Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taipei: Window to Taiwan


Formerly known as Formosa(meaning 'Beautiful Island', as named by the Portuguese), the island of Taiwan has undergone tremendous changes since its early aboriginal days over the past few centuries.
From the Han Chinese to the Dutch, Japanese and back to communism of China, the country has seen its transformation and its continuous struggle with the sovereignty claims  over China as a whole country under the ROC (Republic of China), denied by the PRC (People Republic of China) who staked themselves as the rightful owner of China and Taiwan to fall under its name as the 23rd province.

Relatively a new country with only a few centuries of history under her belt, Taiwan has risen from its tumultuous past and has today emerged as one of the strongest countries in both Asia and the world, ranking at 19th internationally.
One of the Four Tigers of Asia, Taiwan has proven her competency's worth with the rapid economy growth in the country, focusing on industrialization to mark its strong and consistent rise in its yearly GDP.

Home to more than 23 million people, Taiwan is today one of the world's rising countries and has attracted visitors and immigrants from all over the world to the country for study, work and leisure. Many have chosen to reside in Taipei, the capital of the country and a global city with world-class infrastructure boasting of more than half of Taiwan's entire population with its count of approximately 17 million residents.

With such statistics, Taipei is no doubt the soul of Taiwan with its dense population and incoming tourism adds more to the crowds on an annual basis. It is not surprising that the metropolitan city, situated at the northern part of the country (hence the name Taipei - which means Northern Taiwan) is  the ideal spot for a taste of Taiwan's culture as the city's large population and its status as the capital of Taiwan along with it being the home to the country's main international airport, Taoyuan International Airport, are all the reasons where the crowds are gathered.

Taiwan, though an island, is famed for her natural beauty and sceneries, besides the economy and political sector and is one of the favorite travel destinations in the world. The country's natural geographical location provided a perfect setting for the mountainous valleys, hot springs, inactive volcanic formations with sulphurous deposits in its various national parks which had visitors awe-struck with its wonders. The sub tropical climate in the region also spawned an amazing variety of trees, plants and flowers, and is just perfect for travel and settlement with its comfortable temperature all year long.

Filled with the many attractions on Taiwan's list, there is no doubt visitors all around the world flock to Taiwan to experience the beautiful nature and surroundings the country has to offer. A short stay will not suffice to enjoy all that the country has to offer, and it is best to plan with a focus destination in mind and with additional time to spare, it would allow one more luxury to get to know the country better by exploring the other regions.

I would recommend Taipei as one of the first destination, as the city, mentioned above is the center where most of happenings take place besides it being the nucleus of Taiwan's economy, politics and culture. The dense population in this metropolitan city which covers the areas of Taipei city, New Taipei and Keelung (typically Taipei would refer to the overall area of the trio while Taipei city refers to the city itself) says something about the city where most of the Taiwanese are gathered.

Taipei provided much insight into the identity of Taiwan, with its myriad of offerings; from the preservation of its past in the historic streets/places such as Bo Pi Liao Street, Longshan Temple, to a glimpse of the national monuments and treasures at National Palace Museum, and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and to the best of nature's wonders at its national park, Yangmingshan and the amazing Geothermal Valley of Beitou and the natural hot springs at Beitou and Wulai.

Enjoy a stroll down the Tamsui's Old Street and Waterfront, and take in the sunset at the Fisherman's Wharf, then head on to the night markets (which are just everywhere); namely the famous Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market, just to name a few and stuff yourself with the street food just like a local Taiwanese would while taking in the colorful culture and night life in the city.

Take a glimpse or blend in with the busy crowds on the streets of Taipei's premier shopping and lifestyle center in the Xinyi District, where the chic and upscale fashion brands are based stalked by the city's stylish congregation. The city buzzes with life throughout the day, and lights up beautifully at night; both of which can be seen with an aerial view from its tallest establishment, Taipei 101; once named the tallest building in the world. The building towers over the city, and while it has been displaced from its position in the world, Taipei 101 is still Taiwan's tallest building and a proud landmark of the country's accomplishments in engineering.

The Taiwanese are not all self-absorbed in their own culture, as shown by the younger and trendy generation with their reception or adoption of cultures from the other parts of the world. Take a stroll in the hip and happening streets in Ximending and enjoy the blend of the local culture and those from other countries with the crowd in the area which depicts the open mindset of the young towards the world out there. Ximending is not all modern, and one can see the reminder of the past with the Red House Theater standing right in the middle of the stylish district frequented by the young Taiwanese.

While I could not really pick my favorite destination from the list in the city, I must also mention that one should not leave without making a quick detour out of Taipei to the Nantou County to witness the inspiring beauty of the ever famous Sun Moon Lake, defined by the many interesting stories around the lake and its aboriginal origins.

(The aboriginal tribes of Taiwan have formed the past and remains till today, very much a part of Taiwan's culture. In fact, the aboriginal culture has only lent more towards the making of a colorful potpourri of Taiwan's identity today and outlined the features of its many attractions around the country).

The Taiwanese has much to boast of, with its many natural scenic wonders and vogue city lifestyle, there is just no end to the list of gems Taiwan has on her turf.

The Taiwanese are generally known to be friendly people, and I have heard of their reputation since my childhood from elder relatives who have visited the country and it is indeed admirable that this notion has not left the minds of the authorities as they continue to educate their next generation on the importance of values and proper ethics to form a breed of cultured society. It is something that many nations have to focus on, and I am sure the Taiwanese would be able to maintain their status as a friendly nation with continuous efforts and their strong religious roots for many more generations to come.

I have left the country with many memories; and the images of the beautiful landscape and urban lifestyle has been etched into my mind. Though I had only spent most of my time in Taipei, I had enjoyed an enriching experience with the many sights and amazing wonders from what the capital has to offer, and Taipei has indeed been a wonderful insight into the overall culture which formed Taiwan.

It may have only been Taipei that I have visited, but this Window to Taiwan has carved in me memories of a lifetime, and urging me to plan for my next visit to the country, to explore the rest of what Taiwan has to offer on its outskirts and away from Taipei.

P.S: If you will excuse me, I definitely has some research and travel planning for my next visit to Taiwan... :-)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Topping Off Ceremony of G Hotel Kelawai

Come this last quarter of 2014, Penang is set to welcome another brand new addition to her already brimming list of hotels with the introduction of G Hotel Kelawai.

The brainchild of the stylish G Hotel facing the Gurney Drive seafront, G Hotel Kelawai is set to be another impressive brand of the modern contemporary hotel with a design defined by prestige and comfort along with a list of awe-inspiring features to boast in this new number.

Distinguished by its bold contemporary design, G Hotel has been the epitome of style and luxury since it opened its doors in the year 2007, and is an iconic name to the Penang tourism industry.
The strategic location of G Hotel made it one of the most favored hotel among the locals and tourists, and this is in the mind of the team as they paved the way for the brand new G Hotel Kelawai, which is also strategically situated between two trendy shopping malls; Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon, facing the busy Kelawai Road.

The 25th of April 2014 marked an important milestone for G Hotel Kelawai, with the Topping Off Ceremony taking place on the rooftop of the building still undergoing construction.
(Topping off ceremony was traditionally practiced by the Scandinavians and the builders as a form of practice to mark the placement of a last beam (or equivalent) during the establishment of the building, as defined by Wikipedia).

The Topping Off Ceremony of G Hotel Kelawai was officiated by the Guest of Honor, Penang Chief Minister, YAB Lim Guan Eng, in the presence of the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Development, YB Danny Law, the Directors of G Hotel, Mr Phuah Choon Meng and Mr Phuah Ken Lin, the General Manager of G Hotel, Mr Michael Harraty, Director of Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Mr Harun Pilus, Penang Global Tourism, Mr Jason Sim among other dignitaries and the media.

Taking place on the rooftop set to house an infinity pool and a stylish rooftop bar, which offers a spectacular view of Penang island, the event gracefully marked the presence of G Hotel Kelawai which is set to take on the success of its predecessor, G Hotel; if not better with the introduction of its very own distinctive features to boast with its 5-star hotel facilities.


Expected to be fully functional by the year end of 2014, G Hotel Kelawai will house a total of 208 rooms; comprising of 148 Deluxe rooms, 63 units of Executive rooms and 2 units of suites, graced by the touch of exquisite design and modern stylish furnishing.

G Hotel Kelawai strives to enhance their guests' experiences with a gymnasium equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, business centre and also a roof top infinity pool.
The pool offers a 360° view of Penang island, which includes the iconic Penang Bridge as guests enjoy a dip at the top of the hotel.

While its strategic location in the heart of Penang's most happening neighborhood promises walking distance to upscale shopping malls, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon, and the popular Gurney Drive food haven promises a variety activities and selection of local savory delights, G Hotel Kelawai sets to impress and tempts the gastronomic appetites of its guests with its very own trendy and stylish food and beverage outlets - a coffee house, lobby lounge and a chill out bar on the rooftop, defined by its elegant and innovate design to give the guests a unique experience.

(Lobby Lounge)

(Coffee House)

With the many attractive features in this new addition to Penang's list of hotels, G Hotel Kelawai is indeed one to look forward to in the final quarter of 2014.

G Hotel Kelawai, with its tagline, Style Redefined will be yet another of Penang's pride when it finally opens its doors to the public this year and we look forward to welcome an iconic and stylish lifestyle brand to our shores~

(Attachements of the facts sheets for more detailed information on G Hotel Kelawai).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Temples and Scenes around Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is surrounded by serenity and a comforting sense of peace where one can feel at ease when touring around the area, and perhaps this had to do with the number of temples and the strong religious roots in the local community.

As we explored around Sun Moon Lake, we stumbled upon a few more temples besides the famous Wen Wu Temple which were of notable mentions as well though they were smaller, but were still drawing crowds to their premises.

Xuanzang Temple

The temple is located in the western part of Sun Moon Lake, and stands out with its ancient Tang Dynasty architectural design.

It is no surprise though, as the name of the temple had provided the hints that the temple is dedicated to the well-known Xuanzang, a Tang Dynasty monk who was sent on an assignment to collect the Buddisht scriptures from India. His journey which took a decade before he finally returned to China with the scriptures and his efforts in translating the scriptures along with his disciples contributed to the evolution and the development of Buddhism, and was well-documented in various stories.
Xuanzang was such a prominent figure due to his accomplishments and hard work in translating 75 sections of the 650 sutras he brought back, which led to the 1335 volumes of scriptures in Buddhism, was respected and well-recognized. In fact, his journey and story had gained world recognition and had been documented into various forms of literature; even making it to the television screens, titled "Journey to the West'.

The Xuanzang Temple was built in 1965 to honor the remains of this respected monk, which was originally stolen by the Japanese during the World War II from Nanjing and was shipped to be worshipped at the Jion-Ji Temple at the Saitama Perfecture in Japan. It was only in 1955 when the remains were taken from Japan to Taiwan where they placed it in the Xuanguang Temple before finally transferring it to this temple upon its completion towards the end of the year 1965.

There are two levels in the temple; with one being dedicated to the worshipping of the remains of Xuanzang and the other section to the Golden Sakyamuni Buddha.
The late President Chiang Kai-Shek wrote the words 'National Treasure' on a plate which can be found inside the temple. On the outer wall of the temple (at the main entrance in the first picture above) is where one can see the illustrated carvings of Xuanzang during his journey to the west.

There is a large drum located at the front of the temple

There is also a bell and a mallet, and the bell is known as the "Wake-Up Bell"

The temple provides an immense sense of inner peace and tranquility when one is on the grounds.
As with all religious temples,

There is also a resting pavilion where one can sit on the stone chairs and relax, while enjoying the superb view of the Sun Moon Lake and Lalu Island from the temple.

It is interesting to note that the temple faces the Lalu Island on the front while the rear faces the Qinglong Mountain, which places the temple at a very unique and good location as described by a Fengshui master once who depicted the strategic spot to 'A Green Dragon Playing with a Pearl'.

Xuanguang Temple
A smaller and older temple which formerly housed the relics of the famous Master Xuanzang upon its return to Taiwan in 1955. The temple is well-maintained even after the remains have been transferred over to the new Xuanzang temple upon its completion in 1965 and is still a popular historic site for its  background in association with the Master Xuanzang.
Worshippers and tourists still flock to the small temple for prayers and the view.

Dragon Phoenix (Long Feng) Temple (日月潭龍鳳宮)
This temple, though tucked away in its own comfort is a majestic sight with the pair of large complex stone carvings of a dragon and phoenix flanking both sides of its entrance, to dazzle visitors with a grand introduction to its turf.

This temple is not to be underestimated for it is an extremely hot spot among couples and the locals who throng the temples praying for romance and blessings in their marriage.
The dragon and phoenix are believed to mythical creatures in the Chinese legends where they are said to be powerful beings with supernatural powers. They are also seen as a strong and powerful match for each other, with their might and grand statures and are often portrayed as emblems of goodness, particularly in the arena of romance.
The dragon phoenix combination is widely used in the Chinese community and they adorn the decorations for most marriages, where they are believed to bring good luck and strength for a long lasting romance/marriage to the couple.

The beginnings of this temple start from the year 1978 when the Nantou County set up a 'Matchmaker's Pavilion' on Lalu Island (then known as Guanghua Island) for the locals and there would mass weddings conducted in what is known as a 'Shuixiang Group Wedding' (Shuixiang translates to Water Village). Many visitors; or rather couples would participate in this mass wedding which became rather popular until the year 1999 when disaster strikes in the 921 Earthquake occurred.
Due to the incident, the Matchmaker's Pavilion was relocated to a newly constructed Dragon Phoenix Temple on land, which still remains a top tourist attraction and among the locals around Sun Moon Lake. Courting couples and single men and women would come to the temple, praying for a good destiny for themselves and for their potential spouses. Even married couples come to the temple to pray for a long lasting marriage and undying romance.
It was said that the popularity of the temple was due to the effectiveness in which their prayers were answered; whereby a person who is single and in search of a partner comes to the temple and pray, could meet his/her other half in a mere period of 6 months! This strengthened the beliefs among the locals and the believers in the mystical powers of the gods and deities who continue to shower them with blessings and good fortune. Sun Moon Lake is truly a romantic haven and never ceases to amaze visitors with her offerings.
From the ravishing beauty of her uniquely shaped body to the endearing tales of her temples, one would just fall under the spell of this dazzling destination.

It was really hard to bid goodbye to this place, and the memories and sights captured here will definitely last for an eternity....

Taiwan Travelogue: Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔) (Sun Moon Lake)

The nine-storey octagonal building of the Ci En Pagoda (慈恩塔) stands tall and proud as the eminent landmark of Sun Moon Lake, on top of the 954 meters high Sha Ba Lan Mountain.

The pagoda, at 46 meters high was built in 1971, by the late President Chiang Kai Shek in loving memory of his mother. Back then it was a challenging task in the construction due to the location of the pagoda, and since Sun Moon Lake's geographical location itself was distant from the mainland, the building materials had to be shipped over the lake and then carried up to the mountain.

To reach the pagoda, one would need to take a short hike of about 700 meters up the Sha Ba Lan mountain, which would take approximately 15-20 minutes.

On normal days, one would be able to climb up the pagoda which offers a splendid view of the Lalu Island, and of course, the Sun Moon Lake.
It was rather unfortunate that the pagoda was closed when I was there, due to a recent earthquake which occurred and the officials have decided to close the pagoda to conduct further investigations to ensure the structural integrity of the pagoda before reopening to the public.
While my visit was wrongly timed, this was an understandable concern from the authorities and precautionary measures are always to be prioritized for the safety of the public.

The surrounding area of the pagoda was still impressive; with the naturally beautiful landscape of the trees, plants and flowers, including the cherry blossoms, though they were rather sparse at that time too.

A building situated in front of the pagoda was formerly a rest house frequented by the late President Chiang Kai Shek since the year 1971.

Ci En Pagoda, in all its might and grandeur is a symbol of reverence and with the peaceful surroundings in the area, there is truly that sense of reflection as one takes in the meaning of the place and also the beauty of the environment.

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