Carnet de voyage

Two weeks in Taiwan

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Conference and backpacking in Taiwan.
Du 21 septembre au 4 octobre 2019
2 semaines
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21
sept

It is time to add a new country to my list! 😉 Maybe/probably the last one for 2019. After France, Belgium, Wales, Morocco, China, Czech Republic, Germany, USA, and Indonesia; let's now discover Taiwan! 😀

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a state in East Asia. The island has an area of 35,808 square kilometres, with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two thirds and plains in the western third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. With 23.7 million inhabitants, Taiwan is among the most densely populated states, and is the most populous state and largest economy that is not a member of the United Nations (UN).

Note that both the ROC (Taiwan) and the PRC (People's Republic of China = Mainland China) still officially (constitutionally) claim mainland China and the Taiwan as part of their respective territories. In reality, the PRC rules only Mainland China and has no control of but claims Taiwan as part of its territory...

Taiwanese flag and emblem 

The flight from Shanghai to Taipei lasts a bit less than two hours, which I am glad as I am feverish with a sinus infection... Yes, this is why I am back on my travel blog with two new articles, after a little break! 😉 My driver (fancy) was waiting for me when I landed. First impressions of Taiwan? Same same but different! People look Chinese, they speak Chinese, but they do not act Chinese. They are civilised! Amaziiing! What I mean by that is: they do not spit everywhere, and they say "hello" and "thank you" and "goodbye".

I will spend four nights at the Taipei 101 Sparkle Hotel **** (fancy), which costs almost TWD (New Taiwan Dollar) 3500 i.e., EUR 100 per night!!! I know, I did not use you to such expensive accommodations, I need to confess that my University is paying for it as I am in Taipei for a conference... ^^ No worries, the other steps of my trip will be a lot more affordable! 😀

22
sept

Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, located in the northern part of the island. Taipei is the political, economic, educational, and cultural center of Taiwan, and one of the major hubs in East Asia.

Wakie wakie, breakfast is ready! 

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am here to attend a scientific conference, namely the 26th IEEE International Conference on Image Processing (ICIP), or the world's largest and most comprehensive technical conference on image and video processing and computer vision. Two of my papers were accepted.

ICIP 

But I had my morning free as I did not register to any tutorials. At first, my plan was to go to the Elephant Mountain, a little park with a great view on the city, but I read on a blog that there were a lot of steps to climb up there, and I did not feel like it at all with my sinus infection / fever / shortness of breath. I thus gave up and went to the Taipei 101 tower instead, located right across the road from my hotel.

The Taipei 101 was officially classified as the world's tallest building from its opening in 2004, until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. Its elevators transport passengers from the 5th floor to the 89th floor in 37 seconds, with a speed of 60 km/h. I took a picture! 😀

Taipei 101 

To be honest with you, this is not at all the kind of visit I am fond of (paying EUR 15 to go to the top of the tower, to see more towers in a grey polluted sky), but I did not really feel like doing something sporty this morning. The Taipei Observatory offers a 360 degree point of view on the city, as well as a few shops and cafés. If you want a nice view on the city without having to pay, go to the Elephant Mountain!

Taipei Observatory 

This afternoon, I joined the ICIP bird watching tour. We went to Guandu Nature Park.

Guandu Nature Park is situated in northern Taiwan at the junction of Tamshui River and Jilong River. It is a major stopover site for migrating birds, especially waterfowls and shorebirds, as well as an important wintering and breeding ground for many species. 229 species of birds have been recorded at Guandu so far, qualifying this wetland as an Important Bird Area (IBA) recognised by BirdLife International.

Guandu Park 

This evening, I went to the welcome reception of the conference. I got to catch up with my PhD supervisor (who offered me a job), with my master's supervisor, and with a few other people I have met during other conferences. I will be presenting my works tomorrow, wish me good luck! 😉 Nite nite readers!

24
sept

My presentations went really well yesterday, I received a lot of interest from the audience. After a long day, I went for dinner to a good Korean restaurant with my PhD supervisor and with a German colleague.

This morning, I randomly met the General Chair of the conference while at the coffee break, and he insisted to take a picture with me and share our business cards! 😉 After a few interesting sessions, I decided to get out of the conference centre and go explore the city for a couple of hours. I took the subway to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, located five stations away from the conference.

The National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is a famous national monument, landmark and tourist attraction erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, former president of Taiwan.The monument, surrounded by a park, stands at the east end of Memorial Hall Square. It is flanked on the north and south by the National Theater and National Concert Hall.

CKS Memorial Park 

Note the guard change ceremony takes place on top of the hour from 9am to 5pm.

Memorial Hall bronze statue 

At the ground floor of the building can be found several art exhibitions, as well as a few shops and cafés.

Art gallery 

In the evening was the conference banquet! I had a great time (good company 😉) in spite of the bad food (sea cucumbers, fish skin, and other Chinese/Asian delicacies... bon appétit bien sûr).

26
sept

ICIP 2019 finished on Wednesday! I took a train to Hualien in the evening. The journey cost TWD 440.

Hualien County is located on the east coast of Taiwan. It is the largest county by area, yet due to its mountainous terrain, has one of the lowest populations in the country. Due to the rural nature of the county, Hualien attracts many visitors for its natural environment.

I am spending three nights at the FH Hostel, TWD 400 (EUR 12) per night, breakfast included. Close to train station, friendly staff, comfy, clean... and even a tour desk! Everything I need! 😉

Yesterday (Thursday), I took the train from Hualien to Xincheng and bus to Taroko National Park.

On my way to Taroko 

Taroko National Park is one of the nine national parks in Taiwan. It was named after the Taroko Gorge, the landmark gorge of the park carved by the Liwu River.

I started the day with Shakadang trail, also known as the Mysterious Valley trail. This trail is built along the river cliff so travelers can easily observe both the rock folds and plant ecosystem beside in the river valley. It was a very nice flat walk (about 5 kilometres), with very few people but a lot of birds and butterflies. I really wanted to go for a swim, but there were signs everywhere saying "No Swim"... 😥

Shakadang Trail 

I was absolutely starving after the trail (only had two toasts for breakfast) and was almost running out of water, thus I decided to look for something to eat. In mainland, there are food places everywhere; I expected the same here but not at all! It is a really national park! 😀 Therefore, I had to head back to the entrance of the park... but I could not find any bus. I walked there, including a kilometre in a dark tunnel where pedestrians were probably not allowed (oopsy). I eventually found some food, and devoured it lol.

Tunnel and lunch, to illustrate the story 😉

Big question after lunch: go back to the park for another trail or head to the sea? After some intense reflexion, sea it is! But, when heading to the bus stop, I notice that the next bus is... at 2.45pm (it was only 2pm). Five kilometres to my destination, wait or walk? Walk! 😉 I got slightly scared on the way, when I saw the sky getting darker and darker. But I avoided the thunderstorm / typhoon, yay!

On my way 

I made it to Xincheng train station and bought a ticket for Chongde, located only five (more) kilometres away. Life would be easier if they had Uber or Didi here - or maybe if I rented a scooter instead... Anyways. When I made it to Chongde, I quickly noticed two things: 1) the sky got even darker and 2) the famous Qingshui cliffs (where I wanted to go) were still... 8 kilometres away. Oopsy. I gave up, and only walked to 崇德海灣 (no idea what is the name in English lol, maybe Chongde beach), for a few pictures and quick rest.

Chongde beach 

Time to head back to Hualien after this tiring day (I walked 13 kilometres in total). I had a very appreciated shower, and treated me for dinner with bread, mozzarella, tomatoes, and a yogurt! 😉 This may sound funny / weird to Europeans or others, but it is fairly rare in Asia! 😀 Come back for more stories!

27
sept

It was raining heavily when I woke up yesterday, around 9 am. I checked the forecast: rain all day... Not good for my plans! 😦 When I asked at my hostel some indoor ideas (i.e., museums or so), the answer I received was: shopping malls (no way) or big Starbucks (no way). Time to get my laundry done then (useful). After that, I enjoyed my lunch at the hostel (leftovers from my yummy dinner), and quickly noticed that it stopped raining. I checked the weather forecast again, no more rain! Let's move! 😀 My original idea was to rent a bicycle and ride around the city of Hualien, but I quickly changed my mind and decided to head back to Taroko National Park, to try another trail. I took the train from Hualien to Xincheng, and then the bus towards the park. I had decided to do the Jiuqudong (Tunnel of Nine Turns) trail, but eventually got off the bus 5 kilometres earlier, at the Zhuilu Suspension Bridge (because it looked beautiful 😉).

Zhuilu 

But I then discovered that a permit was required to enter Zhuilu Old Road mountaineering trail. Too bad for me! Or maybe it is a good thing, as a "decent level of fitness" is recommend to climb the slope until reaching the cliff... 😉 Instead, I went for the Swallow Grotto Yanzikou trail, effortless to walk through.

Swallow Grotto 

Breathtaking, isn't it? 😀 [...] There is one thing I really do not like: it is to walk back from the same way I came from. Hence, instead of walking back to my bus stop, I thought that I could just walk to the next one... This was a really bad idea, for several reasons. First, the roads were very narrow, with no pavement, which made it scary for me each time I met a scooter, a car, or a coach. Second, there was nobody else walking, only me. And third... I got to walk through a tunnel for two kilometres, with a beautiful sign at the beginning saying "NO PEDESTRIANS". But I did not want to head back. It was dark and smelly and hot and humid and lacking of oxygen. I got so relieved when I made it to the end and found the next bus stop! 😉 That bus was actually going to Hualien, so I did not have to take a train - perfect. In the evening, my new Taiwanese friend took me to the famous Dongdamen Night Market, which offers a good insight into Taiwan’s street food. After a very good (and cheap) dinner (BBQ), we did rifle shooting, yay! 😀

Dongdamen Night Market 

晚安!

28
sept

I used to always go to bed early and wake up early when traveling, in order to see as much as I can. Yesterday (Saturday), it was already 10.40 am when I woke up... Oops! 😉😀 My Taiwanese friend took me on his scooter for the best breakfast place in town. I have no idea what the name of the place is, because it was all written in Chinese, but it totally worths it! For about 3 euros, I had: an omelette, a sandwich, and a big Taiwanese donut. Also, the café has a nice view on a temple... which I do not know the name...

Brunch with a view 

After that, we drove to the famous crescent Qixingtan Beach, where the mountains meet the sea... 😀 This is probably when and where I got sunburnt, but this is a story for another day...

Qixingtan 

We ended our little road trip in Hualien going to the Pine Garden. The garden itself is very relaxing, with a nice café, however, all the explanations about the rooms are written in Chinese only... Not helpful! 😦

Built in 1942, the building and grounds of Pine Garden were previously an administrative office of the Naval Administration of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The building was very effective at identifying ships and aircrafts. In the later stages of World War II, the post became a key military command centre. After the war, it was repurposed to serve as a vacation resort for the American armed forces. The entrance ticket costs NTD 50.

Pine Garden 

We headed back to the hostel around 2.30 pm so that I take a (very) quick shower, pack my stuff, and check out to reach the train station. Next step? Taitung! Two hours by train from Hualien towards the South. I barely reached my hostel that Monique, a Hongkongese girl, offered me to join them (her and two Taiwanese girls, Joy and Yuki) for a Japanese dinner. Why not! 😀 We took a bus downtown and went to Mr Cow. The food was good, and we had a good time. After that, we walked around the Railway Art Village.

Taitung is situated on a small plain between the mountains and the ocean at the southern mouth of the East Rift Valley. This provides Taitung with not only spectacular scenery but also an ocean breeze that makes this tropical city surprisingly comfortable.

Railway Art Village 

I am spending three nights at the On My Way Taitung Hostel, TWD 370 (EUR 10) per night, breakfast included, close to the station, clean, free tea and coffee, free bicycle rentals... 😀

29
sept
On My Way hostel 

This morning, I chatted for almost an hour with two Taiwanese while having breakfast. Shao-Yu recommended me to go to Chishang, which I did, as Monique also recommended me the same yesterday. Also this morning, I booked a one-way ferry ticket to the Green Island for Tuesday... but this is a story for another day! 😀 Talking about raincheck, I owe you the story of my sunburt: I noticed yesterday evening, when getting out of the shower, that my whole back and shoulders and neck were red. I put some aloe vera cream, it looks better now. Good thing is that I do not feel any pain, and it will probably get tanned soon. The train journey from Taitung to Chishang lasts 40 minutes and costs NTD 74... or 55 with the IC card!

I was meant to talk to you about the EasyCard or IC card forever but always forgot. Now is time! 😀 So, this card allows you to take the trains and the buses around the country (not only in the capital), but also to pay for your groceries at 7 Eleven or your coffee at Starbucks!

In the train, or when my neighbour was about to sleep on my shoulder lol 

The name Chishang comes from the town located near Dapo Pond. The area was first settled by aboriginal tribes. Qing dynasty Chinese farmers started settling there in 1875. After the Japanese took control of Taiwan, Chishang's main industries were growing sugar cane and rice. Because of its flat land and and abundant water, Chishang naturally became a great place for growing rice. Its rice fields have been accepted as the best quality in Taiwan.

Chishang 

Back to my hostel around 6pm, for a warm shower, a little dinner, and for catching up with my emails and travel blog - now up to date, yay! 😉 Tomorrow will be my last full day in Taitung. Not sure about my plans yet. I was supposed to take the train to Tainan on Tuesday but, as mentioned earlier, I changed my mind!

30
sept




Today is typhoon day! 😥




I stayed in until 12.30 and then got bored. I walked 7 kilometres in the city, without really doing/seeing nothing interesting. I even ended up in a Starbucks (shame on me) to eat a scone and read my book... I should probably have used this day to: a) study for my Chinese test, b) prepare my lecture and lab for next week, c) write my resignation letter, d) apply for new jobs, e) all of the above; but well, I am a lazy person.

Ugly pictures for an ugly day 

I received an email from the General Chair of the conference, who absolutely wanted to take a picture with me (yes, next year will be in Abu Dhabi). I still do not get why, because I really look obese... Sadface 😥

ICIP 
1
oct

A last selfie with the Taiwanese and Hongkongese for my last morning in Taitung! 😉

Notice the Eiffel Tower in the background! 

October 1st, yet very hot. Around 30 degrees with 70-80% of humidity. I experienced my first earthquake! I felt the sofa starting to vibrate, I looked around me, and noticed my neighbour also felt it. I thus checked the Volcanoes & Earthquakes app and, indeed, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake in Taitung! :O

I am now located on the Green Island (blue dot on the map), the earthquake happened on the red circle near me.

Boats travel a few times a day between Taitung and Green Island. However, the schedule might be changed due to weather conditions or tides... All the boats were cancelled yesterday because of the typhoon! It takes about 50 minutes by ferry, and a round-trip ticket costs NTD 920. Be aware that the sea is very rough, and the ferries are called "pukey boats"! Indeed, at least half of the passengers vomited, including me, even though I am usually not seasick and I had my peppermint essential oil. We fed the fish! 😉

Green Island, also known as Lyudao, is a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. It once served as a penal colony for political prisoners during Taiwan's period or martial law.

Everyone was happy to reach the land. A driver was waiting for me with a little sign with my name, and took me to my hostel. The best way to travel around the island is by scooter, I thus asked Mrs Lee (my landlady) to organise one for me to rent. I paid TWD 1000 for two days and a half (EUR 30), which is a lot more than what we used to pay in Bali, but well! 😉 However, it is an e-bike (i.e., electrical scooter). The Green Island is a apparently a great spot for snorkelling and scuba-diving, but I did not bring my contact lenses, thus I would not even be able to see my own shadow... 😥 Sorry to disappoint you Victor! 😉

Map of the Green Island 

My accommodation is located in the North of the island, next to Gongguan (see on the map above). This afternoon, I explored the North West of the island on my scooter, including 7-Eleven (lol), a few beaches, and the lighthouse. I went for a couple of swims, and then witnessed the most beautiful sunset of my life.

First hours in Lyudao 

I am spending two nights at the Follow Me Hostel, for TWD 700 (EUR 20) per night, with breakfast included. I am sleeping in a 4-bed dormitory but I am on my own tonight! 😉

2
oct

If you look at the little map of the Green Island I put on my previous post, you will easily follow my steps. As I told you, my accommodation is located near Gongguan, therefore this is where I started this morning. Today, I basically did a clockwise loop of the whole island! 😀 I, of course, stopped (very often) to take some pictures, to go for walks, to go for swims, to have some food... Some pictures of the East coast below.

East coast of the Green Island 

The Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs have been well known since the late 18th century for their clean, transparent water, at ideal temperature. The springs are fed by seawater and underground water heated by the volcanic lava of Green Island. This is one of the three saltwater hot springs in the world, along with the springs on Kyushu Island in Japan and Sicily.

Zhaori hot springs 

On May 17, 1951, more than one thousand political prisoners set sail from Keelung Harbor, northern Taiwan. After two days at sea, they arrived at the “New Life Correction Center” on Green Island. There, the prisoners began their 15-year long “ideological transformation” process. For 36 years, the island served as a “corrections facility,” housing up to 20,000 political prisoners, most of them intellectuals accused of being Communist spies or criticising the Kuomintang government. The prisoners were held under poor conditions and tortured.

Green Island's prison 

Tonight is my last night on the Green Island, and tomorrow will be my last night in Taiwan... 😥

3
oct

After two scooters, one boat, three minibuses, one plane, one bus, and two subways... I am back to Taipei!

• • •

Not sure why I woke up at 5 am this morning, and did not manage to get back to sleep afterwards. I could have used this opportunity to go watch the sunset, but I am too lazy lol. I went for my last swim (😥) after breakfast, and enjoyed a little sunbathing (I will not be able to pretend that I was working away!)...

Islands suit me 

I then had a quick shower and a quick lunch at my hostel and re-did my CV completely with a view to apply for my dream job (hmmm almost lol). I know have four full pages! 😀 Note this does not make any sense as I have only been working for seven months - anyways. My driver met me at 1.30 pm in order to drive me, and three Asian dudes, back to the harbour - to take the "Green Island Vomit Comet" (read that on a blog, found it funny) back to Taitung. However, he tried to turn his car on for ten minutes and finally gave up. I should admit that I started to get slightly worried for the boat, as it was the last one of the day (there are only two) - even though I would have loved to stay longer on the island! 😉 The landlady came out and told me: "women qu motuoche" (我们去摩托车). I understood (with my limited Mandarin skills) that we were gonna go on scooter. In my head I thought: no problem for me, as I only have a backpack, but how are we going to do with the three big suitcases of the three Asian guys??? Well, we did it Asian way! 😉 I wish I took a picture. The landlady was driving the scooter, with a massive suitcase between her lungs, me behind her, holding my small backpack, carrying my bigger backpack on my back, and with a long umbrella (belonging to the Asian dudes, of course) between us. We made it, "keyi keyi" (= "yes we can")! lol

Long story short, bye bye Green Island! Note the ferry ride was a lot smoother, almost nobody puked. When I reached Taitung, I decided to go have a look at Xiaoyeliu, which was on my bucket list but got postponed due to the typhoon. It was only one bus stop away from the harbour (but too far to walk), so the bus driver offered me a free ride! 😉 The minibus was full of Asians with big suitcases, going to the centre.

When you read about Xiaoyeliu, it sounds sexy. "Great twists and turns blur the coral, rocks and the landscape is very special. On a clear day you can clearly see Green Island 32 kilometres away. The sea and sky change rhythm to form a shocking natural landscape. It is the magic of Little Yehliu. Sit and meditate while watching the sea waves. It's a perfect place to watch the fish swim, hermit crabs play, and find tropical fish." But, in reality... well... rocks?

These guys really need to go to Brittany! 😉

So, after that, I headed to Taitung airport, and flew to Taipei (one hour flight), where I am now.

Alone in my minibus 😉 (yes mom, I bought a new t-shirt!) 

I am spending my last night in Taiwan at Enter Inn Taipei, for TWD 400 (EUR 12), breakfast included. It is located next to the Main Station, and it is brand new and extremely clean.

20
sept
Enter Inn Taipei  

This morning, I took the subway to go to Treasure Hill, Taipei artist village. Most of the labs, studios, and shops were closed, however, the village itself offers a nice walk. Apparently the village is more animated in the afternoons and evenings, and probably during weekends. Well, too bad for me, I will be gone! 😉

Treasure Hill 

I am writing this last post on the (very comfy) sofa of my hostel. It is now 2 pm. In an hour or so, I will take the subway to reach the airport... I am indeed flying back to mainland this evening. Sad, sad, sad! 😥 But I have a lot of plans for the next weeks and months: enjoy a Couchsurfing dinner in a French restaurant, pass the HSK Chinese profiency test, show around the country to my mum who is visiting soon, go to more adventurous weekends with M2, go to Xi'an... oh, and find a new job, and work a lot also (teaching, research, admin)! To conclude this trip: Taiwan was a great discovery. I really love the East coast for its National Parks, its landscapes, its Green Island, its peaceful and quiet spirit. I do not really recommend the West coast (even though I did not go there haha - but I imagine its some small versions of Taipei! 😉).