Hong Kong

After our flight (Michael and me) from Taipei to Shenzhen we stayed a night and crossed the border at midday of the following day.

As Shenzhen borders directly to Hong Kong you can use the great public transport system from the first meter on to reach the city centre. Our hostel “YesInn” was located at HongKong Island at the station Fortress Hill. It is well known that the city has a problem with space, but sharing 8m² with two other people including the bathroom and toilet is a little bit to “cosy”.

Clemens has arrived one day before and so finally the travelling team 2011 was complete.

Hong Kong is one of these cities that are fascinating from the first minute on. The high buildings and great few from Kowloon to HongKong Island are just amazing.

Having a drink at the “Ozone Bar” or the Ritz Carlton Hotel is something everybody should do at least once being here. The great few from the roof-top terrace of the highest hotel in the world is a little bit more impressive than from the famous “Victoria’s Peak“.

Four days are enough to get a feeling of the lifestyle and visit the most important sights in town. Never forget to consider a high budget, because the prices here are just as high as the buildings!

Macao (澳門)

Getting to the “Las Vegas” of China is pretty easy from Hong Kong. The ferries leave more less every 15-30 minutes both ways. Like Hong Kong, Macao is a special administrative region and you need to cross the border and get a visa even if you are coming from China mainland or Hong Kong. You have to calculate about one hour for each time of immigrating and about 20 minutes for emigrating.

Macao was a Portuguese colony so still all signs are at least in Portuguese and Mandarin. Macao became a part of China in 1999 but the social and economic system, lifestyle, rights, and freedoms are to remain unchanged for at least 50 years. The currency is Macanese pataca but they also accept Hong Kong Dollars everywhere.

The city is very famous for its several really huge Casinos. Every big brand like Venecian, Sands or Wynn has its own big complex of shopping mall, casino and hotel. Especially people from the mainland love to come over for a weekend and try their luck.

The centre of the city is still preserved and you can enjoy the great colonial architecture of the Portuguese. Anyway there are just a few building left. The main attraction are the ruins of the St. Paul’s Cathedral built in 1602.

The city is fascinating like Las Vegas but in my mind not worth to stay longer than 12 hours if you are not interested in gambling. The best time to head over is the early afternoon to have enough time to visit the old town and enjoy afterwards the great lightnings of the Casinos and the and fountain show in front of the Wynn.

Last days in Taiwan | Taipei

After packing all my stuff and saying goodbye to my colleagues from the NCKU-department I had to pay the water and the electricity for the last six weeks in my dorm. As always when you do not speak the language you get riped off and so  I got. The price for two weeks in the first room have been higher than in the other one for four weeks, but how to argue?

I took the HSR to Taipei and stayed at the really lovely “Eight Elephants Hostel”. It  was a bit tricky to find but the staff and the people welcomed me warmly. Michael already was waiting for me to go for hot-pot dinner and afterwards to a nightclub.

The “Lava” is a hip-hop and r’n’b club with NT$ 700 entry and all drinks for free. As we did no like the atmosphere here that much we went on to one of the most famous night-clubs in town, the “Spark”. It is in the cellars of the Taipei 101 tower and is in my mind really one of the best places to go for party in Taiwan.

Next day I met up with Jas, a local who showed Michael and me around. The Jiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was our start-point. It was built in memory to the former president of the Republic of  China. The big square in front is bordered by the two opera-houses of the capital.

Afterwards we visited one of the most important temples, the “Long Shan – Temple“. The place is really crowded but interesting to watch the people praying and doing the rituals.

After a nice snake-soup and visiting the  “Shilin-night-market”, by the way one of the worst one in town, it was time to go home.

The last day in Taipei was reserved for the “National Museum of Taiwan”. It shows impressive art and jade-stone-work of the last centuries combined with interactive animations. You should calculate at least four hours to get through the whole exhibition and do not forget to bring a pullover, because it is really cold inside.

Thank’s to Jas and her family I was invited to have dinner with them and got known to a typical great Chinese dinner and people. – Thank’s again!

Lyudao (綠島) – The Green Island

Lyudao (綠島), also called the “Green Island” is one of the smallest islands of Taiwan located in the east of the country. There are several ferries (about NT$500/one-way-ticket) and flights with Mandarin Airlines (about NT$2000/one-way-ticket) from Taitung City (台東市).

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Getting a train ticket and a reserved seat in Taiwan is not that easy. You have to book it a few days in advance or you will have to stand in the wagon the whole trip. Lucky us Michael and me got one and after three hours we reached Taitung. After a 15 minutes taxi ride to the harbour (about NT$250) we purchased the ferry tickets to get to the island and back. In many travel guides you can read that the boat trip may cause some problems with your stomach. The sea was very silent this day but still it was a kind of turbulent on the catamaran. After 50 minutes we arrived at Lydao Township, the only centre and harbour at the “Green Island”.

You get immediately offered a scooter and you need it! There are no taxis and the bus is not very trustful. For NT$300 / day you get a fucked up scooter but you will be able to get around. (Tip: Always check the breaks first!) The only gas-station is close to the arrival point and closes at 10pm.

Two days before we had booked the only available hotel in the web, the “Green Island Bali Resort”. The residence was situated at the north side, about 15min by scooter from the township. The price of NT$3800 per night was way to much, but as there are going a lot of Taiwanese people for holidays and scuba diving to the island as well, it isn’t that easy got a place to stay.

We forgot to get some money at the train-station in Taitung, but the woman at the counter for the boat-tickets told us there is one at the island. Well, it was correct, that there is an ATM in Lyudao Township, but it does not acdept foreign cards what caused a bit of troubles in our financial situation.

After we had been cruising around a bit we enjoyed the sunset from a cliff and met up with girls who have been attending the same Chinese-Courses as Michael in Taipei. Lyudao is famous for its seafood and so we went for it. One of the biggest attractions of the very chilled and quiet place is are the “Hot Water Springs” in the south. Because of hot lava stones the seawater is heated up naturally. The bath is open from 5am to 2am every day and for about NT$180 you can enjoy hot water and the stars directly at the sea. Important: Never forget your bath-cap!

If you are interested in watching crabs and other animals head over to the lighthouse at sunset. We will see beautiful crabs and if you are lucky squirrels. In the mountains there are several deer and birds.

The next day we surrounded the island and visited the sights. The street is 17 kilometres directly at the coast. There is just one second one up to the highest mountain where a military-base is situated. You are not allowed to get in and because of the trees you do not get a view over the landscape as expected.

Overall Lyudao is a great place to relax, go for hiking and scuba diving. The great corals around the coast are really beautiful to visit and if you want to get rid of the stress of the mainland you can get here through the woods and listen to the crickets and birds.

Tainan (臺南市) and AnPing District (安平區)

Michael came down from Taipei for a weekend and so we started to head around with a scooter to see the most important sights of the city. The first stop we did isn’t far away from the main train station and is the Chihkan Tower (Fort Provintia) (台南市). It is one of the best restored sights in Tainan City and really worth to visit! (Entry: NT$25-50)

Afterwards we directly went to Anping. It is directly located at the water with a big harbour and a lot of water-ways. The buildings are all new and you have a complete different atmosphere in comparison to the centre. The Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城), also called Anping Castle, is one of the last contemporary witnesses of the time of the Dutch and Japanese in this Area. The fort was originally built by the Dutch out of wood. After they lost Tainan to the Japanese and a siege over months the fort was overtaken by the Japanese who built it for new out of bricks they have brought from home. From the tower you have a great view of the fort and the city.

In front of the fort the Kaitai Tianhou Temple is situated. On the other side of the street a big and impressive cemetery is located. The Christian church at the end of the streets reminds that about 10% of the city’s population are catholic.

The Anping Harbour is a great place to relax and get rid of the stress of the city. On the one side the harbour itself with the fishing boats is situated. At the opposite the Lin Mo Niang Park (Lín Mòniáng Gōngyuán 林默娘公園) was opened in April 2004. This two hector green island is dedicated to Lin Mo Niang, the human embodiment of the goddess Matsu, as she protects the sea workers and offers an image of piousness to young Taiwanese.

As always when you sightseeing this was one of the hottest days I ever had here in Taiwan why we decided to head over to the sea and have a swim. In Tainan there are two beaches, the Anping Beach and the Golden Beach. You cannot expect the same cleanness like in tourist centres all over the world but still you can relax and enjoy the sound of the waves. After a stop over at Anping Beach we reached the Golden Beach after about 30 minutes scooter ride. At the small promenade are a few stands where you can buy food and drinks (the start to open at around 5pm) and the beach is clean.

Having a swim here would be great but the lifeguard is always watching that you do not get more than 5 meters into the water! Most Taiwanese aren’t able to swim well enough to stand the waves (that are not really big) but still, he was insisting that we stay close to the shore as well.

Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)

After a very short night we had to get up to reach one of the first buses to the lake.

The Sun Moon Lake is the largest, natural body of water in Taiwan. It is situated near Taichung in the inner part of the country and can just be reached by bus.  Starting in Taichung (LuChuan E. Street which is parallel to the train station) there are several buses each day for NT$150 per ride. It takes you about two hours to reach the only city at the lake called Shuishe Town (水社). The climate is way more convenient up there and about 90% of the Taiwanese married couples spend their honeymoon or even marry at the lake.

After about 1.5 hours bus ride we reached the new entertainment park “Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village” at the lake. For NT$500-700 you can see a aboriginal village and have fun with roller coasters. A cable-way brings you directly from the park to the lake.

We decided not to go in but left the bus because we thought this is already the and station. After a short look around we mentioned that the lake was way more far away as we expected. A very nice employee from the park immediately organized us a taxi and told us for NT$400 we would be at the lake. We considered a ride of at least 30 to 45 minutes for this prize. Well, this is happening to you if you do not speak the language of a country: After about 15min we reached our destiny and the cap driver earned a lot of money. – Till now the most expensive taxi I have been taken in Taiwan!

The new information centre of the Sun Moon Lake is in front of the bus station in Shuishe Town (水社). They are very nice and provide you with maps, guides and time tables. – Most of them speak English.
Around the lake are several very nice hiking tracks as well as biking lanes, but most of the tourists go for a boat ride to see the landscape (NT$300 for one day ticket / NT$100 for one way ticket).

We took a short track around a small half-island and enjoyed it not to be surrounded by hundreds of mainly Chinese tourists. The local people are very obtrusively and always try to sell you something or get you on a boat. The prices for food and accommodation are the highest in comparison to the rest of the country. For lunch or dinner you have to calculate at least NT$600!

Beside the touristy places country-clubs and a camping park are situated at the lake. The upper 10.000 of Taiwan even started to have their own yachts at the lake.

Sights at the lake:
Several temples and the above mentioned entertainment park are the main attraction of this area.

TzuEn Ta Pagoda
With its nine levels and 4 meters of height it is the highest in Taiwan. It is part of the HsuangChuang Temple and is situated about half a kilometre above the temple.

The harbour of Shuishe Town (水社) is located on the opposite side of the information centre. you have to enter a new gift shop and walk through it. The tickets are sold directly at the gate and by people who start asking you when you come closer.

Tickets: NT$300 for one day or NT$100 for one way

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Taichung (臺中)

Taichung is located in the middle of the west-coast and is the third biggest city in Taiwan with about  800.000 habitants. We (Jennifer and Victoria two British English teachers working in Tainan and me) took the fastet non HSR train from Tainan what took about two hours. The price of NT$ 363 was OK but I forgot to get a reserved seat and the trains are always very crowded so I had to make myself comfortable on the floor.

The main train station of Taichung is very small and you will find your way easy. On the right side of the main entrance, next to a small Italian café you find some lockers. The local buses as well as to other cities are starting at LuChuan E. Street which is parallel to the train station.

The areal around the station is very fucked up and a lot of buildings are empty and really would need a refurbishment. As in any city in Taiwan the amount of scooters on the streets is just hilarious.

After a walk around visiting the municipal of the city (a nice Colonial European Building) and getting a picture of the city we decided to head over to the museums park. The Museum of Fine Arts is situated at the beginning of the green island. The entry is for free except the special exhibitions. The modern building houses modern paintings and sculptures as well as interactive installations of mostly Taiwanese and Chinese artists.

We had not thought of a place to stay and due to the fact that all hostels have been booked out we decided to stay in the FuChun DaFanDian Hotel. It is at the beginning of the ZhongShanLu on the left hand side. The street starts in front of the train station and is very easy to find. The rooms contain two double-beds, TV (including English channels), a refrigerator and a bath room with bathtub. Don’t expect to much but the rooms are mostly clean and for NT$1200 per night and room they are cheap.

For dinner we took a cap to the biggest night market of Taichung. The amount of people is enormous but you find all kinds of food stands and there are a lot of shops providing fake cloths and glasses.  To eat at least ones stinky-tofu is a must in Taiwan and so we did. The tofu smells very bad and is served with a spicy sauce. (We could just try and and had to throw away most of it.)

After a few beer in a Mexican  bar after a taxi ride through the whole city we decided to head back to the hotel to get a least a few hours of sleep.

Life in Tainan City

The first things you have to keep in mind if you are considering to stay for longer time in Tainan are:

  • there is nearly NO public transport system
  • nobody speaks English
  • it is raining a lot and stays hot at the same time

The huge number of scooters is just based on the fact that this is the easiest way to get around. You can rent one from NT$ 2500 a month. A (second-hand) bike may is convenient enough and ways cheaper, starting from NT$ 300 – 1000. A place to rent a scooter is located between the train-line and the Shangri-La building.

The problem that there are very few people speaking fluent English isn’t that easy to cope on with. A phrase book may help a little bit, but most of the time you have to act with your hands (and feet).

Buying an umbrella is indispensable if you are spending some time in Taiwan. During the summer you will have some days with blue sky and high temperatures, but normally it starts raining between 13 and 15pm.

Most of the shops and restaurants close at 10pm and always keep in mind, restaurants do not serve dinner after 9pm. Sure there are some who last longer, especially all McDonald’s that are opened at least till 11pm or are open 24/7 but they are not always easy to find.  – Especially when you are hungry.

Behind the Shangri-La are several laundry services. A pack of clothes is normally around NT$ 80. They wash and dry your stuff, but do not iron it. If you have a sensible skin be careful, they are using very aggressive washing powder.

7Eleven is all over the city at nearly each corner. They are opened 24/7 but their offer is very limited. You get drinks, snacks, a little micro-wave food and cigarettes. If you want to get some western stuff you may visit the supermarket in the FE21 (Shangri-La Building) in the second basement. It has for example fresh vegetables and fruits, coffee and so on.

The Juy Bakery is in my mind one of the best in the whole town. They have bread with and without sugar. Badly you won’t find dark bread. The staff is really nice but does not speak any English and everything is marked in Chinese.

Bread starts from around NT$ 30. Tip: Try the raisins bread!

Location: 20 DaXue Road and 186 YunXue Road

If you want to have some good old western food there are several good places to go to. My favourite ones right now are Willy’s Second Base, Tin Pan Alley and [email protected]

Tin Pan Alley:
It is one of the few expat bars owned by Darren who has been living in Tainan for more the 14 years now. There are often live music gigs and you always find someone nice to talk to. They offer Wraps and Pizza combined with different kinds of beer.

WIFI: yes
Hours: Monday – Thursday 2:00PM ~ 2:00 AM; Friday – Sunday 2:00PM ~ 4:00 AM
Location: No. 28 Beimen Road (北門路), Section 2, North District, Tainan City

Willy’s Second Base:
It is one of the best know American Pubs in the city. Great food (Pizza with awesome self-made tomato sauce and Mexican) and different brands of beer. Every Thursday there is Pub-Quiz. – Great opportunity to get known to some people!

WIFI: yes
Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm – whenever.
Location No. 321, Sec. 2 Jiankang Road (健慷路), South District, Tainan City.

[email protected]:
This very stylish restaurant offers pasta, wraps, sandwiches and self-made desserts with fresh smoothies and Italian Illy coffee. They offer all food for take-away as well.

WIFI: no
For more information go to: http://www.kaffe-at-home.com.tw/

Masa Loft
They have fresh made juices and a great selection of coffees. The dishes here are all good but you have to try the waffles!  The loft has a great atmosphere and based on the location in the third floor nice few over the entrance of the NCKU and the Daxue Road. This is a place to relax and chill at the afternoon!

WIFI: yes
Hours: Weekdays 9:00AM ~ 11:00PM; Weekends 8:30AM ~ 11:00PM
Location: No.53 Daxue Road (Dasyue Rd. 大學路), 3rd floor, East District,

For further information about night-life and living in Tainan City visit the Tainan City Guide by Karl Bergman. It provides very detailed information about the city and its surroundings.

Webpage: http://tainancity.wordpress.com/

Walking around in Tainan

Today was my first free day and I used it just to walk around and get known to the culture here. The weather was very nice with blue sky, but still the humidity is very high. After about 10 minutes walking you start sweating everywhere…

The first thing what came to my mind was the really bad air today. As already mentioned the last days it was always raining so not that much people have been on the streets and the air was clean. Today I smelled the uncountable number of scooters on the streets. Lucky me I found a very nice small park where I could feel a little breeze and though the air was not that bad. Under a tree I started to read my new book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

When the sunset is starting, it actually gets quite comfortable around here. After a very long walk home (because I completely lost orientation) I suddenly found myself in the old part of the city where the traffic is just horrible and clear air is not existing. The only landmark in this city is the Shangri-La Hotel near the main-train station but because of the street canyons it is not always easy to find or see.

Arriving in Tainan and at the University

After a short connection ride with a local train from the HSR-station I finally arrived in the center. The recommended hotel (鐵道大飯店) in front of the station seemed a little but old but at least the room looked OK and they had internet access (NT$880/night). Waking up on the next day was strange. – There was no daylight in the room! The huge window in front of my bed was just fake.

After a short taxi ride I finally arrived at the university campus. It had already began to rain again and I got the feeling that buying an umbrella wouldn’t be the worst idea. After wandering around and asking several people about the location of the department I would work for the next 6 weeks, I finally found a Taiwanese who could speak English and he leaded me directly to the building. The National Cheng Kung University is a campus University where each department has got its own building. The area is like a park with a lots of tropical trees and long ways to go.

My colleagues welcomed me warmly and immediately told me that they had organized a place to stay for me. – What good news, and the room will have a window too!

After getting known to the whole team and my advisor Prof. Jeng the day was more less already over and I started to feel the jet-lag again. My new home was just 5 minutes away from the university, but far enough to get completely wet again.