Chapter 2: Round and round the Gorge and back

By January 25th, 2019

Day two of my Taiwan adventure. I woke up pretty early to get picked up from my hotel and taken to the train station. I was joined by a charming couple in their 60’s (maybe) from Hong Kong. Although they were quite nice, politely maintaining small talk while on our way to the train station still felt quite new to me. At the train station, tickets were bought, and we were herded to the train platform. It felt like a live-action version of a scene out of a Studio Ghibli cartoon. I had fun people-watching while waiting for our train to arrive.

The train ride to Hualien takes about 3 hours. I sat next to a girl from Texas who had family in Taiwan and I was able to practice making small talk with strangers some more.After a while, my body began to remind me of going to bed late last night and waking up way too early this morning so I settled in for a bit of a nap.

At Hualien, I and the couple found our way to the meeting spot and realized we were actually part of a larger group. Texas girl was there, too. The tour guide, self-dubbed “the Queen of Taroko Gorge” was a study in multilingualism. She easily switched from English to Mandarin, to Japanese without missing a beat,making sure to translate everything she said in all three languages. I suppose if you were that talented, you earn the right to crown yourself queen of something.

On the road to the Gorge
The gate to the East Entrance of Taroko Gorge

Our first photo stop was the Arch of Taroko. It’s the East Entrance to the Taroko National Park and often the first thing visitors encounter when entering the park. We drove around the gorge and stopped at a short trail for a quick walk. I decided to stay at the trail head and take photos. After that, the bus traveled through the gorge towards Silks Place Taroko for a Lauriat lunch of local cuisines.

A yummy lauriat lunch at Silks
Looking down into the gorge from above

Along the way, we stopped at the Swallow Grotto. The guide told us we were very fortunate that it was open today. Apparently, the recent earthquakes and high waters had caused long periods of trail closures. We also stopped through the Tunnel of Nine Turns but access to the rest of the area was limited due to construction and road repairs. Still, it was neat to see the gorge from above. Looking down to the river from the cliff side can be stomach-churning for someone scared of heights like I am.

A quick stop for temple photos

Lunch at the Silks was not too shabby, although it was not life-changing either. The ambiance was relaxing, however, especially after the winding roads. We also had a little time to explore the area and just laze around before getting back in the bus.

From Silks, we drove back through the gorge heading for the Marble Factory. Along the way, we stopped at a viewpoint where you could see the Changshun Tzu waterfall and temple. We also stopped at a rope suspension bridge and everyone was made to cross it and back. My knees turned to Jell-O when it was my turn but I did make it across and back. I even stopped midway and took a selfie. I was indeed spending today way outside my comfort zone in more ways than one.

One of the many amazing statues outside the Jade Warehouse
Friends set in stone
Time for a little stretch

At the marble museum, we had a quick primer from the staff about how to tell real jade from jadeite before we were ushered into an enormous showroom where they sold jewelry made from all sorts of gems. Photography was not permitted inside the building but I managed to find lots of interesting things to photograph outside. The massive building looked like a government palace straight out of Europe with waterfalls, landscaped gardens, and marble and stone statues.

Before heading back to the station to catch our train back to Taipei, we stopped by a confectionery store where they sold mochi of almost every kind. I was like a kid in a mochi store. I bought treats for the family and more treats for me. After that, a quick stop to a beach-side park with an awesome panoramic view of the Eastern coast of Taiwan in front of you, and a military installation complete with bunkers and razor wire-topped walls behind you.

The Eastern Coast

By the time we boarded the train home, I was so tired that I napped most of the way despite the clamor and loud snoring from the guy sitting right next to me. I didn’t get to go camping in the gorge on a full moon but I think I will save that for next time.

By the time I got dropped off at my hotel, I was exhausted. After a quick snack and a much needed cool shower, I went to bed to rest up for the next day’s adventure.

Chapter 1: A soup dumpling kind of day

By January 15th, 2019

Taiwan has always fascinated me. There’s so many things to see, do,and eat. I spent 4 days exploring Taipei and the surrounding areas and I still haven’t had my fill. I still plan to come back soon to do the things I wanted to do but didn’t get a chance.

My first day I spent doing the quintessential touristy thing to do in Taipei: eat lunch at the original Din Tai Fung. I’m a sucker for a good dumpling and I love the xiao long bao or pork soup dumplings from the one near where I live in Seattle but friends and family have told me that it barely compares to the original thing. Public service announcement: this branch is a cash-only operation so plan accordingly.

The Bean?
Lion statues outside of a government building

After lunch, I traipsed about downtown, visited the Taipei 101 building, although I didn’t go inside since it was part of our afternoon tour later that day. I did, however, meander through the Eslite store in the Xinyi district nearby. It was floor after floor of cool stuff, and a pretty extensive food court in the basement. I was in the market for a hat and a handy bag to put my touristy purchases in and I found them both there.

Tin men in a roadside garden on the way to the Eslite mall.
The LOVE statue in front of Taipei 101

The Taipei Night Tour I booked took us to the Longshan temple where the tour group (me and one other girl and the tour guide) watched people praying and lighting incense sticks. The tour guide explained to us the various saints and areas in the temple dedicated to the different facets of life: money, health, romance, seafaring, etc. There was also a beautiful waterfall along the wall just right past the main outer gate.

The Longshan Temple gate
Roof details in the temple

Next stop was the Huaxi Street Night Market. It was only about 5pm or so and the market wasn’t quite crowded yet. We went to see the live snakes on display at one of the restaurants and learned about the seedy history of the market.

Huaxi Night Market gate
I get to watch the experts at work.

Our final stop was dinner at the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung. I was allowed to photograph how the soup dumplings were made. We were also made to try almost everything on the menu. We then spent a few minutes browsing through the grocery store inside the building. Apparently, prices here are much steeper than average. The tour ended with me being dropped off back at my hotel full of food, tired to the bone, and ready for a shower and a comfy bed. An early start and a full day of adventure awaits the next day.

The lights of Taipei wink at me as I say goodnight

Prologue: That time I fell down a rabbit hole

By January 8th, 2019

I did not see a white rabbit in a waistcoat with a pocket watch. The cake I ate did not make me grow taller. The many milk tea drinks I imbibed did not shrink me (they were all delicious, though). However, my tour guides were just about as confusing as the grinning Cheshire cat and I did have one heck of a grand adventure.

I went to Taiwan by myself for a solo vacation before seeing my family in the Philippines. It may not sound like such a big deal to some but for me it was like diving head first into a mysterious hole in the ground not knowing what you would find at the bottom. It was my first time traveling solo to a foreign country since I went to Hong Kong to take the NCLEX 15 years ago.

I only (barely) know how to say one sentence in Mandarin: Do you speak English? I was counting on Google Translate to keep me from making any heinous and potentially arrest-able blunders for the four days I was there. Thankfully, I am good at reading signs and following written instructions. I’m a nurse by profession after all. 

I did a lot of research and pre-booked my tours before flying in. I marked all the interesting sights I planned on visiting on my Google Maps. I did virtual street tours online, read every blog I could and watched every Taipei episode of every travel show I could find. In the end, when I finally got there, I still felt unprepared. I suppose that’s what makes it an adventure.

Come and follow along with me as I recall that time I fell down the metaphorical rabbit hole into a most excellent adventure. Meet the characters I met. See the things I saw. Come along now, we mustn’t be late.

Of Shiny Things and New Experiences

By January 1st, 2019

Now that we have slept off most of our New Year’s Eve hangover and dusted the glitter and confetti from pretty much everything and everywhere, time to check on our social media and retrace our steps and check for any potential regrettable posts and incriminating photos/videos/snapchats. After we have breathed a sigh of relief/ recovered from the initial shock/aftertaste of any bad decisions from the night before, we notice (or not) there’s yet another blog that’s been launched on the internet. Yes, people! The Cheshire Trail’s blog is now live, up and running. It’s my shiny, new baby where I get to show and tell my adventures in the kitchen, my city, and the world!!!

Why “The Cheshire Trail”? Well, I’m a big fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. I grew up reading the book in grade school. Repeatedly. I played a bit part in our version of the story in high school. I played both EA Games version of the video game. I watched the Disney cartoon and the Tim Burton movies. I was (and remain to be) fascinated by Alice’s adventures and quite frankly, if I encountered a looking glass doorway or a rabbit hole that led to the place, I would not hesitate to jump in.

The Cheshire Cat character, to me, is representative of adventure, getting lost, finding your way, sage advice, confusing clues. All things one can encounter throughout life’s many adventures. This blog will be my trail. And like the grinning cat to the girl, I will be showing you places, things, and experiences along the way. Come join me and let’s get delightfully lost together while we constantly stop and smell the flowers in the garden. Bring your bug spray, just in case. Those bread-and-butterflies can be quite annoying sometimes.