December 4, 2015. Lamma Island is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. One of Hong Kong’s less inhabited and less visited islands, it usually attracts local Hong Kong residents and tourists who wish to escape the intensely cosmopolitan vibe of the city.
There are two charming villages on the island bound together by a trail that crosses through a small range of hills running north to south of the island. Aside from an imposing and ubiquitous power plant that seemed out of place, the island was indeed a serene escape from the bustling commercial activities of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
I arrived just in time for lunch at the village of Yung Shue Wan at the northern part of the island. After a hearty meal of succulent shrimps cooked in scrambled eggs, I wandered about the quaint community, walked to a beach called Hung Shing Yeh, and then trekked through the “family trail” that traversed the rolling hills of the island southwards to the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan.
December 10, 2014. Jiufen (九份), an hour by train and bus from Taipei, is a small mountain town with a network of streets and alleys with steps that run up and down the slopes, adorned with red lanterns and lined with small shops and tea houses.
To get there, I took a train from Taipei to the town of Ruifang (瑞芳), and a short bus ride up the mountains to Jiufen.
The picturesque town, with a good view of the Pacific Ocean at some points, served as the inspirational setting for two iconic films — Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away” and the Taiwanese historical drama “A City of Sadness”. I’ve seen both films so this particular day trip was awesome.
I returned to Taipei just before sunset. My last few hours in Taiwan was perfectly punctuated by a climb to Elephant Mountain (象山) which served perfect views of the city with the imposing Taipei 101, and dinner at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Ximending.
This wonderful short trip to Taiwan deserves a repeat, and I vowed to return.
December 9, 2014. First stop for the day was the Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺) of Taipei, one of the city’s oldest Buddhist temples. I made a visit in the morning and was able to witness residents pray. I am not familiar with the rituals but seeing locals conduct themselves in the temple was an interesting sight.
I then proceeded to the Huashan / Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 松山文創園區). It is an old tobacco factory that has been transformed into a culture and arts center where exhibits, performances and other cultural activities are held. However, at the time I visited, which was late in the morning, there didn’t seem to be any activity of sorts. Nevertheless, there were interesting shops and restaurants to visit.
For lunch, I went to Yong Kang Street (永康街) near Dongmen Station. This street is lined with different types of restaurants including one of Din Tai Fung’s original branches. I ended up having lunch at a restaurant (I forget now, I don’t take notes when I walk around) which served noodles and other Taiwanese staple. I had minced pork rice and shrimp rolls.
After strolling the entire length of the street, I decided to go to Da’an Park, just a train station away. It had already started raining when I got there so it wasn’t very ideal to go for a walk. I attempted hiring a bicycle but apparently, it required a registered card to hire. I wandered instead at the impressive train station of Da’an for a bit before taking the train to Tamsui.
December 8, 2014. I booked a plane ticket to Taipei much earlier this year, almost spontaneously, right after I decided to go on a trip to Cambodia. I had since then planned this trip to cap my year, just right after classes in law school ended for 2014.
I arrived in Taipei (Taoyuan Airport) from a red-eye flight just past midnight. With my check-in time at the hotel more than half a day away, I decided to wait until morning at the airport. It was a silly decision (not to book the night at the hotel to cut cost), as I realized no amount of being spendthrift could replace a good night’s rest in bed, no matter how short, if I intended to walk all day the next day. By sunrise, I felt so tired from the lack of sleep.
At the break of dawn, I took the bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei central station. I got myself a three-day pass in the Taipei Metro, then rode the train to Ximending district and asked my hotel if I could check in much much earlier. Fortunately, a room was ready and they accommodated me at no extra charge. I ended up sleeping the whole morning.
By noon, I rose up to begin ‘exploring’ Taipei’s landmarks. Availing of the Taipei Metro pass was a great decision, as the trains were a very convenient way to get to all the interesting parts of the city.
It was an overcast day, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my first full day in Taipei.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai Shek is the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) and the President of the Republic of China (ROC) who established the ROC government in Taiwan after KMT’s defeat by the Communists in the mainland. The memorial hall itself is only part of the larger public square called Freedom/Liberty Park which has two Chinese theaters, beautifully manicured gardens and a uniquely-designed gate.