Exploring the Colorful City of Kaohshiung & Cijin Island (Part 2)

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View from atop the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

After fully exploring Pier 2 and Cijin Island, I decided to spend my 2nd day in Kaohsiung seeing some of the major landmarks.  Since I rented a bike for 24 hours, I biked 8 km from where I was staying at the pier to reach the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.  It was a little scary biking on the highway for the first time in Taiwan, but I managed to survive and catch some neat sights on the way there.  The pagodas are surrounded by a lotus pond and are seven stories high, so visiting them is quite the experience.  Once you climb all the stairs, you will get the perfect view of the Zuoying District of the city:

The symbolism of the dragon and tiger is a bit ambiguous, but they both represent a balance of power although they have contrasting characteristics.  According to Shaozhi, in Chinese culture dragons are said to control water and have great strength, whereas tigers symbolize righteousness and harmony.  I was amazed at how both entrances were designed to fit their appearances.  Here is some footage I took from atop the Dragon Pagoda:

According to a sign outside, if you walk through the dragon’s mouth and walk out the tiger’s, it is said to bring good luck.  So that’s exactly what I did!  It still has yet to come, but it’s only the beginning of the year.  Inside you will find illustrations of various Buddhist and Taoist characters:

Surrounding the pagodas are other temples and Buddhist statues that you can easily reach on foot.  I didn’t stop to see them all, but you could easily spend a few hours in this district of the city seeing them all.  People are very laid-back and friendly too.

Next, I biked to Formosa Boulevard Station so I could see its famous murals.  From what I read online, it’s one of the most beautiful stations in Taiwan.  It did not fall short of my expectations:

The Dome of Light within the station is the largest glass work in the world and was designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.  I was amazed by how beautiful it was!  Various astrological figures are depicted in this glass (some human-like and some creature-like), as well as very intriguing patterns.  To me it looks like a galaxy riddled with the mysteries of our origin:

Another amazing part of Kaohsiung City is its hyper-realistic dog ice cream:

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I made a separate post on Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan, so please check it out if you are interested!  This is my last article in my Taiwan series, but I will be writing a bonus article on the nightlife I experienced here.

From what I’ve experienced, most cities in Taiwan only require 2-3 days of time to see all the major sightseeing spots.  I spent around 5 days total in Taipei doing day trips and other activities, but 2 days of full activity worked for me in all the other areas I visited.  I hope that everyone can visit this beautiful country and have the same wonderful adventures that I did!

The Best of Taichung: Visiting Rainbow Village & Sun and Moon Lake (Part 1)

 

Wanting experience life outside of Taipei, I researched other cities in Taiwan that would fit my adventurous spirit.  Taichung, Taiwan’s 2nd most populous city, caught my interest right away because of its Rainbow Village and picturesque Sun and Moon Lake which are both accessible by bus from the central station.

Rainbow Village

The bright and beautiful colors of this village immediately caught my eye–plus I was curious to know the origin of how it became so psychedelic–so I wanted this place to be my first destination in Taichung.  I took the MRT from Taipei to reach Taichung Station within 2 hours, then I took a local bus to reach Rainbow Village within 15 minutes.  I was greeted by these crazy-colored murals painted on a neighborhood of cozy houses.  The village was a bit smaller than what I had expected, but there were literally so many things to see here!

This village was designated as a home for refugees that fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War, but was sadly planned to be demolished after the war ended.  Not wanting to see his home destroyed, Huang Yong-Fu (who was drafted for the war but still resided in the village), started painting the entire village in rainbow colors in hopes that it would be preserved.  Though not many other refugees were living there at the time, his artwork was noticed by nearby university students and they formed a petition to keep the 11 houses intact.  Fortunately it was successful, and the village has become a popular tourist attraction for everyone to enjoy and learn about the history of the war.  Yong-Fu is nicknamed the “Rainbow Grandpa” of the village, and his murals will always be an important part of Taichung’s history.

This village is literally a photographer’s paradise!  I was really happy to capture a lot of quality footage on my GoPro even though there were a lot of people around.  The murals seem to have cultural influences from all around the world.  There are a number of animals and humans depicted in them with interesting symbols so your interpretation of them completely depends on you.

After spending a good hour here, I decided to take a taxi back to Loosha Hotel where I was staying for the night (I chose it because it was cheap and centrally located).  Taichung can be done as a day trip, but I would recommend staying here 2-3 days if you can see everything.  I will be covering the famous Sun and Moon Lake in my next article this week!  Thank you for reading.

Climbing Elephant Mountain in Taiwan (and other Intriguing Day Trips)

As someone who loves hiking, photography, and animals, I couldn’t pass up day tripping to Elephant Mountain (像山/Xiangshan Trail) in Taipei.  Although there’s no actual elephants here, you can get some of the best views of Taipei City from the top, and also try delicious elephant butter bread at the base of the mountain for only 30 TWD.  The climb to the elephant-shaped rocks where this mountain gets its name from only takes around 30 minutes max, so I’d rate it as an overall easy climb.  From the rocks you can reach a central viewing platform and get a fantastic view of Taipei 101 and all surrounding buildings.  Perfect for traveling photographers like me!

To reach the start of Xiangshan Trail, you only need to ride the train 20 mins from Taipei Main Station to Xiangshan Station.  It’s pretty straightforward from there–just follow all of the elephant-shaped signs to the mountain path to start climbing.  What I loved about this mountain is that it had an open-air gym that’s free to use at the top.  I saw less tourists and far more Taiwanese locals here going for walks with their dogs and also lifting weights.  What a way to flex!

If you want to keep climbing to reach the other trail head, it takes around 2.5 hours, but the spot with the elephant rocks at the beginning has the best views of the city.  I spent a good hour and a half here taking photos and also exploring the open gym area.  After I was satisfied, I decided to pay a visit to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall:

This is actually only a 5 minute ride from Taipei Main Station to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (yes, it’s so famous that it has its own station).  This memorial was named after Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China.  It has a number of building complexes to see and a statue as well.  I had a lot of fun climbing the stairs and taking photos from different angles.  Even if you’re not a history buff, this place is still a lot of fun to see.

I’ll be covering my next day trip to Houtong Cat Village in my next article.  Thank you for reading as always!

Making a Wish and Getting Spirited Away: Exploring Lantern Towns in Taiwan

After exploring Yehliu Geopark, I traveled to the small railroad town of Chifen where I was able to paint my wishes on a lantern and set it off into the sky.  Chifen was originally used as a hub to transport coal, but it has now been re-purposed into a district of lanterns and shops that travelers can stop by on their way to Jiufen.  It’s a very quaint town, but is definitely worth seeing as it has a lot of history.

Most lanterns are available for purchase at 200 Taiwanese dollars.  You are then handed an ink brush by the shop keeper and are free to write whatever you wish on your lantern.  I was surprised at how large the lanterns actually were!  The staff will assist you with safely lighting it, then it will gradually inflate and soar into the sky.  Here is a video of me with my lantern just before it flew away (it was a very happy time for me):

Although this activity definitely falls into the tourist category, it was an extremely fun experience for me after living in Asia for over 4 years, not to mention a great beginning to 2020.  I like to spend my New Year’s doing different things each year and this was definitely unique.

The colors of the lanterns have slightly different meanings which you can see below.  You can choose to customize the colors of your lantern if you have enough time:

Afterwards, I took the bus to the nearby town of Jiufen that inspired the famous movie Spirited Away.  This mountain town actually resembles a lot of places I’ve traveled to in Japan, but the illuminated lanterns at night make it an entirely new experience.  It was once a prosperous area of Taiwan filled with gold mines but was then abandoned shortly after WWII when the gold rush ended.  It went through a period of depression, but now it has grown into a bustling area full of shops, street food, hotels, and sightseeing.  There are a number of places that you can hike to from here as well (I recommend seeing the Golden Waterfall which I’ll talk about later).  Arriving here at night/dusk is ideal so you can see all of the illuminations:

I was amazed at how much this town resembled scenes from Spirited Away!  They had Miyazaki souvenir shops everywhere to pay homage which was cute.  It’s truly inspiring how much this place has transformed.  Since I came here on the 2nd day of January, it was extremely crowded and difficult to move up the hills due to the sheer amount of people, but fortunately I was able to see the majority of the town within 2 hours.  If I ever come back to Taiwan, I definitely want to come to Jiufen again.  It’s actually quite small, but each time you climb the hill you start to notice new things so I think it takes multiple trips to see it all.

Now when I watch this movie trailer, I can’t un-see all of the sights I saw in Taiwan:

I definitely had my Chihiro moments as I wandered aimlessly around the illuminated streets, looking for a way out but also captured by the charm of this beautiful new world.  Last year I went to Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, Japan, which also inspired Spirited Away.  One reason I love traveling in Asia is because it brings back so many memories of things I watched in my childhood.  I never want to leave!  One of my unwritten wishes is to continue immersing myself in culture so I can continue to learn more about the world and about myself.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Taking the Tradition of Hatsumode to Taiwan: Exploring Songshan Ciyou, Confucius, and Dalongdong Baoan Temples

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Visiting Songshan Ciyou Temple on the first day of the 2020 and wishing for another year of adventure.

After eating hotpot out of a toilet bowl, I decided to spend my first night of the new year in Taipei stopping by the local temples and shrines like the natives do.  In Japan there is the tradition of hatsumode (初詣), which is the first trip to a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on January 1st.  I asked my Japanese friends what they normally wish for, and they said they usually wish for necessary things like good health, success in their career, and happiness in life.  I am fortunate to have all of these things, so I usually wish for more adventures and exciting encounters.  Essentially, I wish to never grow bored or complacent in life.  I want to keep exploring the world and advancing at a steady place.  Though I will admit, a little love would be nice too!

The majority of Taiwan residents observe the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the month (this year it starts on January 5th, 2020).  However, I noticed there were a lot of people here that still visited to the shrines in order to pay their respects.  I have mentioned before here that I am not particularly a religious person; I believe we are all our own gods and what we perceive the world as is our customs or religion.  Despite this, I enjoy visiting temples and shrines all over Asia.  You get a sense of peace and clarity from being outside a temple versus crammed in a western church.  I enjoy seeing the intricate architecture and learning about the culture as well.  That is why you will see me at a lot of shrines despite me being an atheist–I enjoy immersing myself in culture as much as possible.  And in order to fully grasp a culture, you must start at its origin.

Songshan Ciyou Temple

Songshan Ciyou Temple was by far my favorite temple in central Taipei.  I loved how the lighting captured the beautiful illustrations on the temple walls at night, and there were multiple floors that you could climb and see different deities.  The temple is dedicated to Mazu who is the goddess of the sea despite it being located near the heart of the city.  Many people pray for her divine protection and it is a great place to witness Taiwanese tradition:

I loved the unique carvings of the pillars and the beautiful gold statues inside.  I was really overcome with awe since this was my first time ever exploring a temple in Taiwan.  The temple even had a tiny mascot!  It felt a lot like exploring a temple in Japan, but it had a slightly different atmosphere.  I spent quite a long time here soaking in the culture and trying to read what I could about its history.  It really is an amazing place to see!

Conveniently located next to this temple is the Raohe Street Market.  This is a great first street market experience as well because it is one of the biggest in Taipei!  I found a lot of interesting foods there like stinky tofu fries, dinosaur hamburgers, fried squid with mayonnaise… the list goes on and on.  I have been to a number of night markets in Asia already, but I like seeing the unique foods and characteristics each one has!

Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple was the 2nd temple I visited during my stay in Taipei.  I came here during the morning of January 2nd and was surprised to see people dancing and doing yoga here!  It reminded me a lot of what I had seen in Vietnam actually.  This temple had a more open feel than others that I have been to in Asia and is really worth visiting.

As many people know, Confucius was one of the most influential teachers in Chinese philosophy.  I took a number of Asian studies classes in university and actually agree with some of his theories; such as we should make education widely available and cultivate ourselves.  The quote: “If you want to change the world, first change yourself” is a good example of Confucian theory.  I try to practice this when I travel abroad so I can improve my life and [ideally] the lives of others.  I believe that change is something that usually comes with dedication and time much like the ancient sage does.

The most interesting part of this temple is there is actual a chariot driving simulation game you can play in one of the chambers!  This is the first time I had ever seen anything like this at a religious ground, and I fully support the use of interactive technology:

Dalongdong Baoan Temple

Right next to the Confucius Temple is the Taiwanese folk religion temple Dalongdong Baoan.  It is dedicated to the Taoist saint Baosheng Dadi who sadly I do not know much about.  However, I loved the aesthetic of the temple.  It had an outdoor garden and a beautiful dragon statue that spits water into a pond full of koi fish:

Right around the corner is street lined with palm trees, lanterns, and tiny shops.  Even in January this town had an extremely tropical vibe to it that made me happy to be here!  I will be writing more about Taiwanese culture in my future posts.  Please look forward to reading them.

Grand Adventures in Busan: Daewangam Park, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Jagalchi Market (Part 2)

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Shenanigans in the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village.

After missing the last bus to my hostel and staying by myself at a love hotel in Busan, I decided to make my way to the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village which is consists of historic houses and beautiful murals with awe-inspiring messages.  Originally in the 1950s this was a place where Korean refugees fled in South Korea, and the area was extremely undeveloped.  Now it has transformed into a beautiful place full of art and culture (hence the name).  Nicknamed the “Machu Picchu of Busan” this coastal village is the perfect place for a relaxing day of sightseeing.  There are a number of people that reside in the village as well, so tourists are asked to be respectful of houses outside of the map.

I decided to take a taxi to Gamcheon from my hostel, but Prepare Travel Plans has a good list of alternative ways to get here from Busan.  When I arrived to the village, I felt as if I had stepped into a storybook!  In fact, some of the stairs were painted with book titles.  It’s quite easy to get lost here because the buildings are extremely condensed, but I fortunately figured out my way around here by using the colored guideposts and English map from the tourist association.

I discovered a ton of interesting sights here like poop-flavored desserts, a statue from “The Little Prince”, animal-shaped dumplings, trick-eye art murals, locks that you can buy and wish for love with your partner, cotton candy cloud coffee, and all sorts of street food that was being sold in the alley.  If you buy a map (they are really cheap), then you can participate in a stamp rally that will guide you to all of the major sightseeing spots of the village.  I actually got lost at one point, but an elderly man pointed me in the right direction (even though we didn’t speak one another’s language).  It was extremely pleasant wandering through this town, and I am glad to see that it has turned into a source of happiness for people now.  The tourism here really does help the village, which is why I argue that visiting touristy places isn’t always a bad thing.

After a very colorful day, I decided to head back to central Busan and visit the Jagalchi Market which is very easy to get to because it’s in the heart of the city.  I recently watched Black Panther where part of the movie was filmed here, and it brought back so many memories!  I went late at night when not as many places were open, but I managed to find an amazing place that served me raw octopus:

It’s truly amazing seeing the large variety of seafood that is available.  You can select your food from the tank outside of the restaurant or you can ask them to choose for you.  I managed to break the language barrier by pointing at the octopus I wanted, and also used my translation app to order.  I noticed that outside of Seoul that not many Koreans speak English unless they have a reason to (such as an international career), but I still was able to get around find.  Busan is a very relaxing city compared to most found in Japan.  Tokyo is still my favorite city in the world, but I enjoyed experiencing life here.

I stayed here for only 2 days because I was short on time, but I recommend that people stay here for at least 3-4 days so they can see everything that this city has to experience.  There are a number of interesting parks and museums in Busan as well.  I will be publishing the rest of my adventures in Korea in the near future!

Visiting the Adorable Rabbit Island of Japan (Okunoshima)

One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Hiroshima again was to see the adorable and friendly rabbits that reside in Okunoshima (otherwise known as Rabbit Island) in Japan.  This island actually has quite a dark history because it was originally used as a secret location for gas testing in the early 1900s during WWII.  Though some of the abandoned facilities still remain, the island itself today now serves as a popular tourist destination attracting many visitors each year.

According to All Things Interesting:

A group of school kids who released eight rabbits onto the island in 1971 may have contributed to its rebirth and flourishing of bunny populations. By 2007, experts believed that there were 300 rabbits living on the island. The population continued to grow as the government banned new animals on the island as well as hunting.

Though they were suspected to once be used a test subjects in cruel experiments, now hundreds of rabbits inhibit the island.  It is unclear how they have multiplied so fast because the island is very small and does not have a sustainable ecosystem, meaning they heavily rely on tourists for their food.  The government also forced the scientists and military personnel to stay quiet about the experiments, so the island itself is shrouded in mystery.  Though Okunoshima is suspected to have small traces of poison gas remaining (a lot of places in the world might), it has been deemed safe to visit by environmental specialists.  It is definitely worth seeing if you are an animal lover or history buff.

Getting to Okunoshima

The easiest way to access Okunoshima is to ride the Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Mihara Station, then transfer to Tadanoumi Station which takes about an hour and a half.  Fortunately it is a relatively inexpensive journey.  From Tadanoumi Station, Tadanoumi Port is just a 5 minute walk away.  You can find the ferry time tables on the Okunoshima Tourist Website.  The ferry ride is 15 minutes and costs only 310 yen.  You can buy food for the rabbits at the harbor or also bring vegetables yourself (as I saw many Japanese people doing).  I bought the recommended rabbit food for 500 yen because it gives them the best nutrition.

The island has one hotel accommodation/restaurant, but other than that almost everything else on the island is abandoned or roped off so visitors stay safe.  I walked around the entire island in around 30 minutes and found it to be extremely peaceful.

Interacting with the Rabbits

I owned a pet rabbit as a kid named Patches, and she was extremely docile.  However, since the rabbits here have no predators and are so used to human interaction, they behave somewhat like extremely hungry puppies.  When you first get off the boat, the will hop towards you almost immediately and wait for you to take out the food.  Instinctively they know what the crinkling sound of a bag means, and if you kneel down with food they will surround you!

I have been to rabbit cafes in Japan before, but these rabbits were completely different.  I wouldn’t call them aggressive exactly, but they definitely know how to get the food from you.  One rabbit ripped part of my food bag, but he was so cute I could only forgive him.  You will see a number of rabbits digging holes and lounging in them, as well as palm trees grown around the island, so this place truly feels like a rabbit paradise.

The Okunoshima Tourist Website asks that you do not pick up the rabbits and instead let them come to you.  They are virtually harmless, but can nip you if you are not careful.  Just use common sense, and you will be fine.  Despite what some videos show, the rabbits are peaceful for the most part.

Exploring the Abandoned Facilities

Seeing the remains of the poison gas facilities is somewhat haunting, but the gentle appearance of the rabbits will set your mind at ease.  As you walk around the island and into the forested areas, you will notice that less rabbits are around but they will still come out to greet you (in hopes of getting food).  As previously mentioned, most areas are roped off so tourists cannot get inside, but seeing the remnants of this former off-the-grid island is an unforgettable experience.  It’s amazing seeing the rabbits live with virtually no fear.

The Future of Okunoshima

Though this island is a happy place, a lot of people worry about the future of the rabbits.  Th ecosystem is unbalanced, and people are unsure of whether their growing population will be sustainable in the future or not.  On rainy and cold days, not a lot of people come to feed them even though they have some caretakers on the island.  The rabbits are living in a paradise for now, but if the island runs out of vegetation in the future, there will likely be famine.

Unfortunately the future is unpredictable, but all we can really do is continue to feed and support them.  Like us, they only have a short time on this planet and should be taken care of as much as possible.