Brr…it’s a bone chilling -13 Celsius in Hokkaido right now. こんにちは! We’re here on our annual overseas trip and decided to book a room in a classic Japanese ryokan complete with kaiseki dinner for the first night. It’s been snowing non-stop since we arrived and the fresh powder makes it hard to walk around. I neglected to bring proper cold weather boots but at least my parka is very warm.
It’s interesting to hear that getting a voice SIM card is practically impossible in Japan. You need to be a resident in order to get one. However, we managed to get a data SIM from the airport. Yup, you can buy almost anything from a vending machine in the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s JPY 3,000 (about RM 110) for 1 GB.
Another thing I love about Japan is that their combini (convenience stores) have a wide range of interesting and unusual snacks and food items. I have been to many 7-Eleven (called 7 & i Holdings here) and Lawson stores while we were here. It’s not very hard when you can find more than one in a block. I have taken to eating the onigiri when I want a quick bite.
Oh, and the density of vending machines is mind-boggling too. There’s more than two per city block as well and they pop up at the most random places. Here’s the one below our apartment in Hokkaido. You can get both hot AND cold drinks from them.
My favorite is corn pottage!
(Yup, you can get savory drinks in cans here)
It’s still winter in Sapporo and the temperatures frequently drop below zero. The highest was -3 degrees Celsius and the lowest was -16 degrees Celsius when we arrived. That means the weather didn’t breach 0 degrees Celsius the entire day, needless to say a positive number! We’re having a lot of fun though, there’s nothing quite like having a hot onsen bath outdoors while the snow falls on you.
Sun Link Sea is a large highland forest park located 1,600 meters above sea level in Nantou. It’s also known as Shanlinshi (杉林溪) and a very welcome respite from the heat of Taiwan. You know the song that goes Alishan di gu nian? It’s an ancient tune that describes the virtues of the maidens of Alishan, one of the handful of Chinese songs I know.
You can actually reach Alishan from Sun Link Sea Forest and Nature Resort – it’s on the way as you pass by Xitou, and there’s a footpath you can walk though. That’s what makes Shanlinshi so popular with day trippers. The air is so fresh and cool that you feel invigorated just from breathing it in.
It was around 18 degrees Celsius when we arrived, the temperature dropped even further at night, so you might need a coat if you’re sensitive to chilly environments. It’s like Cameron Highlands, but a lot colder.
Despite having a reputation as an overnight destination before people go to Alishan mountain resort, there are a lot of things to do here and the food is great! You can reach Shanlinshi from Sun Moon Lake in 1 1/2 hours. We stayed at the Sun Link Sea Hotel – the fresh air paired with the cool temperature (it was in the low teens) made everything better. The Nantou area is also famous for their tea.
There is a lovely botanical garden here. You can see butterflies fluttering around the flowers as well as various specimens of strange and interesting plants, including a flower that grows in the middle of a leaf:
Fascinating, eh? It starts out as a seed and becomes a bud before it blossoms.
There are two waterfalls at Sun Link Sea (it’s actually a corruption/Romanization of Shanlinshi) which I affectionately dub the twin dragons. They are Chinglong Waterfall (青龍瀑布 or Green Dragon Waterfall) and Songlong Rock Waterfall (松龍岩瀑布 or Pine Dragon Rock Waterfall). You’ll see Songlong Rock Waterfall first, and see it you must, for it’s the *most beautiful* sight in Sun Link Sea!
Songlong Rock Waterfall looks like a scene that came out of a postcard. It’s a picture perfect sight with the mist and spray from the waterfall framing the stones in the middle of the lake. This is the start of a long nature trail – you can go to the higher Chinglong Waterfall, the stark Shui Yang Forest, and the curious Tien Ti Yen as well as a variety of other natural attractions from 1-4 hours.
However, if you don’t have time, you can just do the circular route that brings you into the hole in the middle of the mountain (a little like Tian Ti Yen, the Heaven and Earth Eyes which are depressions in face) and back out. The photo op from here is magnificent since the recess allows for high contrast photos with reflections.
The steps can be a little slippery here though. The dripping is caused by water coming down from high up the mountain. I nearly slipped and faceplanted once while attempting to take a photo.
You can also come back via the stepping stones but only if you’ve been religiously following your daily recommended intake of calcium since slipping would be a little disastrous here. Heh.
There are a lot of cultural totems here too, and you can see stars at night due to the elevation and lack of light and pollution. I enjoyed my time in Sun Link Sea, if you’re heading to Alishan, you might want to consider dropping by to check out the unique and beautiful gifts of nature here.
Oh, before I forget, let me do an introduction. This breathtaking carving of rock hard wood was erected here as a symbol of fertility by Taiwanese aboriginals.
This was one of the places I was looking forward to visiting in Taiwan. I’ve heard much about the Taiwanese aborigines, although I’m only familiar with the Amis and wanted to know more about them. It turned out to the one of the highlights of my trip!
I can’t say it’s THE HIGHLIGHT of my trip since it’s just my second day in Taiwan but I was totally blown away by the Amis performance. It’s a courtship ritual dance and it starts with the girls slowly trooping down from the back of the open courtyard to meet in the middle with their male counterparts.
You won’t regret watching this 5 minute video coz I certainly was very proud of being in the right place at the right time at the right angle to capture everything from beginning till end.
Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village is actually a theme park that has several components to it – there’s literally something for everyone, from the European Village to the Amusement Isle, which is an amusement park and waterpark rolled into one. It’s like having multiple attractions and rides that appeals to both young and old in one place.
That’s exactly what it is – a place for everyone. Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village opened in 1986 and is originally a cultural village for people to observe and experience a Taiwanese traditional tribal lifestyle. That was why I wanted to go. It expanded to be a lot more than that to capture a larger audience for just NTD 780 (about RM 100) for adults, which gives you access to everything.
There was an actual, real-life Amis woman who dressed up and gave us a commentary throughout the day. I thought that was awesome, coz she spoke English well and she was a veritable fountain of knowledge. Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village actually has two places that tells the history of the Taiwanese aboriginals via rides.
The first is at Dynamic Movie and called Time Travel – Discovering Sun Moon Lake. This is one of those motion 3D simulators which has intense levels of gyro action and alarming tilts. It’s fully animated and it’s a production that’s completely done in Taiwan! Stuff like this is usually imported, so a locally made rendering makes it all the more meaningful and it tells the story well – just more geared towards the younger ones.
The other is a beautiful medley of theatre and interactive elements called ILLUSION FUSION. The show started with two girls coming together…
…and segues into a man shooting down the sun (more about that later), people chasing a white deer etc.
It’s The Origins of Taiwan in abstract form and I think theatre lovers would totally dig it.
I really enjoyed it but I wouldn’t have understood the symbolism if I hadn’t watched Discovering Sun Lake Moon earlier. You can say both serves their purpose, I would definitely go for the 3D motion simulator first to get the mythology straight before delving into the heavier Illusion Fusion.
There are a lot of roller-coasters and water slides around but I skipped all that to delve into the proper Taiwanese aboriginal history. Yup, even UFO Adventures, Taiwan’s tallest free-fall ride at 85 meters.
There was a poll on who wanted to go and I went for Taiwan’s first cable car system instead, the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. The significance of this cable car is in the name – you actually descend down (or up, depending on where you’re coming from) to the aforementioned lake.
The legend about how Taiwan started goes like this. There was a group of hunters who saw a white deer and wanted to kill it, chasing it to Sun Moon Lake. However, they didn’t catch it but they settled down here instead. These were the original inhabitants of Taiwan – the Amis and other Taiwanese aboriginals.
It was nice to see the beautiful blue lake and you can even go on boat rides if you want.
There was also a ceremony where we were blessed with fire and had to “jump” over a flaming pit to get rid of bad luck, the traditional Taiwan aboriginal way.
I love the interactive portions, I did it twice, once for real and once for the camera…does that mean I reversed my good luck?
The Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Museum was very interesting too – everything has both Chinese and English descriptions, even the digital screens, so I could understand the history and culture behind the Taiwanese original inhabitants.
They also own the largest collection of real Paiwan status wood lintels in Taiwan! It’s quite impressive to see all the ancient artefacts and learn about the culture of the 19 recognized tribes of Aboriginals.
I decided to spend more time at the actual Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village and caught a couple of shows, including the natives’ flagship song. Naruwan actually means “Hello“. You’ll hear this multiple times as the people there greet you in this format.
Try and catch all the performances if you can, they’re the best thing about this place. I managed to get involved in an impromptu dance where a Taiwanese girl came over to grab my hand to join the circle of dancers.
I was trying to get the dance right, kicking and switching stances when prompted when one of the guys (who really is a Bunun – one of the Aboriginal people of Taiwan) handed me a drink. It was their version of fermented rice wine and I drank it. Surprisingly fruity, it was good. I was wondering why they didn’t grab children to join in the dances until I realized it was alcohol. Haha!
That was a lot of fun and it made for a great photo op – thanks to the resident Amis for taking the photos. I highly recommend coming if you love visiting a country to learn more about the cultural elements. :)
Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village
555, Nantou County, Yuchi Township
Nantou County, Taiwan
This is the traditional 您好 post that I make each time I visit a new country. I arrived late at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan and all of us made the 1 1/2 hour drive down to Taichung. I was quite surprised to see that the airport had an excellent feature – video cameras pointing towards the people exiting (on both sides) so you have visuals of arrivals.
I have been to quite a lot of countries and never seen this feature – Australia, New Zealand and Europe (from England to Georgia – the places I’ve been to anyway) don’t have this. It’s very nifty, you can see the faces of people coming out on a big screen on both flanks with overlapping coverage.
I tried to get something from the vending machine too. I like to check out the vending machines in places I go to, every country has something different. Unfortunately, all I had was notes (it’s coin/smartphone only) and I didn’t want to keep everyone waiting so we made the long drive down to Yamay for the night.
I’m staying at Fullon Hotel Yamay in Taichung. It’s a good thing that everything has been arranged in this trip. I would have to book hotels otherwise, which is a constant source of stress, as my better half can tell you. I ponder excessively over what hotels to stay in. You can compare hotel rates and find cheaper deals though the HotelsCombined search engine before planning your holidays. I just found out about it and it automatically checks prices at several of the popular hotel booking sites to see which offers the best deal!
My room has an awesome view too!
Next up was dinner – it was pretty awesome, first meal in Taiwan and we had a 12 course veritable feast. Delicious!
I’ll post more about the trip soon. Taiwan has great free WiFi coverage in most major cities and that’s how I’m able to post this. Check out my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for live updates!
It’s like a mini vacation of sorts where we mostly chilled in the room.
I think the only thing we ate was this Thai Green Curry Chicken with Rice Vermicelli that you dip into the creamy curry.
…and mango with sticky rice. The mango was unripe and has practically no taste at all though.
I did eat again later last night though – noticed I was getting really tired with low blood sugar so walked out and went to the closest place to get something to eat. Beef lasagna of all things. She doesn’t eat beef so I reckon I’ll eat as much of it when I’m alone.
She did leave some the clothes she was wearing yesterday though.
I noticed that only one side has been slept on. Haha! That was where we were and when she left I slept on that side too. You smell nice. :)
Jony’s Boracay’s Original & Famous Fruit Shakes. Well, that’s what it says on the signboard anyway. Heh. Jonah’s Fruitshakes is the original place to go if you’re craving for a mango fruit shake, spawning a host of imitators, usually with variations on the name like Jony’s, Jody’s etc.
Note the slight difference in spelling?
That’s how it works in Boracay, I saw 3 (!!!) different Yellow Cab Pizza while I was there too. The above is the original. There’s also a hilarious one which dubs itself Tapsi Cab (with similar font and colors) which is basically run out of someone’s house, but it actually served pretty decent burgers at a really cheap price.
…so who cares, as long as it’s good? :D
Back to Jony’s Fruit Shakes, it’s part of Jony’s Beach Resort and it’s located at Point 1 at White Beach. It’s actually a pretty nice place to chill and enjoy the sea breeze. They also serve food from different parts of the Philippines as well.
It’s rather overpriced and commercialized (saw a huge group of Chinese tourists come in) but I reckon that’s the price you pay () in places like Boracay – which was why I avoided the overrated and over-mentioned Ibu Oka franchise in Bali and asked in Denpasar for place where the locals go for babi guling instead.
The restaurant attached to Jony’s Fruit Shakes is called Maya’s and I would give it a wide berth if I were you. The food is very mediocre and there are better choices around for the equivalent of RM 25-30 per dish restaurants. Go for the shakes, not the food.
Crispy Fried Tilapia
This comes with 3 dipping sauces and is from the Luzon area. It’s pretty good – freshly fried and crispy, bit it’s the dip that makes the dish work…and seafood in Boracay is super fresh!
Adobong Native na Manok
I actually wanted goat kalderatta (a Panay dish of goat stewed in coconut wine) but they ran out of that, so I went for this one instead. It’s supposed to be a festive local dish of chicken simmered in soy sauce, spices and vinegar with organic chicken liver mousse.
I was really hungry then so it tasted good but in hindsight it’s really below average and quite forgettable. Except for the chicken liver mousse. That is superb!
…now for the shakes!
Just look at the sheer variety they have to offer. You can custom make it yourself too – simply request for the stuff you want and they’ll mix it for you.
This is a Mango, Pineapple and Banana fruit shake. PHP 100.
It’s really good. The tart and sweet mango is balanced by the smooth banana and pineapple lends a tang to it. The shakes costs about RM 8-10 each, depending on what you want.
Bananatella fruit shake. I don’t even know if this can be called a “fruit shake” anymore. Heh. It’s a mixture of bananas and Nutella! Now, isn’t that awesome!
I really loved the fruit shakes at Jony’s but you’ll have to drink it really, really fast. I really don’t know if Jonah’s is better, but Jony’s does an awesome fruit shake! It’s wonderfully thick and difficult to suck up the straw at first but that’s the optimum time to drink it coz the minute ice particles inside will dilute the drink down as time progresses.
It’s subject to entropy as all things are. ;)
Drink up as soon as you’re served! It’s loaded with calories and sinfully delicious, but it’s also sensational – a sublime beach drink. :D
I recently read a review from Globo Surf and based on the reviews I went helmet diving in Boracay and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my Boracay trip! Heh. I’ve seen it being offered in other places with names like sea walking or reef walking but never got around to doing it.
It’s quite an interesting experience – there are various touts independent tour operators offering helmet diving at White Beach. We were approached by one while having the famous shakes at Jony’s with Xinxian and managed to bargain it down to PHP 800 for two, which works out to 400 pesos per person (about RM 30).
Helmet diving is called such because there’s a really long hose connecting the helmet to the oxygen tanks on top.
The journey started with a short speedboat trip to a floating sea platform on the Bulabog Beach side of the island.
The floating sea platform is where the entire operation is done. It’s anchored to a prime spot in the ocean and there’s an area at the sea bed where you can roam around.
We were briefed by the guide on how the basics of reef walking and I have to admit, I didn’t listen to half of what he said. Posed photo.
I was walking around instead and it’s quite interesting to see the locally made reef walking helmets. These are not the Sea Trek/Seawalker helmet diving systems but jury rigged ones made to resemble them. The helmets have clear glass plates so you can see out and you can breathe normally while you’re underwater.
The experience is totally unlike scuba diving, but it has to be performed by someone who has dive instructor courses. You descend down the ladder while the helmet is fitted over you by someone on the platform. The ladder goes down 10 – 15 feet to the bottom of the sea and you get to walk around and look at the corals and feed the fishes.
Helmet diving allows you to actually reach inside the helmet so you can equalize the pressure in your ears if you need to. I can do it without pinching my nose but I made the mistake of wiping the glass inside the screen, which made it fog up – you can see half of my face is obscured in the underwater photos. :)
There’s also a scuba diver that takes shots and videos for you. I didn’t realize the guy was taking a video so I posed for a photo instead and wondered what was taking him so long. Haha!
You have pieces of bread to feed the fish and you get to spend 15 minutes at the sea bed watching and touching the fishes. I quite enjoyed it – the only thing that bothered me was that the homemade helmets tend to drift away if you’re not holding on to it.
I would have thought the water pressure is enough to keep it in place but the current will shift it around. The guide told us to keep one hand on it. You can take your hands off for a while if you’re standing perfectly still but once you move, you’ll have to hang on to your helmet. Heh.
Despite that minor design issue, helmet diving is quite fun! I didn’t think it would be after scuba diving but I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying the time reef walking on the sea bed and exploring the marine life. It’s a totally different experience.
I wish we had more time underwater instead of just 15 minutes and before long we had to climb up the ladder back to the platform. The CD with the photos and videos were ready by the time we were up there. Helmet diving might be commercialized and scuba divers might scoff at the restricted movement (the hose limits where you can go) but it’s still a lot of fun.
I had a blast and I’ll recommend it if you come across it – helmet diving is a totally different experience altogether and I’m really glad I tried it! :D
Banh cuon is a term used to describe rice flour rolls in Vietnam. I was wondering along the streets of Hanoi when I decided to pop into a street stall to try one of their offering. I don’t quite remember where this was as I was just walking along and taking in the culture but it was really good.
The Northern part of Vietnam (including Hanoi) has a slightly different varient of Banh cuon. It’s a “rolled cake” which contains pork, shrimp herbs and rice vermicelli wrapped in rice paper.
You can see them prepare it fresh right in front of you!
This version also has a healthy sprinkling of pork floss on top and it’s served with a dipping sauce which has lime, sugar and fish sauce called Nuoc cham.
It costs VND 15,000 for a plate (about RM 2.40) for a plate of four rolls and unsweetened iced tea is on the house.
I love the yin and yang concept of Vietnamese cuisine – they always have raw vegetables and herbs to complement the dish.
The dipping sauce is something awesome too. I ate it without the dipping sauce first but with the nuoc cham it makes it all the more better. Street food FTW in Vietnam!
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is one of the places you must go to when you’re in Hanoi, Vietnam. The show costs VND 60,000 (about RM 10) and it lasts about 45 minutes but it’s well worth it. It might sound like a commercialized show to catch and it probably is, but it also gives you a dose of culture.
Water puppet performances started back in the days when Hanoi had periodic floods during the monsoon season. The preamble to the show states that the farmers started this as entertainment during those times and thus, most of the themes reflect life as peasants – agriculture, fishing, and the odd folk tales thrown in.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre show can be pretty packed so I bought my tickets a day earlier so I can get good seats. Photos and videos are allowed – they use an honor system where you declare and pay to use your camera but no one bothered (which won’t be surprising considering most are backpackers) so I didn’t either.
I also met this solo traveller from Australia who told me she managed to get a room for USD 7 not far from the theatre. It comes with toothpaste and soap to boot, something I paid triple for but I can’t remember the name of the hotel for the life of me.
Anyway, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre starts with a classic orchestra playing traditional instruments at the side. These people also double as the narrator and singers during the show.
The puppets that they use ranges from huge two foot boats to small balls but it was so well choreographed that you’ll be surprised that it can be done from behind a bamboo veil.
Funny fishing puppetry
Harvest Festival. A story about a student returning after graduation with themes of filial gratitude.
Legend of the Restored Sword is a myth about King Le Loi who triumphed over the Ming invaders with a magic sword and him returning it back to a giant golden turtle.
Master of Puppets!
They manipulate the puppets from behind and this is their encore!
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is pretty interesting – you can see most of the footage here but it’s well worth a visit for the ambiance.
Okay, this is a rather ill conceived idea that got into my head ever since the mangrove tour guide guy told me the water was 5-6 meters deep from the individual water chalets. I’ve done cliff jumping in Ton Sai and bff Lainey knew that I was gonna do this from the way I pondered and reccied the exit points.
There is an emergency ladder system about 100 meters from our water chalet and to be safe I deployed the life buoy (standard in each chalet). I didn’t know how deep the water was or whether there are any rocks under it so I needed the life buoy as insurance just in case I jumped into rocks and can’t resurface.
I must let it go on record that this is not recommended at all! It was a lot of fun for me but the water at high tide is only 1 meter deep (!!!). It’s a good thing the bottom is sand or else I’ll be in a shitload of trouble from jumping from the balcony into the sea.
The video is funny from bff’s commentary and how I kena tiu by the security guard when I appeared seemingly out of nowhere…in my briefs.