Natural and Historical Treasures @ The Gold Museum, Jiufen, Taiwan

Jiufen, much like Sacramento in California, was a town that benefited from the gold rush. Japanese mining companies flocked to the mountainside in the 19th century, drawn to its riches, and left behind a legacy of history, culture and unique buildings that are now a major tourist attraction in Taiwan.

Leaving behind the scenic Old Quarters, we travel downhill to the Gold Museum, which houses several old buildings and abandoned structures from the mining industry.

Roads on the mountain are quite narrow, so this happened when the bus was going down. Vehicles had to back up to allow it to pass.

 

Opened in 2004, the museum is home to former offices, dorms, plants and facilities of the Taiwan Metal Mining Corp, run primarily by the Japanese during their occupation of the island. As such, much of the buildings and structures here look distinctively Japanese. There are displays of tunnels, mining equipment, transport systems, and art galleries.

The wooden police station. Looks like something out of an old movie set!

Resident kitty.

Another wooden building converted into a cafe. They sell ‘miners’ lunch boxes, complete with a wrapped cloth.

Not far from the main area is the Crown Prince Chalet, a residence built in 1922 for Crown Prince Hirohito who was scheduled to visit, but never did. The beautiful wooden building has typical Japanese architecture – slightly elevated rooms with sliding doors that open to a Zen-esque front garden, Visitors are not allowed into the chalet itself, but you can explore the small garden, which really makes one feel like they are somewhere in Japan!

Steps leading up to the machinery/transport system area, overhung with large trees covered in ivy. Very picturesque and different from the lush, tropical jungles back in Malaysia.


Arriving at the top, an open space with a wooden platform, surrounded by mountains on all sides. There was a track running through which was used to transport gold from the mines.

Bronze statues of miners carrying a fallen comrade – possibly a tribute to the 1,000 POWs who were forced to mine here during the Japanese occupation; mostly British soldiers captured from Singapore.

If you’re on a day trip to Jiufen, the Gold Museum offers many interesting insights into the history and development of the area. It also has great scenery. A 15-20 minute walk away is a temple, which I’ll write about in the next post. Til then! 🙂 

GOLD MUSEUM 

224, Taiwan, New Taipei City, Ruifang District, 金瓜石金光路8號
Opening hours: 930AM – 6PM

Fluffy Sheep & Beautiful Mountain Views – Cing Jing Farm, Taichung Taiwan

There are two must visit places while at the Nantou district in Taichung, Taiwan. One is Sun Moon Lake (check out my previous blog post!) , and the other is Cingjing, or Qing Jing Farm – a sprawling farm and tourist attraction high up in the mountains. The weather is chilly due to its high altitude, and a visit here in the different seasons yields a unique experience each time, as the landscape and surrounding greenery changes in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

20170214_155032-tileThe entrance is rather gimmicky – I’d do away with the castle and focus more on the whole rustic farm experience. 🙂

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We got here late and the farm was closing in an hour (!) so we made a beeline for the sheep pasture to catch them grazing before they were herded back to their pens. The landscape was breathtaking, with beautiful mountains shrouded slightly in mist, gentle rolling slopes and orange/red tinted trees all around (our visit was at the end of winter, so vegetation was still sparse and yellowish).

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There was a show area with ponies and horses.

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Early cherry blossoms, just beginning to flower. In Spring, the farm plays host to dozens of these beautiful blooms.

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Finally got to the grazing area! There were a dozen or more sheep, their fluffy beige coats giving them a puffy, fat appearance. Guests can feed them with pellets from a vending machine.

20170214_162121-tile 20170214_162659-tileA couple was there doing a wedding photoshoot. While the view was picturesque, I can’t imagine trudging through the mud and grass for those shots. When the bride was told to sit down and fan her skirt out behind her, I could see her wincing when a curious sheep sat right on her train, while others tried to nibble the hem of her gown! 😛

At 5pm, the shepherds came to get the sheep back to their pens. They whistled from the fence, and the sheep immediately fell into a ‘line’, trotting to the gate. Fascinating. 
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More pink cherry blossoms…

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And white ones!

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Tried out ‘Sheep’s milk ice-cream’. It was more ice than cream, less sweet and more milky.

 

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While you might not be able to see the sunset properly, the view in the evening is lovely. it gets cold so remember to bring a windproof jacket.

Getting There 

From Taichung City, take a 2-hour Nantou bus from Taichung Gancheng Bus Station, or board the bus from Taichung High Speed Rail Station. Bus schedule here:

ntbus.com.tw/cjfm.html 

 

Sun Moon Lake, Taichung Taiwan

Rise and shine – it’s another day in Taichung, Taiwan! Woke up at 7 so we could depart early from our hostel near Fengjia Market…but not without getting some breakfast! Since we stayed near a university, street stalls were crowded with students grabbing snacks and a quick brekkie.

20170214_085112-tileSimple but tasty! Sliced sausages, ham, omelette and cabbage for fibre.

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Two hour ride from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake – a popular tourist spot in central Taiwan. Greeted by the sight of red bananas!

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Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of water in Taiwan and gets its name from its shape – apparently the east side resembles a sun while the west resembles a moon. I think it sounds romantic, like something out of a fairytale. 🙂 In the middle of the lake sits a small island called Lalu, considered sacred to the aboriginal Thao tribe who live around the area. Of course, there are local legends: Thao hunters discovered the lake while chasing a white deer through the mountains. They found the place beautiful and abundant with fish, so they settled there. There is a marble statue of a deer on the island.

Since the lake is so large (about 8km2), there are several piers, which brings visitors to the attractions, such as the Ci En Pagoda, the Wen Wu temple and the Syuanguang Temple, where we were headed.

20170214_111147-tileBoat ride. Water was a beautiful deep turquoise colour 🙂 The lake is 27m deep – not for a swim. They do have an annual swimming festival though, which attracts thousands of participants.

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Passing by Lalu island – it is tiny! 

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Alighting at the pier. Boats are frequent so don’t fret. 

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The temple and its grounds had a Shinto-esque feel: wooden shrines and archways, tall, overhanging bamboo plants and quiet, Zen-like paths. Easy to forget we were still in Taiwan and not some Buddhist temple in Kyoto.

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Tried herbal tea eggs from a stall here which was packed with tourists. They came piping hot in a plastic baggie; the aroma of tea leaves and herbs wafting into the air along with steam. Tea eggs are very popular in Taiwan and you’ll find them everywhere, from street stalls to 7-11 kiosks and restaurants. Usually made in a big vat, piled atop each other, the eggs need to be peeled (they flake off easily though) and taste absolutely delicious. The egg white turns brown from absorbing tea and herb essence, while the yolk inside takes on a creamy consistency.

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Path up to the temple. The weather was mild and perfect for a quiet stroll. There weren’t too many tourists during our visit. 🙂

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At the top of the hill is Syuanguang Temple, dedicated to the Tang-dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang whose travels to India to seek Buddhist scriptures inspired the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Built in 1955, the building houses part of his remains in the form of bone fragments.

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View from the top of the hill. In Chinese belief, this is perfect fengshui – water at the front, mountains at the back.

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A group of devotees/tourists chanting prayers with a monk over a hotpot (?) of herbs and tea.

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Took the boat to the next pier to grab lunch. That niche you see on the far side of the hill is a cable car leading to a theme park of sorts. We didn’t have enough time to check it out though.

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As it is with tourist attractions, there were a lot of shops and vendors selling local delicacies. We wandered around and after looking at the overinflated prices at ‘proper’ restaurants, decided to get snacks instead.

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The Taiwanese sweet sausage – you can’t escape it coz it’s literally sold everywhere, on every street corner and at every night market.

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20170214_130526-tileA very nice lady selling grilled pork ears fresh off the hotplate. They tasted kinda meh though.

Getting There 

If you’re travelling from Taipei, board a High Speed Rail train to Taichung HSR station (about an hour’s journey). Transfer to Nantou Bus at the station, directly to Sun Moon Lake.

Useful schedule here 

 

Chinese New Year @ Sunway Pyramid – Spring Flower Market

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It feels like a never ending string of festivities – with Christmas and New Year’s just over, we’re already gearing up for Chinese New Year (which falls on Jan 28 this year!). Ushering in the Year of the Rooster at Sunway Pyramid is a Spring Flower Market, featuring dozens of beautiful flowers and plants for sale.

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Auspicious plants to have in your home for the New Year – neat little bamboos arranged in a cluster. Bamboos are considered lucky and represent strength. Some are twisted to form auspicious shapes like the number 8 (8 in Chinese sounds like ‘prosperity’ – making it a favourite number for special occasions)

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Fake decorative peonies. No less pretty though!

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Colourful orchids in a variety of hues and patterns.

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One of my favourites: look at that vivid colour!

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Also on display: terrariums.

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Aside from orchids, there were also other flowers. Sorry, my knowledge of flora is limited so I have no idea what these are.

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Over at the other concourse, the mall had set up a Hong Kong style ‘avenue’, with posters of old HK movies and prop-filled shopfronts. To mark the year of the rooster, a giant chicken sat atop the structure.

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Bel, Jo and I took our customary CNY reunion photo at the photo booth, with a backdrop of a traditional herbalist’s store.

Happy CNY!

Gaharu Tea Valley Agarwood Plantation, Gopeng

How well do you know your own country and its hidden gems? 

At times I feel like I’ve already seen it all. But then I stumble across places that make me question that belief – like the Gaharu Tea Valley Agarwood plantation. I never knew this place existed, and the funny thing is, it was the supposedly less tech-savvy people (ie parents) who suggested the trip after Googling it.

Well done, mom and dad. xD

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Tucked within the sleepy town of Gopeng in Perak, the Gaharu Tea Valley was started in 1992 – which means that the place has been around for more than 24 years! One wonders why they aren’t more popular as a tourist attraction among the public (they probably need more marketing!), but the place has had many celebrity guest visits, including from HK stars and local ministers/politicians. Spread across 300 acres, the plantation has over 200,000 agarwood (Gaharu) trees, which are prized for their medicinal and aesthetic properties.

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Since the plantation is huge, vans will shuttle visitors back and forth from various checkpoints. While waiting for our ride, we stopped by at the ‘base’ where they have a shop selling all sorts of Gaharu products, most notably tea. The brand is called HOGA, which is short for Holistic, Original, Genuine, Authentic tea.

Unlike conventional tea leaves, gaharu tea is made from different parts of the tree, which gives it a woody,fruity taste with herbal overtones. It’s meant to be drunk in the form it is served, without added sugar. The cold samples they provided were very refreshing and cooling on the throat – perfect for a hot summer’s day.

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The tea is said to have various health benefits, such as detoxification, strengthening the kidney and liver, reducing insomnia and stabilising blood pressure. It can be pricey though (upwards of RM200+ for a medium-sized box). They also have other products like flavoured ramen and recipe sachets (bak kut teh, herbal soup).

20161001_102201 Our comfy air conditioned van arrived and took us up to the first checkpoint – a small building/gazebo perched on top of a hill. The vantage point offered us a beautiful view of the valley below, covered in gaharu trees for miles as far as the eye can see,  with deep rolling green hills beyond the horizon.

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Interesting fact about gaharu trees: in its natural state, it’s just a random light and pale-coloured tree – but once it gets infected by a type of mould, it turns into a very dense, dark and resin-embedded heartwood with a distinct fragrance often used for incense and perfumes. At the plantation, according to the guides, they have to go about ‘injuring’ the trees so they can be exposed to the mould.

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Moving on to the next checkpoint, we came to a small garden lined with gaharu trees, painted over with animal murals. Good for selfie enthusiasts out there. There was also a murky pond with stingrays (but we couldn’t see anything coz it was too dirty), an enclosure with a few tortoises, and a flower patch.

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The last checkpoint is a quaint garden with a pond. To get to it, visitors pass through a staircase overhung with colourful painted bottles. Another great selfie spot! 20161001_110248-tile

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Statues of the 12 Chinese animal zodiac.

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And a huge old tree in the middle of the courtyard.

Gaharu Tea Valley is a great place to visit if you’re doing a tour of Gopeng/Ipoh and its vicinity. The tour shouldn’t take more than 1h30m, since there isn’t much to do other than take pictures, look at the scenery and learn a little about the gaharu plant. Entry is free, but the guided van tour is RM10 for adults and RM5 per child, which is reasonable + you get to see a side of Perak beyond the usual touristy spots. However, bear in mind that it isn’t very Westerner-friendly since the guides speak mostly Chinese/Malay and there aren’t many English signs.

GAHARU TEA VALLEY 

Mukim Teja, Kampung Sungai Itek
9840 Jalan Gopeng,
31600 Gopeng, Malaysia
Phone: +6053511999
Open: 9am – 6pm

 

Genting Strawberry Leisure Farm, Malaysia – Pluck Your Own Strawberries !

It has been a chill and relaxing weekend at Genting Highlands – time to head home! Our last stop was Strawberry Leisure Farm, located at Gohtong Jaya at the foot of the hills. The weather is not as cooling as up in the mountains, but flowers and strawberries still thrive in this spacious garden.

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Entrance to the gardens is RM8 for adults.

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We were greeted by rows upon rows of strawberry plants. Unlike the commercial farms in Cameron Highlands, which have been swarmed with tourists and plucked to death, the plants here are healthy with a good amount of juicy strawberries. Course, you have to pay extra to go in and pluck them. They did allow me to take some pictures from the side though.

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Random: did you know that there are ‘Ichigo’ or white strawberries in Japan? They are completely white as they don’t get sunlight, and are said to be very sweet and juicy. One piece can cost over 1,000 Yen (USD10)  and upwards per piece! The priciest strawberry is the Bijen Hime (Beautiful Princess), costing a whopping 500USD and weighing up to 100gms.

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If you’re not into pickin your own fruits, the place sells them nicely packaged in plastic boxes. They do look tantalizing..

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Some parts of the garden are closed to the public, presumably to allow the strawberries time to grow / for their own harvesting purposes.

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Strawberries aren’t the only thing you’ll find here – they also have flower gardens housing roses, lavenders, and many more. We head through a shady tunnel draped in tendrils and pretty shrubbery.

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The upper deck was filled with these purple dandelion-like blooms. Unfortunately, there were no labels and being a city girl, I wasn’t familiar with many of these flowers lol. I’ll regale you with some pictures instead ! 🙂

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Purple lavender patches

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Nicely landscaped. The purple + white and green contrasted really nicely.

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Roses. The weather was warm though so they looked kind of wilted.

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We weren’t expecting the gardens to be so big. Spent an hour or more exploring the place. Lots of nice flowers everywhere – great for pictures!

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A very odd piece of furniture, but I’d totally have this in my garden just for a laugh.

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These orchids are called ‘dancing ladies’. Do you see the resemblance? Apparently they look like women in a dress with flaring sleeves, like a traditional Spanish flamenco costume.

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Large white orchids. They looked healthy and well-cared for.

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The Strawberry Farm is well-worth the RM8 we paid. From the outside it looks small but there is more than meets the eye. They also have souvenir shops, cafes where you can enjoy strawberry-based products such as tea/jam/ice-cream (albeit overpriced) and more.

GENTING STRAWBERRY FARM 

No. 1, Lot 3707, Jalan Jati 2, Bandar Gohtong Jaya,
Genting Highlands, 69000 Genting Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia
Business hours: 9AM – 6.30PM (Daily)

Japanese Village @ Bukit Tinggi, Pahang

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From the charming French abode to the land of the Rising Sun, all within one place! After our visit to the Colmar Tropicale, or French Village at the peak of Bukit Tinggi, we made our way back down again for a stop to the Japanese Village.

The last time I visited this place was more than 15 years ago (what?). Things have changed since then. They’ve installed better walkways and facilities, and the road has been paved, with a proper railing and staircases. Nice to see that they’ve improved and most importantly, kept up the maintenance. It’s sad because a lot of facillities at our local tourist destinations get neglected over time.

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The air was still warm despite the elevation, and the place was thick with humidity and the smells of the forest.We actually built up a sweat while walking up to the garden.

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Spotted some pretty pink flowers along the way.

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The entrance fee we paid at the foot of the hill includes access to the Japanese Village.  There are a few sections within, such as a tea house, a garden, a spa (separate fee), suites for stay, shops and a restaurant.

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True to the Japanese theme, the souvenir shop featured loads of bamboo accents and decorations such as these colorful koi fish flags.

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Entering the gardens. I’ve never been to Japan, and I’ve only been to one Japanese garden in San Francisco. I think the one in SF is pretty close to a real Jap garden because of the cool temperatures there. I’m pretty sure a real Japanese garden wouldn’t have tropical plants all over the place like this one, lol. They did a decent job at recreating the ‘feel’ though.

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There was a small stream flowing down into a pond where fat koi fish swam. You can buy some fish food to feed the fishes.

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Nice landscaping. Must be hard to recreate, considering how humid/hot it is in Malaysia.

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If you want to do the touristy thing, you can rent a yukata (they have both male and female designs) to take pictures, but it’ll cost you a bomb. Fun to take pictures with, if you have the cash to spare. We didn’t.

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The tatami area is only for those who have rented kimonos. We sweater-and-jeans folk were not allowed in.

The garden was not too big, so we were done within half an hour.

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More flower pictures. These are called ‘chicken shit flowers’ in Cantonese, God knows why. Maybe it’s the smell, but they do bloom in colourful, pretty clusters.

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The Japanese Village is another scenic spot to take pictures and drop by for a short visit if you’re in the Bukit Tinggi vicinity. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Ranca Upas Deer Farm, Ciwidey Bandung

Located within vast camping grounds, the Ranca Upas or Deer Farm was our last stop for the day on our tour of Bandung’s south district. The road leading to the place was bumpy, but lined on both sides by gentle forests and fields dotted with tents and cooking pits. The grounds are a popular weekend getaway with city folk and offer extreme sports activities such as flying fox and ATV riding.

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Crossing a small stream to the farm.

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The deer farm is a wide enclosure with an elevated wooden walkway, ending in a low platform. Visitors can buy deer feed for the animals, and walk down into the enclosure if they wish to.

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It was really muddy and soggy though, probably because it rained the day before.

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Not wanting to ruin my only pair of shoes, I was content to watch the deer from the walkway. They were all clustered up at the other end, where there was more green.

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A visitor feeding a deer. I think the feed was baby carrots. They eat out of your hand!

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You can touch them, but be careful since these are still wild animals after all.

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Once the deers knew that there were visitors with food, they started swarming the platform. Some even tried to climb up !

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Other than feeding the deers, there’s nothing else to do here, unless you’re camping or taking part in other outdoor activities. Good for a quick stop if you’re returning to the city from Kawah Putih and Situ Patenggang.

RANCA UPAS (Deer Farm) 

Jl. Raya Ciwidey – Patenggang KM 11
Rancabali, Ciwidey Bandung

Contact:  0853-2000-0743