Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) is a renowned and popular tourist attraction in Taiwan. It is the largest lake in Taiwan, and is designated as one of the "National Scenic Areas of Taiwan". While the scenary is indeed nice, it can become quite touristy.

There are 2 main "villages" at Sun Moon Lake - ShueiShe and Itashao village. ShueiShe is the one that most of the buses arrive in, and also contains an impressive Visitor Centre. It is a tourist town where most of the resorts are in. The more expensive ones are situated right by the lake, and makes for a really nice stay. Itashao is the village where the original Thao tribe resides. The Thao is Taiwan's 10th and smallest
aboriginal tribe. Now they are just a small community living in a settlement off the main village.
There are feeder buses that go around the lake, with designated stops along the way. You can also do a quick tour by ferry to a few major points around the lake. There are also quite a number of treks you can do round the island too. All these are well documented in the Visitor Centre, and the staff are pretty good, so no problems doing it all on your own.

Journey from Taipei to Sun Moon lake by bus is about 4+ hours. There are also reular buses from Taichung, which explains its popularity as its so easily accessible. I took the GreenTransit bus from Taipei, which transit at Puli, a town known for its Shao Hsing wines. All in all, Sun Moon Lake can be easily incorporated into your self-planned itinerary, so have a go!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taipei Night Markets

One of the major items to feature in any itinerary of a Taiwan trip is a visit to the night markets. There are quite a number in Taipei itself, and far from being a tourist "attraction", you'll realise that it is as much a local lifestyle thing of the Taiwanese than anything.

The most well-known would probably be Shilin Night Market. Situated right next to a metro station, its accessibility is certainly one of the reasons for its popularity. It is a covered night market, and you could well enjoy your food without getting wet if the rain comes. While crowded, I feel it lacked a certain "authencity" to it. I have always envisioned a night market to be those along narrow roads with stalls lining the sides. Well, this is exactly what you get when visit the RaoHe Street Night Market! The crowds are equally huge, the ambience great, and I do have a feeling the food's better here too! And judging from the queues in certain stalls, it seems there are a number of famous stalls here too!

There is also a "tourist" night market too! The HuaXi Street Tourist market is a covered market, and there is a certain lane that sells all manner of snake dishes. Hence it is also known as Snake Alley! Well, I certainly saw many more foreign tourists here than the other night markets! No wonder though, since I'm sure the thought of eating snake stuff would feel exotic to the foreigners.

One thing you'll notice though, the night food stalls are not just confined to those night markets. Even in trendy places like XiMenTing, where the young shop and hang around, those cart food stalls would spring up at night! Having supper and night snacks is a common lifestyle of the Taiwanese. And the night markets is certainly a reflection of that!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aurora Ice Breaker

An icebreaker is a special ship (or boat) that can travel in ice-covered waters. It has a strengthened hull that breaks the ice when it moves through these waters, thus carving out a trail for itself. In Hokkaido Japan, there is such a ship which also acts as a cruise ship for tourists, and its one of the more memorable journeys one can experience in winter Japan.

The Aurora Ice Breaker is one of the major attractions in Abashiri, a town in north-east Hokkaido. It will take you onto the frozen sea of Okhotsk, and you will enjoy a hour or so of cruising, witnessing the crashing and crushing of ice as the ship ploughs through the drift ice and ice floes. If you're lucky, you can see sea eagles and seals, but I only managed to see the multitude of sea gulls sqawking away. However, it was still quite an experience looking at the ice covered sea and the trail of "destruction" as the ship moves through it.

Be prepared with reliable cold and wind gear, as the winds on the cruise ship is fantastically strong. I had to make do with shooting with my thick gloves on, as it was impossible for me to take out my gloves, as the cold is really biting! Also, if you have multiple lens with you, changing lens is quite challenging as well, so if you really need to, I suggest going back into the cabin to change lens. Once adequately equipped, I'm sure it will be quite an experience!

Tickets to the cruise ship can be bought at any travel agencies in Abashiri itself. Of course, do check out when the Aurora runs, cos obviously, it will only operate in certain times in winter. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park is a park in Edinburgh, Scotland. What's so special about this place is that this park is situated at central Edinburgh itself! It's easily accessible from the town, yet provides a landscape that one would expect it's in the Scottish Highlands!

In the park itself, there are numerous hills and there is a series of cliffs known as Salisbury Crags. Running through all these, there are walking trails and routes that is very popular with locals and foreigners alike. I enjoyed the walk alot, although on that particular day, there were alot of walkers as it was a beautiful dry day after a series of cold wet days!

At the centre of the park, lies the main peak of the hills, known as Arthur's Seat. Here, being the highest point of Edinburgh city, it provides wonderful views of the city and beyond. The walk up is relatively easy, and so, needless to say, it is a not-to-be-missed activity when you next visit Edinburgh!

There is also a lake at the foothills, filled with some beautiful swans. There is also Holyrood Palace nearby, as well as a chapel. The Palace started out as a monastery, but eventually served as the residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland. But for me, the highlight is the walk in the park!