Top 3 tips for Taiwan

Taiwan is full of beautiful sea views, mountaintops, and the nicest people ever. But since it’s a relatively unknown tourist destination (many Americans still mistake it for Thailand), there are a lot of hidden treasures on the island the casual tourist doesn’t know about. Lucky for you, I spent a year living in Taiwan and I found the top 3 tips to improve your time there.

If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, doing any of these top 3 things will enhance your trip a bunch!

3) The beach

Since Taiwan is an island, people naturally assume they can visit any beach and have a blast. This is false. Most Taiwanese beaches are rocky, polluted, and unsafe to swim at. But, since I’m from California, I found the best beaches during my year living there. Really, only two stick out: Fulong Coast Park in the north and Kenting in the south.

Fulong is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Taipei Main Station, after which Fulong Coast Park is an easy walk from Fulong Station. There’s a sign at the beach warning you to be careful when and where you swim, but it’s safe; the water’s shallow and the waves are small. (Note: There are two beaches in Fulong. One is a hotel beach you need to pay a small fee to enter. The other, Fulong Coast Park, is free.)

I went to Fulong four times but for some reason this is the only pic I have saved.

Kenting is in the very south of Taiwan. There are a couple beaches there. The one I went to is called Little Bay Beach. Again, the water wasn’t rough at all and the waves were small. The sand was more like small pebbles that got stuck all up in my swimsuit area. I loved it.

This is the best picture I have of Kenting. WHY AM I SO BAD AT BLOGGING ???

2) Shoushan (aka Monkey Mountain)

If you want to get up-close-and-personal with wild monkeys (Who doesn’t?), Taiwan is the place to do it. While you can catch glimpses of monkeys on forest trails here and there, the place where I saw the MOST monkeys was in Shoushan by Kaohsiung. Shoushan is a heavily forested nature park and it is absolutely covered in monkeys. Just take a taxi from anywhere in Kaohsiung and you’ll be there in no time.

Formosan rock macaques

The monkeys there aren’t skittish at all; you can see them ambling along the trail or hanging out in low-hanging branches. Just don’t feed them or get too close (for OBVIOUS reasons). (Note: If you do take a taxi to Shoushan, be sure to get your driver’s phone number so you can call them for a ride back into town.)

OBVIOUS REASONS

(Here’s a post about the first time I went to Shoushan  and here’s a video of my dad and me at Shoushan.)

1) Alishan

Alishan National Scenic Area (also called Ali Mountain) is my absolute #1 favorite place in Taiwan.  High in the mountain tops, you’ll find a quiet cluster of shops surrounded by stretches of ancient forest and jaw-dropping mountain vistas. In the year I lived in Taiwan, I visited Alishan four times.

The thing most Taiwanese do when they visit Alishan is book a hotel in the park, spend the night, and wake up really early to watch the sunrise at Chushan Station viewing area. The only problem is that to book a hotel on time sometimes requires planning ahead several months. Even if you can’t watch the sunrise, though, going to the sunrise viewing area at any time of day still gives an awesome view of the valleys below.

The best view of all.

Other things to see in Alishan include the Sacred Trees, Sister Ponds, and other forest paths. Alishan National Scenic Area is actually really small, so you can see almost everything on a day trip (although I recommend staying overnight if you can).

To get to Alishan, take a bus from Chiayi. The bus ride is about 2 hours, but you’re climbing up into the mountains the whole time, so it’s a really, really pretty ride.

 

So these are my top 3 tips for Taiwan! I know it’s not a perfect list, but hopefully you can build a trip around these places or sprinkle them into plans you’ve already made.

Note: I didn’t include Taipei or Jiufen on this list because anyone who visits Taiwan likely knows about these places already. Plus, Taipei deserves a list of its own.

Iceland: Best and worst

You’ve seen it in your newsfeed, you’ve seen it in movies, and now you’re seeing it here: ICELAND. Not just a geologic hotspot with the occasional exploding volcano, it’s also a tourist hotspot exploding with new visitors every day.

But is it all just hype? Is a trip to Iceland really all that and a bag of selfies? Earlier this summer, I spent a week in Iceland, so I can tell you the best and worst parts about visiting.

Worst

1) 24 Hours of daylight (or lack thereof)

During summer, Iceland is constantly exposed to sunlight and during winter, it sees very little of it. For a traveler recovering from jetlag, this constant daylight or darkness isn’t just an interesting phenomenon; it’s a huge inconvenience. Your body is already confused about what time to go to bed; when you couple that with the sun shining all night long or (in winter) not being there almost at all, you get insomnia-filled nights and very groggy days.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.

2) Expensive food

I’d heard the food was expensive before visiting, but seeing it for myself was unbelievable. Six bucks for a loaf of bread? Five bucks for a pound of oranges?! Even a sandwich in a small café cost fifteen dollars! Iceland is almost literally a giant island of ice, so not a whole lot grows there. Most food needs to be imported, which means it comes with a heavy price tag, both for locals and tourists.

3) Tourism

Iceland is a beautiful country that attracts millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, those visitors are slowly killing the country’s natural beauty. Plastic wrappers and beer cans litter popular attractions. Old hot springs used for centuries by locals are becoming overused and unsafe because of microbes brought by tourists. With the number of tourists exploding from just under 300,000 in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2016, Iceland is seriously lacking in infrastructure, personnel, and laws to keep their island (population 330,00) from getting trampled under tourists’ feet.

Seljavallalaug Hot Spring

Best

1) 24 hours of daylight

While initially confusing, having 24 hours of daylight became a huge advantage in my trip. Instead of fighting my jetlag, I went with it; going to bed at 4 am, waking up at noon. Iceland is a very popular country, especially during summer. By ignoring the time on the clock, I was able to enjoy all the tourist sights without all the tourists.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.
Grjotagja Cave at midnight.
Black sand beach in Vik early in the morning (actually, it was 7 am but for some reason no one was there).

2) Chillest people

I mean, they live in a place named after ice, but Icelanders are seriously chill. When I picked up a car from an Icelandic-owned rental car company, they told me not worry if the car got any scratches or whether I returned it with a full tank of gas. “Just make sure all the doors are on when you bring it back.” When a pile of rental camping equipment cost me five times more than I expected, the outdoor store I was at gave me a full refund, even though I didn’t realize my mistake until 20 minutes after the fact AND they supposedly had a no-refund policy. Maybe I’m just special (which I’m willing to believe), but they are a super easy-going and accommodating group of people.

3) Nature (DUH)

Going to Iceland feels like visiting a land before time, but no dinosaurs. Outside the cities and villages, the only manmade thing you can see is the road. No billboards, no powerlines. Just the road and what God put there (and the occasional crashed airplane).

Glacier lagoon
Svartifoss
Ring Road
Dettifoss
Crashed DC 3 on Solheimasandur

Verdict

If you’re visiting Iceland for jaw-dropping landscapes and awesome selfies, it’s the place for you. If you’re looking for a unique vacation to do things and see places no one has done or seen before, you’re several years too late.

The Handsomest Prince

I wrote this story. I hope it inspires you.

Once upon a time, there was a prince who was handsomest in all the world. Everybody liked to look at him, but the person who liked to look at him most was himself. Whenever he felt sad, he looked at himself in the mirror and was instantly happy for days.

One day while travelling through his kingdom, he met a girl crying.

“Why are you crying?” asked the Handsomest Prince.

“I’m crying because I’m sad,” said the girl who was staring sadly at the ground.

“Well, why don’t you look in the mirror? That always makes me happy.” The Handsomest Prince smiled handsomely.

“But that’s why I’m crying,” said the girl. “I’m crying because I looked in a mirror and saw that I am so ugly!”

“Oh,” said the Handsomest Prince, surprised. “I’m not sure what ‘ugly’ is. Is it common?”

“Yes it is. Many people are sad because they are so ugly. Don’t you already know?” And here the girl looked up and saw with whom she had been speaking. “Oh my!” A smiled spread across her face. “I didn’t realize I was talking to you, Handsomest Prince! My day is so much better!”

“Hmmmm,” thought the Handsomest Prince. “I think I have an idea to help everyone in my kingdom.”

So the Handsomest Prince left to find the hideously ugly witch who lived on the high mountain.

“Witch,” said the Handsomest Prince bravely. “I need you to cast a spell on every mirror in the kingdom so that whenever someone looks in the mirror, instead of seeing their own face, they will see mine. It is the only way for everyone to be happy.”

“OK,” said the witch. “But for the spell to work, you need to give me a kiss.”

The witch was very ugly, but the Handsomest Prince wanted his people to be happy, so he leaned in to kiss the witch’s gross, warty, dry lips. But the instant before his lips touched hers, she turned into a beautiful princess and then they made out.

The spell worked! And from that day forward, whenever anyone looked in a mirror, they saw the Handsomest Prince’s face and everyone was happy and they all lived happily ever after especially the Handsomest Prince.

The End

Moral: Always be the handsomest. The End

Get to Loch Ness in 6 easy steps

Most people want to go to Loch Ness and pay their respects to the Loch Ness Monster aka our underwater ally, but also most people haven’t been to Loch Ness, probably because they lack the knowledge of which amulets, rune spells, and passknocks will help get you there. Luckily for all of us, I went to Loch Ness last July and I can tell you how to get there.

If you want to go to Loch Ness, follow my advice. I’m an avid traveller and Nessie fan.

Step 1: Get to Scotland. According to basic geography, Scotland is the country where Loch Ness is. Starting from your country of origin, you can board the closest airplane, bus, boat, scuba driver, narwhal, drawgon (it’s a drawing of a dragon that comes to life and can fly), flying pony, or spacetime jumper and ride it until you get to Scotland.

Step 2: Fit in with the locals. As with any journey, you need to fit in with the local inhabitants if you’re gonna make it very far. Your first option is to dress like a commoner: in Scotland, the men dress like women and the women dress like men. If you’re unsure whether an outfit in feminine or masculine, try a unisex outfit like this:

ladydress

Another option is to wear invisibility garb, which will make you undetectable to everyone but high-level wizards.

invisibilitygarb

A final option is to dress as a wizard, but only do this if you’re prepared to duel regularly.

floralladydress

Step 3: Travel to Inverness. There are several settlements surrounding Loch Ness, the largest and most accessible is called Inverness. Once you reach Scotland and are wearing appropriate clothing, head to this city. Inverness is 8 miles from the loch itself, but you won’t find a bus or train that’ll take you closer.

Even though Inverness is the largest city in northern Scotland, it’s still pretty small, so if you stay there (which you probably will) be sure to book a hotel or hostel ahead of time. You can also pitch a tent next to the river if you want, but be aware of river trolls and kelpies.

inverness

Step 4: Follow the river. To get to Loch Ness from Inverness, follow the River Ness south. You can follow the river by taking a local bus, renting a bike, walking, hitchhiking, running, or riding a forest stallion. Be aware that the preferred currency of the region is nebula amulets, but basically any other amulet will work. Except sparkle amulets. And fart gems.

If you decide to walk to Loch Ness, there’s a safe footpath on the west side of the river, as opposed to the Path of Rage and Gore on the east side. If you encounter a vampire tree on your way, use passknock combination 3R-5R-1L.

IMPORTANT: Loch Ness is 23 miles long and THERE ARE NO bridges that cross the loch or river once you’re out of Inverness, which is good cuz that means there are less trolls, BUT it also means you need to know which part of the loch you want to see before you head out. Are you planning to siege Urduhart Castle? Better take the west side of the river. Looking for the lost graveyard? Better take the east side. Are you taking a boat tour of the loch? Better find out where the boat docks before you leave.

Step 5: Enjoy the scenery. The landscape of Scotland is among the most Scottish in the world. Enjoy the land’s natural beauty, whether you’re sitting on a bus, a forest stallion, or your own two feet.

img_20160723_170804

Step 6: Chill at Loch Ness. If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you’ll arrive at Loch Ness.

Actually being at Loch Ness is pretty weird though. When I got there, people were just, like, water skiing and having picnics and doing other lake stuff, kinda like it was just a normal lake and there wasn’t a giant monster that lived there. Idiots.

I maintained a respectful distance from the lake’s edge and cast a protective spell over the lake and its local inhabitants and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.

lochness1

lochness2

Heart of Asia

When I first came to Taiwan, the plan was to stay for six months, but in the back of my head I hoped and knew it would be longer because:

1) I wanted to be here longer (that’s not a real reason).

2) I felt like it would be longer (that’s also not a real reason).

3) I tricked myself into thinking I could learn Chinese (which technically also isn’t a real reason).

4) I literally didn’t have anything else going on (also not a real reason).

So when I got the opportunity to prolong my stay until June I was like, “There’s no reason not to.” So now I’m going to be in Taiwan until June.

What have the past six months been like?

Good. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, I look like one of those people who’s on vacation and partying all the time. When I realized that, I thought to myself: “What right do I have to only post all these pictures of me in these amazing places? Shouldn’t I show the people how boring and sad my life is too?”

Because I do feel sad and bored sometimes. I’m single and there aren’t many people my age to hang out with and it’s impossible to call or chat with my family half the time because of the time difference. But then I realized I was being ridiculous and my reasons for being sad and bored were not real reasons.

For example, while I was on a trip to Hong Kong at the end of November, I was sad that I would miss Christmas in America, but then I realized that I WAS ON A FREAKING PAID VACATION IN HONG KONG AND DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT BUYING CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FOR MY BILLIONS OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS OR NIECES AND NEPHEWS. So then I perked up and went to the beach. Here’s a picture:

hkstanleybeachme

Not that being far from people I love is easy or fun … but it is. Sometimes.

Taiwan is the perfect place to be stranded for a year. It’s beautiful and small, so being here until June allows me to see everywhere. Like, twice.

alishan1

Alishan National Scenic Area, July 2015

alishan2

Alishan National Scenic Area, October 2015 (I look like drugs.)

 

sunmoonlake1

Sun Moon Lake, July 2015

sunmoonlake2

Sun Moon Lake, October 2015

 

hualien1

Hualien, January 2016

hualien2

Hualien, February 2016

 

And my Chinese is coming along. I won’t be fluent by June, but I know enough to navigate around the whole island by myself.

So I’ll be here until June. And I’ve learned a lot. Taiwan is just a matter of perspective and happiness is a really pretty country.

wait.

How boring is your life?

I am a BOMB teacher and all my students love/adore/want to be me. Even so, what I really live for is the weekend.

The thing is, living in the city is a drain: it’s loud, smelly, crowded, and full of concrete. I have to get out into ~nature~ once a week to rejuvenate.

Taiwan still has a lot of undeveloped land. Even though this small island is home to millions of people, the mountains and eastern coast have remained undeveloped, probably because of the steady tide of typhoons that roll in every year.

So even though the city’s loud, crowded, and smelly, I can easily escape once a week. I just hop on a bus for an hour or two and I’m free.

A waterfall or two this weekend? Sure.

waterfall1
Waterfall on the hike from Houtong to Shangdiaoling.

A small mountain town next? Cool.

alishan1
Alishan

A breezy coastline? Easy.

longdong1
Longdong

Hot springs after that? *Cake.*

hotsprings1
Wulai

So there’s that. I probably could have and should have done something similar while I was living in the States. I mean, it’s not a small island, so there’s A LOT more ~nature~ to explore.

If you want to try having an adventure every weekend, try this app/website: TripAdvisor.com. It makes finding new places in your current location easy. Find your next adventure! Or confirm how truly boring your hometown is:

redblufftripadvisor

Picture vomit: Taiwan

These are some pics I took of some places I went during my last week in Taiwan. 😉
Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple
After being in the big city for two weeks, it was nice to bust out and get into nature. We (my fellow white American teachers and I) were able to visit rural areas, including this temple on a secluded lake in the foothills of Taiwan. The grounds are pritt, the temple is made from granite and jade with super cool carvings, and there’s a stairway with 365 steps leading down to the lake (one step for every day of the year). You gotta check it out.
View of the lake from the temple.

Steps leading down to Sun Moon Lake.
Took the liberty of taking a shot with my birthday stair.
Alishan
The word “shan” in Mandarin Chinese means “mountain,” so Alishan just means Ali Mountain. This mountain is part of the mountain range that creates the spine of Taiwan. It’s a real popular place for peeps to come and watch the sunrise. Just be sure to bring a jacket or sweater so you’re warm enough. Also, bring running shoes so you can appreciate the scenery on a jaunty little morning run.
View from up top.
The forest.
The beach!
I got my fingers in this pic for artistic purposes.
Honestly, I don’t love Ocean (because sharks and fish), but when it’s hot and humid outside and you haven’t been swimming in three weeks, it feels pretty good to put on some jaunty European swim trunks and dip in water for a bit. We took our tour bus down to Kenting, which is a party destination on the southern coast of Taiwan. We swam in the evening and partied all night. It was trick.
#jaunty
#nightlife
Crowds block traffic because #nightlife.
So these were my some neat places places in Taiwan. I appreciated them.

Saucy pants

 

I learned how to make sauce from tomato paste when I was in the Russia. We only bought tomato paste, so I learned by ear how to mix the right amount of water and spices to make the perfect sauce. And this sauce is perfect. You start with a tiny can of tomato paste and end up with a whole ton of suited-to-you tomato sauce. Look at you, fancy pants.

Turn this …

 

… into food.

 

Ingredients

6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 cup water
A fistful of onion (about 1/4 of a large-ish onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 Tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapsoon pepper

Step 1: The onion

The top layer (or two) of an onion is papery — you don’t want that. Peel it off and throw it away. The layer beneath that is rubbery. You don’t want that either; throw it away. The layers beneath that should be crisp and easy to cut through: that’s what you want. (This may be “duh” to some of you, but having lived exclusively with guys for the past four years, I know that things like this aren’t always intuitive.)

Cut a quarter out of your onion and chop it into baby pieces (like, a quarter the size of a french fry or smaller). Throw it into a pan greased with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Heat it at low or medium heat. Cook until the onion pieces start to become transparent. You don’t want them to turn brown or crispy-looking.

I used red onions, butt it doesn’t matter.

Step 2: The sauce

While that’s cooking, y’all need to mizz your water with your tomato paste. Dump the insides of your can of tomato paste into a big-ish bowl. Once you did this, dump that 1 cup of warter on top. Mix with a fork (or hand) and you’ll get a saucy mizzture.
It looks like tomato poop lol.
Tomato diarrhea!

Step 3: Get the Spice Girls

Next, you’re gonna want to flavor your sauce. You can just pour the seasonings into the bowl with your tomato-paste-now-tomato-sauce.

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder: Garlic powder is a necessary part of ANYTHING tasting good.

1/2 tablespoon of basil: A delicate herb; it’ll make the sauce taste fresh.

1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano: Given my extensive knowledge of Italian cooking, I can say that oregano is THE Italian spice. Your tomato sauce won’t taste like tomato sauce without it. Likewise, if you ever have a pizza that needs a pick-me-up, sprinkle some oregano on it.

1 teaspoon of salt: Not too much, but just the right amount will make all the other flavors come out (#everysundayschoollessonever).

1/4 teaspoon of pepper: Packs a punch that your sauce will be boring without.

Mixzz all the seasonings with your tomato sauce and stick your finger in it to see if it tastes how you want. #magic

Step 4: Mixzz

Pour your bowl of seasoned sauce into the pan of now-cooked onions and heat until the sauce is warm. Then put it on pasta and eat it.

Obviously, you can add anything to it that you want (like cooked ground beef or veggies).

And voila! You turned a tiny can of tomato paste into a panful of tomato sauce. That’s a big deal, saucy pants.