change in plans
I decided to skip Thailand on this trip due to the cost of the ticket. I have now booked a ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal for June 29th. I'll be staying with my friend Sujan Dhoju, a brother from Kappa Sigma Fraternity, at Linfield College. He has graciously agreed to take me in until the 21st of July.
I'm extremely excited about this trip! Here's a few reasons:
The food of course...
The views on numerous hiking trails.
And the most important, the culture and people of Nepal.
I'll be eating some incredibly tasty food with views that are unmatched. I've only heard great things about Nepal as a country. This is why Nepal was at the top of my list of places to see on this trip.
Hualien city and taroko national park
I left Taipei via train to see the countryside of Hualien City. The mountain town is about half way down the island of Taiwan on the east coast. The city has over 100,000 residents full time.
Hualien City was only recently called its name in the early 1990s. After Japan took over Taiwan in 1895, the Japanese government changed the name of the city to "Karenko." Then after WWll, the city's name changed again to "Karen."
Hualien City is most famous for its mountains surrounding the city. Taroko National Park is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I got to witness the beauty by taking a guided tour to the top of the mountain range.
I was the only English speaking person on the 30 person tour. I had no idea what anyone was saying from 8am-5pm. I still had a great time, though!
There's a face in this rock formation. See if you can find it.
The whole park was unbelievably gorgeous in many ways. I couldn't have picked a better day to see the countryside of Taiwan. I was blown away by every viewpoint I had. All these photos were taken while walking to the Shuiliandong Waterfall or the Water Curtain its name in English.
Once we got to the waterfall, I couldn't believe my eyes. An indoor waterfall that has 3 openings? Incredible to see.
I'm sorry for the screaming in the video. There were a few little kids in the group behind me.
After the Water Curtain, we headed to the Eternal Springs Shrine. The Eternal Springs Shrine is dedicated to the 212 people killed while building the Central Cross-Island Highway from 1956-1960. It's an impressive adherence to the men who created the highway that stretches from Hualien City to the other side of the mountain range.
The temple is named after the Changchun Falls, meaning the falls that "never stop running." Here are a few pictures of what I saw.
Me with the background of the Eternal Springs Shrine.
The main shrine at Eternal Springs. Each victim's name is engraved in marble.
This shrine reminded me of an Indian Jones movie.
The highest part of the Shrine.
The Eternal Springs was a fun trip. Though, I only had 30 minutes to check out the entire area. I only had 30-40 minutes per stop to take everything in. I made it work.
The last stop on the tour was the best in my opinion. The views were spectacular beyond belief. My camera didn't do the viewpoint any justice!
Qingshui Cliffs outside of Hualien City.
After the guided tour, I took a 2 hour train ride back to Taipei for the night. My flight to Hong Kong was the next day.
I had a great time in Taiwan. The food was delicious, the sights were fantastic and the culture was a delight. Until next time Taiwan.
movie day and Baseball Game
Today, Lisa had plans with her friends. This gave me an excuse to go see Jurassic World in theaters. I was thrilled about this due to the fact that I grew up with Jurassic Park 1-3. I enjoyed the movie, which brought back considerable memories of sleeping over at Bryan Duncan's house and being too frightened to keep my eyes opened.
After the movie, I met up with Lisa to go see a Taiwanese baseball game. I was extremely eager to see a foreign ball game. It has always been a dream of mine to witness a game in another country. I finally got the chance.
Taiwan has a baseball league that features Taiwanese pros and ex-MLB players. The Chinatrust Brothers Elephants were playing the EDA Rhinos. Both starting pitchers had MLB experience. Andrew Sisco for the Rhinos pitched for the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago White Sox for brief stints. And, Mike McClendon pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2010-2012. Both pitched poorly to start off the game.
The fans here are a bit crazy. The experience was completely different compared to a MLB game.
The Brothers Elephants beat the Rhinos 8-4. The game was a lot of fun. I had no idea who the players were, but it didn't matter. Just being in a different culture for ball game made this a wonderful event for me. What a great day for baseball.
Once the game ended, Lisa and I went to the waterfront to grab food. Tomorrow I leave for Hualien City, which is Southwest of Taipei. I want to do some hiking and exploring in the Taiwan mountains. I leave for Hong Kong on Tuesday. Then off to Kathmandu, Nepal. But, not before a quick trip to Phuket, Thailand on the way.
Today, Lisa took me to a small village outside of Keelung City. Keelung City is the closest city to the southeast beaches of Taiwan. Jiufen village is famous for its plentiful shops and restaurants overlooking the valley and coastline.
Jiufen used to be occupied by the Japanese in the late 1800s. Gold was discovered during 1890 while the railroads were being built in the area. Once the gold ran out, it was turned into a Japanese POW camp for the Singaporian during WWll. There are still Japanese inns and restaurants lining the village.
Once we got to Jiufen, we walked into the crowded area to find the best viewpoint to see the valley and coastline. Along the way, I noticed many cool nicknacks.
Puppets hanging in a store front.
A courtyard filled with restaurants and shops in Jiufen village.
After walking through the village, we reached the viewpoint I previously mentioned. Below are a few photos I took to give a better understanding of how great this view was.
This view was incredible, especially with the temple in the background. My phone camera didn't do this view any justice. I keep forgetting to charge my actual camera...
Anyways, I was hungry and getting tired of walking. So, Lisa and I went off to search for a delicious meal. We walked by a few interesting choices but ultimately passed for a heaping bowl of seafood stew and udon noodles. YUM!
Jiufen took up most of the day and night. So, we took the train back to Taipei and called it a day.
another day in Taipei
Today I woke up at 2pm. It's been a long 3 days with this humidity and heat. The weather has been great, but the temperature never gets under 35 celsius... It's hot here.
Lisa and went for lunch at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. She ordered me some weird dish that I'd never seen before.
Basically, it's tofu on the outside and green bean noodles on the inside. The sauce is a marinara like paste with spicy chilis. I was a little weirded out by it. But, in the end I enjoyed the whole thing. The food here is a bit strange. But, once I take one bite, I fall in love. Each dish here is unique in it's own way.
After lunch, we ended to Fort San Domingo on the waterfront. Here's a little history lesson on Fort San Domingo.
Fort San Domingo was originally a wooden fort built by the Spanish in 1629 in New Taipei City, Taiwan. The Spanish were the first outsiders to establish a colony on Taiwan. But in 1636, the locals were fed up with the taxes the Spanish had imposed, which made way for the fort to be demolished.
The Dutch were the second country to try and settle in Taiwan. It took them three tries to finally set up camp in 1642. This didn't last long. Off went the Dutch.
In 1683, the Chinese backed by the Qing Dynasty ruled the Fort and built a better one to replace the wooden structure. This building lasted until the Chinese left in 1867.
The final country to rule the fort was Great Britain. It took over the area in 1867 until it's closer in the 1970s. The British turned the fort into a consulate for the British citizens travelling to the area. They tore the building down and replaced it the one that stands today. The original building is from the 1870s.
The view from the Fort.
After Fort San Domingo, we walked around the waterfront. Right away I noticed an ice cream stand that sold giant cones. I had to get one!
Strawberry and Green Tea ice cream.
The ice cream was an incredible $NT20 or $.64USD. The food here is cheap!
After walking around, we decided to see the view of the city from the top of a mountain and check out a natural hot spring. I was really excited about the hot spring even though it was 95 degrees outside.
It took us an hour to get to the top of the mountain. I had forgotten my camera... So my phone camera had to do.
Taipei below the mountain.
Once we saw the view, we headed to a natural hot spring. I was determined to see how great this hot spring really was. I wasn't disappointed.
Each pool was at least 40 degrees celsius. There were heavy duty jets to massage the back as well. It was a relaxing hour. I closed my eyes and looked up at the stars. It was a pretty great experience. Well except for all the old Taiwanese men walking around with their wangs out. That was a little uncomfortable.
The trip back to Taipei was an hour. We went back to the Schilin Public Market to get some dinner. Below are all the foods I enjoyed.
I wanted to try as many different types of food items as I could. Tomorrow I will try another ten or so street food items.
Today was a fun day. This trip has been a great one so far. I'm glad I met Lisa because she has been a great host and tour guide. I would probably be lost in the city with no way to get back to my hostel if it weren't for her.
Well, time for bed.
scootering around Taiwan
Today Lisa and I went beach hunting in the National Parks above Taipei. I wanted to go see the Sanzhi UFO Houses, but I had forgotten to look up if they still existed. They didn't. They were torn down in 2010.
Our mode of transportation today was a scooter. I was a little worried by this because the drivers in Taiwan are a bit crazy in terms of speed and safety. But Lisa was a good driver.
After all that driving to the Sanzhi UFO Houses, Lisa decided to take me the Shihmen Cave.
We then went to a beach while the sun was going down.
Once the sun went down, we went and grabbed a snack at a local street vendor. I had never had sea snail before. It had an interesting taste and texture. I also had a pork wrapped rice roll that was delicious. It was wrapped in a big banana leaf.
Overall, today was a fun day. I got to enjoy some of the local cuisine while riding a scooter through the beautiful country side of Taiwan.
The first day in Taipei
I met a girl on Couchsurfing.com that offered me a bed at her house in New Taipei City. I gladly accepted the offer. Lisa met me at the airport and we were off to Taipei via bus. I'm glad she met me, because Taipei is really confusing and the locals don't speak English all that well.
The first stop was her apartment in the city to drop off my backpack. We then took a MRT (the local train) to the Taipei 101 building. We ended up going to the top floor. I was a little scared...
Taipei 101 has the fastest elevator in the world. I didn't enjoy that one... It took 15 seconds to go 90 stories.
This massive sphere keeps Taipei 101 from blowing over in a wind storm. Wind storms are common in Taipei. This ball reduces the wind by 40%. It looks small in the photo. However, it was 5 stories tall.
After going to the top, we met up with another American I met on CS. Kelvin, Lisa and I then climbed to the top of a hill to see Taipei 101 at dusk. What a site.
After Taipei 101, we went to Shilin Public Market. The market is famous for it's incredibly tasty street food. I ate so much food... and, for only $NT200 or $6USD.
I ate a crazy amount of food at this market. I couldn't get enough. I had pig blood rice on a stick, candied strawberries, rolled sausage on a stick, donuts, fresh squeezed orange and lemon juice, fried quail eggs, fried squid, crab on a stick, green onions wrapped around bacon, lamb kebab, and more. I can't even remember the rest I ate. SO MUCH FOOD! And all delicious. Taiwanese food is to die for. Incredibly tasty food with flavor and spice.
The past few days I have been sick with the flu. I haven't had any energy to see more of Hong Kong. But, tomorrow I take a flight to Taipei, Taiwan. I met a few local Taiwanese on Couchsurfing.com that will take me out in the city. One of the local Couchsurfers is going to put me up in his home. That'll be a great experience.
More to come starting tomorrow, the 16th.
Booking my next two trips
The past few days I have been sticking to my budget in order to stay on course with my trip. I have been walking around the city as well as working out at Anytime Fitness in Sai Ying Pun. I have found that if I budget my money well enough a few days a week, I can afford to buy my plane tickets to other countries.
Today I booked two trips, one to Taiwan and the other to Nepal. The Taiwan trip will go from the 16th-23rd of June. I will be staying in Taipei for a few days until Waleed gets there the 18th of June. Once he gets to Taiwan, we are meeting up with his friends in the city. I'm hoping to see some smaller villages and hiking trails on the way. Two of the more interesting places I want to see are the Sanzhi UFO Houses outside Taipei and the Tianmu Baseball Stadium. One of my goals on this trip is to see a foreign baseball game. As for the UFO houses, I had heard about them through the History Channel back home. I've always wanted to see these strange looking houses. Once I get to them, I'll write an extensive back story for those who don't know anything about these abandoned buildings in the middle of a Taiwanese jungle. My flight round-trip from HK to Taipei, Taiwan was a mere $1,002HKD or $130USD.
As for Nepal, I will be leaving Hong Kong July 3rd. My connecting flight will take me to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Once Waleed meets me in Nepal the 18th, we will head to London from Kathmandu around the 26th or so. The reason for staying in Nepal for such an extensive period of time is due to my friend Sujan being from Kathmandu Valley. He will be in Nepal the same dates as me. He will be putting me up in his family home. With Nepal being such a cheap country and my housing accommodations accounted for, this trip makes way too much sense. I know the recent earthquakes have devastated the area, but the economy needs tourists to spend money. And, Sujan being a reliable source, says the country is back to normal in terms of every day life. His knowledge of the area prompted me to book my flight for $1,378HKD or $178USD one way.
These next two trips can't come any faster. I have conquered Hong Kong in the matter of two weeks. Hong Kong is too expensive to live in without a job. Taiwan should be a bit cheaper. Nepal is one of the cheapest countries in the world, which will help with my expenses as well.
junk boat day trip
I was invited to join a group of people on a Junk Boat for the entire day. I went with friends Gabs and Waleed. We left the central area of Victoria Harbour about 10am and sailed out toward the beaches of Hong Kong.
The boat trip was even catered.
After eating, we all jumped off the boat and swam to the shore of Bluff Island.
Then hiked up the hills to the top of Bluff Island.
After a fun filled day of eating and drinking, we headed back to the city. Some of the views on the way were pretty spectacular.
Sai Kung country beach
I met up with the group that would be hiking overnight with me to Sai Kung Country Beach. It took us a total of 2.5 hours to reach the trail. Then, another 2 hours to the beach. The trail wasn't as hard as Lion's Rock, but it was still difficult due to the humidity.
The first significant find we came across on the trail was an abandoned village on the edge of a bay.
Once we hiked through the village, we finally saw the top of the peak we had to climb. The half way point was near.
We finally reach the beach. What a site...
Sai Kung Country Beach
As the sun was going down, we made a fire. We had previously ate at a small restaurant at the beach.
With no sleeping bags or tent, we had to bury ourselves in sand to escape the mosquitos. I can say I didn't sleep at all that night.
What a miserable night. I was eaten alive by mosquitos, there was no food or water and there was no way to hike back at night. It was safe to say we didn't prepare well for the overnight hike.
However, once the sun came up, everything was forgotten. These sites made up for the sleepless night.
The hike back to Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong Zoological and botanical gardens
I have made a list of things I want to get to while I'm here in Hong Kong. Today I knocked two of them off my list.
I meandered over to the HK Zoological and Botanical Garden in the Central District. This beautiful area of HK Island has some of the more interesting plants and animals collectively in South East Asia. The HK is one of the oldest zoological and botanical centers in the world. It occupies 14 acres at the bottom part of Victoria Peak, North East of LKF, the party central of HK. It was founded in 1871, but first staged animals and plants to the public in 1864.
These captive animals at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens are not protected the legislation that protects from animal cruelty an abuse. The law instated at this time is from the 1970s, when animal were treated with inhumane drugs and small living quarters.
Hong Kong is far behind Europe, the United States, Australia and Taiwan when it comes to forcing zoo managers to ensure the animals' needs are met.
Hopefully this trend changes in the next few years. The way the animals were treated here was hard to look at.
After the Botanical Gardens, I headed to the tram that took me up the mountain to Victoria Peak. There I paid a $28HKD ticket to ride it.
The view from the tram car.
Once I got to the top, I started walking toward the opposite side of Victoria Peak. I had heard about the views and wanted to see them while the sun was still up.
The other side of Victoria Peak away from the city. Lamma Island is off in the distance.
As the sun was going down, I headed to the city side of Victoria Peak.
The city during the day from Victoria Peak.
My goal for the day was to take a day time picture of the city and a night time picture. I waited 1.5 hours until the sun went down to take this next one.
The city at night from Victoria Peak.
laid back morning
With all the fun I am having, I need to stay organized and clean. So, washing clothes every few days is a must in this humid area of the world. I sweat through my clothes every 5 minutes… I used my morning to wash and dry clothes while watching the Mariners play the Yankees. MLB.TV has made watching the M's a breeze.
At 1pm I met up with Waleed to hang out at his apartment. He has been showing me how to DJ (my friends back home are laughing). It’s another activity I can do while I’m on the road. We hung out until he had to go back to work at 5pm.
Once back at the hostel, I orchestrated a hike to Lion's Rock. Lion's Rock has one of the best views in all of Hong Kong, especially at night. Four of us headed out at 9pm to catch the MTR.
I had no idea how difficult the hike would be. The humidity was 80% at the time we started. And, it was all up hill... I struggled most of the way as the others were in much better shape than I. By the time I got to the top of the peak, my clothes were drenched with sweat and I was crawling the last few steps. This was the hardest hike I had ever done. Not even close.
In the end, the hike was completely worth it. You'll know why when you see the photos below.
The view from the top of Lion's Rock with my Sony A5000. I'm taking the photo.
I'm in this photo on the left.
There I am, again.
After battling the heat and humidity, I made it to the top. It was well worth the trip. Going back down was a breeze. Now time for bed.
bombay dreams indian buffet
I had a fun evening the previous night. I woke up at 11am, which was a nice change. A group of us gathered in the lobby of the hostel to discuss our plans for the day. We ended up deciding on an Indian buffet in the Central district. Waleed, my friend who will be traveling with me on the majority of my trip, met up with us. The buffet was better than expected even with a hefty price tag. I ate Chicken Masala, Lamb Kababs, Indian Curry and much much more. After 1.5 hours, we were completely stuffed with hearty Indian food.
Our next stop was the Wellcome grocery store to grab beer. About 7 of us grab a 12-pack each and played International drinking games. I showed the group a few that I learned from my days in college. I then was taught a few French and British games.
After our drinking games, I told everyone about an all you can eat and drink Chinese place in Mongkok. For $60HKD ($7.50USD), we could drink and eat until our stomachs were full. This hidden treasure is a popular place for international students because the owner, Mr. Wong, gives deep discounts to travelers. We ended up staying 2 hours!
I enjoyed the company I was with all night. It’s incredibly insightful to meet and interact with people from all over the world. The group consisted of one British male, one Irish male, two Germans females, two French Canadians males, one French female from the island of St. Barth in The Caribbean and myself. The diversity was outstanding. These are the moments I will cherish while on my trip. Meeting new people and seeing the lifestyle of others from all around the world, makes this trip more meaningful.
Dragon's Back Hike
I woke up at 830am and met up with two expats I had met the previous night. We planned a hike in the hills of Shek O mountains called, Dragon’s Back. This hike is a popular one for tourists seeking to escape the craziness of the city.
All three of us took the MTR to the last stop, Chai Wan. We then took a mini bus the rest of the way to the base camp of the mountain. The hike usually takes 2 hours to get to the top. At the end point, hikers can see some of the most spectacular views in HK.
A panorama shot of Dragon's Back hike.
Shek O Village and beach from Dragon's Back.
After seeing the beautiful view, we hiked back to the bottom. From there we took a mini bus to Shek O Village at the base of the mountain.
The village is peaceful area that attracts tourists to it’s stunning views and main beach. We walked though the village to get to the waterfront. As we looked at the amazing views, Capuino (the girl I was hiking with), decided to jump the embankment and climb the rocks. Alex, the other mate, and I decided to follow. I’m glad I did, because the views were incredible. The photos I took are some of my favorites so far on this trip.
Opposite side of Shek O beach.
Shek O Rocky Beach, on other side of the main beach.
Shek O Beach, the main beach.
Local woman fishing at Shek O Beach.
Tired of the humidity and heat, the group grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant. I ordered spicy noodles with sausage and chicken. There’s a common theme here in HK. Soup noodles are cheap and popular.
After our 4pm lunch, we headed back to the hostel to drink the night away. It was a successful trip and one that will stand out on this trip.
Sai Ying Pun neighborhood
Today I walked around the city exploring the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood. Sai Ying Pun is in the Western district of Hong Kong Island near the ferry terminals. Queen’s Road, the main road in the neighborhood, was the first road built in the Western Part of Hong Kong Island. It connected military roads in the area for easy access for the British.
As the area grew, Sai Ying Pun housed local Chinese immigrants. Once Europeans started settling in HK, the locals had to move to the bottom of the hill.
Sai Ying Pun is one of the oldest parts of the city.
Queen's Road, Sai Ying Pun.
As I walked around Sai Ying Pun, I wanted to try the local cuisine on Queen’s Road. I looked up some reviews of local restaurants. I came across Sister Wah, a traditional noodle house that has some of the cheapest food in HK. Don’t be fooled by the cheap prices of food in HK. Even the cheapest eats are the best.
I ordered the beef ball soup with an order of boiled white radish in beef broth. The radish dish was flavorful and tender. The radish melted in my mouth, while the beef broth gave the radish a nice flavorful punch. This dish ran me a measly $13HKD or $1.75USD. The beef ball soup came out next with 4 heaping ground beef balls on top of flat rice noodles. It’s customary to mix spicy chili paste in your dish while slurping up the noodles. Overall, Sister Wah was a pleasant eating experience.
Sister Wah restaurant.
St. Lonan's Bakery
After Sister Wah, I wanted to watch the Symphony of Lights from the Hong Kong Island side. As I was walking to my next location, I spotted a charming little bakery that sold Chinese sweets. I grabbed one egg yolk pastry and one red bean pastry. The egg yolk pastry is incredibly tasty. The yolk literally drips out of the pastry into your hands. The red bean pastry had a pleasant mix of bean flavor and sweet cream. Both were delicious.
The front of St. Lonan's Bakery.
Symphony of Lights
Once I was done eating the delicious treats from St. Lonan, I met up with a few expats at the Sai Ying Pun MTR. We then, all walked the rest of the way to Victoria Harbour. There at 8pm every night, the Symphony of Lights displays the magnificent beauty of the skyline. The audience is treated with a laser show that is coordinated with music while the buildings light up the sky. The show is 14 minutes long. My video quality didn't turn out well. So, I am using a video from YouTube to show how cool the light show is.