Category: Travel

Thunderbird Resorts

La Union: Thunderbird Resorts & Casinos – Poro Point

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed how I seldom post about beaches and resorts. It’s no secret that I’m not as fond of beaches as I am of mountains, so on holidays, you’ll more likely find me in Cavite or the Cordilleras than in Aurora or Batangas.

Last weekend was different though. I joined our company’s team building activity at Thunderbird Resorts & Casinos – Poro Point in the vibrant town of San Fernando, La Union. I had a great time, so I decided to write about my experience.
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how to ride the PNR

Trainspotting in Manila: How to Ride the PNR

If you’re planning to visit Manila anytime soon, brace yourself: you’re in for a hellish, inconvenient commute. In Manila, getting anywhere can be a piece of work. The travel time from NAIA, the international airport in Pasay City in Luzon, to Quezon City, where I live, usually takes two to three hours. It doesn’t help that we have a poorly organized public transportation system. The routes of the buses and jeepneys (which are smaller buses) can be intimidating and confusing to first-timers in the city.
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Frog Prince in Taroko

The Breathtaking Taroko Gorge National Park 太魯閣國家公園

In October, my friends and I traveled to Taiwan on vacation. On the fourth day of our trip, we went to Hualien County 花蓮縣 in eastern Taiwan to explore the Taroko Gorge National Park 太魯閣國家公園. My friend Grace booked the services of a local English-speaking guide (NT$ 6850) via MeetMyGuide to get us around the national park.

From our hostel in Nanshijiao, we rode the MRT to Taipei City Hall. There, we bought combo tickets for the one-hour bus ride to Luodong. At Luodong, we got on the local train (NT$ 73) to Hualien. We were about an hour late, so our guide Ivan contacted us and asked us to hop off the nearest station to the national park (Taroko, if I’m not mistaken). From the train station, it was a ten-minute drive to the entrance to the national park.

Our guide drove us around the park the whole day, entertaining us with stories about Taroko’s hiking trails, the people living there, and the place’s history. Our tour ended at around 6 PM. Ivan was kind enough to drive us to Hualien City, where we had dinner at their night market.

What We Saw in Taroko Gorge National Park

Words cannot describe how beautiful Taroko is. I consider my trip to the Taroko Gorge National Park as one of the best memories in my adult life. Everywhere I looked, the majestic walls of solid marble and lush vegetation greeted me. 

Taroko

Eternal Spring Shrine長春祠

Our first stop was the bridge where we could view the picturesque Eternal Spring Shrine. Constructed in 1957, the shrine was erected to commemorate the hundreds of lives lost during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway 中部橫貫公路, which passes through the national park. This lovely temple sits on top of a waterfall that gushes forth all-year round.

Eternal Spring Shrine

Taiwan’s Aborigines

Along the way, we saw aborigines on the road, riding their scooters to wherever they’re going. According to our guide, Taroko got its name from the aboriginal Truku tribe, which comprises 90% of its population. In their language, “Taroko” means “the magnificent and splendid.

Road in Taroko

What’s interesting about the Truku tribe is that they have a lot in common with indigenous Filipino groups in the mountainous region of Cordillera, particularly the Kalingas. Like the elderly in the north, the aborigines in Hualien like chewing on betel nut and made traditional (hand-tapped) tattoos for cosmetic purposes. Curiously, they used to be headhunters too. I’d like to learn more about this the next time I visit Taroko.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

We went up a narrow, steep trail to get to the bell tower on the peak above the Eternal Spring Shrine, which houses a bronze bell. According to locals, the sound of the ringing bell is meant to comfort the spirits of the men who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway.

Swallow Grotto Trail 燕子口步道

Swallows Grotto

The road follows a winding and dangerous tunnel. Beside the curved road is a narrower tunnel for pedestrians and tourists, where visitors could admire the awe-inspiring marble cliffs and the rushing Liwu River below the valley.

Swallows Grotto

What makes these cliffs interesting is that spring swallows use the hollow caves on its surface as their nesting grounds. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch a sight of these birds on our visit.

Wonders of Engineering

The Central Cross-Island Highway of Taiwan has got to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. From what I’ve read, its construction in the 1950s proved to be a wondrous feat: for 3 years and 9 months, more than 5,000 KMT soldiers worked to build the road using explosives and hand tools. According to Ivan, the chief engineer of the project also died in an earthquake before the highway was even completed. All in all, more than 200 men died during the construction of the highway.

Taroko Gorge National Park

Taroko Gorge National Park
The jagged surface of the mountain facing the road shows the uneven cuts made by the soldiers.

The Pacific Ocean

We capped the day with a short visit to the eastern side of Hualien. Ivan parked in an unassuming spot on the road and led us to an abandoned road where we could view the Pacific Ocean without having to fight our way into a crowd of tourists.

Old Hualien Highway
Our guide showed us one of the old roads used by the folks living in Hualien.

We passed through an old, dank tunnel before we saw this majestic view of the sea:

Pacific Ocean

Visit Taroko

If you’re planning to go to Taiwan anytime soon, I strongly suggest that you include Taroko Gorge National Park in your itinerary. Hit up the guys at MeetMyGuide.com to hire an English-speaking guide for your trip. (I’m not affiliated with them; I just enjoyed their service.)

This post is part of a series on my Taiwan trip. I visited Taroko in October 2016; if there are any outdated pieces of information, let me know.

The Magical Old Streets of Ruifang District 瑞芳區: Jiufen 九份 (2/2)

On our first day in Taipei, we headed straight to Ruifang District 瑞芳區 in New Taipei from the airport. We rode the Pingxi Railway Line 平溪線 to Pingxi Old Street 平溪老街, then hopped on a bus to Jiufen 九份, which was a short ten-minute ride away from Ruifang 瑞芳.

Jiufen

Jiufen Old Street 九份老街

For many months, I’ve waited to see Jiufen 九份. Many say that this decommissioned mining town inspired Miyazaki Hayao in creating his spectacular film, Spirited Away, and it was obvious: at the entrance of the street, the strong aroma of various mouthwatering dishes and snacks assaulted my senses. There were red lanterns and beautiful stores selling trinkets along the way. Wbe  we visited, there were hundreds of Japanese and Korean tourists, and everywhere I looked, crowds thronged and waited for their turn to take photos of each corner of this beautiful street.

I hope I could say I tried everything I could get my hands on, but I didn’t. There were many local delicacies I should have tried, such as taro balls, grilled snails, and grilled mushrooms. Here are some of the stuff that we saw at Jiufen.

Jiufen 九份

Wu Di
Wu Di ‘Flower Lady’ selling kurobuta sausages
Jiufen tunnel
Jiufen tunnel

Jiufen store

I’ve never liked cats (mostly because I have a terrible allergy to cat hair), but I loved the many cat ornaments in Jiufen. They even had a store devoted to pet cats!

Jiufen tea house
Jiufen tea house. Photo by Jep del Socorro

Before we headed back to our hostel, we wanted to take a picture of the famous tea house that we see in postcards. However, we couldn’t find a space where we could take a good shot. I was close to giving up, but then my friends found a spot from across the street. The owner of the cafe across the street chatted them up and asked where we’re from. When he learned we were from the Philippines, he gave us the seats with the best view! He talked a bit about politics, then left us to admire the view of the tea house, the mountains, and the sea.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at Sunday Inn along Shuqi Road. If you’re going to visit anytime soon, make sure you book Sunday Inn. Kellen, our host, has been very gracious and generous. Our room has AC, a shower with heater, cable TV, and fast Wi-Fi connection. I can’t recommend it enough. However, if you want to find more hostels in the area, visit Booking.com today. (Please note that if you make a booking using my link, I may receive a small amount as commission.)

Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience. Given the chance, I will go back to Ruifang in a heartbeat. I want to visit the other stations along the Pingxi Line, and I hope to stay longer in Jiufen to learn more about the town’s history and culture.

This post is part of a series on my Taiwan trip. I visited Jiufen in October 2016; if there are any outdated pieces of information, let me know.

Pingxi

The Magical Old Streets of Ruifang District 瑞芳區: Pingxi 平溪 (1/2)

In October, crossed off an item on my bucket list when I visited Ruifang District in New Taipei with good friends from college. After months of planning (c/o my friend Gracie) and daydreaming, we finally went to visit the old streets of Pingxi 平溪 and Jiufen 九份.

Since it was the first item on our itinerary, we headed straight to the Taipei Main Station 台北車站 from Taoyuan Airport. From there, we took a 50-minute ride on the TRA to Ruifang 瑞芳 Station. Commuting via Taipei’s public transportation system was just so convenient.

ruifang5

(A word of advice: when you’re going backpacking across the country, make sure you bring a backpack, so you won’t hurt your back or look silly when you’re trying to fish for your wallet in your large bag.)

When we got to Ruifang 瑞芳, we bought tickets and transferred to the Pingxi Line 平溪線. For NT$80, we got a whole day pass for the entire Pingxi Line. That meant we could get off at any station and hop back on the train after an hour. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore Shifen and the other towns along the way because we were pressed for time (the train comes only once in every hour) and there were just too many tourists.

Don’t take pictures along the railway. This is actually prohibited (don’t ask what happened when a local spotted us haha).

We arrived at Pingxi Station after 45 minutes. Before we set out to look for Pingxi Old Street 平溪老街, we took pictures of the station and the cute souvenir shops selling postcards and tiny sky lanterns.

The houses in Pingxi look a bit like those in Japan’s countryside. From what I’ve read on other blogs, some of the wooden houses and shops date back to the Japanese occupation in the 1930s, so that could be the reason why the town made me feel like I was in a film set in Japan.

Pingxi Lao Jie

Houses in Pingxi

The people living in Pingxi District are known for their custom of writing wishes on sky lanterns and bamboo flutes every Lunar New Year. Many tourists participate in this unique Chinese tradition. There are many small handmade lanterns for sale, too, for visitors who want a quirky souvenir. (I wanted to take one, but I can’t read or speak Mandarin, so I decided against it.)

Bamboo sticks

Of course, we had to try their street food. We waited in line for steaming hot garlic sausages, which were divine. We also tried the ice cream burrito, or the ice cream and peanut candy shavings wrap. (Think of it as lumpiang sariwa without vegetables, but with vanilla ice cream and peanut brittle.) Since I didn’t have a proper breakfast that morning, I also bought what I call a Taiwanese kikiam, which was a savory and filling treat. (I promise I’ll update this if I ever discover the name of the food.)

ruifang6

After about an hour, we returned to Ruifang Station and looked for the bus that will take us to Jiufen. We were only able to find the right bus stop after a kind lady at 7-Eleven gave us directions. (If you’re planning to take this route, this guide will be very helpful. Don’t forget to buy an Easy Card from 7-Eleven; most buses accept that as a mode of payment. It can also come in handy when you’re out of cash, and you need a quick bite — many convenience stores take Easy Card.)

Where did we leave our luggage?

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t bring our luggage with us on this day trip to Ruifang. We left our luggage at the Carry-On Baggage Center 台北車站行李託運中心, which is located near the Taipei Main Station. To get there, take East Exit 3 (the exit near 7-Eleven) and cross the street. Walk past the taxi stand and take a left turn around the next corner. You’ll find the Carry-On Baggage Center across the road from there. They’re open from 8 AM to 8 PM, Mondays through Saturdays. Rates are NT$100 for the first day and NT$50 for each additional day.

There are many lockers at Taipei Main Station, but the Carry-On Baggage Center was the most affordable option for us. All the electronic lockers charged the user by the hour, so it doesn’t make sense for us to use that.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about Jiufen Old Street 九份老街, one of the best towns I’ve visited in my life. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

(This post is part of a series on my Taiwan trip. I visited Pingxi in October 2016; if there are any outdated information, let me know.)