Saturday, 21 February 2015

Taipei Day Trip - Yehliu and Jiufen

Our last day in Taipei, we hired a cab driver to take us to the northern coast of the island to see the Yehliu Geopark with its strange eroded rock formations and to old town Jiufen, both worthwhile places to visit.  We found our cab driver on Tripadvisor - he was very prompt, friendly and charged a very reasonable rate.  Visiting the two places on the same day would have been impossible without a car and having a driver meant we didn't have to worry about parking at the very crowded Jiufen.  It was the most efficient way of touring these out of the way places.

We spent a few hours at Yehliu Geopark - there were lots to see but there were also lots of people. Considerable time was spent waiting for people to finish their various poses with each of the rock formations.  At the most famous one, the "Queen" (looked like the bust of Queen Nefertiti), there were long line ups to pose with it.  It was next to impossible to get a clean Queen profile.

Wind and water erosion created the strange formations at Yehliu.  The waves on this side of the Pacific were fierce and very impressive.

Perfect for Halloween!

The "Queen" 

I called this "the Hare and the Tortoise"

Two Hippos

Our driver took a detour to showed us these other strange rock formations at Nanya 

The Face

These are actually cemeteries on the hillside beside the highway - nice houses!

Golden Falls on the way to Jiufen

View of the Jiufen temple rooftop

This is an impressive "double-decker" temple 

Jiufen was a preserved old town built on a hill - somewhat like the old European hilltowns, but with a temple instead of a church on top.  The narrow streets were picturesque and packed with street food.  You could eat as you walk or you could take a break and sit down at one of these places.  It's dessert heaven.

One of my childhood favourites was peanuts in rice paper pancakes.  I've never tried it with ice cream before.  It was out-of-this world delicious.

Grilled squid

Soy/tea egss

Shark fish balls??

Carmen in Jiufen??

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Taipei - in the city

Public transit took us everywhere in the city when we visited Taipei in March, 2014.  It was so convenient and easy to use that we actually enjoyed travelling on it - it also gave us a better sense of the city and the people living there.  Apart from the trains being clean, the people on it were polite and respectful of people with grey hair.  Almost invariably, we were offered seats, even during the rush hour commute.  

We visited some of the touristy sights, including the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, watching the changing of the guards there and enjoying a beautiful calligraphy exhibit in the second floor gallery  - an unexpected treat, especially when one of the works was a treatise on Beethoven's 9th symphony, an unusual subject for Chinese calligraphy.  We visited a couple of temples, including the Confucian Temple and the adjacent Bao An Temple; strolled down ancient streets full of herbal stores in Dihua, a part of town that was undergoing restoration.  We had an opportunity to visit one of Asia's largest book stores, and took advantage of the cheap Taiwan postage to send home two boxes of books. That was a real treat! 

But the real purpose of our trip to Taiwan was to see the treasures of the National Palace Museum - treasures spanning 10,000 years of Chinese history, an important part of the imperial collection that had been transported to Taiwan with the Nationalist Government when they retreated from the Communist Army in China.  We had been warned about long lineups to see the famous jade cabbage and other noted treasures - we strategized and took advantage of a lunchtime break in the lineups to see the important pieces.  It was worth the trip.

National Palace Museum - a pilgrimage
Jadeite Cabbage (photo from Wikipedia) - one of the centrepieces of the collection in the National Palace Museum

The metro was above ground in some spots - a really nice way to travel across town.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall with 101 Taipei Financial Centre in the background.  We didn't visit the famous 101 which was apparently at one time the world's tallest.  It seemed quite ugly from a distance so there was no enticement to join the crowds.
Changing of the guards at the Memorial Hall
Dramatic entrance to the second floor art gallery

Calligraphy on Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Confucian Temple, supposedly modelled on the original Confucian Temple in Shangdong Province in China.

We were impressed by the students doing homework on the grounds

The main temple

Long corridors and roof tops with beautiful ceramic decorations

Carved stone pillar

Close to the Confucian Temple is another elaborately decorated temple, the Bao An Temple, founded in 1760 and underwent extensive restoration in the 1990's.  But I preferred the peace and quiet at the Confucian Temple...

Roof decorations on the Bao An Temple, founded in 1760

Dihua district with many restoration projects and as you can see, condos too
A street in Dihua full of herbal and dried goods stores - names that have been around for generations 

City God Temple on the same street - this one reminded me of a store more than a temple!

We found the flagship store of the famous Eslite Bookstore - miles and miles of books - reminded me of the former World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, which unfortunately is no more.  Eslite, though, is thriving with 48 branches in Taiwan and Hong Kong - likely due to the much lower cost of publishing and printing in this part of the world, not to mention cheap postage - a strong incentive for overseas orders. Browsing through the miles of books was restorative at the end of a long day of sightseeing.  We had to force ourselves to get up, finalize our purchases and have them sent home, making our way back to the hotel, dead tired but content.

Next post - Outside Taipei
and please checkout Foodsparks for Food in Taipei

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


A blur of bloody bull-fights and bumpy rides on the hydrofoil at sea and on pedicabs at night through the cobbled streets - that was all I remembered of a visit I made with my parents to Macau in the early sixties.  This day trip in March 2014 was an eye-opener. 

Overall I was impressed with the clean streets and historical buildings - the over 400 years of Portuguese colonization had definitely left its mark!  A Portuguese friend of mine who visited also remarked that it reminded her of Portugal.  The decorated pavement stones were an obvious legacy. Its charm is also in that curious mix of Chinese and Portuguese heritage as you can see from some of the photos below.  Historic sites were clearly marked and easily located.  We visited on foot, stayed away from the casinos and really enjoyed a stress-free day touring this remarkable former colony of Portugal, a short boat ride from Hong Kong.  Obviously there are a lot more to see than what we could cover in a short day.

Lisbon?  No, Senado Square in front of the former Legislative Assembly building - almost impossible to get a photo of the place without people in it.

A lovely surprise!  This beautiful library, said to be a replica of the celebrated library at the convent in Mafra, Portugal, was found on the second floor of the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau building.  It was the Macau Public Library but now mainly used by researchers.
Dom Pedro V Theatre from 1860
Mandarin's House from the 19th century

Mix of Chinese and western aesthetics 

Beautiful wood work 

Some of the older buildings still around - above, a bank and across the street, a pawn shop.

Street in the old quarter

Pedicabs were still around for tourists

Flamboyant Grand Lisboa Casino - almost surreal in the cityscape...
A canon shot away from the citadel built in 1616

Facade of the St. Paul's Cathedral ruins - almost a pilgrimage...

Hydrofoil to Macau

The impressive Macau Science Centre (which we didn't visit)

A beautiful Kwun Yam statue in the harbour - protector of the sea-farer

Portuguese pavements everywhere still
The historic Ah Ma temple - from before the establishment of the colony in the early 16th century

Consulting their fortune...

And our day would not have been complete without all the food nostalgia that we experienced.  SeeFoodsparks for a post on this delicious topic...

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Hong Kong - Stanley to Deep Water Bay

It is appropriate to wrap up my Asia trip with an account of a day trip to Stanley and Repulse Bay, in itself a journey of nostalgia.  There were happy memories of childhood day trips to Stanley for the food and Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay (and Shek O) for the beaches.  This visit was a little different.  A good friend of ours was in Hong Kong at the same time and being an annual visitor, he was more familiar with getting around the outskirts and so acted as tour guide for us.  We took a bus from Central (buses during off hours are quite comfortable) and got a front row centre view on the very scenic drive to Stanley. 

Our first stop was Murray House, which was moved here from old Central District.  It overlooked Blake Pier, a beautifully designed historic pier, also moved here from Central.   We had delicious pork trotters for lunch at the King Ludwig Beerhall at Murray House, an unexpected German treat in this out of the way place.   There was a nice waterfront trail beside the pier for an after lunch walk. We then proceeded to hop on the bus to Repulse Bay.  After a tea break at Repulse Bay, we took the waterfront trail to Deep Water Bay before getting on the bus to return to the city in time for dinner.  This was almost like a "Hop on Hop off" bus tour - highly recommended loop!

Murray House (former colonial barracks in Central District)

Blake Pier 

Innovative bus shelters at Stanley - a combination of modern design and columns from old buildings

Tin Hau Temple built in 1767

Repulse Bay Hotel built on the former site of the romantic historic Repulse Bay Hotel of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" fame.  The gaping hole in the apartment building was supposedly designed to let the dragon pass through for good Feng Shui...

Have your choice of high /low tea at the Verandah Restaurant on the former site of the Repulse Bay hotel or simple pastry in the courtyard beside tropical palms 

Repulse Bay Beach

A waterfront trail at Repulse Bay beach took us to Deep Water Bay after a short 45 minutes. It was an easy relaxing hike, the perfect way to take in one of the most scenic parts of the Hong Kong south coast.

Waterfront trail between Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay

Many of Hong Kong's recreation areas were equipped with BBQ pits for picnics

Deep Water Bay
This is the last post on my Asia trip from February/March 2014 - I am relieved to complete the series before the year is out!   Next posts:  California


  1. Surprising that there were so few people around! Quite a big difference from HK's more populous areas. Why do you think that is?
  2. It was in early March, so still relatively cool for HongKongers - some were wearing down jackets. Not quite beach season yet. On top of that, it was a week day so I was surprised to see some students setting up the BBQs, but it could be a local school's after school event. I only have to wait a few minutes for the few tourists to clear off Blake Pier.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Hong Kong Day trip - Lamma Island

Lamma Island was one of my dad's favourite haunts and one that I remember well from childhood for its pleasant hikes and seafood.  It's a quick half hour ride on the ferry, which leaves every 20 - 30 minutes from Central on Hong Kong Island to Yong Shue Wan on the west side of Lamma island.  It's like a commuter ferry because some people live on Lamma Island and work on Hong Kong island - a rather idyllic arrangement.  The ferry also goes to Sok Kwu Wan on the east side of the island but only hourly.  A good way to see the island is to land on one side and hike to the other side where you can take the ferry back. There are seafood restaurants at either end, good for lunch or dinner!

We landed at Yong Shue Wan, checked out the prices at the seafood stalls to get an idea of what we should be paying when we get to Sok Kwu Wan, since it's too early for lunch.   After strolling through the busy centre, we came to a nice beach with change rooms and nice shade - that would be something to consider for the next trip.  There was a roadside stall selling tofu dessert (reputedly the best ever!) and we stopped to try it out, assured by the lineup - it was indeed excellent.  After that, it was an easy hike up the side of the island then across the narrow "neck" to the other side. 

On the way we came across two temples to the Heavenly Goddess of the Sea, one at either end of the trail, saw a variety of village houses, some modest villas, small farms and even a historic cave from the Second World War.  We were definitely hungry by the time we got to Sok Kwu Wan a couple of hours later.  We found a restaurant with what seemed like reasonable prices and friendly service and settled down for a nice seafood lunch.  It was a great way to spend a day for some fresh air and much needed break from the bustling city.  There are many islands in Hong Kong that are great for day trips.  Check out the Tourism Board.

Ferry terminal to the islands

Trail map of the island on the pier

Lamma Island waterfront

Lined with seafood restaurants where you get the seafood from the tank.  Not everything here is local.  The bright yellow sign says "wild South African abalone"!

Nice beach 

Tofu stand that has been around a long time

Village gardens

Looking back at Yung Shue Wan from the trail

Old "Tin Hau Temple" at Yong Shue Wan, dedicated to the Heavenly Goddess of the Sea.

Gigantic Kumquats!

Looking down from the trail on Sok Kwu Wan with its many fish farms 

Grotto from World War II where the Japanese hid some of their boats for a suicide attack on the allies but the war ended before this happened.

Small banana farm

Scenic rest stops on the way

The "Tin Hau" Temple at Sok Kwu Wan

Seafood lunch at destination!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hong Kong Park - a green oasis amidst the skyscrapers

Visiting Hong Kong Park was an afterthought for us - the lineups for the Peak Tram were too long and the Park was just a short walk from the tram station, so we detoured and discovered a lush green space in the midst of the concrete jungle.  The Park, completed in 1991 on the grounds of the former Victoria Barracks, was a beautiful blending of modern design with the natural landscape.

The part I enjoyed most was the aviary with its 600 birds, some 80 species, freely flying through.  It was a bird paradise, and a photographer's!  There were more birds than people so the birds were very cocky, hanging out on the bridges, gawking at the humans.  It was quite hilarious.

There were a lot of steps to climb as it was built on a hill
The Aviary from above

Inside the aviary
"What's up, man?!"

Abundance of riches - kiwi, mango and papaya for breakfast!  'Tis the life!

Bali Starlings owned the place - see how unperturbed this one was - I couldn't have been more than a few feet away with my camera in its face

Lots of photo ops

Beautifully landscaped grounds led us to the green house 

Verdant tropical plants inside the green house

The large koi pond with its acrobatic turtles provided endless entertainment for all ages

I was more than a little disappointed that the main floor of the Museum of Tea Ware in Falstaff House was closed for renovations.  I had been looking forward to seeing its collection of historic tea ware.  Of some consolation was an exquisite exhibit of seal carvings in the K.S. Lo Gallery above the tea shop, these seals and accompanying ceramics were from across the centuries as far back as the Song Dynasty.  It was quite an interesting exhibit.

K.S. Lo Gallery with an exquisite exhibit of carved seals
My favourite: seal with a lotus

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Chi Lin Nunnery - an oasis of calm in Hong Kong

On this trip to Hong Kong, we discovered the many green spaces both within the city and on the outlying areas, including the islands.  I have never been to Diamond Hill in Kowloon because when I was growing up, this area was an area full of squatter huts, not a place that one would go for a quiet afternoon walk.  So going that far into the depths of Kowloon was a completely new experience for me.

We emerged from the metro station into a crowded multi-storey mall in Diamond Hill, north Kowloon.  After a short walk along a busy road, we were relieved to find the Nan Lian Garden which was the prelude to the Chi Lin Nunnery.  The entire complex was built in the style of Tang Dynasty architecture - formal gardens with lots of rocks, water features and wooden structures - "man in harmony with nature" being the philosophical centre of this concept.  Please visit the website for details.  

The Tang Dynasty was an unprecedented period of peace and affluence in China, generally considered a high point in Chinese culture.  The extravagances of the period are reflected in these gardens.    Parts of it are a little over the top but I enjoyed the gardens, particularly the bonsais and the rock art accompanied by calligraphy of appropriate quotes from Chinese classics.  There was also an interesting  exhibition of Chinese timber architecture.

But it was in the Chi Lin Nunnery where I found the peace and calm I was looking for.  There was a pervading sense of peace in walking the cloisteres and immersing myself in the harmonious architecture - all wood frame built without nails.  
Entrance to the Nan Lian gardens

This type of rock and tree landscape is typical inside the gardens

The interlocking wood beam architecture exhibit hall was itself an example of this style

What is this gaudy golden pagoda and red bridge doing here?! (it's Tang...)

A the top of the hill is the vegetarian restaurant - reserve early for a table at this  much sought after eatery

Rock art and calligraphy

Parade of bonsais

The walkway to the Chi Lin Nunnery

The cloisters with a temporary exhibition of gorgeous stone art

Bonsai in the courtyard of the nunnery 

Devotee praying outside a temple niche

Temple of the Medicine god - this is a popular spot.  The only way I could have taken a picture was with a telephoto lens.  

The sweeping lines of the roofs are simply stunnin

It was an oasis of calm amidst the bustle of the city - a few hours in here refreshed the spirt. Walking back through the mall into the metro station, I almost didn't mind the noise as much.  It's all a matter of perspective.


  1. What a lovely place in the midst of the commercialization and bustle of the rest of HK. Thanks for sharing! Did you get at the vegetarian restaurant?
  2. Yes, it's a nice surprise. No, I didn't get to the restaurant mainly because we were there in the afternoon and had to get back to the island for a dinner. But would have liked to try it, it's got good reviews.
  3. Hi Cat,

    This nunnery is indeed a place of peace and tranquility,

    amongst the hustle bustle of Hong Kong.

    You pictured the rocks nicely.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Hong Kong - Buildings

I remember being very disappointed when I returned to Hong Kong after twenty years abroad and found that Victoria Peak was almost hidden by the high rises on its slopes.  This time around (March, 2014), I had gotten over that and when I got up to the Peak again, I actually admired the view.  You can see below how impressive it is.  Hong Kong tops the list of cities with the most skyscrapers, even beating New York City by over 120 buildings over 150 metres.  

I should add that it took us three tries to get up to the peak.  Twice in the three weeks that we were there, we arrived at the peak tram station and didn't join the lineup.  The first time, the line up was too long and we decided instead go to the Hong Kong Park which was steps away.  The second time, we looked up and we couldn't see beyond the peak tram station - it was too misty.  On our last free day in Hong Kong, we were in luck - it was a clear day and we could even see the hills of Kowloon.  Here's the sweeping panorama of tall buildings...

 Imagine working on the top floors of this building and being shrouded in fog when you look out the window!

And some of them are quite stylish - reminded me of Chicago at times

Bamboo is still being used for scaffolding - obviously works
Some historical buildings have been preserved and restored. 

Pedder Building, completed in 1924, had been restored.  Formerly occupied by factory outlets, it had been revamped with the first three floors occupied by Abercrombie & Fitch.

Kom Tong Hall built in 1914 - former mansion is now the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum

Former pawn shop is now home of "The Pawn" a bar and restaurant
Colonial Old Bailey Police station and Victoria Prison are being restored

Mix of old and new made Hong Kong architecture interesting

The sole skyscraper on the Kowloon waterfront

Older buildings in the not so glam part of town - Sheung Wan and Western District that are slowly being gentrified

Downtown Central District spanned by extensive pedestrian overpasses - I've found these really convenient and helpful in wayfinding.  You could see whether you are heading in the right direction because they are open, and of course you don't' have to worry about crossing streets in traffic, or waiting for traffic lights to turn.  They made it safe and fast to get around. 


The insides of some of these buildings are pretty cool too - the TImes Square Building has a curved escalator in the basement and one of the longest escalators I have seen 

Snazzy!  That's Hong Kong for you!


  1. Did you see the photo of Mrs. Tse (SHCC teacher) in the Sun Yat Sen museum?
  2. If I had known she was in there, I would have looked out for her. How is she related?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hong Kong Streetscape

Continuing with our S.E. Asian trip, we reached Hong Kong in early March this year.  It was a nostalgic trip - we visited some old haunts but what struck me was how much of our memories had been associated with food.  Please visit Foodsparks to see some of my posts on eating in Hong Kong.

My impression, from visiting the areas of Hong Kong familiar to me, was that the streetscape in Hong Kong had not changed too much from 12 years ago, the last time I was there, although it had changed considerably from the sixties.  Many areas, like the mid-levels, Sheung Wan and Western District had been gentrified.   But I was glad that some of the steep stepped streets in Central and Sheung Wan area still retained some of the old street stalls, as you can see below and street food markets were still flourishing, in fact some of the BBQ takeouts were almost as good as what you'd get in restaurants.

We stayed near the mid-levels escalator and continued to be fascinated by it day in and day out as we travelled up and down on it, getting familiar with its "directional" schedule and taking advantage of it.  It made a huge difference to the knees if it were in the direction we were travelling.  And the streetscape alongside it was fascinating, the things you could see as you travelled on it.  Particularly noticeable were the buildings that had developed beside it, taking advantage of this second elevated level of potential customers in promotional opportunities.  Take a look at the pictures below.

The escalator went downhill during the morning rush hour and uphill the rest of the time.

The second floor balcony of this building was being used as a display area catering specifically to escalator users.  The escalator was very busy during rush hour.
The escalator was built around buildings like these.  All three floors of this pizza place were packed at night.
A spa on the second floor displayed advertisement at the level of the escalator.

The old "laddered" streets remained the same with street stalls on the side.  

A picture framing shop on the road side.  I don't think this existed as such fifty years ago.  This kind of workshop would be catering to the gentrified neighbourhood.

One could catch all kinds of candid moments from the escalator...

A semi-official looking "guard" sat beside the escalator in case there were any problems - obviously none at this point

An old temple remained in the midst of the high rises 

Li Yuen Street in Central District hadn't changed at street level since the fifties, except for the merchandise and the prices - street stalls remained on both sides 

Fragrance from a street vendor's roasted chestnuts and yams filled the air on a Shaukiwan street - not so different from the fifties.

The Shaukiwan market continued to thrive.

Vegetables with farm origin (New Territories or location in mainland China) identified - prices were comparable to Toronto

Check out the prices of seafood!  They were very fresh, but so were the prices - $160 HKD (~$23CAD) for 1 catty (or roughly 1.5 pounds) for crab - that's ~$15 a pound!

Gigantic two-storied Apple Store in Central but see the street vendor below with a stash of iphone boxes on the street (also in Central)  ;-)

Brisk shoe-shine business on the street, there's even a lineup!
This was a very limited look at Hong Kong's streetscape.  We visited the very busy Causeway Bay area - it was wall to wall people, as were many areas in Kowloon which I was not familiar with.  I was too busy getting through the crowds to take pictures!  I've found that the best, and most comfortable way of getting an idea of what Hong Kong streets look like was taking a tram from one end of the island to the other (Kennedy Town to Shaukiwan).  It cost next to nothing to hop on but make sure you climb the stairs to the upper floor.  Find yourself a window seat and enjoy a leisurely tour.  It would be slow - but you wouldn't be jostled by the crowds.  The trams tend to be very crowded on weekends - afterall it is the cheapest form of transportation and for thousands of domestic help, their choice means of getting around on their day off.  

I was surprised that I didn't take any pictures of the trams - I was too busy riding on them! The only photo I could find was of this one which was a tram for private hire - first time I had seen this but apparently they were available for hire for private or corporate parties!

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