Costco – the Asia tour

For fun, Rob and I checked out Costco in a few other countries. It’s always entertaining to see the variety of products for sale and compare to back home. The Korea and Taiwan ones had a kimchi bar.

Stop #1 South Korea -Seoul

Rob and I walked a ways from the metro to get to one of the Seoul Costco stores. Once we were nearby, we could easily follow the line of people carrying wholesale size items to the store.

After wandering awhile inside, Rob started thinking they didn’t sell food. But alas, he just hadn’t found the cartscalator to the lower floor. The food court is located so you can dine between floors. The seafood selection at the Korean store was the best of the three we visited. It was also nice to see all the thinly sliced meats they sell for BBQ, bulgogi or hot pot.

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Costco Korea food court menu. 

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We tried the pizza, the bulgogi bake (like a philly cheesesteak in chicken bake form) and the mango smoothie (too sweet).

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Costco soju, a terrifying amout of alcohol for a very low price.

Stop #2 Taiwan – Taipei

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Pork green onion buns.

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Prepared hot pot packs. I thought this was pretty special, but then we saw these all over Japan in grocery stores (smaller sizes of course).

The interesting potato chip flavor round-up.

Out of all the Costcos we visited, this one had the most unique food court menu.

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Costco Taiwan food court

We had the seafood pizza (meh) and the peking duck pizza (very tasty)in addition to a massive round of samples, including some cake that unfortunately looked better than it tasted.

We ended up getting a bag of the oyster omelet chips to eat of our forthcoming bike trip.

Stop #3 Japan – Tokyo Suburb

We dropped in here a half hour before closing right after we picked up the campervan. After all, we needed some food for the road trip (and dinner).

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The tortellini was very expensive at over $20 a package.

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Redhook in Japan.

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Bacon only comes in chunks. Not good for car cooking.

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Rice burgers. Rice patties instead of buns.

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Only chicken bakes were left. Still good though.

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Best costco dessert ever!

You must fill out a Costco international form to shop here if your membership is from abroad.

Goodbye Taiwan!

Last day in Taiwan and sadly we had to spend part of the morning packing. The weather was so wonderfully sunny, Rob and I were able to follow through on our plan of returning to Yangmingshan National Park. Previously, it had rained causing us to do the Jinbaoli trail instead of climbing to the peak of Mt. Qixing.

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Today, we were back to hike to the top, visit Xiaoyoukeng, an area with steam vents and fumaroles, and finish at the free public hot spring at Lengshuikeng. Unfortunately, as the bus climbed the mountain toward the trailhead all the sun disappeared as a cloud ceiling took over, but we were committed at that point. Despite its short length, the hike had plenty of stairs. We definitely appreciated doing the hike in this direction because the stone stairs for the descending portion have been repaired and were more regular. The public hot spring has two single sex nude bath houses and a footbath. The women’s bath was packed so I only had a chance to wash up before we needed to catch the bus back to town. Hopefully the next onsen/bath experience will be calmer.

Note: baths will have an area for you to wash up before getting in. The other people in the pool will chastise you if you try to jump straight in.

We finished the day grabbing some very good bubble milk tea with Willie before dinner at a vegan buffet with the whole Lin family. It’s amazing all the different types of not meat they serve and all the meatless versions of classic dishes. It was sad to see everyone for the last (and first for some) time. We hope to visit Taiwan again soon.

Antong Hot Spring to Taipei via Luodong

  
We woke up to rain for the last stretch of the bike trip. Rob and I had been hoping to squeeze in a bit of hiking on the Walami trail this morning, but a combination of weather and train timing threw a wrench in our plans/(there was a 10:30 train and a 14:30 train with nothing in between and that was just to Hualien).

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Straddling plates in the East rift valley.

With train transfers and the bike- accepting slow train, it took us over 4 hours to return the bikes and us to Luodong. It’s clear now why so many people have folding bikes and bike bags that allow you to take faster trains. The only good thing about all the train travel is that we managed to grab more magi in Hualien. Then, the darn bike shop was closed until 5 pm so we had to wait two hours for it to open. In the meantime, we visited the nearby Luodong sports park and cycled around scenic shoreline of its little lake.

  
Now we’re back in Taipei doing laundry and planning Japan. We leave on January 9 for a month there. Our skis have already arrived from the US. Much thanks to Steph and Mike for helping us mail them. Let’s hope for some awesome Japow!

Doulan to Antong Hot Spring

83 km, 1180m

Today was so much climbing that felt like it would never end. We biked south from Doulan along the coast to Taitung then did a huge u-turn over a ridge on Highway 11 prime and county road 197. The county road was beautiful and sparsely trafficked but was a massive climb. We finally called it quits at the first opportunity and cut to the flat highway 9 in the valley. Continuing onwards we faced a rude awakening that we now had a brutal head wind and we were heading up valley. After making it to the next town, Guanshan, we hopped a train for a few stops to make it to Loushan before they closed for the day. Loushan Village practices organic farming and makes a tofu with water from mud volcanoes. I wanted to eat their tofu. A fortuitous wrong turn sent us up another massive hill topping out at an even higher elevation than the first. But, at the top we found home-made tofu and a visiting google local guide who spoke English. We ended up with a combo plate of soft tofu sashimi style that you dipped in soy sauce and wasabi and amazing fried tofu flecked with a bit of pepper. It was so amazing and that we had a second plate before our long descent (digestion time). We also stopped at a nice fish pond on the way out with views of the large Luoshan waterfall.

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Another 15 km took us to Antong Hot springs to finish out the day at the Antong Hot Springs Hotel. The room is meh and the bathroom is a bit gross, however, the outdoor hot spring pools are amazing. There are massive angled jets that provide a back massage and pipes that drop water two stories on to you for a hard pounding. Rob and I spent over 2 hours in the pools. It felt so wonderful. Hopefully the muscles will be fresh for tomorrow.

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Shitiping to Doulan

86 km, 720 m

After an amazing breakfast at the hotel, the rain stopped and we continued south along highway 11.

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Our first stop was the Tropic of Cancer Monument 5 km out of town. It was so early we pretty much had it to ourselves. We decided to count to tour buses as in each direction as we biked today. Take a guess for south to north and north to south and I’ll reveal the answer at the end of the post.

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Our second stop was the Baxian Caves. The map looks flat but most of the caves are high on the hillside. They’re pretty underwhelming but the view is great. If you’re in a hurry, a quick loop will take you to the two nicest ones, two (the first one up the wood stairs) and the large one to the right in the paved path from the visitor center. The lady at the visitor center was very nice. Rob forgot to return our room key from last night and she helped us call the hotel and get it returned.

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Our next stop was a fruit stand on the roadside. Taiwan grows a large quantity of tropical fruits. One of the specialities is a sugar apple. We had one in the night market with Liggy and Petey in Taipei, but we hadn’t tried the pineapple sugar apple or atemoya, a cross between the sugar apple and a cherimoya. The lady running the stall showed us how to eat it by pulling off sections and gave a bucket for the rind sections and seeds. She also got really into helping us photograph the event by providing more fruit for props and posing me with them. She also had us eat whole normal sugar apple and some poquats? in syrup.

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For lunch, we found one of the large agricultural association buildings mentioned in lonely planet. Besides a large display of objects constructed out of straw in a field of flowers, they have a nice restaurant. We ordered two things which both turned out to be fried so were very tasty.

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Our biggest stop en route to Doulan was the Sanxiantai Island. The sight is a bit off the main road, so we biked through a small town on the way. As we went down the main street, a truck blasting campaign slogans passed by with its wind shield wipers on despite the lack of rain. Attached to the wipers were hands that waved as the wipers moved back and forth. Rob and I both wished we had been able to capture that moment. The bridge to the island has 8 arches because of a story about some immortals. There was a parking fee of all motor vehicles, but not of bikes. We were able to leave our bike bags at a security office while we hiked around. This was a popular tour bus stop with about six in the parking lot when we pulled in.

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Despite being pretty full, we decided to pick up bao or steamed buns in Donghe since they’re known for them and we needed breakfast for tomorrow. Just as we got the menu, a tour bus pulled up causing excitement along the ladies behind the counter who started frantically packing up buns. One lady disembarked the bus and picked up the bags of buns for the whole bus. While we ate a couple buns taking a bike break, another 5 buses passed. One of them definitely had passengers with buns in hand.

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Finally we arrived in Doulan after 5pm and found a friendly place to stay at the backpacker dog hostel (1 dog and 2 cats). The town is small but lively and has quite an expat community. There’s an Indian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a Vietnamese restaurant, roadhouse with burgers and a bar.

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We decided on Indian since lonely planet said they have excellent home-made ice cream. Despite being quite full after splitting one veggie curry set meal, we had to get a scoop of brown sugar and green tea. It was so great we devoured it and probably could have even had more.

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Back at the hostel, we had fun hanging out and playing with the stacking cats.

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Final tour bus total : 113+/-5 south to north and 15 the other direction. Most of the south to north were before 1 pm.

Biking in Taiwan – East Coast Edition

This is a collection of resources I found helpful for planning our bike trip, our route, some recommendations.

Our route
Day 1. Luodong bike pickup. Bike to Nan’oa (highway 2 and highway 9). Train to Xincheng(Taroko). Bike to Taroko Village.
Day 2. Bus to hiking (weather sucked)
Day 3. Bike Taroko Village to Tianxing and back ~18km, 420m each way. Bike Taroko Village to Hualien on Highway 9 ~20km (about an hour), mainly flat, good bike lanes. There are nicer cycle routes then this that you should take. We just didn’t know.
Day 4. Hualien City to Shitiping. ~68 km.  1300m. 1 large climb.
Day 5. Shitiping to Doulan. Mainly flattish. Elevation changes are gradual. 86 km, 720 km.
Day 6. Doulan to Antong Hot Spring (lower). 83 km, 1180m + a bit of train. If you want to ride it all it’s 110 or more km with plenty of climbing if you take the county roads.
Day 7. Antong Hot Spring to Taipei. Mostly train.

Read More

Hualien to Shitiping

75 km, 1300 m

I wasn’t too happy to get up this morning. The dorm room window had been left open and the mosquitoes came for me in the night. I woke up 4:30am with several itchy welts then tried to make an Amanda burrito out of the comforter to prevent more blood sucking. This was way to warm, but preferable to more bites. Rob of course, was fine. Grr.

After a few errands, picking up some fresh mwagi (apparently Hualien is famous for it) at the yellow sign place, a bike tube patch kit and a bike phone mount, we took off south along the coast staying with highway 11 as highway 9 branched off west. This was the biking that we had been looking for – wide shoulders, sparse traffic and pretty views. Other than a short climb and a long climb, the terrain was mainly rolling. Bananas from a roadside stall made a good snack along with scamwiches from the hostel breakfast (I saw this term on someone else’s blog and love it) and the remainder of the spicy oyster pancake potato chips from Costco Taipei.

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Tunnel water break

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We took a long rest break just past the summit of the long climb and met cyclists coming up the other side. They were very happy to learn they were almost to the top. A group of ladies the tour bus heard Rob say “e, er, san” and decided they wanted pics with both of us (yes, this time I actually got included in the novelty photos). Each of them took a turn taking a picture with us, then I got them to take a group shot with Rob. Naturally I had to take one for them, too.

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Rob and his tour bus photo posse.

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Homemade brown sugar custard from the viewpoint food stand. We should have gotten two. Only $35 NTD.

Finally, we made it to Shitiping and after asking a couple places, found a good place to stay at the boutique hotel near the entrance to the scenic area (it’s the gray building with 3 floors closest to the entrance, 石梯緣民宿). The woman there didn’t speak English but called someone who did to translate. She was wonderfully kind lending us a flashlight to walk to dinner (口福海鮮餐廳) and giving us dessert ice cream bars when we got back.

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Tasty, well-earned seafood dinner in Shitiping at 口福海鮮餐廳.

The name of the town Shitiping means steps because of the step formations the ocean has carved into the shoreline over millennia. The small town is mostly a coastal park with large rock formations and big waves which was great for an evening walk before dinner. We were wishing we had our tent as there was great camping along the shore. Now it is time for a relaxing evening before another day of riding tomorrow.

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Taroko National Park

Taroko National Park is amazing! The crummy weather at least made for cool misty photos. It rained on and off our first day here. We took the Taiwan tour bus Taroko route around the park. Most of the full day hikes required advance permits or were off the bus route or were closed. Instead, we ended up hiking a number of shorter trails: Baiyang waterfall trail, Shakadang trail to the visitor center and  the Lushi-heliu trail.

The water curtain cascade off the Baiyang waterfall trail was particularly neat. They built a tunnel through an aquifer and water pours out if the tunnel roof in many cascades. You can hike through the tunnel but you end up very damp. Also, bring a torch/flashlight if you do this hike. It has 8 tunnel sections.

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Baiyang Waterfall

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Lushui-heliu trail after finally passing a bunch of people.

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Shakadang trail alongside the river of the same name.

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Rope bridge. One way only according to the sign. Rob ignored the woman and went the wrong way anyway.

In the evening, we finally dried off and met some Dutch travelers in the hostel. After a hotly contested round of billiards (none of us had played before and were using random internet rules), we went in search of food. After being turned away from four places, we had resigned ourselves to 7-11 dinner, but right next to it was a tiny restaurant and a willing cook. We had a bunch of noodles with and without soup and a plate of really tasty deep fried green beans and basil?. Rob might have also ordered a couple corn dogs for the Dutch hostelmates who hadn’t tried them before.

For our second day in the park, we planned to bike to Tianxing where we bussed the day before. It’s 18 km in and many feet and tunnels up. Luckily, the weather cooperated and we woke up to a sunny day (and no meowing from the annoying cat that woke us up the previous only the neighborhood roosters). We left the park gate at 8:45am and made it to Tianxing about 3 hours later with many stops for pics and a flat tire fix. Swallow grotto was neat and not crowded (normally it’s a tour bus zoo) . We also stumbled into part of the Tunnel of nine turns which was supposedly closed.

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Swallow grotto. We even saw 2 swallows.

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The gorge walls were incredibly tall. This doesn't do them justice.

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Frog rock and the Cimu bridge.

We picked up our stuff from the hostel in Taroko and biked 20km to Hualien City. The Hualien Wow hostel is super nice. We have a double bed with privacy in a 6 person mixed dorm. It’s great that the dorm has its own bathroom attached and the shower actually has a door so the whole bathroom doesn’t get wet.

Hualien City is a tourist paradise. Everything here seems to be lodging, food or renting scooters/bikes. Rob and I enjoyed wandering around the lively downtown complete with tourist night market. We saw two different political campaigns hosting parties, a fountain with a large rotating granite sphere and a salt lick BBQ restaurant with train shaped smoker. Dinner was a bunch of buns, dumplings and McDonalds (sesame pork burger and a corn soup/hot drink).

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Bbq place

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Campaign HQ party

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Sesame pork burger and corn soup at McDonalds.

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Dragonfruit dessert at the night market

Luodong to Taroko

After a quick train ride to Luodong, Rob and I picked up our bikes at the Giant store a few blocks from the station. A week rental cost about $60 per bike. It’s super convenient for us because they came with helmets, a pump, spare tubes, lights, bike tool and panniers. Somehow, we managed to cram everything into the pannier/back rack bag combo things. I miss our panniers which are much larger and waterproof.

After flattish, boring highway ride (scooter/bike lane) with infuriating stop light timing along highway 2, we reached Su’ao for a beef noodle soup lunch ($90 NTD for a bowl).

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Then we headed on to highway 9 down the coast. The climbing went on forever. The road is a clearly marked bike route but the shoulder was pretty inconsistent. There are also a number of tunnels.

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We finally reached a summit and scenic viewpoint to find a large group of cyclist completing their eighth day of an around Taiwan ride. According to their chart, we had just done the largest of three climbs with two smaller ones to follow. The long descent was fun and almost tiring from all the braking.

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Soon enough, we were headed back up. After the second climb and descent, Rob and I realized we had no hope of making it to the hostel in Taroko. To make matters worse, it started to rain. We managed to book train tickets for us and bikes for two hours later from Nan’oa to Xicheng (Taroko). We were happy to learn that the bikes could just be rolled on and not bagged. This left us time to buy some food and dinner in town. Luckily we stumbled upon a xiao long bao place that serves the soup dumplings and huge bowls of hot and sour soup. Yum!

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Finally we arrived in Taroko (Li Wu Hostel) after a short ride from the train station along highway 8. Yay for dry room and hot shower!

Happy New Year from Taiwan!

Rob and I just arrived in Wai’oa on Taiwan’s north east coast. We spent New Years Eve watching the concert and fireworks by Taipei 101.

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Pre fireworks Taipei 101

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The brief firework show.

The MRT train traffic getting back to our hotel surprisingly wasn’t that bad considering the large number of folks there.

This morning, we got up and packed a small bag for our bike tour down the east coast. After 2 hours on a local train, we arrived in Wai’oa. We’re staying at the Rising Sun Surf Hostel tonight and we pick up our bikes from the Giant long-term rental program tomorrow in Luodong.

It was nice to spend an afternoon wandering the beach and harbor area here. We found a neat looking museum, the Lanyang Museum, picked up a bike map and downed a green onion pancake/sausage snack. There are a bunch of Surf shops but we didn’t try today since it was already 3pm by the time we settled in. Maybe tomorrow morning.

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Rob on the beach near our hostel.

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Ocean-side garden

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Squid boats in the Wulsing harbor. Apparently the lights are to attract the squid.

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View of the Lanyang Museum.

We finished the day with a hamburger dinner at the hostel for the first burger of the trip. One of the hostel staff is from NJ and had made some home-made patties. There were a number of folks around and we had fun chatting with everyone.

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Hostel burger