27. Taiwan

Last Stop: Taiwan

Taiwan, you were so wonderful and without doubt the best part of our summer vacation.

I think my colour photos from this trip give a better feel for Taiwan. Black and white was perfect for capturing Shanghai but Taiwan was more vibrant. The temples in particular were so colourful and packed with detail. When you live in Korea or elsewhere in Asia, it’s very easy to become a bit ‘templed out.’ So, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by anything. Taiwan however surprised me. Here in Korea, temples are more like sites. In Taiwan, I loved that they seemed to be part of the city. You could be in the middle of Taipei and just stumble onto one. Within minutes you could move from the craziness of the city to a moment of peace and quiet.

 

 

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Postcards from Kaohsiung & Tainan

Third Stop: Kaohsiung & Tainan, Taiwan

Great food, great people, great places. Taiwan has an air of friendliness which was very noticeable after visiting Shanghai and HK. Whilst it flares up it’s heritage from China and Japan it seems proud of its influences. It doesn’t play victim or feel burdened by it. Instead bitterness is left at the door, and the people have taken it, making it their own. It just makes this country all the more endearing.

After seeing god knows how many temples, I’ve become harder to impress, but Taiwan had some of the most ornate buildings I’d seen. The night markets are also what stand out on this trip. With the buzz of a funfair and quick tasty eats, Taiwan takes the gold for summer vacation. We made three stops in Taiwan; Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taipei. This week I will be focusing on the first two cities.

Day 1: Kaohsiung
It was quite a relief to leave HK, if you want to read more on what we did, check out Postcards from Hong Kong. Kaohsiung was our first stop and is the second largest city in the country but it was really chilled out. The relaxed vibe was apparent as soon as we left the airport and its exactly what we needed after visiting Shanghai and HK.
1. The Lotus Pond
It was pouring down but we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. First we went to the lotus pond. Around the lake are a number of little temples. There’s a huge dragon and tiger you can walk into. Opposite that, was perhaps my favourite temple of the trip. My photos did not do it justice. The torrential rain at first seemed a pain but in the end, it really added to the atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves.

2. Ruifeng Night Market
Our first night market and the most well-known amongst locals in Kaohsiung. The first time you visit a night market its a little over bearing. Stalls after stalls of food you recognise, food you don’t, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice. Not to mention, lots of people. The prospect of ordering is kind of daunting but once you’ve tried a few things it becomes part of the fun. It is incredibly cheap to eat here so you can try a range of things. This night we tried fried lemon chicken, brown sugar bubble tea, oyster omlette (famous in TW) and a cream cheese bun. We also dabbed our hand at a few games but alas, we won no fluffy toy.

Day 2
1. Fo Guang Shan
I’ve seen a lot of big Buddha’s, believe me. It seems every monastery claims to have ‘the biggest Buddha’ but here is a place you do not want to miss. This one is framed by eight pagodas. It’s an incredible entrance. Ultra modern but the history of how the place came to be where it is, is really interesting. Fo Guang Shan is dominated by female monks and houses one of three teeth from Buddha in the world. We thought it was cool because unbeknownst of that, we’d visited Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka earlier this year. We need to head to India now so we can tick off all three teeth. The place feels like a Buddhist amusement park so I don’t know how it isn’t better known.

2. Luihe Night Market
Before heading to the night market, we felt like trying a Taiwanese restaurant. We noticed a lot of Japanese inspired food during our time here and that night we had the greatest sashimi. Then, it was time for more food at a smaller night market. Because we’d eaten our fair bit of fresh fish all I can really remember is trying the papaya milk, which is so well known here. It tasted cheesey to me. Our time in Kaohsiung was short but sweet.

Day 3: Tainan
We took a train over to Tainan. Whilst Kaohsiung has its status as the second largest city, it feels less dense. Tainan is more concentrated and because of that felt more like a city than KS did. We relaxed, nipped out for some Taiwan-Japanese fusion food then went to another night market.
1. Flower Night Market
The most well known night market in Tainan and perhaps my favourite of them all. This is set in a huge square. This place had a really great atmosphere with more option for clothes too.

 Day 4
1. National Museum of Taiwan Literature
We really only went in here to use the air con because my gosh, it was hot. You couldn’t stay out in it too long. Literature Museum was meh, but we weren’t really expecting much to be honest.

2. Confucian Temple & surrounding area
The temple itself has a small charge and its… nice. Nothing special. The Elementary school next to it is actually more impressive and in a great area. After our temple stop we embarked on a quirky café hop. First to Narrow Alley Cafe which is hidden within the tiniest gap in the wall. Dave was fitting in between the walls for jokes, only to spot a hidden door which led to the cafe. After refreshments, we wandered for something more filling, stumbling upon a place called Pop Pie. Naturally, I didn’t want to get my hopes up at the word ‘pie.’ Pie in Asia rarely means the pie I know. Whilst it wasn’t pie, this café serves up amazing quiche. ACTUAL QUICHE. It’s amazing how excited about home food you get when you live abroad. I never thought I’d be getting excited about quiche and a salad. The set included pumpkin soup and we finished off our indulgent afternoon with a lemon cappuccino. Worth checking this lovely place out.

3. Hayashi Department Store
We were looking to fill time and noticed this department store. From the wooden architecture and the name, it was obviously Japanese. Hayashi, for a department store, is small, manageable and has high quality souvenirs. You know, in Korea I find it hard to get something ‘Korean’ without it looking tacky. The goods are still completely about Tainan but the building is historically influenced by Japan.

4. Dadong Night Market
The runner up to the Flower Night Market. We noticed that the exact same stalls from the night before move to this market, so its great if you feel you missed out on something. This was the best night of dining because we saved our stomachs for a completely market-food filled evening. We tried spring rolls, pork bun (AMAZING), fish balls, beef noodles, cheese wrapped in bacon and more.

Next Tuesday on ‘Postcards’ I will be posting our itinerary for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

In the meantime, we’re off to Fukuoka tomorrow for the Chuseok holiday! Yay

26. Hong Kong & Macau

Second Stop: Hong Kong & Macau

Okay, so we were disappointed with Hong Kong. In fact, I didn’t actually snap much. I think the rush of people made me a little cautious about carrying my camera. Either that or I didn’t think there was much of interest. If I were to present HK truly, it would be a photo of the jewelry chain ‘Chow Tai Fook’ and a designer shop.

For this post, I have included Macau. Firstly, because it was only a day trip and secondly, I took more pictures of Macau in one day than I did for the whole time in HK. At one point in Macau we strayed away from the main square and just wandered. We stumbled across a lovely temple and what looked like some type of European dance. Macau was weird and wonderful. A country dependent on the thriving casino industry but still not lacking culture with its combined Portuguese and Chinese influences.

25. Shanghai

First Stop: Shanghai

3 weeks, 4 countries and I’m back to Korea. I’ve returned to ‘deskwarming’ whereby I have to come to school and prepare lessons. But, let’s be honest. Planning doesn’t take a full 8 hours everyday for 5 days. It’s kind of ridiculous why I’m here for that long but… it’s in the contract. So, instead of getting bogged down with all the politics of why, I’ve spent my time editing photos from my vacation.

As my blog suggests, black and white photography is something that I’ve recently become interested in. Whilst I was away, so many things caught my eye. I really enjoyed snapping dilapidated buildings and the locals (when I could get a photo). I’m still nervous when it comes to taking pictures of strangers. And yet, I think people are the most interesting to capture. I’m still toying with how to approach people when out with my camera. Is it better to ask somebody’s permission or just take a snap of a moment? I still don’t know the answer to that question. I read an interesting tips article on National Geographic about this particular issue. If you want the link to that it’s here.

I took so many pictures in black and white during this holiday, that I’ve created a gallery of them instead of choosing one. Here are my findings from our first stop: Shanghai. Next ‘Black and White Wednesday’ will be Hong Kong & Macau.

Postcards from Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan

There are many who become fascinated with Japan, whether its through music, fashion, anime, or the language. Japan retains a distinct cultural identity, a vibrancy in which tradition and modernity co-exist. Since first visiting Korea back in 2005, Japan was top of my bucket list. It was a dream to see it and in 2012 I visited with my good friend from home, Binks. In just 10 days, we rapidly explored Tokyo and Kyoto.

Since moving to Busan, I’ve been lucky to be placed somewhere so close to Japan and so this time, I revisited Kyoto with Allison…and a camera! My experience in Japan had lived up to my high expectations and going a  second time, I was aware that revisiting could be different. Would it be as exciting? Can revisiting somewhere take away something from the previous experience? I think that for many places, it can. However, revisiting Kyoto only solidified my love for this special city. Kyoto is still as exciting, still just as magical and still makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back in time to traditional Japan. I’d never dreamt that I’d ever have the opportunity to visit again.

Day 1: Arrival at the hostel in Gion
After arriving in Gion (Geisha District), we met others who were doing meditation at a temple in the North of the city. We were pretty knackered so it was a chilled evening spent in Downtown Kyoto.

Day 2: Arashiyama
1. Monkey Park
An area where wild monkeys roam. They all gather on top of the hill freely and you can even feed them!

2. Bamboo Grove 
The film set of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It may be smaller than you expect but its really cool.

3. Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion).
This temple is covered in gold leaf set across a lake. It’s absolutely stunning and definitely one of Kyoto’s most well known temples.

4. Ukai
Perhaps the best surprise of the day. On the evening we came back to Arashiyama to experience Ukai. This is a traditional form of fishing where fishermen use heron to catch their meal. You get in a boat and watch the process lit by firelight.

Day 3: Kiyomizu -dera & Kyoto International Manga Museum
1. Kiyomizu-dera
After a long day at Arashiyama we decided to stay pretty close to our hostel and see one of Kyoto’s largest attractions. There are pagodas, a main temple and you can even enter ‘the womb’, a dark cave like walk underground.

2. International Manga Museum
Looking for something more modern in the afternoon we headed to International Manga Museum; a must see for manga fans. It’s more like a library than a museum and although I haven’t touched manga before, I still enjoyed it.

Day 4: Nara & Fushimi Inari Taisha
I’d heard great things about Nara. A place where deer wander freely and are so tame that you can feed them. It’s all true. I even managed to grab a selfie with one of them and if that’s not enough, there’s also a cracking big temple (Todaiji)

1. Todai-ji
Another temple which has a huge bronze buddha. We were approached by some lovely older ladies who took us around the temple for free. The hospitality of Japanese people is incredible.

2. Fushimi Inari Taisha
From there we caught a train back to Kyoto Central and stopped off at Fushimi Inari Taisha on the way. The winding red posts are never ending up this stunning trail.

Day 5: Gion and Osaka
1. Wearing a yukata
Our last day in Kyoto we were transformed, changing into yukatas (summer kimono) for the day. So elegant, classic and feminine, I felt like a massive kid as wearing a kimono in Japan is really too good to be true. There was no better way to end this part of our trip before moving to the bustling city of Osaka.

Kyoto is truly a special place. This is the traditional Japan you’ve imagined. There’s a song I remember, a one-hit wonder called ‘I left my heart in Tokyo.’ All I can say is, they musn’t have visited Kyoto.

Postcards from Gyeongju

Gyeongju, Korea

Gyeongju: the old capital. When in search of a more traditional Korea, Gyeongju is clearly the place to be. It’s a temple hoppers dream, cycling about gleefully from sight to sight. Having now lived in Korea for 9 months and having visited Japan and China, I understand that it is possible to get ‘templed out.’ However, Gyeongju has a historic charm and resting only an hour away on the bus from Busan, it made me realise I should explore the rest of Korea more frequently!

Day 1: Cheomseongdae & Anapji Pond
Dave and I arrived at our Hanok (Korean traditional housing). I was a little over enthusiastic at the prospect of sleeping on a floor with just a bit of padding and a duvet but it beat having to stay in a Love Motel.  We had beautiful sunshine, so much so that cycling proved a bit of a task. Whilst the city centre has little to offer, once on the main tourist track there is plenty to see. The lily pad pond area is stunning, adorned with stepping stones, it’s a nice find on the way to Cheomseongdae. In the evening, we visited Anapji Pond which in the dark is brought to life with lights which illuminate the temple’s rich colours.

Day 2: Bulguksa
We decided to visit Gyeongju’s main temple, Bulguksa. If day one was defined by heat, day two proved to be the other extreme. The rain was so heavy that one resorted to buying a plastic poncho, you know the types you get at the theme park, when that idiot decides to ride the water flume. Although I had to stroll around in a green bin bag, Bulguksa is a site worth seeing. Yes, it has the same features of any temple, but it’s in Korea’s cultural capital which gives it a charm that no other can have.