Day 14.  Paper Lanterns in Pingxi and Shifen 

Our plan for today was to travel by train to the small countryside towns of Pingxi and Shifen.  Getting there by public transport was quite easy, taking the MRT to Songshan Railway Station from where we caught a mainline train to Ruifang taking 46 minutes (its 34 minutes on the Express train but as the Regional service was due to depart when we arrived there was little point waiting for the faster service).

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Platform sign at Ruifang Station, Taiwan

At Ruifang we connected to the Pingxi branch line and this journey took a further one hour.

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Travelling on the Pingxi Line Train, Taiwan

Travelling by train in Taiwan is inexpensive, day tickets can be obtained for the rail line between Ruifang and Jintong costing NT$80 allowing unlimited stops but we just used our EasyCards which include a 10% discount for journeys under 70Km which worked out even cheaper.  The Pingxi line is a 12.9 Km single track branch line running between Ruifang and Jintong and was constructed in 1921 during Japanese rule, originally to transport coal.

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Pingxi Railway Station, Taiwan

Pingxi is the penultimate stop on the line and we decided to visit there first and call at Shifen on our way back.  The main street is built into a hill with the railway track going overhead through the town centre.  Trains run at hourly intervals in each direction so it’s a good idea to check the timetable so as not to waste time when wishing to move on.  Our planned stay in Pingxi of 75 minutes was just about right and gave us enough time to explore most of the small town as well as a quick stop in Family Mart for cups of coffee.

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Stepping stones, Pingxi, Taiwan

Paper lanterns can be bought at almost every shop and small stall, coming in various sizes and colours.  A medium lantern costs NT$200 which is then pegged onto a metal stand so that one can write special wishes on each side of the lantern.  Included in the price, the stall holder then takes photos of the people holding their lantern before lighting it with its attached candle to inflate the rice paper lantern.  The people then release their lantern into the sky and as it soars far away their wishes are said to come true!

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Writing special wishes on paper lanterns, Pingxi, Taiwan

We didn’t buy one ourselves but it was fun watching paper lanterns being prepared and then seeing them float up into the clouds.  Strolling around, we saw lantern debris on trees, in the river and strewn across the valley so it is clearly not very good for the environment.  Hopefully, the majority of it is picked up and removed.

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Shifen main street with paper lanterns soaring into the sky

Returning on the rail line, our next stop was at Shifen, the most popular stop on the Pingxi line.  Coach loads of tourists were here plus groups of school children making the charming, narrow streets very congested but bustling with activity.

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Following the path towards Shifen waterfall, Taiwan

About a 25 minute walk from the centre of Shifen lies it’s famous waterfall.  There are two signposted routes to take, we set off on one and returned via the alternative route.  I would recommend walking both ways along the path to the right of the railway track as it is much quieter and has much better views, the other route is mostly along a busy road.  Walking along the trail we had good views of the waterfall, known locally as the Niagara Falls of Taiwan.  It is the broadest waterfall in Taiwan being 40 metres wide with a total fall of 20 metres and lies on the upper reaches of the Keelung river.  Unfortunately I do not have a good photo of the waterfall as I had inadvertently changed the settings on my camera by accident.  Hopefully,  I will have an opportunity to return sometime in the future and include photos then.

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Launching a paper lantern into the air in Shifen, Taiwan

We then made our way back to the centre of town where even more bus loads of tourists had descended.  Feeling peckish, we bought some Tempura squid balls and nibbled on these whilst watching families write on their lanterns with thick, black marker pens.  Dozens of paper lanterns were constantly being released into the sky and it seemed a popular activity.   Apparently, sky lanterns were once used as a signalling system for those living and working on the railways but nowadays visitors to the town carry on this tradition by painting their wishes before releasing the lanterns on the train tracks.

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Train arriving at Shifen station, Taiwan

Just before a train is due, warning whistles are blown and everyone and everything has to be moved off the track briefly while the train passes through.

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Concourse, Taipei Main Station

We spent two and a quarter hours in Shifen before boarding our train back to Taipei via Ruifang once again and feeling tired we dozed a little with the motion of the train.    On reaching Taipei Main Station we decided to take a look in this vast rail terminus.  Taking the escalator to the upper floors we found some stylish small shops and food courts but down in the basement which is known as the Taipei City Mall it was very basic with market like stalls selling cheap clothes and trinkets and I wouldn’t really recommend it.   The City Mall is actually just one long passageway linking the rail and bus stations.

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All ready to go! Night street scene, Taipei

Back in our hotel room for a little rest and a discussion of where to eat, we settled on a return visit to the Raohe Night Market for more of their beef pepper buns plus a few other tasty treats.   We then made use of our Taipei City wi-fi  in Songshan MRT station to check in for our flights and secure good seats for our journey home in two days time.

Day 13.  A visit to the Taipei Zoo followed by a ride on the Maokong Gondola 

It was a bright, sunny morning as we took the MRT to Taipei Zoo Station along the Wenhou (Brown) line for most of the journey.  The trains on this line run overground and are driverless, similar to London’s Docklands Light Railway and it was fun sitting at the front having uninterrupted views on our journey.

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View from the front of the driverless MRT train

Entrance to Taipei Zoo costs only NT$60 (£1.50) paying by EasyCard, and visiting the zoo before taking the Maokong Gondola results in further discounts for EasyCard holders.  The zoo appeared crowded with school and kindergarten classes but after walking for a few minutes we had the park mostly to ourselves.

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Koala, Taipei Zoo

The zoo is attractively landscaped on a gentle slope and we were delighted to find a Giant Panda wide awake and looking our way.  We didn’t spend too much time in the zoo but were also pleased with our koala and tiger sightings.

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Giant Panda, Taipei Zoo

Having left the insect repellent in the hotel was a mistake as our legs soon became itchy from bites, the first time we’ve been affected this holiday.

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Tiger in Taipei Zoo

Gradually making our way up the hillside we caught the land train to the upper Maokong Gondola station (NT$5).  This gondola travels up to the tea plantations in the hilltop village of Maokong.  Some crystal (glass floor) cabins are available at no extra cost and boarding was quick with little or no queue.

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Maokong Gondola, Taipei

Rather than travel to the end station straightaway, we alighted at the Zhinan Temple station to take a look around there.  Strangely,  the temple wasn’t signposted from the gondola station and our phone map only provided a vague idea of its location.  We set off in what we thought was the right direction but after walking a considerable distance uphill we discovered we were actually hiking up Monkey Mountain and the temple wasn’t that way!

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Near Zhinan Temple Gondola Station, Taipei

Retracing our steps we found the temple about 40 minutes later, not far from the gondola station but in the opposite direction.  It wasn’t to be our day because the temple, which looked magnificent in our guidebook, was covered in scaffolding and not at all photogenic.  The interior was still accessible and other buildings on the site were unaffected.

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Inside the Zhinan Temple, Taipei

Re-joining the gondola to take us to the top station was easy with no waiting time and we were fortunate on this occasion to have a cabin to ourselves.  As we approached the summit it became gusty with the cabins swaying in the wind.

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Maokong Village, Taipei

Along the narrow road near the Maokong station are a collection of cafes and street food vendors but rather than eat there, we followed the road to the left past numerous attractive tea houses with outdoor terraces overlooking the tea growing areas.  After 25 minutes we arrived at the Tea Promotion Centre which offers free tastings of three varieties of Taiwanese tea including High Mountain Oolong.

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Tea Promotion Centre, Maokong, Taipei

In addition to tea tasting, an exhibition hall demonstrates the process from tea picking to brewing and on the ground floor visitors can pour themselves mugs of locally picked tea and take them out into the garden to drink.

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Tea tasting at the Maokong Tea Promotion Centre, Taipei

Rather than return down the mountain by gondola, we took the regular minibus service.  There was actually a bus stop outside the Tea Promotion Centre but as we had just missed one, we walked back to the village centre for the next service 30 minutes later.  This was just as well as we still had to stand and when the bus passed the Tea Promotion Centre passengers were left at the stop because it was already full.

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Tea growing on hillsides at Maokong, Taipei

This bus took us back to the Taipei Zoo MRT station and from there we travelled all the way to Tamsui in the north east, the journey providing us with a welcome rest.  Tamsui is the same riverside resort we first visited on Sunday evening and was again buzzing with activity when we arrived at 5.00 pm,

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Tamsui waterfront, Taiwan

This evening our plan was to take the small ferry boat across the wide estuary of the Tamsui river to Bali.  Ferries ply back and forth every few minutes and EasyCards are accepted, costing NT$23 each way.  Bali is a smaller resort than its neighbour across the water and has more of a refined air.  An attractive wooden walkway runs along the waterfront from where we could see small boats sheltering in the little harbour.

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Bali waterfront, Taiwan

The tree lined promenade has a good selection of restaurants, cafes and street food vendors and we settled on bowls of squid and octopus in a light tempura batter which we ate on a bench along the waterfront.

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Bali waterfront, Taiwan
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Seafood street vendor, Bali, Taiwan

As darkness fell it began raining so we took the next ferry back to Tamsui, stopping off for more vanilla buns to take back to our hotel.

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Courtesy umbrella stand, Taipei MRT station

One nice little thing we noticed in metro station ticket halls were these courtesy umbrella stands enabling commuters to borrow an umbrella if caught in a rain shower and then return it later either to the same place or to a stand in another metro station.  I wonder if this system would work elsewhere or if people might not bother to return them.

Day 12.  Taipei 101 and the National Palace Museum 

Drawing the curtains back, it appeared to be a dull morning but thankfully with no rain.  The two Japanese ladies we met at breakfast yesterday were around again at the same time this morning so we exchanged pleasantries and wished them a good day.

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Ticket Counter, Taipei 101

Our plan for the morning was to visit Taipei 101 which until 2010 was the world’s tallest building, its height being 509.2 metres including its 60 metre spire.  The tower also set the Guinness world record for having the fastest lift until 2016 when it was overtaken by the Shanghai Tower.  We travelled to the Taipei 101 MRT station and then located the tower entrance on its 5th floor.  The iconic tower has a pale green tinted glass exterior over eight tiers of pagoda like shapes, creating the impression of bamboo.  The entrance lobby was crowded with tourists but the majority seemed to be in tour groups, independent travellers like ourselves being able to purchase tickets almost immediately.  The cost of ascending the tower to the 89th floor is NT$600 per person but a combined ticket with the Royal Palace Museum can be purchased for an additional sum of NT$80.  Normal admission to the Palace Museum being NT$250.  Please note that the joint ticket is only available from the Taipei 101 counter and not from the Palace Museum but visitors have up to 15 days to visit the museum.

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View from the top of Taipei 101

Entering the lift, we travelled up 89 floors at 16.83 m (55.22 feet) per second taking only 37 seconds to ascend 89 floors.  Mist was rolling over the top of the building as we entered the indoor viewing deck obscuring our view at times.  Yet, at other times we had good views looking down on the city of Taipei but its surrounding ring of mountains were always shrouded in mist.

Spring is a misty time of year here so it would have been doubtful to have been assured a clear day even if we had postponed our visit until later in the week.  Having spent time viewing the cityscape from all sides, we took the steps down one floor to inspect the damper which was extremely interesting.

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89th Floor Viewing Gallery of Taipei 101

Taiwan straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines occasionally erupting in earthquakes.  Typhoons are also common in this region so vibrations to the building are dampened by suspending a massive steel ball weighing 660 metric tonnes from the 92nd floor to reduce lateral vibrations.  The damper is connected by pistons which drive oil through small holes damping vibrations.

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Damper, Taipei 101

Returning to the 5th floor we enjoyed coffees using discount vouchers attached to our tickets.  A little window shopping followed in the high end mall below Taipei 101 before boarding the MRT to Shilin where we bought some buns for our lunchtime snack.  We thought we had bought two custard filled buns but on tasting them discovered they were cheese and lemon!  Sweet and savoury combinations seem to be popular here as we had some chocolate and cheese buns a couple of days ago.

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Shopping Mall, Taipei 101

From Shilin we caught Red Bus 30 to the Royal Palace Museum, the bus taking us directly to the museum door so we had no problems deciding where to alight.

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National Palace Museum, Taipei

Needing to pass through a security check to enter the museum we had two sealed bottles of water with us from the hotel which we thought would be fine as similar ones passed through a security screening the previous day at the Presidential Office.  Here though things were different and the security officer informed us that they were not permitted.  We were prepared to dispose of our water bottles in a bin but the obliging member of staff had other ideas.  She led us to a table filled with baskets containing drinks bottles, cans and flasks and pointed to some little scraps of paper and a roll of sellotape for us to add our surname and leave for safekeeping later – this was such a good idea and one I’ve never come across before.

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Bottle depository, National Palace Museum

The museum contains a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts and artworks and it would be almost impossible to view everything in one visit.  Selecting several galleries we learnt a little about the Qing and Ming dynasties, the Ming vases being absolutely stunning.  This museum is very popular with Chinese tour groups and certain areas were particularly crowded on the afternoon of our visit.

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Ming vase in the National Palace Museum

The building is surrounded by ornate gardens so please remember to hold on to your tickets for access otherwise a further NT$20 needs to be paid.  The gardens include small ponds filled with koi carp,  narrow bridges and attractive small pavilions.  We found it to be very peaceful strolling along the gravel paths, tour groups seemingly not having time to linger here.

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National Palace Museum Gardens, Taipei

It was then only a few minutes to wait for our bus back to Shilin where we found a small cafe for more tea and cakes – this time selecting what we thought were almond and vanilla buns and for once we were correct!

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Starting point of the trail up Elephant Mountain, Taipei

Feeling refreshed after our afternoon tea stop we hopped on the MRT to Xiangshan back near Taipei 101 where we followed the path to hike up the Xiangshan Trail (also known as Elephant Mountain).  Taipei is circled by mountains known as the Four Beasts Mountains, a string of peaks named after the lion, tiger, leopard and elephant they are said to resemble.  Rather than a hike, it’s actually a climb up a vertical stone staircase taking approximately 25 minutes to reach the summit.

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Lookout point at the top of Elephant Mountain

Nearing the top it started drizzling, obscuring our views of Taipei 101 and dashing our hopes of sunset views from the summit.  Sitting in the lookout shelter awhile until darkness fell, we waited patiently for a break in the clouds to enable us to take some photographs.

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View of Taipei 101 from the top of Elephant Mountain

Finally managing a few photo opportunities we descended the trail and grateful for some street lamps our return down the steep steps posed no challenges.

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Steps leading down the Elephant Mountain Trail, Taipei

Finally, returning to our hotel for the first time today at 8.00 p.m. feeling very weary we made ourselves cups of tea and nibbled on chocolate bars,  giving us enough energy to head out for something to eat at 9.30 p.m.

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Omelettes being prepared at the Night Market

Gongguan being on the same MRT line as our hotel was our chosen night market destination.  It’s located south of the city and near to the National Taiwan University campus.  This night market straggling about four short streets was much smaller than the ones we’ve already visited but spotting a lengthy queue of people waiting at an omelette stall we decided to join them.  The vendor had got omelette making to a fine art having several large pans on the go at any one time.  Our omelettes arrived chopped into small pieces in a paper bag and served with chopsticks for us to nibble at as we wandered the stalls.

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Vanilla buns being freshly prepared at the Night Market

More tasty snacks followed before returning to the hotel with two more vanilla buns to accompany our bedtime drink.  Before heading back on the MRT we strolled through the grounds of the National Taiwan University campus located in a park like setting with palm trees and flowering azaleas, but a little difficult to appreciate in the dark.

Back at the hotel we put the kettle on, had our buns and were fast asleep in minutes.

Day 11.  Starting the day with an appointment at the Presidential Office, Taipei

Over breakfast we chatted with two ladies on a weekend break from Japan who were sitting at the next table.  They had both visited England and one had fond memories of the Cotswolds.  We assured them that Japan was high on our list of places to visit, which they thought was nice.

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President’s Office, Taipei

Before leaving home, we’d booked a 10.00 a.m. tour of the Presidential Office Building which is located in the Zhongzheng district.  This Baroque style building is a famous historical landmark in Taipei and was designed during the period of Japanese rule and completed in 1919.  Uncertain exactly how long it would take us to get there, we arrived at 9.40 a.m. but were allowed in without delay despite noticing long queues snaking around the exterior of the building.  Entrance is from the northern gate next to the Bank of Taiwan building and clearly pre booking saved us a great deal of time, tours being free of charge.  It’s necessary to take passports / ID for checking but this was a quick formality and we were soon ushered onto an English speaking tour with two people from Finland.  Other tour groups seemed to have around 30 people but as Taiwan receives relatively few western visitors we were fortunate to be in such a small group.

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Inner courtyard of the Presidential Office
Our friendly female guide took us through the main entrance which is dominated by a large bust of one of the founding fathers of the Republic of China (ROC), Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.  The one hour tour provided us with a good introduction to the history of Taiwan and was very enjoyable.

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2-28 Peace Memorial Park, Taipei
After the tour had finished we set off to visit the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (CKS) a few blocks away but a small detour followed as to get there we needed to pass the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park so we decided to take a little look around there first.  The 2-28 Peace Memorial Park contains memorials to victims of the pivotal event in modern Taiwanese history which took place on 28th February 1947, the killings known as the 2-28 incident.  In the centre of the park stands a memorial and strolling along paths we came across attractive ponds, pavilions and a bandstand.

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Pavilion and Bandstand in the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park
Our phone map gave the impression that the CKS Memorial Hall was close by but we had to hurry along to arrive in time for the Changing of the Guard at 12.00 noon as there were numerous large roads to cross where we repeatedly had to wait for the crossing to turn green.

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei

There are 89 steps leading to the entrance of the blue roofed octagonal neoclassical memorial to the former president, 89 being significant as this denotes the age at which he died.  The Memorial was erected in 1980 in honour of General Chiang Kai-Shek the former president of the Republic of China.

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Changing of the Guard, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

The ceremony takes place on the upper floor of the memorial hall on the hour and fortunately we managed to secure a good central position just before crowds built up.Promptly at 12.00 noon the guard change commenced and with much pomp and ceremony the guards marched like clockwork soldiers adjusting their gun positions in unison with each other, finally exchanging places on the pedestals vacated by the retiring guards.

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Changing of the Guard, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

It was fascinating to observe the 12 minute ceremony and afterwards we walked through the vast Freedom Square which is flanked by the elaborate National Concert Hall and National Theatre located on each side.

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Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Theatre

Conveniently, CKS Memorial Hall has its own MRT station so we jumped on board for the short journey to the Taipei Botanical Gardens.  Admission here is also free of charge but perhaps springtime isn’t the best season to visit as there were very few flowering shrubs and, although well landscaped, it was mostly a sea of green.

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Taipei Botanical Gardens

Still, we rested our legs on a bench overlooking the lotus pond whilst taking a drink from our water bottles.  Referring to our map, we noticed that the Longshan Temple was within walking distance so we headed that way stopping off for some delicious mugs of frothy coffee in a small, independent cafe on the way.  Cappuccino doesn’t seem to exist on the menu in most cafes here so we had to settle for Latte, but Taiwanese Lattes are more like our Cappuccinos anyway!

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Street in Taipei selling caged birds

Feeling energised after our coffee break we continued on our way, by chance passing an entire street selling birds of varying sizes from small sparrow like birds to large parrots, hanging from hooks in ornamental cages.  There seemed little activity but it was fun to observe as we strolled by.

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Longshan Temple, Taipei

Soon, we arrived at Longshan Temple, it’s definitely worthy of a visit, incredibly ornate with elaborate carvings, teeming with worshippers and tourists with a waterfall feature in its grounds.  Noticing a nearby bakery, we bought some egg custard tarts and found a bench in the square outside the MRT station to sit and eat them.

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Longshan Temple, Taipei

We then hopped back on the MRT to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, a former tobacco factory in a park setting.  The former manufacturing spaces now contains the Red Dot Design Museum and the Puppetry Art Centre of Taipei, whilst the factory worker’s homes have been transformed into galleries, cafes, craft shops and boutiques.  We came here on the suggestion of a Taiwanese interior designer we’d shared a table with in McDonalds at Hong Kong airport.  At weekends this area comes to life with a craft market, artisan food stalls and street entertainers but despite it being a quiet Monday afternoon it was still fascinating to see how the factory had been brought back to life, retaining its huge chimney.

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Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Taipei

Just a few minutes walk from here we found a hidden gem, IKEA House.  Now you might think it very strange that we would travel over 6,000 miles to spend time in an IKEA store but this is a completely different concept from the giant blue and yellow warehouses we are all so familiar with!

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IKEA House, Taipei

Feeling curious, we were duty bound to step inside, and yes, it is small, located over four floors with rooms furnished as in an ordinary house but with IKEA furniture and accessories.  There’s a small cafe counter on the ground floor where one can feast on the ever popular Swedish meatballs or, like us, opt for warm cinnamon buns and cups of coffee.

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Kitchen area of IKEA House, Taipei

Taking these on a tray, we went upstairs finding some comfortable chairs in the living room to enjoy our afternoon snack.  This ‘room’ was also furnished with cosy sofas, a dining room table and chairs, customers being able to sit where they pleased.  Other floors contained the kitchen, equipped with IKEA products with seating around the breakfast bar and kitchen table.  There was even a fully furnished bedroom where it was permitted to sit on the bed but obviously climbing in and going to sleep was not allowed!

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The IKEA House living room. Taipei

Using the IKEA WI-FI I tried to find out if there were more IKEA houses around the world, but it doesn’t appear to be the case, not even in Sweden, it’s spiritual home.  Our thoughts were that it was a splendid concept, showcasing IKEA products in a realistic setting.  Small items can be purchased here whilst larger items can be ordered.  The only problem I can foresee is that as it’s so comfortable and welcoming and the staff are only located on the ground floor, that some people might overstay their welcome!

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Ximending, Taipei

Our final stop of the late afternoon was another short trip on the MRT, this time to the Ximending district – a youth culture hub favoured by students and a frenzy of neon lights, sports and electronic stores, the entire area buzzing with activity.  A wander through the locality followed before returning to our hotel for a well earned rest.

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Raohe Nght Market, Taipei

By mid evening we were feeling re-energised so off we went on the MRT again, this time taking the Green Line to its terminus at Zhongshan, the home of the Raohe Night Market.  A bright illuminated archway welcomed visitors into this night market which was bustling with activity and temptation at every step of its 600 metre long street.  Next to the market lies the Ciyou Temple illustrated in my feature photo above.

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Preparing Black Pepper Pork Buns at Raohe Night Market, Taipei

It’s always a good sign if certain stalls have long snaking queues, the locals must know these are the best places to buy their snacks from, so we joined one such queue where a production line of at least five people were preparing black pepper pork buns, one person was rolling dough whilst another added meat and cabbage before being placed in an Aga type oven.  Delicious couldn’t really describe them, they were delectable with a crispy base combined with a mouthwatering, peppery succulent inside – I’m sure we’ll be looking out for them again.  Weaving our way through the crowds, stalls were offering anything from shoes and clothes to electronic devices.  Fairground type games seemed a popular evening activity with locals trying their hand at darts, shooting balloons and throwing hoops over objects to win soft toys or some other small prizes.  By the time we had reached the far end of the night market we had been tempted to try some sausages, pork skewers and at least one healthy item – freshly squeezed watermelon juice!  Certainly a feast for our senses.

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Raohe Night Market, Taipei

Back near the MRT stands a tall clock which played a tune at 10.00 p.m. as we were passing with characters popping out of doors above the clock face as the bells chimed.

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Clock tower next to the Raohe Night Market
Close by is the Rainbow Bridge which crosses the river.  Taking a short stroll, it was extremely quiet here with virtually no-one else in sight except for a couple of people who had brought their street food to one of the riverside benches.  After yet another fast paced today we returned to our hotel, loving every moment so far of our time in Taiwan.

Day 10.  A visit to Yangmingshan National Park and Beitou Hot Springs 

We woke at 7.00 am but struggled to get out of bed for another half an hour.  Fortunately the monsoon shower head invigorated me and we were soon ready to experience our first breakfast in Taipei.  The hotel’s restaurant, located on the 2nd floor was called ‘Find the Life Kitchen’ and had modern furnishings.

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Breakfast dumplings in Taipei

There was a good selection of Taiwanese dumplings in various colours (we were soon to discover the significance of this and how they varied in taste), noodles, eggs, other hot dishes as well as fresh fruit and toast.  The coffee tasted good too, I dislike strong coffee but this was just to my liking and I happily returned for more.

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Flower Clock, Yangmingshan National Park, Taiwan

Having a full schedule ahead of us, we took the MRT to Taipei main station and then searched for the bus stop servicing route 260 to the Yangmingshan National Park as we planned to visit the final day of the Cherry Blossom Festival.  This volcanic park is located across parts of Taipei and New Taipei City and is famous for its cherry blossom.

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Yangmingshan National Park

The bus taking 40 minutes, terminated by the Flower Clock which was very attractive and fully functioning.  Cherry blossom trees were coming towards the end of their flowering season but still looked a beautiful sight.  Being a Sunday and the final day of the festival, there were many people enjoying a day out in the warm sunshine, so warm in fact that we paused under a shady tree to apply some sun cream.

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Temple, Yangmingshan National Park

In addition to cherry blossom, azaleas bloomed profusely and we followed the small paths admiring the flowers amid the delightful national park scenery.  Coming across a stage we paused to watch some Taiwanese folk dancing and a local orchestra entertain us with some tunes.  There were various cafes dotted around and we stopped off for our morning coffee in one of them.

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Folk dancing at the Cherry Blossom Festival, Yangmingshan National Park

It had then been our intention to visit the Hot Springs but whilst queuing for our bus we noticed crowds of people waiting for other minibuses and wondered where they might be going.  Fortunately for us, the bus station supervisor spoke some English and informed us that, at a higher elevation, it was peak viewing time for calla lilies and suggested we take a look.  Joining the lengthy queue, by the time it was our turn to board a minibus no seats remained so we had to stand and hang on for dear life as the bus navigated the hairpin bends along its route.

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Calla lilies at Yangmingshan National Park

Arriving at the lily farms, it seemed utter chaos, the whole of Taipei appeared to be there, narrow roads were congested and people were everywhere.  The only map we could find was in Mandarin and was impossible for us to understand so we asked a girl who had also been on our bus if she knew which way to go.  She was actually from Singapore and it was her first visit too, but at least she could understand Mandarin and suggested that we follow the trails together which proved to be an excellent idea as she was so nice and interesting to talk to.

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Calla lilies in Yangmingshan National Park

There were fields of calla lilies as far as the eye could see and we followed a marked trail for about an hour admiring the blooms.  Passing some street food vendors we bought some sweet, soft dough buns, one coffee and the other a sweet savoury combination of cheese and chocolate which tasted delicious and was recommended by our new friend.  It was much cooler up here with low lying mist, so different from earlier in the morning when we felt the sun burning our skin.

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Sign inside Taiwanese buses indicating payment method

Bidding farewell to our companion we caught a minibus to Beitou, this time managing to get seats.  Paying bus fares by EasyCard is quite complicated as sometimes one has to tap in when joining the bus or at other times one needs to tap in only on alighting and sometimes both – depending on the length of the journey.  The above illuminated sign explains to passengers when they need to pay but there still seemed to be some confusion, even with locals.

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Beitou Public Library

On arriving in Beitou our first stop was to the gorgeous public library which has been included in a poll of the 25 most beautiful libraries in the world (you can read the article here) and it was easy to see why.  We strolled around and looked out from the wooden balcony where people were sitting on wooden benches reading.  The library was busy with people working at tables and browsing book shelves which was pleasing to see and also that it opened on Sundays.

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Beitou Hot Springs Museum

Next door to the library stands the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, admission is free but visitors are requested to remove shoes and wear the slippers provided to prevent damage to the polished wooden floors.  The small museum was very interesting and after learning something about the history of Beitou Hot Springs we went outside to follow the Beitou Hot Springs Trail where we were able to both smell the sulphur and feel the hot steam rising from the stream.

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Bath Inside the Beitou Hot Springs Museum
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Stained glass windows in the Beitou Hot Springs Museum

Combining visits to both the Cherry Blossom Festival in Yangmingshan National Park and the Hot Springs in Beitou worked well being only a short distance apart and with our unplanned detour to view the lilies we had still managed to fit both in without needing to rush.

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Entrance to the Beitou Hot Springs trail
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Beitou Hot Springs

To complete our first full day in Taiwan, we took the MRT from Xinbeitou to Tamsui, a popular riverside resort in the north of the island on the banks of the Tamsui river, being a 40 minute metro journey if travelling from central Taipei.

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Tamsui waterfront, Taiwan

Darkness was just falling as we arrived in this lively resort and we enjoyed strolling along the tree lined promenade where we found a large number of food stalls to tempt us.

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Tamsui Promenade

Ordering two steaks from a street vendor, he chopped the beef into small pieces and then cooked them to perfection using a blow torch, handing them to us to eat with skewers.  A little further on some pork filled steam buns also tempted us, the dough being soft and the inside tender and juicy.

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Steak cooked by blow torch at the Tamsui Night Market, Taiwan

From another stall we sampled some squid and for a sweet treat we bought two cakes to share – one with a vanilla filling whilst the other had a red bean paste filling.  We both preferred the sweeter, vanilla cake but it was interesting to try the red bean to see how it tasted.

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Bathroom with LCD television at Green World Hotel Grand Nanjing, Taipei

Having eaten our way along the night market and experienced another fun filled day in Taiwan, it was time to return to our hotel and soak in the bath tub whilst watching television!

Day 9.  A fond farewell to Hong Kong and a first visit to Taiwan

It was a bitter sweet feeling needing to pack our suitcases after breakfast, the Ibis North Point again having been a good place to stay and Hong Kong being a much loved destination.  After pulling our luggage along to the step free entrance of the MTR station we rode the metro for the final time this holiday on our way to Central station where we deposited our luggage at the Cathay Pacific desk of In-town Check-in after purchasing tickets for the Airport Express train.  Tickets cost HK$100 each from the machine but if passengers go direct to the Customer Service desk and ask for a ‘Group of 2 Ticket’ the combined price is only HK$170.

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Star Ferry, Victoria Harbour

Free from our luggage, we strolled across to the iconic Central Pier for a ride across Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry, remembering to sit on the right hand side for the finest views.  This morning we opted to sit on the lower deck as, with its open sides,  it’s easier to take photos and is slightly cheaper too!

Wandering along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade one last time we admired the old Kowloon station clock which was erected in 1915 as part of the Kowloon – Canton Railway terminus.  The station was demolished many years ago but this colonial red brick and granite tower remains as a reminder of the age of steam.

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Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon

Continuing along Salisbury Road we passed the elegant Peninsula Hotel and slightly further on,  the former Marine Police Headquarters which were completed in 1884.  This is one of the four oldest surviving government buildings in Hong Kong and is now known as Heritage 1881, the stunning colonial building now transformed into a heritage hotel and deluxe shopping arcade.  Several brides were using the backdrop of this beautiful building for photo shoots, the nearest register office being just across the road.

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Heritage 1881, Former Marine Police Headquarters, Kowloon

Also located here is the Signal Tower, commonly known as the Round House.  It was constructed to provide time signals to ships in the harbour, the ball dropping at exactly 1.00 p.m. each day.  Its use ended in 1907 when the time ball apparatus was removed to Signal Hill, Kowloon.

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Signal Tower, Kowloon

Before taking the ferry back to Central we treated ourselves to a sweet potato and vanilla ice cream cone, sitting on a bench to savour this new flavour – and our verdict, delicious!  A few minutes to spare so a quick glance in the Harbour City Mall before boarding the Star Ferry, this one being called Day Star, for our final glimpse of Victoria Harbour.

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Hong Kong Airport Express

Then all that was left to do was to obtain refunds from our Octopus cards, less a HK$9 admin charge.  The Airport Express train takes just 24 minutes to reach the airport and comes complete with personal speakers in seat headrests for passengers who may wish to view the video screens.

As we’d already checked our luggage in earlier in the day we proceeded straight to security and  passport control.  Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong International Airport is spacious and we stretched our legs browsing the shops and duty free outlets before settling down for a coffee and a few fries in McDonalds.  As it was crowded we shared our table with two people who, by chance, were from Taipei so it was interesting chatting to them about our forthcoming plans and hearing a few suggestions of additional places to visit.

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On board the A350 900 airliner to Taipei

Boarding for our short (90 minute) Cathay Pacific flight to Taipei, again on one of their new A350-900 airliners was well organised.  We had selected window seats on the right hand side of the aircraft as we’d heard that we might get some good views of the Taipei coast just before landing.  Passing the time on the flight I was able to finish watching the film Bridget Jones Baby  that I was part way through at the end of our previous flight.  Attractive meal bags were provided with a plentiful supply of food for such a short flight.  The snack included a Portuguese style chicken lattice pastry, an Anzac biscuit plus a carton of lemon tea.  Other drinks were available on request but we were happy with our lemon tea.

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Cathay Pacific snack meal on the A350 between Hong Kong and Taipei

Descending into Taipei, thick cloud prevented photo opportunities but we were soon disembarking at Taoyuan International Airport where baggage reclaim was efficient and finger printing was taken at border control with this taking several attempts until it worked successfully.  Before leaving the airport we registered for free Taipei wi-fi at the information desk, needing to produce our passports to enable access.  It’s not that we are obsessed with being online but thought it would be useful for such things as looking up train schedules and checking in for our inbound flights if we are not in our hotel.  Other essential tasks were to obtain some NT dollars from an ATM and purchase EasyCards for the travel system.  These travel cards cost NT$100 (£2.50) and give a 20% discount on each journey.  We topped up each card with NT$500 to begin with.

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EasyCard for use on the Taipei travel network

Ready to go, we boarded the new Taoyuan Airport MRT into the city centre.  This had only been operating for two weeks with fares at an introductory rate of NT$80 each (half the normal rate).

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Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei

From Taipei Station we needed to change to the MRT.  In case you might think I’ve made a typing error, in Taipei the metro system is known as the MRT whereas in Hong Kong, their system is known as the MTR.  Negotiating our luggage on the MRT was easy as all stations have at least one exit with step free access and within a few minutes we were exiting Sonjiang Nanjing station which was only about 5 minutes walk from our hotel, the Green World Hotel Grand Nanjing.  This Taiwanese owned, Japanese style business hotel has only been opened a few months and our first impressions of a bright, modern reception area were good.  Check-in was speedy and efficient and we were soon taking the lift to our 10th floor room (1010) our home for the next seven nights.  The room was luxuriously appointed with every comfort imaginable including a cosy window seat enabling us to view the city life of Taipei.

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View of our room, 1010 in Taipei

The huge bathroom had both a large shower cubicle and deep bath tub.  The bath having an LCD television with a built-in remote control.  Another feature new to us was the Japanese toilet complete with side control panel with numerous options available including a heated seat.

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Bathroom complete with television
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Japanese toilet

Yet another interesting device that we hadn’t come across previously were buttons to press next to the key card holder indicating that we would like the room to be cleaned or that we did not wish to be disturbed.  I wonder how long it will be before such a device is commonplace, moving on from hanging out a piece of cardboard on the door handle!

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Do not disturb / Room clean device

Resisting the temptation to fiddle with all these gadgets, we headed out to experience our first Taiwanese night market.  Hopping back on the MRT was so much easier without our heavy luggage and navigating the Taipei metro system seemed relatively easy.  We headed for Taipei’s famous Shilin Night Market which was a feast for our senses with the heady aroma of cooking spices drifting by.

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Shilin Night Market, Taipei

Taiwanese cuisine incorporates Chinese, Japanese and local influences with noodle dishes, dumplings, pork and seafood seeming very popular along with locally grown freshly squeezed fruit drinks.  The evening was warm with light drizzle but that didn’t spoil our fun as we munched our way through cuttlefish balls, chicken skewers and Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork belly buns in a soft dough) which melted in the mouth and tasted divine.  I can already predict that our week in Taiwan will focus on much street food eating!

At almost midnight we returned to our room and we were both sound asleep the second our heads touched the pillows in our exceptionally comfortable bed.

Day 8.  Cheung Chau and a visit to the Hong Kong Flower Show 

It’s hard to believe that it’s our last full day in Hong Kong – the days have flown by.  This morning we decided to visit one of the outlying islands so we travelled on the MTR to Central and then walked across the footbridge to Central Pier for the 9.45 am fast ferry to Cheung Chau.  Sitting on the upper deck we had some good views on the 40 minute boat trip.  I’ve visited Cheung Chau before but this morning we planned something new, a hike over to the island’s north lookout point.

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Pak Tai Temple, Cheung Chau

On leaving the ferry pier we turned left, walking along the promenade as far as the basketball pavilion where we stopped awhile to look in the nearby Pak Tai temple which is guarded by four small stone lions.

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North Lookout Point Trail, Cheung Chau

On leaving the temple the hiking trail leads to the right passing behind the Cheung Chau Aged Persons Home from where it’s easy to follow the well maintained path.  It was a very warm morning as we climbed the seemingly never ending stone steps but on reaching the lookout point we were rewarded with some stunning views of the narrow strip of Cheung Chau town with its harbour on one side and the beach on the other.  The path continues to further viewpoints and we enjoyed the trail almost to ourselves.  Hundreds of butterflies fluttered through the hedgerows, we spotted four varieties but they seemed impossible to photograph despite frequent attempts.

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Cheung Chau, Hong Kong

Returning to the bustling seafront we relaxed with cold drinks and our favourite coconut buns, then continuing along to the far end of the bay and across to the beach we spotted a statue commemorating Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medal, by a local windsurfer.  We took the slower ferry back to Central which only takes an additional 20 minutes and is much better for taking photos of Hong Kong island as the boat approaches the coast.  Not too far from the ferry terminal lies Hong Kong Park where we’d visited briefly on our first day heading towards The Peak tram.

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Hong Kong Park

This afternoon we wanted to visit the colonial Flagstaff House which is home to the Museum of Tea Ware.   Looking around the historic building which has free admission was quite interesting but we found the majority of the exhibits to be disappointing as they were modern competition ceramics rather than old tea sets as we had expected.  The exhibit below being the only traditional tea set we could find.

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Museum of Tea Ware, Flagstaff House, Hong Kong Park

Afterwards, we strolled through the gardens where we spotted numerous turtles huddled together in small heaps as well as several bridal parties awaiting their weddings in the park’s register office – a delightful location for post ceremony photo shoots.

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Hong Kong Flower Show

A short break followed back in our hotel room before raising the energy to board a tram to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, the venue for the annual Hong Kong Flower Show taking place during the week of our visit.  Admission is only HK$14 (approximately £1.50 each) which is a real bargain as the event is huge.  It’s open during the day but in the evenings the floral displays are illuminated taking on an enchanting appearance.

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Garden display at the Hong Kong Flower Show 2017

Rather than individual vase floral arrangements, this flower show features high quality themed gardens plus a live stage where we watched some dancers dressed in exquisite orchid costumes.  It was the perfect end to our week in Hong Kong and after a final meal in Café de Coral we returned to our hotel to pack and prepare for the second part of our holiday adventure.

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Illuminated tulips, Hong Kong Flower Show

Day 7.  Visiting the Po Lin Monastery and Tai O Village

A clear morning with no signs of any mist so after breakfast we took the MTR to Tung Chung, located at the end of the South Island line.  Our plan for this morning was to visit NGong Ping to see both the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.

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NGong Ping Village, Lantau Island

On recent visits I have travelled on the NGong Ping 360 Cable Car but we knew in advance that this was out of action until June as the ropes were being overhauled.  A bus replacement was in operation, advertised as being outside the MTR station but actually located at the far end of the bus station, but still quite easy to find.  Buses seemed to be leaving at regular intervals and we were able to pay for the journey using our Octopus cards.  The journey was quite scenic passing through the Lantau Country Park as the bus wound its way up the mountain.

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Tian Tian, Big Buddha, NGong Ping

Alighting from the bus we clambered up the 268 steps to the Big Buddha statue, also known as Tian Tian.  After taking in the views we glanced in the exhibition hall located in its plinth.  Returning down the stone staircase we wandered over to the beautiful Po Lin Monastery and quietly observed worshippers lighting incense sticks of various dimensions,  their intoxicating scent filling the air.

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Tian Tian, Big Buddha, NGong Ping

Strolling through NGong Ping village feral cattle were wandering around and one tourist who had placed her bag on the floor whilst taking a photo, turned round to find the cow had removed her packed lunch!

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Outside Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island

Moving on, we took Bus 21 to Tai O village, 15 minutes away.  This bus only operates hourly so it’s best to check the times in advance to avoid wasted time standing at the bus stop.  This service is operated by the New Lantau Bus Company and card readers are installed enabling payment by Octopus cards.

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Tai O Village, Lantau Island

Tai O village is built around a creek with homes built on stilts over the water.  It’s very picturesque and far removed from the ultra modern life in Central.  Several companies offer boat trips along the creek and then out of the sheltered harbour in search of dolphins.  Prices vary but all tours seem to take the same route and last approximately 25 minutes, our boat trip cost HK$20 each.

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Homes along the creek, Tai O Village

Boats depart when there are sufficient numbers of passengers and we were fortunate to board first and take the single front seats on each side of the boat and only have to wait a few minutes until several other tourists joined us.  Sadly, no sign of dolphins today but a pleasant boat trip nonetheless offering us a different perspective of the village from the water.

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Bamboo scaffolding, Tai O Village

Feeling peckish, we bought some pork dumplings and leek and pork pancakes from street vendors, finding a bench in the main square to sit down and enjoy our lunchtime snacks.  Feeling re-energised we wandered along more of the narrow village lanes, the aroma of dried fish filling the air.

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Leek and Pork Pancakes at Tai O Village

A further bus journey to Mui Wo (Bus No. 1) taking 40 minutes brought us to the ferry terminal and with 20 minutes to spare we had time for a cup of coffee and McDonalds seemed to be the only option.  Our round trip concluded with a one hour journey on the slow ferry back to Central.  If you take this route I suggest sitting on the upper deck at the right hand side of the boat for some excellent photo opportunities when passing Kennedy Town and approaching Central.

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Temple, Tai O Village

We then popped into the IFC mall for a little window shopping and whilst there, we used the free wi-fi to check-in for our upcoming flight to Taipei in 48 hours time.  Cathay Pacific now charge for pre booked seats so it’s a good idea to try and check-in and select preferred options as early as possible.  We had no trouble selecting the window seat and the one next to it in a good position on the aircraft.

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P & O Cruise liner Arcadia passing our hotel in North Point

Returning to our North Point hotel we again bought coconut buns and warm egg custard tarts to take back in with us for afternoon tea.  Back in our room, we saw the huge P & O. cruise liner Arcadia sail past our window and on looking up her voyage on our iPads, we discovered the ship was on a world cruise, now heading for Vietnam.

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Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island

After a little rest and a catch up with news on TV, we were off out again.  We strolled along to Fortress Hill, glancing in shops along the way.  Hung Hom Cafe looked inviting and as there was a short queue outdoors we thought it must be a good sign.  Our meal tasted good and on leaving the restaurant we continued our walk all the way to Causeway Bay.  I always love the fast paced evening scene here with the bright lights of Times Square and Hyson Place still bustling with people shopping at 10.00 p.m. in the evening.  We weren’t tempted into walking back so hopped on one of the lovely old ‘Ding Ding’ trams, sitting upstairs at the back for excellent views as we rattled along Hong Kong island back to our hotel for the night.

Day 6.  Aberdeen, Museums and an evening of Horse Racing

A bright, breezy morning and after a leisurely hotel breakfast we wandered across the road to the North Point bus station to take bus no. 38 to Aberdeen, the journey going via the Aberdeen tunnel and taking only 30 minutes.  Aberdeen is located in the south west part of the island and is famous for its floating seafood restaurants.

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Aberdeen harbour

Our exploring here began on the seafront which is filled with brightly coloured sampans, junks and fishing boats.  Several people tried to persuade us take a sampan trip around the bay but we politely declined as we were happy strolling along the promenade.

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Chinese Arch leading to Aberdeen Square

Heading into the centre of town, a large Chinese Gate led us into Aberdeen Square where we glanced in some of the small shops and the large wet market before heading up Yue Kwong Road, an extremely steep hill towards the starting point of the walking trail in the Aberdeen Country Park.  The trail took around an hour to complete, taking us from the east bank of the lower reservoir over to the dam of the upper reservoir.

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Aberdeen Country Park, Hong Kong

Our walk provided us with some good views over Aberdeen and the surrounding countryside.  Few people were about on this Wednesday morning but as there are plenty of picnic tables and outdoor barbecue grills, I guess it’s popular at weekends and during the warmer summer months.

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Aberdeen Country Park

Returning to the town centre again via the steep road we visited a small temple and then enjoyed a mid morning cup of coffee and bun before setting off again.  Next, we took a bus through the harbour tunnel, alighting at the first stop afterwards in Kowloon City where we walked a short distance to the Hong Kong Museum of History which has a splendid, vast exhibition entitled ‘The Hong Kong Story’.

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Hong Kong Museum of History

Admission is free and the large, attractive galleries detail life in Hong Kong from prehistoric to modern times.  There’s a reconstructed street complete with shops and temples and a photo gallery illustrating the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.  It was my first visit to this museum and I would highly recommend spending some time here as we enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours learning about the history of Hong Kong.

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Inside the Hong Kong Story Exhibition

Also located in Granville Place is the Hong Kong Science Museum and as we have an interest in anything scientific we needed to take a look.  There is usually an admission charge but the museum offers free admission each Wednesday.  Covering all three floors is a giant energy machine (marble run) which operates every two hours and we had great fun watching the large red balls roll along, drop down and strike chords on musical instruments including a xylophone, chime, bell and a drum.

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Hong Kong Science Museum

The museum includes many interactive laser exhibits and we could easily have spent more time there but we needed to head back to the hotel for a short rest as we wished to spend the evening at the Happy Valley Racecourse for their weekly Happy Wednesday race meeting.

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Giant Marble Run, Hong Kong Science Museum

There’s a lovely small bakery just around the corner from our hotel and we seem to have got into a habit of buying cakes there on our way back into the hotel.  Today was no exception and we returned with a coconut bun and an egg tart each to enjoy with our afternoon cup of tea.

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Finishing Post, Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong

Soon it was time to set off again and getting to Happy Valley is easy as trams run frequently from North Point terminating near the racecourse.  Admission is only HK$10 (about £1) which we paid using our Octopus Cards, gates open at 5.15 p.m. with racing commencing at 7.15 p.m.  It was just before 6.00 p.m. when we arrived but we still had a good choice of seats in the 2nd floor grandstand, these cost an additional HK$20 each but money well spent as they provide excellent views and are reserved all evening.  After picking up a race catalogue we selected a horse for each race, placing the minimum bet of HK$10 (£1) to add interest and a little fun.  The evening’s racing got under way as darkness fell, Happy Valley looking stunning, illuminated by the tall skyscrapers surrounding it.

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Boomerang at Happy Valley

Tonight’s Happy Wednesday meeting was a themed Australian ‘Boomerang’ event with a selection of Australian food and wine on offer together with all the usual favourites.  Between races, live music takes place and there is always something interesting happening during the four hour long meeting.

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Setting off from the starting gates, Happy Valley Racecourse

It’s my third visit to Happy Valley and our luck doesn’t appear to be improving – no wins to report but we were very unlucky in one race as our horse was in a photo finish for first place but sadly we were placed second, so no payout!  There are lots of food counters and we spent the evening munching crisps, hot dogs and chocolate whilst sipping pints of lager.  Not the most healthy food choices, but appropriate for our fun filled evening at the races!

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Parading Ring, Happy Valley

Returning to the hotel was easy as trams and buses were lined up outside ready to take racegoers back home, unlike our recent visit to a Rugby International in Edinburgh when there wasn’t a tram in sight and we had to walk!  For more detailed information on spending an evening at Happy Valley you can check out my previous post here.

Day 5.  A Day in Macau

It was drizzling slightly as we caught a rush hour MTR train from North Point station to Sheung Wan for the ferry to Macau.  On arrival in the ferry terminal we discovered ferries were subject to delays due to dense fog in Macau and we were unable to depart until 10.30 am so we found a coffee shop to pass an hour before getting underway.  Turbojet ferries run regular services from both Hong Kong and Kowloon to Macau.  There isn’t any advantage in purchasing return tickets and as passengers need to select a particular sailing we find it easier to just buy single tickets at each port.  If you are planning on making the trip please remember to take passports as these are needed for the journey.

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Senado Square, Macau

Turbojet provides reserved, comfortable seats and we soon found ourselves dozing during the one hour crossing.  Fog had lifted by the time we arrived in Macau but unfortunately it was raining heavily.  Across the road from the ferry terminal there is a bus station with free shuttle bus services to all the casinos.  As we wished to start the day in the historical part of the city we boarded the Grand Lisboa shuttle bus which is located fairly near to Senado Square.  Passing through the casino we glanced at the gaming tables and slot machines which were already in demand and it wasn’t even lunch time.

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Ruins of St. Paul, Macau

With our hoods up to protect us from the warm rain we explored the old town with its Portuguese influenced architecture and pavements.  Senado Square is particularly beautiful with its candy coloured buildings and ‘wavy’ pavements.   Despite the rain, the narrow streets leading to the Ruins of St. Paul were crowded with tourists sporting umbrellas in every colour imaginable.

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Pastéis de Nata, Macau

A necessity when visiting Macau is to sample the local Portuguese egg custard tarts, Pastéis de Nata which are served warm and have a thin crispy pastry case.  These are sold on nearly every street corner and most people return for additional ones, as we were tempted to.

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The Parisian, Macau

Our original plan had been to take a bus to Coloane Village in the south of the island to have lunch in Lord Stow’s cafe but as the heavy rain persisted we decided to head straight to the Cotai Strip where we would be able to take shelter in the huge themed casinos.

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Eiffel Tower, The Parisian, Macau

Our first stop was to the Parisian which has only been open for five months and comes complete with a half size model of the Eiffel Tower.  The interior is opulent and French themed boulevards are lined with designer shops but we were surprised to find very few visitors to this multi million pound themed village.

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Champs de Mars, The Parisian, Macau

We explored the base of the Eiffel Tower which overlooks a replica of the Champs de Mar gardens but we didn’t feel the need to take the lift to the top as we’ve experienced the real thing in Paris but it perhaps appeals to visitors who may not have an opportunity to visit Europe.

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The Venetian, Macau

An indoor walkway links through to the Venetian, now nine years old but still immensely popular compared to its new neighbour.  Whilst the Parisian offers opulent shopping avenues, it’s malls lack the appeal of a canal winding its way through a replica Venetian street scene and St. Mark’s Square.  After cool drinks in one of the many cafes we were ready to continue on to Cotai Central which lacks the glitz of Venetian but again is a complete self contained ‘village’ with gambling halls on the lower floors.

Having no wish to gamble, we returned to the ferry terminal on one of the complimentary coaches which run at 15 minute intervals and from there we booked seats on the next Turbojet ferry to Kowloon as it was departing earlier than the Hong Kong one.  Again, we had no difficulty in booking single tickets and boarding the next available ferry.  After a full day’s sightseeing we were ready to sit back and relax in the comfortable seats and before we knew it, were back in Kowloon.

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Temple Street Night Market

This ferry terminal is located near Mong Kok so we made our way to this most densely crowded of districts.  Dazzling neon lights aplenty and an illuminated archway lead through to the touristy Temple Street Night Market where one can buy fake designer goods, clothes, trinkets and electronic gadgets.  It’s interesting to stroll around but we didn’t want to buy anything and instead returned to North Point by MTR where I feasted on sizzling steak with leeks and root ginger in a restaurant on the Kings Road.  Then, finally after a long day we returned to our hotel room for a cup of tea and a good night’s rest.