"Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows..."
After an hour stopover in Kota Kinabalu, we arrived in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport late Friday night.
The airport commenced operations in 1979 as Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in memory of former President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek. In 2006, the name was changed to Taoyuan International Airport. The overall layout is simple and traveler friendly.
John Duang, our local host was waiting for us at the arrival gates and we were whisked off to the Cosmos Hotel Taipei, located at the heart of the city's most prosperous financial district. It is adjacent to the Taipei Train Station and the bus main station. After a brief checking in process, we unpacked and rested for the night.
Early next morning we began our tour. During the drive south to Taichung, John pointed out the numerous red and blue pigeon coops on rooftops. The Japanese introduced pigeon racing to Taiwan early last century. This curious combination of sport, gambling, and animal husbandry was an instant hit. It seized the hearts and minds of the people in Taiwan. The pigeons eat birdseed and grit, but the racing itself is fueled by cash. Money is what makes pigeon racing so popular though gambling is illegal in Taiwan. The lucky owners make a lot of money, the stakes can be very high and could reach almost US$3 million, and any bird that does well in a seven-race season is automatically worth more than US$20,000. These racing pigeons are measured by a simple yardstick, their race results. Thieves throw up nets to snare the little aviators and hold them for ransom.
Wu Chang Temple
Through multi level mountain highways intersecting each other, approaching Taichung, we had no idea of the horrific damage inflicted by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the island eleven years ago. To ensure the unimaginable power nature unleashed on Taiwan that day was never totally forgotten, several sites around the island had been left exactly as they were after that terrible night.
When that earthquake hit Taiwan, the Wu Chang Temple collapsed leaving the temple in ruins. This is perhaps the most famous and often visited temple in the town of Jiji in Nantou County, situated close to the quake’s epicentre. The remains of the village’s Wu Chang Temple whose first floor entirely collapsed is a dramatic sight.
Sun Moon Lake
Driving onwards and upwards, we headed towards the Sun Moon Lake. Surrounded by green mountains, the 8km square Sun Moon Lake is the pearl of Central Taiwan. It is the largest natural lake in Taiwan. It is a beautiful alpine lake, divided by the tiny Lalu Island. The Eastern part of the lake is round like the sun, while the Western part is shaped like a crescent moon - hence the name "Sun Moon Lake".
Its crystalline, emerald green waters reflect the hills and mountains which rise on all sides. Natural beauty is enhanced by numerous cultural and historical sites. Its beauty is created by the combination of mountain and water scenery, and its 760-meter elevation helps give the impression of a Chinese landscape painting with mist-laden water and clearly defined levels of mountains.
Thao Chieftains House
We made a brief stop at a Thao Chieftains house. The Thao represent the smallest of Taiwan's indigenous, non Chinese, population, with just over 500 members. Pictures on the wall showed world dignitaries who has visited the Chieftain in the past. The Thao claim that they produce the world’s best Royal Jelly. Their colourful vests were prominently displayed for sale.
Peacock Garden Park
We followed the winding road bordering the lake to the Peacock Garden Park. It has over 200 peacocks and other rare and valuable birds. Over 100 other species live in this park, including the mountain chicken, the Formosan blue magpie, the long-tailed pheasant, the golden pheasant, the ampherst pheasant, and the black coot. The park seems to be a popular vacation spot for the locals.
The Wenwu Temple
During the Japanese occupation period there were two temples on the banks of the lake: Longfong Temple in Shueishe Village and Yihua Hall in what is now Yitashao. But when the Japanese built their hydroelectric power plants, the water levels rose, and the temples had to be removed. The Japanese electric company paid compensation, and the temple managers decided to combine their resources and build a single new temple at Songboling on the northern shore of the lake. The result was the Wenwu Temple.
This Wenwu temple was built in 1938, combining two temples that had to be relocated when the dam was constructed. It was rebuilt in 1969. This temple of literature and martial arts has a pair of lions in front of the temple, reputed to be the largest in Taiwan.
Chung Tai Chan Monastery
Leaving Taichung, we sped off towards Puli. Located there in Taiwan's Nantou County is the Chung Tai Chan Monastery. Its construction began in 1990 and lasted for a whole decade. The structure was designed by the renowned Taiwanese architect, Li Tsu-Yuan, and combines both Chinese and Western architectural designs.
The main building of the monastery stretches vertically, in sharp contrast to many traditional Chinese temples which are horizontally extended. The primary building material is stone, which represents the firmness of Buddhist belief. It also depicts longevity.
The monastery pursues the main tenets espoused for mankind:
1. Respect subdues arrogance
2. Kindness dispels anger
3. Harmony overcomes rudeness and violence
4. Truthfulness eradicates deceit
The main structure stands upright among other lower buildings and the surrounding hills, resembling a saint sitting in the green woods. This symbolizes a pursuit of eternal peace, which is the Buddhist goal. The monastery can be seen as a symbol of hope for the people in the surrounding villages.
More than one hundred thousand religious followers come to visit Chung Tai Chan Monastery every year. Other local and international visitors come to participate in art and science seminars in the confines of the monastery's architectural beauty.
Feng Chia Night Market
John assured us that he was bringing us to a night market that provides the most diverse, delicious, and non-traditional Taiwanese snacks, the Feng Chia Night Market!
The Feng Chia Night Market situated in the Situn District in Taichung City is full of people. It offers a wider array of Taiwanese snacks, drinks, food shops, and fashion goods at competitive prices. More than 1,000 shops and food stalls line Wenhua Road, Feng Chia Road, Fushing Road, and Hsian Road. As we waded through the crowd, smells of stinking tofu wafted through the market. Of course there were various varieties of Taiwanese dishes on sale. Even Turkish Ice Cream can be found here!
Fun Won Hotel
Our Ful Won hotel is located on a convenient traffic entrance connected to Zhonggang Road and Wensin Road. Surrounding it are many large department stores, the Feng Chia night market, the Jingming commercial zone and the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology. It’s a nice cosy hotel to rest our tired bones.
Leofoo Village Theme Park
Located in Guansi Township in Hsinchu County, Leofoo Village Theme Park is the largest theme park in Taiwan. Leofoo Village Theme Park comprises a well segmented wildlife zoo and four other theme parks. Enroute to the park, it is like a fairytale castle, it’s most famous feature, rising in the middle of the surrounding forest.
In Chinese ‘Leo’ means ‘six’ and ‘Foo’ stands for ‘luck’. Thus the park symbolizes six lucks. The Theme Park was established in 1994 and has received overwhelming response from the domestic as well as the foreign tourists. It took only couple of years after its opening for the number of visitors to the Park to touch the figures of 2.3 million. This figure surpassed Taiwan’s tourist record.
Apart from a wild life zoo, Leofoo Village Theme Park has a four other theme parks, the Wild West, the Arabian Palace, the South Pacific and the Safari Park. Newer themes like China Town, the Wildlife and the Fairy Tales are slated to be added to the park soon. The Park is also planning to include a huge garden and an international hotel.
There are also fun rides like the Volcano Adventures, 360 degree Roller Coasters, pendulum themed Pirate Ships and the Jurassic Park. We were treated to an MJ dance routine in the theme streets. Costumed staff depicting cowboys, arabian warriors and south pacific natives mingled freely with the visitors.
Pi Xiu Museum
We stopped at a Pi Xiu museum on the way back to Taipei. In Chinese Feng Shui, a Pi Xiu is a mythical animal which is depicted with the head of a dragon and a dog or lion's body often with hoofs, little wings and a tail.
The Pi Xiu is a loyal guardian that is frequently seen guarding the tombs of emperors or on the roofs of important buildings. It is believed a Pi Xiu absorbs evil and as it has no anus the evil cannot escape and infect the place it protects. It also absorbs wealth from all directions and signifies money coming in without going out which is why they are often depicted with a full belly standing on a bed of Chinese coins. It is said that you do not simple buy a Pi Xiu. The Pi Xiu chooses you!
Located in west Taipei, Ximending is one of the most popular tourist spots among locals and visitors from all over the world. Ximending features a wide array of fashion clothing and accessories in various styles including Japanese, Chinese and Western.
Ximending is similar to the fashionable streets of major cities in the world like the Shibuya in Japan, Wang Fu Jing of Beijing, Nanjing Road of Shanghai, Drottninggatan of Stockholm, and Petaling Street of KL to name a few. All are famed for a diversity of entertainment and activities that allure young people and young adults to visit.
With packed breakfasts provided by the hotel, we left the hotel before dawn. Arriving still in the dark at the airport, we flew home in the early morning mist...