June 28 – The Hong Kong Observation Wheel, the International Commerce Centre, and Mong Kok

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Nick and I in front of the Hong Kong Observation Wheel

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Following breakfast, Bernice was kind enough to take Nick and I to the iconic Hong Kong Observation Wheel. Although, we didn’t ride it (it’s no longer tall compared to the buildings around it), I enjoyed viewing it from the ground. Bernice also treated us to pineapple pork buns which were delicious!

The International Commerce Centre (ICC) is 484 meters tall and the 9th tallest building in the world. To get to the top. Nick and I went up two different elevators and through the Ritz Carlton hotel stationed on the tallest levels. The view is of Hong Kong is amazing!

In the late afternoon, I explored Mong Kok, a quirky district of Hong Kong. I found “Goldfish Market” a street full of pet shops where fish were sold in plastic bags along in store fronts. I also walked around Yuen Po Street Bird Garden where many shops sell exotic birds. Mong Kok is definitely a unique place!

June 27, 2017 – The Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, and a Symphony of Lights

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The Symphony of Lights at Victoria Harbour

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Nick and I made the journey to see the Tian Tan Buddha statue, also known as the “Big Buddha” which is directly opposite from the Po Lin Monastery. From where we were staying it took over an hour to transit there. However, the MTR and bus took us directly to where they were located in Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau Island. The “Big Buddha” is 35 meters high and sits quietly overlooking the mountainous scenery among the fog.

A few minutes’ walk away stands the Po Lin Monastery, one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist temples. The monastery also includes the “Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas” which was incredible. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed in that specific room. Afterwards, we walked “The Wisdom Path”. Along the sides of the path are 38 wooden columns that have the lines of a poem inscribed on them. It is a very peaceful place.

In the evening we sauntered along “Temple Street” and bought some souvenirs before viewing the “Symphony of Lights” at Victoria Harbour. Buildings are lit up with colourful light displays in time to music. Some lasers are also involved, yet the show was not as extravagant as I had expected.

June 26, 2017 – Hiking Dragon’s Back Trail

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Overlooking Shek O Beach from the “Dragon’s Back”

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Nick and I were recommended to hike “Dragon’s Back” by locals people in Hong Kong, so we decided to give it a shot. It is easy to get to the start of the trail by public transit. Once there, you forget that you were just in a large city. At first you are met with a moderately steep incline until you reach the “dragon’s back” or the pinnacle of the mountain. From there you can see a breathtaking view of the coast and ocean as well as a glimpses of downtown. I especially liked that the hike ended at a Shek O Beach which wasn’t too crowded when we arrived. Jumping into the cool salty water felt great after a long day of hiking!

June 25, 2017 – Ocean Park

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When Hunter said that we were going to Ocean Park, I instantly thought it was a water park so I packed my bikini and towel. However, Ocean Park is really an aquarium, zoo, and amusement park all-in-one (you don’t need a swim suit)! Luckily, Hunter has an annual pass which allows his visitors to enter 40% off the ticket price for the month of June! The group of us included myself, Hunter, Nick, and two of Hunter’s friends: Dan and Bernice.

We walked through the aquarium section and saw some very bizarre fish including Red and White Lionheads, Golf Ball Peralscales, and Calico Crown Pearlscales, just to name a few. In the next exhibit, we watched some adorable Asian small-clawed otters, which are the smallest otters in the world. They are native to most of South East Asia and southern sections of China. Next, we observed some playful spotted seals and sleepy arctic foxes. The penguins were being fed when we arrived which was a cool sight to witness. All of them were swarming the zoo keepers!

While we were there, we also rode the Cable Car which provides a spectacular view of Hong Kong’s landscape. I would have liked to go on it a couple more times if I had time. The five of us also tried a couple roller coasters which was fun!

June 24, 2017 – Hong Kong Junk Boat Trip

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Heading back to the Harbour

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When I flew into Hong Kong, my friend Hunter had already organized for myself and our friend Nick (who’s from the Netherlands) to go on a Junk Boat Trip. They are famous in Hong Kong and popular in the summer season for both locals and visitors. Essentially, 20 to 30 friends split the cost of the boat rental, a captain and small crew, and food. We had perfect weather had enjoyed meeting everyone on the boat. We lounged on large water toys and swam for most of the day.

Additionally, wakeboarding and being pulled on a banana boat was offered. Nick, Hunter, and I tried the banana boat which was awesome! I have always wanted to try one since seeing them in Asia.

Cultural Notes and Observations: Taiwan

  • Bike sharing
  • Very developed
  • Mostly mandarin speaking
  • Not too busy
  • Feels very safe
  • People are friendly
  • Great MRT line
  • Difficult to use a GPS because there are lots of roads and highways on top of each other

Foods I’ve tried:

  • Milk Tea
  • Plum juice
  • Taiwanese beer
  • Papya milk
  • Matcha milk
  • Mango Beer Float
  • Bubble tea
  • Xiao long bao – pork soup dumpling
  • Peanut rice milk
  • Hot Pot
  • Taiwanese Fried Chicken
  • Beef noodle soup

June 23, 2017 – The Eslite Spectrum Shopping Mall, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, and Din Tai Fung Restaurant

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The View from Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

See more photos and videos of the “Changing of the Guards” here.

Wally and I explored The Eslite Spectrum shopping mall in Taipei City. Its displays professional Taiwanese handy-crafts and artistic items. It also offers many unique gifts including a “Mission Impossible Jenga” game which I quite liked.

In the afternoon, I visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. It is one of the most prominent historical landmarks in Taiwan and was opened in 1980 in honor of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China. I got a little lost getting there but made it just in time to see the changing of the guards which occurs every hour on the hour.

The two of us went to Din Tai Fung for dinner. The restaurant had amazing service and was quite fancy. They even put a velvet cover over my backpack on the chair next to me. Din Tai Fung was awarded one Michelin Star in 2009 at a Hong Kong location, and is extremely well known. We ordered several different dishes including a Shanghai tofu appetizer, a Taiwanese beef noodle soup, and two orders of chocolate xiao long bao for dessert (my favourite)!

June 21 – Hiking in Taiwan: Wuliao Peak Trail

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Hiking Wuliao Peak Trail

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The Wuliao Peak Trail is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s a grueling hike that will get you working up a sweat within the first few minutes, but the view from the top was definitely worth the effort! I enjoyed the many rock-climbing and repelling sections which really added an extra adrenaline rush. Although it was a little scary repelling down a 50 foot rock face with no safety gear. Good thing it wasn’t raining!

Wally and I got a little lost during the final section so we didn’t make it to the highest peak. Overall, we took less than 4.5 hours to complete the hike and going down took no time at all. Also, the cutest dog greeted us at the bottom of the mountain before we started and we saw him again before we left.

In the evening we visited the Feng Chia Night Market in Taichung which is the largest night market in Taiwan. The two of us walked around and browsed through the copious amounts of food/drink stands and retail stores. We sampled a few different foods but I was still full from the all-you-can-eat hot pot meal we’d had for lunch. Taiwan has too many delicious foods to try! Normally, the night market is quite busy but it was quieter when we arrived because it was a week day.

June 20, 2017 – Xingtian Temple, the National Taiwan Museum, and Taipei 101

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The Amazing View from Taipei 101

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Wally had to work in the morning so he gave me a tour of his office, before I headed off to do some sightseeing on my own.

I walked through a famous bird street and noticed one gentleman with a small bird on the sidewalk. Allegedly, you can get your fortune told by a bird selecting a stick. The fortune teller will then provide you with your fortune according to the length and characteristics of the stick selected. I had already gotten my fortune told in India and didn’t feel the need to do so again. Then, I came to Xingtian Temple. Again, it was busy, filled with Taiwanese worshippers. I stood and watched for a while before looking around and admiring the architecture.

The National Taiwan Museum was interesting. I meandered through the Exquisite Stones of Formosa and the Animals and Plants of Taiwan exhibit. The section on Taiwan’s gemstone industry was very educational. Among the precious stones made from minerals in Taiwan, the relatively famous ones include five types: Nephrite (Taiwan jade), Taiwan black jade, Wen stone, manganese-rich rocks, and chalcedony. Overall, the museum was okay, but I expected a little more. However, Wally said that I should have visited the National Palace Museum instead, so I’ll have to visit it when I come back to Taiwan.

Afterwards Wally met me and we went up Taipei 101 – the 8th tallest building in the world, standing at 508 meters tall. The view was absolutely spectacular and we stayed long enough to glimpse the start of the sunset. At the top we drank Mango Beer Float! Basically, they put a scoop of mango gelato into a glass of beer which tasted great! Taipei 101 is definitely one of my favourite sites in Taiwan.

June 19, 2017 – Meeting Wally in Taiwan

Meeting Wally in Taiwan

Dinner at the Modern Toilet Restarurant in Taipei, Taiwan

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On my first full day in Taiwan, Wally showed me around his childhood neighbourhood and previous schools. We had breakfast across from his primary school which had been designed to look like a bird (cool concept). We shared some toast with chocolate spread, a dish with eggs, corn and tuna, and had a few other things for breakfast. I also tried some peanut rice milk, which was delicious!

Nearby, we strolled along Yingge Ceramics Street, located south of Taipei City. Yingge is famous for its pottery and ceramics which is has been crafting for over 200 years. The main street has been rebuilt and looks very modern but still has traditional touches.

Afterwards, we visited Longshan Temple, the most revered Buddhist temple in Taiwan. It was build 1738 and has been reconstructed several times due to damage during World War II and natural disasters. When I arrived, I was surprised to see so many locals inside. Wally and I lit some incense sticks and bowed respectively while taking in the temple. The structure has beautiful hand-drawn painting work and stunning dragon decorations atop the roof tiles. Outside the temple lies a pretty waterfall. I definitely recommend visiting.

In the afternoon, we walked around Ximending, a popular neighbourhood and shopping area in downtown Taipei. It is very pedestrian friendly and is a source of Taiwan’s fashion and subculture. It has also been called the “Harajuku of Taipei” and the “Shibuya of Taipei”. We ducked into a theatre there to watch the movie “Dangal”, an Indian film about female wrestlers making it all the way to the Olympics. It was very long but well worth a watch.

For dinner we went to the “Modern Toilet Restaurant”, in the middle of downtown Taipei. Its novelty really got to me, so I had to go. Everything is toilet themed. The seats are toilets, the menu is in the shape of a toilet bowl, the meals are served in a toilet, and the menu has clever toilet references!