Taiping Zoo & Night Safari, Perak – One Of the Best Zoos In Malaysia

I’ve been to a couple of zoos. I know some people say it’s cruel to keep them in cages, which I agree with, but there are also those who argue in favour that the animals are well cared for and safe. Admittedly, there are zoos that are in terrible conditions and are literal hell holes, which should be shut down ASAP, but a well kept zoo can act as a sanctuary and a place to educate future generations on the importance of conservation.

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One of these is the Taiping Zoo and Night Safari in Taiping, Perak, an hour’s drive from Ipoh. Located within the sprawling Taiping Lake Gardens over an area of 34 acres, it was established in 1961 and as such, is the oldest zoo in Malaysia.

Currently, the zoo houses over 1,300 animals from 180 species. During the day, it acts like a regular zoo, but at night, it turns into a night safari where visitors can stroll through the park and view exhibits lit up by soft, stimulated ‘moon’ light.

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Entrance is RM17 for adults (inclusive of GST) and RM8.50 for children. Considering that Zoo Negara charges a whopping RM40++, I think this is a reasonable price. It was a public holiday during our visit, and the place was crowded with tourists and families, mostly locals.

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Note: The zoo is massive.

If you have older people or children in your group, I strongly suggest taking one of the passenger trams. The driver-cum-guide will talk visitors through the different exhibits during the tram ride.

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The first thing visitors will notice upon entering the zoo grounds is how green it is. There are loads of trees which provide shade, and it seems like they’ve designed the zoo around the jungle-like landscape, to stimulate a natural habitat as much as possible. There are a few that feature concrete enclosures, but these are few and far between. The natural setting means that it is sometimes difficult to locate animals hiding behind the foliage.

My dad proved adept at this, often spotting the creatures before any of us could see them.

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It was very warm and sunny. While the trees are shady, they aren’t planted all along the route, so be prepared with some sunscreen.

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The chimpanzee enclosure had a group of five or six animals. They congregated in the shade in a circle, before moving to the trees and tall structures to swing about. Their limbs were immensely long in proportion to their slim bodies, and I was reminded of the film The Planet of the Apes (which by the way, I think they did a great job at capturing the mannerisms and movements of these magnificent great apes).

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A member of the troupe picking bananas out of the stream.

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The three orangutans were equally fascinating. The one on the bottom sat on the stream’s edge, using the leaf as a scoop to ladle water onto itself.

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It even used the leaf as a face wipe!

The other two moved further back for some sexy time. The larger, I assume male orangutan beckoned for the smaller one to follow it, stopping and looking back to wait for the latter to catch up. It was a gesture that was extremely human. They then frolicked and tumbled in the grass in a heap.

It makes me sad that these creatures are poached and mistreated. But then again, human beings are capable of doing worse things to our own kind, let alone other species.

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Another natural-looking enclosure, complete with small pond.

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A civet cat resting in the shade. Its colouration and pattern blended so well with the forest floor, I couldn’t spot it right off the bat, even though it was sitting right under my nose.

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Large crocodiles measuring at least 2 meters long

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Porcupines.

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A lot of walking. What I think the zoo could benefit from would be more seats for people to rest on along the way.

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Bambi

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Wild boars.

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The lion enclosure, which had a moat surrounding it. Too small for camera to make out but there were two lionesses and a lion within the cave-like structure.

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More deers resting in the shade.

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An aviary, filled with stork-like birds and huge fruit bats. No fences here aside from the net surrounding the dome, but I doubt the animals would come very close to visitors.

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The African savannah area which housed two giraffes and zebras.

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Black panther. Wakanda forever.

You can still see the spotted pattern in spite of its melanin-rich coating, which is what gives the animal its black sheen.

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A rare Asian gold cat. Very beautiful, elegant creature, from its sleek coat to the feline way it moves. Sadly, the species, native to Southeast Asia, is threatened by rapid development and deforestation in many parts of the region.

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Lonely black swan in the pond.

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Several rhinos chillin’

If there is one exhibit that I feel could see improvements, it’d be the Asian elephant exhibit. There were no trees in the enclosure, and the poor creatures were forced to stand under the baking hot sun. One of the elephants went into the pond and submerged itself in a bid to escape the heat. I saw that there were several dead tree stumps in the compound, and wondered if perhaps the elephants had stripped the plant down to its bark, leaving the place bare. Still, management should look at a way to provide them with at least some form of shade.

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All in all, we spent close to four hours exploring the place.

I was impressed by how well maintained the zoo is, as most animals looked well fed and healthy. The zoo’s overall design mimics a natural setting as much as possible, which I think is better than having the animals in concrete enclosures. If you’re looking for an educational place to take the family and little ones while in Taiping, I suggest paying this a visit.

TAIPING ZOO & NIGHT SAFARI 

 Jalan Taman Tasik Taiping, Taman Tasik Taiping, 34000 Taiping, Perak

Operating hours: 8AM – 11PM (daily)

Tickets: Adults (RM17), Children (RM8.50)

zootaiping.gov.my

Travelogue Japan: The Thatched Roof Houses of Ainokura Village, Gokayama

People often talk about visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. I’m sure they are amazing in their own right, but Japan is so much more than these two places. For those who venture off the beaten path, there are exquisite gems waiting to be discovered, hidden deep within the mountains of central Honshu.

Welcome, to Gokayama.

Kanazawa, Japan

Like something out of a painting? Yes. 

Located within Toyama Prefecture, Gokayama is a valley region surrounded by mountains – best known for its gassho-zukuri (literally, prayer hands) houses. The slanted roofs are angled at 45 to 60 degrees, designed to withstand heavy snowfall in winter. Some of these buildings date as far back as 400 years! Three villages in the area have been designated as historic treasures and are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Due to its remote location, locals have retained much of their customs and traditions, making Gokayama the perfect place to experience rural Japanese life, one that has changed only slightly over the centuries. Most villagers still earn a living through farming and agriculture, as evident by the vegetable/terraced rice fields dotting the landscape.

Kanazawa, Japan

Breathtaking scenery. 

Kanazawa, Japan

Our day tour in a private car took us to Ainokura, the largest (and most remote) village in the area. Home to about 60 villagers, there are some 20 gassho-zukuri houses here. Some are still residences, while others have been converted into museums, inns and shops.

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There’s something invigorating about fresh mountain air – it’s so clean, it’s like air that hasn’t been breathed by any other living creature. It’s easy to see why people have ‘retreats’ organised in the mountains – the air, the clean water, the lush greenery… it does wonders for one’s wellbeing.

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What you should do in Ainokura: Take lots of pretty pictures of the homes, framed by the mountain scenery.

What you shouldn’t do: Trespass. The homes are private property.

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Neighbours pitch in to replace the thatched roofing every decade or so, according to our guide. The design is such that it leaves a lot of attic space, which in ancient days the villagers used to cultivate silkworms.

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There was a small shrine in the village that looked straight out of an ancient Japanese tale. Hidden in a grove, we accessed it through a traditional wooden gate (torii). Shady trees surrounded the clearing and in the middle was the wooden shrine. It was shuttered, but it looked really old and mysterious, with a bell pull dangling from the front.

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa, Japan

On the right were steps leading further up the mountain.

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Flowers in full bloom in the village.

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A house verandah with children’s toys and bicycle. No gates or fences – very unlike the ‘forts’ you find in urban housing areas in Malaysia.

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We were pressed for time, but our guide told us the hike up to the viewpoint would be worth it – so we huffed and puffed our way up the side of the mountain (and realised we were really unfit).

Whoa. 

 

If you have a bit more time to spare, maybe stay overnight at the inn to really immerse yourself in the experience of rural mountain life, and visit some of the attractions in the area such as the museum (where you’ll get to see handicrafts such as washi paper – a popular product).

Getting to Ainokura Village

Bus: You CAN get to Ainokura by bus; it’s a stop along the bus route between Shirakawa-go (another gassho zukuri region) and Shin-Takaoka Station on the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen. The ride takes 45 minutes and 1,300 yen for one hour. Getting back might be a problem though.By car

Car: Ainokura is a 45 minute drive from Ogimachi via National route 156.

Visiting Kenroku-En: One of Japan’s Three Most Beautiful Landscaped Gardens

Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture is relatively unknown among foreign tourists – perhaps due to it being off the beaten path of the Shinkansen (bullet train) – but the place is a popular destination for domestic travelers, and for good reason. If you’re looking for well-preserved examples of art, culture and history from Japan’s feudal era, Kanazawa has, perhaps, one of the best you’ll find in Japan.

Departing from Nagoya in the early morning, we arrive at the modern-looking JR Kanazawa Station an hour later. It was a rainy day – not surprising, since the city is known as the ‘Seattle of Japan’.

Part modern metropolis, part ancient capital, the city is an interesting blend of old and new, as seen from the giant wooden archway at the station’s entrance that stands in stark contrast to the place’s squeaky clean tiled floors, glass and steel railings and concrete facade. Known as a cultural and artistic hub, the city has a rich history that dates back hundreds of years, and was lucky enough to escape bombings during World War II. This makes Kanazawa the best place to see Edo-era buildings in their original form.

After dropping our items off at the hotel, our first stop for the day was Kanazawa Castle. 

* Since it was raining I had to keep my DSLR in the bag most of the time. The photos I took with my phone weren’t too good so here are some from the Japan National Tourism Organisation. Photos watermarked are my own. 

credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

Kanazawa Castle was built in the 16th century as the homebase of Maeda Toshiie, a local daimyo (ruling warlord of a district). Japan’s feudal era was characterised by war and military insecurity, so it was natural for Toshiie to construct a castle town with which he could defend himself. As a result, nobles and samurais flocked to the place, as did the merchants, blacksmiths, carpenters, entertainers and geishas. Wars and several fires ravished the castle, resulting in its destruction in the 19th century, but the building has since been restored to some measure of its former glory.

A unique feature of the building’s architecture is its white-tiled roofs, said to be made from lead which could be melted down in times of war to make bullets.

Credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

We skipped a tour of the castle and proceeded to the adjoining park instead, which is almost as old as the original castle itself. Kenroku-en, or the ‘Garden of Six Attributes’, is widely considered as one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan, so called because it combines the six qualities that make up a perfect garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views.

Spanning over 11.4 hectares, the garden is home to over 8,000 trees from 183 species of plants, with artificial ponds and streams found throughout the grounds. Look out for the unique two-legged lantern called a Kotojitoro (above, right) which has become a symbol of the gardens.

credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

Since I was visiting in summer, the trees and plants were a bright, verdant green, bursting with colour and life. It is said that a visit to the Kenroku-en throughout the seasons offers a different experience each time: in spring, cherry blossoms abound, in autumn the leaves turn to vivid gold, red and yellow, while winter sees the trees tied down with long wooden contraptions to keep their shape and protect them from heavy snow.

The gentle patter of rain subsided halfway through our park tour, although the sky remained grey and overcast – a pity, since the place would have otherwise made great photos. Still beautiful though. I can imagine the lords and ladies of old in their fancy kimonos strolling through the bridges and walkways before settling down to a nice warm tea whilst taking in the views.

Some not so nice photos from my phone.

We spotted the ‘oldest fountain in Japan’!  It’s not that impressive at only 3.5m high, but considering that people in the olden days did not have the technology we have today, this was quite a feat. The spurting water was achieved by applying natural water pressure.

One of my favourite spots, which had an ‘island’ in the centre of a pond. I thought it looked rather like a turtle in the water with trees sprouting from its back.

One can easily spend the whole morning walking through the place. Not sure on good days when its sunny, but we almost had the whole garden to ourselves! It was serene and quiet.

Lunch was at a restaurant called Miyoshian, replete with low dining tables, tatami mats and sliding partitions for privacy. Ordered soba noodles again (but hot this time) with chicken in a creamy sauce on top. It also came served with a boiled prawn, sweet egg roll (tamago) and condiments.

GETTING TO KENROKUEN/KANAZAWA CASTLE PARK 

Board the tourist oriented Kanazawa Loop Bus and stop at numbers LL9 and RL8. The Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus stops at number S8. It costs approximately 200yen and takes 20 minutes. Alternatively, there are Hokutetsu buses that run between Kanazawa Station and Kenrokuen, which takes 15 minutes and 200 yen one way.

Entrance fee to Kenrokuen: 300 yen (RM11)

Opening hours:

  • 7AM-6PM (March to October 15)
  • 8AM – 5PM (October 16 – February)

 

Attractions in Betong, Thailand – Betong Hot Springs

Aside from the Piyamit Communist Tunnels and the Winter Flower Garden , another popular attraction while visiting the southern Thai border town of Betong its its natural Hot Springs. Hold the bikinis though – the springs are not meant for soaking the body, since it’s a big public pool and doesn’t seem that hygienic. ._.” Entry is free.

A nice park built around the springs, perfect for a morning stroll. Some really cute statues of Betong’s famous chickens, ridden by a colourful costumed character (?)

We arrived there around noon so it was pretty hot, but there were several kids taking a full-body soak. Everyone else sat around the edges and dipped their legs into the water. The weather + hot water had us sweating in seconds, lol. Unfortunately I don’t think the springs are open at night so it’s best to come in the morning.

Drumsticks lol.

There was another pool adjacent to the one we were soaking our feet in but that was not open to the public since the temperatures are extremely hot. There was also a small well where you could cook eggs (!), which are sold by a local vendor.

As the springs are located within a village, there are also lots of souvenir/snack shops/cafes around the area.

BETONG HOT SPRINGS 

Ban Charo Parai Village, Tano Maero, Betong, Yala, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM

 

Attractions in Betong, Thailand : Beautiful Blooms @ Betong Winter Flower Garden

Living in a city in the tropics, it’s rare to be able to see temperate-weather flowers, unless one drives several hours up into the mountains. In Betong, Thailand, though, you can find a nicely landscaped garden full of beautiful blooms just 30 minutes outside the city. Surrounded by lush green hills, the Betong Winter Flower Gardens is a tourist attraction-cum-resort that offers a tranquil retreat up in the hills.

  

The gardens cover a huge area, replete with a lake stocked with fish and a cafe overlooking the water. You can buy food to feed the fish and watch them swarm over the pellets/pieces of bread. Visitors can take a stroll or rest under gazebos on a raised platform next to the lake.

Chalets for rent. There isn’t much to do around here other than walk through the gardens or visit the nearby communist tunnels. I wouldn’t pick this as a place to stay, unless you really want some R&R.

The main garden area is nicely landscaped and great for photos. It was rather sunny though so we quickly escaped into the shade of the nursery.

Proof of a city girl who cannot name more than a few types of flowers/plants. I christened this the bulu ayam because it resembles chicken feathers lol.

Chicken comb? Velvet brain?

 

This five-fingered fruit which was extremely adorable. It had tiny bumps on it that looked like spread-out fingers.

I realise that people have much dirtier minds than I do because apparently this fruit also goes by the name of Nipple Fruit, Lady Nipples (??), Macaw Bush (???), Titty Fruit (wtf?), Apple of Sodom (okay…) and Nipple Nightshade. That’s a lot of naughty. lol.

The gardens are not that big and can be explored within an hour, but you can spend more time just chillin’ and relaxing while enjoying the beautiful sights. There is also a restaurant for when you need a bite or two.

BETONG WINTER FLOWER GARDEN

Moo 2 Tanoamaeroa SubdistrictBetong 95110, Thailand

Phone number for Bookings:  +66878991153

Opening hours: I can’t seem to be able to find an official page or the listed opening hours, but we went there during the day around 2PM. Probably opens at 10AM and closes by 5 since it gets dark at 6PM.

Attractions in Bukit Jugra, Kuala Langat

The historical town of Jugra in Kuala Langat, bordering the far reaches of Selangor, was once the state’s royal town in the late 19th century. Today, it’s a far cry from its glory days, ever since the center of administration shifted to Klang, and then Kuala Lumpur. Now a sleepy backwater town, many of its once magnificent palaces and buildings have fallen into ruin. There are still a few attractions for the curious traveler, though.  

It was roughly an hour’s drive from KL, most of it through small trunk roads that pass by quaint villages. While heading up to Bukit Jugra, or Jugra Hill, we were ‘ambushed’ by a herd of cows ambling down the road. 😀

Jugra Hill is now a hotspot for cyclists, hikers and paragliders, but it was once a landmark for travelers and sailors navigating the Straits of Malacca. A short drive up and we came to the lighthouse at the top of the hill. Unfortunately it was closed for the weekend coz of the Raya holidays.

Breathtaking views of the river and the surrounding palm oil plantations! There are a couple of benches up here for people to sit and enjoy the view, but do beware of monkeys. I got bitten by mozzies in a record 0.05 seconds.

Aside from the hill, there are a few other places to visit in Jugra such as the Royal Mausoleum, a museum and two old Palaces (one in ruins, the other was closed, again, for the holidays) but we weren’t able to visit any of them due to bad timing. Warrants another trip here next time 😀

 

Urban Green Spaces – Secret Garden, Upper Roof 1 Utama

Living in the city, there aren’t too many green spaces outside of the allocated parks and forest reserves. In major metropolises, people have taken to ‘urban’ green spaces, converting their apartments or rooftops into small sanctuaries of green. While the practice hasn’t fully taken off in Malaysia, there are a few initiatives slowly taking root, such as the Secret Garden on the upper roof of 1Utama Shopping Center in Petaling Jaya. The mall has a ‘rainforest’ section – a small oasis in the middle of the building – so its great that they have another one! 🙂 The rooftop space is under utilised anyway.

PS: Apparently this place has been around since 2009, I just wasn’t aware of it. Better late than never, they say 😀 

To get to the place, simply look for the lifts that are between the Old and New Wing. The lift has a button labeled ‘Secret Garden’. Guess it’s not so secret after all. 😀

Since it is an open air rooftop concept, it was quite sunny and humid during our afternoon visit. The garden is quite large, spanning across 30,000 sq ft, and is divided into two sections. There are over 500 types of tropical plants/flowers to be found here!  Some of the plants are labeled to provide information to visitors.

I think the ‘curtain’ structure was very Instagrammable 🙂

Cosy nooks with benches for people to sit and just chill.

They also do guided tours and people can use the venue for wedding photography. Check or schedules on their FB page 🙂

Not a gardening enthusiast so I didn’t know what everything was called – but it’s nice to just walk around in a garden setting, don’t you think ? 🙂

We had these back at our old home. Ixora plants (woo, I got one right!) We used to make ixora bracelets and necklaces out of them. 🙂

Secret Garden

7th Floor,
1 Utama Shopping Centre
1 Lebuh Bandar Utama
Bandar Utama City Centre
Petaling Jaya
47800, Selangor, Malaysia.

ADMISSION: FREE

Opening hours: 10AM – 10PM, daily.

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Shifen – Old Streets, Sky Lanterns and The Broadest Waterfall in Taiwan

Hey guys! So we were previously in the scenic gold-mining mountain town, Jiufen, the setting that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away anime. We took it one step further the next day and headed to… Shifen.

 

…..

 

Ok sorry bad pun haha. You know I’m terrible at these things. Jiufen in Chinese literally means ‘nine portions/points’ and Shifen is +1, or ‘ten portions/points’. Unlike Jiufen, though, Shifen was a coal mining town, characterised by train tracks running through its Old Streets. Trains still run through, although now they carry passengers instead of coal.

Public transport from Taipei takes approximately two hours. If possible, I suggest going on a weekday to avoid the crowds, because trains will be super packed. My parents are elderly, so what I did was rush in, book a spot, and then gesture for them to squeeze over the sea of people so they could sit. My mum finally appreciated all my previous efforts (she usually only complains): “You organise things well.”

If I had planned the itinerary, knowing my parents can’t walk around too much, I’d usually arrange for private transport to take them everywhere. I’d rather pay for the extra expenses because it’s difficult to ask a couple nearing 60 to stand in the train for two hours, when they aren’t very strong/healthy to begin with. But since this trip was organised by my cousin, we had no say in where/how to get to places.

See, mum, now you know 😛

Switching trains at a station.

We finally arrived at Shifen Station. Look at the crowd!

Nearby is the Shifen Old Streets; quaint little shophouses selling souvenirs and food. They’re gimmicky but charming all the same.

Resident mimings at a storefront. Them Taiwanese sure know how to use cute animals to market their items; be it cute dogs or fluffy cats. 

As I said earlier, the track runs straight through the center of town. When there are no trains, visitors can simply walk onto them or cross over to the other side. There are people at the side who will blow a whistle whenever a train passes (usually every half hour or so) so visitors can make way.

Shifen is also known to be a place where you can release Kongming (Sky) Lanterns, owing to its rural location (no air traffic around!). There were many South Korean and Japanese tourists milling about, writing their wishes with large calligraphy brushes before releasing the lanterns into the air.

Our group got one too. I think I’m not supposed to spoil the wish by telling you about it; let’s see if it comes true. 😛

An obese doggo. It looked more pig than dog; probably has too much to eat from kind strangers.

Got some soft and fluffy egg puffs as a snack. 

Bamboo strips with well wishes written over them, hanging prettily from a string.

Next, we trekked about 20minutes uphill to the Shifen Waterfall; the broadest waterfall in Taiwan. The walk isn’t too tough, but me being unfit, was a little winded by the time we got to the bridge.

Crossing the bridge over part of the Keelung River.

Calm and tranquil Keelung River. The water was a beautiful jade-green colour, lined with lush vegetation on both sides.

The river abruptly comes to drop – the line is so clean it looks like it was carved by something – cascading about 20ms below. It measures 40m across.

Beautiful scenery. Hike was worth it! 

More obese doggos at the local shop. This was rather unfriendly though; growled at me when I got close.

Geese by the river. Apparently geese make great guard dogs. At least, according to anyone who has ever been pecked by a goose.

Another miming. The cats here are rather slim; it’s just the doggos that look like pigs.

Walked back to Old Streets and the station, where we waited for a train that would take us back to Taipei.

FB-cover photo? 🙂

GETTING THERE 

From Taipei Main Station, take the train to Ruifang station (an hour). Alight at Ruifang, head on to the opposite platform and take another train to Shifen (30minutes).