A weekend in Taipei, Taiwan

A weekend is just enough to get a taste of Taiwan and realize you want to go back again before you’ve even left.  Taipei has an excellent public transit system, free wifi and lots of cultural & crazy experiences.  Here’s a quick preview of Ronda and my trip as we met my college buddy Andrew (who flew in from Japan with a few other friends).


Night Markets

If there’s one thing that Taiwan is known for its certainly the diversity of its night markets.  We stopped by at least 3 different markets and although some were “the biggest” or “best” according to a guidebook we found them all to be wonderful.  They sported an assortment of sights and smells including the infamous “stinky tofu” and all the parts of animals that you may not have wanted to sample.  I highly recommend just about anything on a stick and if you can handle the smell, stinky tofu is a delicacy!

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Night markets are easy to find and almost every subway station has *insert Taiwanese name here* Market listed on the exit signs.  We always felt safe but I advise anyone going to a public place like these market be careful with your valuables!

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Wulai

Wulai is a mountain village boasting the largest waterfall in Taiwan, an abundance of natural hot springs and the opportunity for a jungle adventure.  Luckily its only a 45 minute bus ride from Xiandan station at the end of the Green Subway line.  You can take a taxi for about $600NTD ($20USD) or ride the bus like we did for $15 NTD ($.50 USD).  Once there I recommend taking the cable car over the river to see the waterfall.  It was stunning and I can’t wait to share more; enjoy these photos for now. Continue reading

Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak – Baegundae

Last summer I made the responsible (albeit disappointing) choice to skip mudfest in lieu of staying healthy and climbing Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak, Baegundae.  Leaving the following Thursday for an extreme trip through Vietnam  I knew that I didn’t want to fight a multi-day hangover or any bruised limbs from the alcohol supported escapades at one of the dirtiest festivals in the world.  As a result I offered to lead a hike up Baegundae with Seoul Hiking Group.  That’s how Brian and I came to meet some new hiking buddies, Heidi & Jason!

The Korean language barrier presented some difficulties finding the right entrance.  At first we ended up at the same entrance Brian & I had taken a few months back which was a 4 hour trek to the base of Baegundae.  This time we were searching for the 1.5 hour route!  Luckily my Korean was capable enough to buy a map and ask for directions so we quikcly found a cab and arrived at the Baegundae-Sogwicheon Information Center.

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When first stepping on the trail we had roughly 500m of vertical remaining in the 835m climb up Baegundae.  It began as rough cut stone steps and boulders surrounded by th_DSC6490e natural beauty of Bukhansan in the summer.  Green trees with the occasional flower flanked our path as the sweat rolled down our faces.  Jason, a first time hiker was soon converted to a naturalist and took regular breaks to get a full feel for mother nature’s splendor.

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A few minutes in we found ourselves at a “temple.”  It had none of the usual pizazz with a bland roof instead of the typical painted parapet.  We were greeted by two “mountain dogs” as a Korean woman approached.  There was a small antechamber for prayer with a spectacular buddha but otherwise this locale appeared to be the simple residence of these pleasant folk.  We played with the dogs for a few moments and said our thanks before continuing the trek.

 

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Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group 3.0

This weekend Seoul Hiking Group took our usual night bus to Saryangdo was pleasantly uneventful.  Little did I know but my 3rd trip to the island would be just as stunning as the first.   A true testamant to the natural beauty Saryangdo possesses.  We arrived at Goseong Dino Park at 5am for a quick hike to fossilized dinosaur footprints and a gorgeous sunrise among the islands.

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As the mist cleared we jumped back on the bus to the ferry terminal.  Arriving early we enjoyed a breakfast of muffins and fruit while watching the calm morning water as locals got to work on their boats.

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Waiting for the ferry

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Animal Onesie Party!

So there I was, about to lead 70 adults on a ski trip with an overnight dinner party.  Might as well tell everyone to wear an animal onesie!  Wait, what?  Yes.  You read that correctly.  I convinced a bunch of attendees to wear onesies for this shindig.  Although only about 5 of us wore them on the ski slopes everyone rocked out in their animal pajamas until the wee hours of the morning.  Enjoy these absurd photos from one of the best parties Seoul Hiking Group has ever thrown!

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Thanks Chef Gaby & Johhny Fishcake!

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Typical SHG evening meal

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Hi 🙂

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Panda & Monkey = Future Roommates

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Zombie Panda, Chipmunk, My Panda, Red Panda!

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Chipmunk, Owl, Panda, Red Panda, Chipmunk, Bear?

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Rock out Diana!!!!

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Goodnight Onesies

 

Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group 2.0 (with Panoramas!)

Our ferry departed for Saryangdo at 7:30am which meant another midnight bus out of Seoul.  This misty inslet was full of fishermen in the cool morning air as we embarked on the final leg of the journey to revisit my first Seoul Hiking Group excursion.  We dropped our bags off at the pension and got on the trail shortly after arriving.

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Saryangdo is a small island to the South of the Korean peninsula.  A short ferry ride from Tongyeong its likely that we were the only foreigners on the whole island so it was no wonder that any time we ran into Koreans they were excited to see us.  There’s a single road that loops around the mountain forming this gorgeous sanctuary.  That series of peaks was our goal for today and after a 45 minute climb we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding seas at 281 meters above.

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Leaving the first peak the trail switched between stairs and rocks with an awesome rope climb in the distance!  Just beyond we would encounter a suspension bridge (the cables of which I decided to climb for an even higher vantage point).  Seoul Hiking Group continued its tradition of making fast friends as our group mixed and mingled among the mountains.

Saryangdo Cable Climb

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

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I’ve really started to enjoy leading the trips and always look forward to seeing friends among the regulars but perhaps my favorite thing about Seoul Hiking Group is the acceptance that everyone shows towards new members.  We inevitably have some first time hikers, some with fears of heights or other nature dangers and everyone bands together to become a weekend family!

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We got lucky with the weather on this late fall afternoon.  The morning mist cleared around us for jawdropping views.  One of my favorites were the islands to the south  still shrouded by mist in an optical illusion making us wonder where the sea truly began.

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Pausing for a snack and photo break a few of the group decided to reenact Titanic.  While waiting around another loving aspect of Seoul Hiking Group emerged.  Sharing.  Most of us are teachers and know that sharing is caring but that usually mean you to let everyone else eat your coveted Cheetos (which are super hard to find in Korea) or all that dried fruit & nut mix that you slaved together.

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After enjoying our break the trek grew a bit more trecherous.  The next peak climbed to 400 meters and was the highest on Saryangdo.  The path was interspersed with stairs as usual but there were many times we trekked up loose rocks and around jagged edges.  Okay so there often was an “easier” trail through the woods but I prefer to keep things interesting and enjoyed “spider manning” it up the ledges.

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Nearly there we were stopped by a lovely Korean group who insisted we share some of their Makkeoli and kimchi.  Not wanting to be rude a handful of us chowed down and chatted in broken Korean.  Hikers tend to be good people and look out for one another but no where else have I encountered such generosity among strangers as in Korean mountains.  A few hundred meters later my buddy Martin and I were stopped again and offered a delicious veggie ramen!

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Saryangdo Jump

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

Finally at the peak we dilly dallied with some snacks and photo shoots enjoying our surroundings before crossings the vertigo inducing ridge.  Last time I was here I admittedly went across on my butt.  That was 8 months ago and I’ve been an avid hiker ever since gaining confidence in my legs and balance.  Wait a minute, is there internet service up here?  I took a moment and Skyped my brother, Ben, while shimming accross the half meter wide trail.  To the right a sheer cliff, to the left a sharp decline followed by a sheer drop.

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Luckily its only a short distance before you hurdle a gap and find yourself back among the trees.  Before long a Makkeoli mountain man can be heard banging away with tables full of foreigners enjoying his homemade concoction.  Just after he served us the delicious potion he went back to his drums for Pikachu’s big entrance! (video coming soon)  Martin ran down the trail with Pikachu “ears” and an Austrian flag around his neck flapping like a cape!  We sang happy birthday for 2 of our hikers and most of us even dared to try myeolchi (anchovies like fish).

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I opted to skip the long hike this time and took a slick leave, laden trail straight back to the road and eagerly got back to our pension early enough to relax before dinner and the evening festivities began.