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(Repost) 111op Visits HK, Macao, Singapore, Kyoto, Taiwan (Taipei, Hualien, Taroko Gorge (and more?))

(Repost) 111op Visits HK, Macao, Singapore, Kyoto, Taiwan (Taipei, Hualien, Taroko Gorge (and more?))

Old Jan 26th, 2009, 12:47 AM
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(Repost) 111op Visits HK, Macao, Singapore, Kyoto, Taiwan (Taipei, Hualien, Taroko Gorge (and more?))

Hi, I screwed up on the other thread since the posts are too wide and I decided to post a new thread and e-mailed the editors to remove the other one. Just in case this is of interest. I'll keep adding to this one.

I've been spending a few weeks in Asia. The report is not in chronological order. I'll give the part on Kyoto first.

Thanks again of course to everyone who answered my questions.

KYOTO

The Kyoto part lasted 5 days and four nights, but there was no sightseeing on the 5th day and I lost a day when I got sick.

Kyoto recieved Unesco World Heritage designation in 1994.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/688

Days 1-3

Our arrival was late morning, but since the Haruka Express from the Kansai Airport took over an hour, we didn't really get to the hotel until 2-ish. So on the first day we didn't do any real sightseeing. We just walked around the shopping areas near the hotel. Shopping centers nearby include Takashimaya, Hankyu and Daimaru and also covered shopping arcades -- so obviously the hotel (Okura Garden Hotel) is conveniently located.

Worth mentioning:

Beautiful paper products at Kyukyo-Do. I remember this store from my visit to Tokyo in 2001, and there's one in Kyoto as well.

Link: http://www.kyukyodo.co.jp/

For dinner the first night, we went to Omen Nippon. The Omen restaurant in Soho, New York, is actually a branch of this restaurant. When I said that I was from New York, our waiter asked us whether the Omen noodles in New York were the same. Since I usually have the noodles as part of the set meal in New York, the portion is smaller. Also the Kyoto restaurant is cheaper (less than 5000 Yen for two). There's another Omen near Ginkaku-ji, by the way.

Kinkaku-ji

Our second day, we took the bus to Kinkaku-ji. Supposedly, this is the second best known attraction in Japan (after Mount Fuji). The original Golden Pavilion was burned down by a monk in the 1950s, and the present one was reconstructed. As all guidebooks will tell you, the writer Mishima gave a fictional account in one of his novels. Nearby is Ryoan-ji, but unfortunately we didn't know that it was closed from Jan 5-Feb 5 for restorations. So we also had to cancel our plans to have yu-dofu nearby. Ryoan-ji is famous for a zen garden with 15 stones (I've seen a guidebook claim that the 15th stone can only be seen if you've attained Englightenment); Yu-dofu is boiled tofu and vegetables (Frommer's says that the version at Ryoanji Yudofuya is topped with seven herbs).

For more on Ryoanji Yudofuya, see this link:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/kyoto/D38856.html

It's also noted by the Wallpaper City guide on Kyoto.

Ippodo

Afterwards we went to Ippodo to buy some tea. According to Lonely Planet, this is the best store to buy tea in Kyoto. In any case, here I bought the most expensive gyokuro tea I've ever bought. Gyokuro is generally more expensive, but the Tenkaichi grade at Ippodo was about $1.10 per gram (5000 Yen for a 50 g packet). It was an interesting experience buying tea at this store. There were samples in small containers and you could open them and look at the tea leaves and smell them. We were also given small cups of tea. Since I wanted an Ippodo tea container as a souvenir, I asked for 50 g of Tenkaichi in a can, and that had to be packaged separately because the tea containers normally contain 100 g of tea.

Anyway one key to brewing gyokuro tea is the temperature. The tea leaves should be first steeped at 60C. Of course Ippodo makes sure that you know this and gives you a pamphlet with instructions to take away.

Link to Ippodo's webpage on Tenkaichi gyokuro tea:

http://tinyurl.com/bangfd

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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 12:50 AM
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Getting Sick

Since Ippodo was near the hotel, we decided to have a late lunch at a restaurant nearby. According to Lonely Planet, this was a more upscale version of a popular sushi restaurant. There's actually a garden within the restaurant. Before entering the dining area, we actually first had to place our shoes in shoe lockers. Late lunch for the two of us was slightly more expensive than Omen Nippon (about 6000 Yen for two).

Then it was too late to do any more sightseeing for the day (most temples closed around 5 pm), so we went to Gion and Pontocho (Lonely Planet: "There are few streets in Asia that rival this narrow pedestrian-only walkway for atmosphere.") The more we walked, the sicker I felt, so we decided to go back to the hotel where I'd rest for a bit.

So first I had diarrhea and then I vomitted a bunch of vegetables that I had eaten earlier. Throughout the rest of the night I was waking up and using the bathroom a lot. The next day we decided that I'd just rest at the hotel, but with the hotel concierge's help, we found a pharmacy nearby in the afternoon to get some medicine.

Day 4: Last Day of Sightseeing in Kyoto

This was our last day where we could still get some sightseeing done since we were leaving the next day.

I was feeling much better so we went to some of the sights covered by the Bus 100 route along with some detours by subway.

I enjoyed all of these sights as I thought that they were extremely unique.

Our first stop (by subway) was Nijo-jo with a 400-year old history. It belonged to the Tokugawa clan. There are at least two parts to this complex. The older Ninomaru complex is where the famous "nightingale floors" can be found. The creaking floors were meant to protect the inhabitants from assailants.

Next we went to Shinzaburo Hanpu. I had read that this store can be practically mobbed and people can be found queuing in the early morning for the best merchandise, but when we arrived, shoppers were looking around rather leisurely. The canvas bags were quite expensive (I don't think I found anything worthwhile under $50, so I didn't buy anything). According to what I read, this store was split from, I think, the older Ichizawa Hanpu (about 100 years old) when two brothers split over the family business. Supposedly most of the staff from IH have moved to SH. (SH is noted in the Wallpaper City guide for Kyoto.)

Afterwards we went to the Kyoto Handicraft Center. I found a print that I liked, so I bought it. Since I paid under $40 for a small print and the edition size is 120, I'm not expecting this to be a Warhol, but to my surprise, when I just Googled, the artist Fumio Tomita actually comes up and prints were even auctioned off in the past.

Then we took Bus 100 to Kiyomizu Temple. Again guidebooks will tell you that not a single nail was used in its construction. I was quite impressed by its setting. It's on a hill with superb views and exudes a sense of peace and calm. In the meanwhile on one of the main streets leading up to the temple, you can find lots of shops that sell souvenirs and food. Within the temple complex, there's an area a visitor can drink the temple's water for wish fulfillment (in case you are wondering, I saw a sign saying that the vessels used by the visitors are irradiated with UV).

Finally we went to Sanjusangendo. This is famous for (1) being the longest wooden structure in Japan and (2) an annual archery contest with a history of several hundred years. The temple is nearly 800 years old and has a "sea of buddhas," as the Japanese contemporary photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto called one of his well known artworks.

More on Sugimoto's Sea of Buddhas

http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/buddha.html

"Will today's conceptual art survive another eight hundred years?"

The photos were shown in various Sugimoto retrospectives (such as the one at Hirshhorn in Washington, DC, a few years ago, where they were shown in a specially darkened room).

More on the archery contest at Sanjusangendo (via Google books) and the archery record:

pp. 18-19 of this book

http://tinyurl.com/d3rbx2

Osaka

For the evening we took the train to Osaka. We didn't have much time, so we just visited the lively Dotombori district and had some ramen there before heading back to Kyoto and calling it an end to our visit to Kyoto.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 12:53 AM
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My Kyoto Photos on Picasa

http://tinyurl.com/cf3l8t

KYOTO TIPS

These may or may not be useful to other travellers. I just note them.

We took the Haruka Express between Kansai Airport and Kyoto. It was 2980 Yen for an unreserved seat, if I remember right. Unreserved seats are fine. Several cars are used for those without seat reservations. If I remember right, a reserved seat cost about 500 Yen extra.

While the train is "express," it still takes over an hour to travel between the two. On our way back, it actually took more than 90 minutes as the train was running quite slowly on various stretches.

As you can see, even the train is quite expensive. If time permits, I think there's a bus that takes two hours.

I was amused by the fully rotating seats on the Haruka Express so I took a ten second video of the cleaning with my digital camera right before we got on the train.

Link to Video on Picasaweb: http://tinyurl.com/cewwux

Kyoto City Transit

There's a bus pass for 500 Yen and a subway pass for 600 Yen and a combo one-day pass for 1200 Yen and a two-day pass for 2000 Yen. It's odd that the bus pass + subway pass cost 100 Yen less than the combo pass, but I think that's because the combo pass gives you free access to more buses than the 500 Yen bus pass. I don't think that this makes a difference unless you plan to go to the mountains. All the buses we took (like Bus 100) charged a flat rate of 220 Yen and they are covered by the 500 Yen bus pass. On the rest, you may have to supplement if you buy the 500 Yen pass depending on the distance you travel.

Bus 100

This is really useful and covers, among others, Kiyomizu Temple, Sanjusangendo, Kyoto Station. I think it also covers Ginkaku-ji. There are two other routes 101 and 102 but we didn't use them.

To minimize walking I think using the bus (or taking a cab) is essential (but if I remember right, the cab meter starts at 650 Yen and we never used a cab). When you buy a bus pass you get a bus map as well.

Closing Hours

Most temples are closed by 5 pm and some by 4 pm in the winter time. So do check closing hours. The ticket counter for Sanjusangendo closes at 3:30 pm in the winter, for example.

Tipping

As far as I am aware, tipping is not necessary. But experts please feel free to correct me. Oddly this point is not covered by my Lonely Planet Kyoto guidebook.

Kaiseki in Kyoto?

I regret to say that since I got sick during my visit, I wasn't able to try to have a more elaborate dining experience while I was in Kyoto. But this was probably for the better anyway since I didn't really have time to research my visit too carefully before visiting Kyoto. And all the restaurants below seem a bit out of the way.

I'll just post a link to an 1983 article on Kitcho from NYT.

http://tinyurl.com/bxk7zw

It's probably outdated, but it's an interesting read anyway. Kitcho has a website, by the way, and it's also noted by the Wallpaper City guide.

I've seen Hyotei recommended too.

Personally had I been able, I'd have opted for lunch at Minoko. Here's the Frommer's review:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/kyoto/D38826.html

I'd be interested in reading about someone else's experiences with these restaurants. Who knows? Maybe I'll be in Kyoto again some day!
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 01:01 AM
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HONG KONG AND MACAO

It was a 3.5-day trip. We flew to Singapore in the afternoon of the 4th day. It was my fourth trip to Hong Kong.

Macao received Unesco World Heritage designation in 2005.

Unesco:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1110/

HK and Macao Photos on Picasa

http://tinyurl.com/ccsszm

Day 1

Well, it was nice to be upgraded on our short flight to Hong Kong. So we ended up on Business Class on Cathay Pacific.

Since we had an early morning flight, we decided to take the Ngong Ping cable car checking our bags at the Tung Chung outlet mall. Tung Chung is a short taxi ride from the airport (they are both on Lantau island). We saw the Big Buddha and had a vegetarian lunch at Po Lin monastery. The portions were huge and I think that you could feed four people!

Well, according to Wikipedia, a cable car (no one was inside) actually plunged 50m to the ground a few years ago!

Then we went to the city and checked into our hotel (Park Lane in Causeway Bay). We had a late dinner at Tai Woo seafood restaurant. I had read about the restaurant in one of the brochures published by Hong Kong tourist information. The restaurant had won some awards in the past.

Day 2

We had dim sum at Luk Yu, which I had read about and always wanted to try. Unfortunately the food wasn't that great, though the restaurant was already turning away people without reservations before noon (we arrived without a reservation either). We had to sit on the second floor so we only got a glimpse of the traditional decor of the first/ground floor.

Frommmer's on Luk Yu:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations...ng/D44638.html

Afterwards we walked in Central and visited various shopping malls and then I met some friends for afternoon tea at JW Marriott in Pacific Place.

At night we went to Langham Place in Mongkok. This has some superlong escalators. We used the opportunity to visit some night markets nearby, including Ladies Market and also the night market on Temple Street.

Day 3 (Macao)

We took the ferry to Macao. This didn't start out well as I forgot that we needed our passports, so I went back to the hotel to get them. I think we took the 11:45 am ferry.

The best known attraction is the ruins of St. Paul's, comprising the facade of a cathedral. The church was destroyed in a fire, and the building is noted for its blend of Eastern and Western styles. Nearby is Senado Square, another noteworthy attraction.

You can't escape eating in Asia, and Macao is known for various treats. You can't escape Koi Kee in Macao with its many tempting treats, including warm Portuguese tarts, pineapple cakes and "pork bakkwa" (it's like jerky, but not quite). We had some noodles made with bamboo sticks at Wong Chi Kei.

Wiki on bakkwa:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakkwa

Wong Chi Kei website:

http://www.yp.com.mo/wongchikei/

Next we attempted to visit the newer Taipa section, connected to the main island by a bridge. But we didn't get off at the right stop and ended back up at Macao island. So we visited some of the older casinos there. But actually the newer Wynn casino is on that side as well. Culturally, however, not all was lost, as we found a horse statue from the destroyed Yuanming Gardens in Beijing on display in one of the casinos (I think it was the New Lisboa). The tycoon Stanley Ho had paid millions of dollars for this statue at a recent auction and donated it to the state.

Having learned our lesson, we took a cab to the Taipa side to visit the Venetian. As Wikipedia notes, this is the largest hotel complex in Asia, and it's huge. There are hundreds of shops. The complex has reconstructions of Venetian monuments, but some (such as St. Mark's Square) are pretty laughable. As Wikipedia also notes, the locals refer to this area as Tamchai rather than Taipa.

We also visited Rua do Cunha on this side, but this was a disappointly small street. And yes, there's a Koi Kee here -- and even in Venetian.

Day 3.5

This was our final day in Hong Kong. We flew to Singapore in the afternoon and visited the Jade Market in the morning.

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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 01:16 AM
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Again, these tips may not or may not be useful. I just note them just in case.

HK and Macao Tips

Lockers at the Tung Chung Mall

I'd learned about them here and they are really useful. Tung Chung is very close to the airport. The airport information desk recommended taking bus S1, but a cab is just as convenient (we paid about 40 HKD). Taxis are color-coded in HK. The ones that run on Lantau Island, I think, are blue, so those are the ones you should take. In any case, I'm sure that the staff will direct you to the right ones.

I took some photos here:

(Hours: 8 am - 11 pm)
http://tinyurl.com/c7bj34

http://tinyurl.com/c9b7zv

Now the lockers are coin-operated so you'll need some coins. You can probably get them from some of the stores in the mall. I think there are three sizes for the lockers but just two prices (I think it's either 20 HKD for two hours or 30 HKD for two hours -- you pay for the first two hours and the rest when you retrieve your bags).

If you have a few hours to kill and are near the airport, I highly recommend the very enjoyable cable car ride. However be aware that lockers can be full. I don't think that it's a problem in the morning, but I think it could be a problem in the afternoon.

After the cable car ride, you can get off at Tung Chung again and take the MTR. This is much cheaper than taking the Airport Express from the airport.

Macao

Well, the first tip: Don't forget your passports!

HK-Macao Ferry

Ferries run to both the terminal on the main island and on the Taipa side. I think that the main island is more convenient but your mileage may vary. Also ferries to the main island are more frequent.

Allow plenty of time for the ferry as you need to clear HK immigration on the HK side and Macao immigration (there were long lines for Macao when we got there and we waited a while). I also think it's reserved seating only, so you need to get on the ferry you booked or else the ticket is useless. On some ferries there are two classes for seating, and I think the cheaper one is probably ok, though the cleverer people may book the more expensive one to get off the ferry faster and get in line sooner.

Free coaches should connect the ferry terminals with (at least some of) the casinos, but we took a public bus to the city center of Macao. On our way back to the terminal, we took the coach bus from Venetian. That was free. Basically it should be pretty easy getting to where you need to be.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 01:51 AM
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HK and Macao Videos

There are four short videos here that I took from my digital camera.

Two were taken from the Ngong Ping cable car, one at the Wynn Casino in Macao (a water fountain show) and one at Causeway Bay in HK.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 01:58 AM
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Sorry: Link to the videos from HK and Macao:

http://tinyurl.com/c3msup

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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 07:36 AM
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SINGAPORE

Well Singapore has really changed! I was last there about 10 years ago.

Photos on Picasa

http://tinyurl.com/aomws4

We spent five nights there since we had to run some errands, but it's a really small country. In the end we didn't get a chance to do much sightseeing. We had initially thought of going to Kuala Lumpur and spending a night there, but in the end, we didn't. So we had to move hotels for the last night. We spent the first four at the Intercontinental and the last night at the Meritus Mandarin. We got an amazing deal at the Intercontinental. It was around 120 USD per night with taxes and breakfast included. (Just make sure you don't drink the expensive mineral water in the room!)

Food in Singapore

Since we didn't do much sightseeing, there's not much to write on that front. We ate mostly in the ubiquitous hawker centers. We had one decent but expensive seafood dinner and another more elaborate dinner with family friends at Beng Hiang (a Hokkien restaurant in Chinatown).

Beng Hiang's website:

http://www.benghiang.com

The unique and delicious food in Singapore really deserves a lot more space and I hope that I'll write more about it at one point. But let me just summarize a couple of highlights here. The most popular are probably Hainanese chicken rice and char kway teow (fried flat noodles). But what I really miss are the chicken and mushrooms noodles (no soup). I've never found noodles that tasted like this elsewhere. I had some at Lau Pa Sat ("[b]uilt in 1894" and "the largest remaining Victorian filigree cast-iron structure in Southeast Asia"). At night, Lau Pa Sat supposedly turns into a place where you can taste another local delicacy, satay, though we didn't venture there at night.

More about Lau Pa Sat

http://tinyurl.com/bjc9p

Chicken and mushroom noodles

http://tinyurl.com/cc765e

The best chicken rice can supposedly be found at Maxwell Food Center at Tian Tian. We went there and it was really quite good. I'm normally not a fan of this dish, but I could taste the softness of this chicken. This chicken rice has been praised in many places, and Anthony Bourdain wrote about it in NYT. I think RW Apple does as well in an article on eating in Singapore, but he doesn't mention Tian Tian by name -- just its location.

Tian Tian chicken rice

http://tinyurl.com/b6fqwu

Anthony Bourdain writes about food in Singapore in NYT

http://tinyurl.com/aw2ety

We had planned to have seafood at Sin Huat, praised also by many, including the official tourist information booklets. But when we arrived, there was no one eating! So instead our cab driver dropped us off at "No Signboard" nearby. Chili crab and lobster bee hoon (vermicelli or rice noodles) set us back about 90 SGD (about $60), if I remember right.

Some Sightseeing in Singapore

I had some downtime the day before we left, so I checked out the museums. I went to the National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum (and 8Q, its sister annex nearby -- a bit like PS1 in NYC).

The National Museum has some free evening hours (after 6 pm, I think, though not indicated on its website), and that was when I went, but parts of the museum were closed at that time. I'd be disappointed had I needed to pay as the exhibits were not especially noteworthy. Singapore has a short history, and the strategy here was to display artifacts thematically (such as food, entertainment, family). Visiting this museum is a bit like watching a fashion show -- entertaining but not particularly memorable.

I thought the Singapore Art Museum was more interesting. There were two shows when I was there -- one was the Daimler Chrysler art collection and the other was on Korean Art. Ironically I found out later that I missed the pieces by the famous artist in that show, Ufan Lee. I think that I was just rushing through the museum. 8Q was showing contemporary Singaporean artists.

The night we left, we went to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. Our cab driver didn't know where the ticket counters were and we had to find them ourselves (the ticket counters for the main zoo were closed). The Night Safari runs until midnight and you can choose to take a tram and admire the animals from afar. There are also a few trails and you can walk on. I rather liked it but it's also a bit expensive.

My videos of the Night Safari (very dark)

http://tinyurl.com/bgc8ub

Finally we didn't have time for what must be the most popular attraction in Singapore, namely, Sentosa. So on the day we left, we rushed to take the cable car for a short distance between Harbourfront and Mount Faber. We had done this a long time ago, but it was nice reliving old memories.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 09:37 AM
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Thanks for the photos of the lockers at Citygate in Tung Chung.

About the ferries to Macau, Turbojet goes to Macau proper every 15 minutes or less, while Cotaijet goes to Taipa (next to the Macau airport) every half hour.

First class has the same seat, but like you said, can get off faster; and includes a drink/snack.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 07:53 PM
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Thanks. I think the Taipa ferry may run less frequently in the evenings (once every hour), but I'm not 100% sure.

TAIWAN

Taiwan deserves more attention as a tourist destination than it seems to get. I could be wrong about this, but I don't think Fodor's publishes a guidebook on Taiwan, for example. The country has had a somewhat tortured history from its relationship with mainland China. Now that even more attention is being focused on China, Taiwan can seem even more isolated and primitive. But there's really quite a lot to see here.

Since I'd never been to the Eastern coast of Taiwan before, I decided to go to Hualien and Taroko Gorge.

This took two days.

Hualien and Taroko Gorge

Access and Logistics

As I mentioned, there's probably less information than usual about tourism in Taiwan, so I write a bit about how you get there.

Taroko Gorge, to me, is a bit reminiscent of Yosemite. The scenery is quite spectacular and the preponderance of marble seems very unique as well. It's definitely worth a visit, even if you only have just a day for this. In that case you can just skip Hualien and take a tour for the Gorge (more on this later).

When I was planning the trip, I looked at Lonely Planet Taiwan and the guidebook recommends taking a train to Hsin Cheng (or Xin Cheng, in pinyin) to get to the Gorge. This was the way I booked my tickets, and actually I made a reservation for Leader Hotel in the Gorge as well (in the Bulowan recreation area).

But after thinking about it, I decided to book tickets for Hualien itself. Hualien, a city of around 100,000 people, is pretty close to the Gorge and well worth visiting as well. I was concerned that there wouldn't be much to interest me in the Gorge at night and I wasn't too keen on being really physical and going on all the trails (especially since both my elderly parents were traveling with me).

Also there's a train called Taroko Express that runs to Hualien from Taipei. It makes just a few stops and takes a little over two hours. The trains are newer but seating is by reservations only. And they do sell out. We had to take a slower train on our way back.

Train tickets are pretty cheap, in case you're wondering, but I can't remember what it was.

In Taiwan, you can buy seats 10 days ahead of time at the train station and 14 days ahead on the internet. (Well I think this is the case anyway.)

Advantage of Having a Car

We didn't have a car, but there's definitely an advantage to having one. Near Hualien is the Su-Hua highway, and part of it is a stretch called the Ching Shui cliffs (or Qing Shui in pinyin, literally, "clearwater" cliffs) that drop precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. You'll need a car for this (or hire a driver). While certain sources online say that you can access this stretch via local trains from Hualien, they are not frequent or convenient.

Anyway we didn't have a car so we had to skip this.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 08:25 PM
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My Photos for Hualien and Taroko Gorge

http://tinyurl.com/ab8fhr

The photos can't really do the scenery justice, but I hope that they give you an idea.

Hualien

We took a morning Taroko Express from Taipei.

Note: Now if you only have a day to see the Gorge and are interested in DIY, make sure that you take a train that arrives before 11 am. There's a half-day tour that you can get on. Of course you'll want to confirm this with the tourist information office, but the tour should run every day.

We arrived too late for the half-day tour, though there was an afternoon tour that seemed a bit like fluff (cultural and visiting farms and wineries and such). We thought we'd give this a try, but it wasn't running the day we got there, though theoretically it should run every day (I guess someone had to reserve ahead of time, and no one did).

Hualien Hotel

Also I decided to stay at Azure instead of C'est Jeune when we got there as the latter seemed out of the way. Both have good reviews on TripAdvisor, and it turned out that a number of people on our tour the next day stayed at C'est Jeune. By the way the Chinese pronuniciation (in pinyin) of this hotel is "Xi Zhen." I guess this wasn't peak tourist season so it was very easy to book and switch hotels when we arrived.

Well Hualien, like everywhere else in Asia, is very much about eating too. There are various holes in the wall type eateries and local snacks and delicacies. For lunch we had wontons at Dai Chi (or Dai Ji in pinyin). There were a lot of photos of President Chiang Ching Kuo in this shop. I don't think that this is the most famous shop in Hualien, however. That would be Ye Xiang (I think). I think the proprietors are relatives, but I'm not sure if their split was amicable.

The next night, before we took our train back to Taipei, we had pork buns (or bao zi in pinyin) at Gong Zheng (literally, this means to certify, or to be just). There were long lines waiting to buy buns to take away.

Tour for the Gorge

We did the booking via the hotel. We were picked up from our hotel and the tour ran from 8-ish to 4 pm. As I mentioned there's also a halfday tour.

The price was 750 NT (about 33 NT to 1 USD, or about $24) per person without lunch. With lunch, it was 988 NT. We opted for the one without lunch. Interestingly, lunch was served at Tien Hsiang recreation center, and if you bought the set meal separately, it'd have been 180 NT. So you could save a few few dollars by paying for lunch separately. A bit counterintuitive, definitely.

The tour covered the following:

--Taroko Gorge Visitor's Center

--Bulowan recreation area

--Swallow Grotto (Yanzi Kou)

--Lushui Trail (this was fairly easy, and it was optional. It took me about 35 minutes to walk though we were given 1 hour)

--Tunnel of Nine Turns (Jiu Qu Dong)

--Chang Chun Memorial (the third incarnation of a memorial for the 212 dead for the construction of the cross-country highway; the previous two were washed away)

Of these the Tunnel of Nine Turns is definitely the best, as most guidebooks will tell you also.

The tour included a requisite shopping stop near the end and the "Seven Stars Lake" (Qi Xing Tan). Hualien is very near the ocean and views of the water are very impressive also.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 08:48 PM
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I forgot a couple of things. I wanted to give you a sense of how cheap things (especially eating) in Asia can be.

So, these baozi (pork buns) from Hualien are 5 NT each (about 0.15).

http://tinyurl.com/dky4a8

Also note the Macao uses its own currency called, I think, MOP. Hong Kong currency is accepted in Macao, and typically if you pay with Hong Kong currency, you should get Hong Kong currency back. But I did encounter a situation when I got one dollar of Macao currency back because the proprietor ran out.

Hong Kong currency is a little more valuable than MOP (100 HKD = 103 MOP or so, if memory serves). MOP is not accepted in Hong Kong.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 09:45 PM
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Since you brought up the MOP, one interesting thing is that in most (if not all) of Macau's casinos, the currency being used is the HKD, not MOP.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 09:53 PM
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That's interesting. I didn't know that actually! We didn't gamble at all.
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Old Feb 9th, 2009, 12:00 AM
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Thanks for sharing. The photos very clear.
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Old Feb 9th, 2009, 07:37 AM
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Just in case anyone cares -- one thing I forgot to mention.

Dynamic currency conversion has arrived in HK. I was given an option to pay in HKD or USD at a restaurant where we had dinner (it's the Tai Woo seafood restaurant near Causeway Bay). I forgot to opt for HKD, but I wrote down the HKD amount on the receipt.

I was just reconciling my bills and indeed they had charged me in HKD and converted it back to USD. The amount charged was 40.39 USD (for 313 HKD). Had I opted for USD, the amount charged would have been 42.08 USD.

So that's about a 5% markup.

So you always want to make sure you pay in the local currency and have your credit card convert for you.

I'm actually not quite done with the report. I'll get to it when I've the time.
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