Taroko Gorge is Taiwan’s biggest tourist attraction, boasting 22 kilometers of majestic mountains dropping off into steep ravines . We made a trip to the gorge with a few friends over the long weekend, and we can honestly say we were blown away by how beautiful the gorge truly is. Although most people just spend the day in Taroko, we opted to camp right in the middle, and despite the constant rain and wet socks, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Most of the scenic sights in the gorge are easily accessible, and you’ll notice lots of women walking the trails in heels. However, if you are interested in a more demanding hike that leaves your quads burning, there are beautiful options right around the corner. The must-see sights of Taroko include The Shakadang Trail, Eternal Spring Shrine, Swallow Grotto and Tunnel of Nine Turns, when it’s open.
The only disadvantage to crashing at the free campsite in Taroko is the lack of showers, so enjoy the pictures and be glad you can’t smell us through them ;-p
Normally foreigners choose between two destinations when they decide to make the move to Taiwan: Taipei or Kaohsiung, the first and second largest cities in the country, respectively. We weren’t any exception, and after deciding living in Taipei would be too expensive, we were planning on finding jobs in the alternative. Obviously that’s not how things worked out since we are happily living in Hsinchu; however, we decided it was about time to take a trip down South to check out the place we almost called home.
We couldn’t lay our finger on why, but the city wasn’t quite what we thought it would be like. Not bad, just different. Maybe it was because we were expecting the big-city, cosmopolitan feel of Taipei, which Kaohsiung doesn’t really give off. Or maybe it was because we saw SO many foreigners, everywhere we went, at all times of day. And then again, perhaps it was because Kaohsiung felt more tropical and laidback than its northern counterparts. Anyway, regardless of it feeling different, we definitely weren’t disappointed in any way. Kaohsiung is a lovely port city that has really been cleaned up over the past couple years, and there are quite a few beautiful scenes to take in.
So without any further ado, here is a glimpse of Kaohsiung:
The Love River
Yummy German Food/Panchos (unfortunately they were both so delicous that we didn’t get any pictures of the food… apologies)
Shihtoushan, or Lion Head Mountain, is a stunning foothill located in the midst of dense jungle and bamboo forests. While there is a lot to do in the surrounding areas of Lion’s Head Mountain, we made a trip out to conquer the Shihtoushan Historic Trail—a steep hike towards the mountaintop that winds past numerous temples and shrines.
We started off our expedition at the Lion Head Mountain Visitor center, where we fueled up with a map and traditional vegetarian Hakka lunch. It was quite delicious, and a beautiful place to sit for a little bit (and put off the steep climb ahead of us). From the visitor’s center, a paved walkway led us to the Historic Trail, which was also paved for the entirety of the climb. That didn’t bother us too much though, as we were too distracted by the lush, green scenery to look down at our feet.
What was even better than the natural views was the sight of numerous Buddhist temples built into the hills. It is quite astonishing thinking about how these temples were constructed, and why they were built in such a difficult place to access. The most elaborate of all the temples is the Cyuanhua Hall, a three-story masterpiece where monks and nuns bustle about. Visitors can stay the night here, and the temple provides vegetarian meals in the cafeteria for around 60NT. We didn’t eat or sleep here, although we did spend quite a bit of time snapping photographs and taking in the serene ambience.
Cyuanhua Hall is also the end of the Historic Trail, leading down to an expansive parking lot where buses await to shuttle people back to the Visitor’s Center. We opted out of taking the bus and decided to explore the main road, walking the 6km back and enjoying the beautiful day. The shuttle bus ended up passing us about 15 times; we can only imagine that the driver was probably wondering what us crazy Westerners were up to.
Lonely Planet talks extremely highly of Shihtoushan, claiming it to be one of the highlights of travelers overall time in Taiwan. It’s definitely beautiful, and since we’re in Hsinchu, the one-hour scooter ride with sensational views makes Shihtoushan a must-do. However, I’m not so sure I would say that a traveler with only a few weeks in Taiwan would regret spending their time elsewhere. What do you think? If you have been to Lion’s Head yourself, would you highly recommend it?
We had absolutely superb weather this weekend. With crisp, blue skies and cooler temperatures, we couldn’t help but spend as much of our free time outdoors as possible. This gorgeousness really couldn’t have come at a better time either as I found out this past Saturday was going to be my LAST free Saturday afternoon for six weeks! *GASP* Alas, I’ll be teaching a six-week speech and writing class on Saturdays from 2pm-4pm, starting this week. It’s not actually that bad, but it does make it difficult to take weekend trips and whatnot. So what did I want to do on my last afternoon of freedom? Why a picnic at Green Grass Lake of course. With such spectacular weather how else would I have wanted to spend it?
Green Grass Lake was our destination, and it turned out to be the perfect picnicking venue. Surrounded by a walking path and large, grassy patches, we quickly found a quasi-secluded perch on which to enjoy our wine, cheese and crackers. We got a couple of stares from people walking by, and even a Gambe! (cheers) from one woman, but it seemed no one had a problem with our picnicking activities. If eating outdoors isn’t really your thing, there are also a few coffee houses and restaurants surrounding the lake, of which the pricy Lakehouse Restaurant is the most popular.
After taking in the scenery of the lake, we made our way to nearby Gu Chi Feng. What is Gu Chi Feng, you ask? It’s a place to see some crazy—and at times a bit creepy—statues. For starters, there is a massive replica of the deity Guang Gong, making this place a bit difficult to miss. The red-faced giant is seriously huge, towering above all the buildings nearby and boasting nine floors inside. But while this guy is amazing due to his sheer scale, the truly crazy stuff comes by exploring what’s beneath the temple.
The Statue of Liberty, The Thinker, and Napoleon are just three of the hundreds of statues that can be found on the nearby park grounds. The whole place gives off a sort of abandoned and eerie feel, especially if touring the area during sunset, but it is also wicked cool and unlike anything we had ever seen before. We only scratched the surface of the area as it was quickly getting a little too dark (and a little too close to Halloween) to comfortably meander among giant statues. Here are a few of our favorite snapshots:
Pretty unique, right? From what we’ve heard, these statues are the private collection of a rich Taiwanese man, although we haven’t heard that information from any credible sources. What we do know is If we ever need to film any horror movies, this will be the place we go.
The City God Temple is Hsinchu’s second most popular tourist attraction (right behind the East Gate) and is regarded as the highest ranking of all City God Temples in Taiwan. We’re not really sure what that ranking means but thought we would throw it in…thanks Wiki The temple was built in the mid 1700s, but despite being extremely old it is still a center of constant hustle and bustle. The outside of the temple isn’t anything too extravagant. In fact, it can almost be a little difficult to find as it is surrounded by hordes of food stalls and a popular night market. However, once inside, there are numerous rooms that display various iconic statues with unique, distorted faces. Other than the giant gold Chinese Buddha (remember this guy from a photo of the day?), we’re not sure who the gods are or what they represent.
Although the temple itself is worth exploring, it’s the nearby food scene that really makes the City God Temple unique. To meet the needs of the many hungry worshippers who visit the temple, dozens of traditional Hakka food stands are located around the premises. If you want to sample a few of the foods Hsinchu is known for, then this is the place to go. A few of the classic options are pork balls, spring rolls, Ba-wan meatballs and rice noodles.
If you make it to the temple, you absolutely can’t miss the pastry shop across the street. Normally we don’t really go crazy about Chinese sweets, but this place is utterly delightful. The name of the place is Hsin Fu Jean; a woman who got her start at a small food stand outside the City God Temple founded it over a century ago. The traditional Chinese cake shop is known for its Chu-chan Cakes, but there are lots of other delicious pastries that warrant tasting. We personally went with the Tangerine Mochi and a Taro Cake. If you’re a little overwhelmed by all the options, the staff will let you try whatever intrigues you before purchasing it.