Local Spotlight – ZZyZx Restaurant and Bar

After working in the guitar industry for a couple of decades in Los Angeles, Steve Tsai moved back to Taiwan and has entered the restaurant business with a trendy spot near Old Hanshin Mall.  Steve merged his passion of guitars and has an entire wall built out of over 300 guitar bodies.  In addition to that Steve’s musical background is obvious with the rest of memorabilia and the music. He is also set up for live music and check his Facebook page for any upcoming gigs at ZZyZx.

The name ZZyZx is actually an interesting story and is tied back to Steve’s California roots.  Here is a great version of the story.

Part of the ZZyZx team (Steve, Albis and Chris)

Steve opened ZZyZx in late November and recently brought Chris (formerly of The Eatery) in to set up the kitchen.  Since closing The Eatery, Chris has been working for a high end kitchen supply company (www.jendeindustries.com).  Chris gave me a tour of the kitchen and their setup is really impressive (although I know nothing about the restaurant business).  The menu consists of burgers, pasta and a few main dishes starting at 250 TWD and a large selection of drinks.

This bunless burger was excellent.

Location – No. 234 Chenggong 1st Rd., Kaohsiung, Taiwan 80249 (next to Bottom’s Up)

Prices – 250 to 400 TWD for most meals

Hours – 6pm-2:30am (or later)

Contact – Facebook Page and phone (07 269 3438)

Previous Local Spotlights

Beast Bar and Grill

303 Kitchen and Bar

Legend’s Lunchcart

Truman’s Motorcycle Repair

Teresa’s Restaurant

Lighthouse Bar and Grill

My Top 10 Hikes and Places from 2015

My 2015 wasn’t just filled with waterfalls.  I visited Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia (Borneo) in February and Bali in June in addition to dozens of trips around Taiwan.  Some of these places are well-known but some are well off of the beaten path.  They also show just how varied Taiwan and east Asia can be.  I have already mentioned my plans for next year in my waterfall recap but I expect to have an even better year next year.

My Top 10 Hikes and Places from 2015

  1. I usually shrug my shoulders when someone mentions going to see a cave but I was traveling in a group in Sarawak, Malaysia that wanted to go to Niah Caves.  It looked pretty interesting and they also wanted to go to Lambir Hills National Park (with waterfalls) so we teamed up and rented a car.  Niah Caves was incredible.  To say that it is big is an understatement.  You can fit football fields in the cave.  There are 1000’s of bat and swiftlets that live in the caves and they provide two very valuable products for the local population.  Bat guano is used as fertilizer and bird nests are harvested for a popular Chinese soup.  Over-harvesting has led to a big decline in the swiftlet population but they are now setting quotas and times to restore the population (I don’t know the effectiveness though).

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2. In January Mark Roche (Blue Skies Adventures) led a trip to a mostly abandoned aboriginal village in Pingtung County, Taiwan.  In 1979 the village moved out of the mountains to a new village lower in the river valley and was able to connect to roads.  In 2009 Xinhaocha (the new village) was completely buried by rising river silt and rocks during Typhoon Morakot.  Luckily the village had been evacuated prior to the storm and the villagers have moved to Rinari near Sandimen.

Jiuhaocha (the old village) is a beautiful village with slate houses in various condition.  Some haven’t been lived in for decades while others are maintained by villagers that live in both the new and old villages.  It requires a little effort to visit and for most it is best as an overnight hike (stay in a slate house).  It is one of the coolest places that I have visited in Taiwan.  It feels like an authentic aboriginal experience instead of the festivals in the villages.  I have attended and I enjoy the festivals but I really liked seeing what life was like in an original aboriginal village.

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3.Beidawushan is the southernmost 3000 meter peak in Taiwan and a very popular weekend trek.  The hike is challenging right from the start and climbs almost 2000 meters to the summit.  Many hikers do Beidawushan as a 2 day trip but that requires getting up at 2am to summit and return to the car by dark.  If you have an extra day and can do a 3 day trip then I highly recommend it.

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4.  I am possibly the only person to ever plan my entire Bali trip around visiting its waterfalls but you would have to try very hard to avoid visiting Bali’s temples.  There are 1000’s of them on the small island.  Instead of being grand complexes (a few are) each unique temple possesses a lot of character and detail.  I blogged about my 10 favorites from my trip and Tanah Lot (pictured below) is one of the most famous and visited.

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5. One of the best and most unusual festivals in Taiwan is Donggang’s Wang Ye Boat Burning Festival.  Every 3 years they hold the 10 day festival.  All week they shoot off firecrackers and make noise to lure the evil spirits out from hiding with everyone following in the parade.  On the festival’s conclusion the local temples march a giant boat to the ocean.  All night long they prepare the boat for its voyage by piling up a mountain of (fake) paper money.  Finally they light the boat on fire taking the evil spirits with it so the town is prosperous for another 3 years.

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6.  Laomei Reef is one of those rare places that is hard to believe exists until you visit it.  The green algae only blooms for 2-3 months (March and April most likely) every year and you will need to track the ocean tidal charts and visit during low tide.  Unfortunately it will be crowded on the weekend but English teachers that start in evening could do a weekday trip from Taipei and be back in time for class.

View the full guide

7. Brunei is a tiny country on the island of Borneo whose economy is heavily tied to oil.  One side effect of their wealth is that their rainforests are virtually untouched compared to their Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors on the island.  Although small compared to its neighbors the size of their virgin forests is significant.  Brunei’s crown jewel is Ulu Temburong National Park.  99% of the park is set aside for conservation and only researchers are allowed access to those parts.  Tours are available starting with a traditional longboat ride up the Temburong River from Sumbiling Eco Village or even Bandar Seri Begawan from several tour agencies.  Once inside the park the hike leads to a canopy skywalk but unfortunately a hard thunderstorm rolled in and we were unable to go up there.

Our guide with a researcher discovering a new ant species.

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8.  Taiwan only has two short stretches of roadless coastline.  Both of them are located in Pingtung County north of Kenting.  There were serious proposals to build a road along this part of the coast but thankfully that appears to be permanently shelved.  The Qufengbi Coastal Trail leaves from the Jialeshui Scenic Area and is full of interesting sights.  The Jialeshui Scenic Area is the sight of fascinating ocean carved rocks.  There are also shipwrecks (the big one is dismantled), an old army fort and green cliffs that seemingly fall into the ocean.  The Alanyi Trail is a little farther north in the same area.  It is a little shorter and includes great views of the ocean.

The Jialeshui Scenic Area at the beginning of the Qufengbi Trail

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The Alanyi Trail

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9. Gunung Batur is Bali’s most hiked volcano since it can be done in a day (1/2 a day actually).  Gunung Batur is the center cone in one of Bali’s largest craters with an impressive lake in the southern portion.  I was unaware of this when I decided to hike Batur but it has erupted at least a dozen times in the last 150 years.

View the full guide entry

10.  Hehuanshan is Taiwan’s most accessible high mountain area due to the Central Cross Island Highway (new version) passing nearby.  It used to be the site of Taiwan’s only ski hill but the area no longer gets significant snow and the infrastructure is in ruins.  Now Taiwanese flock to Hehuanshan on snowy weekends so they can experience snow likely for the first time.

Overall there are 5 of Taiwan’s Baiyue (top 100 peaks) in the area and several others (Cilai North) that can be accessed via longer trails.  Hehuanshan Main Peak, Hehuanshan East Peak and Shimenshan are short hikes that hikers of most abilities can handle.  Hikers that want a little more challenge can tackle Hehuanshan North Peak or go all the way to Hehuanshan West Peak (a very long dayhike).

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My Top Ten Waterfalls of 2015 (link)

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Banpingshan, Taiwan

Click for directions to the Banpingshan guide

Kaohsiung’s Shoushan National Park is much more than just Monkey Mountain but many forget about the other parts of the National Park.  Banpingshan is located between the Lotus Pond, the HSR station and World Games Stadium.  Embarrassingly I didn’t hike here until this spring because Monkey Mountain is just a couple of minutes from my apartment.  I will travel all over Taiwan and East Asia looking for new hikes but for some reason 20 minutes within Kaohsiung was too far.

My initial hike on Banpingshan was less than spectacular.  Banpingshan was heavily mined for cement and lime for over a century.  During this time the height of the mountain was reduced by 53 meters to its current height of 170 meters.  (gov’t source)  Michael Turton wrote an excellent blog with old photos about the history of the cement operations earlier this year so I won’t rehash that.  Read Michael’s piece here.

My first trip to Banpingshan was rather boring as I hiked up the stairs to the main mining road to the main observation point and back down the mining road past the old quarry on the eastern side of the mountain.  The southeastern portions of Banpingshan were most heavily affected by the mining and I almost entirely walked through that area.  The next time however I hiked along some trails about halfway up the western slope (near pt 2 on the map) and the trees and rock formations match or exceed the best on Monkey Mountain.

Fascinating trees and rocks can be found all over Taiwan but one of the highlights is a completely intact military bunker at the northeastern end of Banpingshan.  The bunker is likely from the post WWII militarization of Taiwan by the KMT as defense against a possible PRC (China) invasion although it could have been made by the Japanese during WWII.  The bunker has 4 exits, 2 tunnels, 1 connecting tunnel and 5 small rooms.  The longest tunnel is 50 meters long and about 1.6 meters tall.  It is made of concrete and is very safe from cave ins.

The Nanzih factory region.  Down there somewhere is Oil Refinery Elementary School.  Such a homey name.

One of the five interior rooms.  Maybe 2 meters wide by 3 meters deep by 1.5 meters tall.

Banpingshan overlooks World Games Stadium and the Straits of Taiwan.  Further north of this is the Nanzih factory zone.

Click for directions to Banpingshan

Photo of the week #56 – A Bird’s Eye View

I wish we had these beautiful blue skies every day in Kaohsiung but starting in October the winds shift (or die down) and the city is covered in smog.  I have been nervous since they started prepping a new building site across the river from my apartment.  I rented this apartment because of this view and my concern has always been that multiple 15-20 story apartment buildings would be built across from my apartment.  The good news is that at least the first building will be something small since they didn’t excavate a two story basement.

This photo was shot using a Cokin P121S rectangular graduated neutral density filter.  Filters have become mostly obsolete with the shift to digital cameras but there are still a few that are very useful.  I always carry a polarizer (to reduce reflections), a 3 stop neutral density filter (to lengthen the exposure on waterfall photos) and sometimes I bring along my graduated ND filter.  A graduated ND filter is 1/2 darkened (like sunglasses) and 1/2 clear.  Typically clouds are much brighter than the land and it is difficult to expose the photo correctly for both.  Either the land will be too dark or the sky will be too bright and the clouds will be blown out (actual photography term).  This particular photo might not have needed the graduated ND filter since the land is quite bright but I like to think that it gives the clouds a little extra pop.

I will also be taking time lapse photos (3-4/wk) of the construction and the changing skies.  I have no idea what I am doing but it will be an interesting and likely frustrating project.

Photo of the week #53 – gluten free lactose free pizza

My first year in Taiwan (2010) was pretty rough because I unknowingly suffered from celiacs disease.  After getting no help from the local doctors I self diagnosed the gluten intolerance and verified the self diagnosis through an elimination diet.  I have always been able to cook for myself and I easily altered my diet around this new revelation.  5 years before I discovered that I was lactose intolerant (both are common together).  In the US it is easy to find alternative cheese made from soy, almonds or other types of ingredients but Taiwan doesn’t eat a lot of cheese.  Finding premium priced cheese that doesn’t actually taste better (they don’t) has been very difficult.  But I was aimlessly wandering Costco yesterday and scanned the cheese aisle.

Certain hard cheeses like swiss are better for lactose intolerance but my stomach was always a little upset so I stayed away from all cheese.  The packaging sold me on trying lactose free cheese again.  I have learned how to substitute rice flour (50%), corn starch (25%) and tapioca starch (25%) to make gluten free flour so all I needed was pizza meat, tomato paste and yeast.  I chose a salami pepperoni from Costco (imported because almost all Taiwan meat sucks) and it was surprisingly good. After 30 seconds of research I picked a gluten free crust recipe from minimalistbaker.com and got started.  It was a little disappointing that I didn’t get to use my new rolling pin (a bottle of wine) but it was really nice to just spread the dough out in the pan.

The end result was only the 2nd pizza that I have eaten (my mother/grandmother took care of me with special ingredients during a trip home) in the last 5 years.  It doesn’t matter that the pizza is rectangular or that it is swiss cheese or that the crust stuck to the pan.  It was awesome.

Taking away pizza from an American would be like taking away vegemite from an Aussie or beer from a German.  The world might not immediately end but at some point there is a breaking point.  Perhaps tomorrow brings agony (bloating, gas or worse) but today was awesome.

And there are leftovers.  Tomorrow can also be awesome.

Xitou Recreation Area, Nantou, Taiwan

Xitou is one of Taiwan’s most popular National Recreation Areas.  However that is both a blessing and a curse in Taiwan.  It is an incredibly beautiful forest with some excellent hiking trails.  There are enough trails to keep the typical hiker occupied all day.  We didn’t have time to hike the Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) trail but that looks like a nice trail to get away from the crowds.  That is the lead in to the mixed reviews.  Xitou is a very popular place to visit on the weekends.  Traffic becomes terrible going up the mountain and there will be people everywhere. This can be remedied by going on a weekday if possible.

Another interesting aspect of Xitou is that it is an experimental forest for National Taiwan University and you can visit several different types of sub forests including cedars, bamboo and gingko.  The other part that wows you at first but unsettles you is that everything is a little bit too manicured.  Many probably won’t even notice this and some will enjoy that everything is kept tidy but I enjoy the the natural forest with down trees and random undergrowth. Also the area must have also have been logged by the Japanese and replanted with Japanese cedars since the spacing is a little too perfect.  Despite Xitou being stunningly beautiful I prefer a more natural environment and a little off of the beaten path.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a great time or that I won’t return though.

One of the many pavilions to rest at.  The interesting part of the Xitou pavilions is that the wood is not really wood including the roof.  Most of the mountainous areas in Taiwan are continually damp and wood rots very quickly in this environment.  It is very common for trails and pavilions to be made from concrete but made to look like wood.  I was fairly certain that the roof was concrete but I had to touch it because it looks so real.

I believe this is Fenghuangshan (Phoenix Mountain) but the actual peak could be on this ridgeline to the right.  That looks like a worthy hike to do sometime and you should be able to escape most of the crowds.

The cedar forest was huge.  This trail was only 1.5kms long but I loved the trees.  Overall there must be about 15-20 kms of trail in the forest.

Adrian brought along Arthur and he was fascinated by everything.

One of the most popular things to do at Xitou is to walk on the skywalk.  The skywalk is basically a 22.6m high bridge (180 meters long) that makes a loop.  It takes you right next to trees but doesn’t touch any of them and is instead suspended on massive stilts.  I found change in perspective interesting but I preferred to view the forest from ground level.  It’s not scary but I find the plant life at ground level fascinating.

The hiking year of 2014 in review

2014 was a busy year as I started my 2nd year managing a buxiban but I found time to take several amazing trips inside Taiwan.  I also took my first trip home in four years.  It was way too long and hopefully won’t be that long again.  The waterfall project continued and has reached 75 waterfalls and should eclipse 100 by the end of 2015.  I was lucky enough to tag along on several Taipei Hiker group hikes to some great places in some remote places within Taiwan.  Here are a few of the hikes and photos that I took in the last year.

The Dragon Sunset at the often visited Secret Beach.

I found a new place (Guifu Canyon) in one of my favorite old places (Maolin) with the Taipei Hikers group in February.

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Directions to Guifu Canyon

Later in February we stumbled upon this festival while searching for waterfalls.

In March the Taipei Hikers group led the way to 3 outstanding waterfalls and 2 hot spring waterfalls in Hsinchu County.  Pictured is Maliguang Waterfall that is hidden in one of Hsinchu’s deepest parts.

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Directions to Maliguang Waterfall

In April we went to one of the most remote places in Taiwan.  We visited the giant trees at Jianxibao near Smangus.

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Directions to Jianxibao

My grandpa’s farm was one of the things I visited on my trip home.  We hiked in a nice state park, went to 2 baseball games and visited with many family members during the week.  Time went by quickly and I was back in Taiwan.

I didn’t do a lot of hiking during the summer but I saw many wonderful sunsets and sunrises from my apartment.

After a busy summer I hit the trails again in the fall finding a nice trail (Zhenlishan) in Majia on a rainy day.

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One of my favorite trips this year was to Tsengwen Reservoir with the other Kaohsiung waterfall enthusiast.  There are at least 20 waterfalls near Tsengwen Reservoir but most of them are rarely visited.  They are a little trickier to find but you will probably be all by yourself when you find them.  We found 5 great waterfalls and plan to return next year to find 5 more.

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Directions to Chinglong Waterfall (pictured)

We took an outstanding dayhike later in October to Yuanyang Waterfall and saw a few Formosan Serow on the cliff side for a brief moment.

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Directions to Yuanyang Waterfall

I made a four day weekend in November and enjoyed the last warm (and dry) weekend in northern Taiwan while visiting Yilan.  I had more ambitious plans but I ended up visiting 5 waterfalls and hiking 2 other trails.  Pictured is the famous Yuemeikang Waterfall that has stayed somewhat unknown despite it being featured in several hiking blogs.

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Directions to Yuemeikang Waterfall

My other favorite waterfall hike from the weekend.

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Directions to Yulan Waterfall

A couple of months ago I spent some time to build a waterfall map for my waterfall guide.  I have started to add some of the hiking trails and campsites that I have visited to the waterfall guide.  This year I plan to take the project international with a couple of trips planned in Asia.  It will be a slow process since I will only visit 2-3 countries and maybe 10-15 waterfalls per year but there are some incredible places outside of Taiwan.  My first trip will be to Malaysian Borneo in February and possibly a trip to Palawan in March.

Yulan Waterfall and Campsite

I basically randomly picked a campsite from the Camping in Taiwan map for my trip to Yilan.  It was located outside of town and would make a good base for a trip to Taipingshan.  As a bonus there was a waterfall nearby.  I thought it would be easy to find but I didn’t get there until it was already dark.  Rather inconveniently I rented the worst scooter ever.  Whenever I was coasting the light lost power and basically turned off.  I was able to trade my scooter for a much better one the next day.  After a little searching I found the campsite and was knocked out by the view.  The facilities were not impressive but it has a million dollar view of Yilan and the valley.  Directions to Yulan Campground.

My view of Yilan at arrival.

The sunrise view from my tent.

The view across the valley.

The view up the valley with my tent all by itself.

Nearby Yulan Waterfall now restricts vehicles from reaching the trailhead and instead hikers can choose between a roadwalk and some well done trails.

Most choose to walk the road but the trail is by far the better route.

My perception of Yilan is that is is nearly always raining and the trees showed it with various vines and moss.

In the last few years they have replaced many rickety bamboo bridges with some impressive bridges.  Hopefully a typhoon doesn’t wipe out all of the hard work in the future.

 I could have spent hours on macro photography.

Nearly every tree on the 4km trail was interesting.

Not surprisingly it was originally a logging trail.  It was called Camphor Station #9.

Yulan Waterfall is at the end of the trail and it was spectacular after Yilan’s recent rainfall.  Locally it is known as Gaba Waterfall.  It will require some imagination but the local tribe many centuries ago named it after the thunderous sound of the waterfall.

Directions to Yulan Waterfall

The Kaohsiung Skyline

The overwhelming reason that I chose my apartment was the view of Kaohsiung.  I am very happy with the rest of my apartment but I still love the view.  I have a completely unblocked 180 degree view with the Pingdong mountains to the east, the 85 building to the south and Monkey Mountain to the west.  During the summer the air pollution (it’s bad) blows away and there are spectacular views of the city.  The only bad thing is that I typically am teaching during the evening and miss the sunset.  Here are the views from various times during the summer.

Sunrise to the east

The eastern view in the late afternoon

The blue hour

A common view to the south

Another common view to the south.

Kaohsiung gets 2 meters of rain each year.  Almost all of the rain falls between May-September.  The remainder of the year is a drought.

I think this is the only rainbow that I remember during my 5 years in Taiwan


Sadly summer is ending and the air pollution will return stealing the sunsets.