Exploring Kuala Lumpur

From Melaka, I caught the bus up to Kuala Lumpur for a few days. Arriving on the first day of Ramadan, I was assaulted with the delicious aromas of curries and BBQs from the array of food stalls directly outside my hostel. They were set up and selling food every afternoon for the month of Ramadan. On my way to Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, I indulged myself in wondering through this small market in the process of setting up. Eventually finding my way to the reserve, I bypassed the Kuala Lumpur Tower, deciding that once one’s been to the top of one telecoms tower, one’s seen them all. Besides the visibility is normally much reduced and somewhat disappointing in comparison to the views promised in brochures and I imagine that the low hanging afternoon clouds of Malaysia do little to aid it.

Canopy walk in the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve.

Instead I ventured along the canopy walk, praying the looming storm would hold off long enough for me to finish the walk. Naturally I was halfway along the first bridge when the first roll of thunder peeled out like the battle drums of an approaching army. I picked up my pace and tried not to think about the warning signs not to enter the park during storms. Chased by thunder and darkening clouds, I found myself wondering about the likelihood of being struck by lightning and, if I survived, how cool the lightning scars would look. This was perhaps a tad morbid but standing on a metal bridge in the treetops with a storm rapidly approaching will do these things to you. I made it safely back to the main road just in time, with the rain still holding off.

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View of the National Mosque from the Islamic Arts Museum

Meeting a group who had entered the park just as I exited later that evening, they said how lightning had struck a couple of trees just over ten metres from them and I have now resolved not to be in any forests after about three thirty, the earliest thunderstorms normally start in Malaysia. Making my back to the hostel, I was admiring the lightning as it flickered on the horizon and waiting to cross the road when I felt the first drops of rain begin to fall. By the time I made it to shelter on the opposite side of the road, I was soaked through and a wall of falling water curtained off the outside world. Unwilling to venture out, I settled on a bench in the shopping centre I found myself in and read my book while I waited out the storm.

My first day in Kuala Lumpur finished with scrumptious samosas and a huge chicken and tomato skewer, devoured at the table in the hostel as I talked with other guests.

Model of the Dome on the Rock at the Islamic Arts Museum

Day two dawned bright and early and found me planning where to start my explorations. Setting off for the Islamic Arts Museum, I caught the purple line of the GOKL buses, a free bus system the runs in the Kuala Lumpur city centre. Getting off the bus at Pasir Seni I passed the National Mosque as I walked the remainder of the way to the museum. I was unable to enter the mosque because the time I was passing by coincided with prayers, but just walking around the outside was enough to be impressed by the vast scale and simple but elegant architectural style.

Book about astrolabes in the Islamic Arts Museum

The Museum cost MYR14 and was well worth a visit in my humble opinion. Unlike the art one would expect to find in the Louvre, Islamic art focuses more on making everyday objects into works of art themselves. Upon entering, I perused the models of famous pieces of Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal, as the melodic sound of a recitation of the Quran played in the background. The next section showcased breathtaking examples of illuminated Arabic script. In many cases the Quran but also a number of Firmans, edicts of sorts, from the Ottoman empire. Of particular delight to me is this section were a number of astrolabes and navigational tools as well as the intricately detailed ink pots and matching quill boxes.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Moving on there was a wide range of artefacts to illustrate the blending of different cultures with Islamic art, in particular, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian. This included everything from textiles and furniture to jewellery and weapons. While paintings and sculptures may be far less common in the world of Islamic art, there is no doubt in my mind that the objects created are just as beautiful as any painting, if not more so for their practicality.

Masjid Jamek at midday prayer

Exiting the museum, I made my way to Masjid Jamek, another mosque, via the Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple. The temple was pleasant to look around briefly and the mosque was certainly impressive from what I could see of it, even though I could not enter. Instead, I headed to Merdeka Square where Malaysian independence was declared and which is ringed by and impressive selection of colonial era buildings and headed by a huge flagpole, proudly supporting the Malaysian flag.

Merdeka Square

Continuing on, I backtracked past the National Mosque and made my way to the Butterfly Garden. At MYR25 I felt the cost was a little steep but enjoyed my time wondering around the miniature garden jungle even if there were less butterflies than I had expected to find. Halfway round I again found myself frantically dashing for shelter as it began to rain. Fortunately there were a number of small seating areas within the garden and I was able to read my book even as the rain poured down all around me.

More than just butterflies in the Butterfly Garden

A quick stop to look up at the Petronas Towers and I headed back to the hostel for the evening.

Petronas Towers

My last full day in Kuala Lumpur saw me teaming up with another guest to visit the Batu Caves. We set out around nine thirty in the hopes of seeing the cave while the temperature was still somewhere around sweltering instead of Mordor on a bad day. Sadly our cunning plan was not to be. Being backpackers on something vaguely resembling a budget, we had elected to get the train rather the a Grab car or taxi. We did not however account for the varying train times of Kuala Lumpur. I for one, am used to inner city trains running on a regular and frequent schedule and did not think to check train times. Then again, I am not convinced checking train times would have made a difference.

Statue of Lord Murugan outside Batu Caves

We waited twenty minutes for the monorail to KL Sentral while two went in the opposite direction. At KL Sentral we were redirected to a free bus shuttle that was running to KTM Sentul instead of the train. We sat on the bus (blessedly air conditioned) in the station for another fifteen minutes before being told to switch to a different bus. Upon making it to Sentul we waited a further half hour before the train drew out of the station on the last leg to Batu Caves. We finally arrived a mere one hour and forty five minutes after we had set out compared to the fifteen/twenty minutes it would have taken by car.

Inside Batu Caves

Thus we found ourselves climbing 272 stairs up to the main cave with the sun doing its best to cook us alive. The cave was impressively huge, even with most the manmade structures within it cocooned in scaffolding. However, for me the cave was a little disappointing because aside from the size, the geological features were not amazing and almost everything else was behind tarpaulins. Furthermore, the smell of monkey urine was rather unappealing. Neither of us was particularly inclined to see all the insects and bats that call the Dark Cave home so we skipped over visiting it.

Thean Hou Temple

The journey back was somewhat quicker and we parted ways at KL Sentral, agreeing to meet again later. I had another long journey ahead of me. This time walking to Thean Hou Temple where the nearest public transport spots were all a uniform forty minutes away. Despite this I really enjoyed walking around the temple, perhaps my favourite in a while. It offered excellent views of Kuala Lumpur and had counteracted the fading and peeling of paint that strikes all buildings in this hot and humid climate with a fresh coat of paint. This meant lots of brightly coloured dragons perched on the eaves looking as if they could come alive at any moment.

Trying to pose gracefully at the Heli Lounge

With the long journey times these were the only attractions I visited during the day, venturing out with the same young lady that evening to watch the sunset at the Heli Lounge. Our plans were foiled once more, this time by the weather. A light shower meant we could only go up to the top deck for a brief round of photos before being ushered back down into the bar. With clouds blocking the sunset, it was something of a wasted trip although my gin and tonic was quite pleasant. The day ended with delicious feast of mango and mangosteens from a nearby food market.

A Day in Melaka

View of the Malacca River from the bridge into Dutch Square.

Arriving in Melaka the evening before, I eventually resorted to getting a taxi to my hostel instead of the bus as it seemed the majority of buses had stopped running for the day. Another thing that seemed to close extremely early was the majority of restaurants, which all seemed to be closed by six. Fortunately not everywhere closed and I had some noodles in a little cafe on Jonker’s road. The rest of the evening was spent chatting with other guests and the staff on the rooftop of my hostel, a group of mostly solo travellers making for a sociable crowd.

The Clock Tower in Dutch Square, Melaka
Christ Church in Dutch Square, Melaka

Breakfast devoured, I set out into Melaka. It was something of a false start as about five minutes later I found myself huddling in a five foot way sheltering from a sudden downpour. A chapter of my book later and the rain cleared so I was able to resume my exploring. There is not a huge amount of things to see in Melaka, unless one has a deep and passionate love for all kinds if museums, so I very quickly saw the key sites which were of interest to me.

A fountain to commemorate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
The remains of a fort just off Dutch Square.

Not yet willing to return to the hostel, I went to the Maritime Museum. This was a lot of fun as the first half of the museum in a replica of the Portuguese vessel the Flor de la Mar that sank off the coast of Melaka. It was also fascinating to read about the rise of Melaka from a fishing village to a major port of trade. How the colonisation of Melaka, first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and finally the British, combined with their varying religious persecutions, changed the port from one of free trade to a state monopoly of declining significance was well explained. However, the order of reading for the information plaques a little unclear in some cases.

St Paul's Cathedral
The ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral.

A (very) late lunch of scrumptious pork satay later and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading my book before getting ready for the hostel’s cycling trip to Masjid Selat Melaka, the “floating” mosque, for sunset. On our way, we briefly stopped via a group of locals play a cross between volleyball and football with a wicker ball. Kicking the ball back and forth over the volleyball net required an impressive level of flexibility and foot eye coordination. At no point were hands used to hit the ball but there were a few well aimed headers.

The view over Melaka from St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Maritime Museum in Melaka

Watching the sun set as we sat next to the Straits of Melaka as the call to prayer rang out, was a beautiful experience. The lights of the Masjid Selat Melaka gradually strengthened as the light of day slid from the sky which faded from blue to orange to purple and finally black.

The Flor de la Mar replica at the Maritime Museum
Another view of the Malacca River.

Heading back to the hostel with a flat tire rattling my joints out was slightly less fun and mildly terrifying as all road signs were ignored by our guide and most other road users. The solo travellers from the bike tour grouped together for dinner. Electing for an Indian place the hostel owner had recommended, we all satiated the appetites we had worked up cycling with the self serve plate, none of us quite brave enough to pick something unknown off the menu. This was just as well a fish complete with heads and tails was a menu option I saw someone ordering and is a meal I intend to never eat again if at all possible.

Foot volleyball.

The day concluded with a round of beers and Cards Against Humanity on the hostel roof, so while there may not have been much to see in Melaka, there was still a great many people to meet and laughs to be had.

Sunset at the Masjid Selat Melaka

Being Beachy in Bali

My Easter trip to Bali mostly consisted of sitting by the pool and on the beach in the north of the island while alternating between studying and revising. I knew even as I was booking that I would have little time for anything else. However, rock fever had taken hold of me and I needed a change of scenery from the cityscape of Singapore that a hike along the Southern Ridges wouldn’t satisfy. Fortunately, on my last whole day I arrived back in Denpasar early enough to make the short trip to Uluwatu beach.

Cave or beach?

This idyllic tourist trap of a beach runs straight onto a reef, creating paddling pools for all in addition to fabulous waves that the surfer in me wishes I was brave enough to surf. Descending into the initial amalgamation of beach and cave, I was a tad sceptical but as I emerged into the sunlight, the reef stretching before me, the view blew away the final cobwebs that the routine of Singapore had weaved in my mind.

A small part of me is very jealous of the surfers who had enough experience to hire a board and surf here, even if I know I would have barely lasted five seconds before being spat back onto the reef.
I eventually made it away from the majority of tourists.

Keen to stretch my legs and get away from the biggest throng of tourists, I meandered along the reef to the end of the beach, enjoying the sun and waves. I normally find the waters of South East Asia leave a slight residue of grime and pollution on my hair and skin, at fact that means the beaches here hold little appeal for me. Uluwatu beach was a rare exception to this, although I did not go out any further than the tidal pools. With sunset still a little way away, I headed back up the cliffs to a café perched precariously above the rocks below and devoured some delicious fried rice, looking out over the ocean and, eventually, the sunset.

Perhaps I should have studied geology, then I could explain how this rock formed. Instead I can only admire it.
Precariously balanced. I’m not sure this would pass health and safety muster back home but can’t quite bring myself to be concerned.

Uluwatu beach and Bali in general was a wonderful balm to my soul. The only downside was the taxi service of Uluwatu who possess a monopoly of the area, not allowing other companies, including Uber and Grab, to operate out of the area and so charging a premium which was twice what I paid to reach the beach. The only exception to this being the hotel cars who naturally match the taxis in price. The taxi service wouldn’t allow me to ride with a lovely couple who suggested I share the cost of their private driver from Denpasar with them, after I found out just how much they wanted to charge. With the driver unable leave with me in the car, I was forced to get out and walk until I was able to arrange a covert pick up further down the road with the asistance of an extremely kind chap at a cafe.

The end of a beautiful day.

Operation Extract Tourist went off without a hitch. A short motorbike ride further up the road to a darkened layby. A black car pulling in smoothly (after a slightly awkward U-turn). The door being opened for me. Tinted windows concealing me from prying eyes and we were off. Total time: three minutes and twenty two seconds. Next stop: the airport for a night on the floor. The kindness of the people who had helped me overshadowing the blatant extortion and monopoly of the taxi drivers.

Chiang Mai and Koh Yao Yai

The sunset caught the all gold at Wat Chedi Luang beautifully.
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang.

Chiang Mai is well known as the city to visit in Thailand if one is looking for traditional crafts and the more ethical elephant sanctuaries. Like everywhere that has a large tourist industry, it has undoubtedly changed over the years to better accommodate the demands of travellers, it is impossible to go for a walk without spotting a hostel. Despite this, the city appears to maintain a precarious balance between the tourist and the local, selling local crafts to customers wanting that authentic piece of Thailand to take home with them. There is room for everyone to profit selling the genuine to the less genuine that looks just as good for half the price.

The complex at Wat Chedi Luang was beautiful. Something that created some confusion researching temples in Chiang Mai was that every source spells the names differently.
The sunset catching Wat Chedi Luang.

Night markets are saturated with goods demanding the attention of tourists and I can’t help but wonder how anyone makes a profit selling the same scarves and clothes as every other stall. By day the temples charge tourists for entry while worshipers can enter for free, an excellent scheme that helps to maintain the temples. The only issue being that “tourist” is often based on skin colour, an understandable method but it did raise a few eyebrows as bus loads of Chinese tourists walked in for free.

After arriving Chiang Mai, we headed straight out to the Saturday night market. The Chiang Mai night markets are the biggest I’ve ever visited and definitely have the most variety.
The Three Kings took us a while to find so we took a break until we realised we were sitting opposite them with only a tree shielding our view.

In addition to temples and night markets my mother and I visited San Kamphaeng Road. This road is the location of many local craft shops and at several miles long we carefully picked a few destinations within walking distanace to visit in advance. These were Baan Celadon pottery shop where we looked around the factory where celadon pottery was being made, the intricacy of the patterns painstakingly painted and carved was astounding; the Thai Silk Village which I talked about in a separate post; two silver factories, one more questionable than the other; and a lacquerware factory that was fascinating.

The front of the temple at Wat Phra Singh.
Scaffolding – the bane of every tourist. This is the Phrathatluang Chedi at Wat Phra Singh.

Something that we found a little disconcerting was how in many of the shops and factories, we were closely followed by a member of staff, ready to help at any moment. While I presume it is normal practice in Thailand, for us, who are not used to it, it came across as somewhat stifling and just made us want to leave instead of taking the time to properly enjoy looking around. The only place we were followed and it didn’t feel suffocating was the lacquerware factory, Lai Thong. We were greeted at the door to the factory and given an excellent demonstration of the lacquer making and decorating techniques before being shown into the store. Once there, while attended, we were given enough space to look at items and the members of staff were helpful but managed not to make it feel too much like we had to buy anything.

This is the interior of Warorot Market, full of dried spices and fruit. We also got some lovely fabric at a nearby shop.
We ended up in Wat Phan Tao by mistake while looking for Wat Chedi Luang. I’m glad we did as it was a nice break from all the gold.

We finished up our stay in Thailand at a resort on Koh Yao Yai island near Phuket. This was a nice break and I spent most the time revising and doing assignments but at least I had a good view while doing it and the breakfast allowed me to indulge in my pancake obsession and ongoing pancake photo war with my father.

This set of pancakes were devoured in Chiang Mai and I have no regrets.
Revising hard on Koh Yao Yai
At least revising is easier when this is the view.

Chiang Mai’s Thai Silk Village

For me, the best part of visiting Chiang Mai was the opportunity to look around the Thai Silk Village. This tourist stop teaches about how Thai silk is made, with a large selection of working looms. Fortunately for my dignity, I just about manage to stop myself from bouncing up and down in pure joy as the amateur seamstress in me first heard the rhythmic clicking and thunking of the looms. Sadly this self restraint did not last for the entire visit and I found myself grinning like a fool and vibrating with happiness when I left clutching a five meter bundle of the most gorgeous green silk to my chest.

The silk worms are fed on mulberry leaves and will shed their skin four times before forming their cocoon.
An example of the cocoons being formed. There were both yellow and white cocoons, presumably spun by different species.

Before we made it the gift shop of many colours however, we first looked around the factory section. Along one wall was a series of baskets, displaying the life cycle of the silk worms and moths. It was a little hard to tell for certain, but from what I could see, two different species of silk worm were on display. TexereSilk provides a reasonably good explanation of the full silkworm lifecycle and initial thread making. Next to this display a woman carefully unravelled the cocoons spinning several filaments into the initial threads. Further on, these threads were dyed and spun into their final strands before being transferred to the looms.

Unravelling the cocoon and forming the first threads of silk.
An partially completed bolt of silk.

The looms are passed down through generations of weavers and possess a look that suggests they are just waiting to give one a splinter. Howevr, despite their less glamorous appearances, these Thai silk looms have be instrumental in producing what is argueably some of the finest silk in the world, remaining constant as they pass from mother to daughter. I can only imagine the years of practice it mast take for the weavers to perfectly time the raising and lowering of the warp thread with the foot pedal while pulling on a rope to transport the shuttle as it carries the weft back and forth.

One of the looms in use.

Entering the gift shop, we were assaulted with a rainbow of colours as we perused first bolts of silk and, deeper in, everything one could conceivably make from fabric. My interest was in the bolts and I spent a huge amount of time humming and hawing over the the breathtaking fabric on offer, before finally settling on a two tone green and black silk which I look forward to transforming in to a cocktail dress when I am reunited with my sewing machine at the end of my exchange.

Walking with Elephants

After deciding that we’d go to Thailand, my mother and I realised that spending a few days in Chiang Mai so that we could spend time visiting elephants was an absolute must. In recent years there has been a growing awareness of the injuries riding elephants causes as well as the mistreatment of the elephant and their mahouts in the logging and riding industries. After some research we settled on spending a day with the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

My mother with an elephant.

The day dawned bright an early and we were picked up from our hostel and driven to Camp 8 after picking up the rest of the group. After changing into the provided tops we were given the standard safety briefing as well as more information about the work of the sanctuary and how it helps rescue elephants and the mahouts from other industies. Collecting handfuls of bananas, we greated the elephants as they approach from the neaby jungle. They definitely appeared to love their sweet treats if the speed at which the bananas disappeared is anything to go by. Continuous laughter filled the air as searching trunks stole bananas from unsuspecting hands.

My mother and me with my favourite of the elephants we met.
Almost there. Apparently this isn’t an uncommon occurrence with him.
Here is a clearer view of his “GPS Locator”.

y favourite of the five elephants we met initially was a youngster who had a wooden bell tied around his neck. GPS locator the guide informs us. He later tried, and succeeded, to climb over the wooden fence that separated lthe seating area from the main yard. The moment when he was halway over the fence was most amusing as he awkwardly figured out how to lift his back legs over.

We next helped in the making of medicine balls to feed the elephants. These consisted of rice, tamarind and salt among other things to help provide the elephants with some roughage and ensure they are getting a suitable selection of vitamins and minerals. These sticky balls were snapped up as quickly as the bananas before them and provided another round of giggles and photos.

Scrub a dub dub

Here is me trying desperately not to lose my glasses. Should have thought it through a little more.

Our next stop was to give the elephant a mud bath, standing in a silty pond and gooping mud over their backs as well as each other before continuing down to the river so everyone, elephants included, could rinse off the mud. Us humans then had a go at sliding down a natural flume before drying off and tucking into an mouthwateringly delicious lunch of curry and watermelon.

Lunch concluded and bellies full we ventured in to the jungle, following the elephants on a small loop and just enjoying being in the presence of such beautiful and intelligent creatures. Our group as a little smaller by this point as some people had only been visiting for a day but at a few points on the trail I will admit to feeling frustrated with only being able to see the backs of people heads and the distant ridge of an elephant’s back.

Three elephant behinds in size order.

Fortunately this didn’t detract from the overall experience and we finished the day by visiting one of the Elephant Jungle Santuary’s larger camps to meet a bigger group of elephants, including an adorable baby.

Who couldn’t love this adorable five month old?

After this amazing experience, I would definitely say that it was worth it and would recommend everyone to give it a go and strongly advise against riding elephants. However, I think it is also important to remember that while this is way better than riding elephants, it is still a tourism industry and it is important to properly research where one intends to visit. Also bare in mind that it is not sustainable tourism. Even if it massively improves the lives of the elephants, they are still no truly free and must interact with humans far more than they would in the wild.

This is a post by Wanderlust Movement which explains why they decided not to visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I feel it provided a good explanation about elephant tourism and it has given me some thinking points about some of the bullet points on my bucket list and how I might change them.

Gardens by the Bay

I have a confession to make. Despite having been in Singapore for the better part of five months, the observant among you may have noticed I still haven’t been to the famous Gardens by the Bay. This was not for a lack of trying. However, the weather seemed to conspire against me and whenever I had a deadline free afternoon set aside to visit them, the rain would thunder down in true tropical climate fashion. Even when I finally fitted in a visit recently, I did not succeed in fully escaping the rain.

The gardens were wonderfully laid out and even though relatively small, one could meander around for as long as one can stand the Singaporean heat and humidity. For me this wasn’t long and I was happy to enter the eternal spring of the flower dome. It showcased a delightful array of flowers and plants from a variety of Mediterranean climates, many of which I recognised by sight if not by name. I was particularly fond of the driftwood animals hidden away amongst the foliage, notably a dragon perched overhead.

I was immediately taken with the cloud forest dome, it reminded me of a cooler version of the Eden Project back in England. Another reason for my excitement was the large number of dragons tucked away for the observer to find. I many grow old one day but I will never stop loving dragons. It is probably best that I study Physics and not Biology or else I suspect I would already be trying to create a dragon.

Descending through the clouds along aerial walkways and reading about the human impact on the world was as interesting and enjoyable as reading about an upcoming mass extinction can be. I also enjoyed looking at the stalactites and geodes on one level of the mountain.

I had hoped to walk along the famous OCBC Skyway in the Supertree Grove but by this point it had start to spit and the walkway had been closed due to the risk of lightning so I made do with craning my head back to admire the towering artificial “trees” that make up the grove. With the rain getting worse, I gave up on my original plan of seeing the trees light up as the sun set and returned home.

Zuocang (Sakura) Trail, Hualien

One of the things I have struggled with in Hualien and to an extent the whole of Taiwan, is trying to find out what to do. This was apparent when visiting Taroko Gorge yesterday and again today when I tried to plan my day. There is very little online other than other people’s blog posts and a lot on the brochures are in Chinese or Taiwanese. Even Lonely Planet has left room to be desired. The only real exception to this trend has been the supremely helpful and friendly hostel staff at Journey Hostel here in Taiwan. After asking the them last night, I decided to walk the Zuocang Trail today.

While I had been given rough directions to the trailhead last night, I didn’t know its name so trying to check my route was frustratingly difficult. I was fairly certain I had the correct name from a tourist map but still couldn’t find any infomation about the route. Since reading the sign at the start of the trail, I realise that this may be because the trail seems to have had half a dozen different names in relatively quick succession. Eventually, just running with the rough directions I set out in the hopes I would see a sign sooner or later.

The trail was an old road up the mountainside that used to be used by a cement company to access their mine. It offer some stunning views out over the city and I enjoyed my walk to the top lookout point, even if it it was all uphill. I also took a short side trail near the trailhead to view a lovely little waterfall, though I was a little wary with all the signs warning me to watch out for wasps and vipers, even if my logical brain new they are only really around in the summer and autumn months.

Hualien

On Sunday, with rain clouds looming over all of Taiwan for the foreseeable future, I decided to move down to Hualien City for the rest of my holiday. I spent yesterday looking around a the small city including an enjoyable walk along the river and coastline, despite the rain. I particularly liked the A-zone which had a variety of local artisan shops in a similar layout to that of the Red House in Taipei.

Today I had something a little more thrilling booked. Initially I had hoped to try tandem paragliding but with the weather as it is, this had to be put on the back burner for some other time. So, I asked myself, what can I do outside while not being bothered by the rain? Being at that awkward stage between an intermediate and beginner level, I didn’t want to take a surf lesson. This left river tracing or white water rafting. Initially I planned to both, however river tracing doesn’t run during the winter months so I was left with just white water rafting.

The driver collected me from the hostel at 07:30 and we headed to the Xiuguluan River, picking up one other person along the way. Once there, we learnt that we would be joining a large group of high school students for the rafting. After a lot of Chinese and no English we headed to the shore. With ten to a boat we set off into the great unknown. I briefly noted that the mountains, shrouded in cloud were quite picturesque. This was the first and last time I admired the scenery. Ere we made it to the the centre of the river, toy water cannons were produced and bailers were weaponised.

What followed was a hilarious four hours of occasional paddling, falling overboard and splashing all who came within firing range. When it comes to splashing a teacher in the face, language is apparently universal and victory achieved. I admit to feeling a tad sorry for the safety boats as they sped up and down the river, continuously retrieving oars and returning people to their boats.

Museums and Temples in Taipei

After a lateish breakfast I set off northwards towards the Confucius temple. This was really well laid out (plenty of English) and explained the basic concepts of Confucius’ teachings as well as having amazingly intricate detailing within the architecture. The temples here seem so lavish after the relative simplicity and refined grace of the Japanese shrines. The differing architectural styles have put a new wind into my sails, otherwise I think I might be fully templed out by this point in my holiday.

Emerging from the temple, I found myself caught in a large procession, all wearing matching yellow and purple hats and following a dragon towards Baoan Temple. I have absolutely no clue what the event was and couldn’t find it anywhere online when I returned to the hostel, but it was fun to watch, even with the increasingly heavy rain.

I wanted to visit Taipei Fine Arts Museum but on arriving found that it is currently closed for renovation. Unwilling to have walked through the rain for nothing, I visited the Story House next to the museum.

Built in 1913 by a tea merchant, this quaint little Tudor-style house seems extremely out of place halfway around the world from England. Inside there was an array of different Chinese woodworking plains, which as a crafting and handiwork enthusiast I couldn’t help but admire. There were a couple of lovely art pieces made from the wood shavings and I really enjoyed looking around.

With the rain only worsening, I headed to the National Palace Museum via Cixian Temple. I ended up spending the entire afternoon here, my imagination captivate by lustrous paintings and intricate carvings. My favourite exhibit was one of the temporary ones named Story of a Brand Name and was succcinctly summed up as “The Collection and Packaging Aesthetics of the Qing Emperor Qianlong”. This brevity does not do justice to the exquisite attention to detail that Qianlong afforded his collection. In the creation of unique cases and boxes for each item, new pieces of artwork were born. Small display boxes were carefully constructed to house jade marvels, each shelf specifically shaped for each piece. All in all, a trove of beauty and the part of me that strives to create order in all things was most pleased.

A close second in terms of favourites was some of the intricately carved jade and gemstone artefacts. There were also a number of ivory pieces that were stunningly carved, including fourteen balls all contained within one another and carved from a single elephant tusk. While these displays of ivory were undeniably amazing, the killing of elephant and rhinos is much less so and I was most pleased to see the following sign:

A visit to the Shilin Night Market concluded the day and left me pleasantly full with delicious street food.