Category: Travel

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.)

Taiwan National Theatre

6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went to Taiwan 

I’ve never been outside the country until last month. I’ve always had this irrational fear of traveling by plane, which has kept me from visiting many places (that, and time and money haha). This year, I wanted to change that, so I tagged along with my friends’ trip to the heart of Asia.

What’s in Taiwan, anyway? Many Filipinos think that there are only two things in this country: factories and beef noodles. Although I knew that there’s a lot more to Taiwan than Meteor Garden and tea, I admit that I didn’t know enough. I could have had more fun if I prepared for my trip properly. Here are six important things I wish someone had told me before I went:

1. It’s very helpful to learn basic Mandarin, but not really necessary.

Actually, it just felt like it’s impolite not to learn the language. It’s also a mighty inconvenience not being able to communicate when you need to transfer trains, order food, buy something from the store, or look for the right bus station.

In our experience, however, getting around was not as difficult as I imagined it would be. The Taiwanese are very friendly and kind; we’ve never met any person, even in the countryside, who wasn’t willing to help us. I’m not even exaggerating.

Fenqihu Station

2. Keep a good offline map with names of places in English and Mandarin.

Mostly for your peace of mind. It’s overwhelming to hear the public announcements while onboard a train and not understand a thing. So if you’re a worrier like me, do get a map so you don’t have to feel anxious while commuting. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Almost everything’s in Mandarin, so it’s important to be assertive and ask questions if you need help. Given the language barrier, I recommend that you print out a list of basic phrases in Mandarin and English as a guide to help you speak with the locals.

Alishan trail

4. Have enough travel funds.

You’ll never know when you’ll need extra money. And in a city like Taipei, that could mean all the time. It’s not as expensive as most modern cities, but there are just too many shops selling delicious food and trendy dresses at bargain prices that you’ll wish you’d brought more cash. More importantly, if you plan to visit during the typhoon season, there’s always a possibility that flights will be cancelled due to bad weather, so it’s best to be ready with extra cash.

5. Do your research.

I can’t stress this enough. How else will you know where to get the best peanut ice cream or taro balls in Taipei? If I had done my research, I’m sure I would have saved a lot of time and effort. I didn’t even know where to get pasalubong.

Taroko Pebble Beach

6. Prepare to fall in love with the beauty of Taiwan.

I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin, never cared enough about Chinese history (except in high school), but I’ve read enough articles and academic publications from students and professionals from my previous editing job. These studies aroused my curiosity in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Mainland China. (Weird, I know.) Nevertheless, it was only when I got to travel to the country that I was finally convinced of the beauty of this nation.

Next week, I’ll post more about my experience in the different Taiwanese cities that I’ve visited. Stay tuned!

Hinatuan Enchanted River

Surigao del Sur – Hinatuan’s Enchanted River

What’s so enchanting about the river in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur? In 2014, my friends and I went to the sleepy town of Talisay to see the famous Enchanted River and find out for ourselves.

Earlier in the day, we rented a van in Agusan del Norte for our tour around the province of Surigao del Sur. We went to the Enchanted River after visiting Tinuy-an Falls and the International Doll House in Bislig. Thereafter, we set off on a one-hour ride to Hinatuan, where the Enchanted River can be found.

Hinatuan

 

Since we arrived in the afternoon, there were already many tourists in the area. For a P30 entrance fee per person, we were allowed access to the stream. Right behind the wooden view deck was a series of stone steps which lead to the left bank of the river. The water beckons, clear and glistening with hundreds of fishes zipping back and forth just beneath the surface.

Enchanted River

Where Fairies Play

With its ethereal charm, the Enchanted River has inspired many local legends. Stories about fairies and spirits frolicking in the waters abound among locals, and many believe that the fish swimming lazily in the river cannot be caught. Some say that the river got its deep sapphire color from the spirits who serve as its guardians.

According to the locals, no one knows how deep the river goes. In the past, divers have been able to reach about 80 ft., and what lies beyond that depth remains a mystery. In 2010, professional divers have discovered an underwater cave hidden from sight 30 ft. below the surface. Unfortunately, in another expedition in 2014, one of the divers died of cardiac arrest while inside the narrow tunnel connecting the mouth of the cave to an inner chamber, which they had been exploring.

If you want to have an idea what it looks like to swim in this river, here’s a short video shot and edited by my friend Lovely. (This film also includes the other places we’ve visited in Mindanao.)

Mindanao 2014 from Lovely Carranza on Vimeo.

Who knows what these brackish waters hide in its depths? Can the fish in the river really avoid capture? We can only guess.

Taipei skyline

How to Apply for a Taiwan Visa with a Philippine Passport

UPDATE: In April 2017, Taiwan relaxed its visa policies for Brunei, Thai, and Filipino citizens. Please visit the TECO website for the latest news.

Getting a Taiwan visa can be daunting if you don’t know where to start. If you’re planning to fly to Taipei anytime soon, you need to secure either a visa or a travel authorization certificate. Fortunately, the application process for getting these documents is simple enough.

Continue reading “How to Apply for a Taiwan Visa with a Philippine Passport”

Tinuy-an Falls

Surigao del Sur – Bislig City

When my friends said that we were going to Bislig in Surigao del Sur two years ago, I honestly thought we were going surfing (which I absolutely hate). I didn’t know that there was more to this province than its breathtaking beaches. I only learned about the fascinating culture of the local communities then.

Here are two of some of the tourist attractions in Surigao del Sur that I highly recommend. (Note that my friends and I visited these places in 2014, so the rates may have changed.)

Tinuy-an Falls marker
Tinuy-an Park Entrance. Photo by Lovely

Tinuy-an Falls

The most beautiful waterfalls in the country, Tinuy-an Falls is flanked by lush thickets and tall, century-old trees, making it a perfect site for birdwatching. Its cool, shallow pools are ideal for swimming and bathing. This majestic natural formation can be found in Burboanan, Bislig City.

Tinuy-an Falls

Dubbed by many websites and magazine articles as the Niagara Falls of the Philippines, Tinuy-an Falls is composed of several tiers of cascading waterfalls that are awesome to behold. We explored these falls with the help of our guide.

Tinuy-an Falls
Tinuy-an’s third tier

Every year, tribal folks perform a ritual called Diwatahan to honor the unseen spirits of the thick forests surrounding the waterfalls. In this ritual, the spiritual leader of the Manobo tribe living in the jungles offer the blood of a live chicken and a pig to please the kind spirits. This ceremony is usually held on the same day when Bislig City celebrates its (Christian) feast day.

Tinuy-an Falls
My friends, horsing around

How Tinuy-an Got Its Name

The word tinuy-an was derived from “tinuyo-an,” which is a Visayan word that translates to “an intentional act or performance to attain an objective or goal.” According to legend, two enslaved Manobos plotted to kill their cruel masters by driving them off the waterfalls, which is a 50-meter drop. They intentionally rowed their masters’ raft towards the edge of the falls, thus the name.

Tinuy-an Falls
Tinuy-an’s fourth tier

Tinuy-an Falls

Things to Remember

  • The entrance fee for adult visitors is P50. Children below 7 years get in for free.
  • You can rent a raft for 30 minutes for only P150. If you don’t feel confident about your swimming skill, you can rent a life jacket for an hour for P30.
  • Cottages and tables are available for those who want to have a picnic there.
Ocean View, Bislig
View from the, hehe, Ocean View Park Restaurant

(We didn’t have lunch in Burboanan because we wanted to try the restaurant in our next destination. Try it when you visit Bislig; I liked their schnitzel and their curry pasta.)

International Doll House

After having lunch at Ocean View Park Restaurant, we headed to the International Doll House, which was right next door. For a small fee (P20), we were able to view hundreds of vintage toy cars,  and porcelain cups and saucers on display.

International Doll House, Bislig
Photo by Lovely

Of course, there were dolls from every corner of the world — from limited edition Barbies to Javanese shadow puppets. Needless to say, I loved everything about this museum!

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House

The International Doll House is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 AM to 7 PM. For inquiries, contact Werner, Ruelaine, or Geraldine at (+63) 86-853-4061 or (+63) 910-321-2568.

Next week, I’ll write about the last leg of our adventure in Surigao del Sur. Yehey!