48 Hours in Manila

So, before I left on my journey around SE Asia, all the info I found on Manila was basically telling me not to go. The capital of the Philippines does not have a good reputation, a lot of it is centred around the awful traffic, while other bits I read just said it was too vast, too run down to bother with. In my opinion, you’re missing out by not exploring this wonderful capital.

My plan was to spend just a couple of nights there, spend one day exploring and take a flight over to Palawan the next day. After checking hotels I decided to book one well in advance for my first night and stay somewhere really nice, at least that way I could enjoy the hotel even if I didn’t enjoy Manila that much. The thing that hit me immediately about Manila was that I had suddenly arrived in a place in Asia, that uses pesos as currency, has San Miguel adverts everywhere and my taxi driver was called Pedro. I was in love.

I arrived from Taiwan early and the first thing I did was get a sim card, I think it cost about £10 for 5GB of data, and I soon had the Grab app up and running, this time I booked a pool journey over to Makati as it was so cheap. It took about 45 minutes, and traffic was pretty congested as we got further into the City but I think being prepared for the worst helped me. The City Garden hotel was incredible when I arrived, great service, big comfy room and an amazing rooftop pool.

I decided to freshen up and head straight out, and Grab was a godsend during my stay in Manila getting me about everywhere for cheap cheap prices, I booked one to take me up to the old Intramuros area again this took around 40 minutes or so but cost about £4. The driver dropped me off at Rizal park and I had a great little wander around there, the Philippines has such an incredible history of Spanish colonialism followed by American influence and the destruction that WW2 wrought, and this park had tributes to some of the leaders of an independance movement.

Rizal was a key member of the Filipino independence movement who was executed by the colonial Spanish government after the Philippine revolution, which was partly inspired by his writings.

Realising I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I noticed a fast food joint across the road from the park called Jollibee. I would later find out that this is a Filipino institution and is found pretty much everywhere across the country. I walked in and soon realised that there wasn’t much for a vegetarian so ordered a milkshake and large fries and tucked in. Refreshed and rejuvenated with the echoes of Jollibee songs stuck in my head, I walked up to the gates of Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

Fort Santiago is a citadel that was built around 1590 and is one of the only remaining historical sites in Manila. Built and occupied by the Spanish, it has also experienced British, American and Japanese rule. Intramuros is the surrounding area contained within the old walls, and I started my exploration of the area.

I realised I could walk along the old walls and immediately bounded up the steps, here I found beautiful views of the City and surrounding area. The old moat area has been turned into verdent golf course, lush with grass and plants and a sharp contrast to the ram shackle city towers.

I wandered along the walls, marvelling that this was free and apart from a few kids shielding themselves from the sweltering sunshine it was just me. After some time I decided to head back down into Intramuros, grabbed a beautiful pineapple shake for about 50p and found some very cool old colonial buildings and churchs as I wound my way towards the Fort.

I soon found the Fort and entered for around 75 pesos. There’s not a great deal to it, but it’s very beautiful, a long wide avenue takes you down to the main gate and walls, whuch you cross a small moat to enter. Then you find yourself in a big green courtyard with some amazing old walls, a few buildings open to explore and some more great views over the river and City. It’s also got a great museum centred around Rizal and his life and death, as he was jailed here in 1896 and executed.

As with most executions of political revolutionaries this only caused more strong will in the Filipino people for independence. The thing I appreciated the most about Rizal’s story, was his insistance that education and national identity were the main things in achieving freedom.

After around and hour and a half I had explored every inch of the Fort I decided it was time to head back towards the hotel but taking the long way around as an adventure. Little did I know just how long it would be. As I walked towards the exit to Intramuros I found some amazing street art which I had to get pictures of, and found some old artillery which was pretty cool.

Once out of Intramuros I took another grab to the seafront which I thought would make a lovely walk, how wrong I was, looking out across the bay it seemed the waves were made of garbage, and the small shacks dotted along the promenade were people’s houses. It was the first and last time in the Philippines that I felt unsafe and upset about the amount of rubbish.

With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to head into the City and the general direction of the hotel, hopefully via a huge mural on the side of a building. I stopped at a 7/11 for snacks and pocari sweat to re-hydrate and carried on my walk. It took me through some very interesting areas to say the least before I finally found it, but I never felt unsafe. By now it was getting late and I realised I was walking along a triple carriageway on what barely counted as a curb.

So it was back to grab and what was a 30 minute walk on google maps turned into an hour and 15 minute journey by car, in all fairness it was rush hour, and I had a great chat to my taxi driver Carlos. Now extremely sweaty, covered in a fine layer of dust a shower seemed appropriate before heading up to enjoy the sunset and city lights of Manila from the rooftop.

An ice cold beer and a cooling dip in the pool was just what I needed, and I got chatting to two Canadian girls who had missed their flight to Palawan that day and had to book a last minute hotel. They seemed to be taking advantage of it as they ordered some more shots for us all. As we hung over the rooftop edge enjoying the heights and the sunset, we agreed to get ready before meeting up later for some drinks.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I take around 15-20 minutes to get ready, including a shower. This left me ready with time to spare before we met, so I went off in search of food, as my stomach suddenly reminded me I had barely eaten all day. The hotel is located near some really cool bars on and around Don Pedro street and I was excited to try them out.

I found a cute little kebab place that did falafel and rice, it was cheap, huge and delicious, in fact it was so big I probably didn’t need the fries I got, but they seemed to disappear quite quickly too. Fuelled up I walked back along the street to a great looking bar with a little terrace I had noticed earlier.

I found a little spot overlooking the street and ordered and amazing take on the old fashioned, the girls messaged me to let me know they were on their way, so I leaned back and relaxed. Once they arrived we ordered some of the bars locally brewed beers and swapped travelling tales. Beofre we knew it the bar called for last orders, so we discussed further drinking plans with a final beer.

The girls had noticed another street nearby full of bars, so off we trotted in search of more drinks. P. Burgos street was a complete contrast to where we had been, big bold brash and full of expats, I think the best way to explain it is by the first thing I was offered by a young man on the street….viagra. Not letting it deter us we stopped at one of the many bars along here sat down, ordered some beers and people watched.

Before long the night was up, so we walked back along to the hotel, making those sort of drunk plans to meet up further along the line that we all knew would never happen. Back in my big comfy hotel room I soon slipped off to a peaceful sleep.

The next day I moved hotels to a cheaper hostel called The Fort Budget hotel, I was in a sharing room which was fine for the price and they had an amazing rooftop area that you could enjoy. So I dropped my stuff off here and took a short walk to the Bonifacio area. It used to be part of the Philippine army camp, but after a lot of redevelopment it’s now one of the most financially successful areas of Manila, and a complete change of scenery to the metropolitan area I had walked around yesterday.

It’s all big shiny skyscrapers, wide avenues and lots of greenery. I actually thought it was a beautiful City inside a City but it’s crazy that all this wealth is in Manila but you still have slums everywhere too.

My main reason to explore this area was to check out some of the street art on offer here, I had found a really great map to follow which showed some of the more prominent works. I stopped for a quick pancake session at an IHOP, somewhere I loved back in the states, it also showed the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a lot of American culture has been adopted by the Filipinos.

So filled with red velvet pancakes I was ready to go! I checked the map and decided to visit the American-Manila WW2 cemetary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful memorial to the lives lost in WW2 in the Pacific battles against Japan and subsequent liberation of the Philippines by the United States.

The grounds with white crosses spreading out in every direction was very sombre and impactful, while the main memorial in the centre was exremely informative about the battles that had happened. It’s something I didn’t have much knowledge of previously so it was good to learn a little more about the history of the Philippines during the war. It’s also free to enter and a great oasis from the metallic City surrounding it.

I walked from here to the art centre, with a few really cool murals hidden around it such as a giant astronaut and a cool bookcase showcasing aspects of culture from around SE Asia.

A lot of the next bits of art work were located in and around Bonificao high street, ranging from small pieces hidden down side streets to huge murals! I was really loving it and the high street was actually really impressive too. If you enjoy shopping it’d be a great place to visit, I had a great time visiting a huge book store, some interesting clothing stores and there was so much choice for food!

Back to the street art, I found an amazing Stranger Things mural and a really cool Filipino farmer mural. This self -guided tour had taken up most of the day, but even as I walked back to my hostel I found some more really cool pieces.

I got back to the hotel via a 7/11 with evening snacks and drinks, and I sat watching this vast City go by from the rooftop. I really enjoyed Manila, but it was time to head out for a bit of beach life and adventure.

Caution! Radiation! Dark Tourism at Chernobyl

Today I was doing something that I was wholly unsure of. I was going to visit Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear power station that essentially went into meltdown and caused a huge nuclear explosion. The after effects of which are still felt now, and were felt for thousands of miles as winds blew radiation across Northern Europe.

This all happened in 1986 under Soviet rule in Ukraine but I was assured by various publications and tour sites online that it was now safe for humans to wander through, so I bit the proverbial bullet and went for it. I booked my tour online through Chernobyl-Tour, at first I was totally unsure if it was legit but you paid on the day and apart from handing over your passport it seemed pretty safe.

We met at 07:30am in Kiev, a motley crew of myself, an American family, a Spanish couple, a French guy and an Australian man. Lunch was to be included and we would make a quick stop to grab something for breakfast at a very well put together services on the way. All ready to go and passports checked we were informed there were two more travellers, and we would wait an extra ten minutes for them. At this point I just knew this couple would be trouble, they soon arrived around 11 minutes later, much to my consternation we hadn’t left them behind.

They then went into a big story about how one of them had left their passport at the hostel, to which they were told they wouldn’t be going on the tour without it. This began a whole rigmarole of leaving them behind, but waiting for them at the services while they took a taxi back to their hostel and then out to the services.

Anyway, we were soon on our merry way, making our hellos through gritted teeth at the new arrivals. The journey to the military checkpoint that required our passports and on to our first stop took around 3 hours, the route was scenic and we got a little background on what had happened and the itinerary for the day, we were also all given our own personal geiger counters and maps which was pretty cool and/or terrifying depending on your train of thought.

Once through the soviet era guard post – something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Pierce Brosnan era James Bond film, we were officially in the Chernobyl area. The three headed deer and giant glowing wolves that I had imagined in my head failed to materialise, instead we stopped and took a quick look around a small village called Zalissya that had been completely abandoned. It was eerie walking through the woods with glimpses of derelict houses, we explored a few of them, only finding bits that no scavengers would take.

Next on the agenda was another quick stop at the first exclusion workers site, here people live and work around the whole Chernobyl area, testing the radiation levels and performing maintenance. We looked at some of the equipment that had been used through the years to aid in sealing the nuclear towers off and learnt that they mostly hadn’t worked. There was a really endearing statue of origami swans in dedication to people who lost their lives due to the reactor.

The next part of the tour was really cool, and complete KGB/Soviet stuff, we stopped at a gated off area which led to a huge radar antenna which was completely hidden from the West and it was only discovered once people started returning to work in the exclusion zone.

It would have been used to assist in launching ballistic missiles. I thought it was amazing and I could’ve wandered through the bunkers, under the radar and around the abandoned vehicles for ages. This was truly an experience unlike any other. Geiger counters gripped in our hands we closely monitored the radiation levels and found control rooms straight out of films and TV.

Unfortunately time was limited and our next stop was the creepiest yet, the village of Kopachi. In the aftermath of the fallout the government didn’t really know what to do, so in some areas of high radiation the houses were bulldozed and buried.

This only led to the radiation seeping into the ground and water table around the village, making it one of the highest radiation spots we visited. The only building left was the kindergarten, with empty beds left behind and various creepy toys lying around.

It was now time for lunch, and we joined the exclusion zone workers in their cafeteria to enjoy the same food that they eat. I forgot to take pictures of this and I’ve completely forgotten what we ate so it couldn’t have been too memorable. We ate and chatted about the day so far before we were bundled back into our little minibus to view the actual reactor or at least the sarcophagus that now covers it.

They actually discovered that the original containment barrier was leaking radioactive rain into the soil and thus into the environment. So a new containment device was built over this, which allows nuclear waste to be safely removed and the old sarcophagus to be dismantled.

The next part of the trip was really exciting as we visited the nuclear City of Pripyat, this place was built for the huge population of workers that the nuclear station required, reaching a population of nearly 50,000 at the time it was evacuated. It truly represents nature taking back control of something built by humans.

Covered in greenery and buildings slowly crumbling to the ground from rain and plants, it includes the sports stadium, the amusement park with the iconic ferris wheel, which was only ridden on once and the whole park was never opened to the public.

It was actually due to open 5 ays after the disaster. It also includes the azure swimming pool – one of the cleanest and safest places in the exclusion zone, we found out to our horror that it was still in use up to 1996 by the men and women brought in to deal with the crisis!

It was starting to get dark now as dusk fell, and our second to last stop was the police station which was definitely like something out of a horror film with it’s abandoned cells. Our last stop was on our way out and had to be illuminated by the bus….it was the memorial to ‘Those who saved the world’ the firefighters that died putting out the fire at the nuclear power plant and the people who cleaned up the area after the accident. It was a fitting way to end the trip, but the drama had just begun.

Remember the two English lads who had caused a commotion at the beginning of the journey? Well they had started to get bored about halfway through and ceased showing any interest in the surroundings or what the guide was saying. Through the whole trip the one thing that we had been warned not to do was pick up any kind of ‘souvenirs’ from the exclusion zone. So obviously as we went back through the checkpoint and were checked for radiation and decontaminated something as amiss.

Turned out a wrench was left on one of the seats on the bus. Now not to point fingers but it was definitely these two lads. They acted like butter wouldn’t melt at the time and luckily for us the army guys let us go without taking us through questioning to figure out who it was, this was what could have potentially happened. Once the wrench had been returned and we were on our way they soon started joking that it might have been them. It was just so needless and embarassing for everyone after such an incredible trip. As we disembarked the bus back in Kiev they offered me the chance of a beer with them, I politely declined by informing them I’d rather drink the cooling water of the nuclear reactor than have a beer with two arseholes.

I did however head to the pub I knew and had a beer, contemplating the day and what a crazy experience it was. The tour cost around 89 US dollars and it was worth every penny. I’d remenber this for the rest of my life. Bucket list moment? TICK.

Houtong and Jiufen, a Taipei day trip.

I felt like I had really explored Taipei City yesterday, even if I hadn’t seen everything there is to see. So I decided to take a day trip out of the City, I was going East to the more mountainous region of Taiwan. I picked up a healthy breakfast of donuts on the way.

As a big anime lover and especially anything Studio Ghibli I was really excited for two places. Houtong, an old mining village that now plays host to a lot of cats and lets you know about it. Plus Jiufen, an old gold mining community that apparently inspired Spirited Away, the classic Hayao Miyazaki anime.

So I took the underground to Shongshan station and from there it was about an hour to Houtong. The scenery was amazing from the train, rolling slowly into the mountains. I arrived at Houtong, and it was everything I dreamed of and more.

As soon as you walk along the bridge over the railway tracks there are cats and cat themed signs and info everywhere. The village itself is small and built up into a hillside, and you basically wander around looking at cats for as long as you like. Perusing the souvenir shops of all things cat related. There’s even a cafe called ‘Meow Meow’.

Interestingly there is another side to Houtong as an ex-mining town. I discovered you could explore a whole mine on a little train. I was on my own, with one girl who worked there leading the way. It was great fun, giant spiders hung ominously in the backdrop as she encouraged me to try my hand at pneumatic drilling and riding my own cart on some tracks.

After this wonderful bonus, I explored a little more of this adorable place, including abandoned buildings, a huge river winding through it and a little hill hike.

I was on a slight time frame, so it was on to the next stop to see Taiwan’s largest waterfall! Shifen falls can be found just a short walk away from the town of the same name. Again, I hadn’t realised that these little towns held so much more. At Shifen I realised that everyone was on the train tracks taking selfies and releasing Chinese lanterns, all with a backdrop of a beautiful old town.

Obviously I took a couple of selfies and pictures of this cute place as I walked past in wonder, and picked up some Tofu and spicy corn on the cob to snack on. It was easy to follow the street along to the waterfall visitors centre. Then from here it was a beautiful country walk over bridges and past huge cliffs to the waterfall.

The location was amazing and they’ve really gone all out so you can enjoy it, you can look at it from various levels depending on how wet you want to get! Plus you could get food and drinks and there was a cute little park to walk through.

Now dripping wet but happy to be out in nature, I stopped and had a beer before heading back to Shifen station. I got some sweet snacks and patiently waited for the next train to take me back to Ruifang then from here I had to jump on the bus to Jiufen, the cherry on the cake. The bus stop in Ruifang to Jiufen is located about 250 metres away in front of the police station numbers 788 and 827 will get you there in 20 minutes.

I couldn’t wait to walk through the little streets, and they didn’t disappoint. Food of every type filled the lanes, with lanterns hanging all around us. This was truly sensory overload in the best possible way, an I picked up a few various bits to eat as I got Spirited Away.

I emerged into a square with some beautiful traditional tea houses that instantly reminded me of Spirited Away and Ghibli. I was so happy! I would have to pass the time til the sun set to really enjoy it though.

So I decided to explore the countryside a little bit, there’s a hike you can do up to the to of one of the mountains, but it would be dark soon and I didn’t want to get caught up there with no light. So I stayed around the outskirts of the town, and I was rewarded with these amazing views out over the mountains and to the sea.

The sun started to go down, casting a golden glow over the countryside. I was awestruck by the beauty of the place. It’s definitely one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

With the sun gone it was time to see how Jiufen lit up at night, and again it didn’t disappoint. I had read that one particular tearoom really stood out from the crowd, but to really enjoy it’s exterior you have to sit in the one opposite.

Eventually I worked out the correct tearoom and got in line. It was a very busy place at night and I probably queued for about 45 mins before I got a little table.

I ordered a beer, and sat looking at this gorgeous wooden tea room, with it’s various coloured lights giving it a surreal glow. I was truly loving every minute of this experience.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and now I had to make my way back to Taipei. I was really worried that I’d struggle as it was getting into the night, but I took a bus back to the train station, got some more snacks for the journey and after just a little wait I was on my way to the City.

I was sad to be leaving Taiwan behind, it had been a totally left field choice to come here, and if I’d known how much there was to see and do, I would’ve extended my stay there for sure. As it was I knew one day I’d be back, and I spent one more night in my little bunker, excited to be going to my next destination, the Philippines!!

Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

Dakeng Hiking Trails, a Taichung Story.

The Dakeng hiking trails were one of the first things I found online to do in Taichung, and I was so excited to finally hike!

I was up early-ish, got breakfast and snacks from the 7/11 and found the bus stop that would take me to the start of the trails.

There are 10 trails that you can follow, ranging from easy, through to medium and hard. 1 to 5 are the furthest from the City and are definitely on the harder side. I decided I would mix it up a bit and start at 1, continue to 5 and finish off at 4. There’s a map below so you can check the routes.

I took bus number 66 to the start of trail 1, it was a pretty long journey but mainly because I didn’t check the times and just had Google maps to help me out!

Armed with snacks, water, and grape soda, I was ready to go. Trails 6-10 are the easier routes which are laid out as paths with only gentle inclines. However 1-5 trails are mostly made up of log steps and stairs which you have to concentrate on a little more as some people have slipped a leg through the gaps and broken bones.

There weren’t many people around when I began my hike, and I soon found myself alone. This was only unnerving when I passed a few warning signs for snakes and hornets! I started thinking…is this going to end in disaster? However I love being surrounded by nature and I wasn’t about to give up.

The beginning of the hike was through beautiful woodland, I spotted some big spiders and I had a variety of butterflies fluttering around me. Then I reached the beginning of the log trail.

It’s a stunningly designed walkway which looks amazing, and as I slowly started my ascent I could glimpse some amazing views through the foliage.

You basically follow the spine of the mountains along, so eventually the thick foliage gave way to an extraordinary green landscape as far as the eye could see. With some pretty huge spiders hanging about.

I won’t lie, I did find it hard going at times, as you climb pretty high. Along the routes are little cabins or picnic areas. These were great to stop in and get some shade, have some food and hydrate.

There were groups in some of these areas cooking loads of different dishes and it looked like everyone was having a great time. The weather was also amazing! It ws so hot I had to take my top off to stay a bit cooler.

By this point I was almost at the end of trail 5, and ready to tackle the hardest route, 4. Luckily for me I did it this way around, as going down was pretty steep and I read that going up is super difficult.

I saw a few big hornets and had read that there were monkeys around too but I didn’t see any. I reached the end of the hike and made it to the main road. I wasn’t sure about buses but after about 20 minutes one turned up!

I jumped on, and then off again in a small village, I noticed a bubble tea shop and an icy cold drink was much needed in the heat.

My next bus appeared and I had a big decision. I wanted to try and get back to the Gaomei mudflats but as I passed through the City I realised it would be another stressful attempt to get there before sunset.

So I hopped off the bus and checked trusty old Google maps for something interesting. I was near Providence University and I spotted a little blue camera nearby on the map. When I got there it was a cool little street with loads of awesome street art!

So after taking some fun pics I realised I was pretty far from my hotel, so I took the bus straight down towards my part of the City. I was starving after all the hiking and couldn’t wait to eat.

Unfortunately I couldn’t really find anywhere near my hotel, until I stumbled upon a little rice place. I ordered kimchi rice and devoured it. Then headed back to my hotel, I was on to my next destination tomorrow. The capital of Taiwan, Taipei.

There are so many amazing and fun things to do in Taichung that I didn’t get to see. So I’m looking forward to visiting again!

Taichung and the Rainbow Village.

After a great first day in Taiwan I was ready for more! Taichung has so much to do and see I was a little overawed, but I made a vague plan in my head and off I went, stopping at a 7/11 I bought a card for the bus which you can top up at machinea and 7/11s, I also bought some snacks for the day.

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I always try and use google maps to check what points of interest there are nearby, I love the fact that you can tap the icons and see pictures of each place. This gives you a better idea of whether it’s worthwhile to visit. With that in mind I saw that there was a homage to the bus stop in Totoro, a popular anime in Japan. As a big studio ghibli fan I was really excited to see it and obviously get a picture. It was also only a short walk from my hotel!

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Once I had taken (several) pics with Totoro, I was off to the magical sounding Rainbow Village. It was originally built to house soldiers fleeing from the Chinese civil war in 1949, however it soon fell into disrepair and the government began to demolish it.

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Huang Yong-Fu was one of these soldiers, and with just 11 houses left, he began to paint the remainder of his village. This was in 2010, and after being discovered by some students, the village is now an instagrammers dream. At 90 years old he’s the last resident there and still goes around touching up his paintings. You could take a taxi there but I decided to risk public transport. So I walked back to the main train station in Taichung and took the train out to Xinwuri and took the number 56 bus from outside.

I loved the village and the positive message of the paintings, don’t be surprised about how small it is and as it’s free, grab a souvenir from the little gift shop.

It had been so easy to get to the rainbow village that I was super confident about reaching my next destination, the Gaomei wetlands. Located in the North West of Taichung along the coast, it’s a biologically diverse area where you can spot loads of rare birds, crabs and mud skippers. It’s also one of Taichung’s and maybe Taiwan’s most beautiful areas.

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However, I had made a couple of big mistakes, not only had I underestimated how big Taichung is and how long it would take to get from the rainbow village to Gaomei , but I also forgot that the sun sets a lot earlier in SE Asia than in Europe. So after waiting for the bus, then the train towards Qingshui station – this is the closest station to Gaomei, I realised I would never make it before dark. So after having a bit of a stress out I realised there was a thing called a taxi! I didn’t even ask how much it would cost, I just jumped in and hoped that I would at least make it there before the sun started setting.

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So after an expensive 30 minute taxi journey I made it! I was immediately wowed by the view, with the amazing boardwalks winding out to the sea, wind turbines framing one side of the landscape and a huge sun slowly meeting the horizon.

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I followed the lead of others there and walked along the boardwalk, spotting the crabs and mud skippers I had read about, there were hundreds! I reached the end of the boardwalk, popped my shoes off and stepped out onto the mud. The reflections of the sun and sky on the thin layer of water was breathtaking. I was so glad I had made the effort to get here when I was almost going to give up.

It was super windy but everyone was having so much fun. The sun had set by this point which meant it was time to go! This time the only reason I was in a rush was because I was hungry. I took the 178 bus towards Qingshui station, then jumped on a 306, getting off at Zhishan Rd. It was around a 1Km walk from here to the market.

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Once I got there I was like a kid in a sweet shop. There was so much to choose from even trying to be vegetarian, there was definitely enough to try! I had one dish in mind and I was so excited when I found it! Stinky tofu is made from fermenting the tofu in a mix of fermented milk and vegetable brine, it’s then deep fried and served with chilli and soy sauce and pickled vegetables. It was absolutely delicious, but it really did stink too!

I also tried scallion pancakes which were amazing, and a huge deep fried mozzarella stick. Obviously I washed this all down with a brown sugar milk bubble tea. It was amazing and I was really enjoying wandering and checking out all the crazy food and it was defnitely a sense sensation. I was so full now so I decided to walk it off a little and look at the clothes, electrical goods and souvenirs. I also had a play in one of the arcades that I found. There were definitely some interesting sights…..

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It was getting late and I was quite far from my hotel, so I picked up some drinks and a waffle ice cream from a 7/11 and, using google maps I worked out the best bus route to get me home. So far Taiwan has been everything I wanted and more, tomorrow I was excited to get out into the countryside, and after a busy day I soon fell asleep back at the hotel.

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Tearing it up in Taichung.

I was so excited to visit Taiwan, it was a complete left field choice. At first the decision was based on the fact it was only £25 to fly from Hong Kong. Once I had done a little research my mind was made up.

The flight was only cheap to fly into Taichung, a City on the West coast of the island. I landed mid-morning and took a bus from the airport to the City Centre. This is when I started to realise just how big the City was, it took around 1 hour and 45 minutes to get across the City to the MINI hotel, my bed for the next few nights.

I chose this hotel because it seemed to encapsulate the quirkiness of Taiwan, and it was close to the train station. I checked in and got to my room which I loved. It reminded me of my room back when I was about 14.

I literally chucked my stuff in and headed out to explore! The first thing I noticed were all the grab machine places. It seemed like there was one on every corner!

My destination was anime street, a really cool little path with classic anime and computer game characters plastered along it. On my way I stumbled upon a cool art moment, lots of little silos with various pieces painted on them. I was already getting more excited about exploring Taiwan!

I reached the comic book lane and it was everything I was hoping for, anime, mario, and Totoro! I was in geek heaven and I used a variety of surfaces to balance my phone so I could take loads of pics.

Do you like milk bubble tea? Is that a silly question? Because Taichung is where the original tea came from! I checked my maps and it was only a short walk to Chun Shui Tang. I ordered the classic and it was so delicious! It was also fun to visit the birthplace of bubble tea.

From here I walked along the river, this area was so peaceful to walk through and the space that has been created is beautiful. I wasn’t sure what to do next so I checked the maps and decide to keep walking till I got to Taichung park.

This park had so many interesting elements, from the lake and bridges to temples and interesting sculptures. I sat and watched the sunset on a great first day in Taiwan.

On my walk back I stopped off at a famous chicken shop that I had been highly recommended. Foregoing my vegetarianism for a night I indulged in some amazing fried chicken.

Then I meandered slowly back to my hotel, enjoying the warm evening and the beautiful architecture.

Hong Kong and the 10000 Buddha.

So today I decided to go up to the 10,000 Buddha temple in Northern Hong Kong, located in Sha Tin, it’s relatively new. I was up quite late in the day and decided to try a vegetarian buffet restaurant I had researched.

Ahimsa buffet is about a 5-10 minute walk from Fortress Hill subway.  For around £6.50 you can eat all you like from an amazing variety of vegetarian dishes. They were all so tasty especially the deep fried things!

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Once I had gorged on all this amazing food I took the subway from Fortress Hill all the way up to Sha Tin, and after getting a little lost in a huge mall I was heading in the right direction. Past a weird Snoopy theme park, it’s around 10 minutes to get to the base of the hill that the temple is located on, and started the walk up.

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Unfortunately my navigation skills failed me again and instead of climbing up to the temple, I realised I was wandering aimlessly around a cemetery. The views were amazing from up there and it was an interesting place to see, but I suddenly felt very exposed as a tourist in what is quite a sacred place. I descended back down as quickly as possible before eventually finding the correct path up to the temple.

Although it is called the 10,000 Buddha temple, there are apparently over 12,000 Buddha statues in total! It’s around 430 steps to get up to the temple, but the walk is amazing as you go past all these different gold Buddhas.

At the top of the hill, the temple complex spreads out before you, it’s okay but I definitely enjoyed the walk up/down more than the actual top. There was nothing there that made me go wow, or anything different from a myriad of other temples I’ve seen on my travels. I did however get a nice cold drink and sit looking out over Hong Kong for a while before leaving.

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I’m not sure the temple is worth the trek out unless you’re in HK for a good amount of time and looking for something different to do. I’m happy I tried it out and it probable would’ve been a better experience if I hadn’t got lost and spent so much time there. It was getting on in the afternoon and I had to get back down to causeway bay. I had heard about a dragon festival that was happening that night with a parade. So I took the subway all the way back, picked up some bubble tea and amazing cake on the way and after getting off at Tin Hau, I walked up to watch the Tai Hang fire dragon dance.

Originally the people of Tai Hang performed the dragon dance to ward off a spell of bad luck that they were experiencing, but as the village got swallowed up by the City, the dragon has kept on dancing. The streets were so crowded and it was hard to get a good viewing spot, but after about 30 minutes the dragon finally arrived! Covered in incense so the streets filled with a sweet smelling smoke and accompanied by a full musical extravaganza.

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As you can see it’s crowded but also it was a lot of fun, everyone around me were enjoying themselves and it was a great spectacle to witness. I love it when you just happen to be somewhere when a festival or event is happening. I really liked the festival that continued over in Victoria Park too, with lots of interesting light spectacles and food trucks.

This was a great way to end my trip to Hong Kong, it was somewhere I was really looking forward to but I left unsure as to whether I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. I walked along to Causeway bay and after a very indecisive 20 minutes of aimless wandering/looking for food I ended up eating whatever veggie options I could find in Mcdonalds. I finished my night watching Arsenal in the pub next door to my hotel and then packed up my stuff ready to hit up my next destination…..Taiwan!!

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24 Hours in L.A.

How do you spend a short amount of time in a City as vast as Los Angeles? Part of it depends on where you’re staying, and what you’re interested in.

Flying through from London on my way through to Melbourne, it almost felt like the pressure was off to see and do things in L.A. However, I was meeting Craig there and we had 2 nights and one full day to try and capture at least a small essence of California life.

Our hotel was a little far out (Woodland hills) and we knew traffic could be horrendous and time consuming, but after a chilled first night we were ready to go. The LACMA was high on our list, mostly for the amazing Urban Lights installation. A collection of lamp posts might not sound interesting, but check out the pics! Definitely an instagrammable spot.

The LACMA itself was actually closed on a Wednesday! So we had a little wander around the grounds, checking out some of the weird arty installations and the Brea tar pits, where I met a lovely giant sloth! I thought this was a cool little side quest to the main adventure of the day.

We then walked over to The Grove, an outdoor shopping area which is pure USA. We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake and picked the tastiest looking one.

Next up on our list was Monty’s burger, a purely vegan burger place that was recommended to me by a friend. Located in Koreatown it was so easy to take the bus along West 3rd Street. The best thing is that even the ‘plastics’ and containers are compostable.

Monty’s was amazing! A little pricey but the burgers and tater tots were soooo good, made from impossible fake meat patty’s we took 2 doubles and shared the tots. The vibe inside was very cool too. Another perfect Instagram moment.

Our next stop was downtown and the Arts District, so we hopped back on the bus, only costing us $1 each for the ride into the City. We got off near Pershing Square and walked over to 4th Street to start the Arts trail. This end of downtown is a little run down with some interesting characters, but there was some very cool street art to be found.

I had noticed a couple of brewery’s on Google maps and the Arts District brewery was out first stop. It’s located in an old warehouse and there’s plenty more street art to be seen around this area including a few pretty famous ones.

The beer was good, the weather was amazing and we sat outside watching the world go by. Angel City Brewery was next up and even better, their outside space is amazing, free water and some cool pieces of art to look at as you drink. I also had a great pineapple beer here and there was such a great vibe. If you are in L.A. for a while I’d definitely recommend it.

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Our plan was sunset at Santa Monica, and after getting a bus that didn’t really go anywhere, we checked and realised we could take a train the whole way. So we jumped on the blue line, and realised we were on the wrong blue line 😆. So we quickly got off and made our way onto the correct train.

It took about 45 minutes to get over to Santa Monica and there were some nice views over the City. We arrived just in time to get to Santa Monica pier for the sun to set. It was absolutely stunning and we loved wandering up the pier and being on the beach.

At this point we were starving, so we went to 800 degrees for pizza and salad, once you get over the weird ordering system the food was so good, it was pretty cheap, around £30 for mains and drinks total. After both of us flying across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively we were pretty tired so it was a cab ride home and bed.

The next day we only had a few hours to spare before flying on to Australia. So we decided to do the Getty museum, located on the 405 near Beverly Hills, it was built by the Getty family, a huge oil tycoon who loved art. The best thing? It’s free!

Our Uber took so long because of traffic, so always bear that in mind when planning L.A.

The architecture of the place is actually incredible, and there are some interesting pieces from Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. I liked the contrast of each building housing different examples of art such as photography or historical pieces.

The highlight for us was the central gardens, with beautiful landscaping and views over the City, we loved just wandering through looking at the different plants and flowers.

We had our lunch in the cafe, this was a nice food court type place with plenty of choice, even for vegetarians. Knowing the traffic could be bad we headed back to Woodland Hills and got some snacks and booze to take back to Australia from Westfield mall.

L.A. is so big it can feel a little daunting to get around and see things, but it’s definitely worth making that extra effort. If the weather has been a little less windy on our first day we would’ve hiked up to the Hollywood sign which is still on our list! I hope this gives you a little inspiration of things to do with limited time and budget.