Friday, March 31, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Taiwan Retrospective

We are still in the middle of making the transition to our new locale, Bali, Indonesia. It's a real big change. Indonesia, even a tourist mecca like Bali, is definitely developing world. So as I did with Japan, I'd like to capture our thoughts about Taiwan.
  • Overall, I think we agree, this has been the favorite place we've visited in Asia so a long shot.
  • It is probably important to distinguish between Taipei and the rest of the country. We were only in two cities - Taipei and the very tourist driven town of Hualien. It would be a mistake I think to judge the entire country by Taipei.
  • Taipei is clearly a modern, cosmopolitan place. Super easy to get around - the Metro, the buses. Hualien was by contrast clearly more like other places we've seen in Asia. As we spent a full week in Taipei and only two days in Hualien and those booked with full day tours, I think our data sample may be too limited to draw conclusive conclusions about the whole of the country.
  • I don't think Wife or I have found a friendly place than Taiwan and Taipei in particular. People would often see you struggling or looking at a map (like when we were going to National Palace Museum) and would say, in English, go down there and take Bus # xxx. We had so many positive interactions with people of all kinds. It was really a pleasure.
  • Taipei doesn't have a reputation for being a tourist hot spot. But gee, we were there 6 days and we didn't get to everything we wanted to see.
  • Like Japan, the hotels had  good sized rooms, lots of high pressure hot water, good bathrooms, blazing fast Internet in most of the hotels. US hotels are a disgrace in that regard.
  • Eating in general was much easier for us than Japan. They also use the ubiquitous 'BBQ sauce' on all kinds of things especially stuff you get at the night market or streets. But the Taiwanese version doesn't have the dashi/fish stock component as was more palatable to us. 
  • As most Taiwanese/Chinese restaurants have a section of vegetables, we were always able to get those as part of our meal and be closer to our ideal diet. 
  • It was still somewhat of a crap shoot as to what we were getting sometimes. We went to this one place where the English translations was "Southern Fried Chicken" with a picture of a whole chicken leg. What came out was a plate of thin sliced meat that seemed braised. Say what????
  • Getting fish, especially whole fish, was always a winner with the fish being very fresh.
  • Prices seemed a bit higher than Japan but maybe that was we were in Taipei (as we won't get to Tokyo until the end of the trip, I will wait to pass final judgment to compare apples to apples)
  • This was not a ideal time of year for photography. It is very hazy. When we go back (and I suspect we will go back) it will probably be in October/November.
  • Credit card use was much less available than in Japan. For example in Japan all the big convenience stores (7-11, Family Mart, Circle K) which are big in both countries, take credit cards. None did in Taiwan. 
  • Our one experience with the train system (going to and from Hualien) was okay. Not as good as Japan but then there is not a high-speed train on the route we took. 
All in all, we loved Taiwan and are seriously thinking this is on our short list of countries we want to go back to.

Asia Mega Tour II - Some Taiwanese Video Catch-Up

Taiwanese Video Catch-up - not some form of strange fish based condiment - though it would be cool if it was 😜

No the Hotel Cosmos (which things very highly of itself) didn't have as good of an internet as everywhere else we stayed in Japan and Taiwan so I wasn't able to get three videos posted from our last day in Taiwan.
Review - The East Coast

Review - The cool geological place on the beach

New and Exclusive - Only on de-Intimidator!!!!!
Absolute Required for Survival in Taiwan

You see this
 And this!
But these stills don't fill you with that desire.
This does!

It is the All-Taiwanese advertising symbol for BETEL NUT RETAILERS! 
And you thought, "de-I if I go to Taiwan like you want me to, where the heck am I going to get my betel nut fix?"
Silly person. This is Taiwan. This is a first world country. You will me that far from someone who can sell you a nice wad of betel nut.

Just don't look for the underage, sexy clad betel nut sales girls. That practice has been outlawed and replaced by the flashing light signs.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - In Transit...Bali High!

Yesterday was spent primarily in transit. No not primarily...singularly and exclusively in transit.

We had a 10 AM flight out of Taipei Tanyuan Airport to get to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. It is 5:15 hour flight. There was little traffic on the highway but the airport was a zoo. The check in lines for EVA Airlines were incredibly long. Thankfully they are a Star Alliance partner and I, as an exulted  Star Alliance Gold Member for Life (all the wars with the Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel paid off!), get all kinds of privileges. In fact the privileges are better on the partner airlines than they are on my home airline, United. One is a separate check-in line that was probably only 10% the length of the other line.

Then we went and went through the longest line waiting for security I've ever encountered. It wound all through the terminal. A guy ahead of us flew a lot on EVA and said he'd never seen anything like. Despite the long line, it ended up only taking 40 minutes to get through and we had plenty of time to got to the EVA Lounge (another perk of Star Alliance Gold) where they had an amazing buffet.

A note on carry-on luggage. More and more airlines are getting extremely tough on the amount of carry on and are doing it in the form of weight restrictions. EVA is one. They also had a 7 kilo limit. But after our experience with JetStar Asia we had a plan. We move cameras and computers around temporarily, and then we move them back as soon as we have the 'you've passed the weigh in tag' successfully on the bags.

The flight was delayed because of a computer issue (once we were in the plane and pushed back) and then we were in a long line to actually take off, so the flight was almost 6 and a half hours long from time we boarded. We were close to the front of the plane and there was no one else arriving so we breezed through immigration and customs. We had a nasty surprise when we found we could not change our Taiwan Dollars into Indonesian Rupiah but there was an ATM.

Next followed a 3 hour drive with Bob of Bob's Tours, self-proclaimed best driver in Indonesia until we got to the villa we're renting. It was 8 PM. They had a meal ready for us. It is a beautiful place and I will have a more vivid description and pictures in the next post.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Further Down The Eastern Coast And Into The Riff Valley

We took our second all day tour from Hualien yesterday. It took us further south along the coast then over the Coastal Range and back up through the Riff Valley that stretches for about 115 miles north to south along the Eastern part of the country and is the boundary between the Philippine plate and the Eurasian plate. On the East side of the valley is the Coastal Mountains and and the West side is the Central Mountains.
Let's get into the pictures

Sea Coast...Lots of Sea Coast

Eastern Riff Valley
No so much. The haze was terrible

More than you could shake a stick at (what the hell does that expression mean?)
Our guide took us to this place where there was a confluence of igneous (volcanic) activity along with the metamorphic activity of the two plates colliding causing some while rock formation.

There's all kinds of folding 
Odd rocks that were found in other media

And sedimentary rock
Plant life

 Photographer not happy to be caught in plant life
Anthropological study of a special species of Great Ape clambering on coastal outcrop.

Plant based dragon from park attached to local low security prison the prisoners maintain...I kid you not
A site dedicated to a former logging operation set up during the Japanese rule period that now focuses on returning good ecological practices to the forest. There were buildings that were restored and those that were original. And a lot of artwork done using the natural woood.

And finally

You know the term 'happy as a clam'?
Clearly here is the role model
Taiwan has a serious problem with wave misbehavior
Clearly groping between couples is a big problem

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II - Pictures From Taroko National Park And Eastern Coast

As I mentioned I took a butt ton of pictures. Wife's post does a much better job of describing exactly where we were. However, whereas she said she would not bore you with a all her pictures, I on the other hand have absolutely NO QUALM what so ever about boring you with all my pictures!!!!

Actually what I'd like to do is give you more of the feel of where we were.

The east coast of Taiwan drops precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. There are plateaus that jut out under the water after which there are steep drops. You can see this in the color of the water. The ocean is so dangerous on the east coast that swimming, diving, surfing have all been banned. The water also has the most amazing blue/blue-green color.

The effect of earthquakes and typhoons
This part of Taiwan gets more earthquakes than any other. It is right at the boundary were the Philippine and Eurasian plates are hitting. They also get hit by lots of powerful Pacific Typhoons. As a result road, bridges and tunnels are constantly having to be repaired and rebuilt.

Beautiful tunnel entrance
Made to replace one recently destroyed by landslide from Typhoon
New bridge that replaces bridge destroyed by earthquake

Indiana Wife and The Mountain Temple
Our intrepid photographer faces the death defying bridge
To make her way to the golden Bodhisattvas

And is finally rewarded
More temples and shrines in the gorge

This valley was once a much more gentle one but the extremely rapid up thrust of the mountain building has caused the river to carve almost straight down.
Trying to give you a sense of the depth of this place and its unique geology

And no post is complete without
In Asia one of the big problems in tourist sites is the hordes of East Asian tourists who insist on posing endlessly in front of the prime photo op sites either for their friends to take pictures of them doing stupid poses or they doing selfies of themselves. Thank goodness Taiwan has taken a stand against posing pollution as one can see from this NO POSING sign.