Day 3 A Safe Haven For The Weary

21 Jul


LANYU IS NOT KNOWN FOR ITS BEACHES. Only a handful are safe enough to swim, but none equal to the beaches found on Kenting or Penghu. However, pristine warm waters with an abundance of tropical fishes make the island an excellent place for skindiving. The coral reefs here are untouched by human civilization, maybe one of the last spots that remain so.

Fishes and all other animals are relatively happy here on the island. Dao people pay a lot of respect for them and thus goats and pigs are free to roam freely. These animals are prized possessions, only sacrificed during ceremonial rituals or when they die due to old age. Hey are often treated like pets, sometimes even viewed as a part of the family. So please give way when they cross your path. One thing I’ve noticed is that the mountain goats here love to challenge themselves with rock climbing. It is a wonder how they manage to defy gravity and conquer these steep cliffs.


A herd of goats relaxing by the beach


Pigs share roads and act as mobile traffic lights


Goat occupying a stone plate

WHEN VISITING IN SUMMER, LANYU CAN BE HOTTER THAN AN OVEN. Midday temperatures hover near 35 degrees Celsius. The Ivalino cold springs can be a welcoming treat to sweating visitors. This spring connects fresh water from the water into the ocean. Local children and women can often be seen soaking in its water so it’s hard to miss.


The beautiful cold springs


Selfie taken enjoying a cold dip

The Epicurean Cafe belongs to my friends’ family. This rare casual yet upscale restaurant on the island serves local delicacies including flying fish, wild boar and tasty vegetarian options. It’s best to book up front because these popular dishes sell out fast.

With a comfortable sea breeze and sounds of the waves beating in the background, we contemplated on our journey while enjoying our dinner here at its balcony. We all agreed that Lanyu is a great place to relax, almost forcing its visitors to slow down and savor. I can’t imagine staying here long-term, the lack of amenities will definitely make me suffer (we were treated to an hour of electricity shutdown near midnight!). However, it gives me a peace of mind knowing that this haven welcomes us for the occasional renewal and replenishment.


The art-chic looking Epicurean Cafe


Nothing beats chillin’ off with my family

Day 2 A Mega Sleep Off

17 Jul


TIME IDLES WHEN YOU ARE IN LANYU. I’ve always suspected that this has to do with the radioactive waste materials buried at Lanyu’s southernmost point. Just like what Kryptonite does to Superman, the air here makes you sluggish all day long. I hate to spend money getting here to sleep, but then I’ve never wanted to be more lazy than this. We would take many long naps throughout the day, and then chill out even more at the many huts around the island. Being in the tropics, the breeze cools you down as long as you are in the shade, and in the evening, the temperature drops to a comfortable 25.

Thanks to all the siestas, we woke up in time to go see the sunrise. One popular spot is at the Dongqing village, on Lanyu’s east coast. Beware when traveling in the dark because most roads are unlit and may be dangerous for the unfamiliar. After taking in the spectacular daybreak, head off to MeiYaMei (美雅美), a breakfast joint frequented by many tourists and locals alike. Food can be pricey on the island, but at least you receive large servings here.

Lanyu is truly a rugged island. Taking the loop road circling Lanyu and you will many bizarre rock formations that feeds your imagination. These are mainly coral or volcanic in origin, and since the island is geologically young, they are still in constant change. Little Heaven Lake (小天池) is a small body water nestled in forested area. It is a short hike on an ill-maintained trail, and since the entrance sign can be easily missed, it is best to ask locals for directions.


All sorts of rock formations can be seen on the island


A lazy cat dozing off in front of the Lanyu island’s lighthouse


Little Heavenly Lake filled with water from a recent rainstorm

VEGETARIANS WON’T SURVIVE LONG IN LANYU. The only greens commonly found here are the sweet potato leaves, all others can be very overpriced. Taro and sweet potato are staples along with the seasonal flying fish and other seafood. Islanders have very strict rules for fishing and planting. Failure to follow them is a very serious taboo. When we were here, the most affordable and easiest vegetarian option is the egg fried rice. Some restaurants offer vegetarian options but keep your expectations low because it will be edible but not necessary appetizing. Fruits are all imported and thus expensive. You can consider bringing food from the mainland if you are a picky eater. Nonetheless, there are still many delicious deserts to choose from. One of my favorite is taro ice cream with shaved ice.


A weird local fruit (林投果)

MOST HOME STAYS OFFER NIGHT ECO TOURS. Our host gathered us at 8pm, and led us into one of the local orchards in search of owls. We caught a glimpse of a couple of scops owl whose species are endemic to Lanyu. We were also very lucky to witness a giant female green sea turtle coming on shore. However, we would have to wait until midnight to see her eggs. It would be a very interesting experience but we would have to sacrifice our precious sleep time. So, the ideal choice is to go back home for zzzz… Bye for the night, there’s more to do in the morning.


The “night watch” team looking for creepy crawlies

Day 1 Exploring an Unspoiled Paradise

16 Jul


IT TAKES PATIENCE AND A LOT OF PLANNING AHEAD TO VISIT LANYU. Sometimes you even need some luck. Lanyu (also known as Orchid Island) is unlike anywhere else in Taiwan. Due to its relative isolation from the mainland, the people and environment still maintain much of their natural innocence. The Dao people who lives here has the most well-preserved aboriginal culture in all of Taiwan. Even the Taiwanese tourists that flock here in summer experience some sort of culture shock.

Being unspoiled and underdeveloped means that getting here ain’t easy. You can choose to board the small propeller-driven aircraft from Taitung that sells out weeks before, or you can take the 2-3 hour ferry either from Taitung or Kenting harbor. All transportation goes on halt during bad weather and thus we are very lucky to find our ferry on schedule since they were all cancelled the day before. Expect a rough and bumpy ride, and try to stay calm when the passenger right beside you goes “all out”.

MOST PEOPLE STAY AT HOME STAYS. This is a good way to have an authentic experience and to help the support the local economy. Our brown-skinned host met with us as soon as we got off the ferry. We are staying in Yeyo village, which is just next to the harbor. Prices are normally higher on the island but please bear in mind that many necessities are imported from the mainland. So, it is best to eat as the locals eat, bring reusable utensils and bags to avoid leaving traces of pollution behind.

With ample of time to explore (we had four whole days), hiring a scooter is a must. Since walking can only take you to nearby sites, a scooter is convenient while encircling the island. Other than some activities, Lanyu is best traveled with a relaxed itinerary.

Today we went around its west coast, walking around the Yeyo and Hongtou villages, stopping for the occasional shaved ice and photo shoot. One popular sunset spot is on the Chingching fields (青青草原). Weather permitting, the sight of one great red ball of fire sinking into the ocean proves to be very fulfilling.


Sunset as seen from ChingChing fields


Local shops are often decorated with colorful murals

THE NIGHTS IN LANYU ARE VERY QUIET AND AT TIMES UNEVENTFUL. Most eateries close by 7pm, and with no 7-11 stores on the island, make sure you stock your late night snacks from convenience stores before they shut the doors. However, we were in for a lucky treat because the villagers gathered with their chairs at the neighborhood open area for a documentary showcase. Everyone brought their drinks in hand, while all waited sat anxiously for the show to start. We were the only tourists there (with our own non-alcoholic drinks), and was happy to witness such a community function taking place.

All in all, Lanyu may be a little off the beaten track for most tourists, but with some patience and a little luck, you’re definitely in for a generous showcase of its beautiful nature and culture.


Enjoying a cup of shaved ice while people-watching at a community documentary screening

Day 5 [Arrowtown, Te Anau] Yet Another Day of Travel

15 Jul


DAY 5 OF OUR NZ TRIP AND WE STARTED TO SENSE A RECURRING THEME IN OUR SCHEDULE. Long hours of driving, extended grocery shopping, team effort cooking and night under the stars. Breakfast is usually an “on sale” milk plus the cheapest cereal on the shelf. We then take turns driving, heading to our next destination, ranging from 50-150 kilometers away. We usually stop for a quick-lunch and side trip before we arriving at the destination. Before checking in, we often spend a long portion of our afternoons buying tonight’s dinner at a supermarket. We had to compare prices so it takes up quite some time.

Today we stopped at Cromwell for fresh fruit ice-cream before arriving at Arrowtown. Arrowtown is a fancy little town, with crowds lingering at its greenstone and sheepskin souvenir shops. Once a gold town. this establishment is now a crowded summer touristy community. Arrowtown Bakeries well known for its pies, which we gladly gobbled up for lunch.


Breakfast = Cereal + Oat milk + On sale yogurt (Joy of the day)


Gigantic fruits on display in Cromwell


Natural fruit ice cream in Cromwell


“THE THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, FIRE, FIRE…” The Kiwi radio station is constantly playing this Bastille song, as well as any song from Lorde’s repertoire. The road en route to Te Anau, being a part of NZ’s wild Fiordland area, is often scenic and mountainous. Te Anau if compared to Wanaka, is a smaller and easier town to navigate. Both proudly show off their beautiful lakes, which are smack middle in the town. We stayed at the Te Anau Holiday Park, with cabins near to the lake, and a kitchenette for us to cook our dinner, again. The day is never complete before our ritual visit to the local supermarket. This time, we hoarded more food in preparation for our trip to the wilderness the next day.

To somewhat stray away from our schedule, I took a slow jog around the lake. It was a fine evening, many locals and tourists were enjoying themselves at the lakeside. Schoolchildren were swimming by the lake, and some tanning away on their “beach”. Alas, all has to go back to routine. Dinner with great companions,  men’s talk under the stars, a lovely trip planned for the next day. If all this blissful standards become my daily habits, I am going to stay relaxed and not complain.


Grocery shopping again


Te Anau’s famous Miles Better Pies



Laid back dinner outside at the picnic table


Pondering the stars (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)


Levitation of the day: Te Anau

Day 4 [Wanaka] You Only Live Once

12 May


IT IS TRUE THAT YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, but you should know that you only die once too. “Do you know how many accidents occur during skydiving?” said Charles while looking at his Google hits, “At least 50 or more deaths a year!” he informed us. I felt a little anxious for him. Newly wed, baby on its way, he cannot afford to end his life now. “Are you calling to tell your wife before or after the jump?” I asked, “And, can I get your cool torchlight if you die?” New Zealand’s a haven for the adrenaline junkies, with Queenstown being its main hub. Eric insisted on doing the skydive at Wanaka mostly because of the price.

The drive from Mount Cook to Wanaka was scenic enough, with green pastures and low lying hills, but we were all focused on the highlight — the jump. I have never skydive before, and I don’t plan to skydive today. I love the challenge but I only have the budget for one extreme sport and I chose to bungy jump later in our trip. However, for Eric and Charles, this would be the pinnacle of the trip. Eric was really excited but I always had this feeling that Charles is just obediently tagging along. “With such a height, at least you die instead or being crippled.” I teased them. “That’s good news!” Eric said sarcastically. As doctors, we were trained to view all traumas as dangers to our bodies. You can’t blame us for imagining how all the thousands of possible anatomical injuries would affect the body’s function. It is internal, our minds were programmed to do that.


Halfway to Wanaka in Central Otago


Colorful plants whose names I don’t know


Wanaka Puzzling World is fun for all the young uns, and the young at heart.


 This gives new definition to the term “public” bathroom

HOSTELS ARE EVERYWHERE IN NEW ZEALAND, but we chose to stay at a small bed & breakfast for the night. The owners of the place are a young Taiwanese couple who are now working in Wanaka. Their place, “Fat Cat”, is a comfortable town house minutes away from the lake. The female owner is a very talkative and passionate person, always wanting to help with our plans. All in all, it was a pleasant stay, and from Eric’s photos of the night sky, I would say that he was pleasantly contended.


Just me and bros chillin’ at the lakeside


The famous Lake Wanaka tree


 Night view of “Fat Cat” (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)


ERIC AND CHARLES SEEMED CALM ENOUGH WHILE THEY FILL UP THEIR FORMS AT THE SKYDIVING COUNTER. They were equally calm when we watched the pre-flight video. “So, all these belongs to me if anything bad happens?” I said, while they empty their pockets and handed their cameras to me.

It is a beautiful day. Blue skies, gentle breeze, it is a perfect day for jumping out of a plane. I bid them farewell, almost gave them hugs, and resumed my duty of photographing them. There were two more guys who went up with them. All the spectators cheered when they lifted off to the air. The plane circled for a while and all of a sudden, we saw a tiny orange dot coming out of the plane. Then another, and another. They looked so small, until when the parachute opens and we could see small rectangles gliding towards us. It must have been an unbelievable moment for them. When they landed, I could sense how joyful they were. A courageous Eric said, “If I can do this, there is nothing else I couldn’t do”. “Imagine how cool this video would be when you air it during your wedding day?” Charles asked, probably sad because he is already married. Eric now with a sparkle in his eyes, “First, I have to find someone to marry;” he said, “But after this, there is no challenge too great for me!” I laughed at his brags, but deep down inside, I do believe him. When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.


The before photo, still looking good heh?


How cool is that? (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)


The after photo, life’s nice only because we get to live it, haha


Levitation of the day: Wanaka Puzzling World

Day 3 [Mount Cook] Well Worth The Wait/Walk

11 May


JUST BY LOOKING AT ERIC’S PHOTOS FROM HIS EARLY MORNING PHOTO SHOOT, made me a believer. I have faith that today’s the day we start to get priceless views. The skies cleared up and Lake Tekapo is now a sunny lake with a beautiful church. Due to minimal light pollution, the nearby Mount John operates an observatory, which is like a “mecca” for astronomers and fans of the cosmos. The summit proves to be a wonderful lookout during the day too. Also the perfect spot for a classic “levitation pose”.


Eric’s early morning venture to the lakes (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)

IMG_0328Panoramic view of the Mount John summit


Floating in front of the Astro Cafe on Mount Cook summit (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)

SO THEY SAY THE BEST THINGS OCCUR TO THOSE WHO WAIT. After the dramatic change from wet to sunny, our trip seemed only get better. The drive towards Mount Cook was scenic to say the least, but the 700 square kilometres Aoraki Mount Cook National Park itself is a well deserved world heritage site. One of the more popular hikes is the Hooker Valley Track. 9km over a few swingbridges and views of Mount Cook, it took us almost 2 hours to reach the end of it, which is the Hooker Lake. We met various hikers along the road, but one of the largest party is a group of 30 Japanese elderly men and women, all well into their sixties. We saw them resting on one of the slopes, some taking photos of Mount Cook with their cameras, others just drinking from their metal flasks. Amazing enough, they are so silent, that I would have probably walked pass them without noticing the group!

Us three, we did chit-chat along the way, but Eric and Charles more determined in photographing rather than making small talk. At the end of the track, the Hooker Lake looks like a muddy giant pool encircled by a fortress of gray ice. Not pretty but interesting.

That very night, while me and Charles were relaxing our feet, drinking rounds of herbal tea, Eric came up with the idea that we should take a night outing. This was when I was feeling cozy on the couch, just minutes away from dozing off. Alas, bros before hoes (and everything else, right?). And so we reluctantly followed him to a dark campsite area.

Upon arriving, I was totally mesmerized by the night sky. Never before have I witness so many stars in one night. The moon conveniently lit up the tops of the mountains, and there were just a few clouds here and there for decoration. Eric was truly in heaven. He started taking photos after photos, some with us posing uncomfortably for 30 seconds. The result? Spectacular photography masterpieces that Eric claims to be best ones from his lifetime.


The beautiful and rather expensive Hermitage Hotel


Always looking for the next best photo opportunity


Selfie in the Hooker Valley track


30 seconds pose under the stars (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)


Mount Cook looks posh under the starlit sky (Photo courtesy of Eric Chen)


Day 2 [Lake Tekapo] What’s With The Rain?

10 May


AFTER A DISAPPOINTING FIRST DAY, we managed to regain our high spirits for an adventure somewhere far from the Red Zone (at least far enough from the saddening views of half ruined buildings). Contrary to our wishes, the whole town was so devastated that most of its valuable sights are still surrounded by atrocious yellow tapes.
One paradise amidst all of these is the Mona Vale garden. A quaint little park in the middle of town, showcasing itself with well maintained lawns, cottage-styled houses and a community of carefree ducks. Another good change is the Canterbury Museum. The museum is worth visiting if you have time in Christchurch. It has a wonderful collection, and a cute little seashell house in display.
According to Eric, this trip is just starting to get better. I nearly trusted him until a storm came in while we are heading towards Lake Tekapo. The weather in New Zealand can be erratic sometimes. I’ve heard other travelers mumbling about having a few days of blissful sunshine followed by days of heavy rain. Even in the middle of summer, temperature can change rapidly, proving my “T-shirt and shorts” plan unrealistic. According to locals, it is best to dress in layers, as you can experience all four seasons crammed into one day. Even though it was getting wetting as we ascend into the mountains, I am feeling lucky to be traveling in the comfort of our own rental car.
Quiet change in Mona Vale Garden
House filled with seashells in Canterbury Museum
Alpacas! Alpacas! Alpacas!
HAVE YOU EVER ARRIVED AT A FAMOUS SIGHT FEELING TRICKED? Finding the views so different from what you’ve seen on the postcards that you doubted if you were in the correct place? I try not to be negative while traveling but Lake Tekapo looks so different from what it is advertised. At least not today. With strong gust of wind blowing, followed by short bursts of showers here and there, the lake isn’t pretty at all. Anyhow, we still went through the mandatory photo taking and rushed back to our hostel in hopes that it’ll get better tomorrow.
Lake Tekapo is filled with accommodation choices but the only true budget one is the YHA. Clean and just a short walk away from the lake, beds can be a steal especially during peak months. The name Tekapo means “sleeping mat” and “night” in Maori and so this place has long been used as a stopover. Its boasts one of the clearest air in the Southern Hemisphere but unfortunately, it was so too much cloudy when we were there, the only fun we had was during our routine grocery shopping and dinner. Well, best hopes for tomorrow.


All the best men knows their food.


Lakeside view from the YHA Lake Tekapo


The Church of Good Shepherd


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