Its amazing how research laboratories and clusters have changed over the years. From unappealing blocks of bricks and mortar to modern-looking glass buildings surrounded by an abundance of lush greenery. This is the new university town in Singapore, one of the newest additions to the higher-education and research scene here.
Jiufen used to be an old gold-mining town in the 1950s. It is now a hot tourist destination. It is easily accessible from Taipei Main Station by Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA). Alight at Ruifang stop. You can inquire about the buses to Jiufen from the convenient stall aunty. Most of them are just at the bus stop outside the train station. The most important tourist hotspot is Jiufen Old Streets.
By day, Jiufen Old Streets is almost flooded with tourists, squeezing through narrow streets flanked on both sides by 2-3 stories traditional Chinese shophouses, with their owners plying their wares and food. Many of these shophouses have been converted into guesthouses, teahouses and restaurants. Do note that to fully explore Jiufen Old Streets require one to climb MANY stairs, as such it should be renamed Jiufen Old Stairs.
Don’t bother eating in the restaurants, firstly because the prices are way too expensive; secondly, there is nothing special about the restaurant fare; thirdly, and most importantly, your hunger will be much much more appeased by trying the assortment of street food around. Among the various street food, the most famous is the glutinous rice balls. They come in various flavors, such as green tea, yam and original. For me, I just ordered the mix bowl, and one bowl was never enough. Out of the many stalls that I tried, I prefer the one right at the top (i.e. at the end of Jiufen Old Street). It is also this shop that have the best viewing gallery, allowing captivating views of the winding mountain trails and the sea. Sadly, on this faithful day that I visited, it was raining torrentially.
Another street food that I like is the fishballs! They are chewy, springy, and tasty! Do give the mix bowl a try. The shop that I went to has quite a number of dogs roaming around, staring at you with their HUGE eyes, and begging for fishballs.
Other interesting street food that are worth a try are the peanut roll with ice cream, the bbq mushrooms, and of course, the taiwanese sausage. For souvenirs, you can consider buying thinly barbecued beef slices.
It is rumored that Jiufen is the inspiration behind the Japanese anime, Spirited Away, which is a big hit among Japanese. As such, you will not be surprised that after the mainlanders, the next biggest group of tourists here are the Japanese.
At night, it is just a peaceful and quiet, where one can escape from the city and just enjoy the sea and mountain view. I spent a night here in a homestay – Long Men Ke Zhan (龙门客栈). It is located strategically right at the top of Jiufen Old Street. They provide free pickup service from Ruifang train station. My room is clean, neat and well tidied. There are quite a number of hair plastering the walls of the toilet though. I washed them away with the shower head. You will need to request for towels from the owners. The dining hall offers a bird-eye view of the entire Jiufen Old Street, as well as the sea in the distant. Breakfast is home-made by the landlady, and consist of sweet potato porridge, fried egg, pork floss and vegetable. I must say it is really tasty. She keeps emphasising that most of the ingredients, such as the sweet potato, is grown by her in the backyard.
Shifen is a small town a short distance (1hr) away from Taipei. It is mainly known for Shifen Waterfall. The waterfall here is probably the most majestic of all waterfalls in Taiwan. The town is easily accessible by slow train (TRA: Taiwan Railways Administration). Go to the ticket booth in Taipei Main Station, and buy a ticket to Shifen (NT69). As there is no direct train to Shifen, a transit at Ruifang is required. Basically alight at Ruifang, and ask the helpful staffs when the train to Shifen will arrive and board it. It will be at the same platform as you alight. Unlike the High Speed Railway (HSR), this train has no allocated seat numbers and seats are on a first come first serve basis. Just like the subway, people hold on to handrails during peak hours and can be VERY packed. Railway tracks are laid in proximity to shops and houses, and even before the train pull up into the station, one can feel the bust and liveliness of the place, especially during weekends.
Shifen is a pretty laid back place, and one can really feel the slow pace of life as you walk away from the train station. Looking at the raw unadulterated nature, one can even reminisce about their childhood, when all things were simple. The lost of such simple pleasure in life is all the more saddening, with the torrential rain pouring down, as if the sky too missed the time when there were no gaping holes in the ozone layer.
Shifen Waterfall is a short walk (~30mins) away from the train station. There are ample signage around to guide tourists and locals alike to the waterfall. Though the waterfall can be viewed afar at no charge, a close up view would require you to buy a ticket into the “theme park”, where waterfall observation platforms have been specifically built. Ticket prices are cheap (NT80) and I highly recommend entering the “theme park”. Vast volume of water rush off the cliff in a sheer cascade resembling towering limestones. The splash of water down the waterfall reverberated around the foliage, drowning out speech.
After Shifen waterfall, head back to the train station. From here, either head back to RuiFang, or take the train further down to PingXi. For my Taiwan trip, I took the train back to RuiFang, and from there head to JiuFen.
Guan Zi Ling (GuanZiLing, 关子岭.) is a hot spring area situated in Tainan, with the nearest town being Chia Yi (ChiaYi). It is one of the four main hot springs region in Taiwan – Guan Zi Ling, Bei Tou, Yang Ming Shan and Shi Chong Xi. By High Speed Rail (HSR), it is 1.5hrs from Taipei Main Station. Unlike the hot springs in Taipei, which are sulphur rich, the hot springs in Guan Zi Ling are rich in minerals and argillaceous rocks, which are rumored to treat all sorts of skin ailments, as well as beautify the skin. Whether you believe it or not, it is still worth visiting, because there are only three such hot springs in the world, one being in Japan, the other in Italy. Apart from the hot springs, there is another wonder of nature worth visiting, which is Water and Fire Homogeny (水火同源).
To get to Guan Zi Ling, buy HSR tickets from Taipei Main Station to Chia Yi HSR Station. After a 1.5hrs journey, you will arrive in Chia Yi HSR station. Just outside is a bus stop, where you can take the free bus shuttle to Chia Yi Train Station.
Proceed to Chia Yi Train Station back exit, cross the road and you can see a motorbike rental shop (大象). For my bike (couldn’t recall how big it was, but definitely not 50cc) it was NT400 per day. To rent a bike, you would need an international driving permit, the driving licence issued by your country, and your passport. The attendant will make photocopies of these documents and return them back to you.
After familiarising with the bike, make a u-turn, heading away from the train station. Take a left turn at the second main junction, and a right turn at the next main junction, to hit Mingsheng South Rd (163). Follow this road all the way straight approximately 40-60mins, until you hit a T-junction. Take a left turn, and take the right path at a Y-fork junction.
Do look out for petrol kiosk to refuel your motor bike, even though you will probably have only used 1/5 of the tank, as there are no petrol kiosk up in the mountain. Follow the road all the way till you merge onto road 172. At this point there is a charcoal roasted chicken stall on the right hand side of the road, serving delicious stone-baked chicken. This is a good place to stop for a break after the hour-plus bike ride. Chicken is roasted in a clay-kiln, using traditional fire wood. A bowl of radish soup is placed under the chicken, collecting the chicken essence that drip down, making the soup extra tasty. You can also try their salad vegetable, as it is fresh and light, complementing the lightly salted roast chicken. I don’t know what vegetable they used, but Taiwanese call it dragon’s whiskers.
After the refreshing lunch, continue back on road 172, and take the right fork at the Y-fork junction, to begin the mountain ascend.
First stop will be Da Xian Temple. This temple was first built in 1747 under Qian Long’s reign. Over the years it grew bigger and bigger, and now comprises of numerous temple complexes, pagodas and monastery buildings. The architecture of the main temple complex is influenced by Japanese Zen Buddhism. The temple also provide short-temple stays, as well as meditation courses.
After Da Xian Temple, follow the road further up to reach another temple – Bi Yun Temple. Unlike Da Xian Temple, which is mainly a Buddhist temple, Bi Yun Temple has elements of Taoism mixed into it. It’s premises is much smaller than Da Xian Temple. It is worth climbing to the top of the temple complex to get an unhindered overview of Guan Zi Ling.
A short distance away from Bi Yun Temple is Water and Fire Homogeny, or Shui Huo Tong Yuan (水火同源). It is so named because there is a constant fire burning over water. This is caused by the combustion of methane gas that seeps to the surface by the heat of the hot spring. It is truely a wonder a nature to be marveled. Despite being up in the mountains after a rain, and in the month of December, a few minutes in this area is sufficient to make one perspire.
There are numerous hot spring resorts up in Guan Zi Ling catering to different budget. I decided to stay in Toong Mao Spa Resort. It is a big hotel, and my room is really big (for a twin). Being a guest of the hotel, gives you unlimited visits to the hot spring area. The outdoor hot spring area is scenic and tranquil, with 4 pools (3 muddy, 1 clear). There is also a bucket of ‘mud’ available for application to various parts of your body, from face down to the legs. People will then loiter around and wait for the mud to dry, or if you only applied it to your face, you can jump back into the hot spring. All-in-all a fantastic experience. My skin feels notably smoother after 45mins. There are a few restaurants along the road around the hotel for meals. A night’s stay comes with complementary breakfast.
Surrounding the Hotel are a few other interesting spots – Cinnamon Tree path, Heroes’ Slope and Guan Zi Ling Park. These are all accessible via foot following a path just outside the hotel. If you follow the path to its end, you will reach the top of the Heroes’s Slope.
When you are ready to leave, continue following the main road, and you will start going down hill. First stop will be the foot of the Heroes’ Slope. I decided to climb back up towards Toong Mao, to be a Hero! Note that the stairs are super slippery, especially after rain. Be very careful, a tumble down is no joking business. This is built by the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation for military training purposes.
The final stop before departing back to Chia Yi Train Station is the origin of the hot spring. It is really a sorry sight. So many pipes are draining out, I can feel the pain of the earth, as if it’s blood is being drained. The least people can do, is to build a nice structure or shelter honoring it.
To get back to Taipei, descend down road 172 soon you will reach the fork where you had previously take a right turn to Da Xian Temple. Now, just backtrack all the way back to Big Elephant Motorbike rental and return your bike. Enter Chia Yi Train Station, and take the bus at Bay 1, it brings you to Chia Yi HSR. From there, buy a ticket and you are back in Taipei Main Station.
Tainan – Guan Zi Ling is really one of my favorite destination out of all the places that I had been to in Taiwan, mainly because it is so ‘inaccessible’, which means it is not flooded by tourists. I also like the feel of air brushing against me as I ride down deserted stretches of road, reminding me of the countryside. Definitely a place providing respite from the buzz, rush, anger, backstabbing, and office-politicking of urban city.
Saw a time lapse video of a sunrise and decided to experiment and create my own time lapse series.
First off, unlike time lapse photography, this was shot continuously over 5 hours on a bright sunny afternoon as a video from my laptop’s built-in webcam (pretty sucky). Video was captured using opensource virtualdub. I then used opensource avisynth to frame grab every 60th frame using the below script, and compiled the video in virtualdub.
Finally, using the free windows movie maker, the soundtrack and video effects were added.
About the video: It was captured on a bright sunny afternoon. It was a lazy afternoon, apart from the neighbor cleaning his boat, non-other boats left for sea. In the background, freighters could be seen moving in and out of the port. Port machineries were also frantically loading and unloading cargo. Even further towards the back, you can see the skyline of Singapore’s business district with its high-rise towers. Among them were the newly built integrated resort Marina Bay Sands and Singapore flyer. Length of capture was about 5hrs, then it started to rain, and I had to keep my laptop. Probably I will do a 24hr capture next time with better equipment, maybe a hd webcam!! Or when I change my camera. Apparently, my camera could only run on battery, and it obviously couldn’t last 24hrs.
Produced: Jimmy (jimmyview.wordpress.com)
Soundtrack: Mari Fujiwara – Water Mark
Software: Virtualdub, avisynth, windows movie maker.
Yang Ming Shan is situated in Taipei. It is a volcanic basin with rich sulphur deposits, resulting in a lingering rotten egg smell in certain parts of the mountain trail. Apart from the fumaroles, hot springs and sulphur crystals, Yang Ming Shan also boasts a flat stretch of greenery atop what was a lava terrace.
To get to Yang Ming Shan, take the subway (Metro Taipei) to Taipei Main Station. Navigate to exit Y6, and board bus 260. The bus stop is directly in front of Taipei Train station North exit 2 where a statue stands. Yang Ming Shan will be the last stop for this bus. Along the way, it does go to a number of other tourist attractions, such as Jiantan: Shilin Night Market, Taipei Fine Art Museum and Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) Shilin Official Residence.
Once at Yang Ming Shan stop, look for bus 108. This bus loops around the entire Yang Ming Shan, bringing tourists to various scenic spots. However, if you are more interested in a hike, you can take the hiking trial. Do note that the tourist information center is NOT at the Yang Ming Shan stop, and is NO WHERE near it. By hiking up slopes and stairs, it is a 20 minutes walk. There is nothing much at the Information center, apart from helpful staffs whom will give you a map and suggest an itinerary for you. However, if you don’t want to hike, and still want to get to the information center, take 108 and alight at the next stop, 2nd Parking Lot (2).
Here, I will suggest an itinerary based on the route of bus 108 for an afternoon leisure walk. As with other tourists spots in Taiwan, bus frequencies DON’T increase with human load. As such the further away and later into the evening you are from Yang Ming Shan stop, the harder it is to board bus 108, as it will be crowded with people eager to get off the mountain. You will be amazed at how many grannies and grandpas come up to the mountain for the free hot springs. Missing one or two bus 108 will be a common and exasperating experience at the end of your trip. Nonetheless, here is my suggested itinerary: Yang Ming Shan stop (阳明山站)(1) –> Xiao You Keng (小油坑)(5) –> Leng Shui Keng (冷水坑) –> Qing Tian Gang (擎天冈)(6) –> Juan Si Pu Bu (绢丝瀑布) –> Yang Ming Shan stop (阳明山站)(1). The stop where you alight will be the stop you retake bus 108.
A lot of information about Yangmingshan is easily available in the internet, hence I will not go into too much details about this nature park. Instead, I will give a short rundown on my suggested itinerary. Along the way from Yang Ming Shan stop (1) to Xiao You Keng (5), there is still a Yang Ming Academy House (3), and Er Zi Ping (4). I decided to give Yang Ming Academy House (3) a miss, because to me it just looked like a pretty rundown house. Er Zi Ping (4) on the other hand will be worth a trip to in spring and summer, but not in late autumn/early winter.
Xiao You Keng (小油坑)(5) is a scenic spot that boasts a plethora of steaming vents, sulphur fumaroles, and pale yellowish sulphur crystals deposits. The area is perpetually filled with the rotten egg smell of sulphur, making it repulsive at first. If you are up for it, bring an egg up and cook it on the boiling steam vents.
Leng Shui Keng (冷水坑) is a free indoor hotspring area, flooded with grannies and grandpas. There is also an outdoor foot bath, where one can sit leisurely and admire the mountains. If you are not particularly into hotsprings, or prefer a more reclusive spot, then give this place a miss. Some people hike towards a suspension bring from here, and then upwards towards Qing Tian Gang (擎天冈)(6).
Qing Tian Gang (擎天冈)(6) is flat stretch of greenery atop what was a lava terrace. It has now become a cow grazing pasture. This is also a spot for catching the sun set. There are many hiking paths intersecting atop this lava terrace, some will bring you to the submit, some downhill, and some further into the nature park, so don’t wander too far off.
Juan Si Pu Bu (绢丝瀑布) is just a normal waterfall. The water is supposed to fall like threads of white silk, hence the name. However, given the amount of greenery blocking a clear view of the waterfall from the observation bridge, admiring and photographing the waterfall becomes a chore. Also, the water volume of the waterfall isn’t large enough to warrant a 20mins hike from the main road to the waterfall. Unless you have the time, you can give it a miss.
All in all, I feel that the lure of this nature park to tourists are the sulphur fumaroles and the lush greenery of the lava terrace.
Seonjeongneung comprises of Seolleung and Jeongneung. They are burial mounds of King Seongjong (1469-1494), his third wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong (1506-1544) of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Seonjeongneung is a UNESCO heritage site, and is located in the Gangnam district, a few minutes walk away from Seolleung Subway station (Exit 8). The burial mounds are spectacular, and the human and animal and statues are very life-like. Sadly, most of the area is cordoned off, which prevents tourist from taking a frontal view of the mounds. Leading to the burial mounds are two rock paths. The elevated one is the spirit road, a path for the spirit to walk on. The non-elevated one is the king’s road, which is for the living. Interesting huh~. Within Seonjeongneung, there is a museum, which gives a history of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as a documentary of how the mounds are built. 30min is more than adequate time to view the three burial mounds. However, with more time, one can explore the park, climb the hills and enjoy the lush greenery. Given that Gangnam is one of the richest district in Seoul, in the evening, you can see many people walking their expensive pure-breed dogs here.
A little history: King Seongjong (成宗) was the 9th emperor of the Joseon Dynasty. He was crowned at the age of 13, but only started ruling when he was 20, and passed away at the age of 37. His first queen, Queen Gonghye (恭惠) passed away at the age of 18, and was succeeded by Queen Yun (尹氏). She was later deposed and succeed by Queen Jeonghyeon (贞显). After King Seongjong passed died, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Yeonsangun, who turned out to be a tyrant. As such, he was overthrown in a coup and replaced by King Jungjong.
After exploring Seonjeongneung, one can walk in the northeast direction towards Bongeunsa, which is situated opposite Coex Aquarium. The nearest subway to Bongeunsa is Cheongdam (exit 2). The main attraction here is the outdoor statue of a buddha with scriptures on his head. This temple complex isn’t quite big, but majestic enough, especially the main temple, with thousand small golden buddha statues plastered on the walls. On the day that I was there, there were demonstrations by activists against the government from repossessing some of the land of Bongeunsa. As such, there were many such banners around. Photos with those banners are thus not published (making the selection pretty meager. As I forgot to take my camera out this fateful day, the pictures of Bongeunsa were taken using my iphone, which wasn’t very good for taking shots at night.
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