Gem Has Wandered Away……..from this web page

Hello lovely followers and new visitors!

Just wanted to put up a quick note to let you know that gem goes wandering has wandered over to a new site address.

Nothing too major to remember – now it is just www.gemgoeswandering.com since I got myself a dedicated IP address.

It would be absolutely amazing if you would visit the new site and follow me on there so that you can continue to be updated when I publish a new post.

In fact I have already posted one called The Tastes, Sights, Sounds and Unmistakable Smells of a Taiwanese Night Market. So check that out while you’re over there.

The new site looks a lot like the old one for now, but keep an eye on it as there are some major plans in the works for it to become bigger and better – including designing my own logo. Well at least attempting to!

Thanks so much for following me and visiting this web page, I really appreciate your interest in my travels and hope you continue to enjoy this little blog as it hopefully gets a bit bigger.

G xx

Relinquishing Control in Taroko National Park

My knuckles were white, my arms sore from holding on so tightly. My feet didn’t fit on the footrests properly so my legs were splayed at a weird angle and tensed awkwardly to hold myself in place. My body was attempting to get comfortable yet my brain was forcing me to cling to the moving death machine so tightly this was impossible.

This was my initial reaction to riding on the back of a scooter in Taiwan with Bradley.

Don’t get me wrong, I love renting scooters. I have done so in several countires including, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. Whizzing around on them is heaps of fun and it gives you loads of freedom to see a place properly and on your own time.

20140628-121534-44134020.jpgHowever, I am the driver. I have always seemed to either been the one taking control or just had my own scooter. Turns out, I don’t do so well when someone else is in charge (who knew).

It might stem from the fact that the only time I have crashed on a scooter was when someone else was driving. In fact this was the last time I was on the back of a scooter.
It wasn’t really a big deal, we just cut our legs a bit and from that point on she didn’t want to drive anymore. Hence the reason I have usually taken the wheel (or handle bars in this case)

So when Bradley and I decided to tour Taroko National Park in Taiwan by scooter, this became an issue.
Neither of us had any desire to go on a tour bus (yuck) but we also wanted to spend as little as possible.

20140628-121537-44137229.jpgObviously it is much cheaper to just get one scooter, half the price even. And this is where my discomfort started.
I’ll admit it, those who know me also know I can be a teeny weeny bit of a control freak.  However, I am also a notorious ‘tight arse’ as we would say in Scotland, so these two ideals were warring in my head.

In the end my desire to save money won out and Bradley enthusiastically picked out ‘his’ scooter.

He claims that in the beginning he was ‘taking it easy’ for my benefit, but at times it didn’t feel that way going 80km down a highway. It took me forever to relax, hence the sore knuckles and tense arms.

I should state for the record though, that Bradley is an excellent driver. A lot of the problem wasn’t him as much as others. In Taiwan, like most of Asia, the driving is pretty chaotic. Of course there are rules, but they seem to be few and occassionaly unfathomable to a tourist.

In fact we had already seen a car and scooter accident on our way to rent the bike. That coupled with the fact I had yet to purchase travel insurance (I know, I know) it felt like an extremely bad omen.

Since I am not writing this blog post from a bankruptcy inducing foreign hospital, you may be pleased to know it all went to plan and turned into our best day in Taiwan.

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Taroko Gorge is jaw droppingly beautiful. It reminded us a lot of New Zealand and, in particular, the Milford Sound area.

I just ignorantly went to Taiwan with no clue how gorgeous and green the place is. Taroko Gorge was a great introduction.

IMG_5300Unfortunately for us we went on a Weekend, massive error. It was very, very, very busy with tour busses and tourists from mainland china and Taiwan itself.

So if going here, my advice would be to definitely go on a week day. Hualien (the closest town to the Gorge) is only a few hours by train from Taipei, so it is a popular weekend destination.

IMG_5256There are a lot of things to see in Taroko National Park and many walks and hikes. We stopped and looked at all the highlights and we did one walking trail – Shakadang River Trail. We were turned off from doing other walks as Shakadang river was overflowing, not with water, but with tourists.

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The walk is advertised at 1 hour each way, but we did it in more like one hour all up. Some foreign tourists had been smart enough to take swimming stuff with them and we looked on jealously as they sat in the cool river and drank Taiwan Beer.

IMG_5319All of the places we visited in the national park were pretty awesome, but the real standout was just driving through the gorge itself. Lonely Planet calls it “the marble walled jewel in the national park’s crown” and they were not wrong.

The views from the road alone are quite epic, the walls of the gorge are a rainbow of marbled rock and the water changes colour at every turn.
By the time we had gotten to the gorge I had relaxed a lot on the back of the scooter and we both really enjoyed the winding drive. It was probably much better for me that I was on the back since I could look around and take in all the sights without having to concentrate on the road.

IMG_5309We kept stopping every five minutes to take photos of another brilliant view, weird rock formation, or bright coloured body of water. For this reason the scooter really paid off and we have never been more confidant in our decision to self drive. We saw hordes of people waiting around at each attraction for their bus to come back and collect them, they coud only get off at the designated stopping points and when they did it was with a group of 50 people.

 

IMG_5273We didn’t even bother making our way along the mountain path to the Eternal Spring Shrine as we could see a long winding snake of tourists heading that way. We made do with a long distance photo and enjoyed the view from afar rather than join the throng of people.

 

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We were occasionally lucky enough to beat the crowds at spots like Swallow Grotto and Qinshui Cliffs, which was much nicer.

The only time we were actually jealous of all the lemmings on the busses was when we were on our way to the Qinshui cliffs. This road involves driving through a series of tunnels carved into the mountain side, some of them several kilometres long, with little or no ventilation. That was pretty rough. Knowing we had to return through them again when we got to the end was even worse!

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Sadly the Tunnel of Nine Turns – a walk through a 2km tunnel – was closed when we visited because of heavy rockfall damage, a common problem within the park. This was the only stop (apart from the other walks and hikes, which sound really good) we didn’t get to see on our day trip.

We were especially lucky on our visit to Taroko that the rain held off all day and we even saw a bit of sunshine.
I typically got sunburnt (bloody scottish skin)

Since it was rainy season while we were in Taiwan the rain was ruining a lot of our activites and the national park would simply not have been anywhere near as enjoyable, or possible in the wet.

IMG_5251A self drive tour is not the only option for the gorge and you can see it close up on the famous river tracing in and around Taroko National Park. Unfortunately for us, our budget wouldn’t quite stretch that far and since we knew of some places we could do river tracing for free around Taipei, we didn’t bother.
We heard great things from others on this activity though, so for those with a less strict budget than us should definitely give it a go.

IMG_5235Taroko Gorge was hands down the best day we had in Taiwan. The weather played the game, Bradley was in his element driving the scooter and the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

 

Recommended for everyone visiting Taiwan.

G xx

 

 

Backpacker Budget Solutions

So I’ve really been enjoying posting on my blog so far and writing about all the fun things we’ve been doing while travelling.
It’s a bit time consuming though and Bradley has not really enjoyed being ignored for hours on end, or (and I think mostly) that I have been hogging the laptop.

So since we are in Taiwan- they assemble 90% of the worlds notebook computers here – what better place to shop around for a cheap notebook for me.

Well it turns out they don’t really do cheap crappy notebooks anymore, or at least they don’t here. They were all pad /notebook/ laptop hybrids that were definitely not cheap.
Technically we could have afforded one, or at least just chucked it on the credit card, but really was it worth it?
Do I really need my own laptop for the price of maybe a week spent in southeast Asia? Not to mention the added weight of now carrying two around.

So I found a backpacker budget solution to this problem.image

Yes a bluetooth keyboard and my iPhone. It’s not the most amazing solution, but it is practical, and at only $30, it’s a real steal.

G xx

P.S Please ignore the floral bed sheet it’s the hostel’s!

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Many people may have seen gorgeous photographs on the internet of the bamboo grove in Japan. I was actually tagged in one on Facebook by a friend who knew I was heading there.  I knew as soon as I saw it that we had to visit.
ay4I had visions of heading out into the middle of nowhere, a slightly more intrepid version of Japan than we had experienced so far.

Walking among the quiet, eerie trees, enjoying nature and the wonder of the grove.

This is what the pictures make it look like. They conjure images in your head of nature and wilderness, there’s never a single person in sight.

Well boy was I wrong!

Arashiyama was absolutely chock-a-block with tourists. They were everywhere! The paths walking through the groves looked like a zombie apocalypse was heading our way.

Seriously……..hordes………everywhere!

ay3Obviously this does not make Arashiyama Bamboo Grove any less beautiful, but it does detract from the atmosphere.

The problem is when a place is so famous and so great to look at there will always be tonnes of tourists around. I remember feeling the same deflation when I visited Maya Bay in Thailand. This is where they filmed ‘The Beach’ and I had images of sitting alone looking at what Leo looked at. Hah! Fat chance! What was I smoking?

So a large part of the problem is me and managing my expectations. I need to stop daydreaming about these amazing, famous places and thinking I will have the run of them. As much as we all wish it was true, it just doesn’t work like that.

ay1Arasiyama is also only a short train journey outside of Kyoto, a must visit on any travellers list, so it is not surprising it was so busy.  Combine how beautiful it is with its accessibility and you have a tourist trap anytime of year.

Putting all that to one side and I am really glad we went out to the bamboo forest. It was a very cool sight, straight tall trees lined up as far as the eye could see. It felt other worldly like something you would see in a movie or read about in a book.

Miraculously we also managed to get some photo’s without other people in them! It was a challenge, and we had to annoy people by making them wait to walk past us, but we suceeded.ay5

So my photo’s may show a different side to Arashiyama than I experienced. This is what happens though, right. People want a photo of the wonder and of them with it. So they will wait for ages to get the perfect shot, with no other ragtag group of tourists in it. Therefore they keep perpetuating the image I had in my head with their supposed photographic evidence!

We’re all lying about our experiences in pictures. But it’s ok, they look pretty awesome.

I think a huge part of the reason Arishiyama was so crowded when we were there is we went during Cherry Blossoms. Everywhere in Kyoto was busy during this time because Kyoto is rated one of the best places to see them. You can read my blog post about that here.

ay2Arashiyama is a great spot for a little day trip. We actually did it as a side trip from Osaka, not Kyoto and it only took us about 40 minutes to get there.

It’s not just the home of the bamboo grove, but also a lovely, traditional looking, Japanese town. There is a river that runs through it and mountains in the back ground. It is in a picture perfect location, made better by the fact it still has many traditional style buildings and lots of cherry blossom trees.

The walk from train station to bamboo grove takes about 10 minutes, if you go through Tenryuji Temple, you can walk out of the north gate right into the forest. We decided to skip the temple though, since we had already seen so many and we thought the entrance fee was over priced. Japan is an expensive country to travel and if you are travelling for awhile like us, you really have to manage your budget well. Unfortunately this sometimes means missing out on stuff.

We got to the bamboo grove by walking by the river side then through a park, which we really enjoyed. It took us about 30minutes, but we did get a little lost at one point😀

'mis'fortunes from the shrine are tied to trees to take the bad luck away
‘mis’fortunes from the shrine are tied to trees to take the bad luck away

Once you are in the Bamboo forest you must remain on the walking path and cannot wander through the trees, which is a bit of a bummer. But the path does take you to some small shrines which is really nice to see.

Nearby there is also a monkey park where you are the one in the cage. You are driven around on a trailer attached to a 4×4 in a cage. Visitors feed the free roaming monkeys through the bars.

ayEven though it sounded fun, we decided to give the monkey feeding a miss and just spent a few hours wandering the sweet little town. Again there were tourists everywhere, but this couldn’t be helped and it didn’t ruin our time in Arashiyama at all.

Tip: Try to visit Arashiyama in the morning or later in the afternoon when the crowds are smaller. We went right in the middle of the day and it was hectic.

Definitely worth a visit!

G xx

 

1000 Torii Gates

In late March this year Bradley and I spent four fun filled and activity packed days in Kyoto, Japan. The first few days we spent by ourselves, but on the last day we met up with a group of friends from our winter season in Hokkaido.

It was nice to be in a group and actually worked out really well as we wouldn’t have even known about the 1000 Torii Gates without them. Apparently they are in a very famous guide book, but clearly I wasn’t reading it right. (I blame my general inability to work LP on a kindle)tg6

So after some guidance from our friends we headed to the Fushimi Inari Shrine on a sunny weekday afternoon. Kyoto is an easy city to navigate with regular busses stopping at all the main spots and a reasonably priced all day ticket.
The shrine is at the base of a mountain (also called Inari) with walking trails leading up to more shrines further up the mountain. These walking trails are surrounded, almost completely by Torri gates, creating a bright red tunnel, that surrounds a 4km path right up the mountain.
Inari is kind of a patron saint of business and has been worshipped for a long time, but ultimately and most importantly is the god of rice and sake. (That’s how much Japanese love rice, there’s a special god for it!)
The shrine itself was nice, but we had seen other more impressive ones, even in Kyoto. In all honestly though, we weren’t here for the shrine, we were here for the walk up the mountain through the 1000 Torri Gates.
tg1As we were getting used to in Kyoto, the place was teaming with tourists. This was frustrating for our photographers – Bradley & Maddy – who found it hard to get a shot of the gates without 50 people in the way.

After taking some pictures at the shrine and having a quick look around we got started on the hike. At first it was quite frustrating as there were so many people around and we had to walk very slowly. Bradley in particular doesn’t do well in crowds and I get so irritated walking behind slow people. The trail has a few different routes though, and with our quick pace and ability to overtake people we were away from the crowds soon enough.

It was a much nicer walk once we had a bit of peace and quiet and we finally go a chance to take some great pictures of all the gates. tg3 The hike was obviously mostly up hill, but it was a fairly easy one, with well maintained paths and steps. We passed quite a few other mini shrines on the way up and had a chance to explore them without many other people, which was really nice. Obviously the time of day we went was the main reason for this, as we left it quite late in the afternoon to start our trek up. This meant that by the time we go to the top there were only a handful of people around.

At one point we did pick a path that led to a dead end, which was frustrating, but it had an excellent view over Kyoto city so we didn’t mind too much.

tg5As you can see from our pictures the Torii Gates all have writing on them and this is the names of the companies that donated them. All of the gates have been donated by local businesses in Kyoto. There were also a number of mini gates, that could be purchased by vendors throughout the trek. These were placed in a variety of places around the shrines and had the names of the people who had bought them. These gates ranged in sizes from about knee high to hand sized. Any visitor could pruchase them, however they were a little pricey for our taste – with the cheapest one being about $100. I don’t even want to think how expensive the real ones are!

tg4We reached the top fairly quickly (even with our detours) and our initial happiness was deflated a little by the shrine at the top. At first we didn’t even realise we had made it until we saw people coming up from the opposite direction too. The shrine at the top of Inari was pretty ordinary by Japan standards, especially compared to what was at the bottom, but it was a pretty shrine none the less.

Honestly though it wasn’t an issue, as I said before, the whole reason for doing this walk, in my opinion, is for the Torii Gates themselves. They are really beautiful looking in person, and although you often find them at other temples, never in this number and laid out the way they were here. It was a great and unique way to experience a temple walk and mountain hike.

tg2I would definitely recommend for people visiting Kyoto to go and see the 1000 Torii Gates. It’s probably a sight you won’t see anywhere else in the world, and it’s free! I would suggest doing what our group did and heading there late afternoon on a week day. Although we were surrounded by tourists in the beginning, 15 minutes or so into our walk the numbers dwindled considerably and by the end we were walking by ourselves. This also gave the walk an eerie feel as it was very quiet and the light dropped a lot, especially on our way down.

Visitors do not even have to do the entire 4km route if they are feeling unfit or have small children for example. In fact we found the most well kept and impressive gates were placed nearer the beginning of the route. Just be aware this may mean you never escape the hordes of tourists with the same agenda as you.

This was another great day spent in Japan visiting a unique attraction.

G xx

Party in the Park – Japan Style

Hanami is ultimately the Japanese word and way for celebrating and enjoying Sakura. (Click the link to potentially see a better description than mine) Anyway, as I saw it, it was basically a big party under the cherry blossoms.

They were held pretty much wherever Sakura bloomed, particularly in parks. Day and night large groups of Japanese, of all ages, would gather in the park, sit on a tarp, eat, drink, and enjoy the trees. On the weekend it was rowdier than the week nights, turning into a big party in the park.yp2

I have a separate post dedicated to cherry blossoms and places to see them, but this is an activity that only happens during Sakura ‘season’  Hanami is a time to see Japanese people come totally out of their shell and act in a way you won’t usually witness at any other time of year. It is also just plain fun!

We were lucky to take part in this tradition twice while in Japan, once in Kyoto and once in Tokyo. Both were completely different, but really enjoyable.

In Kyoto there were a group of about 10 of us Gaijin (Japanese word for foreigner) looking for something to do in Kyoto after watching a sumo wrestling match. We decided to head to Maruyama Park which has the biggest and most famous Cherry Blossom tree in Kyoto. ypWe stopped at 7eleven to buy some beers (of course) and searched the park for a spot to sit. While we were looking around a group of young Japanese called us over to join them and we spent an enjoyable evening, talking, drinking and eating street food from the vendors in the park.

Tokyo was a little crazier, as is normally the case with Tokyo. We went to the park with a mix of both gaijin and Japanese friends this time. One of our friends was organising a party in Yoyogi park with DJs and everything so we headed to the spot they were set up. I must point out that this was a Saturday night,othe last weekend of the cherry blossom season, so it was craaaaaaazy in Yoyogi Park. There were people everywhere, who had clearly been there for awhile, because they were already pretty well lubricated. While enjoying our Hanami in Yoyogi Park we were approached by 2 seperate goups who gave us 3 onesies, that we immediately put on. This is just a great example of Japanese people for you.  In our ragtag onesie gang we had Sully from Monsters Ink (our friend Billy), a Bear (Bradley), and a Platypus (me). We proceeded to roam the park, being regularly called over to join other groups and take photos. Many of the Japanese people in the park were really keen to have 3 strange gaijin in fancy dress join their group. They kept plying us with booze and food, so safe to say we ended up pretty well lubricated ourselves. We had an absolutely brilliant time though and I reckon everyone should enjoy Hanami in Yoyogi park at least once in their lives.

So if you are in Japan during cherry blossoms try and take part in a Hanami. They happen in every city, and don’t worry if you have no Japanese friends to guide you. Just bring some beers and some food and I guarantee some locals will invite you into their group at some point. As with most things while travelling thats definitely the best way to experience it.

G xx

 

Travel. Culture. Food. Love. Wine. Happiness. Life

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