Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nangan Morning Market (南竿市場)

A great place for breakfast in Jieshou (介壽) on Nangan (南竿). The morning market opens for business at 5am and vendors run until they either sell out or around 9am to 10am.

The front entrance to the morning market is located across from the park and temple

You can also enter from this nondescript alley way across from the 7-11 and Dory Inn

take the stairs up to the second floor for more vendors and a small restaurant area

second floor of the morning market

A must have from the morning market ise Ding Bian Hu 鼎邊糊 from A-mei's Store (阿妹的店) (NT$65). The soup is made from fish mixed into a paste and formed into noodles. A-mei's Store can be found on the right after you come up the stairs (there are signs all around).

A-mei's Store (阿妹的店)

a bowl of Ding Bian Hu (鼎邊糊)

Other typical Taiwan breakfast items are available from other vendors as well

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Matsu Islands (馬祖列島)

Introduction to Matsu Islands (馬祖列島)
Matsu Islands are a chain of islands off the coast of Fuzhou, China, about 55km northwest of Taipei. The islands are administered by Taiwan, and were the first line of defense against an invasion, as visible from the heavy military presence on the islands even to this day, but is now a popular tourist destination.
The main islands are Nangan (南竿), Beigan (北竿), Dongyin (東引) and Juguang (莒光), with Juguang consiting of two islands, Xiju (西莒) and Dongju (東莒).

Getting There
Matsu is reachable by boat from Keelung or by plane from Taipei Songshan or Taichung.

overlooking Beigan airport from Bi Shan, the highest mountain on the island

Flights are operated by Uni Air and go from Taipei Songshan Airport to both Nangan Airport and Beigan Airport, or from Taichung to Nangan. Flights from Taipei take 50 minutes, and flights from Taichung take 65 minutes.

Uni Air ATR-72 plane at Nangan Airport

Boats to Matsu are overnight and take 8-10 hours, leaving once a day from Keelung port in the evening. Return boats leave in the morning and arrive at Keelung in the evening.

Most guesthouses also provide free pickup from the airport or harbor.

More information at http://www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw/user/Article.aspx?a=128&l=2

Getting Around
Traveling between islands is mostly by ferry.
Between Nangan and Beigan: at least once every hour on top of the hour from 6am to 6pm.
Between Nangan and Juguang: 3 times a day
Between Nangan and Dongyin: once a day
Note: Tickets go on sale 1 hour before the ferry leaves. Boats can also fill up quickly during busy season (my boat from Nangan to Juguang was sold out 30 mins before departure).

The only alternative is by helicopter, but this can be expensive and is typically reserved for local residents.

Getting around on the islands is mostly by motor scooter. Motor scooters rentals are typically NT$300 for 4 hours or NT$500 for 24 hours, which includes gas and can be arranged either at the ferry port or through your guesthouse. Local or international drivers licenses are technically required, but no one actually checked while I was there.

Nangan and Beigan have bus services during the day, but buses only run about once an hour. On Dongyin and Juguang, the only alternative is by booking a tour, which will provide a shuttle.

Cinbi Village in Beigan

looking towards Beigan from Nangan

sun setting over Xiju, viewed from Dongju

More information on Matsu can be found on the official tourism website.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Himeji Castle (姫路城)

Himeji Castle (姫路城) is one of the largest surviving castles in Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's definitely one of the best places for viewing Japanese castles up close, and is also surrounded by sakuras.

The castle was closed for over 5 years for renovations, which were finally completed in March 2015. The castle often draws large crowds, especially during sakura season and even more so now due to the long renovation.

Entry to the castle is ¥1000, however the main keep is limited to the first 10,000 visitors each day. You'll receive a pass for the main keep as you enter the castle, the pass is required to enter the main keep.

Line to enter the keep. Even on a rainy day it took 40 minutes.
On a sunny day the wait can be up to 3 hours as everyone is still coming to visit the newly renovated castle.

view from the top of the keep

shrine at the top floor of the keep

interior of the keep

the keep was only used for defense, not for every day living, so the interior is bare even by Japanese standards

living quarters along the castle wall

hallway along the wall

Getting there: Himeji Castle is 1.5 km north of the Himeji JR train station, just walk straight along the main road. There is also a sight seeing bus that will take you within 500 m of the castle for ¥100.
Fees: ¥1000 for adults / ¥300 for children.
There is also a ¥1040 combined Himeji Castle and Kokoen Garden ticket (normal fee for the gardens is ¥300). The gardens is right next to the castle grounds and is worth a visit if you have time.