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Photography – Once Upon a Sunny Tale

Florence Resort Villa 佛羅倫斯渡假山莊

This scene taken at Florence Resort Villa 佛羅倫斯渡假山莊 in Cingjing 清境 reminds me of a fairytale, complete with castles, cottages and a cheery sun. Now I just need my fairy godmother to send a Prince Charming, and the picture is complete :)

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Taiwan – A Kinmen Root 金门一条根

金门一条根 Kinmen

金门特产之一是“一条根”,不过肯定不是这一根 :) Photo of my Taiwanese pal Xiao Kai taken at Juguang Tower 莒光樓, Kinmen. This pose was thought of by him. I gotta applaud him for his vivid imagination :)

One of the specialty products of Kinmen, Taiwan which I learnt from my recent visit to Kinmen, is a herb called “金門一條根 Jin Men Yi Tiao Gen”, loosely translated into a kinky-sounding “A Kinmen Root.”

Found in the Kinmen area, pharmaceutical books claim that the Yi Tiao Gen herb, or 阔叶大豆 (Glycine tomentella Hayata) can enhance blood circulation, build general health and is especially good for treating arthritis and body aches. I immediately dragged my aching body (yes, I over-shopped again, ha) in search of this remedy.

金门一条根 Kinmen

My sweet pal Xiao Kai brought us to 金門浯記一條根 conveniently located in the city centre Jin Cheng 金城 (just opposite the bus station). They are the first shop in Kinmen to promote products made from Yi Tiao Gen, and have worked with local TCM institutions to research on this herb.

金门一条根 Kinmen

It’s a full house! Definitely a good sign…

金门一条根 Kinmen

Say hello to Sister Xu! Can you imagine she used to serve in the army? (see the photo on the counter just in front of her) I bet she must have been the best tester for the herb lol.

金门一条根 Kinmen

Yi Tiao Gen can be ingested as a drink or made into a paste, oil or plaster for application on aching body parts. Its root is about 50cm long (hence its name) and can only be harvested after 2 to 10 years. The low production makes it precious and it has been likened to the Korean ginseng.

金门一条根 Kinmen

This is the paste to go for! Buy, buy ,buy!

金门一条根 Kinmen

Sister Xu helped to do “gua sha” with the Yi Tiao Gen paste, and look at my shoulder in 5 minutes – all red! Definitely overworked and too heaty!

金门一条根 Kinmen

From top left: Yi Tiao Gen tea bags, medicinal paste, oil and plaster (can cut into smaller pieces) And that’s only part of my stash. Bye bye pain :)

金門浯記一條根 Kinmen Wu Ji Yi Tiao Gen
Address: 金門縣金城鎮民生路9-18號(金城車站旁) – this would be a more convenient location
Tel: 082 322 285
Opening Hours: 7:30AM to 9:30PM
Email: mia321983@yahoo.com.tw

金門浯記一條根(總店 Main store)
Address:金門縣金寧鄉后沙村3-1號
Tel:082 322 352 / 3231 493
Fax:082 323 312
Opening Hours:8:00AM to 6:00PM
Email:km.w863316@msa.hinet.net
Website: http:// www.km5g.com.tw
金門浯記一條根address
Visiting Kinmen? This map of Kinmen will be useful (Source: Kinmen County website).

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Taiwan – Experiencing Minsu 民宿 in Cingjing 清境

Cingjing 清境

Immerse in the fresh air and the scenic greenery of Cingjing 清境 at 2000 metres sea level – it’s heavenly!

One of the must-have experiences in Taiwan is staying in a minsu (民宿), also commonly known as homestay or bed-and-breakfast. These minsu often come in different themes and décor, and there’s one for you whether on a shoestring budget or nothing-but-the-best. Minsu owners are usually very friendly, make you feel at home and are very knowledgeable about the area. The owners often drive their guests to nearby attractions for free, or help to arrange trips around the vicinity for a nominal fee. Best of all, you get a sumptuous home-cooked meal at a home-away-from-home. Minsu is highly popular in Hualian and Yilan where it is close to nature – imagine gazing at the stars through your lodge and waking up to a picturesque scene of the hills! We chose to stay at a minsu at Cingjing (Nantou南投 district) which is about 3 hours away from Taipei.

Cingjing 清境

Cingjing is one of the most scenic areas in Taiwan and the views up there is simply amazing – I felt like a fairy walking on heaven!

Cingjing 清境

Ta da! We are at Qingjing Xiaozhu 清境小築, home up in the hills for 2 days. Cinjing is very popular for weekend trips from Taipei, just to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban living.

Cingjing 清境

Cingjing’s view is wonderful! No matter the season, you can expect a nice 15 ⁰C. Do book a minsu which is higher up the hills for a good scenic view. Ours came with a beautiful terrace. I can imagine sipping tea and chatting leisurely about life here.

Cingjing 清境

Even the flowers look especially alluring up in the mountains.

Cingjing 清境

Meals are served in this cosy dining hall.

Cingjing 清境

Simple home-cooked breakfast to start the day with

Cingjing 清境

Checking out the view from our balcony – excited!

Cingjing 清境

There are only 5 rooms at the minsu which can accommodate 2 to 4 guests. We took the bigger room and added a bed for 5 of us.

Cingjing 清境

Here’s the friendly owner of the minsu

Cingjing 清境

We saw many patches of vegetable plots around the vicinity (山菜), all looking so fresh and abundant! Someone quick pass me the salad bowl…

Cingjing 清境

I was told this particular plant is called por4 por4 ji4 (树子), and it tasted SO GOOD when fried with mountain vegetables!

Cingjing 清境

We saw cherry blossoms at the minsu too

Cingjing 清境

Morning dew

CingJing 清境

A wefie to remember our trip together ☺ We enjoyed our stay at Cingjing, we will be back!

Cingjing 清境

I’ll leave you with this amazing photo of Hehuan Mountains…tempting, tempting…you just have to see it for yourselves *wink*

Getting to Cingjing from Taipei
Take the HSR Train from Taipei Main Station to Taichung HSR station in about 50 minutes. Once at Taichung, take a taxi to Cingjing or go to the Tourist Information desk beside Exit 5 to purchase round-trip bus tickets to Cingjing via stopover in Puli. The bus journey takes about 2.5 hours. Stop at Cingjing Guest House bus stop (清境農場國民賓館).

Cingjing’s Tourism Website: http://www.cingjing.com.tw/

Qingjing Xiaozhu 清境小築
Address: No. 14, Shouting Ln., Ren’ai Township, Nantou 00546, Taiwan
南投縣仁愛鄉大同村壽亭巷14號
Tel: 0912-707186; 049-2803221
Email: 2803221@gmail.com
Website: http://www.shiautzu.tw

Searching for a minsu in Cingjing? Here’s some you can consider:
The Old England Hotel 老英格蘭莊園 (Creme de la creme of the lot; 6 months advance booking)
– Florence Resort Villa 佛羅倫斯渡假山莊 (Gorgeous Italian-themed villa)
– Starry Minsu 清境民宿觀星園景觀山莊 (Highest-located minsu in Cingjing; good aerial view)
Misting Minsu 雲濛仙境民宿 (Convenient location)

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Taiwan – SHIFEN十分放天灯: Sending Wishes to the Sky

Shifen Sky Lantern

Sending the Queens’ shopping list to the sky :)

Shifen Sky Lanterns

The two most popular attractions in the quiet town of Shifen would be the Shifen Waterfalls (nicknamed “Taiwan’s Niagara Falls”) and Shifen Old Street where visitors go to release sky lanterns. While you can release sky lanterns all day long, we planned Shifen as the last stop of the day after Jiufen (about 30mins away by car) with since it would be nicer to release the lanterns at night.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Releasing sky lanterns (放天灯) is a significant ritual in Taiwan and the most notable places to do that would be Pingxi and Shifen. It’s a fun experience for most visitors to Taiwan (and the locals too); there’s just something very alluring about being able to write your wishes on a lantern which would carry your prayers to the sky (祈福) – think of it as a direct courier service to heaven.
Releasing sky lanterns is so popular that thousands of people gather for the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every 15th day of the Lunar New Year.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Shifen Old Street
Shifen got its name as there used to be 10 families living in the town (ten portions). Shifen Old Street is the most famous stop along Pingxi Branch Rail Line. The 13km rail line was originally built in 1918 to transport coal and was re-purposed as a tourism route in 1992. All the shops sell either sky lanterns or souvenirs.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Seal your love with a declaration to the sky

Shifen Sky Lanterns

And off the lanterns go, higher!

Shife Sky Lanterns

And the train goes past…whoaaaa *hair flies up* (luckily not the skirt)
Notice how close the shops along Shifen Old Street are to the train line. It’s also pretty interesting – and dangerous – that visitors actually stand on the tracks to release the sky lanterns, and have to shun when a train comes along. Talk about an adrenalin rush. But worry not – the shopkeepers are all very familiar with the train timings and will ask you to get off the tracks before the trains pass through.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Colour-coding wishes
The sky lanterns range from NT$100 to NT$150 depending on the number of colours chosen. Apparently each color represents a wish (e.g red=health and peace, yellow = money luck) so the more wishes you have, the more you pay.
You can also choose to add a string of firecrackers at the bottom of your lantern at an extra cost, perhaps this will gain the attention of the heavens and grant your wish faster? Since I was just in for the fun of it, I went with just one basic colour at NT$100.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Budding Picassos
I was amused that we were given calligraphy brushes to doodle on the lanterns. The last time I held one was in elementary school when I took Chinese painting lessons. And looks like XT had other ideas with the brush. I’m not the canvas!

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Having so much fun

Shifen Sky Lanterns

The Queen’s Lantern
Ta-da! I’m sure you weren’t expecting a ‘normal’ wishing lantern from me, riggght? *wink*

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Setting off our sky lantern

Sky Lantern in Shifen

Fly strong & high…
It was kinda surreal to watch it rise. Curious, I asked the shopkeeper what happens to the sky lanterns. Apparently they stay in the air for 8-10minutes, float to the mountain behind and then fall back to the ground after the candle finishes burning. The shop pays workers to pick up the fallen lanterns afterwards to dump away. Oops. Sorry to burst the bubble…still it’s a very fun thing to do. You should try it! I had a lot of fun.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

Bring home a wish
I bought a few of these home as souvenirs and gifts for friends. They look great hanging by the window.

Shifen Sky Lanterns

It was a poetic end to a long but absolutely fun day exploring Yehliu, Jiufen, Jinguashi and Shifen. No trip to Taiwan would be complete without seeing all these locations at least once.

Travel in a Day by car: Yehliu 野柳 > Jiufen 九份 > Jinguashi 金瓜石 > Shifen 十分

More on Taiwan:
Taiwan – Blooming Delights and Cultural Richness in Daxi 大溪
Taiwan – Nature’s Wonders at Yehliu Geopark 野柳地質公園
Taiwan – Jiufen’s 九份 Golden Nostalgia
Taiwan – Urban Respite at Beitou Hot Springs 北投溫泉
Taiwan – Tamsui 淡水:Of Romantic Sunsets & Tantalizing Snacks
Taiwan – Jingguashi 金瓜石:Goldmine of Yesteryear
Taiwan – SHIFEN十分放天灯: Sending Wishes to the Sky
Taiwan – Sun Moon Lake 日月潭: Picturesque Nature

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Getting to Shifen

By Bus:
MRT Muzha Station (捷運木柵站) -> No. 15 Taipei Bus (台北客運15路公車) -> Shifen (十分)

By Train:
1. Take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) at the Taipei Railway Station (TRA). It’s where Taipei Main Station is – follow the underground signs to get to TRA. Train schedule: http://twtraffic.tra.gov.tw/twrail/English/e_index.aspx
2. Alight at Ruifang Station and buy tickets for the Pingxi Line (平溪支線). Take the train to Shifen Railway Station (十分火車站). Rides are unlimited on the Pingxi Line.

Taking a Taxi from Ruifang Station
You can save some time by taking the train to Ruifang Station, and taking a taxi there. The prices are regulated by the authorities and clearly indicated, so the taxi drivers cannot overcharge. Save even more by sharing a taxi with other travelers going the same way.
Single destinations: Jiufen (九份): NT180; Jinguashi (金瓜石); NT240, Shifenliao (十分): NT480; Shuangxi (双溪): NT600
Packaged destinations:
– Package A (NT$1,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街)
– Package B (NT$2,300)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
– Package C (NT$2,000)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Yehliu Geopark (野柳风景区)
– Package D (NT$2,800)
Ruifang Railway Station (瑞芳火车站), Nanya Rocks(南雅奇石), Yin Yang Sea (阴阳海), Thirteen Level Refining (十三层遗址), Gold Waterfall (黃金瀑布), Jiufen Old Street (九份老街), Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Shifen Old Street (十分老街), Taipei (台北)
*Prices for reference only. Check the prices when you are there.

Driver
If you are looking to hire a driver, you can consider Mr Liu 刘先生. He’s a burly uncle who used to be a truck driver, and very honest. He charged us a very reasonable per day rate, brought us to all the places where the locals went, and none of those touristy crap. And we felt safe with him. You can give him a try if you wish. Mr Liu’s Mobile: (0)988-121-529.

Another contact you can try is Lucky Zhao +886 913 185 157, slightly pricier but good service and speaks well.