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Archives for September, 2015

Hong Kong

September 27th, 2015

After returning from Taiwan I was to enter a period of homelessness, so to prolong my trip for a bit I spent the weekend in Hong Kong. In contrast to Taipei, which as far as I can tell is perpetually cloud covered and usually raining, Hong Kong was very hot and sunny both days I was there. On Sunday I had to resort to wandering around with an umbrella up. I probably looked silly but at least I didn’t burn.

I spent most of Saturday afternoon wandering around Hong Kong island. The area around Wan Chai, in the photo below, is busy and interesting. I guess the stereotypical thing you expect from Hong Kong. Going further west you end up in the financial district. This was very shiny but totally deserted: much like the Docklands or City at the weekend.


On the edge of the central park I stumbled on the Museum of Tea Ware. The exhibition was good, if you like teapots, but the gift shop is a dangerous place for your wallet – luckily my suitcase was already mostly filled by this point.

Next to the park there’s a funicular railway going up to Victoria Peak, the local mountain. It’s supposed to be a good place to watch the sunset, and as one of my mottoes is “you can’t spell funicular without ‘fun'”, this seemed like an excellent activity. Unfortunately the queue to get on the funicular was several hours long and stretched around the park. So instead I just got a taxi and arrived in time to take some sunset photos.


On the top of the mountain there’s a shopping mall with an outside viewing gallery. This is looking east towards the actual peak. On the other side you get some great views over the city. Shame about the building works going on at the time.


Once I got down I hopped on the ferry to the mainland and wandered along the waterfront.


The next day I was feeling a bit citied-out so I decided to go exploring further afield. First I took the train out to a place in the New Territories called Ping Shan near the border with China. There they had a local “historical trail” which visited a couple of old buildings relating to the Tang clan who were the first to settle in the area.

In the afternoon I got the train to Lantau, the other big island in the Hong Kong area, and from there a long cable car up to a place called Ngong Ping in the mountains. This place is mostly famous for its giant Buddha.


The village itself is a bit touristy but they had a nice tea shop and you could wander around some quiet trails in the area. Here’s a photo of the big Buddha with some humans to compare. It really is the biggest Buddha I have ever seen.


The big mountain in the background is Lantau Peak. I really wanted to hike up it, but the trail is quite long, I wasn’t properly attired, and it was 35 degrees. So instead I only went to the base of it. These guys had just come down: bet they had fun!


Coming down on the gondola you get some really good views of the mountains and the airport. There’s a path running all the way under the cable car: doing the peak from sea level in cooler weather would be a fun day out. Apparently there’s also a quaint traditional fishing village on the other side of the island which I didn’t have time to visit. Lots to do if I ever go again!


Taiwan Again

September 20th, 2015

So after I got down from the mountain I decided to go exploring on the other side of Taiwan. I took the train – 火车 “fire vehicle” :-D – to Keelung which is a harbour on the Pacific. My tourism leaflet suggested I visit the nearby former gold mining town of Jiufen. So I did just that with the help of a bus.


Jiufen is written 九份 which literally means “nine parts”. There’s a village nearby called 十份 “ten parts” but I’ve no idea what the etymology is. The roads are very steep and winding and the houses cling to the mountainside. In the centre there is a lovely traditional market where I bought some mysterious edibles to take back home.


Also in the market I found a bubble tea shop which claimed to have been founded by the inventor of bubble tea himself. This may have been liemaking to justify charging twice the normal rate, but I’m never one to pass off a bubble tea opportunity…


Oh how I love bubble tea. I have to try very hard to limit myself to no more than two per day. This is difficult in Taipei because there are vendors on every street and it is sooo cheap: maybe 40元 or about 80p a cup. Maybe one day it will catch on in England too.

After I got back to Keelung I did a bit of exploring there too. They were having an “autumn ghost festival” and there were lots of these pretty lanterns everywhere.


There are night markets everywhere in Taiwan. Taipei has about ten squizillion of them and obviously Keelung had one too. But this one was huge and completely packed with people. It’s almost exclusively a food market and is apparently quite famous outside Taiwan. So I wandered around and looked at the foods which ranged from edible to “a bit weird” – pig’s blood soup? – perhaps fortuitously I’d already eaten in Jiufen so didn’t sample anything. The whole market carried the unique aroma of “stinky tofu”, a Taiwanese street snack that’s yet to penetrate the western market. Although on this trip I found the smell almost bearable, so next time I might be up to trying it…


The rest of the week I had to spend working, but as my colleagues were being boring and either sleeping or working in the evenings I got to go out and do a bit more exploring.


September 4th, 2015

Just because I’m in foreign parts doesn’t mean I can’t go adventuring at the weekend! Also the great thing about being in Taipei is that it’s surrounded by mountains. So Sunday morning I got the bus from just outside the hotel and 40 minutes later was in Yangmingshan national park. The bus stops about 500m up where there’s a visitor centre and a very helpful park ranger who explained all the trails thereabouts. Apparently many are currently impassable due to a recent typhoon knocking over trees. By the way “bus” is one of my favourite Chinese words: 公共汽车 literally “public-collective steam vehicle”!

I decided to try hiking up to the highest peak in the area, 七星山 or “seven star mountain” at 1100m – the ranger seemed quite impressed I could read it from the sign: minor win. :D

The trail was only about 5km long but it was steep. It was steps like this almost all the way:


Calves ached quite a lot the next day. The western side of the mountain was covered in this dense jungle which was so noisy: I never figured out whether it was birds or insects chattering.

At the summit the weather deteriorated somewhat. You are supposed to be able to see the pacific, all of Taipei, and a range of volcanoes. But that day there was nothing to see but cloud. :-(


Rather than walk back down the same way I headed off the opposite side of the mountain towards another trail head. There’s a very handy and delightfully named “itinerant bus” that travels around the national park collecting hikers. So I rode that back from a place called Xiaoyoukeng.

The eastern slope is very different to the western. Because it’s exposed to the winds from the Pacific it is covered in grassland rather than jungle. But most curiously, it is peppered with volcanic sulphur vents!


You can actually feel the heat of the steam coming out of the ground. Unfortunately my clothes stank of sulphur all the way back.