Trekking in Nepal During Monsoon Season

When I was planning my backpacking trip to Nepal this August, I couldn’t find a lot of useful info about trekking during monsoon season, and I also couldn’t find a lot of stuff about short treks, as opposed to the Annapurna Circuit, which takes two weeks to complete at a jog.

So having freshly returned from a five-day trek in Nepal with my brother Willbutt (two months ago), I thought I’d answer some questions for anyone else going to Nepal during monsoon season.

(A full packing list is at the bottom of this post.)

1) How much does it rain in the Annapurnas during monsoon season?

This was the biggest question on my mind before flying out. Every city, town, and village I googled in the upcoming weeks before our trip forecast rain rain rain 24/7. Obviously, this made me nervous cuz  who wants to hike in the rain, plus lots of rain means landslides and floods, especially on mountain trails in a developing country.

William and I hiked for five days, mainly on the Annapurna Base Camp trail (the ABC), which is not in the Annapurna’s “rain shadow.” Even so, the weather was manageable and we did not experience any flash floods or landslides, although some parts of the trail were blocked by landslides from earlier.

It rained  at least three times everyday: once at noon-ish (between 11 am and 1 pm), then in the afternoon sometime between 3 and 5 pm, and at nighttime. We usually hiked through the noon rain, then stopped at a guesthouse before the afternoon rain, and were playing Pokémon cards or sleeping during the night rain.

The noon rain wasn’t really hard and didn’t get us much wetter than we already were thanks to our sweat, so hiking through it wasn’t a problem. There was only one day when it rained all day; obviously, we got drenched that day.

Because of the rain, we used rain covers for our backpacks to keep everything dry. William had a good rain cover and his stuff stayed completely dry, but mine was lousy and old, so everything in my backpack got completely soaked the one day it rained a lot, which made my backpack heavier.

Which brings me to the next topic:

2) Which clothes/things should I pack? What should I plan to wear?

NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON. NOTHING COTTON.

NOTHING.

COTTON.

Pack two sets of clothes: one for hiking and one for resting in the evening. That’s it. That’s all you need. Your hiking clothes will get sweaty and dirty everyday, but your evening clothes will stay clean in your pack, so you feel fresh and new after showering at your guesthouse.

For hiking, I wore gym shorts, Flyknit Nikes (which were perfect for the trail and didn’t fall apart or give me blisters), nylon socks (which were a lifesaver and I’ll tell you why later), quick-dry undies, and A COTTON T-SHIRT because I was an idiot when I was packing. That shirt was never dry the entire week and I absolutely hated touching it by the end of the trek; I wish I’d packed a shirt made from a quick-dry material.

We never had to wear warm clothes while hiking because you stay warm enough hiking up stairs for TWO hours, but we also never made it past 2600 meters (8500 feet) in elevation, so it might be colder further up. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For my evening clothes, I basically had another set of shorts, another shirt, more undies and socks, and some sandals (but I could have gotten away with flip-flops or another lightweight shoe). Once we hit 2600 meters in elevation, the evenings were too cold just for shorts and a T-shirt, so I also had a sweater and warm socks to wear, but I wish I’d packed some sweatpants or long johns as well. (William wants you all to know that he let me borrow his sweatpants, thank you.)

Willbutt and I also packed rain jackets, but we never actually wore them on the trail even when it was raining. Even so, we did wear them at our guesthouses when we went outside in the evening.

I also brought sunglasses and a hat, but I sweated so much while hiking they became annoying to wear, so I ended up not using them.

We also wore fanny packs for easy access to our cell phones and salt.

Why salt, you ask? Why nylon socks, you ask?

The Annapurnas are FULL of leeches during monsoon season. This bit of info never ever came up during my pre-trip research, so I didn’t find out about them until we got there.

Before getting covered with leeches in Nepal, I thought leeches only lived IN water (rivers, streams, ponds, etc.). Turns out, leeches in Nepal can survive in almost any moist environment: wet grass, wet leaves, wet rocks, mud puddles — anything wet. Because they like wet, they’re twice as active when it’s raining.

During one 12 o’clock rain shower, while we were hiking on a narrow forest path between Ghandruk and Ghorepani, William spoke up behind me: “My feet are covered in thousands of leeches.” I looked back and saw tons of wriggling tubers sticking onto his shoes and socks. I looked down at my own feet and saw that they were also covered!

Immediately, we shook off as many as we could then ran to the nearest village. When we took our shoes off, there were at least a dozen pulsing leeches latched onto William’s feet. (We’ll get to my feet in a sec.) Leeches stick really hard and they’re nearly impossible to squish, so it’s hard to pull them off. The most effective way to remove a leech is to sprinkle a pinch of salt on it because, like slugs, leeches shrivel up and die when they get salted. A nice Nepali lady gave us a small bag of salt that we sprinkled liberally on any stray leech for the rest of our trip.

How were my feet? Even though my shoes had also been covered in leeches, my actual feet never got touched and I think it’s because I was wearing nylon socks. William’s socks were just normal hiking socks, so the threads weren’t sewn closely together, whereas my nylon socks just had teeny tiny spaces between the fibers, so not one leech had enough space to crawl through.

While leeches are annoying and unpleasant, they don’t actually cause any harm. Their saliva is an anticoagulant, so you do bleed a decent amount after getting bit, but leeches, unlike ticks, rarely pass on diseases to humans.

Every afternoon, after surviving a day of leeches and getting soaked in sweat, we stopped at a guesthouse. Once we got a room, we took showers and washed by hand everything we’d worn that day. Guesthouses had buckets to use for laundry and we brought a packet of powder laundry detergent.

There were also clotheslines to hang laundry at most guesthouses, but we  brought our clothes in before nighttime or else they would get wet in the nighttime rain. I wish we’d packed a clothesline to hang in our room so that we didn’t have to drape everything over chairs and bedposts, though. Even so, our clothes were never fully dry the following day, probably because our shirts were cotton and the weather was humid.

3) How much water did you pack and how much did you drink everyday?

Willbutt and I each had 2 one-liter water bottles that we filled up before trekking out in the morning. That was always enough water, we never ran out on the trail. We also had soup with every meal to help keep us hydrated (we only ate breakfast and dinner), and we drank a bottle of water during breakfast.

There are no water bottles sold on the trail, so luckily we’d brought our own. I had a Nalgene and an empty soda bottle, but I wish they were both empty soda bottles because that would have been lighter.

We filled up our water bottles at guesthouses for about 100 Nepali rupees per liter, but it got more expensive the further up the trail we travelled. They told us that the water they gave us was filtered, but Willbutt and I purified it with iodine tablets just to be safe. You can also fill up at clear streams; there are often little plastic tubes shooting off from downhill streams and waterfalls just for that. Just be sure to use iodine tablets if you fill up there.

4) How much do the guesthouses cost?

In my pre-trip research, I read unbelievable stories about $1 housing on the Annapurna Circuit, but I never saw that. Maybe that’s the deal somewhere else, but housing on the ABC  usually cost between 400 and 800 rupees for a 2-bed room. In fact, the further up the trail we travelled, the fewer the options for lodging and food, the higher the prices went up (not dramatically, but noticeably).

I read online to budget $25 USD per person per day, and that turned out to be accurate. Some days it was on the nose, some days it was way under. Obviously, everything on the trail had to be paid in cash, so keep your cash dry in a plastic bag.

As for food quality, the general rule was that the closer to civilization we were, the better the food was, and the further onto the trail we went, the worse and more expensive the food got. Our first and last nights, we ate really well, but the day we were furthest up on the trail, our potato soup tasted like salt water and our pancakes were cooked slabs of batter. (That was also the night that our guesthouse was run by four 20-year-old guys, so maybe try to find one run by a woman who looks like your mom.)

Also, my brother and I ate a lot in the morning and a lot at night, which took a while for the hosts/hostesses to cook once we ordered. I recommend ordering your dinner when you arrive at the guesthouse and telling your host what time you plan to eat. That way they aren’t waiting around for you to order and you can eat at soon as you’re finished with showers and laundry.

Every guesthouse we stayed in provided bedding that always looked clean, but I brought a lightweight sleeping bag and William used a fleece sleeping bag liner. I don’t regret bringing my own bedding even though it was extra weight because it was something nice for me to snuggle in every night, but I also wouldn’t have minded using the bedding provided.

FYI: Higher up on the trail, they charge for wifi, hot water (for showers), and power (there are no outlets in the bedrooms). Also, sometimes the outlets are really old and are too loose for whatever adapter or plug you’re trying to fit.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The running tab of your room and meal costs are paid the morning you leave. When you pay, I recommend leaving a generous tip. Tourists are a huge (if not the only) source of income for these people. We’re so blessed to travel and see their part of the world, but they may never leave their mountains, so show them how much you appreciate them sharing their homes by giving them lots of money.

One more plug: Our second night, William and I stayed in Chomrong at a place called Heaven View Guesthouse. It is honestly one of my top 5 places to see in the world. It’s on the edge of a mountain overlooking the convergence of three valleys with waterfalls and rivers coming in on every side. I could see clouds drifting in between the mountaintops and above the valleys, raining somewhere miles away, then changing directions and raining somewhere else. It didn’t feel like there was any sky overhead because we were already in the sky.

5) What are some short hikes? Preferably something a week long?

I can’t really answer that question completely because I was only out hiking for 5 days and didn’t stay on one definite route the whole time, but having trekked in Nepal and seen how things are located on the map I can offer some observations:

The Annapurna Base Camp trail supposedly takes a week-ish to complete. We started trekking on Monday in Birethanti and got onto the ABC in Chomrong on Tuesday (we initially were doing a different trail but had to reroute because of the leeches). We made it as far as Dovan on the ABC, then turned around Thursday morning because we wanted to be in Pokhara by Saturday. If we hadn’t turned around, I’m confident we could have made it to Annapurna Base Camp by Friday or Saturday. Maybe if we had planned to do the ABC from the start, we could have done the whole thing in five or six days.

Another option is to basically start at the end of the Annapurna circuit, hike from Birethanti to Poon Hill to Tatopani, then back again. (We tried to hike from Birethanti to Ghandruk to Ghorepani, but the jungle between Ghandruk and Ghorepani is FULL OF LEECHES and not worth it, so that’s why we hiked over to the ABC. I mean, there are leeches everywhere during monsoon season, but they’re especially bad in that spot).

6) Some pro tips:

You can get to the end of the Annapurna Circuit/start of the ABC by taking a bus from Pokhara at Baglung Bus Park (not the Tourist Bus Park on the other side of town). The bus is very uncomfortable and shaky, but it’s  only 700 rupees for one person, which is much cheaper than a taxi; I just recommend getting off as soon as you can in Nayapul.

Unless you’re trying to do a quick weeklong or five-day trek, plan rest days. The Annapurnas are beautiful and you’ll enjoy them more by taking your backpack off for a day and just relaxing. If you do the ABC, I recommend stopping in Chomrong, Jihnu, Sinuwa, and/or Kimrong.

Heads up: The Annapurnas are amazing mountains and took my breath away when I saw them on my first Nepal trip in November 2016. Unfortunately, during monsoon season they’re covered by clouds and you can only ever get  glimpses of them when the clouds part in the mornings, even when you’re on the trail. 🙁

There weren’t very many hikers in August. We only ever shared a guesthouse with three other trekkers. It was nice not having so many hikers because you could totally pee anywhere on the trail (#freewilly). I have no idea how it is during tourist season, but once we started hiking on the ABC we ran into a lot more people so maybe during tourist season you’ll run into a lot more trekkers.

If you can, get used to the time difference before you go. Being jetlagged and hiking up a mountain? No thanks. Take a week or so before your trip to get used to Nepali time.

There are stray mountain dogs who act as guides along the ABC. They led Willbutt and me from village to village, often showing us which way to go when the trail forked. They would sit outside of villages and wait for trekkers to come, then trot ahead and stop whenever we fell too far behind. It was semi-magical.

You also bump into a lot of little kids on the trail heading to and from school. Not sad, orphan kids, but just normal kids. Sometimes they’d ask for candy, but we didn’t have any, so I recommend either buying some in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or bringing some from home. You can buy candy on the trail but it’s expensive.

There aren’t very many mosquitoes, even during monsoon season. Even so, we applied DEET along with with sunscreen everyday. DEET supposedly also works on leeches, but I can tell you from experience that claim seems to be FALSE.

Plastic ziplock and freezer bags are a great travel accessory: they can hold anything and keep everything dry. In my experience, America makes them best, so bring some!

Granola bars are also something that America does best and they are a 100% necessity while trekking. I brought a ton from home and we snacked liberally on the trail because we really needed the energy. There were some days I could not have made it without them. Plan for two to three bars each day.

Also, there’s not much fresh fruit on the trail, so if you want some, you’ll have to pack it in from Pokhara or Kathmandu and ration it throughout the duration of your trek.

Packing list:

  • One set of clothes for hiking (shirt, shorts, undies, 2 pairs of socks, shoes) made of quick-dry material (According to Willbutt, switching socks half way through the day is nice.)
  • One set of evening clothes (shirt, shorts/pants, undies, socks, shoes) made of quick-dry stuff
  • Warm socks
  • Sweatpants
  • Sweater
  • Rain jacket
  • Pantyhose or nylon socks (for leeches)
  • Fanny pack
  • Extra shoe laces
  • Watch (waterproof for sweat)
  • Clothesline/rope
  • Powdered laundry detergent
  • Rain cover for backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • DEET/bug spray
  • Toilet paper/wipes
  • Toiletries
  • Soap/sanitizer
  • Outlet adapter
  • SALT
  • Plastic ziplock and freezer bags
  • Granola bars (at least three per day)
  • 2 one-liter bottles (can buy for super cheap in Pokhara or Kathmandu, or just bring empty soda bottles)
  • Iodine tablets
  • Map (see if you can get a waterproof one)
  • Flashlight
  • Microfiber towel
  • A plastic bag for any trash you make while hiking

Optional:

  • Fruit
  • Knife for fruit
  • Simple bedding
  • Power bank
  • Notebook and pens/pencils

Well, I think that’s it. I absolutely loved my trip to Nepal and regularly think about not if I go back, but when I go back.

China doesn’t suck

I went to China with very low expectations. After living in Taiwan for a year, I came away as a HUGE fan of Taiwan, but skeptical of the mainland.

China just didn’t seem as “with it” as the rest of the world (I mean, duh, communism). I  expected the entire country to be covered in pollution and trash, the people to be standoffish, the government to be overbearing, and the food to be N A S T Y (I never warmed up to Taiwanese food, so I expected Chinese food to be worse). In general, I just wasn’t *psyched* about this trip.

However, it turns out that China doesn’t suck and is actually a pretty good time. Here’s why:

It’s not super dirty.

After hearing again and again how polluted China is, especially Beijing, I expected every street corner and mountain hike to be obscured by pollution. The reality was actually not bad. While there was some pollution hovering on some street corners, it was barely noticeable. The skies in Beijing were clear blue, visibility on the Great Wall stretched for miles, and things did not suck.

Jaunty on the Great Wall.
Hangin’ at a park in Beijing.

Chinese food is not Taiwanese food.

While the food in China is basically the same as Taiwan — I mean, it’s all just rice and noodles — it somehow tastes less disappointing. It might be the fact that Taiwan likes to throw random things like pork blood and stinky tofu in with their rice and noodles whereas China doesn’t, or maybe China uses better seasonings. I don’t know. I just know Chinese food is better than the Taiwanese stuff.

Eatin’ hot pot.

The sights are amazing.

I knew before coming that I wanted to see the karst hills in Guilin and the Great Wall in Beijing, but I didn’t expect anything else to be very cool. Turns out, there are tons of cool things in China.

There are awesome mountain hikes, clean rivers, and old forts lying around all over the place. China is a very old, very big country filled with amazing things.

 

Karst hills in Yangshuo
Hiking Huashan.
Xi’an City Wall
Longsheng Rice Terrace
Ping’an Village

Chinese people are cool.

I thought that Chinese people would be kinda jerks, but it turns out they’re pretty nice. My travel bud and I were invited into people’s homes for lunch not once but TWICE in the same weekend, a lady invited us over to pet her puppies, hotel managers and Airbnb hosts went out of the way to help us, and Chinese people loved taking pictures with me. It was a good time.

Lunch friends.

But some things are still a bummer.

China is still a communist country though, and that is crazy.

The internet is heavily censored. Google and Facebook are blocked, which makes navigating or calling people or doing anything online very inconvenient. Any apps linked to Facebook or Google (like Instagram or LDS Tools) also won’t work properly in China. The internet censorship also slows down connection speeds in general, making Chinese internet shoddy.

Actual footage of me climbing over the Great Firewall.

The are other, more subtle hints of the communist state. Although it slips notice at first, there are very few billboards or large advertisements in cities, bulletin boards only carry government-approved flyers, and policemen, soldiers, and security cameras are everywhere. The government touches every part of public life and controls everything the public sees. It’s an eerie feeling.

Verdict

China is hecka dope. While there are some drawbacks to visiting (like terrible internet coverage), it is nowhere near as dirty you’d imagine, so that’s fun. Peace. 

 

Perfect day in Taipei: Top 6 things to see

Say you want to have an awesome time in Taipei, but only have a day or two to be there. What do you do? What do you see? How can you plan the perfect day in Taipei?

While living in Taiwan, I went to Taipei almost every weekend and discovered the top 6 things to do and see in Taipei. If you’re limited to only a day or two in Taipei, doing these 6 things will maximize your time and make your trip a hit!

 1) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek is a huge figure in Taiwanese history, so of course there’s a giant memorial for him.

The Chiang Kai-shek memorial is one of Taipei’s main attractions and an awesome photo op. There’s also a museum inside and it’s FREEEEEE!

Chiang Kai-shek aka Asia-braham Lincoln

2) Taipei Taiwan LDS Temple and Yongkang Street

Right smack in the middle of Taipei’s hustle and bustle is the Taipei Taiwan Temple.

It’s actually very small inside and doesn’t function all hours of everyday, so be sure to check the temple schedule before showing up if you plan to do a session.

The temple is also right next to Taipei’s famous Yongkang Street food district, so after visiting the temple, you can stop for lunch.

Jianbing: The BEST Taiwanese food.

Also, if you want to attend church in English in Taipei, the English ward meets in the stake center next door.

3) Taipei 101

Named for its 101 floors, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2009 and is currently the 8th tallest in the world.

Obviously, you should be several blocks away from the building itself to get a good view of the whole thing.

Or you can hike Elephant Mountain (Shiangshan) to get a view of it sticking out of Taipei’s skyline.

You can also go inside Taipei 101 itself. You can shop, eat, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) take a high-speed elevator to the top (cost 500-600 NTD).

View from the top.

4) Maokong Gandola

The Maokong Gandola is a cable car suspended in the air that takes you on a journey above the forest between the Taipei Zoo and the outskirts of Taipei. You can enjoy a nice view of Taipei and the surrounding hills.

5) Beitou Public Hot Springs (aka Millenium Hot Spring)

Taiwan is covered in hot springs and Beitou is the best place in Taipei to soak in one. Beitou Public Hot Springs is a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT Station. Changing rooms and showers are available. Entry is 40 NTD.

6) Shilin Night Market

A night market is a place where you can buy cheap stuff and eat weird stuff. Visiting night markets is a famous Taiwanese pastime.

Shilin Night Market is one of Taipei’s most popular night markets. It’s right off of Jiantian MRT station. You can’t miss it.

 

And BAM! There’s your guide for the perfect day in Taipei! If you follow this list, you’ll hit Taipei’s top hot spots and go to bed feeling like a Taipei pro.

Note:  Everything on this list is easily accessible from the Taipei MRT and is organized in order of what you should see leaving from Taipei Main Station. If you follow this list in order, you’ll see everything in the most efficient way.

P.S. I recommend buying an EasyCard if you’re going to spend any time in Taipei. They’re cheap and make using the MRT super convenient. You can buy one at any 7-Eleven and most MRT stations.

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.

I almost drowned in Taiwan.

It was a rainy day in Taiwan and I was chilling in a hot spring. Cool rain splashed down onto my face like angel kisses as my body lay reclined in a warm pool of water. I felt like a precious baby in the womb.

Next to this hot spring ran a river. It wasn’t a big river, but people liked to swim in it. A rope ran parallel from the riverbank to a pole fixed in middle of the river’s stream. Another rope was tied to another pole a little ways downstream. The idea was to walk into the water while holding the first rope, let go, then let the river’s current carry you downstream where you would grab hold of the second rope and pull yourself back to shore.

I watched as a couple people got into the river and floated from the top to the bottom rope. It seemed fun, so I decided to give it a try.

The water was colder than I expected but I was surprised to find that the river was actually pretty shallow – barely waist-deep. I walked out holding onto the rope, tucked my knees up against my chest, then let go, giving myself up to the river gods.

The current was strong because of the rain and my butt kept hitting rocks because the river was so shallow, but it was decently fun; like going on a waterslide while having your butt hit over and over again.

As the ride was coming to a close, I stuck my hand out to grab hold of the second rope, which hovered about six inches above the water. Unfortunately, I have the hand-eye coordination of a newborn baby’s tongue, so when I tried to grab the rope to stop myself, I missed completely and the current continued dragging me downstream.

I’d been counting on that rope to get me out of the river, but since I missed it, my only option was to swim out. I turned my body and began swimming toward the bank, but the current was too strong and wouldn’t let me out. I’d always considered myself a good swimmer, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any closer to shore. I just kept bobbing downstream, my legs and arms bumping and scraping against rocks on the riverbed.

At this point, I wondered two things.

First, I wondered whether I was drowning. I decided that maybe I was, cuz I’d never experienced this helpless feeling while swimming before, and that’s probably what drowning feels like.

Second, I wondered whether I was going to die. I’ve always thought that I would have an earlier premonition about when I was going to die, like I would wake up knowing that today was the day. Since I hadn’t had any inkling earlier that day, I figured that, no, I was not going to die.

After deciding I was drowning but not dying, I debated whether I should call for help. Since I knew I wasn’t going to die, I figured there was no reason to be overly dramatic. On the other hand, how was I going to get out of this river on my own?

While I was debating all this in my head, I bumped into a small island of rocks close to shore that stopped my progression downstream. I got hold of a big rock, then pulled myself to my feet. I walked ashore, a little tired and scraped, but not drowned or dead (I was right!).

I walked back up to the hot springs and sat down. I watched the river and wondered whether anyone else would try floating down and what would happen in they missed the bottom rope.

Sure enough, another man walked into the river holding onto the first rope, let go, then floated down and missed when he reached out to grab the second rope. I perked up. Would he almost drown like I had? What would he do to get out of the current?

I was amazed to see his solution: he stood up and walked to the shore.

The whole time, the water had barely been waist-deep. I should have realized because my body kept hitting rocks on the river’s shallow bottom. But I’d forgotten and hadn’t realized how simple the solution had been the whole time.

So I almost drowned in Taiwan. Cuz I’m an idiot.

Fantasy island vacation

Who hasn’t fantasized about being shipwrecked on an island? Quiet, solitude, and the struggle to survive. Sounds like a really good vacation.

Unfortunately, most of us will never get the chance to actually be shipwrecked on an island, but two weeks ago I came the closest that I’ll probably ever get.

Orchid Island is a two-hour boat ride (or thirty-minute plane ride) from the east coast of Taiwan. Even though it’s technically (and officially really is) a part of Taiwan, it’s a completely different world from Taiwan, isolated by water, distance, and bad cell phone reception.

The island is only 28 miles (45 kilometers) in diameter, with one road that circles the whole island and another that cuts through the middle. The coastline is mainly cliff or rocky coral and the west half of the island has some pretty rough waves, but the east half has much calmer water and some sandy beaches, so there are a couple good swimming spots.

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The island is made up of mountains covered in dense jungle with few trails and lots of snakes, so exploring inland isn’t really an option.

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Orchid Island is a tropical island, which means that one minute it feels like the air is trying to smother you with a wool blanket, then the next minute the sky is trying to drown/electrocute you.

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When I visited, there was a big holiday in Taiwan, so every hostel and hotel was filled to capacity with tourists. Me and my crew managed to find places to sleep, but it was definitely  a tight squeeze. Even though the hostels were full, the island still felt quiet and isolated, which made me wonder how much more peaceful it must feel on a normal day.

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We spent our time swimming, hiding from thunderstorms, and trying local food.

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Because the island is tropical, it’s home to poisonous snakes (including sea snakes) and plants, so dodging those made the experience that much more exciting.

The locals were hecka nice and helpful and the pigs, dogs, goats, cats, and chickens that ran through the streets gave the whole experience a rustic feel.

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Even though I probably won’t get to experience being shipwrecked, at least I feel shipwrecked if I go to an island that’s isolated, peaceful, and occasionally tries to kill me.

Super Chicks

My plan was to visit a place called 60 Shih Shan (60 Stone Mountain) in Hualien County, Taiwan. I was gonna take the train to a small village, then take a bus up to the mountain. When I got off the train, though, there weren’t any buses … or literally anything else. No buses, no taxis, nothing. Just me, two old dudes, and a rice field.

As I was checking my phone to figure out my options, two chicks showed up and somehow saw that I needed help (I think I just have a really confused-looking face idk). When I told them where I was trying to go, they told me the buses didn’t run there this time of year. Before I could figure out a backup plan, though, they offered to drive me up in their car cuz “we have nothing better to do.” They drove me up, told me all about the mountain, then drove me to another train station so I could get home. And they took real good pictures of me too.

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These girls were so nice and they reaffirmed what I already knew: Taiwanese people love me so much.

Traveling in Taiwan is the best. People not only want to help, but are excited to help. It’s really given me a pay-it-forward attitude. Now I look for opportunities to help others too. Thanks, Taiwan.

Here are some pictures of 60 Shih Shan. Apparently, it’s best to visit during summer, but I think winter is an alright time too.

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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:

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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.

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Alishan National Scenic Area, July 2015

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

 

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Sun Moon Lake, July 2015

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Sun Moon Lake, October 2015

 

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Hualien, January 2016

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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.

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Cat cafe in Taipei!!

I went to a cat cafe today. Was everything covered in hair? Did it smell bad? Did the animals get all up in my food? Was the food gross? No, no, no, and no.

Dog and Cats Cafe is a cozy little joint in Taipei. There are 15 cats, 2 dogs, and 1 bird. It felt very clean, the animals didn’t bother us while we ate, and the atmosphere was waaaay chill.

The food was super great. I went with my pal Jimmy who’s backpacking though Taiwan right now (which is a cool thing to do and I’m gonna start doing it this Friday!). He ordered the rice gratin and I got lasagna and both were *excellent*.

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The cats and dogs were real chillaxed the whole time. They basically slept and ignored us. I thought they’d perk up once our food came, but they didn’t pay any more attention to us while we ate than before.

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Once we finished eating, though, the owners gave us some cat treats to feed them — then we got real popular. Couldn’t keep the cats off of us.

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Great place, great food, and great cats.

😻😻😻😻😻😻😻😻😻😻/10

See more on my Snapcat (username gordygordyblog).

I hated Japan.

McKay AhPing is not me, but I guilted him into writing this post. If you want to write for Gordy(Gordy)Blog (travel tips or photos, funny stories, etc.), send me a message on the contact page.

Now that you’re reading my blog, let me tell you how amazing Japan is!

 

Imagine a world where crime doesn’t exist.

Hint: This world doesn’t include Washington, D.C.

 

 Imagine a world where fat people can just say they’re training for a sumo match.

 

 

Imagine a world where your train floats on magnets.

 

Imagine a world where your butt gets more pampered than your face.

Hint: This isn’t the Clinton Presidential Library/Massage Parlor.

 

 Imagine a world where common people treat you like a dignitary.

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Hint: This isn’t Jersey.

 

Imagine a world where prison, cat, and maid cafes deploy their hoochies to lure you in.

Imagine a world where Hello Kitty comes in breakfast form.

Imagine a world where everyone else is so formal they make you feel like a slob.

You’re wearing jeans? Ew.

 

 Imagine a world without children.

Birthrate: -1.4 and falling.

 

Imagine a world that blurs the lines between dreams and reality.

Imagine a world where you can reserve a karaoke room like you can a restaurant table.

Imagine a world where people can become Christmas decorations.

Imagine a world where you’re blinded by flashiness.

Imagine a world where fashion comes first. Then work. Then video games. Then maybe family.

Hint: This isn’t Wal-Mart.

Imagine a world with both chaos and perfect order at the same time.

Imagine a world where ancient meets modern.

Imagine a world where gamers come out of their mothers’ basements.

Imagine a world where cat ears are socially acceptable.

“Im on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

Imagine a world full of ramen, curry, sashimi, and sushi.

Imagine a world where your toughest choice is which Coke machine to use.

Imagine a world of both excitement and zen.

Imagine a world of ancient trees and holy forests.

Imagine a world where heaven meets earth.

Hint: This isn’t Utah.

 

Imagine dat.

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To find out about cities around the world, visit McKay’s blog WhatToExpectIn.blogspot.com.

You can never run from sharks.

As I’ve mentioned before, my biggest fear is sharks. I hate them. They will eat you. They will eat you.

Even so, I really like swimming. I’m from freaking California, it’s in my body.

So when I was visiting Hong Kong, I went to Stanley Beach. It’s a nice beach because it’s clean and secluded.  Plus, my brother’s name is Stanley, so.

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Aside from a couple lifeguards, the only people there were a few white tourists (like me) and an Asian family. I changed into my swimsuit (which is supes skimpy YOU’RE WELCOME) and prepared to enter the water.

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But then I remembered my fear of SHARKS. I paced around the beach a bit, stalling, only to notice signs warning on how to avoid shark attacks.

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There were shark nets around the beach in the water and shark flags to warn when a shark was close. These were sure signs of a feeding frenzy waiting to happen.

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When I was psyched up enough, I finally just ran in! up to my knees. I relaxed and floated in the shallow water, the waves rocking me back and forth as I tried to block sharks out of my mind.

The waves got stronger. I let them move my body wherever they wanted, tumbling head over toe in and out on the shallow surf. After doing this for 5-ish minutes, I realized I probably looked like someone drowning or just a straight-up plastic bag about to get trapped on a dolphin fin, so I decided to get out and dry off.

Of course, my skimpy, skin-tight swimsuit was full of sand, so I went to the showers to wash it out. I would have been all for stripping my suit off and getting the sand out the easy way, but the showers were 50% exposed to the open beach, so I had to do the job by holding my shorts wide open, aiming the shower head straight into my suit, and shimmying around while the shower head sprayed my nether parts with fire-hose strength. I don’t know how it looked, but it felt ~great~~.

I walked to the bus stop wearing only my swimsuit and sandals to let the suit dry. I threw my shirt on before getting on the bus cuz my suit wasn’t dry yet. It probably looked weird since the shorts basically looked like underwears, but I just went back to my #1 travel rule: I’m American, I can do what I want. Plus, I was in a beachy neighborhood; it wasn’t weird.

When it was time to get off the bus, however, I was in central Hong Kong where the are tons of people and no beaches. Just as my stop came, I realized I should throw real shorts on over my suit, so I grabbed some out of my backpack and hurriedly shoved my legs into them, trying to look inconspicuous as I zipped up my fly and did my belt in the back of the bus, then ran to get off.

So I need to see a shark therapist. Any suggestions?

King Hong Kong

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This weekend I visited Hong Kong, which was named after King Kong, the sister city to Hong Zilla, named after Godzilla.

Hong Kong is a peninsula and several islands off the coast of China. The peninsula is called Kowloon and the mountainous area above that is called the New Territories. Actual Hong Kong is an island right off of Kowloon. It’s REALLY close, like, Coronado-to-San Diego close. Aside from that, there’s another big island called Lantau (that’s where the airport and Hong Kong Disney are) and other small islands.

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(Image from ~~Google~~)

Hong Kong is its own city-state, formerly a province owned by England. In the 1990’s, it was “returned” to China, but it’s basically a sovereign nation. You don’t need a visa to visit and it’s pretty western because of the British influence.

I don’t LOVE cities. They’re too crowded, loud, and dirty, but Hong Kong changed my mind. Kowloon isn’t very clean, but the islands (at least Hong Kong and Lantau) are kept very clean considering how many people live there. Also, Hong Kong is so full of people that there are multiple levels of sidewalks to accommodate the crowds. As a result, it doesn’t feel very crowded.

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As with everything British, everything here was named after Queen Victoria.

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Victoria Peak.

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Victoria Harbor. (~~DARN I’m lookin’ fly~~)

Victoria Park, Victoria Secret, blah blah blah. It was British once WE GET IT. (So was King Kong a British king?)

But it was also very Asian. I mean, it’s in Asia, right?

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However, I expected there to be more English-speakers since Hong Kong was once a British colony, but there seemed to be just as many as there are in Taiwan. But I got by. The signs helped.

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I was really looking forward to going to the beach. Even though I’m terrified of sharks and other sea creatures, the California in me loves water. Hong Kong’s beaches did not disappoint.

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The beach even gave me tips on avoiding shark attacks. That means it was a really safe beach, right?

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(What exactly is a shark-like object?)

Even though I expected Hong Kong to be a gross Asian city, it was pretty clean and great! I loved it and actually want to visit again. Here’s a sick vid I made of my visit: