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Natural Amongst Us

What can you expect from a destination publicized for its “good mountains and good water”? Plenty, it seems.

Mention Taiwan and its main city – Taipei – would inevitably come to mind. No doubt Taipei is an exciting and vibrant city with towering skyscrapers, bustling night market and upbeat tempo, but Taiwan is not just about that.

If you are looking beyond the city for a different kind of adventure, you don’t have to look far. About an hour away from the east of Taipei, the skyline is no longer dominated by imposing structures. Instead, one feels humbled by nature in her quiet yet strong presence.

Look around and you’ll find yourself surrounded by lolling green hills, sparkling blue seas and an untarnished clear sky. Welcome to Yilan, a vacation hotspot long popular with Taipeinese, which is steadily gaining recognition with foreign travellers.

Jiaosi Hot Springs

One major attraction of Yilan is the famous hot spring village in Jiaosi. The spring water there is known to be extremely rich in minerals like calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium.

The water is hailed for its healing properties that also leave the skin smooth and silky. Unlike many hot springs, the spring water in Jiaosi is drinkable and this makes their vegetables popular as the local farmers grow their crop with this nutritious water. Visitors can take their pick from public to private bath houses, all at very affordable prices. There are many accommodation facilities so you can choose between a day trip and overnight stay. In the heart of this village is a free footbath facility where families like to spend quality time at.

Ma-Kau Ecological Park

Ma-Kau Ecological Park is an ecological project that comprises of Mingchih Forest, Cilan Forest and the Divine Trees. The park is a nature lover’s paradise situated 1500m above sea level.

The Divine Trees are so-called as they are more than a thousand years old and part of Taiwan’s World Heritage. Classified as the Taiwan cypress and the Japan juniper, the Divine trees are named after popular historical Chinese figures like Confucius, Yue Fei and Zhu Ge Liang – an interesting marriage of celestial beings and sublime nature. Inside Mingchih Forest Recreation Area, there is a serene lake that mirrors the surrounding greenery. It is the perfect spot for mediation or any idyllic picnic. Come during autumn and the colours of the changing leaves would create an unforgettable memory of your vacation.

For those who wish to prolong their return to civilisation, the park provides hotel accommodation at Cilan Ranch and wooden lodges at Mingchih Ranch.

Nanfangao

Fans of the Taiwanese blockbuster “Cape No.7” should remember the cosy small town warmth portrayed in the movie. Nanfangao is a scenic fishing port that projects the same emotions through its friendly townsfolk. The harbour is illuminated by a bright blue sky and bordered by hilly mountains.

For seafood lovers who understand freshness better than most people, Nanfangao is a delightful haven with its many seafood restaurants that serve up the ocean’s catch at pleasantly reasonable prices. Besides seafood, there are also local snacks such as peanut ice-cream, fish meatball soup, chicken cutlet and other popular titbits that are readily available at the roadside stalls.

On the top of many tourists’ itinerary when they visit Nanfangao is the magnificient Nantien Mazu Temple that sits facing the harbour. Weighing in at 200 kilograms of pure gold, the Mazu idol here is the largest in the world and is dedicated to the goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors.

Su-ao Cold Springs

Of the many natural wonders that can be found in Yilan, the Su-ao Cold Springs are a rarity not just in Taiwan, but throughout Asia. Before the 1900s, the locals commonly believed that the springs were contaminated by toxins. The turning point came in 1895 when a Japanese soldier drank from one of the cold springs to quench a bad thirst. He was surprised by this peculiar yet refreshing water.

The same soldier returned years later to study the cold springs. High volumes of carbon dioxide were discovered in the water which also contains healing properties. Not only that, the water is safe to drink and can be made into soft drinks.

Constantly below 22 °C, the springs are said to be good for bathing in throughout the year and are especially popular during the hot summer days. The annual Su-ao Cold Spring Carnival attracts visitors from all over the world and entertains them with contests, performances and exhibitions. To experience the cold springs, the Su-ao Cold Spring Park about 300 metres in front of the Su-ao Train Station is a popular choice as it provides many options.

Luodong Night Market

It’s no secret that night markets from a big part of the Taiwanese culture and they are not confined to Taipei only. In Yilan, the biggest and most popular night market is in Luodong. This is the place for action, shopping and good food. One of the most popular Taiwanese desserts – iced maniocs – made from tapioca and more commonly known as “fen yuan”, finds its roots here. Most places sell them plain but those at the original Luodong stall are stuffed with red bean.

Other delicacies include mutton soup, Yilan smoked duck, stuffed sausages Ren Bing, stinky tofu (fermented beancurd), soyed innards and many other things that are distinctive to Taiwanese night markets.

Walk around and you will see some stalls that offer free sampling. If you are in doubt over what to try, those with long queue are generally your best bet. But if you have time, scour around and you just might discover little surprises of your own.

Jhongshan Agricultural Leisure Park

In the beautiful and tranquil province of Yilan, the last thing anyone would expect is to get busy. But in fact, you could – in a good way. As part of the efforts to promote tourism through educational and fun activities, a number of agricultural farms and home based manufacturers have opened their doors to visitors. For a small fee, visitors can learn to DIY their own ice-cream, tea cakes, dragon’s beard candy, chopsticks, clog painting, etc., and also get to experience tea leaves and fruit picking in the orchards.

For a taste of rural life, you can even stay in some of the local houses and let the fresh air and simple goodness of life prepare you for your next journey.

Special thanks to Taiwan Visitors Association & Yilan Country Tourism
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5 Good Reasons To Make Jeju Your Honeymoon Island

  1. Seopji-koji

Along a scenic coastal road and fishing village, Seopji-koji comes into view. Overlooking its hill are fascinating sea views of clear blue waters and a standing rock as tall as 30 meters. This fascinating location has become a hot tourist site after the hit TV series “All In” was shot here.

 

  1. Yongduam Rock

Yongduam Rock comprises of a group of rocks that come in the shape of a dragon’s head. Legend has it that there was a dragon that got shot by a god in Mt. Halla when it came to steal a jade ball. The injured dragon never escaped as it was locked permanently when it stared into the sky.

  1. Chagwido Island

Surrounded by cliffs, rock formations and flat plains of nearby Wado and Jisilido islands, Chagwido is an impressive island. There is a famour General’s Rock there that adds to its magnificence. Popular for fishing, its waters are filled with an abundance of fish throughout the year.

 

  1. Udo island

Touted as the most beautiful island, this is where you can find coral sanded beach, traditional women divers and the most number of scenic spots on any island in Korea. Interesting rock formations include the “Lion Rock” which resembles the head of a lion from a distance.

  1. Jeju Cherry Blossom Festival

Spring is one of the most popular seasons in Jeju. It is a colourful season where flowers blosoom and things come alive. In mid-March, the Cherry Blossoms on Jeju provide a spectacular sight when they go into full bloom.

 

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Bangkok’s Pride

If privacy, comfort and ease are what you value while on vacation, welcome to Ma Du Zi, which means “Come, See, Stay”. I was glad I went, saw and stayed.

text MOMOKO

Since Ma Du Zi is so conveniently located next to Asoke station in Sukhumvit, I decided to take the skytrain to beat the city’s notorious rush hour traffic. The first thing I noticed about this boutique hotel is that it is hardly noticeable from the street. Sheltered by a tall floral fence that serves to conceal the residence-like boutique hotel, Ma Du Zi is a clandestine oasis cleverly lodged in the most popular district in vibrant Bangkok.

As I had not expected the high level of privacy fiercely guarded by Ma Du Zi, my walk took me further then I should from the skytrain station. In reality, the hotel is practically next to The Exchange Tower, which is a prominent building in the area.

Like any respectable private residence, visitors have to get pass security before being admitted onto the property. I was expecting some difficulty trying to communicate with the guard but thankfully, my name was already on his list. I later learned that only hotel guests were allowed on the premises.

I was expecting to see a typical front desk you would expect from a hotel, but Ma Du Zi does not do typical. A modern restaurant and bar greeted me first with the warm, inviting and cosy atmosphere. The reception counter is less conspicuous but intended that way as guests are supposed to breeze in and out of the whole check in, check out process. This homely hotel would not want you to waste a precious minute on unnecessary mundane stuff when you should be enjoying your stay already.

Next up was time to check out my room. By then I should have gotten used to Ma Du Zi’s unconventional entrances yet I was still rather surprised to be greeted by a sophisticated pantry on which sat an Illy espresso machine. Even though I’m no coffee enthusiast, I couldn’t help but felt excited about trying my hands on making a cuppa with this fancy machine.

The room continued to churn out delightful surprises in the form of a super wide, super king size bed with a posturepedic mattress on it. Facing the bed is a wide, flat screen TV with a Bose sound system that docks an iPod. Unlike many hotels where the toilet and bathroom are attached, here, the two are wisely separated for better convenience. After looking into the bathroom, you will have to agree it is for the best as the bath features an opulent infinity Jacuzzi tub with water that fills from the ceiling. Imagine having to wait for your turn to use the bathroom if your partner decides to spend some alone time in the hot tub. While it looks sophisticated, this smart tub is easy to operate as the Jacuzzi automatically starts working when water is filled to the brim.

Although we city slickers claim to want to get away from work while on vacation, how many of us can truly refrain from checking our emails daily? Without having to leave your room to get to the business centre, Ma Du Zi provides complimentary in-room WI-FI internet connection throughout your stay. There is also a neat business corner right in the comfort of your own room that comes complete with a printer and fax machine in one. In my case, I found the printer to be exceptionally useful as I could print out my e-ticket for the flight back which I had carelessly misplaced.

When I wasn’t soaking in the tub or flicking through the selection of cable channels, the study area was my favourite corner. From the window behind the armchair, it gave me a glimpse of the cityscape, one in which I could look out but others could not look in. The bustling scene reminded me once again why I love the city but yet I was glad to have my private sanctuary that gave me respite from all the action.

I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Bangkok, but something about this stay made me feel as though I was looking at the city through different eyes. For this new sensory experience, I credit it to Ma Du Zi, which gave me a strong sense of security while providing all the comforts of home, a very luxurious home if I may add.

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European Backdrops in S.E.A

Couples who wish to have an European – more specifically, Spanish – setting as backdrop for their weddings and dread the distance there and the costs involved, can consider the Philippines as the W&T team discovers.

text ALLEN LEUNG ❘ Special thanks to buda buddies and philippines airlines

Only about three and a half hours away by air and with the country’s national carrier Philippine Airlines flying there from Singapore daily, getting to the Philippines is as speedy and convenient as jetting to Hong Kong or Taipei, both popular pre-nuptial photography destinations for couples in recent years.

And what’s special is historical ruins after the country’s Spanish rule for over 300 years  between the 16th and 19th centuries still remain, even in the capital, Manila.

One such rustic charm that exists through the old ruins and surviving architecture left behind by the Spanish rulers in the capital city is the area called Intramuros, which literally means “within the walls”, a former fortress that was surrounded by high walls and a moat during the colonial period.

It is today the only remaining district in Manila where old Spanish-era influences were still being retained.

Located along the southern bank of the Pasig River, the former walled city has a perimeter measuring 4.5 km with its buildings including the roads originally constructed almost of stone blocks, possessing similar architectural trails one can see in other Spanish defenses like the Caribbean.

At its prime, Intramuros was an important legislative and religious hub for the Spaniards where the governor’s palace and several Roman Catholic churches were built within the walled city.

One of the churches still remaining today is the Manila Cathedral, also known as Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Built originally in 1581, it was damaged and destroyed several times before its present cathedral, now one of the most popular churches for weddings in the capital.

An imposing Romanesque structure, the church’s entrance and façade graced by statues of famous saints sculpted in Roman travertine stone is a favourite background for couples after their weddings in the church. Another famous church popular for weddings, or just pre-nuptial shoots, there is the San Agustin Church which is still remembered by many as one blessed structure in Intramuros spared by American bombing in 1945.

The church, believed to be the oldest in the country, is notable for its combination of styles – Doric lower columns and Corinthian upper columns – which perhaps explains its popularity with wedding couples who want to have an ancient European backdrop in their photographs.

Filipina wedding planner Joey Lopez Del Prado who operates between Singapore and the Philippines says she can make arrangements for couples here to even host a wedding reception and ceremony in the churches’ compounds even if they are not marrying inside the churches.

But she points out that wedding venues and backdrops for pre-nuptial photography are aplenty within Intramuros built by the Spanish rulers in 1606.

One popular spot is Fort Santiago, a favourite promenade for artists, lovers and wedding couples to shoot pictures of the nostalgic romance of a bygone Spanish legacy with its gardens. It was the garrison that once imprisoned the Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal before his execution in 1896.

In fact, Joey said almost every street and corner within Intramuros gives photo opportunity for excellent European backdrop for the wedding couples’ album.

One can just walk around the stone-filled paths, or use the pleasantly decorated horse carriages, to see old gunpowder rooms used as recently as World Wall II, seminaries and chapels.

Today, Intramuros also houses some of the higher education institutions in the Philippines, including the Mapua Institute of Technology, Lyceum of the Philippines University, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and high schools such as the Manila High School.

Besides the old buildings housing the education institutions, Joey points out that the Intramuros Administration has also made available several old landmarks in the area for wedding use which are for hire.

They include Casa Manila Patio, San Diego Gardens, Puerta Real Gardens, Plaza Moriones and Trellis, and Almacenes Reales, the former Royal Warehouse, which can accommodate guests of between 60 and 1,000.

WHAT TO EAT

Evolved from centuries of mixed influences from Chinese, American, Spanish and even Hispanic, Filipino cuisine is a blend of indigenous ingredients that are surprisingly delightful and palatable. Compared to Bali’s babi guling, Philippines’s version of whole roasted pig – lechon – deserves equal of higher billing. The skin is totally crispy without the strong ginger taste found in babi guling. Equally popular is crispy pata otherwise known as deep-fried pig’s trotter. Healthier options include must-try dishes like sinigang, a sour broth cooked with either meat or seafood and goes well with steaming hot white rice.

WHERE TO SHOP

SM Mall of Asia, also know as the third largest mall in Asia, houses the SM Department Store while the SM Hypermarket is situated within the north parking building. Located in Bay City, the spectacular Manila Bay view can be seen from this shopping complex. In Mekati City, giant mall Greenbelt is made up of five sections connected by a three-hectare park that comprises lush landscapes and water features. It is especially idyllic to hang out on a lazy afternoon at one of the many coffee joints.

WHERE TO STAY

The Bellevue Manila has more than 200 well-appointed rooms and is suitable for large and small groups. They also have special arrangements with Fernbrook Gardens to facilitate visitors with accommodation and easy access to this latest wedding theme park in Asia.

Sofitel Manila is known for having “the longest buffet” in the capital. Free champagne is served at breakfast while the dinner menu comprises of the freshest seafood. The spectacular view of sunset over Manila Bay, hailed as one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, is another good reason for the hotel’s popularity.