The Matsu Islands (馬祖列島) are an archipelago of small islands, owned by Taiwan but very close to the Chinese coast, to the northwest of Taiwan proper. They are an excellent few days away from Taipei or any other big city, have some great attractions, and a very laid back vibe. The only negative, which really isn’t a problem at all, is that the islands are heavily militarized. But other than seeing the old bunkers everywhere (And I mean EVERYWHERE) the military presence really doesn’t affect the mood, in my opinion. In fact, I had several great conversations with solders, some of which said they really didn’t mind being stationed on those remote islands!
The Matsu archipelago is made up of 19 islands, but only a few are accessible to tourists. Of those, I visited the “main” island of Nangan, Dongyin (and it’s very close neighbor Xiyin), and Beigan (and it’s very close neighbor Daqiu). There are two that I would have loved to see called Dongju and Xiju, but they’ll have to wait for a different visit.
Before I go any further, let me highly, highly recommend Richard Saunder’s guidebook “The Islands of Taiwan”. I would have been totally lost without it. I’ve placed some links as to where you can buy it below.
Also, I’ve uploaded these pictures in a different way from before, so if you want to see them bigger (and sharper), just click on it.
Sunset over Turtle Island from Qinbi Village on Beigan Island, Matsu.
This week’s travel image comes from Osaka, Japan in 2008. A Japanese Buddhist monk quietly chants as he asks for donations in front of Osaka Castle.
A Japanese Buddhist monk quietly chants while accepting donations outside an Osaka, Japan castle.
This is Part Two in a two part photo essay series on my trip to Indonesia. Check here for Part One.
Java is an active volcanic island filled with 38 dormant and non-dormant volcanoes. The ecology goes from tropical in the lowlands to alpine on the tops of the volcanoes. It’s tallest mountain is Mount Semeru, but one of its most famous is Mount Bromo. Unfortunately, I don’t have many good photos from the top of Mount Bromo due to a cloudy morning, but I did still really enjoy walking around its crater.
Sunrise over Mount Sundoro, as seen from Dieng, Indonesia.
In all my time living and traveling in Asia, I never had the desire to travel to Indonesia. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t have the appeal to me as much as places like Myanmar, Tibet, Laos, or even Thailand. But, in the summer of 2012, I was assigned to go to Jakarta to photograph an article, and my mind was opened up to Indonesia.
Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world with 238 million people. It’s a string of over 17,000 islands that straddle the equator between Southeast Asia and Australia. The people are quite diverse: 87% are Muslim, 9% are Christian, 3% are Hindu, and the rest have too many religions and cultures to count. 742 different languages are spoken throughout the archipelago, but Bahasa Indonesian is a common language understood by all.
My destination this time, was the “main” island of Java, along with a few days of R&R on the famous island of Bali.
Sunrise a the ancient Buddhist temple, Borobudur.
This travel image is from the famous Angkor Wat, Cambodia. An amazing place to see and explore, Angkor Wat should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The artwork at Angkor has the influence of two major religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. Here, like in India, it’s nice to see two very tolerant religions live side by side without conflict. It’s a peaceful message that many of the world’s other religions should take heed from.
Here’s number two in this series. This one is from a hill village near Kalaw, Myanmar (Burma). The caption explains it all.
These kids are playing a game of tag on a stupa in a hill village near the town of Kalaw, Myanmar. These religious monuments are very common in Burma and can be found in every village.
Every two weeks or so, I’m going to upload an old travel image from my archives. Here’s the first.
One of the most beautiful places in all the world has to be The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. It’s the most important temple of the Sikh religion, and an incredible place of peace and beauty. Sikh pilgrims come from all over the world to meditate here and are welcomed by open arms and incredible kindness. The site has a free dormitory (even for western visitors) and the cafeteria serves 20,000 free meals a day. Originally a lake known for it’s beauty, that many, even the Buddha, came to meditate at. The temple in the middle of the lake was completed in 1604. It has unfortunately been the site of many battles involving the Sikhs, but remains a place of peace. As you walk around the lake, barefooted and listening to the peaceful music and nonstop reading of the Sikh holy verses, you’re greeted warmly by pilgrims and local Sikhs, all happy to see foreigners enjoying their place of peace.
Ji Tong 乩童 (aka Tong Ji 童乩 or Tang-ki in Taiwanese), is a rarely seen event of old Taiwanese religious belief. It’s a type of shamanism, where the “spirit-medium” human is possessed by the spirit of a god. After doing so, the god can live for a short while in the body of the medium to prove his existence or even answer questions to the benefit of believers. The more visually interesting aspect of Ji Tong is when the gods take possession at a temple festival. That’s when the spirit-medium often starts self-flagellating himself with spiked bats, swords, and other medieval pain and blood inflicting devices.
Everyone I’ve talked to about this, has had very little information for me. It seems that many Taiwanese don’t believe it, and even fewer know anything about it. Even inquiring about it at local temples, people don’t know much, and never seem to know when the next event will happen. So, finding a ceremony with people practicing Ji Tong just seems to be something you have to be lucky to find. This was the first time I’ve seen it in over 8 years of living in Taiwan.
This man is performing a Ji Tong ritual. The spirit-medium, said to be possessed by the spirit of a Taoist God, self-flagellates at a religious ceremony in Tainan, Taiwan. The blood on his back is from repeated blows from various sharp weapons.
Categories: PHOTOGRAPHY, TAIWAN
Tags: 童乩, 臺灣, Ji Tong, possesion, spirit mediums, Tainan, TAIWAN, Tang-Ki, Tong Ji, 台灣, 台南, 乩童
Tainan is often though of as Taiwan’s most beloved city. There’s good reason for that. Compared to the capital of Taipei, Tainan has a more traditional feel to it. It seems like almost anywhere you go, you’ll find something important to history, or at least something that looks like it should be!
I recently spent a day and a half there mostly on the outskirts without a real plan on what to see and do, and the following is what I ended up with. Note that this is not nearly as complete a view of the city as I’d like to give you, and the last time I visited Tainan wasn’t either. Hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to visit Tainan properly. But regardless, I’ve still really enjoyed this interesting place.
Tainan’s Jingzijiao Salt Fields are famous for their traditional sea salt harvesting methods.
Grappling with the Ghosts Festival 搶孤 is held on the last day of the Ghost Month holiday. It’s a unique festival that celebrates the end to the trepidatious holiday when the dead are said to be walking the earth. Why people need to climb greased poles to celebrate this day is beyond me, but it sure is cool!!!
Come on, you knew there would be fireworks.
The Taipei MRT System is pretty much the best thing about Taipei. Seriously. I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s a very modern, award winning subway system that will whisk you almost anywhere you want to go in this sprawling city in minutes. It’s clean. It’s convenient. It’s never late. It’s cheap. It’s easy to negotiate, even in English, Japanese, or Korean… It’s awesome.
The one complaint I think anyone would have for the MRT is that it can get very crowded at peak times. The biggest trouble spot used to be the transfer at Main Station, but since the Fuzhou-Nanshijiao (Orange) Line opened, the dreaded transfers now seem to be at the Zhongxiao-Xinsheng and the Zhongxiao-Fuxing Stations.
So, despite my love of the MRT, I present you with a photo essay based (mostly) about the crowds and flow of pedestrian traffic during peak hours.
The transfer from the Blue Line to the Orange Line at Zhongxiao-Xinsheng Station can be hectic, but MRT employees are there to help out.
Leh, India is a sleepy, remote town in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, once the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. It is set at just about the northern most point of India, and in fact sits very close to highly disputed borders with China and Pakistan. The great majority of the local population is ethnic Tibetan, Tibetan Buddhism is the majority religion, and after spending months in Tibet, I can say that it has a very Tibetan feel to it.
I’m writing about Leh now, 5 years after I visited it, simply because I’ve been researching places to travel this summer, and this one is high one the list. I’m afraid that it has been so long, that I really don’t have much to write about. I’ll just give you a few memories, and of course a few pictures!
A Tibetan man hangs prayer flags near the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa in Leh, India.
Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 is definitely one of my favorite hikes in all of Taiwan. On a clear day, Teapot can easily be conquered on a day trip from Taipei that even includes a visit to the nearby towns of Jinguashi 金瓜石 and Jiufen 九份. A full weekend away could include any of the beautiful scenic areas of the Northeast Coast, including the Bitou Cape, Fulong Beach, Pingxi, the nearby Keelung City, and many other nice spots.
Banpingshan has amazing views of the whole Northeast Coast.
Categories: Hiking, Must See Taiwan, PHOTOGRAPHY, TAIWAN
Tags: 茶壺山, hike, Hiking, Jinguashi, JiuFen, Northeast Coast, outdoors, TAIWAN, Teapot Mountain
Xiaoliuqiu Island 小琉球 is a small island off the cost of Taiwan just below Kaohsiung. Although it is probably one of the least well known of Taiwan’s smaller islands, it is the easiest to access and quite a nice weekend away.
Little Liuqiu is located 14km off the coast of the port town of Donggang, itself located about a hour’s drive south of Kaohsiung. It’s total land mass is only about 6.8km, and about 13,000 people live there permanently. Xiaoliuqiu is uniquely located in an area that protects it from rough seas and northeasterly monsoons. It’s climate is generally dry and warm, and it is the only coral island located near Taiwan.
Smangus (司馬庫斯) is one of Taiwan’s most remote aboriginal villages. So far remote, that it has developed for itself an air of mystery and has become a popular, if not difficult to get to, destination.
I recently took a short trip there to help Taiwan Adventures develop a future tour to the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much time to explore the village and surrounding sights as we would have liked, but I will return soon with a better report. Check the website or facebook page for more information about organized trips… read on for more photos and information.
A hiker enjoys the bamboo forest near Smangus, Taiwan.
Categories: Must See Taiwan, TAIWAN, TRAVEL
Tags: aboriginal, Atayal, 臺灣, remote, Smangus, TAIWAN, Taiwan Adventures, TRAVEL, village, 台灣, 司馬庫斯