they were THAT awesome, and let me just say that for me, this was definitely one of them.

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Travelling to Long Dong?

First, download BusTracker Taipei from the app store.

On your way home, the 1811 bus can pick you up at the Long Dong Port at 3 PM or 6 PM.

Alternatively, you can take a bus to Keelung (for example bus 791) and then from Keelung buses leave every 10 minutes for Taipei.

Bus 1811: http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Line=3025&Lang=En

 

Typhoon Tyranny!

My Taiwanese experience got a little more authentic after this past Tuesday, September 27th as Typhoon Megi made landfall in Taiwan. And just like Miley Cyrus it came in like a wrecking ball!

Schools were closed, work was cancelled, and most businesses, except for the trusty and ever so populous 7-11’s, were closed.

Typhoon Megi was especially threatening to the country as the centre of the storm passed directly over Taiwan, moving from east to west and beginning in Hualien City.

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Before

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During

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In Hualien it brought ashore winds equal to that of a Category 4 Hurricane.

As the winds and rains of Megi ravaged Taiwan, the effects of the storm were also greatly felt in the west of Taiwan. The island’s Central Weather Bureau showed steady winds of 100km/h in Taichung City with gusts of 198km/h on Tuesday afternoon.

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Before

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During

The storm even effected Eastern China as multiple mudslides occurred resulting in at least 30 people missing.

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More than 14,700 people were evacuated in Taiwan, while millions lost power and hundreds of thousands of homes were without water. Typhoon Megi killed four people and injured more than 523 in Taiwan in total.

Prime time typhoon season in Taiwan is July to September.However these massive storms are possible from June to October and supposedly are more rare but often more fierce in October.

Check out this video from CNN’s report on Typhoon Megi to get a visual representation of what this country is dealing with.

Luckily for myself I live in Taipei, the capital located in northern Taiwan. The effects of typhoons are not felt too strongly here however within six hours of Megi hitting Taiwan, 75 mm of rain was recorded.

The radius of this storm was large and it’s safe to say it effected Taipei in a greater way then the last two typhoons Meranti and Malakas, who’s force was felt off-shore of Taiwan.

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This was the third typhoon Taiwan has been hit with in the past 2 weeks. Oh and good news folks, my friends tell me theres rumblings of another typhoon for this coming week. Strap in real tight Taiwan, you’re in for another strong shower!

Reports on Typhoon Megi: 

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2016/09/26/2003655949

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/26/asia/typhoon-megi-taiwan-weather/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/29/typhoon-megi-dozens-missing-after-landslide-hits-chinese-village

https://weather.com/storms/typhoon/news/typhoon-megi-forecast-taiwan-china

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-37503174

To Infinity and Beyond at Wanli

The date was September 24, 2016. It was a Saturday, but not your average sleep in, watch Netflix, and run some errands kind of Saturday.

After persuading my roommate Greg to join me, I was starting to get nervous as I lay awake in bed. The hour was 8: 45 AM, and it was time for me to get ready.

After throwing on some athletic gear and making a quick breakfast we were out the door and on our way to our high flying adventure.

We met a large group of fellow adrenaline seekers at the Taipei Main Bus Station’s Terminal A to take Kuo-Kuang bus 1815.

Our destination? Wanli, New Taipei. Our mission? To run off a cliff, float 200 feet in the air, and capture some amazing views.

The bus to Wanli took approximately 40 minutes, and to me it felt even faster as I thought more and more about what I was about to do. But believe me there was no way I was going to let myself back out (I told too many of my friends, I’d never live it down).

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When we arrived at our destination we got off the 1815 bus and shuttle vans promptly picked us up to take us up the mountain to the take off sight!

Five minutes later at the top we suited up in our paragliding harnesses, and helmets!

Naturally, I chose a Hello Kitty one.

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We worked with members of Mustang Paragliding Club that day and they were amazing! They made you laugh and feel calm, were very organized, and even gave you a selfie stick and a go-pro to use during your flight! Afterwards the 8G micro SD card was yours to keep, who doesn’t love free micro SD cards?! 

This shuttle service, provided by the Mustang Club, was organized by an organization called Taiwan Adventure Outings and they were responsible for this flawless event!

They purchased our bus tickets ahead of time so all we had to do was get on the bus and pay them there. They negotiated a group price for us that was extremely reasonable at $1,500 NTD or a little less than $65 CAD.

If you’re in Taiwan and are looking to do some adrenaline or nature based trips, Dustin and Ryan at Taiwan Adventure Outings are your guys! Check out their fan page and even look up their group on Facebook to see the paragliding and many other awesome trips they hold each weekend!

My paragliding experience was 6 minutes of pure bliss. There was no time for serious nerves as the take off happened so quickly that once I got in the air I was just so happy to be up there!

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Looking straight I saw the beautiful blue water of the Pacific Ocean, behind me were lush green mountains, and below there was a town that appeared to be micro-sized. The sky was so clear you could see for miles, once I was in the air I really did not want the flight to end.

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My guide was extremely kind and really fun to float with, during the flight he had us going in circles, going up and down, and I loved every second of it! To catch a short video of my amazing experience, check out my latest Instagram: @careolinadoidge or my Facebook page !

I can’t even describe how happy I am that I went through with paragliding. This experience proved to be a reminder that sometimes you just gotta suck up some courage and go for it!

Its common to complain about feeling bored or too comfortable in our routines. I think its important to think about what we can do to change that, it can start with something small and simple, or be something more drastic. For me the important thing was all about stepping outside my comfort zone and pushing myself to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

 Lululemon advocates it, and going forward I’m going to try and abide by it. Do something this week that scares you or pushes you, and afterwards see how you feel.

 

OH and in case you want to get back to Taipei Main Station: Catch the 1815 Bus!

Here’s the schedule and listed stops: http://www.taiwanbus.tw/information.aspx?Lang=En&Line=8236

 

A Drive for Democracy

Recognize the monument pictured above?

Its the entrance to Liberty Square in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District, and it acts as a reminder of the development of democracy in Taiwan. In fact, the country recently elected a female President, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, to be its leader.

Let’s face it, no democracy is perfect. However, what I think a lot of  North American people don’t realize (my former self included) is that Taiwan is in fact a democratic country, separate from its communist neighbour China.

Recently, I visited Hong Kong, a state that in 1997 was released by the UK back to China. I absolutely adored my time on the skyscraper island as I was able to experience the perfect balance of city and nature type adventures.

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(Stay tuned for an article on my favourite excursion)

During my time in Hong Kong I noticed some differences between it and Taipei, Taiwan:

  • The Subway system in Hong Kong is referred to as MTR (Mass Transit Railway opened 1979), but Taipei took a hipster approach, and named their’s MRT (short for Taipei Rapid Metro opened in 1997).
  • Both have separate versions of delicious tea, HK’s being Lai Cha Tea and Taiwan’s being Pearl Milk Tea.
  • Hong Kong drives on the left side of the street and Taiwan the right.
  • In Hong Kong the majority speak Cantonese, while in Taiwan the majority speak Mandarin.

Yet similar to Taipei, the mainland of Hong Kong is beaming with extremely impressive infrastructure, amazing shopping, and delicious restaurants. Taiwan and Hong Kong are both accented by beautiful mountains and smaller islands.

Hong Kong is an overall more international city, that actually just had an important political election.

Politics. Its the topic that isolates family members, ruins friendships, and divides nations. It’s a complicated subject to say the least, and one that I do not pretend to know much about, especially in regards to a country that I just began living in.

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But what I do know is that there are some important differences between Taiwan’s and Hong Kong’s current political structures and policies.

Currently, Taiwan enjoys a separate identity and constitution from the Republic of China. They use a first past the post electoral system, and as proven in the past election, the majority of citizens do not wish to unite with mainland China.

Although Hong Kong exercises autonomy, their situation is a little more complicated with a policy of “one country, two systems” in accordance with mainland China.

Since 2014, where young Hong Konger’s held mass street protests demanding universal suffrage (the right for all citizens to vote), the path to political independence from China is starting to become more clear, as in its most recent semi-democratic election (to determine Hong Kong’s Legislative Council) one elected political party’s leader is 23 years old.

However in response the Chinese government has announced that Hong Kong must accept Beijing’s control and oversight, their basic message being that ultimately they hold power and jurisdiction over Hong Kong.

Yet with voter turn out rising 5% in this past election and younger citizens with democratic ideals becoming involved in the countries politics, there is definitely hope that one day, despite the constraint of “one country, two systems”  Hong Kong will be able to establish a true independent democracy, similar to that of Taiwan’s.

Demonstrators hold signs and umbrellas in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy marches, at Times Square in New York

Things are about to get interesting: the millennials have spoken, attitudes are changing, and just like the citizens of Taiwan, Hong Konger’s have demanded their rights.

Okay people now here get information:

(^to the tune of Beyoncé’s formation, obviously)

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/31/asia/hong-kong-legislative-council-explainer/

http://english.metro.taipei/ct.asp?xItem=1315948&ctNode=70209&mp=122036

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-election-timeline-idUSTRE7BC0E320111213

http://time.com/4478978/hong-kong-legislative-council-election-legco/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTR

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_Square_(Taipei)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_China_general_election,_2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan#Democratization

 

 

 

Night Life Near The Red House

The Red House (or Honglou in Chinese) is an historical site located in the Ximen area of Taipei. Originally built in 1908 by the Japanese, this octagonal building is now home to a number of interesting people, shops, bars, restaurants and events!

This location is beaming with life, music, and a strong mixture of tourists and locals! If you’re moving to Taipei I would strongly recommend this area for these exact reasons!

To find it, take the Blue or Green MRT line to Ximen Station, choose Exit 1 and before you know it you’ll be steps away from this exciting area! If you feel like browsing some shops beforehand, take Exit 6 for the Pedestrian Area across the street from the Red House.

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(I am not the owner of this image)

There is a section of the Red House that often hosts concerts and just behind the building there is a multitude of outdoor restaurants and bars.

In fact, The Red House is the hub of Taipei’s gay bar scene. Having been to a few myself I can tell you they are a great time, and obviously all are welcome.

It’s safe to say night time is when this area really comes alive, with glowing lights, music, and the delicious aromas of various foods.

A restaurant called Yunnan Thai Style Southern Food served up the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had for a mere $150 NTD or $6 Canadian. It’s decor may not look like much but what it may lack in aesthetics it makes up for in delicious true thai taste!!

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On weekends vendors line the trendy area next to the Red House. You can find beautiful handmade items here! Ranging from jewellery, to leather coin holders, to stylish hand designed t-shirts to homemade soaps; the artistry will truly blow you away!

C’mon we all know a cat or dog who could use a neck tie am I right?? HOW CUTE!

The set up next to the Red House is reminiscent of a smaller and much more reasonably priced version of Toronto, Ontario’s Kensington Market, also an area belonging to part of a neighbourhood and considered an historical site.

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One vendor sells uniquely shaped records

Tents owned by different vendors are like treasure chests waiting to be explored; unique and handcrafted items lie around each corner. The vendors are nothing but proud of their work and happy to talk with you as much as they can. During my visit I did not encounter any owner that was pushy or put pressure on me to buy, rather the interactions I had were extremely pleasant and by the end of it I couldn’t leave without asking for a business card!

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For the care and craftsmanship behind each design I found the prices to be quite reasonable, but you will have to visit for yourself and tell me what you think!

 

Where did this information come from? See for yourself! 

The Red House (Honglou)

http://www.redhouse.org.tw/index_en.aspx

The Red House (Honglou) Market 

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g293913-d1024907-r238542684-Ximen_Red_House_Ximending-Taipei.html

MRT Instructions 

https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/the-red-house-honglou-%E8%A5%BF%E9%96%80%E7%B4%85%E6%A8%93

Yunnan Thai Style Southern Food

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293913-d6135304-Reviews-Yunnan_Thai_Style_Southern_Food-Taipei.html

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/taiwan/taipei/restaurants/thai/thai-food

Kensington Market

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_Market

Taipei Gay Bars

 

Arrival

My journey began in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

July 28th: I set off, by myself, for the longest voyage I have yet to take in my 22 years.

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Five episodes of The Mindy Project, four frozen meals, three mini bottles of wine, two plane rides, and just one day later I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan.

This opportunity came to me through the organization AIESEC (http://aiesec.ca/), which facilitates global learning and understanding through its international internships and volunteering placements.

After reuniting with my combined four bags of luggage I immediately texted my dear family and friends several messages along the lines of, “I MADE IT!!”

Next I was greeted by my Local Committee Member named Eric, who, despite it being very late, seemed extremely enthused to welcome me to his home.

My first impressions of Taipei? Very hot and humid. The standard definition of personal space? Much smaller than what I’m used to, but wow! Taiwanese people are friendly.

About an hour later I arrived at my new apartment, The West Residence. “Fitting for a foreigner from the Western World,” I remember thinking to myself.

After recovering my keys from the front desk, Eric and I took the elevator to my floor and opened the apartment door to see, not my roommate, but his cat, Doug Doug.

Relieved to have reached my unfamiliar home half way around the world, I stared out my bedroom window and took in the night view beforeIMG_6552 settling into bed. The street was surprisingly busy for the time.

It felt surreal to consider myself a soon to be expat in this overseas destination I had researched and talked about for so long. And yet here I was. This was real life, and it was really happening!

With the combination of my body thinking it was 2:30 PM (instead of AM), in addition to my curiosity and excitement I thought for sure I would toss and turn all night.

But to my surprise, with a little A/C and a comforter left by a former tenant, I was ready to fall fast asleep with hopes of soon exploring this new city.

Before I closed my eyes, in one of those fate type of moments you see in the movies, I stumbled upon this picture on Instagram.

And suddenly everything seemed to make sense.