A Travellerspoint blog

Kathmandu - Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.

Nepal 2011.

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Marigold Sellers.

Kathmandu sent me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride as I alternated between loving it, hating it, loving it........ We arrived at our guest house which we were expecting to be fairly basic, as it was very cheap. However, my idea of basic and a Kathmandu guest house owner's ideas of basic clearly did not really coincide. I hated it!!! Apart from complaining that almost everything in the room did not work and getting the owner to fix them, I managed to bite my tongue, which was lucky because the people who ran the guest house turned out to be very gentle, kind and helpful and to have gone over the top on the complaining would not have been a good thing.

We were really tired when we arrived having got an early flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, followed by an early flight from Singapore to Kathmandu the next day. We tried to get some sleep. That's when the music started, thud thud thud, then the dogs bark, bark, bark, then the people shout, shout, shout. When I had finally nodded off, the room suddenly lit up. There had been a power cut (one of many to come) when we had gone to bed and the electricity had suddenly come back on. Lights off, back to bed. Discos and clubs close. A fight breaks out on the street. Finally, I drift off to sleep again. The door to our bedroom is suddenly thrown open and someone walks inside. I scream. It turns out just to be another tourist who made a mistake about her room. She is very apologetic and embarrassed. I'm stunned because I thought we had locked and bolted the door. I climb back into bed, thinking I'll never get back to sleep now. My husband who could sleep through an earthquake turns over in his sleep and punches me hard in the eye. That's when I utter those seldom heard words when I'm travelling, "I want to go home."

Everything looks better in the daylight. After a chilly start to the morning, the sun came out and we went off to explore. Kathmandu was a photographer's dream: ­stalls spilling over with masks, copper ware, pashminas, carpets, prayer flags; porters bent double under heavy loads, fruit, vegetables, flower sellers, bicycle rickshaws, temples and shrines, fantastic wood carved windows; craftsmen working in the street. Absolute heaven. We felt we could wander the streets for ever and never get bored.

We only had a week and we wanted to see the Kathmandu Valley so decided we would stay put and leave any possible trips to Pokhara or Chitwan to the future. We loved Kathmandu's teeming streets and its Durbar Square. We loved the Monkey Temple and Boudhanath Stupa. We felt very out of place in Pashupatinath, almost came to blows with tourist guides in Patan's Durbar Square and were almost hassled to death in Bhaktapur. By our last day I was exhausted. I was sick of the smell of generator fuel, the 12 hour a day power cuts and constantly having motorbikes and cars up my bum as I tried to walk the streets. I was so ready to go home.

We visited Kathmandu's Durbar Square. Entrance is NPR300. We took our passport and photos to the site office and got a pass for our whole stay. This was useful because sometimes you want to nip off the square and back on, or come back on a different day to visit one of the square's many rooftop cafes. Durbar Square is really three temple filled squares next to the royal palace. Entrance to the royal palace is extra­ we did not go in. The door to the royal palace is guarded by a statue of the monkey god hanuman dating from 1672. It does not look like a monkey as it is smeared with red paste and shaded by an umbrella. There is a colourful gate into the palace next to this statue. This gate is guarded by soldiers. There are several temples next to the gateway to the royal palace including Jagannath Mandir and Gopinath Mandir. The temples are multi-roofed and generally covered with pigeons. The Black Bhairav sculpture is in this area. This fierce god with his necklace of skulls and eight arms was believed to punish anyone who lied in front of him by making them bleed to death. Criminals used to be dragged here to swear their innocence. The White Bhairab is nearby but was located behind a grating. It is only revealed during a Hindu festival when beer spills from its mouth.

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Black Bhairav.

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Young child in Durbar Square.

The next square contains the tall Maju Deval Shiva Temple with its three roofs and steep plinth. You can climb up this for good views over the square and surrounding streets. The nearby Navadurga Temple has a famous painted image of Shiva and Parvati gazing out over the square. Nearby is the Kasthamandap ­ house of wood. Kasthamandap marks the very centre of the city. It gave its name to Kathmandu and is said to have been constructed from a single piece of wood. The Kumari Bahal (house of the Living Goddess) is nearby. You can enter the courtyard of this house and can take pictures as long as the living goddess is not at the window. It is forbidden to take a picture of the goddess. The living goddess is chosen from a selection of girls aged around 4 or 5. Her feet must never touch the ground. She remains the living goddess until she starts menstruation. The Kumari Bahal has beautifully carved peacock windows. The final square is the Basantapur Square which is filled with trinket sellers. One side of it is lined by the walls of the royal palace. There are several rooftop cafes giving good views over the squares.

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Shiva and Parvati.

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Peacock Windows.

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View over View over Maju Deval Shiva Temple and Navadurga Te - Kathmandu.

Freak Street runs off Basantapur Square. It was once the the hang­out of long haired hippies from the west when they visited Kathmandu. in the 1960s. It is much quieter nowadays with some interesting shops and views up towards the palace. If you exit Durbar Square here, you need proof that you have paid your entrance fee to get back in.

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Freak Street.

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Old Pipe Shop, Freak Street.

We also visited Swayambhunath - ­The Monkey Temple. We walked here from Thamel. Entrance fee was, I think, NPR250. This ancient stupa sits on top of a green hill. This has been a religious site for more than 2500 years. To get to the temple you must climb up 300 stone steps past various sculptures, shrines, beggars and souvenir sellers. The ticket desk is around half­way up. The shrine itself is a peaceful and beautiful place dominated by a large stupa with four faces of Buddha painted on it to show he sees all things. Walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction, spinning the prayer wheels. The air will be filled with the very peaceful Om Mane Padme Hum chant. It took me days to get this chant out of my head. The monkey temple welcomes all forms of life: people, monkeys, pigeons, dogs, all interspersed together. There are beautiful views over Kathmandu from here, though it was hazy during our visit. We had a pleasant meal in the Cafe de Stupa ­which had very good food, but was a bit over-­optimistic on their toilet claims - which they said were the cleanest in Kathmandu. I really loved this shrine and would happily visit it again.

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Hey you, get off my temple.

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Polluted river on the way to the Monkey Temple.

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Monks walk the stupa.

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The faithful turn the prayer wheels at the monkey temple.

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The Stupa of the monkey temple.

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Ever feel you are being watched?

We also visited Boudhanath Stupa. Boudhanath entrance NPR150 was one of if not thee most beautiful sight we visited in Kathmandu. The site is dominated by a large whitewashed stupa with the all seeing eyes of Buddha on each side. Boudhanath is home to around 16000 Tibetan refugees. There are several beautiful Tibetan monasteries around the stupa and nearby. As dusk approached hundreds of Tibetans in traditional Tibetan clothes began their clockwise stroll around the stupa spinning the prayer wheels as they passed. There were several rooftop cafes and restaurants affording fantastic views of the shrine and surrounding countryside. A really beautiful and peaceful place, well worth a visit.

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Boudhanath.

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Boudhanath.

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Tibetans walk around the stupa.

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Boudhanath.

We also visited Pashupatinath. Shiva can take many forms and one of them is Pashupati Lord of Beasts. This large complex on the banks of the Bagmati River is where Hindu cremations take place. We started out in an area overlooking the funeral pyres on the banks of the river. I was not comfortable here. Below me was a family obviously grief stricken and in the process of burying their father. I felt intrusive and inappropriate. If you are very interested in the Hindu belief system, you may find a visit here fascinating. Bodies are washed, covered in orange cloth, surrounded by straw and burnt on pyres. The ashes are thrown into the river. We quickly crossed the bridge over the Bagmati River and observed the complex from a greater distance. We had a guide who told us that Hindus come here to contemplate life and how they enter and leave this world with nothing. He thought of it as a peaceful place excellent for meditation. Climbing up the hillside a bit you pass many pilgrim shelters filled with painted sadhus (holy men) in brightly coloured robes. Many of these are supposed to be fakes only there to charge tourists for taking their photo. We passed one who was singing with a bum, titty, titty and a titty, titty bum, which I believe used to be the theme tune to Budgie a Glaswegian TV show from my youth. Very odd. There is also a small forest with deer and monkeys. Views over Pashupatinath are better from the far side of the bridge away from the cremation pyres. Non-­Hinduhs cannot enter the temple of Pashupatinath itself. Entrance was NPR500.

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Deer at Pashupatinath.

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Looking over Pashupatinath.

Strolling through the streets of Kathmandu was amazing. We enjoyed walking from Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol. Indra Chowk is a wonderful area where several streets meet. It houses the red coloured Akash Bhairav Temple with its golden griffen statues. This temple is home to a god who allegedly fell out of the sky. Indra Chowk is noted for blanket and pashmina stalls. Nearby is Potey Pasaal or Bead Bazaar with its dazzling arrays of multi-coloured beads. Walk along Khel Tol which sells copper pots, shoes, clothes and lots, lots more. On your left a courtyard will lead into the Seto Machendranath Shrine ­ home to the guardian diety of the Kathmandu Valley. Its entrance is guarded by brass lion statues. Return to Khel Tol and continue walking to Asan Tol another area where several streets meet. This area is filled with fruit, vegetable and flower stalls. Choose a street: you can go north from here up to Thamel, east to the Rahni Pokhari pond and Tundikhel parade ground or south down to Bhimsen Tower (entrance 299 Nepalese rupee NPR) which is said to give good views over Kathmandu.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Indra Chowk along Khel Tol to Asan Tol.

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Pottery Seller.

We enjoyed looking at Kathe Simbhu. This is a replica of the stupa of the Monkey Temple and is just south of Thamel on route towards Durbar Square. It was built for those unable to manage the climb up to the real monkey temple. It is a beautiful peaceful place filled with pigeons and children, beautifully carved wooden buildings and painting schools.

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Kathe Simbhu.

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Young Nepali motorcyclist, Kathe Simbhu.

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Kathe Simbhu.

We also visited the Toothache Shrine. This is a small ugly lump of wood with metal hammered into it. If you get toothache during your stay in Kathmandu drive a nail into this wood to make it go away. Several more modern dentists are located nearby.

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Toothache Shrine.

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Toothache Shrine.

If you need, a break head to the Garden Of Dreams. The Garden of Dreams is located between Thamel and the former royal palace, this garden was designed by Keshar Shumshere Rana in the 1920s. It is laid out like a European style garden and contains a restaurant, cafe, ponds, fountains, statues. It is a good place to chill out when you have had enough of the madness that is Kathmandu. Entry is 160 NPR and internet access is available here at 250NPR for 5 hours.

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Garden Of Dreams.

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Garden Of Dreams.

The Rani Pokhari is the ­ Queen's Pond. The Rani Pokhari pool and temple were built by King Pratap Malla to console his wife over the death of their son. There is a fence around the pool to keep people out as there were several suicides here. You can view the temple and pool through the fence or from the nearby footbridge.

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Rani Pokhari.

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Rani Pokhari.

We stayed in the Thamel area throughout our stay. Although Thamel is noisy and can be a little bit hassley, I liked it and would stay here again. There are so many restaurants, cafes, bars, supermarkets, stalls and so much accommodation. The location is very handy for wandering into the older parts of Kathmandu, too.

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View from the Helena Guesthouse Thamel.

We went on a day trip to Pathan. We actually walked to Patan from Kathmandu which took a couple of hours. The most interesting part of the walk was on the Kathmandu side of the Bagmati River where there was a lovely temple and an area with wild monkeys on one side and a very poor looking shanty town on the other side. The walk on the Patan side was fairly disappointing as it simply followed a main road until we reached the old part of town. The area south of Patan's Durbar Square was interesting. There was a street market and several colourful temples. Patan's Durbar Square cost 200NPR to get in. The tour guides who hang around the ticket office trying to get you to hire them turned really nasty and aggressive when we said we wanted to go round by ourselves. Patan's Durbar Square has a large palace most of which is now the Patan Museum (open daily except Tuesdays and public holidays from 10.30am to 4.30pm, additional entrance fee.) We did not go in the museum. We just entered one of the palace courtyards and looked at the temples outside on the square. One of the temples, Chyasin Deval is octagonal in shape and made of stone. It was built by the daughter of an 18th century king in memory of his eight wives who threw themselves on his funeral pyre. The Hari Shankar Mandir Temple has guardian stone elephants. A statue of a garuda faces the Krishna Mandir temple. The Bishwanath Mandir temple is also guarded by elephants. This temple was rebuilt after it collapsed in the monsoons in 1990. The final temple is the Temple of Bhimsen dedicated to the god of traders. There was also a sunken water spout and some trinket stalls. There are several rooftop cafes with good views over the square. We had a very pleasant meal in one of these. All of the buildings in Patan's Durbar Square were well kept and it was very pretty though fairly small. Worth visiting but avoid those aggressive guides. To the north of Patan's Durbar Squre Patan's Kumari Bahal ­ temple of the living goddess and the golden temple were also interesting.

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Pathan.

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Temples on Pathan's Durbar Square.

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Temples on Pathan's Durbar Square.

We went on a day trip to Bhaktapur. We booked transport through our guest house. Car there and back with three hours sightseeing time cost us NPR 2000. There were plenty of taxis around when we came back out so we could just have taken a taxi there and a taxi back. Entrance to Bhaktapur cost a hefty US$15 making it very expensive compared with other sights. Although Bhaktapur was very interesting and pretty I could not even get peace to see it at first as I was immediately bombarded by masses of people trying to sell me things. For us this was the most hassley place we went to during our holiday. It seemed to calm down and we got a bit of peace later on in our visit. Your entrance fee gets you access to 4 main squares. The first is Durbar Square which you enter by passing through a 19th century gate. The entrance to the national art gallery (additional entrance fee) will be on your left. Many of the temples of Bhaktapur's Durbar Square were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1934. You can enter the palace courtyards through the Sun Dhoka or Golden Gate which was created in 1753 by Jaya Ranjit Malla. There are some lovely statues inside. There is also a temple but this is only open to Hindu visitors. If you go through a low doorway near the temple you will come to a large water tank with some beautifully carved snakes. Pass back through the golden gate and view the palace from the outside and you will see the 18th century palace of 55 windows. There are several more temples on Durbar Square including the octagonal Chayasilin Mandap and the Laxmi Mandir a stone temple with lots of pairs of animal guardians on its staircase. A road leads from Durbar Square to Taumadhi Tol which contains Nepal's tallest temple the Nyatapola Mandir. This temple has 5 roofs and is more than 30m high. The stairs leading up to the temple are flanked by pairs of creatures. The pairs on each increasing level are 10x stronger than the pair below. So the Malla wrestlers at the bottom are 10x stronger than ordinary people and the elephants above them are 10x stronger than the wrestlers. The other temple on this square is Bhairavnath Mandir dedicated to Bhaktapur's patron god Bhairav. Nearby is Potters' Square where you can watch potters make their products and many products such as pots, little animals are spread out waiting to be purchased. The final square is Dattaraya Square with its Dattaraya Temple which dates from 1427. The Pujari Math behind Dattaraya Temple now houses the wood carving museum. It has beautifully carved wooden windows including peacock and lotus blossom windows. At the other end of this square lies a sunken water tank. Bhaktapur was interesting and beautiful.

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Good old boys put the world to rights, Bhaktapur.

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Gentle guard dog, Bhaktapur.

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Old man wandering, Bhaktapur.

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Watching a game, Bhaktapur.

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Water tank, Bhaktapur.

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Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur.

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Bhaktapur.

We took a day trip to Nagarkot. We booked transport through our guest house to go to Nagarkot and back plus spend two hours for NPR 2500. The drive through Kathmandu and the back of Bhaktapur was not particularly scenic. Once we started climbing up the mountain it got nicer and we at last got to see a bit of greenery. The road was very twisty though and not for the easily car sick. The reason to go to Nagarkot is to see the view over the Himalayas. We could see the tops of the mountains clearly, but the middle disappeared into haze. I guess it's just a matter of luck. Nagarkot had a long line of hotels, guest houses and restaurants.

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Nagarkot.

We saw some interesting sights on the Banks Of The Bagmati River. When we walked to Patan we had to cross the Bagmati Bridge the area on the Kathmandu side of the bridge had a lovely temple which I cannot name as it was not even featured on my map. Behind this temple going nearer to the bridge there was an open area teeming with wild monkeys and cows. On the other side of the bridge stretched a shabby shanty town area. The temple was certainly worth a look if you have time. I would also be grateful if anyone could tell me what it was.

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Banks Of The Bagmati River.

The Banks Of The Bagmati River

The Banks Of The Bagmati River


Banks Of The Bagmati River.

Food was wonderful in Nepal. We ate in several different places. The Airport Sekuwa was a cheap and cheerful local place near our guesthouse. We went here several times during our stay. There were some tourists here but mainly locals. The service was very efficient and friendly. Food was excellent and very cheap. They served local Nepali food, Indian, Chinese and Western food. Beer was a very cheap NPR199 a big bottle. Every meal we had here was very good and I would thoroughly recommend it. Directions: There is a junction in Thamel where the road from the palace meets Thamel road. There is a huge outdoor shop selling lots of metal souvenirs on several platforms. Go north past this souvenir shop and walk for around 5 minutes. It's on your left.

Cheap And Cheerful Local Eatery

Cheap And Cheerful Local Eatery


Airport Sekuwa.

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Enjoying our food.

We also ate in the Kathmandu Guest House. We had a wonderful lunch sitting in this beautiful garden. The food and service were very good, but I would recommend it most for the lovely garden surroundings. We sat in the sun here without a care in the world. This place also had he cleanest toilet I saw in my entire stay in Nepal.

A Beautiful And Peaceful Retreat

A Beautiful And Peaceful Retreat


A beautiful and peaceful retreat.

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The beautiful gardens of the Kathmandu Guest House.

We also ate in Pilgrim's Bookstore Restaurant. I had a lovely meal here, but my carnivore husband was not so happy as he had not realized it was vegetarian. This threw him greatly on the ordering front. Anyway the decor is interesting and the restaurant is quiet and peaceful with good service. We had momos, cheese balls and Tibetan soup.

Healthy Vegetarian Option

Healthy Vegetarian Option


Healthy, vegetarian option.

To make up for that lack of meat we also ate in the Everest Steak House. The service was pleasant and friendly. The full steak portions started from about NPR600, but they were huge so I opted for a half portion for NPR300. That was delicious and certainly big enough for me. Steaks come with a variety of different sauces. There are other menu options aside from steak, but I would imagine steak is what they do best. Directions: on Chhetrapati Road in the direction of Chhetrapati Junction.

Delicious Steak Dinner

Delicious Steak Dinner


Delicious Steak Dinner.

We had no view of mountains on our way into Kathmandu but sat on the left side of the plane on our way out and got fantastic views of the Himalayas. Unfortunately we did not have a window seat but we still managed to get a couple of pictures. I suppose it is just a matter of luck on how clear or hazy it is when you fly.

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Flying out of Kathmandu.

Posted by irenevt 22:01 Archived in Nepal Comments (12)

Busan - Cauldron Mountain.

South Korea. 2009.

Visiting Busan

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Hubbie in Yongdusan Park.

For our holiday in Busan we stayed in the Novotel Ambassador Hotel. The Novotel Ambassador is located right on Haeundae Beach. From the airport you can reach Haeundae Station by bus (1500 won) or go straight to the Novotel Ambassador by express limousine (6000 won). The Novotel Ambassador is a very easy 10 minute walk from Haeundae subway station exit 3 making it a good location for getting around Busan. The staff at the hotel were helpful and friendly. You can change money there at a reasonable rate. The rooms are comfortable and modern. They have an in room safe and tea/coffee making facilities. You have to pay to use the internet. There are quite a lot of sports facilities at the hotel. We frequently used the swimming pool which was open till 10pm. There was also a hot pool, gym and saunas. Bars, restaurants and room service in the hotel are pricey, but if you don't want to use them there should be no problem, there are many restaurants and bars nearby. There are also lots of convenience stores for stocking up on resources. Directions: Go to Haeundae Subway Station exit 3 then walk straight ahead towards the ocean for 10 minutes. When you cross the main road in front of the ocean, you'll see the hotel on your left.

Busan has several interesting sights ­ a colourful, bustling fish market; some interesting temples and some beautiful beaches. It is an easy destination to get around with a very user friendly underground system and an extensive bus network.

Our hotel was located on Haeundae Beach which is apparently very, very busy in the summer. It was still popular in October though mainly with strollers, not swimmers. It's a very pleasant area to wander around. There is a tourist office, an aquarium, boat trips and lots of restaurants/bars in this area.

One of the best sights in Busan is Jagalachi Fish Market. Jagalachi Fish Market is the largest fish market in Korea and it's an interesting place to spend a couple of hours. We started at the dried fish market then wandered past a row of fish vendors and had a look at the indoor parts of the market. The most interesting area was just past the indoor market. There is a long line of stalls selling just about every weird and wonderful creature found in the ocean. Get behind these stalls and you can watch the fish being unloaded from the ships and then loaded onto lorries to be taken off and sold. There was more cuttlefish than I would have believed existed being unloaded as we wandered through. This is a busy area with lots of cars and lorries.

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Jagalachi Fish Market.

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Jagalachi Fish Market.

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Jagalachi Fish Market.

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Jagalachi Fish Market.

We travelled out to see Haedong Younggungsa. This is a beautiful Buddhist temple located a bus ride away from Songjeong Beach. Apparently most Korean temples are located on mountains so this one is unusual as it is set next to the sea. When you arrive at the temple site, you will see a line of vendors'stalls. Then there is a row of statues leading up to the temple's main gate. Walk down the stairs and you will see more statues and a lucky red bridge to your left. Stand on the bridge and listen to the noise as the incoming waves throw the stones around on the rocks below you. The main temple buildings are to the right of the stairs. As you cross the bridge to the main temple buildings, you can join the locals in trying to toss a coin into the bowls the statues are holding up in the gully below. There are two golden pig statues and a laughing golden Buddha as well as a statue of the goddess of mercy within the temple complex. The temples beautiful wooden buildings are decorated with paintings of dragons and Buddhas.

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Haedong Younggungsa.

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Haedong Younggungsa.

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Haedong Younggungsa.

We also took an hour long cruise to the Oryukdo Islets from Haeundae beach. The trip is at 18000 won per person but it's fun. As the boat sets sail, it is surrounded by hungry seagulls as passengers frequently feed these birds. Some parts of the trip were a bit like starring in a Hitchcock movie. On the trip you'll get good views across Dongbaekdo Island at the end of Haeundae Beach, Diamond Bridge at Gwangalli Beach and the Oryukdo Islets. There are 5 or 6 islets depending on the tide. They are large lumps of rock sticking out of the sea. They are uninhabited but popular with people fishing. One island has a lighthouse.

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Cruise to the Oryukdo Islets.

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Cruise to the Oryukdo Islets.

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Cruise to the Oryukdo Islets.

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Cruise to the Oryukdo Islets.

We went to visit Beomensa . This is a 1300 year old Buddhist temple and located on Mount Geumjeongsan. I found the setting of the temple very beautiful. There were lots of forest trails around it. The walk up to the temple from the bus stop takes you past lots of stone pillars, some are longevity pillars with tortoises at the bottom, others are covered with inscriptions. The first building and the pagoda are quite beautiful but unfortunately the area they are set in doubles as a very busy car park which spoils it a great deal. Through the main gate of the temple there is a bell tower and many shrines. I liked the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil Buddha statues. This temple is worth visiting just for its setting.

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Beomensa.

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Beomensa.

We also enjoyed visiting Taejongdae. This is located at the tip of Yeongdo­gu Island which is connected to the Nampodong/ Jagalchi area by bridge. When we arrived at the park, we saw many people lining up to take the miniature train round the park. We decided just to walk. You can go off the main path to the right and take a boat round to the lighthouse, cliffs and rock formations. There is also a pebble beach off to the right. We did not visit either of these. The walk to the lighthouse is quite long, always uphill and with few sights. You will pass a small temple and the observatory. From the observatory you can sometimes see one of the islands of Japan. It was not clear enough to do this on our trip. When you reach the lighthouse, you go down lots of steps. There are lovely coastal views and you can see some of the weirdly weathered rocks that line the coast. These are worth seeing. If you don't fancy the walk you can get here on the miniature train.

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Taejongdae.

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Taejongdae.

We took transport to Geumjeong Fortress On Mount Geumjeongsan. There is not much of this fortress left; just a few gates and some stretches of wall, but you can go on an enjoyable cable car ride with good views over Busan to get here. When you get off the cable car (6000 won return) there are various paths through the forest that you can follow. We were lucky enough to be here in autumn just as the trees were looking their best. Directions: Oncheongjang Station exit 1. Go left and cross at the green man, go left, you'll come to a major road on your right with a sign post for Geumjeong Park. Walk down this road for about 15 minutes to the cable car (ropeway).

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Geumjeong Fortress.

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Geumjeong Fortress.

We visited the Seomyeon area of Busan in the evening. It is filled with lots of shops and restaurants. Roads are lined with bright neon signs. We enjoyed having a look at the many food carts. We had a very good, very cheap meal in one of the restaurants near the food carts. The restaurant had an English menu and clearly marked prices. Unfortunately the name of the restaurant was only written in Korean, so don't know what it was called! Also visited the Lotte Department Store in this area. We loved the food hall. The sales assistants are into hard sell and call out to the passing customers making it more like a market than a food hall.

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Seomyeon area of Busan.

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Seomyeon area of Busan.

We walked to Yongdusan Park. This park is in the Nampodong Area. It is also the site of Busan Tower. As we were here on a hazy day, we did not go up the tower, but on a clear day it should provide good views over the harbour. There is an escalator from street level up to the park. There are good views from the park. The park has a pavillion ­ Balkagjeong Pavillion, a floral clock and a statue of Admiral Yi. This is a pleasant place to stop for a picnic lunch. There are some exhibitions at the foot of the tower. When we were there, there was an art exhibition and an exhibition on model boats. The street at the bottom of the escalator had some fun statues. There is a small temple off to the left about halfway up the escalators. Busan theatres and walk of fame is nearby, though we did not go there. Directions: Subway to Nampodong. I think we took exit 10. It's marked on subway walls which exit to take and the park is sign posted just past the exit. Go up the escalator.

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Yongdusan Park.

We visited Gwangalli Beach And bridge at night to see the diamond bridge lit up. The bridge is very beautiful and slowly changes colour. The buildings lining the beach are brightly lit and turn the sea many colours. It is well worth a look. There are several restaurants and bars in this area. Directions: We took the subway to Gwangan Station exit 3. Turn opposite direction when you come out of the exit, then walk down the first road on your left. It is about 5 minutes walk to the beach.

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Gwangalli Beach And bridge.

Overall I thought the people in Busan were lovely. Very few people speak English, but they still go out of their way to be friendly. We had the driver and several passengers go out of their way to make sure we got off at the right stop and headed the right way when we visited Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. In Yongdusan Park I found an old lady's walking stick in the toilet and returned it to her. I was almost cuddled to death in gratitude. On one bus ride a man changed seat so my husband and I could sit together. Koreans don't hassle you, but if they can help, they will.

Busan was also very easy to get around. The subway in Busan is very user friendly. The ticket machines have an English language option. A day ticket cost 3,500 Won. Stations are sign posted in English. There are 3 subway lines and interchanging is easy and straight forward. Download a map off the internet before you go and you cannot go wrong. Exits list sights and bus routes in English.

Buses in Busan were easy to use. Pay the driver on entry. We paid a flat rate of 1000 won per person per trip. No idea if this is correct. It was the price of our first journey and we just stuck to it. We were never asked for more or given change so assume it was OK. Subway stations will indicate where bus stops are located. One strange thing was the front of the buses indicated the stop they were arriving at rather than the destination, so it helps if you know the number and destination in advance.

Posted by irenevt 05:43 Archived in South Korea Comments (2)

Sensational Seoul.

South Korea 2008.

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Visitors in traditional clothes at Gyeongbokgung Palace.

We have been to Seoul twice. Our first visit was in winter. There were a few scattered patches of snow; it was very cold; taking our gloves off to look at the map was very unpleasant; the sky was brown; the buildings were brown; all the trees had shed their leaves. We explored tourist sights on our own without many other tourists. We enjoyed it but would not visit in winter again. Highlights of this trip were lunch in the revolving restaurant in the Seoul tower and a day trip to Suwon.

Our second visit to Seoul was in October 2008. It could not have been more different from the first visit. Autumn colours, lots of activity, people in traditional dress. We visited palaces, temples, watched shamanistic ceremonies, criss-­crossed Seoul's new stream, strolled around markets. We loved it.

One thing both visits had in common was great food and drink. Plus very helpful, friendly people. Our favourite things about Seoul were as follows: it is really easy to get around on the underground; it has excellent food and drink; there is lots to see; it has friendly helpful people (though not much English is spoken); there is lots going on; we saw lots of traditional clothes; Seoul was an interesting mix of modern and traditional.

On our first visit to Seoul we lived in the very posh Hilton Hotel which overlooks Mount Namsan so it was the very first place we explored. The first time we visited we walked up, stopping for refreshments in the little cafes, purchasing coffee from the machines, passing shrines and historic look out posts.

We enjoyed watching people playing traditional Korean games near Namsan Tower. We revisited by cable car later and ate lunch in the revolving restaurant. The food was excellent and good value, plus there were great views.

On our second visit to Seoul we revisited the tower by bus. The revolving restaurant seemed to have increased in price. The whole place was busier than before. We ate sausages in a restaurant at the foot of the tower. We visited the teddy bear shop and had a look at all the padlocks people had attached to the rails for luck. I would recommend Mount Namsan for its views, walks in green surroundings, places to eat and hustle and bustle.

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Mount Namsan.

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Traditional games.

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More traditional games.

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Cable car up the mountain.

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Me in the revolving restaurant.

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Padlocks are everywhere.

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Teddy bear shop at the tower.

Namsangol Hanok Village lies at the foot of Mount Namsan. It is made up of five traditional Korean wooden houses. There were people wandering around in traditional Korean clothes. Brides and grooms come here for their wedding shots. There were some displays of traditional craft and people playing traditional Korean games. The grounds of the village also include the Seoul Millennium Time Capsule. To celebrate Seoul’s 600th anniversary as the capital of Korea, 600 typical Korean items were buried here and are not to be opened until November 29, 2394, which will be the city’s 1,000th anniversary. I look forward to going to that.

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Namsangol Hanok Village.

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Namsangol Hanok Village.

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Namsangol Hanok Village.

We also visited the Biwon Secret Garden on our first visit to Seoul. It was necessary to go round on a guided tour ­unfortunately. It was pretty, but winter is not the best time to visit a garden. I did, however, like the frozen pond. I would go back here in a different season. Spring or autumn would definitely be lovely. The gardens are the grounds of Changdeokgung Palace.

Changdeokgung Palace means The Palace of Prospering Virtue. It is at times referred to as the East Palace. It is said that Changdeokgung was the favourite palace of the many kings of the Joseon Dynasty. The secret garden of biwon has many pavilions, ponds and woods.To get there: Take subway Line 3 to Anguk Station

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Biwon Secret Garden.

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Biwon Secret Garden.

When I was researching for our second trip I came across pictures of a fairly new attraction ­Cheonggye Stream. I was not over interested as it was just a stream and its surroundings looked concretey and artificial, but to our surprise when we visited we really liked it. The stream was at one time badly polluted and covered over by an elevated roadway. As part of an attempt to beautify Seoul the stream was cleaned up and the roadway removed. Walkways were build along each side of the stream. When we arrived at the stream, we found a large proportion of Seoul's population had headed there, too. The walkways were lined with families, business men, groups of friends and young lovers out for a pleasant stroll or sitting down to a picnic lunch or simply taking a brief nap and enjoying the sunshine. Several bridges cross over the stream and at various points you can cross by leaping over paving stones. The locals were so excited by this prospect that we watched several people, mainly children, fall in and get rescued. Points of interest along the stream include man made waterfalls, fountains, plastic flowers with giant eyeballs in their centre, a water powered gramophone repeatedly playing the same note over and over again and a display of brightly coloured stripy umbrellas suspended over one area of the stream. This is a pleasant spot to bathe your feet in the cool water and watch the world pass by.

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­Cheonggye Stream.

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­Cheonggye Stream.

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­Cheonggye Stream.

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­Cheonggye Stream.

A second outing we enjoyed was a visit to Inwangsan Village located one stop past Gyongbok Palace on the underground. This village is famous for its shammanist temples with their brightly coloured wall paintings. At one point these temples were located on Mount Namsan but then they were banned during the Japanese occupation and secretly relocated to Inwangsan. The village is reached via a steep hill with a brightly coloured temple gateway. One of its temples is famous for its large bronze bell. We were fortunate enough to see a shamanist ceremony in one of the temples during our visit. Attracted by the music and chanting, we watched from a distance as the shaman repeatedly changed her brightly coloured robes and swirled around waving brightly coloured pieces of cloth. We didn't go too close as we did not want to be a nuisance and this turned out to be a wise move as part of the ceremony involved hurling handfuls of rice and eggs through the temple doors much to the delight of the local bird population which swooped down on them within seconds. This area also has several oddly shaped rocks and small rock carvings of Buddha. There is also a section of restored city wall winding up the mountains which looked interesting but on this occasion we did not have time to follow it. This area is well worth a visit.

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Oddly shaped rocks.

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Shamanistic Ceremony.

After that we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace was one of the highlights of our second visit to Seoul. There was just so much going on. We began by watching the changing of the guards ceremony just outside the main gate. You can watch this without paying the palace entry fee if you want. The ceremony was carried out in traditional costume. Inside the palace they were rehearsing for the anniversary of a huge historical examination. More traditional clothes. In addition during our visit they were filming a TV show here. Traditional costumes and music. Also people are paid to wander around in traditional clothes re-enacting scenes from palace life. As if that were not enough Koreans dress up in their own traditional clothes to have their photos taken here. There are some lovely buildings and a beautiful pagoda on an island set in the midst of a scenic pond. This palace was constructed in 1394. It was the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1910). It was founded by King Taejo and is the grandest of all five of Seoul's palaces. Make sure you see the imperial throne room of Geunjeongjeon or Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which stands on forty-­eight granite pillars towering over a lotus lake. Other highlights include the tall pagoda of the National Folk Museum of Korea and Hwangwonjeong Pavilion, which sits in a beautiful pond. You can get a great photo of this pavillion and its reflection. To get here: Take subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station and proceed to Exit 5. The palace grounds are open from 09:00~18:00 (March ~ October) and 09:00~17:00 (November ~ February). Gyonegbokgung Palace is closed Tuesday. Admission is 3,000 won.

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Changing the guards.

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Changing the guards.

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Re-enactment of Palace Life.

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Making a TV show.

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Making a TV show.

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Pavillion.

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Pavillion.

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Throne Room.

We also visited Tapgol Park. Tapgol Park is a crowded city centre park. It is not so green, but has some interesting historical sites. Tapgol Park is built on the former site of Wongak Temple which was destroyed at a time when Buddhism was being repressed. In the late 19th Century John McLeavy Brown, an Irishman working in Seoul, suggested that a park be built here. Tapgol Park was the first modern park in Korea. It was opened to the public in 1913. It was in this park on March 1st, 1919 that the Declaration of Independence was recited. This event marked the start of the independence movement against Japanese Rule. In the park there is a tower with the 1,762 word declaration of independence inscribed on it in English and Korean. it is protected by a glass cover and cannot be viewed well. There are also statues of the independence leaders such as Byung Hee Son here. Near one corner of the park there were many people playing chess. Tapgol Park is open everyday year round from 06:00 – 20:00. Admission is free. To get there take line 1, 3 or 5 to Jongno 3 (sam)­ga station and leave via exit 1. Head straight. Or take line 1 to Jonggak station and leave via exit 3 and head straight.

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Chess players.

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Protests outside the park.

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Plaque.

Near Tapgol Park we visited Insadong. Insadong is a neighborhood in the center of Seoul. It has wooden tea houses, boutique galleries and street vendors selling traditional snacks. There are many souvenir shops here. Parts are pedestrianised on Sundays.

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Insadong.

Near this area there is an interesting arty area sometimes called the area between the palaces. This area had views, wooden houses and art works dotted around. It was very pretty.

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The area between the palaces.

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The area between the palaces.

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The area between the palaces.

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Art in Seoul.

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The area between the palaces.

We visited Deoksugung Palace on our first trip to Seoul. It is right in the centre of the city. Some of the palace buildings are traditional Korean, others are European. Deoksugung Palace originally belonged to Wolsandaegun (1454~1488), the older brother of King Seongjong (1469~1494) of the Joseon Dynasty. On passing through the main palace gate visitors will cross a stone bridge. During the Japanese invasion of 1592, all other palace buildings were destroyed by fire so King Seonjo (1567­1608) established a temporary residence here. King Gwanghaegun (1608­1623), his successor, named the palace Gyeongungung in 1611. Deoksugung Palace is the only palace in Seoul that also contains western style buildings. Seokjojeon is one of the western­ style buildings that remain in Deoksugung. It was built by a British man. Then in 1905 the property rights of this building were transferred to Japan. This building was completed in 1910. At one time Seokjojeon was a Japanese art gallery open to the public. When Korea became independent, the American ­Russian joint commission was held here in May 1946. The east wing of Seokjogwan building now houses a Palace Treasure exhibition, and the west wing is part of the National Modern Arts Center. Opening Hours: Closed every Monday. Open from 09:00 – 21:00. To get to Deoksugung Palace take line one to City Hall Station and leave via exit 2. Or take line two to City Hall Station and leave via exit 12.

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Deoksugung Palace

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Deoksugung Palace

Jeoldusan Catholic Martyrs Museum Shrine was built in 1967 on a site where many Korean Catholics were killed in a series of fierce anti­-catholic persecutions which took place between 1866 and 1873. The Shrine­ Museum contains historical documents and photographs. In total there have been over 10,000 Korean martyrs. 103 of these were canonized in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. This canonization ceremony which took place in Seoul was the first ever to take place outside the Vatican. We enjoyed looking at the shrines and statues. We got here by underground.

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Jeoldusan Catholic Martyrs Museum Shrine.

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Jeoldusan Catholic Martyrs Museum Shrine.

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Jeoldusan Catholic Martyrs Museum Shrine.

We also visited Bongeunsa Temple. Bongeunsa Temple is located to the north of the COEX building. It was built in the 10th year of Shilla King Weongseong’s reign (794). 3,479 Buddhist scriptures are stored here. The Buddhist ceremony Jeongdaebulsa, is held here every September 9th. During this ceremony monks march while carrying the scriptures on their heads and reciting the Beopseongge (Buddhist rites). We enjoyed looking at the beautiful paintings on the outside of the buildings. There was also a huge statue. A Buddhist ceremony filled with chanting monks and worshippers was taking place as we left. Open: 03:00~22:00. Admission Free. Directions:Exit Samseong Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), Exit 6. Go 600m forward, and turn left.Then go 150m forward, and cross the road to arrive at Bongeunsa Temple.

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Bongeunsa Temple.

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Bongeunsa Temple.

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Bongeunsa Temple.

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Bongeunsa Temple.

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Bongeunsa Temple.

We also visited the Seolleung Royal Tombs. The Seolleung Royal Tombs house the burial mounds of King Seongjong (1469­1494), his wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong (1506­1544) of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - ­1910). The burial mounds are surrounded by small sculptures called Japsang. These are carved in the shape of animals and were believed to exorcise evil spirits. The king's burial mound is surrounded by sculptures of sheep and tigers. These act as guardians for the dead King. The queen’s tomb is simpler, but it also has stone sculptures. The area around the tombs is green and wooded. People come here to relax and enjoy nature.

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Seolleung Royal Tombs.

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Seolleung Royal Tombs.

Seoul has several excellent night markets. We visited the Namdaemun Night Market. We especially enjoyed all the bustling food stalls.

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Namdaemun Night Market.

On our first visit to Seoul we did a day trip to Suwon on the underground. We found people here really helpful. At the information stand near the station they wrote me down bus information, gave me maps and free postcards. None of them could speak English but they called out to passers­by until someone who could speak English came to help.

We walked from the station to Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress. We walked right round the fortress walls. We were the only people there. It was peaceful and pretty. The fortress has stretches of wall, gates, a picturesque pond and a bell tower. Hwaseong Fortress was built by Jo Sim­tae. He was the county governor of Hwaseong. The construction of the fortress was based on the theories of fortress design of Yu Hyeong­won and Jeong Yak­yong, scholars of the Practical School. The fortress is made of stone and mud bricks. The construction of the fortress was completed in 1796. Hwaseong Fortress was registered as a World Cultural Heritage at the 21st General Meeting of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, held in Naples on December 4, 1997. Before leaving Suwon we had an excellent Korean BBQ meal.

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Suwon .

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Suwon .

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Suwon .

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Suwon .

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Suwon .

The new international airport is far from Seoul, though you can get to the centre of Seoul easily by public transport. As we arrived late on our second visit, we stayed in the part of Incheon one stop away from the airport. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, shops here. There was also a pleasant walk over a recreation area where people dried food in the sun.The trees in this area were beginning to turn pleasant autumnal shades. We were stupid enough to think it would be really cool to book a Korean style bedroom in the hotel here. Actually Koreans sleep on mats on the floor. It was so uncomfortable. We also had a tiny bath. Koreans sit on a raised platform in the bath and shower themselves rather than sitting in the dirty water like westerners do. Plus everything in the room was worked by one remote control with Korean characters. We had no idea how to use it and accidentally put the room lights on a timer. They came on repeatedly all night. It drove us crazy. One thing we found astonishing about this room was that the fire escape was a rope you used to abseil down the burning building. Thank God there was not a fire. When we checked out next morning we passed a normal western style room and almost wept that we had not booked that.

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Korean Style hotel room.

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Hotels near Airport.

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Hotels near Airport.

I don't know if it really is traditionally Korean or not but on our first visit we stayed in the Hilton Hotel. It was winter and the grounds of the hotel were decorated with things made of straw. Some were very pretty.

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Straw Craft.

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Straw Craft.

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Straw Craft.

Posted by irenevt 02:06 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Kaohsiung - City on the Water.

Taiwan 2010

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View over Love River.

Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and one of its major ports. It is on the coast and its main sights include a river, lakes and an island, so it really is a city on the water. We first visited around ten years ago and I think in many ways Kaohsiung has improved since then. It is now easier to get around due to the new metro and some areas of the city have been beautified.

Kaohsiung is not a spectacular city, but it is a city that makes the most of what it has got. For example, its main river the ­ Love River­ which was once majorly polluted has been cleaned up; walkways and cycle tracks line its banks and several pleasant cafes and bars are situated next to it. Kaohsiung's new metro system is brightened up by art work, for example, The Dome of Light at Formosa Boulevard Station, rows of daffodil like windmills and a waterfall at Central Park Station. People in Kaohsiung are friendly and generally try hard to be helpful even when they don't know a lot of English.

Our overall stay was very laid back and relaxing. There were lots of great places to eat and drink and enough to keep us occupied for a few days.

We were very lucky to get to Kaohsiung at all as there was a powerful typhoon, Typhoon Megi, bearing down on Hong Kong up until the day before our departure. It was expected to make a direct hit on Hong Kong and was expected to cause lots of damage. Then it veered away from Hong Kong and more or less burned itself out before hitting mainland China. It did cause large amounts of rainfall in Taiwan which luckily for us ended more or less on our arrival day.

Good points about Kaohsiung are it has quite a few sights. It is a useful base from which to explore southern Taiwan. It has good restaurants and very friendly people.

We stayed in the Ambassador Hotel, Kaohsiung which is located on the Love River. This was a good location as we could walk to Central Park metro in around 10 minutes or City Council Metro in around 7 minutes. We were very handy for the Love River and associated sights. There were several restaurants nearby including the Outback Steakhouse where we had a lovely meal. There was a Family Mart and Seven Eleven close to the hotel. Staff at the Ambassador were very helpful and friendly. Our room had a fantastic view over Love River. The room was very clean and comfortable. We could hear music from the boats on the river, but this did not go on late. Our room was quiet at night. Our room had a safety deposit box and tea/coffee making facilities, though the coffee was of the three in one variety ­ no good for someone like me who drinks black unsweetened coffee.

The hotel had a Sichuan restaurant on the 20th floor and a Sky Lounge up there, too. There was a Cantonese restaurant on the second floor and another restaurant on the first (ground floor). They all looked fine but we did not use them as there were­ too many outside choices of places to eat.
The hotel had a lovely pool. It's open from 7am to 7pm and its season starts on April 1st and continues to October 31st. It is an outdoor pool. We had the pool to ourselves every morning of our stay. The hotel also had a fitness centre and sauna. You have to pay to use the sauna. I'd be very happy to stay in this hotel again. Address: 202 Min Sheng 2nd Road, Kaohsiung, 801, Taiwan.

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Pool at the Ambassador Hotel.

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The Ambassador Hotel.

As I said above we stayed in the Ambassador Hotel which is located on Love River, so we saw a lot of this river. At one time Love River was very polluted but in recent years it has been cleaned up and has become a beautiful area for the population of Kaohsiung to enjoy. We did not have breakfast included in our hotel deal and bought breakfast each morning from one of Kaohsiung's many convenience stores; we then sat on the banks of Love River to eat ­- a very pleasant and relaxing start to the day.

The river is lined with walkways and cycle tracks. There are many conveniently located seats. Several cafes and restaurants are situated on the river banks. There are several interesting temples overlooking the river. The Film Archives Museum and History Museum are by the river. The Holy Rosary Cathedral is not on but close to the river. At night the river is lit up in many different colours. There are riverboat trips up and down the river. These last for about 20 minutes. Some of the cafes and restaurants by the river have music. It is well worth visiting.

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Cleaning up after the typhoon.

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The Love River.

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The Love River.

Lotus Lake is one of the most famous sights in Kaoshiung. It is a man made lake in the north of Kaohsiung which has several interesting temples. We got to this lake by taking the metro to Zuoying Station. When you arrive at the station, go to exit 2; walk straight ahead until you come to a fairly large road. At this road go right. You will arrive at a park. Cross the park and cross one more road, you will be at the lake at the Confucius Temple end. (Although we did not do this, I believe if you get off at Ecological District Station you can walk to the dragon/tiger temple end of the lake).

The Confucius Temple is a fairly simple but pretty temple. It dates from 1977. Continue walking round the lake and you will come to the temple of the emperor of the dark heaven. There is a walkway lined with statues which leads to an enormous statue of the emperor of the dark heaven. Walk further round the lake and and you will reach the Spring Autumn Pavillion. These are two towers dating from 1953. Between them is a huge dragon and on its back stands Kuan Yin ­ goddess of mercy. You can enter the dragon's mouth, walk through its body and exit its tail. Inside the dragon is lined with various paintings. Behind the Spring Autumn Pavillion a walkway leads to a pavillion in the lake.

Walk further on and you will reach the Dragon Tiger Pavillion. This was built in 1965. Go in through the dragon's mouth and leave through the tiger's mouth. This is supposed to turn bad luck into good luck. There are good views over the lake from the dragon and tiger towers.

Each pavillion in the lake is opposite an ornate temple on the shore. We walked all the way round the lake and back to Zuoying Station. The other side of the lake has a temple with a huge statue on its roof. Other than that it is a fairly pleasant walk past fishermen and the occasional patch of waterlilies from which the lake takes its name.

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Lotus Lake.

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Lotus Lake.

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Lotus Lake.

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Lotus Lake.

We also went to Cijin Island. The most likely way you will get to this island is by taking the metro to Sizihwan Station on the orange line, exiting exit one and walking to Gushan Ferry Terminal where you can catch one of the very frequent ferries to Cijin. We did not do this because we discovered that a ferry went to Cijin Island directly from Love Pier on Love River. This ferry only runs at weekends and public holidays and runs every 40 minutes. Going from Love Pier gives you quite a good view of Kaohsiung Harbour on the way. Going from Gushan is fun because when the ferry unloads it is an unbelievable mess of motorbikes, bikes and people all exiting simultaneously from the same exit.

Cijin is a popular day trip for a number of reasons. It has a beautiful Tin Hau Temple dedicated to the goddess of the sea. It has a street with lots of fish restaurants. It has a black sand beach. It is also possible to visit the remains of Cijin Fort and to visit Cijin Lighthouse (this closes at 4 and was closed by the time we got there). You can climb up to the fort then follow the path from the fort to the lighthouse. We spent a lot of time walking from Cijin's main town to the windpower park. It took around 30 minutes and we got rather sunstruck on route. The park has seven wind powered mills and various models of sea creatures. These were not that interesting. More interesting, in my opinion was the sea which was really shooting up massive waves next to this site on the day of our visit, plus the myriads of kites being flown next to the site and finally the very colourful kite/windmill shops at the entrance to the site.

Just before you reach the windpower park you will come to the Cijin Peace Park which remembers Taiwanese soldiers killed overseas and overseas soldiers killed in Taiwan. There was a monument commemorating the American sailors killed on Japanese hellships during World War Two. These ships held prisoners of war in appalling conditions. The walk to the Wind Power Park is long and hot. It is probably better to cycle here or go when it is a bit cooler in the morning or evening. Part of the walk goes through the Cijin forested coastal walk. This has pleasant shady areas with seats and is a good spot for a picnic.

Cijin also had an indoor market selling lots of fish among other things, several beautiful temples and a good atmosphere on a Sunday when crowds flock there from Kaohsiung. On the Sunday we visited we heard live music and watched kids play in the dancing fountains and generally enjoyed the liveliness of the area.

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Cijin Island.

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Cijin Island.

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Cijin Island.

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Cijin Island.

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Cijin Island.

When we left Cijin we went to Gushan and visited Gushan Harbour and the British Consulate. To get to Gushan Harbour take the metro to Sizihwan Station and exit through exit one. Gushan Harbour is a pretty harbour in its own right and it has several good restaurants. It is also the place to catch the ferry to Cijin Island. From Gushan Harbour you can walk to the former British Consulate Building. Exit Sizihwan metro exit one and walk to Gushan Harbour. Go to the far side of the water and walk towards the sea. You will see a signpost for a landscaped walkway to the consulate building. It is an uphill walk ­ fairly steep. The consulate was not really what I expected. For a start it was full of tour groups. The building was an attractive red brick one with lots of archways. It had a fairly non­descript exhibition about the Beatles inside. The consulate building is now a restaurant. We had a pleasant meal there with lovely views over the harbour.

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British Consulate, Gushan Harbour.

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View over Kaohsiung Harbour.

We also visited the Martyr's Shrine. This shrine is in the Shoushan area. We got to it by taking the metro to Sizihwan Station, exiting via exit one, walking straight towards the harbour, but then turning right when we saw a sign for the Wude Martial Arts Centre. We walked along the road then climbed some steep steps up to a main road. The Wude Martial Arts Centre was across the road. Facing the Wude martial Arts Centre you will see more steep stairs on the right hand side, climb these. You will reach a pavillion beyond which is a road, cross the road walk through the tori, temple gateway and you will come to the Martyr's Shrine.

There are lovely views over the harbour from here. The shrine was build by the Japanese when they occupied Taiwan during the war. It is in typical Japanese temple style. After the war the shrine became a peace shrine to remember those lost in the conflict. There are photos commemorating historical events from China's past around the walls. The shrine was very quiet and peaceful during our visit.

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The Martyrs' Shrine.

We also went to the Dream Mall Shopping Centre. To get here take the metro to Kaisyuan Station; then take the free shuttle to the shopping centre. You can see this shopping centre all over Kaohsiung due to the huge ferris wheel on its roof. The Dream Mall comprises two buildings. One of them is shaped like a giant fish. The other has the ferris wheel. The building with the ferris wheel has a large Japanese department store inside as well as an amusement arcade and a cinema. We had a lovely barbeque meal on Japanese food street. There were many other restaurants, too. We visited on a Tuesday and were surprised at how quiet the shopping mall was ­I guess I've been in Hong Kong too long where every shopping mall is mobbed all the time.

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Dream Mall Shopping Centre.

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Dream Mall Shopping Centre.

One evening we went to Liouhe Night Market. To get to this night market take the metro to Formosa Boulevard Station and follow the exits for the night market. Don't forget to have a look at the Dome of Light on your way out of the metro. The night market has lots of stalls and several places to buy foods. Several tour groups passed through on our visit. There is a second night market nearby plus a street specializing in wedding cakes and another specializing in wedding dresses nearby. This is quite an interesting area and well worth a look.

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Liouhe Night Market.

Kaohsiung's metro is a great way to get around. There are two lines: the orange and the red line. Interchange is at Formosa Boulevard Station. The metro is very user friendly. Just go to a ticket machine, press the name of the station you want to travel to and the number of people going and then feed your money into the slot. Fares start at 20 and go up to 50. Ticket machines accept coins and some accept 100 notes. You can get to the airport on the metro, too. Some stations are beautifully decorated like Formosa Boulevard Station with its dome of light or Central Park Station with its waterfall. We found the metro very safe, clean, easy to use and not too crowded,

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Kaoshiung Metro.

Posted by irenevt 23:33 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Taipei

Taiwan 2010

rain

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Temple decorated for Chinese New Year, Taipei.

Taipei

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Lion dancing for Chinese New Year.

Taipei is an interesting location, but we did not visit at the best time of year. We went at Chinese New Year and the weather was terrible ­- constant rain. The other disadvantage of Chinese New Year is that things can get very busy and crowded with most of the population being on holiday. Most things remained open during the holiday ­ but some shops and museums were closed.

Lion Dancing

Lion Dancing

The biggest advantages of Taipei are it has lots of interesting street markets which sell goods at very reasonable prices; it has got some of the best decorated, most elaborate Chinese temples in the world; the people are very helpful and friendly though English is not that widely spoken, and although Taipei is modern, you can still see a lot of traditional Chinese shops and customs. Oh and the MRT is 100% user friendly and very convenient for getting you almost anywhere in Taipei.

We have been to Taipei twice. On our most recent visit we stayed in two hotels. The first was the Yo Mi Hotel. We stayed in the Yo Mi Hotel for four days. The hotel is 2 minutes walk from Shuanglian MRT Station. It is also conveniently located for the airport bus. Take the Eva Evergreen bus from the airport and get off at the third stop. The staff at the Yo Mi are very friendly and helpful and in many ways the hotel goes that extra mile to make your stay enjoyable. Rooms were very comfy with large flat screen TVS and a DVD player provided. Rooms had safe deposit boxes and tea/coffee making facilities. As well as providing free mineral water the hotel provided free snacks on a daily basis, such as: noodles, pea crackers, seaweed muffins. The hotel also stocked a wide range of phone chargers which could be borrowed from reception. It provided the free use of bicycles for hotel guests. In the breakfast room there was an excellent free massage chair which I made use of every morning. There was also a tiny gym with a treadmill and a couple of other machines. I liked the Yo Mi's breakfast buffet, but it did not really cater to western tastes. I found the many vegetable dishes provided each morning quite tasty and loved their pickled vegetables especially pickled seaweed and pickled bamboo slices.

On the negative side the hotel has very thin walls and you can hear everything that's going on in neighbouring rooms. Also while the bed linen and bathroom were very clean, the floor was not cleaned properly and the furniture was a bit dusty. The previous occupant of our room left her false eyelashes on the table. This gave us quite a nasty shock when we first discovered them I can tell you. On the whole though we would definitely stay here again.

Our second hotel was the Dong Wu Hotel. The Dong Wu Hotel is in quite an interesting and convenient location. It is right next door to a 7­-eleven. It is very close to a large Wellcome supermarket. It faces towards a Chinese Temple which was interesting during Chinese New Year as lots of festivities took place there during the festival.

The Dong Wu is about 10 minutes walk from the MRT and is convenient for buses. The staff at the Dong Wu are friendly and helpful. The hotel is spotlessly clean and the rooms are very quiet and comfortable. In the room there was a large TV, an in ­room safe and tea/coffee making facilities. The only downside to this hotel, in my opinion, was that the food at the breakfast buffet was invariably stone cold on each morning of our 4 day stay here. Other than that the hotel was very good and I would happily stay here again. Oh and the hotel is located in the second oldest area of Taipei with many interesting temples, shrines and old streets filled with interesting craft shops nearby. Address: No.258 Section 2, Yan­Ping North Road, Taipei 103, Taiwan

We started our holiday by visiting Taipei Zoo. We visited Taipei Zoo mainly in order to see their giant pandas. The zoo is very easy to reach. Take the Muzha line of the Taipei MRT to the last stop Taipei Zoo. Entrance to the zoo was very cheap at only 60 Taiwanese dollars. We went on a weekday which I would recommend as I think the zoo would be very busy at weekends. We could visit the pandas freely, but we saw the barriers outside for the waiting line at weekends and they stretched a long way.

The zoo is large and well set out. You can travel to the top end by shuttle and work your way down. There is an excellent penguin area. There is an area for desert animals ­ all in hiding due to torrential rain when we were there - ­ the poor things. There is an African animals area, a nocturnal animals area, a Taiwanese animals area, an insect area and many more. The zoo possibly has the loudest gibbons in the world. Boy can they make a racket. There is a McDonalds and a Family Mart inside the zoo.

We visited the pandas 3 times during our day at the zoo. On the first visit they were sound asleep. All we could see were panda bums. On our second visit they had come to life and were running around crazily leaping in their pools, rolling around on the ground playing with branches, racing round their enclosures both indoor and out. On our third visit they had obviously tired themselves out and we were back to panda bums. For me this was the first time I have ever seen pandas and I loved it. However, if I'd gone on a weekend and queued for hours to look at 2 large black and white bottoms I may not have been too pleased.

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Pandas, Taipei Zoo.

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Elephants, Taipei Zoo.

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Penguin House, Taipei Zoo.

Taiwan has some of the best Chinese temples in the world. There are so many in Taipei. The ones we enjoyed most are as follows:

Guanda Temple. ­To get here take the Danshui line to Guanda Station. The temple is 20 mins walk from the station. It is well ­sign­posted. The temple is huge with 2 large statue lined tunnels as well as the main temple hall. Across the river from the temple there was an interesting market.

Longshan Temple is also lovely. To get here go to­ Longshan Temple MRT Station. This is the oldest temple in Taipei, located in the oldest area near herb alley, snake alley and Guangzhou Street night market. The temple contains a Guanyin image that has survived earthquakes, bombings and riots. There is also a shrine at the back to the matchmaker. People pray to him in order to meet their ideal partner.

Qingshan Temple ­is a beautiful temple on 3 floors. By climbing upstairs you can see the temples's elaborate roof carvings of dragons and gods. This temple is within walking distance of Longshan temple, close to the end of Snake Alley. A very pleasant Taiwanese lady showed us round and showered us with food when we visited on Chinese New Year Eve.

The Confucius Temple is also very good. ­ To get here take the MRT to Yuanshan Station on the Danshui line. It's 5 minutes walk. This is one of the simpler, less ornate Chinese temples, beautifully peaceful and with pleasant gardens.

Boan Temple is ­ opposite the Confucius Temple. This is­ hugely ornate, covered in beautiful paintings and carvings. This is very well worth a visit.

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Chinese Temples.

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Chinese Temples.

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Chinese Temples.

We also visited Beitou Hot Springs. To get to Beitou take the Danshui line to Beitou then switch to the line that goes to Xin Beitou Station ­ one stop from Beitou. Beitou is famous for hot springs. A huge bubbling pool of water feeds into a stream that runs picturesquely through Beitou Park. The area is filled with spa hotels in which you can bathe in the waters. There are also several museums including the hot springs museum and two Taiwanese Aboriginal museums. Beitou is worth visiting for the spas or just for a walk around.

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Beitou Thermal Stream.

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Hot Springs Museum in Beitou.

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Me next to the hot springs.

After visiting Beitou, we went to Danshui. This is located at the end of the Danshui Line of the MRT. It is a port located on the Danshui River and has many buildings of historical interest as well as some interesting Chinese temples and busy shopping streets. Buildings of historical interest include: The Red Castle ­ now a restaurant. This picturesque building was originally built by the British. As a restaurant. It has quite good food and excellent views. Fort San Domingo is an ­ interesting and well preserved building originally built by the Spanish, then taken over by the Dutch, then turned into the British Consulate. It is well worth a look.

George Leslie MacKay was a Canadian missionary based in Danshui. He built many hospitals and schools in the area and is held in high regard by people in this area even today. There are lots of old buildings associated with George Leslie MacKay including Oxford College (located inside the campus of Alethia University), Danshui Church and Tamkang High School which includes MacKay's grave and a small foreigner's cemetery. Another lovely building is the little white house . This beautiful old building used to be the port's customs house. There is a statue of MacKay in the middle of town.

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Fort San Domingo, Danshui.

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Me at the Red Castle.

There are large numbers of night markets in Taipei which are well worth a visit, because they sell very reasonably priced goods. They also have some interesting snack stalls. Most of the night markets are very crowded. We enjoyed our visit to Shi lin Night Market and made quite a few purchases there. Snake Alley behind Longshan Temple is also worth a look. This night market has several snake restaurants hense its name.

Posted by irenevt 22:52 Archived in Taiwan Comments (2)

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