Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fun Hualien

During my studying & living in Taiwan, I had been traveling to different parts of Taiwan but never been to the island's eastern part. So my plan  after the  IMBA defense day was to visit the most-recommended place by my friends - the "brilliant paradise of East Taiwan" which is called Hualien.

The transportation system in Taiwan is all linked well. From Taipei to Hualien I had 3 choices to  make my travel: by train in abt 3 hours; by bus in 5 hours; and by plane in 30 mins. I enjoyed my window sightseeing a lot through the train ;-)  
Solar energy system are popularly-supplied in Taiwan. Not surprisingly,
I met them quite often on the way
My first impression was that Hualien is a peaceful but uncrowded city, especially when I came in summer days of June, the peak season of tourism. Right out there of Hualien train station, the town looked so friendly-natural & beautiful when many houses in the town located at the foot of hills. The atmosphere of a coastal city was so fresh.  

There are many beautiful scenic places like HuaTung valley, the ocean and amusement park and also hot springs like Antong, but since I love the coastal & natural beauty, my plan was to visit the Chi Hsing Beach firstly - the most beautiful beach in this area.
Many of my friends chose different tours to visit Hualien from travel agent, but after asking some other senior classmates’ experience, I decided to rent a motorbike and made the trip by myself. With a city map, it made every destination easy to be reached. 
 The beauty of a flower garden stopped me a while in the side road
 I met a small pier on the way
It was kind of cloudy but still much sunny
 Many boats were sleeping when I came
The thing I really like is number of mountains with long beach in Hualien. They looked so gorgeous & attractive like a young beautiful girl.
At last I came to Chi Hsing beach.
 The beach owns a natural environment, most are undeveloped & so pure
It was a long walk from the sand to the water. A family rode their car to the sand
What a great place to enjoy bicycling 
  The beach was so calm & looked clean but no-one went for swimming
Many people were enjoying their time in the whale watching spot
 Whereas some others were resting near the information center
 An amusement place in the other side
In the next day, I went to Taroko National Park which is the second largest national park in Taiwan. Taroko is not Chinese. That name originated from the Japanese colonialism time when the Japanese discovered the natural beauty of mountains here. Taroko in Japanese meant “beautiful" ...
Winding roads in Taroko Park...
...later guided me to Taroko Arch
Here the information of the old Arch - Taroko
Wooden scenic spot to view the spring
It was cool to look at the marble cliffs which vary from white to gray
The cliffs created an "open tunnel" - a road with one side of great view to the gorges & vegetation of forest trees. The parks becomes more special for its spectacular mountains & marble gorges.
Cross Road through Tunnel of Nine Turns
After riding through Yanzihkou  tunnel, other famous scenic spots in Totoro National Park turned out to appear in front of me.
Hsiang Te temple in the mountain. 
You just can reach the temple after crossing the suspension bridge called PuDu
The lake on the road side
For me, two days visiting Hualien were memorable time in the east of the Formosa. What would be the difference of these places' beauty in summer and winter time? I don't know yet until coming back there in winter for my next trip. But I'm very sure I would be happy to visit Hualien with an accompany.  And I should go to see another place, DongHwa University - the first & most beautiful campus in east Taiwan as well./.

V in Taroko Park's main yard

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sapa inspiration I love

One of my favorite places to visit in Northern Vietnam is Sapa, a small highland town in Lao Cai province. While not the French-colonized town it used to be, Sapa is worth a visit due to its unique climate, cultural diversity and natural beauty. It was a long trip from my city Hanoi to pass more than 300km to Lao Cai. Since it’s not a big deal for me to sleep on train, I chose to take not bus but train to Sapa because it would be more fun to me. Walking in Hanoi train station’s platform, I was looking for my cabin. It was the first-lay bed seat in a 6-berth cabin. I couldn’t find myself sleepy yet since it was still about 10pm, so I decided to stand in the corridor out of the cabin for a while. A little 5 -year-old girl standing in the next cabin door attracted me by her beautiful eyes. She was being taken care by her grandparents while her parents were tired sleeping inside. She was cute but shy in the beginning. Not for long, quickly we got acquainted when I asked about her name.

In the next day’s morning when we had about 15 mins more to reach Lao Cai station, I said goodbye to the little girl and her family after taking a picture of her. She was smiling when I showed her the picture.
Reaching to Lao Cai train station at 6 am, I found not difficult to see many mini buses waiting for customers to Sapa, right in front of Lao Cai station. 
Bus ticket costs only about 30 000 - 40 000 VND per person. It is reasonable for a half-hour trip of 40 kilometers, especially when that short trip even brings you more with view of terrace fields in left hand side along the way up to the town. I shot pics of few minorities in Dao or H’Mong customs selling corn maizes across the street. It was almost 3 years from my latest trip to Sapa, since I was not in Vietnam. The lake in entrance way to Sapa welcomed me to come back.
Ham Rong (DragonJaw) mountain looms high above the town while the sapphire blue lake nestles in the morning fog.
From my hotel, the view of mountains behind is gorgeous. The cool weather out in the balcony erased the tiredness & made everything fresh.
The bus took me directly to my hotel. After check-in, I decided to go see around. Sapa has changed astonishingly after 3 years. More western-style restaurants & hotels have been developed in this highland town due to increasing foreign tourist rate. And advertisement in English is everywhere. In some moments I felt myself not being in a highland town of Vietnam but of another country.
“A spa salon” in highland town – It really surprised me how much Sapa’s changed after 3 years.
You can find many hotels offering good services & prices around Cau May street
A road to the downtown. Different architecture makes the town outlook so changing 
but luckily, the appearance of ethnic minorities’s balanced the modernity & tradition.
The busiest area of Sapa is the Sapa market next to Old French-era Catheral, where many ethnic minorities display their colorful brocade products, local fruits, herbal medicines… from day to late night time. 
It was creative that the Vietnamese instructed minority people to make paintings from dyed dry leaves.
 Colorful dyed leave- materials to make paintings

I was looking for any interesting brocades in the market too, but what made me more interested was to observe how many old ethic women work on their handicraft but continuously invite clients to buy… in fluent English.

Beside Vietnamese mainly in downtown, there are some other ethnic minorities inhabitting in Sapa highlands, spreading in hill tribe villages on different remote mountains. But H'Mông and Dao đỏ are most popular ethnic minorities who regularly come to downtown. It is not surprising to local people but foreign tourists because many minority people can speak English, French, and some Spanish. They learn by themselves and thru verbal teaching from other family members, since it’s their needed skill if they want to sell souvenirs with better price to foreign tourists.
Ethnic minority sellers were chit- chatting with a group of French tourists.
Some even spoke English or French more fluently than their Vietnamese.
In the next morning, I planned to visit Ham Rong (Dragon Jaw), a kingdom of colorful flowers, especially orchids.  From the town, you can see Ham Rong peak among the clouds look like a dragon head flying up to sky. The entrance is right behind the Sapa church.
Path to Ham Rong (DragonJaw)
 Splendid colorful flower carpets are flanked by aisles everywhere in the path up to Cổng Trời (Heaven Yard) in Hàm Rồng mountain
Here in Ham Rong Mountain, it features flora of climates more typical of European forests
There are over 300 species of brilliant and gorgeous orchids in the gardens
The peace of cool climate & green space in Ham Rong. I was lucky that morning was sunny.
 And here’s what worth to see. Following the ascents of acient rocks stretching the mountain, you can enjoy a great panorama of Sapa town from Heaven Yard awaiting for you.
And the other side
When I came down to the town, I decided to stop by a restaurant for  lunch after a trekking morning. The lunch time helped me to see another aspect of local lives here.
 It’s nice to have your sit & enjoy watching local people go selling souvenirs to tourists. 
Their English/ French speaking amuses foreign tourists.
A patient cat in the coffee shop when I was hanging out
On the way back to Hanoi, when looking for my cabin and passing by the next-door cabin , I  was called by someone. What an interesting coincidence. My neighbor passengers were the little girl & her family again. It was nice to see them more, especially my little friend. Sapa gave me great time to experience its unique climate and beauty. The journey also gave me special chance to meet a new friend like her. 
An enjoyable moment with my little friend in a trip to Sapa. I will miss her beautiful eyes
When to go: It will be too bad to visit Sapa in rainy season during June-August. So the best time to come is in dry season during April - May.
Further, Sapa is one of the very few areas in Vietnam where snow can fall in the winter. It will be cool to experience the snow fall & the scenic beauty of white Sapa town if you come during Jan-Feb too.
How to get there: From Hanoi to Lao Cai, you can take train from Hanoi Train Station or open tour bus from travel agencies.
Weather: You can find 4 seasons a day in Sapa. Morning is like the spring. Noon is like the summer with light sunshine & cool wind. Afternoon is cool like autumn & in the evening; it can be cold like the winter. So don’t forget to bring your jacket & jeans.
What to do:
  • Sapa love market gathers right next to the Church in every Saturday & Sunday. It’s called “love market” because it’s the traditional culture for ethic minority young men & women in their tribal costumes to meet, get know each other thru their dance & playing local music instruments called khèn, sáo, or đàn môi… and more importantly seek for their lovers.
  • Minority’s medicinal herb bathing: it will be interesting to try this. After having shower in wooden bath tub with medicinal herbs of Dao or H’Mong tribes, you will find yourself fresh & relaxing from your trekking day.
  • Trekking to tribal villages. My trip to Cat Cat & Ta Phin village gave me more understanding of their daily lives. If you are adventurous person who want to conquer higher trekking, get yourself ready to reach Fansipan peak, the highest mountain of not only Vietnam but the Indochina Peninsula as well.
  • Hoang Lien Son range and Fansipan, the "roof of Indochina" because of its 3143m height are great destination for who loves to conquer the top.
  • Food: There is a lot of food stalls next to Sapa Town Hall, but the food there was not interesting to me rather than trying out in local restaurants around the small town. There are many nice restaurants in Cau May str., but not specialized in local food only. They have even western foods for many foreign tourists go eating here.
  • Shopping the handicraft brocade cloths: In Cau May str., you can find many souvenir shops where displays many styles of colorful handicraft brocades. Many handmade souvenirs are sold in open-market near the Sapa church as well.