By Jannelle So
There were two clear choices for those who wanted to dip in the hot springs at the Calla Young Garden Resort located in the famous Yangming Mountain in Taiwan: private hot springs and public hot springs. The private pool, though separate for men and women, adopts the “i-see-you-you-see-me-method” where everyone needs to be totally naked. The public pool requires everyone to wear two things: a bathing suit and a swimming cap. When this was announced in the tour bus, as we trekked our way to the famous national park, tour participants of the Travel to Taiwan with LA18, Part 2 got simultaneously excited and anxious. The hot springs in Taiwan are a famous attraction. Naturally, everyone wanted to try it. But then again, we weren’t throughly informed of the pool requirements. Not all were willing to go nude in front of each other. But those who wanted to use the public bath had one problem – no one brought a swimming cap. And it was amidst this frenzy when one smart lady inquired loudly – “Can we just use the shower cap from the hotel?” Pretty resourceful? And why not?
For the second straight year, Taiwan Tourism Organization partnered with LA18 to spread the beauty of the country to Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino tourists from the U.S. It’s actually smart for Filipinos to stop over on their way to the Philippines because it’s just two hours away. And whether you have a week or just a few days, I assure you a good time. Here are my favorites from the last two trips:
My ultimate dream vacation is at Sun Moon Lake. I’m not sure whether it was the misty weather that greeted us there on our first trip last year that made me fall in love with the place. It could have also been just the lushness of it all that captivated me. But I dare say you can’t go to Taiwan without visiting this largest body of water in the country. The area is home to one of the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan called the Thao tribe. The east side resembles the sun and the west side resembles the moon. That’s how it got it’s name. One of my most favorite places is The Lalu – the exclusive and uber-luxurious 6-star resort/hotel named after the island of Lalu that the Sun Moon Lake surrounds. It is in this hotel where some Taiwanese and Korean tele-novelas are filmed. I was impressed with the villa – a cottage with its own small garden and swimming pool. The heated pool is attached to the bedroom, separated only by a sliding door. The idea is, if you don’t close the door, you can well end up in the pool by the time you wake up in the morning. Lovely, isn’t it? You’ll have to save up though. One night in this heaven-on-earth costs almost $1,000.
Another attraction in Taiwan that’s also a favorite of tele-novela crews for filming is Jieofen. It’s a Chinese name that means “nine portions.” In the olden days, the village by a mountain was a golding town that housed nine families. And so whenever they ordered anything from the mainland, it was always in nine portions. Today, the place is filled with stores that display several Taiwanese snacks, delicacies and souvenirs. If you’re looking for exotic and something different – you’ll find barbecued wild boar meat as a snack; or preserved orange peelings with herbs to soothe your throat. My favorite purchase were bags of assorted flavor-filled mochi filled with red bean, green tea, strawberry, mango… you get the idea? And when you get tried from looking around, you can take your pick at several tea houses that serve wonderful and interesting Taiwanese dishes.
But if you want real shopping, as in apparel and shoes and accessories, my favorite bargain destination is Wufenpu – the wholesale garment district in Taipei. You may not be able to get the wholesale price, but even retail is cheaper than department store prices. Quality, however, is better than night market goods. It’s also cleaner and covered by the awnings from each stall. So unlike in the night market where there’s a big chance you’ll get wet when the rains come (which is something you can never predict in Taiwan), you’re actually safer and much drier at Wufenpu.
You cannot visit Taiwan without passing by at least one temple. No matter your belief or religion, entering a temple is quite an experience. The architecture is really something else. Pay attention to the wood carvings. Examine the dragons. Though very intricate and absolutely aesthetically pleasing; it’s also full of information and meaning. The dragon carved on the pillars is a sign of strength. Stories accompanying the statues revered by Buddhists, Taoists and Confucianists are fascinating. And if you care to pay respect or make a wish, you may also light up an incense.
And then we end where we began. Make sure you visit Yangming Mountain which is one of Taiwan’s most famous national parks. The Japanese fell in love with the place when they invaded Taiwan so they set up camp here. But missing their own Japan, they decided to plant cherry blossom trees all over to address their homesickness. To this day, when the pretty Japanese national flowers are in bloom, tourists and locals trek to enjoy the view. But even when there are no flowers to adore, the place is filled with greens to enjoy. The place is ideal for communing with nature. There’s a sense of serenity in each corner. The mountain itself is a dead volcano so there are lots of hot springs in the area. And a dip in one of those is a must… just don’t forget to bring your swimming cap!
There are lots more stories from Taiwan. Catch all of it on Kababayan Today – Southern California’s first and only daily talk show for and about Filipinos – which airs Mondays-Fridays at 4:00p.m. on LA18. But if you can’t wait and you’d rather create your own stories, call Jane Stark of Travel International Group at 310.327.5143.