Category Archives: Getaways

Donggang Bluefin Tuna Festival

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Last Sunday, the rain held off just long enough for E and I to drive to Donggang. There we had the opportunity to experience the popular Donggang Bluefin Tuna Festival.

The festival is not a carnival type festival we are used to in America. Rather, it is a special time of year. From the beginning of May until the end of June, Taiwanese fishermen haul in massive bluefin tuna from the waters around Taiwan. During these two months, Pacific Bluefin Tuna migrate to the Bashi Channel off the southern tip of Taiwan in order to spawn.

The tuna catch in Taiwan is much higher than in other Asian countries, although it has steadily declined. Last year, Taiwanese fisherman sold just over 700 bluefin tuna (down from thousands in previous years). Because of the quality and quantity of fish brought into Donggang, much of it is exported. Japan is by far the largest importer of Taiwanese bluefin tuna.

Due to a declining fish population and the imposition of catch limits in Taiwan, the price of bluefin tuna has skyrocketed in recent years. This year, the first two fish to be sold in Donggang weighed 299kg and 280kg. Together, they fetched an astounding NT $2.8888 million at auction. These auctions take place daily and are part of the fun of the Donggang Bluefin Tuna Festival.

While this festival can be quite controversial (as I will discuss later), the Pingtung County government maintains that the main point of the festival is not to encourage the consumption of bluefin tuna. Rather, the county hopes the festival will bring more visitors to Donggang and the county in general. In addition, proceeds from the festival are donated to local charities benefiting childhood education and food for the poor.

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The Markets
There are two locations at which you can enjoy the festivities and gorge yourself on fresh seafood.

1. Donggang Fish Market
The Donggang Fish Market is where the magic happens. Every morning at 6 AM the daily catch starts to arrive. It is unloaded by crane at this dockside market. We are told that the average daily catch of bluefin tuna has been between 12 and 20 this year. Of course other fish are unloaded as well. These include yellow fin tuna, bump heads, and sharks. Consumers can purchase bluefin tuna to eat on the spot or take home at one of the many vendors set up in the front of the market. Sashimi is the preferred method of preparation. Beware, one catty, or 600 grams, of choice bluefin tuna meat will cost you about NT $2200, or $73USD.

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To reach the Donggang Fish Market, follow the signs to the Xiao Leo Chiu ferry pier. Pass the pier and head toward what looks like the entrance to a paid parking lot. Past this pay station on the left, you will see the docks and the market.

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

2. Huaqiao Market
Huaqiao Market is another nearby option for getting your bluefin tuna fix. This market is open from about 2pm until 7pm daily. Here, you can purchase a wide variety of seafood in addition to tuna, including other Donggang specialties like Sakura prawns and oil fish. Most vendors sell raw seafood to be taken home and cooked. However, there are booths that sell prepared dishes and even booths that will cook up seafood you have purchased elsewhere in the market. Along the back of the market building are a number of restaurants with extensive menus featuring tables along the waterfront.

To reach Huaqiao Market, follow the signs to the Xiao Leo Chiu ferry pier. The market is immediately on the right once you have passed the ferry pier.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

 

Proceed with Caution
1. Mercury Poisoning
Because of its position near the top of the food chain, bluefin tuna often contains high levels of mercury. The consumption of mercury has been linked to infertility, heart disease, memory loss, vision loss, and tremors. In children, it can be especially detrimental to the development of the brain, causing learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, deafness, and blindness. Therefore, the consumption of bluefin tuna should be limited. Children and women of child-bearing age should avoid consumption of the fish altogether.

2. Overfishing
Overfishing of Pacific Bluefin Tuna is a rampant problem. The species’ population has decline over 96.4% over the last 60 years, making Pacific Bluefin Tuna an endangered species and driving up the market value of the fish. Greedy fisherman who can live a lifetime off of a few tuna and fisheries that catch tuna that have not reproduced exacerbate this problem. Although Taiwan has made efforts to limit the number of vessels and the method used to catch the fish, many experts agree that Pacific Bluefin Tuna should not be fished or consumed until the population begins to grow.

3. Sharkfin
Shark finning is one of the major threats to our oceans. Every year between 80 and 100 million sharks are killed for the consumption of their tasteless fins by Asian markets. Most of the time, the shark’s meat is not consumed. Rather the shark is thrown back to sea without its fins and left to die. Unfortunately, sharks are at the top of the food chain and are slow to reproduce. If humans continue to kill sharks at this rate, many species could go extinct in only 10 to 20 years, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. What does this have to do with Donggang? Unfortunately, fishermen in Donggang continue to sell hundreds of shark fins a day. A visit to the fishing port will surely bring a glimpse of piles of shark fins being weighed for market.

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

 

Elsewhere in Donggang
1. Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area
Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area encompasses a lagoon that lies just south of Donggang. Here one can enjoy watching a motor race, boating, and cycling around the wetland area. The newly developed area is constantly improving with new hotels and activities being added every year.

2. Ferry to Xiao Liu Chiu
Donggang also holds the dock for ferries departing to the small coral island of Xiao Liu Chiu. After a 30 minute boat ride, you can be snorkeling, scuba diving, or eating fresh seafood at this tropical getaway. Alternatively, rent a scooter and drive the 7 kilometers around the island, exploring the rock formations and caves along the way. Whatever you do, Xiao Liu Chiu is regarded as one of the most underrated destinations of southern Taiwan.

3. Temples
Donggang is home to many rather interesting temples. These include the Donglong temple where the deity Wen-wang-ye is enshrined. This temple plays host to the massively popular, triennial King Boat Ceremony. The gate in front of the temple is particularly resplendent as it is decorated with real gold foils. If you are in Donggang, it is worth your time to seek out this temple along with the others around it.

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How to Get There
1. By public transportation: From Zuoying THSR Station, board the Zhongnan bus toward Kenting. Alight in Donggang. From Kaohsiung Main Station or Kaohsiung International Airport, board the Zhongnan bus or the Kaohsiung bus headed for Kenting. Alight in Donggang. From Pingtung Railway Station, board the Pingtung bus to Donggang.

2. By scooter: From Kaohsiung, drive south on Jhongshan Rd. until it becomes Highway 17. Continue for approximately 40 minutes. Turn right on County Highway 187 to enter Donggang.

3. By car: Take National Highway 1 south to the Wujia System Interchange. Take the Provincial Highway 88 exit. Then exit the 88 onto Provincial Highway 27 at the Wangdan Interchange. At the end of the 27, merge onto Provincial Highway 17. Turn right onto County Highway 187 to enter Donggang.

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Mala Bay Water Park 麗寶樂園

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Mala Bay Water Park is one of the most famous water parks in Taiwan. Located just outside of Taichung, Mala Bay is half of a bigger, aboriginal-themed amusement park called Lihpaoland. The other half of the park contains carnival rides while Mala Bay contains water attractions. Recently, I had the opportunity to celebrate my friend’s birthday here, and thoroughly enjoyed beating the heat of Taiwan’s summer on the various water slides and water play areas.

While Mala Bay is small by Western standards, it does have some exciting and worthwhile attractions. These include seven water slides, two water play areas, a wave pool, a lazy river, bumper boats, and beach volley ball.

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A few of the more exciting attractions are the Magician Airship, Cowabunga, and an inflatable bridge. The Magician Airship is a u-shaped track on which you ride back and forth in a two-person inner tube. It is exhilaratingly fast and the first drop is terrifying if you ask me. On Cowabunga, you can try your hand at artificial wake boarding. It’s definitely more difficult than it looks (I absolutely couldn’t get the hang of it). Finally, the inflatable bridge is reminiscent of the old MXC game show. Competitors attempt to cross the long bridge without tripping and falling into the pool below. The whole spectacle is rather comical.

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Mala Bay is a great day of water fun during the extreme summer temperatures, but of course, it comes at a price. An adult ticket costs $650NT while a child’s ticket costs $490NT. Entering the park after 2PM will save you some money. A ticket at this time only costs $450NT. Another way to save money is to buy tickets in advance at a 7-11 ibon machine. Advance tickets save $100NT over at-the-door.

Getting to Mala Bay can be a bear. By public transportation, the most obvious route is to take the slow train to Fengyuan Station (豐原車站) in Taichung County. Then transfer to the local train to Houli Station (后里車站), the next stop north from Fengyuan. This will cost $15NT. From Houli Station, walk about 500 meters straight out from the front door. Across from the first 7-11 on the left is a bus station. Here, you can catch the 155 to Lihpaoland for $20NT. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi from Houli Station for $250NT.

If you have your own transportation, getting to Mala Bay is a bit easier. From National Highway 1, take exit number 30, Houli/Waipu onto Fullon Road. Turn right on Chia-Hou Road and follow it to the park. From National Highway 3, take the Waipu exit onto Chia-Hou Road. Follow this to Mala Bay Water Park.

Hours: 9AM-5:30PM (July/August Mon-Sun: 9AM-10PM, Sat: 9AM-5:30PM)
Address: Fullon Hotel, No. 8, Furong Road, Waipu Interchange, Houli District, Taichung City, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
台中市后里區福容路8號(台中后里外埔交流道下)
Phone: (04)2558-2459
Website: http://www.lihpaoland.com.tw/mala/
GPS: 24.323741, 120.698731

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Lei Cha (擂茶)

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Shop Name: Meinong I-Chan (美濃驛棧)
Address: 142 Cheng Gong Road, Meinong Town, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
高雄市 美濃區 成功路142號
Phone: (07) 681-8475
Hours: Daily 10AM-8:30PM
English Service: No
GPS: 22.894215, 120.546794

Among my favorite day trips from Kaohsiung is the short trip to Meinong, a predominately Hakka city located about an hour and a half from downtown Kaohsiung.  The backdrop of mountains, water lotus farms, and traditional houses make Meinong a perfect tourist destination.  In my opinion, one of the things that make Meinong really special is the window it provides to Hakka culture.

The opportunity to make your own lei cha (擂茶) is one such way to experience this unique culture.  Lei cha, literally grind tea, was traditionally made by the Hakka people using local ingredients that benefitted their diets.  It is different than our traditional concept of tea in that the result is more of a nutty soup than a “tea leaf” tea.

I-Chan Meinong was the very first shop that assisted customers in learning about the preparation of lei cha by allowing them to actually prepare it.  Walking into the shop what I imagine walking into a traditional house must be like.  The walls are covered in umbrellas and lanterns.  The women wear traditional Hakka dresses.

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To begin, the women will bring you a mortar and pestle, along with peanuts, crisp rice, and white sesame seeds.  They will instruct you (in Chinese) about how to grind the base ingredients.  Their method is clearly the best.  Hold the top of the pestle down with one hand and use the other hand/wrist to move the bottom part of the pestle around the bowl.  This task is best shared among everyone at the table as it is incredibly tiring.  Snacks and other tea will be served to you in order to keep your energy levels high.

After a while, the women will tell you that you’ve done a good job.  At this point, they will add a green tea powder to the mix and tell you to keep going.  (As if you weren’t already tired…)  When the powder starts making clumps, you are ready for the next step.  This is adding hot water.

First the ladies will prepare a drink for you using mostly hot water and only a little powder.  This is so you know where you are starting from.  After that, you are free to experiment for your taste buds by adding more powder or some puff rice.  In my opinion, the result is not nearly as interesting as the process itself is.  But, hey, some people love the stuff.

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In addition to providing an education in tea preparation, I-Chan also offers an area to dress up in traditional Hakka costumes and traditional Hakka food.  Of particular note is the tobacco leaf rice, which includes pickled Hakka vegetables, tobacco leaves, pork, and fried eggs.  This dish must be special ordered and is sold for $130NT.

A lesson in preparing lei cha costs only $120NT per person and includes a few varieties of tea.  Unfortunately, at this point, lessons are only available in Chinese, but the ladies are used to getting their messages across using sign language.  Regardless, I-Chan and it’s tea preparation experience is definitely worth seeking out on any visit to southern Taiwan.

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Filed under Getaways, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Fourplay

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Restaurant: Fourplay Lounge Bar
Address: No. 67, Dongfeng Street, Daan District, Taipei
台北市大安區東豐街67號
MRT: Zhongxiao Fuxing or Daan
Phone Number: 02-2708-3898
Hours: Mon-Thu: 6PM-1AM, Fri-Sat: 6PM-2AM
English Menu: No
English Service: Yes
Average Cost Per Person: $250NT to $500NT
GPS Coordinates: 25.036049, 121.547646

When you live in Kaohsiung, Taipei is a faraway and exotic place. It’s the type of city you dream of going to, but don’t dare over indulge in. It has better food, better nightlife, and a more cosmopolitan feel than Kaohsiung. The less you go to Taipei, the more you want it, and the better it is when you get there. At least that was how I felt when I went to Taipei for my birthday last month.

While the entire trip was wonderful, one of our favorite finds was a bar named Fourplay. Fourplay is a unique concept bar established by four of the best and most playful bartenders in the biz. The best thing about the place? It has no menu. To order, you simply inform the bartender what type of flavor you would like your drink based around. They will create something unique to your taste buds with a flair unique to Fourplay.

For example, we ordered up these flavors and this is what we got:

Peanut Butter: whiskey, coffee, peanut butter smeared in the glass, and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Betel Nut: betel nut, lime, and cucumber muddled and then shaken with absinthe and citrus vodka.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Marijuana Shots: Absinthe, melon liquor, dry ice served in a pipe.

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Fourplay is not only a bar for drinks, but a show as well. Watching the bartenders create these drinks is absolutely fascinating. The precision and detail with which they work will have you mesmerized. For this reason, I suggest finding a seat at the bar so you have a front row seat. Of course, for a group there are also tables and booths.

While I don’t think the prices are unreasonable for what you get by any means, the drinks are more expensive at Fourplay than at most bars in Kaohsiung. Shots are $200NT and up. Cocktails are $300NT and up.

Reservations are suggested on Friday and Saturday nights.

Personally, I cannot wait to return to Fourplay to sample some more of their fun and delicious cocktails.

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Beer and Cheese Social House

Beer and Cheese Social House

Name of Restaurant: Beer and Cheese Social House
Address: No. 169, Section 2, Jiànguó South Rd, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
台北市大安區建國南路二段169號
Phone: 0916 549 373
Hours: Mon-Thu: 6PM-1AM, Fri-Sat: 6PM-3AM, Sun: 5PM-11PM
Vegetarian Options: Yes
English Menu: Yes
English Service: Yes
Average Cost Per Person: $250NT to $500NT
GPS Coordinates: 25.028402, 121.537901

With a national beer that is by no means satisfying or particularly enjoyable, the prospect of drinking beer in Taiwan is often one of resignation to a tasteless night.  In addition to Taiwan Beer, most bars serve only Carlsberg and Budweiser among other common beer brands.  Finding anything unique and flavorful was frankly impossible up until late last year.  But, times are changing, and one of the catalysts to this change is Taipei’s Beer and Cheese Social House.

Atmosphere
Beer and Cheese Social House is the type of place in which you feel at home immediately.  The décor is simple but the dark and modern furnishings bring a laid back feel to the place.  It’s definitely the type of bar to bring a group of friends for a night of conversation and laughter.

What to Drink
Beer and Cheese Social House offers a selection of craft beers that are nearly impossible to find elsewhere.  These brews are available in both bottles and on tap with prices starting from $200NT per bottle and $220NT per pint of draught.  The selection varies based on availability and customer demand, but the knowledgeable staff can help you find the perfect beer for your palate.

In addition to a la carte brewskis, Beer and Cheese Social House brings the cheese into the picture by offering a flight of three beers paired with three different types of cheese.  This is definitely recommended (and is something I hope will catch on in the West very soon!)  The flight costs $300NT and is worth every penny.

Finally, if you can’t handle another sip of beer after sampling the entire menu or you are one of those people who doesn’t the hoppy stuff, Beer and Cheese Social House also offers alcoholic slushies at a bargain price.

What to Eat
While the first half of the name is beer, the second half is cheese.  Beer and Cheese Social House has a food menu that will satisfy any cheese lover.  The chef hand crafts five different gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches starting from $250NT.  The menu also includes soft pretzels served with a tangy homemade cheese dipping sauce.

Directions
From the Daan Park MRT Station, walk east along Xinyi Road until you reach Jianguo Road.  Cross over to the east side of Jianguo Road and turn right.  Walk south for approximately three blocks.  Beer and Cheese Social House will be on your left.

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March 27, 2014 · 7:44 am

Shenshan Waterfall

Shenshan Waterfall

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Chasing waterfalls seems to be the thing to do around here recently. There are so many to explore. You could spend the better part of a year trying to visit all of them. It’s certainly hard to pick a favorite, but last weekend E and I found what may be our new fav.

Shenshan Waterfall is located in Shenshan (as the name suggests) just before the scenic village of Wutai. It is past the Climber’s Checkpoint so anyone visiting will need to have some form of identification to show the officials at the booth. The road to the waterfall is a left hand turn off Highway 24 if you are headed to Wutai. The turn is located in downtown Shenshan. While the sign to the waterfall is in Chinese, if you ask anyone, they will surely point you in the right direction. After the turn, the road winds down the side of the mountain. The end of the road is looking worse for wear and had me biting my nails, but it is passable. At the end of one of the curves is the parking area.

The hike from the parking area to the waterfall takes only 5-10 minutes. However, there are a lot of stairs, so it does take longer coming back the other direction.

The waterfall itself is surrounded by rocks and has a large deep pool, perfect for swimming. Given more time, downstream from the fall may also provide a great opportunity for river tracing. It’s well worth the 1 ½ hour drive from Kaohsiung for those looking for a way to escape the heat of the summer.

By the way, if you haven’t checked it out yet, the website Taiwan’s Waterfalls offers some great information on the island’s major waterfalls.

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November 21, 2013 · 11:53 pm

Wutai, Taiwan

Wutai, Taiwan

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Allow me to begin with a brief disclaimer. This is not a logistical or informational post about Wutai, Taiwan. Rather, this is a story about how amazing Taiwan and its aboriginal people can be.

Wutai is a small village situated east of Pingtung and about an hour and a half drive from Kaohsiung. The village is an important center for the indigenous Rukai tribe. It also happens to be one of the places where the famed hundred pacer snake has been found. Naturally, we needed to take a trip there eventually and this weekend happened to be perfect for our trip.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

The road to the village (Highway 24) winds through Pingtung and Sandimen before reaching the “Climbers’ Checkpoint.” Here, travelers are required to report their names, phone numbers, and addresses to the authorities. They are also supposed to provide documents such as an ARC or passport, but no one checked our IDs. After the checkpoint, the road climbs steeply to Shen Shan and finally reaches Wutai at kilometer number 40.

The village is beautifully set on the side of a mountain. Its buildings are mostly constructed in the traditional Rukai style with walls of slate. All the public spaces are adorned with snake decals and decorative pots. What’s more is the smell. The scent of wood fires and roasting meat permeates the streets. All in all, the mountain atmosphere creates an excellent escape for any city dweller.

Unfortunately, after taking in the atmosphere, we quickly discovered finding a place to stay would be more difficult than we had imagined. The demand for rooms seems to outweigh the amount available in this tiny town. Eventually we met a guide of sorts who suggested we go to the police station and ask the police officer for ideas. We followed his advice and in broken Chinese, conveyed our predicament. The officer phoned his friend who promptly collected us from the police station.

His friend turned out to be a spunky Rukai woman we now call Ina (auntie in the local language). Ina showed us to her daughter’s house. Her daughter’s family lives in Pingtung and returns on the weekends. This weekend they happened to be staying away from Wutai. Thus, we could have her entire stone-slab home to ourselves for the evening. We quickly jumped at the offer to stay in the traditionally decorated home.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

(Although I’m not sure the rainbow bridge is a part of the local culture.)

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

What followed this episode was even more unexpected. Ina proceeded to give us a tour of the village, introducing us to most of the villagers, showing us the traditional structures, and filling us in on some history. In particular, we learned the history of the Hundred Pacer snake decorations. She told us that many people believe the snake is a god to the Rukai tribe, but this is not true. The story goes that at one time an enemy tribe wanted to take the Rukai village. However, the venomous snake bit the enemy leader in the foot, preventing the enemy tribe from reaching the village. So, the snake is in fact the protector of the tribe, and consequently painted everywhere.

Later that evening, we went walking around the mountain in search of some interesting creepy crawlies. While we didn’t find the sought after Hundred Pacer, we did find a few snakes and an adorable tree frog.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

The next morning, we did a most unexpected thing…we went to church. 90% of aboriginals are Christians and take church very seriously. We were not allowed to enter without proper aboriginal-style clothes and flower headdresses. We rehearsed the rules before entering. And just when I was ready for a stuffy church service, the rock band started. The service included all the traditional elements (only in Chinese and the local language rather than English).  It seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. Afterwards, we were invited to have a small lunch with other church members. Of course, the hilarity of half translation ensued followed by what seemed to be an endless stream of photos. Ina ended the afternoon by informing us that she is now our Taiwanese mother and if we are ever sad, she expects us to call her.

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

And, we absolutely must return to visit Ina and Wutai again before we leave Taiwan for good.

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November 17, 2013 · 10:16 am