DURING a three-week so-journ in Taiwan last year – which became the basis for the popular Free And Easy In Taiwan 26-part series that ran in my paper – I experienced the island at its best.
The food, as any foodie will tell you, is truly to die for. Sometimes, late at night, I find myself pining for the fried-chicken cutlet I ate at a bustling night market, and those succulent oysters that I tried on a pier.
The people are lovely, too. They are homely and down-toearth, and go the extra mile to make you, a foreigner, feel welcome.
But most of all, I find myself missing the island’s natural beauty. The quiet dignity of its stately mountain ranges, the astounding fields of flowers, and the clear-blue lakes – these are things you can’t find in all-too-modern Singapore.
I can’t help, therefore, but recount my time there, and tell you about my favourite places to visit in Taiwan.
CINGJING VETERANS FARM
This tranquil pasture, nestled on the top of a mountain in central Taiwan, was easily my favourite spot.
Not only is the air crisp and cool, but you’ll also find colourful European-styled bed-andbreakfasts, making you feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint European countryside.
How to get there: Take a train from Taipei Main Station to Taichung Railway Station. Then take the Kuo Kuang Bus to Puli and transfer to the Nantou Bus, which goes in the direction of Songgang-Cuifeng. Get off at Cingjing Veterans Farm.
This quaint city – the oldest on the island and located in the south of Taiwan – had my full attention.
I loved the antiquated buildings, the preserved remnants of its past (like its forts and old temples) and, of course, the fascinating fairy tale-like Anping Tree House. Its intricate lattice of intertwined tree roots and eeriely silent atmosphere were beautiful and chilling.
How to get there: Take a train from Taipei Main Station to Tainan Railway Station.
Running along Taiwan’s mountainous east coast, this county gives you a slew of alluring natural attractions.
Enjoy amazing sea views atop plunging cliffs; travel on winding mountain roads, and check out the scenic lakes and a sea of seasonal golden daylilies dotting the mountains. Cisingtan’s black sands are also a must-see.
How to get there: Take a train from Taipei Main Station to Hualien Train Station.
SUN MOON LAKE
This pristine and seemingly boundless blue lake is breathtaking at dawn, when the first rays of sunlight hit the water’s surface.
The air of serenity and harmony inspires weary city-dwellers to stand still, breathe, and clear their minds. It’s also a great place for honeymooners.
How to get there: Take a train from Taipei Main Station to Taichung Kan Cheng Train Station. Cross the street and take the Nantou Bus going towards Sun Moon Lake.
This archipelago is great for a quick getaway. Charming, unassuming and carefree, here you can enjoy a blissful island life as you engage in fun water sports, or just tuck into cheap and fresh seafood.
Though there are many tiny islands to visit, each with its own unique features to offer, my favourite is Xiyu. There, head to the west coast and look for Daguoye, where you’ll see the area’s majestic basalt columns.
Don’t forget to look for the gorgeously preserved antique stone houses on Wangan Island and to eat sea-urchin sashimi.
How to get there: Take a domestic flight – such as those of Trans- Asia Airways or Mandarin Airlines – from Songshan Airport to Magong Airport on Penghu’s main island.
Find my paper’s Free And Easy In Taiwan series online at http://sgtravellers.com/travel-sub-feature/free-and-easy-in-taiwan/29 Look out for a new travel series on Taiwan in my paper, starting next month.
Popular: 受欢迎的 shòu huān yíng de
Remnants: 剩余的 shèng yú de
Alluring: 吸引人的 xī yĭn rén de
Sea-urchin sashimi: 海胆刺身 hăi dăn cì shēn
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HIKING is a common pastime for many South Koreans, with about 70 per cent of the country’s land covered by mountainous regions.
During summer, they often visit the mountains and spend time in the valleys and riverside to escape the heat and daily grind.
Here are some popular valleys to check out if you are visiting South Korea:
This valley at Mount Bangtaesan in Inje, Gangwon province, is famous for its trekking course.
It got its name because you can plough the fields only in the morning (“achim”). The sunshine lasts for a shorter duration, as the valley is located deep in the mountains.
Achimgari is well known for its hiking course of about 12km. The course takes five hours to complete. Some of its main charms are the natural paths, rather than man-made roads.
There are also areas near the valley where people can go rafting.
Those looking to escape the summer heat and humidity can find themselves a natural air-conditioner at Eoreumgol.
Located at Mount Cheonwangsan near Miryang, Gyeongsang province, Eoreumgol means “ice valley”, a reference to its freezing temperatures even during summer.
Visitors can feel a cool breeze and even see ice between the rocks.
There is a cable car that visitors can take to see the valley from above.
MOUNT GWANAKSAN NADEUL ROAD
There are also mountains and valleys that people can visit in Seoul.
Mount Gwanaksan, which stretches across Seoul and parts of Gyeonggi province, has numerous hiking trails.
One of its courses is the Mount Gwanaksan Nadeul road, which begins at the mountain entrance and follows various streams in the mountain valleys, passing by a lake garden and mountain spring in the process.
The trail is 5.58km long and easy for people of all ages to walk on as it has very little in the way of slopes, unlike other hiking courses in Gwanaksan.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
FORGET the ornithopter, and don’t even bother following Icarus’ failed flight plan.
The real way to fly, really fly, is to strap on a paraglider and shoot straight for the skies. Granted, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but sitting in a plane or even a helicopter doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
There are no engines and pollution. Paragliding is a non-motorised form of flight that uses a parachute and air flow to get around, so all that’s involved are man (or woman), fabric, the elements and sheer grit.
It’s a high-stakes form of fun, but so is any adventure sport. By taking the right precautions, flying through the air can be as safe as watering plants.
Husband-and-wife team Ikhwan Azillah and Orkid Jamilah know a thing or two about the thrills and spills of the sport, having indulged in it for the last 15 years.
The couple, who established the Malaysia Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association, got into the adventure sport when Ms Orkid got interested in it while she was in Britain, and introduced her husband to the sport later. When they realised the money-making potential of their hobby, the pair went to New Zealand to earn their international paragliding certification.
So, what stirs someone enough to make them want to take to the skies?
“A lot of people have bucket lists and paragliding tends to be one of the things on the list. Other adventure sports are common, too, like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping,” explained Ms Orkid during a recent interview.
And where this sense of adventure is concerned, women rule. According to Ms Orkid, women make up most of their local clientele. “I don’t know where the men have gone,” admitted Mr Ikhwan sheepishly.
Thrill seekers also include expatriates and tourists from countries near and far, including France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ms Orkid and Mr Ikhwan have based their service in the historic town of Jugra, off Banting in Selangor. The location, aptly named Paragliding Flightpark, is where paragliding enthusiasts take flight.
The most popular form of paragliding is tandem flight, where thrill seekers merely enjoy the ride while a “pilot” steers the glider. For this kind of ride, no prior knowledge of the sport is required, though a basic understanding of physics is beneficial for working with the pilot to steer the glider comfortably.
Weight is also a consideration – for safety reasons, a tandem flier cannot weigh more than 135kg.
The average flight lasts 10 minutes, costing RM200 (S$72). Students pay RM150.
Those with a greater sense of adventure may opt to fly solo. The fundamental introductory course is a two-day affair. Depending on the level of interest, the training spans four tiers, the lowest for those hoping to fly on their own while the highest for those intending to become licensed instructors.
The introductory course teaches would-be fliers the basics of flying, including packing the chute. It may sound like mundane work, but a wrongly packed chute might not deploy, and that can only spell disaster.
Packing the chute, made of tightly woven nylon fabric, also gives fliers a chance to inspect its condition – safety is imperative.
“The gear we use comes with a five-year guarantee. Small repairs are outsourced to former commandos who were (parachute) riggers,” Mr Ikhwan said.
No purchase of equipment is required for novice fliers, but serious paragliders can look into getting their own gear.
Sure, paragliding isn’t for everyone. And collecting stamps is way safer.
But think of all the times we’ve envied birds and longed to fly freely like them. Well, paragliding takes a similar trajectory – and wax-coated feathers no longer have to be an option.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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