Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hsiao Liuchiu Island

This past weekend Erin and I took a trip out of Kaohsiung to Taiwan's only coral island, Hsiao Liuchiu.  Located just south of Kaohsiung it is made entirely of coral and provided a wonderful getaway.

We asked one of the school office staff, Ellen, to help us make arrangements earlier in the week.  She was able to get us an all-inclusive deal which included one night's stay, dinner, breakfast the next day, 24-hour scooter rental, and round-trip ferry tickets.  This made things much easier then trying to figure all of it out on our own.

However, there was still some difficulty getting to the island.  We started by taking the MRT subway down to the airport, from there we hoped to catch a taxi down to the ferry.  Unfortunately the driver didn't understand what we meant and we had to call Ellen to have her explain.  Finally we made it to the dock and after waiting awhile got on the ferry for the 30 minute trip to the island.  On arrival we were happy to find someone waiting for us who got us a scooter and led us to our hotel.

We were soon cruising around the island on our scooter enjoying the warm sea breeze.  Before long we found a nice harbor with a beach to enjoy our packed lunch.  It was really nice to just sit back and relax while listening to the waves lap at the shore.  After lunch we were back on the scooter down to the "Black Devil Cave".  The ominously named cave had many people backing out after getting halfway in and realizing they needed a flashlight to see (us included).  Crawling through the dark, narrow confines was exciting, but certainly wouldn't be for everyone.  After the cave we took to cruising around the island some more and checking out the local scenery.  We quickly passed by fishing ports, interesting rock/coral formations, and even a stage with a live play on the side of the road.

Back at our hotel we found a bench overlooking the ocean where we sat and relaxed for several hours.  It was nice to just look out over the sea while the sun slowly set.  For dinner one of the hotel staff led us into town at what must have been a sister establishment.  The food was good with plenty of variety.  Being downtown we went to check out a bar we had seen earlier.  Though not much more than a shack, the Deep Soul Bar had a nice outdoor area decorated with driftwood, some good mellow music, and tasty drinks.

On Sunday we found a path to hike partway around the island.  There weren't many people allowing us to leisurely enjoy the jungle and caves that we found.  Afterwards we spent some time on the beach so Erin could look for more shells.  We were soon back in town enjoying fried rice and smoothies for lunch.  It was getting time to head back home though so we took one more ride around the island before grabbing our stuff and going back to the ferry dock.

With subway, taxi, and ferry it ended up taking us about two hours to get back home.  While this was somewhat exhausting and often confusing when dealing with the taxi drivers, I'm very glad we went.  The island was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and the food turned out to be really good.  What more can one ask for in a weekend getaway?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hot Springs and Hot Chocolate

Well, it's been a slow month for us as we've gotten back to work and used to the routine of life here. Things have been pretty good aside from a few weekend markets behind our building that play annoying music on repeat. Erin is as busy as ever with classes and the drama club while my work has been less demanding. It's given me more of an opportunity to focus on what we'll be doing when we return to the US this summer.

Last weekend we had planned a full itinerary in Taipei. While the rain and the cold kept us from doing some of it we still had a good time. We left Saturday late in the morning and after resolving my mistake at the hotel we were on our way to lunch at Ding Tai Fung, our favorite soup-dumpling place. In the same mall we were able to do some shopping for some western food that is hard to find in Kaohsiung. With the rain coming down we skipped our plan of a hike and instead went to see a movie. We finished the night with some drinks and bar food at Gordon Birsch.

The next morning we slept in before having a delicious breakfast at our hotel. We were relaxing back in our room when we started to notice some of the hangers shaking.  Turns out there had been an earthquake on the southern part of the island.  It had been strong enough to feel in Taipei, but hadn't done any more damage then a little bit of grout falling out of our shower tiles back at home.

We soon made our way out by the MRT to Beitou in the north part of the city. There we found a nice landscape and wonderful park based on existing hot springs. After walking up some narrow streets we came to the spa recommended in our book only to find it demolished. Nearby though we found another place called "Poetry in the Woods". Though it looked nice, the price and the setup made it not for us. After more looking we finally found a spa that we liked. Thankfully it had stopped raining and we were able to enjoy the hot springs for a little while before moving on.

Beitou was a nice setting and we would like to return one of these weekends, but we were on a mission to get some hot chocolate. In Danshui, a city/suburb by the coast there is a place called "In Joy Chocolate" that serves the best hot chocolates we've ever had. They treat their hot chocolate like wine with a care for the varieties found from different parts of the world. The result is a pot of hot chocolate that we were willing to brave the renewed rain to get. They also make some good waffles and have a cozy cat-themed place.

We finally made our way back down to Kaohsiung after a ride on the train Sunday night. We had apparently brought the cold down with us, but it was okay. The hot springs and hot chocolate had warmed us up and gave us the needed reprieve from our routine.