Longshan Temple – Taipei, Taiwan

Even if you only have a half day in Taipei make sure you get to the Longshan Temple!  Its a stunning Buddhist temple with regular visitors and local parishoners.  Founded in 1738 as a haven for Chinese immigrants from Fujian the settlers built Longshan in honor of Kuan-in the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

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How to get to Longshan Temple
MRT Station: Longshan Station
Hours: 6am to 10pm
Fee: Free

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Longshan (alternately spelled Lungshan) was erected in the Manka district of Taipei.  It was dedicated after the Lungshan temple in their home town and aptly named for the root temple.

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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

Busan with Seoul Hiking Group – Yonggungsa Temple

Last week I jumped a midnight bus with Seoul Hiking Group and went to Busan for my first time!  Busan is famous for being a wonderful beach town and also historically important since it was the last stronghold the South had before international (aka USA) forces arrived.  Even though the weather was overcast with spots of rain we still had a blast!

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Arriving at 5am we were dead tired and began our mini-vacation with a nap on Haeundae Beach.  Once everyone was settled we could go our separate ways but I opted to stay with Warren and a small group headed for the Yonggungsa Temple._DSC4662 _DSC4659

Approaching the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple we are greeted with an array of authentic Korean food and goods.  Everything from silk worm larvae to ginger root with buddhas in all shapes and sizes among vast quantities of jewelry and knicknacks lines the narrow paved path.  Eventually the vendors are replaced with stoic guardians from the Chinese Zodiac before we pass through a golden gate.

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Soon we can hear the rolling waves of the magnificent Pacific Ocean when all at once the canopy clears and staring right back at you is the Yonggusngsa Temple.  The ocean’s melody brings in a calming feeling even before Buddhist shrines and prayers provide an aura of peace for everyone present.

 

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We relaxed at the temple for a little over an hour before jumping back in the bus and checking into our hostel.  We took a quick shower/nap break before heading to the famous fish market!  Strolling through the fish market can be overwhelming; and I’m not just talking about the half delicious, half ocean, half dead fish smell.  But those pictures are still under development so you’ll have to check back next time!

 

Tapas Temple in the Maisan Mountains

The last stop on my first Seoul Hiking Group trip was the Tapas Temple in the Maisan Mountains.  After a wonderful hike in Saryangdo and exploring dinosaur footprints at Goseong Dino Park we took a brief bus ride northward.

Upon exiting we were told that we had 2 hours to explore.  We could hike to the temple and then the Maisan peak, or we could eat.  Not enough time for both.  So far every temple I’ve seen has been pretty similar so I decided to eat, plus rumor was the region was “famous for bibimbap.”

Turns out we were NEAR a region famous for bibimbap but didn’t actually stop there.  After passing some unique coffee trucks we found a restaurant on the trail.  The meal was good but in hindsight I definitely would have preferred a longer hike.  But I digress.

Walking up to the temple we passed tons of boutique shops with handcrafted goods.  It was interesting watching these_DSC0066 _DSC0065rural Koreans working their craft.  Passing a burnt out restaurant brought a quick realization of the lifestyle out here.  The owners set up a few tables on the street and used whatever was kitchen was left.  The fire couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old.  A few meters down an ajima (old lady) hunched over a mortar and pestle, 2 ajusshi (old men) roasting the latest catch of what looked like tiny rodents and fowl on a spit.

 

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The scents filled our nostrils strolling past _DSC0011b_DSC0013uckets of spices and more grills on our way to the mountain in the distance.  A small pond filled with Koi pulled our attention briefly before the trek continued.

After a few minutes the well laden trail grew steeper.  As we got near the top of the next hill the rock face on our left loomed higher and higher.  This vertical mass gave the impression of some immortal carving their way through the mountain.  An intricate tree climbed the stone face and threatened to bloom according to a nearby picture.  It looked pretty dead to me but I thought it added wonderful character!

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As we walked along the shadow stores popped up again and in the distance we could see the Tapas Temple!  It surprised us all with the new style of architecture and outdoor alcoves.

 

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Tapas temple is famous for these rock spires.  Allegedly there are hundreds of them that were all built by one dude!

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Walking around I snapped a few photos and enjoyed the view while chatting away with my new friends.  Thanks Seoul Hiking Group for a great way to explore Korea and a wonderful first trip.

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A day in the mountains

Hiking is a popular pastime in Korea.  So popular that Bukhansan National Park was awarded the guiness world record for most visitors at a national park per square foot.  They get about 4 million hikers each year and the trails are always crowded.  Today is Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving and a holiday where everyone goes home, so I’m hoping the trails won’t be packed.

It was just over an hour on the subway to get to Dongbansan subway stop.  My guidebook told me to get off here and walk with the lines of hikers past outdoor equipment shops and restaurants.  Some of the shops were closed for the holiday but it was still busy here in the shadow of Bukhansan.  The view from down here got me pretty excited to start hiking; was I really going to make it to the top of that peak today?

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I picked up a bottle of Makali; supposedly its a common “hiking” drink.  I had a few liters of water in my camelback but figured if I run out it is quite refreshing and “when in Rome,” right?  I opted not to try the grilled delicacies being hawked by the street vendors, maybe when I don’t have a day of hiking in the mountains ahead of me.

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It was a longer walk than I anticipated before getting to the actual park.  Shops lined the hiker filled streets, each with their own advertsiing eccentricity.  Most of the Koreans had hiking poles and were covered from head to toe.  All I had was my camera, a backpack, shorts and a t-shirt.  I figured I’ll be alright without poles and the cover up is due to Korean’s wanting to be as pale as possible.  About a kilometer later I arrived at the info station, picked up a map and up I went.

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At first the path was well laid with cobblestones and bricks.  There were many people hiking up with me and we quickly arrived at Gwangnyunsa; a Buddhist temple.  The outer walls were elaborately designed in a similar fashion to what I saw at Gongbuk Palace.  As I entered the inner courtyard I heard soothing music coming from the temple when my eyes were drawn to a display with magnificent white candles embroidered with Hangul lettering.

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Unable to read any of it I made my way towards the temple.  Inside were beautiful Buddha statues, a Korean man praying and even more decorations.  I walked the temple grounds for a few more minutes taking in the serenity.  It felt very “zen” and was a great way to start my hike.  Maybe next time I’ll learn a few Buddhist hiking prayers and pay proper respects.

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I continued on.  The path quickly grew steeper as I passed a lone saxophone player.  He too was playing a soothing tune; perhaps reminiscent of the nearby temples or maybe he was just having a good time.  Upward I went, and up and up.  Hiking along a stream the path soon turned to cobblestone steps and grew rockier.  I passed less people it was still crowded.  I stopped frequently to let someone come down the steep stone steps and before long I found a fountain and grabbed a drink.  This might be the last one before I dip into my reservoir.

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Hiking onward and upward the climb continued to grow.  Luckily there were steps carved out of the rock.  Crossing a bridge I found myself stairing at at hundreds of multicolored paper lanterns.  They decorated the path for a few kilometers when suddenly my trail turned into a wooden staircase.

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As I climbed flight after flight another soothing melody grew louder.  Finally at the top of the stairs I saw a sign for Cheonchuska Temple.  I took the brief detour and was rewarded with a stunning view of Dobongsan Peak silhoueting the temple. As I came closer I saw hundreds of Buddha statues enhancing the already peaceful atmosphere.  I crossed the bridge to further explore the temple and found elaborate decorations, more statues and a drinking fountain.

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I began to explore the temple but was immediately drawn to the breathtaking view of Seoul.  I lingered to snap a few photos of the scene before continuing into the temple.  The zen-music and monotone chants could be heard throughout and brought a natural peace to the forest.  I explored a few antechambers and was drawn in by the sweet smells of incense before taking a refreshing drink and continuing my climb.

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Exiting the temple my trail somehow grew steeper.  With the stairs behind me, the rough bouldered trail made for slow hiking.  A few hundred meters and I found myself at Madangbawi, a massive rock with a stellar view of the city.  There were Koreans lounging all over with rice cakes and mini-picnics.  I decided to keep going; the peak couldn’t be that much farther and I wanted to eat at the top.

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A sign told me I was a mere 500 meters from Juanbong, the peak I was aiming for!  Unfortunately it didn’t mention that the rest of the climb was nearly vertical.  I found more hikers here as the travel grew slower; I welcomed the frequent breaks to allow someone to come down the mountain.  Glancing out over the forested scene below I lightened my load with a quick drink from my camelback before continuing upward.  Some bouldering led to a series of much needed ropes and beams to continue the climb.

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Before long I could see the peak again.  I was greeted with one more set of stairs and another series of beams to pull myself up the nearly vertical climb.  This was more intense than I had antcipated; I felt surefooted and well balanced, happy for the lack of wind that there were people all around me.

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Bracing my feet against the poles I slowly pulled myself up by the ropes.  I took one step after the next when suddenly I was at the top!  Nearly 2 hours of climbing had paid off with a 360 degree view of mountains, the megapolis and a forested valley below.

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The city is so humongous that you can’t even see the end of it. It just keeps going for miles and miles.  Sweaty from my climb I sat down to enjoy my lunch with the wind cooling me off. After eating I exchanged picture taking with a stranger and basked in the afternoon sun.  In the distance I could see some rapellers finish their picnic and get ready for their descent.

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Lingering a moment longer I took out my guidebook to determine how best to make my own descent.  It recommended following the ridgeline to another peak and making my way down a different path.  Eager to see more of the park I ignored the “not for the faint of heart” warning.  How bad could it be?  I took one last picture of the ridge I was about to hike and made my way back down the path this time taking the left fork deeper into the park.

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Before long I found myself at the next peak.  The hike between them was mild compared to what I had seen.  Throughout my trek I saw minimal wildlife and was quite suprised to find a cat stalking its way about.  I paused only briefly at Podae Peak before continuing onward.  The natural beauty at this peak shrouded more of the city and although quite amazing it paled in comparison to my previous 360 degree view.  Again I was drawn towards the sweet sound of music when I found a lone piper playing a beautiful ballad for the green valley.

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The ridgeline had few travelers and was barely wide enough for one.  Crossing paths prooved to be a delicate dance I was glad I only did a couple times.  A few more meters and I came across my steepest descent yet.  In order to get to the next ridge I had to climb down a steep series of ropes.  I was slowly struggling my way down when my backpack became tangled in the ropes and I heard shouting in Korean.

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I stopped and looked confusingly at them and then I understood “turn” and “change,” quickly realizing they were advising me to turn around and go down backwards.  Climbing down as a baby learning how to tackle its first flight of stairs I made it to the bottom where I met the couple who helped me out.  I said a quick gomabsuenida (thank you) and stood in a small alcove to let them pass before ascending an equally difficult series of poles and ropes.

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The climb up was worse than the way down.  It was just as steep but even slicker with fewer foot holds.  Bracing one foot against the pole and pulling hard with my hands I was able to gain some leverage and slowly make my ascent.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like before the ropes and poles were here.

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Finally at the top I ran into my first white people!  A group of European students had been hiking all day and was enjoying a break.  I decided that I deserved a rest after that climb too.  Felix, Ines and Adam were from Switzerland, Croatia and Poland respectively.  Enjoying the conversation we decided to head down the mountain together.  I’m not sure if they were lured by my English or the fact that I had an English trailmap, but I wasn’t complaining about my new friends.

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The rest of the way down was significantly more tame.  There were steps and rugged rocks but down was easier than up and there was no longer a need for ropes to steady ourselves.  We stopped briefly at a brook and took in the natural beauty of the stream flowing over a rock now green with algae.  Even with the easier climb we stopped more than once to rest our legs; everyone was sore from all the climbing.  A few more kilometers and we were finally down the mountain.  We took a quick subway ride and grabbed some chicken for Chuseok dinner before exchanging emails and heading home