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San Francisco, 1 year on…

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Sept 11th, 2009.  The day my round the world ticket expired.  One year ago I was in San Francisco, my last day in the US before flying to Japan.  This time though, instead of arriving in the evening with no where to stay and sleeping in a camper parked on the side of the road, I had a couchsurfer to stay with.  More pleasant than the driving back and forth around the bay area looking for somewhere to park the camper that occurred last year.

I got to the city around 3:00, to beautiful weather (last I’d see of it).  Didn’t do much in terms of sightseeing, walked past the wharf, remembered it from last year and left to avoid tourist mobs.  Found my way to a nice area near the marina, full of great houses and walked up the hill a bit for an awesome view overlooking the bay.

marina district

Filmore street

As I kept walking (invariably uphill) I got to Japan town (no coincidence), wandered starry-eyed through it remembering Japan and got a couple snacks from a supermarket.  Fish filled rice triangles never tasted so good, or brought back so many good memories from across the pacific.

That evening I went to the same bar I was at exactly one year ago (just about to the hour) and had the same beer.  Niiice.  Then I went down the street for a fantastic dinner of veggie tempura.  Amazingly the bar was 2 blocks away from my couchsurfing hosts house, coincidence?  ha.

Second day I walked all over San Francisco.  Seriously.  Through Union square where there was a Korean festival going on, heard them singing the Korean and American national anthems while I was there, weird, more culture shock.  Next, on to China town where I found a slightly unique sushi place, like the conveyor belt places I came to love in Japan but with boats floating on water instead.  The California rolls were delish.


sushi boats

mm sushi

After lunch I walked up to Telegraph hill, after wandering aimlessly to where I thought looked cool for a while, stopped at the lookout tower for a rest.  A view came with the rest…


city centre

the bay bridge

Walked along Lombard street next.  The famous “most curvy street on earth” is actually one of the main roads in San Francisco and the vast majority of it is really straight.  I saw the curvy bit last year but went by it again simply because it was on the way to where I was going next.

Lombard street

Lombard street

Union street was my next stopping point, near where I’d been yesterday, a nice section of cafes and shops.  Had a cup of tea and gathered the energy for another uphill bit of walking, back to Japan town.

view of the bay

I explored Japan town much more thoroughly this time before heading back towards the Lower Haight district where I was staying.  This square was on the way back, lined with great houses like these, this city really is beautiful…

Alamo Sq


Taroko Gorge, sort of… + Taiwan rail

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

So the plan was, go to Taroko Gorge Nat’l Park today. Seemed easy enough, loads of buses going there and plenty of trails once you got there. Or so I thought. Stopped at the tourist office and enquired about bus times and was told that there weren’t any today b/c there was a festival in the park. They had a free shuttle from a nearby town (why the hell they picked this place I have no clue) to the festival which was by the welcome center just inside the park. So I take a train to the nearby town, get on the shuttle bus which takes me to the park. My thought was I’d just ditch the festival and go hike, then show up back at the bus area when they started shuttling people back to the station. Brilliant eh? Well it would’ve been, except that after walking the 1km to the trail head I found the gate locked and do net enter signs there. So they basically close the vast majority of the park to the public to have a music festival. Awesome. So I took some pictures around the trail head area, really nice and I’m sure the trail is stunning!


Back to the festival area since there was nothing else to do, it was classical music (at least the bit I saw) and they played part of Beethovens 6th symphony (it sounds the same in Mandarin!! ;) but all in all the event was uninspiring. They seemed to want to talk more than play music for the most part. Great setting for a festival though, Muse should play there or something…

Now we come to the exasperating part of the day. I’m calling it the Port Bou experience (anyone who has gone from France to Spain via train on the Med. coast will know what I’m talking about).After the music festival is over, everyone lines up for the buses. All very orderly and they have enough buses for everyone.(!!!!) Once we arrive at the train station though, the major flaw (or flaws) in the organization of this event (and the Taiwan rail system) were exposed. The event was over at 16:00. A train departed to Hualien (the major town in the area, where I was staying and almost everyone else came from) @ 15:54. About 10 minutes before all the buses arrived there. Next train? Not until 17:05. (with their completely illogical schedules here) No extra train to get all these people home, just one train would’ve been enough, instead everyone is forced to stand at the station (which is tiny with precious little seating) for an hour. I was hoping for some kind of riot with some looting but it wasn’t to be…

One Taiwanese guy (around my age) came over at some point, introduced himself in English and started talking to me which did lighten the mood. The younger generation of Taiwanese are so friendly and usually speak at least some English.

That basically sums up the transport (HSR excepted) in Taiwan, at least my experience with it. The train schedules make no sense, and getting anywhere takes far longer than it should. I ended up getting royally screwed with my train back to Taipei for tomorrow morning. My flight to Hong Kong is around 2pm, fast trains from here take aprox 2 hours and I have to leave at 5:40am. The 6:15am train was full, and there are no trains after 6:15 that would get me to Taipei in time. I’m trying to get from a major city on the Northern East coast to Taipei.

Seriously, wtf?

Fed up with trains, I spent the evening checking out the town centre area of Hualien, it’s pretty happening. I had some stir fried ostrich for dinner and some bubble tea afterwords which greatly improved my mood. Now I’m off to bed, tomorrow’s gonna be a long day. I’ll be in transit for 12 hours in all, woohoo!

Yushan National Park

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Got a taxi from Yuli up to the national park in the morning since there is no public transport here, the driver was very friendly and helpful despite not speaking any English. He went with me into the visitor centre and found the attendant for me, she spoke English and gave me the trail info I needed. Then the taxi driver said he’d drive me to the trail head and pick me up there later in the afternoon. Perfect!

view from Walami trail Yushan park

I hiked on the Walami trail, which is one of the more popular ones in Taiwan. It was in very good condition but I didn’t see hardly anyone else on the trail. A nice change from the parks in Korea. The trail runs up along the side of a mountain overlooking the river valley below and many other mountains. Very nice views throughout.

view from Walami trail Yushan park

It was pretty humid but not hot so hiking was pretty easy, it wasn’t even that steep. Parts of the trail were cut out of the cliff edge and with vines hanging over the top almost creating a tunnel effect. Apparently Taiwan has around 400 kinds of butterflies, I’d believe it. Just on this hike I probably saw 20+ kinds and I only went 4.5km in. I didn’t see any monkeys unfortunately but I did hear them a couple times jumping through the brush between trees.

the trail

My taxi driver showed up at the agreed time and I was back at the train station in time to catch the 4:30 train. Transport worked a little better here today. Now I’m sitting at a hostel in Hualien, my base to explore the Taroko gorge tomorrow.

10 weeks in…

Friday, October 24th, 2008

After leaving my 2nd and particularly nice hotel in Tainan with people bowing to me almost as much as Japan and walking in front of me to open automatic doors for me!!!  Another arduous day of travel ensued, it is amazing how long it can take to get anywhere on such a small island.  I spent 6 hours on trains or in train stations today, it is really starting to get irritating because I am spending all my time in transit and not actual seeing much of anything.  I finally got to Yuli, on the East coast which is a gateway to the Yushan Nat’l park.  The town itself isn’t much at all, I stayed at the only hotel I saw and it wasn’t great, pretty cheap though.


A few observations about Taiwan.  Once you get out of Taipei, Taiwan is a whole different place.  Much less english spoken or written.  Travel is much more confusing but mainly just takes much longer, and is much less efficient, which is a real contrast to Taipei where they have the most reliable metro system in the world.  I really miss the Japanese infrastructure now.


Now for some general thoughts on the trip so far.


I feel like the standards are dropping in each country I go to.   Japan having probably the highest standards in most areas that I’ve ever seen.  Then S.Korea, very modern and high standards in Seoul and in Busan somewhat, but in the smaller towns the standards slip.  Taiwan is similar to Korea in that sense, Taipei is probably the most hi-tech place I’ve been with a super efficient transit system.  Though not as clean as Japanese cities (but really, what is?) it really is a great place and easy to experience.  Once outside of Taipei though things drop off quite quickly.  People stare a lot more, and it’s just more work to travel here.


I enjoyed Japan immensely almost the entire time I was there.  Korea was good most of the time and I had some great experiences there.  Taiwan, except for Taipei is more hit and miss for me.  What I’m not sure is if the amount I enjoy a country is tied to how modern and easy to travel through it is or if it is the different cultures (which have varied quite a bit just in these three countries), and the friendliness of people etc etc.  I think it is probably a combination of all the above, maybe also the order I’ve visited these countries…


I am looking forward to being back in a English speaking country, which I will be in just over a week.  There I will be able to eat dishes made with lots of cheese (the main thing I miss in meals here) and converse with people without complication.  Also understanding announcements on buses & trains again will be nice.  Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying Asia, this really is an experience (and a good one most of the time!) but traveling through countries not knowing any of the local languages can be a lot of work, especially in Asia where the culture and everything is so different from normal for me or any Westerner.  Here in Taiwan where there are precious few hostels, half the time I feel like I am the only westerner in town…


2 more days in Taiwan before I fly to Hong Kong and I hope to be spending it hiking/seeing some mountains here on the East coast.

trains, buses and bikes…

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Before leaving Taipei I went up the “Taipei 101”, which is the worlds tallest building. It also has the worlds fastest lift to get you to the lookout floor, a decent view from up there of the surrounding area and some mountains. It’s strange though compared to other skyscrapers I’ve been up, because the 101 is the only tall skyscraper on the horizon. It’s not in a district with a bunch of really tall buildings like you would see in Chicago, New York, Tokyo etc, it’s the only only really tall building in the city and it’s also the biggest in the world.

view from 101

After that I caught a bus to Sun Moon lake, got there in the evening and just stumbled into a hotel that looked nice. With the weekday discount it cost me what a basic motel room costs in the US. Reasonably expensive here, it’s the nicest place I’ve stayed on the trip so far. I even had a hot tub in my room.

The next day was basically irritating, with nothing going as I expected. First, the lake area was over rated in my opinion and it was even to hot & humid to hike anywhere. So I caught a bus out of the mountains, had to change in Taichung so I jumped on one of the high speed trains which was really nice even though I was only on it for 30 minutes.


The place I was going is the starting point of the Alishan Forest Railway, a narrow gauge rail that goes to the mountains. So I arrive in town (after a 30 minute bus ride from the HSR station) and discover that the railway is not running due to damage from the typhoon the other week. Closed for the rest of the year. I could’ve gotten a bus to the same destination the next morning, but the train ride and scenery was supposed to be half the experience. So then I decided to grab another train farther South to Tainan. This was just a regular express train, but perfectly nice and dirt cheap. I got to Tainan around 7:00 after spending 5 hours in transit and only gone around 90 miles. Good thing none of the travel cost me much. Found an adequate cheap hotel and walked around the city in the evening, had some good noodles for dinner and spent the rest of the night walking around the technology shops until they closed…


After that less than enjoyable day I had decided to spend 2 nights here in Tainan, but in the morning I decided to change hotels. I found a very nice one not far from my first one, considerably more money but it included internet, breakfast and a bike for the day. I jumped on the bike and rode over most of Tainan, stopping to see the main sights. It’s pretty compact, about 3/4 of a million people live here so nothing like Taipei. Quite a few temples to see here, some old city walls and a fort. I saw all of that easily in the day, I enjoyed seeing the city by bike, the only downside is the air on the street is quite polluted due to all the scooters. Sooo many scooters here.

old city gate

I still don’t really have a plan for the rest of my time in Taiwan, probably just going to head to the East coast after this and see what happens…

Taipei pt2

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Taipei is cool. It’s a huge city, but it doesn’t feel that huge. At least not like Tokyo or Seoul. There’s mountains within reach of the metro here, and the metro is one of the best I’ve used. One of the best things here is the night markets, there’s a lot in Taipei, all offering a plethora of shops and all sorts of food, street vendors and restaurants. Walking through these markets is really an experience.

shilin night market

I went to the North edge of the city and did a little hiking in the jungle. Unfortunately it took me a while (in the heat of the day) to find the trail and after a little ways it seemed to end at a road and I couldn’t find the rest of the trail though I was sure it existed. So I turned around and went back to the train station, I did see several different butterflies (apparently there’s 400 varieties here), star fruit growing on trees by the trail and the sounds are really cool in there…

jungle hike

I’ve been here for 4 nights, explored most of the main areas of the city, hiked a little and eaten quite a few of the popular foods at the night markets. I also found a belgian beer bar in the night market close to my hostel where I spent some time, and money a couple nights indulging my desire for real beer which has been sorely lacking on this trip.

A few other things about Taipei. It is the most wired place I have ever seen. Wireless internet is everywhere, the have it at all the metro stations and many restaurants offer it for free. The metro itself is one of the easiest and most efficient systems I’ve used: Clean, cheap, air conditioned and on time! The only downside here is during the heat of the day, 12-3, the heat + humidity is quite intense. I’m hoping the mountains are a little cooler.

But overall I’ve really enjoyed my time in Taipei, the people are friendly, a fare few of them speak English, the food is good, and just walking around the city is fun. Especially the popular districts. Next I’m off to explore the rest of Taiwan, 6 more days here isn’t sounding like much but I’m going to see as much as I can…



Friday, October 17th, 2008

I got to Taipei around 11:00 AM, it felt a lot later cos of the one hour time change and the fact I got up at 4:45. Then I stepped outside the airport and it felt tropical. The heat is intense, and it was 20F higher, and much more humid than what I’ve been used to in Korea.

By the time I had gotten to the hostel, checked in and got my stuff organized it had cooled off somewhat so I headed out. There’s tons of scooters here, everywhere but despite there being far more than in Korea, they seem to drive on the sidewalks less. My hostel is only a couple stops on the metro from the main station so it’s really easy to get around. I started at the main station and just wandered around for a while, coming across the memorial peace park and eventually ended up completely by accident in the Ximen district. It’s like the Shibuya of Taipei. Young people everywhere, clothes and electronic shops all over the place, lcd displays advertising all sort and no shortage of small food stands.

Ximen district

There’s 23 million people in Taiwan, and almost half of them are in the Taipei metro area. So it’s a really big city. Full of small street vendors offering all kinds of chinese, taiwanese and other varieties of food. It seems more popular to eat this way than actually sit down in a restaurant, and everything is cheap. The also have night markets all over the place here, every district has it’s own. They offer just about anything you could think of to buy or eat.

The common language here is Mandarin Chinese but there are many dual lingual signs in English too and the amount of people understanding (and actually speaking it to me) English seems to be considerably higher than Korea or Japan. that may just be Taipei, but it’s nice for sure.