Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiao Beach...Looks Like Hawaii, Drier Than BYU

Go here. 

Beach weekends are the best, especially when you're looking into the future (like me) and seeing no beach weekends. The Czech Republic is landlocked and cold, and will not be so inviting for tanning. Not like I tan anyway, so no huge issues.

Beachside temple of gorgeousness
We were luck enough to be recommended a tiny, unknown beach called Waiao  by some fellow teachers in Taipei. Somewhere between Taipei and Yilan, on the Pacific Ocean, is this tiny, black sand oasis that bears no closer resemblance to Hawaii than...Hawaii.

Hawaii? Only 3 hours from Taoyuan? How did we not know about this sooner?

Waiao is completely doable as a "show up and see how it goes" weekend trip. That's exactly what we did. First, we knocked on the doors of all of the surf shops to see if they had any vacancies, which they didn't, but they were more than helpful to direct us to other places. James wanted to stay in the Waiao Temple which is about 300NT a person (and in a temple!), but Chelsea and I were adamant about splurging and staying beachfront in the VIP room of the Waiao Beach House, which is run by Auntie Betty, who is fabulously accommodating and makes a full-on Taiwanese Breakfast (radish cake, dan bing, toast, sandwiches, fruit, coffee...holy crap it's AMAZING!). How to feel like an adult: Spend a night in a beach front hotel room in Waiao, and take a shower in the 8 person bathroom.

The beach nap, out of the sun!
Waiao is awesome because it's simple. You get off the slow-train onto a tropical, foreign platform. The station is nothing but a rickety ladder leading up to the tracks and down to the street, and the beach is directly across the street. And what do you do there? Lot's of people like to sit on surfboards and wait all day for the perfect wave, but if you're not a patient person, rent an umbrella, rent a boogie board and just chill. Look at the beautiful green hills and the parasailers coming down onto the beach. Look out at Turtle Mountain Island in the distance. Body surf in the gorgeous warm water. Wear lots of sunscreen.
And of course, the best lu rou fan I've ever had.

WARNING: Do you want your Waiao beach oasis weekend to include several to many beers? Well, it won't unless you like Taiwan beer in a can. It seems that there is no supermarket or 7-11 in Waiao, which means: no booze. Except for this fabulous Mom and Pop shop along the beach who sold us practically everything they have. So if you're going, and you want to pop a few can lids, bring your own from Taipei and then find some ice.

I am a lucky girl.

(And now you can be, too!)

Sunday, July 3, 2011


It's been 11 months in Taiwan and would you believe it: I've never taken the train South. I've rushed onto the train dozens of times towards Taipei, past Taipei, into the nether regions of Taiwan but never, never South.

It was time.

This weekend, Chelsea and I decided to escape the rainstorms on Northern Taiwan (Forecast: 60% chance of rain, while already raining), and head to Taichung - a quick and painless train journey for the weekend. 

Time Capsule in Lugang
Did you know that on some Taiwanese trains, there is a "storage" car for bicycles that you can sit in if you are lucky enough to not have a seat on the train? Did you know it's very cold and leaks water? Well, you do now. Good news for you: Chelsea and I tested it out for you, along with our new group of Taiwan military teenagers training home for the weekend who kept us entertained playing pop music on their cell phones and trying to pronounce the word "sexy," which ends up always sounding like "sessy."

So after we disembarked our cattle car, we wandered the train station looking for the bus to Lugang, a tourist spot we found on a Taiwan map. Important point: This was my first weekend trip without the luxury of a Chinese translator, and had to rely on every single word I have picked up this past year to get us from place to place. With the help of about four different Taichung-ians, we finally found the bus stop on a random street and within an hour, were in the coolest place ever. Ever. 
"Where's the Whitey?"

Lugang is awesome. Over 20 blocks of decaying brick buildings, temples big and small, outrageous food vendors, people crafting crafts, and serenity. I really don't want to spoil too much for people who dream of going somewhere fabulously Asian, so hopefully the pictures paint a good...picture...of the scene. We contemplated scrapping our plans to stay in Taichung for the night and simply sleeping on the streets, possibly in the rain, in Lugang, simply because we didn't want to leave.

If you do visit Lugang, please give a shout out to our favorite pottery store, which you will recognize because it's one of the only stores in Taiwan where you are positive everything is made by hand and completely original. We walked away with five mugs with wooden handles, a teapot, free keychain things, and some room scent diffusers. These ladies were awesome, and it's rarer than not to see real art on this island.

But we did have to leave, because James' Chinese tutor hooked us up with a free room, and of course, my mother (or father) always told me to never turn down a free room, so we needed to make it back. We walked to the visitor's center to find out which busses would take us near Feng Chia University, only to find that we were 7 minutes late for closing time and the visitor's center closed on time. 

I've gotten really good at this point at either chasing buses, sticking out my thumb for hitchhiking (not yet successful), and making sad/hopeful faces at people who end up giving us rides places. In Lugang, the trick was chasing busses, and after boarding one with TAICHUNG on the front, using my excellent language and pantomime skills to communicate we wanted to be kicked off the bus by Taichung's biggest night market. Worked like a charm!

You've never had THIS dan bing.
The better kind of shrooms.
Enter Xiao Hei, our mystery accommodation host, who meets us at McDonald's and surprises us by being completely normal and cool. He takes us to our "room", only two blocks from the awesome night market, which turns out to be his dorm room. He's apparently working on his thesis and has decided to give us his bed, computer, bathroom, TV, etc...for free...while he studies through the night with his friends. Strange? TIT, is what I say. This Is Taiwan. Thank you, Xiao Hei, for your funky and functional room. 

Fung Chia University Night Market is the bomb. Though, it wouldn't be a great place for  a bomb, considering how many people squeeze into the tiny streets on a Saturday night. We're talking a 30 people+ line up for the most popular food stands - which seemed to be the "hot dogs" - condimented Taiwanese sausages of either the pink or white variety.

A quick shout out to my newest favorite Taiwanese food: white sausages. I was very, very skeptical of this pale weiner (is it intestines? is it chopped up pig skin?) until a friend cut into one at our favorite all-you-can-drink barbeque restaurant (where drunky me tipped over a steel hot pot onto hot grey coals....dui bu qi!) White sausage is filled with sticky rice! What a genius idea! Needless to say, I found some at the night market.

Other highlights include handmade dan bing (Since 1978), boozy milk tea (didn't try but gave the guy a thumbs up), and Chelsea's vegan favorite, barbequed monster mushrooms. Rolled into our free bed stuffed!

This brings us to Sunday morning, where we set out on foot to the Wu Wei Tsao Tang Tea House. If you love walking, Taichung is walkable. We walked diagonally across nearly the whole city in about two hours total. One hour down the road, we found our destination (so lovingly described in a blog I found!) a gorgeous oasis in the middle of the city that you might just photograph and walk past if you didn't know what was inside.

From 10:15 to 1:00, we sat at a beautiful wooden table next to a giant coy pond, where we were taught how to pour traditional Chinese tea service, ate copious amounts of food including vegan hot pot, fried radish cake and glutinous mushroom balls (don't be scared, the names are the only thing disgusting about it), and talked about anything/everything important in life for a grand total of about $20 USD (600NT).

Your tea lesson will be in Chinese, so be ready to nod happily and utter a lot of "Dui....dui...mmmhmmm....mmmhmmm..." but one of the most important things I have learned in all my time traveling is the best communication is simply through smiles of acknowledgement. And she got great pleasure from watching me try to pour tea like a deranged Caucasian concubine.

And there was no rain.