Archive | October, 2011

Happy Halloween

31 Oct

Now this may just be because I am procrastinating and avoiding writing a paper for my Seminar in Business course or actually because I had thought about doing this 3 months ago when I was packing away all of my stuff in St. Andrews… but in the spirit of Halloween I feel the need to share with you the stories of my ghostly encounters while working this past Summer at The Algonquin hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada!

As soon as you Google ‘Canada’s Haunted Hotels‘ you will find many many lists of places to go and things to see. The Algonquin pops up on many of those lists, before going there for the summer, I had no idea; even Creepy Canada has episodes from the hotel. Now I have never previously had any sort of ‘encounter’ (I don’t think the weegie board ever counts or saying ‘Bloody Mary’ in the bathroom counts) but I have a feeling that lucky streak may have ended this summer.

There are various stories about different ghosts that haunt the hotel:

1. The Bellmen

2. The Lady of the Dining Room

3. The Crying Bride

4. The Playing Child

Guest rooms, dining rooms, and even our staff areas are said to be haunted by these spirits and until half way through the Summer I would have never believed it.

Many times I had gone to the basement and heard the sound of a bouncing ball, I thought it was strange due to the fact that there was no one else down there and above was no place children would be playing. I did what I needed to do, got back up stairs and thought nothing of it. One night back at home I was telling some other friends about this occurrence and immediately I could see something wrong in their faces. “HALEY!! Didn’t you know, there is a child that haunts that area and people that have had encounters with him say it is like they hear a tennis ball bouncing on a wall.” One of the other girls who had heard about this before, but never experienced it herself wanted to come with me the next time I had to go down there. I was sure to grab her, but together we heard nothing. The rest of the summer I was totally afraid to go down alone but never heard it again.

Many people come travel to hotels for the ghostly experiences and when my family came to visit me at the end of the summer, I had the pleasure of staying in the hotel as well. Early in the evening I was sharing with my family about The Crying Bride. There is a series of rooms she is said to haunt as she was stood up by her fiancé and was said to take her own life. Her spirit came back to the place that caused her to die of a broken heart. Personally I had spent time in the ‘haunted’ room and nothing happened. The evening we stayed in the hotel we were strangely awoken in the middle of the night to an unexplainable fire alarm, evacuated and then let back inside once it had been determined there was no fire. Again I thought nothing of it and comfortably went back to bed, my Nona on the other hand strongly believed that it was The Crying Bride because she had heard us talking about her earlier and wanted to prove she was still around.

The Bellman is said to be someone who makes his presence known in the winter. He usually greets guests at the elevator without saying a word and helps them with their luggage. When he takes them to their room they go for their wallet to give him a tip and he is already gone. When guests inquire at the front desk to leave the tip there, they are informed that during the winter months there is no bellman on staff. SPOOKY!

Others have had stories told or real experiences with The Lady of the Dining Room. When setting the restaurant people have said with no windows open full settings have been moved around with no one else in sight. This have never happened to me but I can sure believe it.

If you want to see the Creepy Canada episode I think you can find it online!

Happy Halloween!!


East Coast Adventures II

24 Oct

Camera was dead at this point so no pictures of this crazy crazy crazy ride home…

According to the lady at our second hostel HWY-20 going through the interior of Taiwan was the quickest way for us to get back to Kaohsiung as you didn’t have to go as far south as HWY-9, great!

We looked on a map and the GPS and from where we finished rafting the road would take us through the mountains and we would be to Kaohsiung in four hours, wonderful!

Due to the fact that when we received our car from the rental company it was almost empty we wanted to be sure that we didn’t give them any more than they gave us, bad mistake #1.

We then embarked on our journey into the mountains, imagine the drive from Alberta through British Columbia, take the worst section of road, remove the guardrail, add construction and some dirt road, and you have what we were driving on for about 75 km or 2 hours into the mountains. We reached the summit where you would think we would start heading down the other side but SURPRISE… the road no longer existed. There was only the remains of what looked like used to be a road under a gigantic rockslide that wiped out the entire road. At this point we also were starting to get low on fuel, the GPS had told us there was going to be a gas station in 8 km on the other side of the non-existent road; trusting the GPS, bad mistake #2.

End of the Road, Picture from Jonathan S Muller

Our Plan B was now to head back down the mountain and let the second car with us go ahead to the nearest gas station. We would go as far as our tank would take us and they would then be getting gas and coming back to rescue us.

On the way down the mountain we happened to see some local men who were just packing up to leave the construction sight for the day, we pulled over and asked if anyone spoke English, No. So via a pocket translator, showing them that our tank was almost empty, and looking like lost scared foreigners they managed to communicate with facial expressions and gestures that there was no way we were going to get down the mountain. Did I mention that the sun has completely set by this point? Oh boy… BUT they showed us to follow them because they knew where someone could get us gas close by back up the mountain, what a blessing!

They took us to some sort of forest ranger station where there was a man who could speak English; they sent someone on a scooter and during this time we found out the road had been damaged by a typhoon 2 YEARS AGO and it still has not been fixed because it is too dangerous. The people who helped us did not want to take any money but we shoved it in their pockets anyways, I do not think they realized how grateful we were. At this point we had been up for over 12 hours and found out that our journey home would most likely be another 7 hours, however; we had a half tank of gas and were going to be able to get out of the mountain to Taitung and from there home to Kaohsiung, YAY!

Arriving into Kaohsiung 6 hours later than expected and having to pay an extra day for the car rental is a small price to pay for arriving home safe and sound. I have to say thank you to the people I was travelling with for staying so outwardly positive or silently scared, we were all thinking about how scary the situation was but still managed to try and be optimistic. Surprise, surprise at one point all my emotional wreck self wanted to do was cry, but I held it together because I knew in a car with four other girls, this would only make matters worse.

I know I have talked about it before, but after this past weekend once again I cannot say enough for the people of Taiwan, they are amazingly kind hearted and caring people. I doubt any of the people who helped us will ever see this, but I have to say that I am so extremely thankful for their willingness to help us and genuine care that we made it down the mountain. After getting us the gas they lead us down a majority of the mountain and made sure we were safe, we definitely had many guardians watching over us as we wound down those mountainous roads.

Xièxiè – Thank You

Xièxiè – Thank You

Xièxiè – Thank You

PS. On the way home we joked about writing a letter to someone who would care about the fact that HWY-20 had no signage at the bottom saying that it was no longer accessible to cross (There may have been one in Chinese, but it was so dangerous that there really should be one in English too; even the maps they have in the airport show the road is still good). After everything we went through, I think I may actually take it seriously and do this to help other tourists in the area… good or bad idea?

East Coast Adventures I

24 Oct

Before I begin to share my adventures about the East Coast of Taiwan I need to tell you some essential travelling rules I discovered this past weekend:

  1.  Always have a Plan B (This can be for transportation/ accommodation/ or simply where you are going to have dinner)
  2. As nice as they may seem, the ladies who run the hostels may not know everything about everything
  3. Hostels can end up being anything from sketchy ‘VIP Lounges’ to a home away from home
  4. When it comes to mountain roads, do some research (Never trust a GPS also is included in this rule)
  5. This last one is more of a life rule, be sure to have a full tank of gas when embarking on mountain roads (Gas tends to be guzzled up rather quickly)

Our initial itinerary was planned as follows:

Wednesday – Pick up rental car after Chinese class (yes Dad I did attend class before leaving on my trip, don’t worry I am actually still going to school here) Drive to Taitung where we will stay the night and catch the ferry to Green Island in the morning

Thursday – Take the 7 am ferry to Green Island and return on the last one leaving to be able to experience the snorkeling and hot springs, as well as meet the second car of people at our hostel that evening

Friday – Drive HWY-11 along the coast stopping at interesting check points along the way, the final destination being Hualien

Saturday – Spend all day at Taroko Gorge National Park, including a natural hot springs, and camping in the middle of the park that night

Sunday – River rafting Siouguluan River and then making our way back to Kaohsiung via HWY-9 to have the rental car back by 8:30 PM

Our actual itinerary was this:

Wednesday – Stayed on schedule and worked out great, we arrived to Taitung to our ‘VIP Lounge’ where the lady at the front desk called our room key a vegetable?? and told us not to lose it. She also told us the first ferry to Green Island was at 7 AM, oh and that we were all very beautiful. haha

Our rental :)

Our rental 🙂

Thursday – We arrived at the ferry to find out is does not leave until 9:30 AM and only returns at 2:30 PM. We then found out that the 2:30 PM boat is full, so you would have to stay the night. We quickly pull out the Lonely Planet and National Geographic guide books and series of maps so that we can find a Plan B. Chiphen Hot Springs & Shanyuan Beach it was. Worked out to be a lovely day and I am thankful that I didn’t have to see if I would survive the apparent ‘puke barge’ of a ferry to Green Island.

Friday – Our stop by stop plans worked out very good, we only made one bad stop along the way to Hualien; this was the ‘Water Running Up’ Attraction… not so exciting. Amazing stops included the an area just past Donghe we stopped at a bridge to explore where the river enters the Pacific and went for a swim. From here it was on to the Platform of the Three Immortals on a small coral island. We arrived at Sleeping Boot Backpackers Hostel to be surprised by a very excited and wonderfully hospitable proprietor in a clean and trendy house. Complementary tea, Wi-Fi, clean rooms, and hot showers ❤ She even was so kind to give us all the tips on Hualien for dinner, Toroko Gorge the next day, and helped us book our rafting trip for Sunday.

Platform of the Three Immortals

Platform of the Three Immortals

Saturday – Spent all day at Taroko Gorge and found the Wenshan Hot Springs to finish our day. They were so amazing and I cannot wait to take my family there when they come to visit! (Which is exactly 2 weeks away!!!) This night we decided we wanted to camp, and for me this was an after thought when I was packing for the weekend but I did manage to bring a pillow/blanket… long pants/sweater/other camping essentials would have been a good idea. It didn’t get too cold, but the mosquitoes were a bit of a bother. It was amazing to wake up in the morning with the grander of the Taroko Gorge surrounding us; I haven’t been camping in the mountains back home for a long time but this feeling would be one comparable to waking up in the middle of a valley in the Rocky Mountains with the sun just coming over the peak and the crisp fresh air waking you up.

Going down to the Hot Spring

Going down to the Hot Spring

Sunday – Off we went to our river rafting. Now the only time I have been rafting is in Kicking Horse River, British Columbia and that was amazing… so I had some big expectations of this day. Let me just say the currents were moving so slow in parts that the tour guide boats would push up onto the side of our raft and guide us for about a kilometre until we got into a faster moving section and the rapids were minimal, we were surrounded by the beautiful mountains and finished where the river enters the Pacific Ocean, so that was cool, but nothing to really get too excited about. Now begins our journey home on HWY-20… this is a trip that was to take about 4 or 5 hours from the rafting center and it ended up taking about 10 hours, I think this trip deserves a whole blog post to itself.

Looking back on the whole weekend I really enjoyed it! The landscape of the East Coast is amazing and I can even say that I have drove in Taiwan, woo hoo! I am usually one to go with the flow and found this very helpful with this trip. I enjoyed simply picking each stop along the way and taking our time to really see the countryside.

The drive home will be posted shortly…

Day Trippin

12 Oct

Due to my recent VISA complications I will be making the most of the rest of my exchange right here on the beautiful island of Taiwan. I had come here thinking that I could change from a single entry to multiple entry VISA at any time… you can if you are staying for a year or if you go and re-apply in another country, like Hong Kong. So I could risk it, but I really don’t want to be stuck out of the country, so instead I will be embracing Taiwan with all it has to offer. Bye bye to the trips I had planned to Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippians. The great thing is that there is so much to see here in Taiwan, that it really isn’t a big of a deal at all.

Saturday: Foguangshan Buddhist Monastery – About 50 min out side of Kaohsiung City by bus, it is free and open to the public from 8 in the morning to 5 at night.

The Great Buddha Land

There are nuns and monks walking around to assist you and if you call in advance they will even give you a tour. This place is home to the Great Buddha Land where 480 miniature statues rest at the feet of a 36m Amitabha Buddha.  One of the very first things you can do is take a tour through the caves, which reminded me of ‘It’s a Small World’ ride at Disneyland, except full of the history of Buddhism. There was sooo much to see so it was worth the day for sure. A new section of the monastery is almost finished being built to house the shrine of the tooth of Buddha. In the new area that was opened also had a full restaurant where the people who also serve the Master of the monastery serve you. The food was all vegetarian, but I swear some of the tofu tasted exactly like chicken! At the end of the meal, you choose what you want to pay by donation, if you feel really happy and full show it in your donation. If I remember correctly I think my roommate has told me about a restaurant in Victoria, BC that is also vegetarian and you pay what you feel at the end of the meal as well. I will have to remember to check that out when I get home! All in all the day was wonderful, the hospitality of the nuns and monks was amazing, they are always portrayed as such happy people and that portrayal is 100% accurate.

Sunday: Lotus Pond – 10 min walk from Zouying Train Station in Kaohsiung it is free and open to the public 24/7.

Dragon and Tiger Pagoda

We arrived just before the sun set to find crowds of people gathered at the Lotus Pond for the Kaohsiung Folklore Festival.  We had seen pictures of the pond at night so we thought it would be a good time to go, however it was a bit rainy but we still managed to enjoy ourselves. The pond is surrounded with many temples and is dotted with Pagodas. Earlier in the day I was skyping with family back home for Canadian Thanksgiving and my cousin had asked if I had seen any coy fish, so I had to try and take some pictures for him but it was hard it the dark. His favorite is the white one with black spots and a red dot on the head. I will be sure to go back in the daytime to get some good pictures!

Monday: Taiwan’s 100th Birthday Fireworks in Lukang – 3 hour train ride from Kaohsiung City for about $20 CDN.

Fireworks way in the background…

In honor of the 100th Birthday of Taiwan there were 3 different celebrations in 3 different cities. Taipei, Thaichung, and Lukang were the cities featuring the celebration and at the last stop there was to be amazing fireworks. We arrived in the city with a few hours to spare and figured we would get a bite to eat and then find a good place to sit and watch. TURNS OUT, people had been staking their space since early morning and they were now bussing people to the fireworks destination where about 20,000 people would be watching. We were tight for time and knew that we could get to the fireworks, but did not think we would make it back for our train home. So we started to ask people if they thought we would be able to watch them from where we were. They thought it was only about 3 km away, so yes. We found a building that had stairs with access to the roof, jumped through a window and found a good ledge to sit on, watch and take pictures. The fireworks lasted 45 min long and were amazing, I wish I had a better camera so that I could share with you how magnificent they were.

King of the Jungle

4 Oct

Banana Signs Guide You to the Trails

Just a few minutes in a cab up the mountain from National Sun Yat-sen University and past the Wanshoushan Zoo, you will be delighted to find Monkey Mountain! Myself and a few other exchange students drug out buts out of bed on a Saturday morning on search of all the monkeys.

There are three different trails that take you around the park and into the jungle where you can enjoy the company of many monkeys, big and small. We were not to sure if we were heading in the correct direction to start, but no more than 50 meters into the trail we were delighted when we saw a monkey skurry on to the path ahead of us.

Monkey's Guiding the Way

Getting our cameras out and ready we were soon surprised to see that the first monkey we saw was the lookout man and behind him came the rest of the pack (not sure if that is the correct terminology for a large gathering of monkeys, but that is what I’m going to go with). The monkeys came one after one after one…. you get the idea. We decided that the smartest thing to do would be to follow them and by this time there was more people on the trail with us, they looked like they were going to do the same thing, so off we went! Up and up the stairs to arrive at what looked like a monkey’s playground, families were grooming each other, little ones were eating and others were very curious about us (sniffing for food is my guess). The hike to the top took us about 1 hour and on the way down it started to rain, so we took shelter in a hut surrounded by monkeys, one was even brave enough to hop on the roof and peer over at us to have a look, he was my most favourite monkey of the day.

My Favourite

Throughout the walk we were greeted by many locals who were out for a sunday hike with the family or a daily exercise routine that many of the Kaohsiung elders have. A young father and small son were happy to show us shortcuts along the way, big smiles and the general kindness of the Taiwan people were very heartfelt all along the trails. I think we may have taken the long way back down the mountain, but it lead us to a beautiful view of the city (everything happens for a reason, right?). The signage on the trail is in English and Chinese but the direction of the signs left you guessing, as well as what the numbers meant on them, we had no clue! We decided that we will have to go back and try out the other two trails, so I will keep you posted if we do!