Ondertussen zit de eerste maand van 2020 er al bijna op, maar hier zijn de festiviteiten nog steeds aan de gang!
Midden december mochten we na 3 maanden België terugkomen voor een nieuw avontuur. Naast een nieuw project veranderde er eigenlijk heel weinig.
We hadden enkele dagen om van de jetlag te recupereren en het eerste feest kwam er al aan: Kerstmis! In Taiwan wordt Kerst eigenlijk officieel niet gevierd. Geen kerstdrukte om last-minute inkopen te doen in de supermarkt dus, zou je denken? Helaas, de metro zat overvol, want blijkbaar zijn er toch al heel wat mensen die de traditie van cadeautjesgeven overgenomen hebben.
We vierden Kerst gezellig thuis met stoofvlees met Kasteelbier, een secret santa en vrienden in Taiwan.
Op Kerstdag waren alle winkels gewoon open. We kregen onze warmste 25 december ooit met een aangename 24 graden en (hoera!) een dag verlof voor Michiel!
De week tussen Kerst en nieuwjaar was zo voorbij. Ik had mijn handen vol met een geweldig kerstcadeau dat ik mocht innen.
Tijdens een van onze uitstappen in Taiwan reden we met de auto door Alishan. Dit is een natuurpark in centraal Taiwan dat gekend staat om zijn grote bergketens (denk aan Alpenhoogtes) en theevelden (hiervan kan ik niet onmiddellijk een vergelijking geven). De kans is groot dat wanneer je Taiwanese Oolong Tea drinkt, deze van daar komt. Meer daarover later!
Aan de rand van Alishan valt namelijk nog iets anders te ontdekken: Fenqihu!
Een leuke uitstap die we hier deden was een bezoekje aan de Seashell Temple. Deze tempel ligt verscholen op een bergtop in het noorden van Taiwan. Mochten we niet zeker geweest zijn dat hij bestond, hadden we de zoektocht opgegeven.
Het weer was zeer slecht en door de dikke mist kon je amper iets zien. Gelukkig hadden we de GPS nog om mij mentaal voor te bereiden op elke korte bocht die zou komen. De fase van ‘Motilium zal wel helpen’ waren we hier al lang voorbij. Doodgelukkig dat we eindelijk die parking bereikt hadden konden we op zoek naar de ingang.
Opnieuw was ik er niet van overtuigd dat we juist zaten. Na een trapje of 10 kwamen we in een soort halletje (lees: een hok gemaakt van golfplaten waar een groepje oudere mannen op de grond zaten te eten en enkele vrouwen kookten) We waren de enige niet-Aziaten die dan nog eens groot en 1/2 blond waren, dus we vielen wel op. 🙋🏼♀️ Ze konden onmiddellijk raden waarom wij daar waren. Met handgebaren wezen ze naar links, wat uiteindelijk de ingang van de tempel bleek te zijn.
De naam doet het al lichtjes vermoeden: het zal iets met schelpjes te maken hebben.
Do you remember our adventure in Yehliu Park? Where we would walk in between the rocks after a pretty drive? And where it started raining as we entered the park? Indeed, we didn’t get to see a lot of Yehliu Park.
This weekend, we discovered something alike. Our plan was to visit Shen’ao Elephant Trunk Rock. This is a cave, or more a big rock that rises out of the sea and looks like an elephant. For real! 🐘
When we arrived at the tiny coastal village northeast of Taipei, we noticed a lot of people. It was a holiday weekend in Taiwan because of the Mid-Autumn Festival, so a lot of people were visiting their families. We had no idea if attractions like these would be more crowded than on a regular weekend. In this case, it was a yes.
We had to walk past a very pretty port that was a bit mysterious because of the sunset playing with the mist.
A bit further, we reached the beach which was in fact a rocky beach. You could see the beautiful shapes everywhere formed by sea erosion.
After a short walk, you can ‘climb’ up the hill. The first thing we saw were tourists. But like, a lot of them! But the view was nice, so it was worth it.
The Elephant Trunk Rock mad us think about an elephant. Yes, my imagination matched the Taiwanese! To be sure I sent some pictures home to check if they could see it too and they did! We had to wait a while to take the perfect picture without anybody else in the viewvinder, but we did it! Go check it out yourself, do you see an elephant?
On the other side of the rock there was another interesting landscape. The landscape looked like the lunar surface. On the other hand, I had to think about Yehliu Park, where we didn’t get the chance to walk in between the ‘mushrooms’. They were a lot smaller than in Yehliu, but it’s better than seeing nothing, I guess? 🤷🏼♀️
There was almost nobody compared to the mass looking at the Elephant Rock, so we decided to play a little game. We didn’t have our tripod with us, but we put the camera on a rock and used timer on my camera: let the game begin! We had a good laugh and so we had our own adventure in our mini-Yehliu Park!
Was it fun? For sure! There were a lot of rocks waiting to get a name. We didn’t find any Queen’s head, but there were enough other options. If it is possible, try to plan your visit on a weekday during the afternoon. It is not that crowded and the lighting when the sun is setting is just perfect.
One of the most breathtaking places we’ve already visited in Taiwan is (to me) the Thousand Island Lake and Crocodile Island Viewing Platform. Once again, the name doesn’t come from the crocodiles in the water because there aren’t any. Neither are there thousand islands or even a lake. Let’s say the Taiwanese are very good at picking creative names for their places. (Think about that Elephant Mountain, where you should see an elephant from a certain angle 🤷🏼♀️)
No, where does the name Thousand Island Lake come from?
In fact, it’s an area formed by man. It all looks very natural because of the beautiful colors and if you’re lucky, the light, low-hanging, misty clouds.
In 1987 people built an enormous dam to solve the water problems in Northern Taiwan, it is called the Feitsui Reservoir. This is, in fact, the Thousand Island Lake. A lot of mountains have been flooded and that’s how the ‘islands’ got their shape. But why did they choose for the name ‘thousand island’?
In North-East China there’s a lake, also made by man, with literally thousand islands. The building technique was the same, and the mountaintops form a thousand islands. The name is just a copy of the Chinese, bigger version, of the Thousand Island Lake. (Why make it hard when it can be sooo easy? 🤷🏼♀️)
Then we still have the name ‘Crocodile Island’. You have to use your imagination on this one. If you look really good, you’ll see the shape of a crocodile in the green island in the middle of the picture. (I told you, you needed some fantasy! 🐊)
When you’re in the around, don’t forget to visit the tea fields. The area is known for them and believe me, you’ll find a lot of tea fields. You can join a tea ceremony, visit the tea fields of the famous Pingling and Oolong tea or just enjoy the beautiful view.
After a short drive from Taipei, you can visit a village called Shifen. This place is popular for three things: the Shifen waterfall, the old (closed) mines and the lanterns at Old Street. New for us: the tourists. It was the first time we visited a touristic place in Taiwan. There are so many calm places in Taiwan and most of the times, you run into very few people during your trip.
We visited two attractions: the waterfall and Old Street to launch a flying lantern into the sky.
The hike towards the waterfall takes 15 to 20 minutes and therefore you have to walk across two suspension bridges.
In Taiwan, they have another name for their Shifen Waterfalls: The Mini Niagara Falls. I think it’s a bit overrated with a height of 40 meters, but hey! It still is a beautiful place to discover!
On our way to the waterfall, we did see train tracks on several places. These tracks pass through Shifen Old street, but more on that later! I read you can also walk from the waterfalls to Old Street by following the train tracks. The hike should take approximately 30 minutes.
We took the same way back to go to our next stop. When we passed Shifen by car during the morning, we did see a lot of lanterns in the sky. This is how we decided to come back during the late afternoon to release one ourselves.
When we arrived at Old Streed (which is very close to the waterfall), we immediately saw the train tracks and the little stores with lanterns. Every shop offers lanterns in all kinds of colors so you can choose what you wish for.
The red one represents a wish for a good health, peace, and fortune in life. The white one makes you wish for a bright future. You can also choose to wish for a good marriage, luck in your studies or at work. There’s also a lantern to wish for money. I’m wondering if it would work 💸There’s also a lantern to make a súperwish. Each side has a different color so you can wish for a lot of things at once! If something goes wrong after releasing this lantern… Then I don’t know 🌈😅
After a short walk through Old Street (no, it’s really not that long), we decided to release one ourselves, but only after sunset.
In the meantime, we could (again) enjoy a beautiful sunset. It has already been raining a lot during the weekends. A lot more than on weekdays. Sometimes, I think the weather gods are just making fun of us. 🤷🏼♀️ But hey, the good thing is: if the clouds open up you get to see one beautiful sunset! 🧡
One drink later, it was dark, so that meant that we could start decorating our lantern! 🏮🙌🏼
Once we had chosen the right color, they attached it to some kind of clothing rack. Then it was up to us to decorate our masterpiece. On every rack, there’s a small pot filled with ink and some pencils. Not spilling on my white t-shirt was the hardest part. (By the way: nailed it! 😏)
Once your lantern is ready, they offer you a full-option all-in service. One of the employees uses your camera to take pictures of you, holding your lantern in all possible angled. Including the obligatory peace-sign picture ✌🏼 Now it’s funny to look back at these pictures, so you just have to go with the flow. Another coworker lights your lantern and 3, 2, 1: release! Then it is just a matter of following ‘your light’ until it dies. We managed to follow it until the light went out. Now we’re just hoping for the best! 🤞🏼
The Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival is a festival that takes place every year in Shifen. It’s never on the same date because they use the Chines calender to count days. In brief, the Festival takes place on the fifeteenth day after Lunar New Year. In 2019 the Festival is on the 19th of February. I wrote it already in our diary! I’ve seen some pictures from previous editions and it seems wonderful. A sky full of lanterns, I’m already looking forward to it! 🏮
A few weeks ago we went on a quest in the abandoned Losheng Sanatorium. This is an almost completely deserted site where leprosy patients had to live in isolation during the early 1900s. The hospital was built on a mountain so the inhabitants were completely separated from society.
Besides some patients who don’t want to leave their home, the community and the life they are living there, the area is almost completely abandoned.
First of all, a bit of history about the Losheng Sanatorium.
In 1927 the Japanese built a self-sufficient village that was named Losheng Sanatorium. Losheng means ‘Happy Life’. They chose to built the site on a mountain including important facilities so the leprosy patients never had to leave the ‘village’. They built everything as progressive as possible because the patients had to live there in complete isolation of their family and friends. (Think about that ‘Happy life’) You can find there for example a hospital and a temple. Also, a lot of houses have their own vegetable garden of mini-farm.
Until the mid 1950s leprosy patients in Taiwan had to live in complete isolation. Luckily, the medical treatments made a lot of progress and people were allowed to rejoin life in the regular society. Patients were allowed to go back to their family and friends and move to the city that was only +-200 meters away from them.
A lot of patients didn’t want to leave the community because they had to carry the ‘Leprosy stamp’ and they had to deal with all the prejudices connected to the illness. So it came that a lot of inhabitants decided to stay in the sanatorium and live together with the people they knew and didn’t judge them.
Everything remained quiet until the early 90’s. The Taiwanese government then decided that the nearby MRT-station, Huilong, had to be expanded. To do this, the old hospital and the houses had to be destroyed. Some of the patients moved to the nearby, new, hospital that was only about 100 meters away. Other inhabitants refused to go and they got a lot of support of all kinds of action groups. Meanwhile the government decided to change the plans, in stead of demolishing all buildings they agreed to ‘renovate’ approx 10 of them, 39 would remain untouched and around 6 buildings would be demolished to expand the MRT station.
Our visit started via another article on a blog. There they described the entryway to the site. ‘Walk from the MRT-stop to the new hospital. Cross the parking and walk past the white church to the pedestrian bridge. You reached your destination.’ Easy! Haha, we made like three mistakes but in the end we managed to get to the sanatorium. We started our adventure with an elevated heart rate. We read somewhere else there was a guard checking on this area. “If something happens to us, he’ll find and help us!” we said to ourselves.
The first thing we saw were some tiny houses in a pretty good condition. They seemed to be maintained or maybe even inhabited? (Sidenote: our research wasn’t that good before we visited the sanatorium 🤷🏼♀️) Some doors were clearly locked and the gardens were well maintained. It was not possible the guard did al this on his own, or was it?
We walked along the small streets and all of a sudden we met our new obstacle: a stray dog. Nope, nope, nooope! We immediately turned 180°, made a small detour and luckily, he didn’t notice us. Up to there, everything went well.
There were also a lot of abandoned places, as we thought, at the site. We looked at some photos before we left and it seemed a bit like a ghost town. I definitely don’t want to walk around there when it’s dark! Everything there has been ditched at a certain moment and it is still there in the exact same way. Some houses were pretty neat, wheras others were a complete mess. In some rooms it seemed like everything that was once inside a closet had been thrown on the floor.
In the mean time the security guard passed on his scooter and stopped next to us. We showed him our camera and asked ‘Okay?’ He smiled, nodded and answered ‘Okay!’ Yeah, now he knew we were there, we were a bit more at ease.
Another thing that drew our attention: the electric wheelchairs. On our tour, we saw a lot of old, maybe even broken electric wheelchairs. It seemed like the were left behind with all the other stuff in the houses.
I already mentioned that our research wasn’t that good before our visit. We dit read or hear that there were still inhabitants living there, but to be honest, I thought they would be living in the new hospital nearby.
We were walking along the small roads looking for pretty spots to take pictures until, all of a sudden, the dogs were back. Yes, indeed. DogS. There were now two of them. “As long as they don’t see us, they won’t come. Don’t make eye-contact, it will be allright.” was wat we were saying to one another until all of a sudden, two electric wheelchairs zoomed by. (Wait? They are stil in use by inhabitants?!)
A cheerful man waved at us ‘Nǐ hǎo!’. 🙋🏻♂️ The dogs must have been thinking it was an interesting get together, so they came closer to see what was going on. The man saw our doubts about the tail-waggers and he immediately reassured us (via sign language) about the dogs. They wouldn’t do any harm, they just came closer to check on everyone, but that’s all. Ouh, what a relief!
On a small courtyard we heard some happy tunes and we were invited to drink some tea with one of the inhabitants. They seemed pretty happy with their two blonde guests, but we politely thanked them for their friendly offer. It would have been a difficult one. We don’t speak Chinese, they don’t speak English. Not really a match made in heaven 🤦🏼♀️ Next time, we should do some more research. So we learned that there were still leprosy patients who lived there. But, what about leprosy itself?
We knew leprosy from school where we learned about Father Damien and his work on the island of Molokai. I never expected to get in touch with people who suffer from the disease, let alone exploring their community in Taiwan.
Our main goal was to find the old hospital itself. We didn’t have an up-to-date map of the village, but it wasn’t that big. It is possible to find it by just following the streets. A few times we saw a bigger building and we thought “Yes, that’s it'”, but everytime, it appeared to be something else.
All of a sudden, we saw a big building with a waterdispenser and we also noticed there were lights shining in some rooms. It appeared to be the small hospital on the site where they take care of the patients from the village. Thanks to this hospital they get their medication and wound care in their community itself so they don’t have to leave the place. The nurse did speak a little bit of English and she explained that she was in charge of their treatment that day. We also asked her if she knew how we could reach the old hospital and she showed us the way.
Something we read on other blogs was that the guard is always telling you not to enter the old hospital. Apparently that’s what he’s been saying for years now, but most of the people still get to explore the building and take their pictures. At the exact moment of us finding the hospital, the guard drove by. Timing couldn’t be any worse, so we decided not to enter straight away. We didn’t want to get in any trouble, though.
When I finally did my reseach (yes, after we visited the sanatorium 🤦🏼♀️) I found out that the guard even smiles or waves when you exit the old hospital and he sees you. Well, we didn’t know that when we were there and we didn’t need any difficulties. I found out that there are leaflets, flyers and pamphlets in the building from the protestors against the MRT-station. This is apparently one of the reasons why they don’t want you to enter it.
So, we saved up our visit to the old hospital for our next visit. It is known as the star attraction for photographers, so we’re looking forward to explore it. What to expect: a surgeryroom, a library, a mortuary, an X-Ray Room, hospitalrooms, and a whole lot more. The special thing here is, that they left everything behind. The instruments, furniture, paperwork, X-rayphotos … A few years ago, there were still some organs in jars full of formaldehyde.
We defenitely want to go on a second adventure, but therefore we are going to wait until the temperatures drop. Our first trip was on a day with temperatures above and around 39°C. I would reccomend to wear long pants and long sleeves as there are a lot of mosquitos. (Sidenote: we didn’t wear those on our first trip, it’s not hard to guess what the results were… 🤦🏼♀️)
As almost everything is abandoned, it’s quite an exciting trip! Even more when you think about the little (and bigger!) bugs. We now know that the dogs won’t do any harm, but the spiders remain unpredictable. They are superfast. And big 😫 The dense vegetation makes it sometimes hard to see what’s going on. Unless you’re wearing shoes that cover your toes I would recommend to stay on the ‘paths’.
One thing I would like to add it something about the atmosphere. On the one hand, everything is kind of scare, spooky and even frightening in some ways. But on the other hand, there’s the happy, cheerfull vibe thanks to the inhabitants. They seem quite happy living there, their gardens are well-maintained and they are living their life with the treatments they need. You can hear the happy tunes coming from a tiny radio, their clothes are drying on the line and they are drinking tea together. It was one of the first places where I experienced such duality.
I would love to start a conversation with the inhabitants and listen to their stories, but that’s almost impossible. In order to do that, you do need a translator to join you. Maybe we’ll get to know somebody before we go back during winter!
Last weekend we decided to make our first trip by car in Taiwan. Driving a car in Taiwan when you’re coming from a small country in Europe is one serious adventure, trust me!
The weekend would be rainy so we decided to go north, all the way to the coast. The weather is often better at the seaside, so fingers crossed!
On one of my many lists I wrote down the Yehliu Park. I really wanted to go there after I had seen some pictures on the internet. The Yehliu park is a geopark, located in Northern Taiwan. What to expect? You’ll find some beautiful rock formations that got their shape due to the impact of wind and sea erosion. You can walk among the ‘mushrooms’ and take brilliant pictures of the rusty colored environment.
Long story short: we arrived on about 4 p.m., the sun was shining and the weather was beautiful! We could see all kinds of fishing boats and a lot of tourists were making pictures with a beautiful background.
Until we found a right parkingspot and bought ourselves an entrance ticket (80 NTD), it started to rain. But like, really hard. We already got soaked twice that day, so we decided to leave. We didn’t get the chance to see a lot of the rocks, but we will definitely go back.
In one of the ‘mushrooms’ you should be able see the head of England’s Queen Elizabeth I. There’s always a long que, but it is the most famous rock of the site. I haven’t seen it, so I’m not sure if you do recognize a head in the shape of the rock. Anyone who did?
You can see the mountains surrounding Taipei from almost any point in the city. One of these mountaintops is Elephant Mountain. (AKA 象山 or Xiangshan) The name refers to the shape of another hill you can see when standing on the top of Elephant Mountain. That hill should look like an Elephant. (FYI: I don’t see it 🤦🏼♀️)
You only have to walk like a few minutes away from downtown Taipei until you would imagine you’re in the jungle. These two worlds are so close to one another, it’s almost unbelievable. It takes only 20 minutes to reach the top of this trail. You don’t need hiking boots or other special equipment. I did the walk on my slippers (and I wasn’t the only one 😅) It seems easy and comfortable, but trust me. Once you’re on those steps, you’ll be soaked in sweat. Maybe it was so because we did the hike on a super hot day (34°C and a humidity of 70%), but feel free to change those 20 minutes to a sweaty 35 minutes 😉
Luckily on the way to the top, there are some stops with a pretty view. Take some time to chill, relax and enjoy the view. Take some pictures and you’ll be ready to go!
We started our trip at about 6 pm. There was enough light for the climb and so we hoped to enjoy a part of the golden hour.
Armed with my camera, a tripod, a bottle of water and a pair of slippers, we started our trail. When the stairs took their first turn, it seemed like you were hours away from the ‘big city life’.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at our first resting point. The sun was going down and golden hour it was! It rained a lot that afternoon, so it was good to see the sun for a moment.
In the meantime, it is possible to take pictures when sitting on the famous rock which is a real attraction. We didn’t cue because there was a long line and we wanted to reach the last viewpoint before all the pretty city lights were shining.
One mini-climb further you’ll find the third platform. A lot of photographers wait there a long time before sunset to make the perfect shot. We were (of course) a bit late 🤷🏼♀️, but some people were just standing there, playing games on their phones. So by taking their spot, we managed to take some pretty pictures of this even more spectacular city.
The two highest towers in this picture are:
Taipei 101: the highest building in Taipei (504 meters, 101 floors). The tower was opened on new years eve 2004 and defines the skyline of the city. The antenna on top is being called ‘the flame of the candle’. From 2003 until 2007 this building was also the biggest building in the world, until the Burj Khalifa the crown. I have only visited the food court in the basement, but I’m planning on visiting the observatory deck too. It appears to be a place worth visiting, just as checking out the big steel pendulum that supports the building during earthquakes. (More on this beauty later on!)
Taipei Nan Shan Plaza: The second biggest building in Taipei and number three in Taiwan. If you’re standing in between the 101 and Nan Shan Plaza, it seems like have almost the same hight. On the picture above you can see that Nan Shan Plaza is much smaller than the 101. The building has 42 floors, which equals 272 meters. A Japanese architect designed it. The building is designed in the shape of praying hands as a blessing over Taiwan. In this tower you can also find a lot of offices, a food court and a shopping center.
At last, a fun fact about the Farglory Financial Center: the bright top in the middle of the picture. The building itself isn’t that special, but every night, you can see a heart-shaped animation playing at the top ❤️
A lot of other buildings are fancy hotels, apartments and offices. A lot of companies, banks and insurance companies have their headquarters in downtown Tapei
When we started our trip back home, the sun was already gone and it was pretty dark outside. Luckily the paths were lit, but sometimes, the flashlight on a smartphone came in handy.
We enjoyed the last viewpoint on our mini-trip and so our two-hour ‘hike’ came to an end.
The fun thing about this hike?
You really don’t need a lot of time to get into a whole new world (🧞♀️🧞♂️) (I enjoyed smelling the ‘green’ again after two weeks!) It’s free and you choose when you start the hike. (Even if you’re walking through the city on slippers and decide to start, it is possible! 😉) You can go for a hike during the daytime or nighttime. Each time is a completely different experience. You don’t need to prepare for this hike (though, some water can come in handy 😅), and everyone is able to do the hike on its own pace. Last but not least: everybody is soaked in sweat and huffing and puffing. No shame, it’s hot for everyone. 🤷🏼♀️