Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Travels

Boardwalk, Atlantic City
In January we traveled to Atlantic City to participate in Yelp's Winter Break, a weekend of entertainment co-organized by Yelp New Jersey and Yelp Philadelphia. It was a fun weekend of scavenger hunting and drinking but, mostly, it was a great way to experience Atlantic City for the first time.

Our weather wasn't the best, but we still got to see some of the famous landmarks from Monopoly and the gorgeous beach.

Someday, hopefully, we'll get to see it in all its summertime glory. But, its wintertime glory wasn't too bad at all.

In February we spent a long weekend in Boston. We did the Freedom Trail. We ate Boston creme pie. We drank Sam Adams beer. We pub crawled.

Boston was cold in February but we still had a great time wandering the city and exploring historically significant locations (including Cheers, pictured).

The Freedom Trail is excellent for the really old, historically significant stuff (not just '80's TV shows, though Cheers is near the start of the trail). Plus, the Trail leaves you in a lovely part of Boston called Charlestown. You should go to Sullivan's Pub for some local color. And watch The Town with Ben Affleck before you get there.

Puerto Rico
In March we went to Puerto Rico for a proper holiday. We scored on a Delta glitch and got roundtrip first class / priority tickets for only US$87 from NYC via ATL.

This trip was amazing for many reasons but mostly because we got to reconnect with old friends who now live there. Also, we want to live in Viejo San Juan. Its colonial charm and friendly locals really made it hard to say goodbye. We'll be back, Viejo San Juan. Promesa.

Playa El Cuco, El Salvador
In May we traveled to El Salvador for a long holiday. We stayed over three weeks at La Tortuga Verde in Playa El Cuco. The picture on the right was our view for the entirety of our stay.

Although El Salvador was slightly dodgy at times, we made some great friends on this trip, had some great experiences, and ate some great food. I can totally see us going back someday.

If you go and stay at La Tortuga Verde, don't miss the All Day Open Water Adventure. Magical. ¡Hay pescado!

The end of June and beginning of July were reserved for visiting family and friends in Utah. We spent the bulk of two weeks in the Salt Lake valley visiting family before venturing on a quintessential road trip to Las Vegas for a long weekend with old friends.

Las Vegas
July also saw us officially becoming expats again. After a night in Long Beach, California, we caught a flight to Manila, Philippines where we survived two nights before landing in Taipei, Taiwan.

We spent over two weeks in Taipei before moving south to Kaohsiung, our new home. Besides a few day trips to Maokong, Danshui, and Yangminshan, we didn't really do much sightseeing again until November.

We had a houseguest from Seattle join us for a week in early November. Besides showing her around Kaohsiung, we took her up to Taipei where, in addition to Maokong, we also traveled to Beitou for the hot springs.

Beitou Hot Springs
We finished the year with an ambitious day trip to Sun Moon Lake.

2014 was an amazing travel year for us. We got to see new places, visit old favorites, and share many of them with friends and family. We hope this foretells a new trend in travel for us. Sharing experiences with those you love is truly one of life's joys.

To all the Travel Bunnies out there, may 2015 bring you good health, happiness and many safe travels.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sun Moon Lake


Happy Holidays Bunnies!

Husband and I had some British bunnies visiting this month. After they traveled from Taipei to spend a day with us in Kaohsiung, we had hoped to see them again before the end of their vacation. Luckily, between work and holiday commitments, we were able to manage a day trip to Sun Moon Lake. This was our first day trip in Taiwan since our relocation to Kaohsiung back in August. We've been a bit lethargic from the heat so we needed an excuse, like visiting friends, to get us out of our rut.

Sun Moon Lake is an ambitious day trip from Kaohsiung when using public transportation, especially when taking the slow train for part of the journey. The slow train takes nearly 3 hours from Kaohsiung to Taichung but is only NT$482pp. High speed rail takes just less than an hour but costs a premium at NT$860pp. 

To save money, we opted for the 6:00am slow train from Fengshan station in Kaohsiung to Taichung Main station. We arrived in Taichung at 8:51am where we promptly got lost searching for the bus that would take us to our final destination. After a lot of aimless wandering, we finally returned to the train station to receive guidance from the Visitor's Centre. Now armed with precise directions, we walked the 15 minutes to Ganchen Station where we caught the 9:50am bus to Sun Moon Lake.

Some notes for this section:
  1. There is no food trolley nor car nor vending machines on the slow train. Bring your own food.
  2. If in doubt, always stop at the Visitor's Centre before venturing further.
Ita Thao
The Nantou Bus to Sun Moon Lake is NT$340pp (return) and the schedule says it's a nearly 2 hour ride. For us, it took a bit longer than that. Had we arrived on time, we could've caught the 12:00pm round-the-lake bus (NT$80pp, one-day ticket). Instead, we had to wait nearly 30 minutes for the 12:40pm.

Our friends were staying across the lake, in Ita Thao. A cab from the bus station costs a flat fee of NT$500. Again, to save money, we opted to wait for the bus. It's a nice system but, like most buses outside Taipei, there aren't nearly enough of them. One bus every 40 minutes seems a bit inadequate.

Upon meeting up with our friends, we promptly headed to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (NT$300pp). This cable car was a great experience. The price is a bit high, especially when Taipei's gondola to Maokong is only NT$100, but it provides a lovely view of the area and is a quick and easy way to get to the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village theme park. The theme park's admission is NT$780pp. We didn't go.

After the gondola ride, we ventured back to Ita Thao for a late lunch / early dinner. After searching for a bit, and salivating at all the street food options, we ended up dining at a Mann Gay Dann indigenous village where we enjoyed a meal of wild boar hotpot and a short performance of indigenous music and dance.

Our plan for the day was derailed at the end when the fog rolled in. We had hoped to catch the ferry back to the bus station but, due to low visibility, the ferries were all cancelled. We then tried to catch one of the last round-the-lake buses. Unfortunately, when we got to the stop, there was a very long line for a very full bus. With limited time to catch the last bus back to Taichung, we grabbed a cab. Fortunately, we found the coolest cab driver in all of Taiwan. 

Neil Zeng is the owner of Yellow Tuna Cab, a private touring company providing taxi tours for all of Taiwan. Neil is incredibly knowledgeable about all things Taiwan and it was an absolute joy to have met him. Even after the disappointment of missing out on a boat ride across the lake, Neil made our taxi ride from Ita Thao to the bus station one of the highlights of our day trip to Sun Moon Lake. 太棒了!

HOT TIP: Don't pay NT$300 for the all-day boat ticket at the ticket booth. Hotels will sell them to you for only NT$100. Boom! You're welcome.

For our return trip, we opted for the higher price but faster speeds of the high speed rail. All told, we traveled for approximately 7 hours for only about 5 quality hours at Sun Moon Lake but, overall, the day was fairly relaxing. The food, amusements, and scenery at Sun Moon Lake made the experience very enjoyable. Even the bad weather was picturesque. And, because we had friends visiting, it was most definitely worth the effort.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album.

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