Day 2 in Taiwan – Pandas and Gondolas Part One

To read about our first day in Taipei, Taiwan, click here.

Pandamonium

On our second day in Taipei, Taiwan, Nicole and I took the subway, or MRT, across town to the Taipei zoo to see pandas, Nicole’s favorite animal. Taipei is one of the few zoos in the world that has pandas so it was a must for our trip. On our way in Nicole bought a really cool panda hat and we also stopped to take this neat picture of Mother Nature having her breast licked by a deer. Nicole was not a fan.

Mother Nature in the background with a deer
Mother Nature in the background with a deer

When you arrive at the zoo, you’re given two things: a ticket for the zoo, and a ticket for the panda viewing area. The panda tickets are scheduled for an hour sometime during the day. Fortunately, we arrived early so our panda ticket was for shortly after we arrived.

We had some breakfast and walked over to the panda pavilion. You wait outside until your number is called, just like at Neuschwanstein. When your number is called, you enter the pavilion and slowly queue past the pandas in their habitat. The pandas were waiting by the back door of their habitats because it was almost feeding time. This meant the first few pictures I could take were only of panda butts. However, after they ate they became a little more sociable and I was able to get pictures of more than just their butts.

The Taipei Zoo

After viewing the panda area, Nicole and I walked around the rest of the zoo. Aside from being ungodly hot, it was a pretty nice experience. Most of the animal habitats were quite spacious. There were lots of plants all over the zoo. For most of our walk, it felt like we were trekking through a jungle rather than walking through a zoo.

Maokong Gondola

We spent a good part of the afternoon at the zoo seeing animals and getting really sweaty from all the heat. I would have liked to stay longer, but we there were more adventures to be had. We left the zoo and walked over to the Maokong Gondola. The gondola leads up through the mountains and passes a number of temples and little villages that you can stop in to. There is great hiking up there as well. The whole gondola project was meant to make nature more accessible to the urban residents of Taipei. I think the project was a smashing success as the gondola is wildly popular.

Upon further inspection of the wikipedia page, it seems the gondola system was riddled with mechanical and structural problems and literally hundreds of people have been stranded on the gondola at one time. However, I had a blast and nothing went wrong when I rode on it.

The top of the world, Maokong

At the end of the gondola ride, we arrived at Maokong, a lively little town at the end of the gondola line. Nicole and I had a ton of different street foods like chicken skewers, coconuts, and iced tea. We also tried some tea in a little shop overlooking the mountainside. We bought some back to Korea to share with out coworkers.

Zhinan Temple

On our way back down from Maokong, we stopped at Zhinan temple, a truely amazing place. It was almost entirely empty when we arrived. The stop is the second to last stop on the gondola line, or the first stop on your way back down the mountain. We hopped off and walked off the platform into a small outdoor plaza. The plaza contained a little pagoda with a dragon statue and a rocky grotto with a waterfall pouring over it. It looked beautiful, and like I said we were the only ones there. We followed signs towards the temple and I began to doubt that this was the right way as no one else was around. Both Maokong and the zoo had been packed with people.

When we finally arrived at the temple we were greeted by just one attendant who offered to give us a tour, for free. She spoke limited English, but enough to give us the general idea. She led us into a room of many golden placards, it looked almost like a bank vault of safety deposit boxes. On the ceiling were several sculpted clouds and a painted night’s sky complete with little fiber optic stars. It was unlike any temple I had ever visited

This post ended up being really long, so I split it into two parts. This concludes part one.

Third Day in Iceland – Treat yo’self to hotsprings at the Blue Lagoon

Our last full day in Iceland and a perfect chance to treat ourselves after a long several weeks of exploring India, Germany, and Iceland by visiting Iceland’s most famous hot springs, the Blue Lagoon. Before we embarked on our journey of relaxation, we made some toast and jam with a side of cheese at our AirBnB. The breakfast was as amazingly delicious as it appears.

Breakfast
Breakfast

Getting to the Blue Lagoon

However, that’s easier said than done. We arranged for a pickup from the nearest hotel to our AirBnB which happened to be only a few blocks away. We didn’t realize we needed to be there 30 minutes before the pickup time though so we missed the first shuttle. No worries though. I stopped into a local tourist shop and the shopkeeper called them back and arranged for them to pick us up a few minutes later. Icelanders are so nice. The bus stopped by a few minutes later and we boarded. Nicole and I were the only ones aboard the bus for the first few minutes.

The bus to the Blue Lagoon
The bus to the Blue Lagoon

The bus took us as far as the bus terminal on the outskirts of Reykjavik where we transferred to another bus that would take us the remaining 40 minutes out to the lagoon.

What is the Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a man made thermal bath near the Keflavik airport in Southern Iceland. Water is pumped deep into the Earth where it is heated by volcanic activity and then returned to the surface to generate electricity. The water is then discarded into a long extinct lava field. Decades ago, when the power plant was first built, people began swimming in the runoff from the plant. The site became a local attraction and people realized there was money to be made so the runoff was instead converted into a series of manmade outdoor baths and a spa center.

Arriving at the Blue Lagoon

We arrived at the lagoon a little after noon and checked in since I’d paid for our tickets the night before. When you check in, you’re given an armband that will open a locker for you to place your things. The armband is also used to charge everything to so you don’t need to carry your wallet around. Nicole and I split up by gender after we checked in and each went to our respective locker rooms. In the locker room you change into your bathing suit, put your clothes in a locker, and shower so as not to contaminate the water everyone is bathing in.

The towel check
The towel check

Nicole and I met up on the other side of the locker rooms with our bathing suits and towels. We exited a series of big glass doors and walked out into lagoon area. The lagoon wasn’t to crowded since it was still early in the day. We left our towels on hooks by the lagoon that kind of resembled where you would leave your skis or snowboard  before you enter a ski lodge.

Blue Lagoon, swim-up bar
Blue Lagoon, swim-up bar in the background

Nicole and I made our way over to the swim-up bar in the lagoon to get some drinks. We charged them to our wristbands and didn’t even have to worry about carrying money with us. Throughout the lagoon there were a few different stations with silica mud that is naturally produced by the lagoon. We put some silica mud on our faces and looked like Michael Meyers from the Halloween movies….good times.

Sandwiches and Massages

Since it was Nicole’s birthday in a few days, I booked her an in water massage. I floated around for awhile and then got a sandwich but Nicole related the details of her massage to me afterwards so I feel I can write about it with a vague amount of confidence. First you float over to a private part of the lagoon where everyone who paid for a massage gets corralled. You lay down on a lounge floatie thing and they cover you in a wet towel. For the next hour the masseuse rubs oils on you and massages you through the towel. Occasionally when you start to get cold they dunk you into the water a bit to get the towel hot again.

Dinner in Reykjavik

Sleeping on the bus
Sleeping on the bus

After my sandwich, and Nicole’s massage, we floated around a bit more then, since it was getting late, headed back to Reykjavik. We showered off, changed back into our regular clothes, and boarded the bus back into Reykjavik. Nicole fell asleep on the bus. In town, we rested up for a bit then went out to dinner. Nicole’s uncle paid for us to go out for a fancy buffet-style dinner of various seafood including more whale. I was starting to develop a taste for whale. I wondered what life would be like post Iceland, where would I get my whale fix? [divider_flat]

The dinner was fantastic. I had a little bit of everything and went back for seconds and then thirds. It was glorious.

Seafood Buffet
Seafood Buffet

Thailand Day Eight: Our Last Day in Thailand

This is my seventh day in Bangkok as part of my Lunar New Year vacation in Thailand. Follow the links here to Day OneTwoThreeFourFive, Six, or Seven.

Our Last Day in Thailand

Paella in the Weekend Market

This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market
This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market

We got up at a leisurley time, a rarity for our vacations since we try to pack in as much as we can. Since this was our last day in Thailand, we decided to revisit a few places. We returned to the weekend market that we visited on our second day to purchase a few more souvenirs and enjoy some food from the dancing fat man who makes Paella. The chef makes it in a giant pan the size of a poker table and dances around the pan sprinkling spices and various herbs into the pan. Its a site to behold.

Nicole and I shared a serving of it before walking around the market. We bought a few more postcards to send home and I bought some more soap for my apartment.[divider_flat]

[box type=”info”]Thai soap is fantastic.[/box]

After the market, Nicole and I went back to our apartment to lay by the pool and do nothing. Neither of us had been swimming since our beach day in Korea last summer.

Nicole laying by the pool in Bangkok Thailand

The Last Thai Supper

After our relaxing afternoon by the pool, Nicole and I went out for one last night on the town before our vacation ended. We dressed up and walked down to the restaurant we ate at on our first night in Thailand. However, we could not find it. The walk from our apartment to Asiatique is a straight shot and we knew exactly where the restaurant was. Every time we walked by, it just didn’t seem to exist. There was either a boarded up store front, or a shop that was open, but was definitely not a restaurant (i.e. a scooter rental place).

Unable to find the restaurant, we continued to Asiatique, our old stomping ground, at least for this vacation. We finished off our final night with a nice dinner of spicy shrimp for me, and mashed potatoes for Nicole before getting a massage.

Thai Massages: How I became a Noodle

On our 8 days of vacation so far, we’d had two massages and Nicole wanted another one to complete the hat trick. I must say I was warming up to them. They felt really nice and for a few dollars, they were well worth it. We stopped into one of the massage places that the Dr. Fish people had given us a coupon for. An old Thai woman led us up a set of stairs so steep they would have given Wat Arun a run for their money. At the top of the stairs was a very small room with a low ceiling that smelled like Eucalyptus. It was very dark and lined with soft mattresses on the ground on either side of a narrow walkway. The masseuse led us each to a mattress and instructed us to change out of our clothes and into a pair of loose-fitting scrubs like what a doctor would wear. This was a similar process to our first massage in Thailand and similar to what Nicole has told me of massages in Korea. The idea of getting naked, aside from a towel, for a massage seems like a very western construct.

inflatable arm tube man

The woman then pulled a curtain closed around each of our mattresses and we changed. A few minutes later another two Thai women came in a gave us each an hour-long full body massage. For being so small the ladies were really strong. Just about every joint in my body that could crack, did crack at some point during that massage. At the end of the massage I felt like a wet noodle, or a wacky waving inflatable arm tube man.

We changed back into our clothes and walked back to the apartment to pack and get ready to return to Korea. It had been a great trip, but now it was coming to an end and we had to return to Korea and our jobs educating the youth of a nation in the fine art of speaking English, a skill I likely butcher every time I write a new entry in my blog.