Getaway - Chanel 9 Visit Taiwan
Thursday 19-Nov-2009 Episode: Sun Moon Lake
She travelled to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan's largest body of fresh water. The emerald green 800-hectare lake is backed by high-forested mountains and enjoys good weather year-round. Its eastern side is round like the sun and the western side is shaped like a crescent moon, hence its name. To the Taiwanese it is a cultural treasure and is a favourite honeymoon destination, not just for locals but others as well.
It's a 33km drive around the lake, but a boat trip is far more scenic. There are piers along the way where you can stop — and there's always a temple or two to be found.
Wen Wu Temple
Wen Wu Temple is midway up a steep slope on the north end of the lake. It has a courtyard, two gardens and three halls. The front hall is devoted to the founding gods. The main hall is devoted to Kuan Yu and the rear hall is devoted to Confucius. The pair of red lions at the front of the temple are the largest in the country.
During Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945, the lake was dammed to raise its water level and generate hydro-electric power. The surrounding area flooded and temples were relocated.
The area has been a centre of aboriginal life for thousands of years, and they have been involved in the tourist industry since the 1930s.
Catriona strongly suggests a visit to the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village. It's not your average theme park, though it does have the usual attractions. It's Taiwan's largest outdoor museum and displays traditional homes and architecture of the country's nine principal aborigine tribes.
All buildings were reconstructed after much research by anthropologists, and trails separate each community so visitors are able to see the differences and similarities between styles. Stone, wood and bamboo were popular building materials. Indigenous tribes reveal the area's culture with demonstrations of dancing, sculpting, weaving, cooking and knitting. It's a beautifully maintained village, full of cherry trees and with manicured lawns.
A new $30 million cable car links Sun Moon Lake and the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village. It has 96 gondolas, each carrying eight passengers. As well as cutting travel time, the bird's-eye view is pretty spectacular.
When the cherry trees are in bloom, the park hosts a wedding extravaganza. Masses of couples apply, but just 30 are chosen. It's not exactly an intimate occasion, but the happy faces of the newlyweds say it all. They feel special to have been chosen.
A severe earthquake in 1999 demolished waterfront hotels, but the Taiwanese soon began rebuilding — and now business is booming.
The five-star Lalu Hotel overlooks the lake and is named after the indigenous Shao aboriginal settlement once located on the site. It dates back to 1901, and was a favoured summer getaway for the late president Chaing Kai-shek.
The 2002 version was designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill and is Taiwan's most expensive hotel. The Zen-style building has lots of wood and stone and is an all-suite property.
There are one- and two-bedroom suites as well as private villas which have their own pool and courtyard. The outdoor warm water infinity pool is 60m long. There are hot and cold whirlpools, herbal steam rooms, Swedish saunas and Japanese baths, all with lake views. The award-winning Lalu Spa offers Eastern and Western treatments.
The hotel has five restaurants and bars, a boutique and library.
Sun Moon Lake in the centre of Taiwan.
On Catriona Rowntree's first visit to Taiwan she heard about a very special annual festival. The Lantern Festival, also known as Shang Yuan, takes place on the 15th day of the first moon in a series of springtime celebrations. The Chinese New Year Festival is celebrated across the country.
The festival is all about decorative lanterns depicting birds, beasts, historical figures and other themes which carried by children and adorn temples. Competitions are held to highlight the glowing works of art and thousands of lantern watchers delight in their beauty.
The largest and most famous of the competitions is held at Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza but Catriona went to Yilan, a rural village a 90-minute drive from Taipei, Taiwan's capital. During the day it's business as usual, but when the full moon appears, everyone comes out to join in the fun. The local sportsground is transformed into a lighting spectacle. Imagine 150,000 lanterns of all shapes, sizes and designs, glowing in the evening light.
As well as displaying and appreciating lanterns, the festival is celebrated by eating tang yuan, an important custom symbolising family unity. Tang yuan is glutinous rice balls, stuffed with red bean paste and served in a soup with egg swirls.
Lantern riddle parties are also held. Locals love them. A riddle is stuck on the lanterns and people try to solve it. They cover a range of topics and as a build-up to the big night, newspapers, magazines and department stores provide riddles to solve.
Catriona did what everyone else did. The go is to put your name and a wish on a lantern of your choice and wait to see if it comes true. Lanterns are released at random all day long and they drift to the heavens so your prayers can be answered. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. It means we are facing economic downturn all over the world, and the ox, or water buffalo in Taiwan, needs to work harder than ever. The buffalo lantern at the festival Catriona attended was the grandest of all. It was 18m high and hundreds of lights helped it shine the brightest.
The country is lit with LED lights and there are laser shows and fireworks exploding into the sky.
The area Catriona visited has a deep valley location and has a higher rainfall than anywhere else in Taiwan. It doesn't stop anyone. Last year 200,000 people descended on the tiny town for the festival.
Expert lantern makers can produce a lantern in about 20 minutes. The biggest lantern ever was made in 2000. It was six storeys high. That was the last one of such magnitude. It landed on someone's house and they sued, so size limits are now in place!
Yilan, a rural village outside Taiwan's capital, Taipei.
Thursday 21-May-2009 Episode: Taroko Gorge
It's interesting that the beauty of the area has been known to the indigenous population for thousands of years. Now tourists are enthusiastic about learning of its culture and traditions.
While it's only about a four–hour drive from Taipei, there is too much to enjoy to make it a day trip, so think about setting aside a couple of days to explore. Taroko Gorge is on the eastern side of Taiwan, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges. It has hundreds of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from leisurely strolls to serious treks.
One the easiest and most beautiful, Shakadang Trail is a 4.4km walk which cuts into the gorge cliff face. A stream runs along a narrow river valley and turquoise water from marble stones flows year round. It's a branch of the Liwu River which cut though rock layers 9 million years old to carve the gorge.
"Shakadang" is an indigenous word for "molar tooth". Many were found when the path was being made by the Japanese and the indigenous people believed the teeth belonged to their ancestors.
Leader Village Hotel
Designed as a small tribal village with indigenous-style cabins, Leader Village is perched at the half-way point of the park. Cabins are double — or larger — with thick mattresses on raised wooden floors. Lamps and paintings are handmade by locals, and the staff members are descended from the Taroko tribe. You can sit on the porch and enjoy the scenery and peace of the mountains and at night, the stargazing plaza has heavenly sky views.
Dinner could be betel-nut soup with pork, wild boar, mountain chicken with ginger and homemade millet wine. Bulowan performances demonstrate culture, musical instruments and dance.
Tunnel of Nine Turns
The tunnel was constructed in the early 1990s and was diverted to leave the most scenic section open to walkers. There are beautiful rock folds, joints and marble cliffs formed over the course of tens of thousands of years of erosion.
It was hand built by thousands of soldiers and "nine" doesn't really mean the number of tunnels. In Chinese it can simply mean "many". In some places the marble walls are so close together just a thin line of daylight is visible.
Eternal Springs Shrine
The shrine commemorates the 212 military veterans who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway. It has been rebuilt three times because of rockslides and storm damage.
It sits on a steep cliff overlooking the Liwu River above a rushing waterfall fed by springs that never dry. Combined with its classic Chinese-style pavilions it presents fantastic photo opportunities.
In 1987 the cliff by the rivers collapsed and destroyed the pavilion next to the shrine. After 10 years it was restored and is now open to the public again. The stairs behind the shrine take you to Guanyin Cave and Changuang Temple. The bell and drum towers above the shrine welcome the new dawn everyday.
From Tiansiang you can see Siangde Temple on a plateau across the river. Surrounded by mountains, it looks like nine lotuses so it's known as the Jiuhuashan (Nine Lotus) of Taiwan. Since vehicles can't reach the Buddhist temple, it's a very peaceful place. Visitors need to walk across the Pudu Bridge and walk up steps. A round trip takes about 50 minutes. Light vegetarian food is available.
Taroko Gorge in the north-east of Taiwan.
First stop Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. She discovered a vibrant city with all the exciting elements of Asia.
Taipei is on the northern tip of the island, and while it is chaotic and crowded, it is clean, efficient and intriguing. Finding your way around is not hard — public transport is cheap and reliable and heads to all the main attractions.
For so long Taiwan has been overshadowed by China, its nearest and very powerful neighbour. While they split in 1949, China still claims sovereignty.
The country is a melting pot of cultures with its indigenous people, southern Fujianese from early China, Hakka immigrants, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and recent immigrants from mainland China. They have successfully blended and are extremely friendly and hospitable people.
Officially Taipei International Financial Centre 101, this 508m-tall building will hold the title of world's tallest building until Burj Dubai is completed. Pressure-controlled lifts travel at 17m a second and it takes just 37 seconds to get from ground level to the 89th floor observation deck.
Unfortunately, Catriona struck a cloudy day, but if you plan your visit on a clear day you will have fantastic 360-degree views of the city and mountains. Stop for a meal at one of the restaurants on the 85th floor or visit the basement food court. The lower five floors have swanky shopping malls and banks, a convenient combination!
National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall
This 25-hectare green escape in the centre of the city is well worth a visit. See the Memorial Hall (formerly known as the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in honour of the former dictator president), National Theatre and National Concert Hall. A museum on the Hall's ground floor is dedicated to Chiang's life with military uniforms, medals, paintings, manuscripts and two gigantic black, bulletproof Cadillacs.
The grand plazas and gardens are loved by locals and are used for shows, fairs, public activities and folk performances. Visitors climb two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps (Chiang's age when he died) to the main entrance. They are met by a 16m-tall, 75-tonne bronze statue of Chiang, smiling and seated and wearing traditional Chinese dress. Try to time your visit to see the daily changing of the guard.
All of the well-known hotel chains are represented in Taipei, but the daddy of them all if the Grand Hotel. The Chinese-style high-rise across the Keelung River is a 1970s reconstruction of the original 1952 building and was built at the suggestion of Chaing's wife, Soong May-ling. It's all vermilion pillars and stately archways with spacious rooms decorated in the old-style Chinese way. It hosts many political leaders and is equipped with escape tunnels, just in case.
Each of the eight levels represents a different Chinese dynasty with appropriate murals and décor. The presidential suite has pieces owned by the Chiangs. Elsewhere in the hotel are objets d'art, wall panels, paintings and carvings. It truly is a showplace.
There are eight in-house restaurants, driving range, tennis courts, pool, fitness centre and sauna.
Taiwan has more than 5000 temples, more per capita than anywhere else in the world. But Longshan is one of the oldest — dating to 1738 — and is the largest and most beautiful. Religious life is very important and it is not unusual for families to be split into devotees of Buddhism or Confucianism.
Many people go to Longshan Temple for answers to weighty questions. They gather in the courtyard to burn incense and cast red, crescent-shaped pieces of wood to help determine their fortunes. If you visit at 6am, 8am or 4pm you will see worshippers and hear their hypnotic chanting.
Villa 32 Hot Springs
Natural hot springs have lured people as far back as the country's Japanese period. Beitou has many options with springs ranging between 55-58°C. They range from simply soaking your feet in roadside creeks to glamorous baths in resorts. The sulphuric waters are said to heal skin ailments.
Villa 32 has tow ultramodern Japanese tatami suites and three elegant Western rooms, all with private hot-spring baths. Open-air public baths overlook the mist-covered Yangming Mountain. Spa treatments include massages on heated tables that warm bodies between pre- and post-treatment plunges.
Outdoor pools with different temperatures are shielded by wooden awnings. Rent a private room or bath with others in the outdoor pools separated by gender. Villa 32 has a policy of restricting children under the age of 16 from the site.
Five Dime Restaurant
Eating out is a favourite pastime in Taipei and Five Dime is a quirky and imaginative tree-house style restaurant of sprayed concrete, driftwood and clay sculptures. It's the work of local artist Hsieh Li-Hsiang whose work is reminiscent of that of Spain's Antoni Gaudi.
It could be the wackiest restaurant you've ever been to but food is well recommended and it's not expensive. Choose between Chinese, Japanese and western dishes.
Shilin Night Market
The king of Taipei's night markets, as soon as the sun sets, this place turns into a frantic buzz of food and shopping and even games of skill. Food is cheap and delicious and servings generous. People queue for Shanghai fried buns, filled with vegetables or meat. Also very popular is pearl milk tea, made with tapioca.
Don't be overwhelmed by the size of the market; it's alley after alley of shops, many with identical stock, so competition is great. Bargaining is expected and Catriona has offered a couple of phonetic ways that may help with your bartering. "Kachoy, kachoy" for "cheaper, cheaper", "batoi, batoi" for "please please" and finish off with "hola. hola" for "okay, okay".
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