Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why buy a guidebook?

As a guidebook author I obviously have a vested interest in this question. While no one disputes that guidebook sales have fallen – because of the economy as well as the rise of smartphone apps and other electronic alternatives – this recent New York Times article provides a number of good reasons why, for some travellers at least, print guidebooks remain an excellent option.

Noting that sifting through websites can take an eternity, the article points out that: "[C]hoice can be paralyzing. For those who want the deciding done for them, a trusted guidebook brand wins, at least in planning an agenda."

The writer concludes that "a guidebook stomps the web almost every time" in three ways. Firstly, guidebooks have "curated maps" which are more useful than anything published online by Google or Bing. Second, "guidebooks offer information you may never think to look for online. In the Hungary book, I happened on a section about common tourist scams in Budapest, and an article on Budapest’s Jewish population — neither of which I would have thought to look up on my own." Finally, with a printed book you need never worry about the battery running out, or going out of range.

As a friend pointed out, the writer didn't even mention roaming charges, or hotel-room internet access fees, both which can be significant. These were among the reasons given by two recent American visitors to Taiwan when I asked them why, in addition to their iPhones, they were carrying not one but two print guidebooks.

For a bit more on this debate, click here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

For trainspotters

The famous logging railway between Chiayi City and Alishan hasn't run since 2009's Typhoon Morakot, but at the city's Beimen Station (北門火車站) you'll find some of the old locomotives and carriages. These days, tourist trains, pulled by diesal locomotives (see picture at the bottom) run between Chiayi TRA Station - which is well served by express trains from north and south Taiwan - and Beimen, with the occasional service to the small town of Zhuqi (嘉義縣竹崎鄉).

The neighbourhood around Beimen Station includes several sites associated with Chiayi's once mighty logging industry, and a number of these have been renovated in the past few years. A former power plant is now a wood-sculpture museum (see this Facebook page), and outside Chiayi Municipal Museum a large pool where tree trunks were kept in water (to prevent them from warping under the sun) is now an eco-pond.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Miaoli's Mingde Reservoir

A recent visit to Mingde Reservoir (明德水庫) in Miaoli County (苗栗縣) coincided with a spell of excellent weather. We stayed right by the water's edge, within walking distance of civilisation but still enjoying excellent views of the lake and nearby mountains. The dam here was built between 1966 and 1970 and is 35.5m high; the water area is around 170 hectares. The area is especially popular, and deservedly so, with long-distance cyclists who adore the combination of scenery, light traffic and moderate gradients.
Late autumn and early winter is silvergrass season in many parts of Taiwan. The grass itself is between one and two metres tall and often grows on riverbanks or beside ponds.
I posted another photo of the reservoir on Life of Taiwan's Facebook page.