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News: Silks Place affected by landslide

Taroko landslide | © 胡香香 (via Facebook)Today we received the news that the Silks Place (reviewed on May 2nd) is currently closed down due to a huge landslide after heavy rain. Internet and telephone are broken at the moment. No one was injured inside the hotel.

 

The China News reports that 600 people are trapped in the gorge at the moment. One rock hit a car and injured two people. The road is estimated to be open again next week after clearing out some big rocks and mug.

 

[Update from May 21st: The hotel re-opened today, but nevertheless the landslide area (Highway No. 8 at 181.4km “Baisha Bridge” ) is still under construction and opens for only 3 times a day for passage: 07:30-8:30 / 12:00-13:00 / 17:30-18:30. If you plan to travel to the Silks Place, then have a look at the latest updates on the hotel website.]

 

The China News report

The first choice in the gorge

Silks Place Taroko, Taiwan

 

Silks Place | © Stephan Burianek

 

Taiwan’s most famous natural site was formed by a river called Liwu. In the course of millions of years it continuously has worked its way down, sharply cutting through the granite and marble of the island’s Central Mountain Range. The Japanese once named the canyon Taroko and therefore it is generally known by Westerners as the Taroko Gorge. Chinese call it Tàilǔgé (太鲁阁). The gorge itself is characterized by a highway that was built in the 1950s – mainly for defense reasons – by 40,000 soldiers, and which nowadays can become especially crowded on weekends. To experience the most scenic parts of the area, people can hike on the numerous trails along and around Liwu River (立霧溪). The area has the status of a national park that covers 27 peaks over 3000 meters (9842 feet) above sea level.

 

Hardly any buildings had been allowed to be erected in this area, which is why accommodations are rare. Not surprisingly, however, they did an exception for Taiwan’s longtime dictator Chiang Kai-shek, who had a villa right on the picturesque spot where the Taisai River flows into the Liwu River. Like other similar residences this site was finally democratized by building a hotel in 1997. Being part of the Gran Formosa hotel group, it is today called Silks Place (晶英酒店).

 

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With a swimming pool, three hot tubs, and a tennis hard court on its roof, it is without a doubt the best hotel far and wide. My Gorge View Room had the classical guest room blueprint, with the bathroom next to the entrance aisle that led to a rectangular bedroom. Its window offered a nice view to the Liwu River and to the Tianfeng Pagoda (天峰塔) on the steep and rocky hill on the other side. The brown shaded interior was rather simple and followed the Zen style approach of the entire building.

 

Throughout the hotel I noticed a certain, somewhat muggy smell that seemed to originate from the cream-colored carpets. That’s why the next time I would rather choose one of the so-called Honeymoon Studios which have wooden floors as part of an emphatic minimalistic design. They are part of the more expensive Retreat Floor, which means that guests also have access to the Retreat Lounge and hence to its 24-hour beverage service.

 

The Silks Place includes some very special venues and services, like an ample kindergarten, the Kid’s Club. On the Roof Floor guests can attend Yoga classes in the morning, and at night there are complimentary dance and music performances on the terrace. I especially liked the elegant white marble sculptures by Tsai Ming-guan (蔡明冠). The sculptor personally changes and rearranges his artworks from time to time and hence adds an arty touch to the hotel.

 

The Mei Yuan restaurant is said to be very good. It derived its name from the plum garden in front of the hotel and serves Chinese and other Asian food, using local ingredients. Don’t ask why, but I had dinner in the Western cuisine restaurant instead. It’s called Wellesley and serves “steaks” without distinguishing between beef types, cuts or even the gradation of doneness. My colleague, to be fair, was extremely happy with his salmon.

 

All in all I would say that the Silks Place is a very simpatico hotel with a great location.

 

Hotel website

 

 

A majestic spot in the mystical heart of Taiwan

The Lalu Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

 

View from The Lalu's top level down to the Sun Moon Lake | © Stephan Burianek

 

Did he say left or was it right? Less than a minute after having received the directions from the friendly smiling bellboy I can’t remember anymore. Okay, I did not listen particularly carefully, to be honest, but finding a hotel room is usually not that much of a challenge.

 

However, I did not anticipate the architectural consistency of The Lalu’s minimalistic design. Banishing signs might raise the optical poshness of a place, but not even the most perfect elegance will be able to lead you into the right direction after getting out of an elevator for the first time. Of course I took the wrong turn.

 

But this story is not meant to criticize The Lalu’s architecture; I am actually intending the contrary. The Zen style design of this magnificent building covering a rock at the shore of Taiwan’s legendary Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) is absolutely beautiful. It was designed by Kerry Hill Architects. Founded by an Australian in Singapore, this company is also responsible for today’s appearance of other outstanding accommodations like the Amannusa (Bali), the Alila Manggis (Indonesia), or the The Datai Langkawi (Malaysia). As fittingly described on the Design Hotel’s website, Kerry Hill’s work is characterized by “clean lines and a low profile sense for luxury”.

 

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The hotel is following a top-to-bottom concept: The lobby is located on the top floor, the eighth, from where the guests go down to reach their rooms. The main wing of the hotel is actually built in front of the hill, standing more or less by itself. All guest rooms have a lake view. And it seems that all the rooms also have a nice terrace with movable sun shades made of wood slats. There was even an additional bed on the terrace. In fact, the finally conquered guest room on level four provided me with a lot of enjoyment. Teak wood was its dominant material, which created a warm atmosphere. I also liked the orchids that added a certain kind of friendliness. The bath room area was connected with the bedroom by two open doors. As often, the minimalistic design also bore some challenges. I spent quite some time to search for the mirror light switches in the bath room, and it took even longer (a whole day and night, in fact) before I found the air-con control pad hidden in the bed. I could have asked, of course, but men don’t ask, right?

 

The lake view from my terrace was majestic, even in a literal sense: The actual hotel is built on the very same spot as one of Chiang Kai-shek’s villas. Taiwan’s erstwhile dictator owned around a dozen villas, which were all located on the most beautiful spots of the island. The Lalu (涵碧樓) peninsula was one of these sites. The name, by the way, is an expression derived from the language of the native Thao tribe, which used to live at this place, and which still is sacred to them. During the Japanese colonial time the former two lakes – the Sun Lake and the Moon Lake – were united by creating a water power plant and by flooding most of the peninsula. The power plant still exists, which is why the Sun Moon Lake is today called the Heart of Taiwan, as it provides many parts of the island with electricity. Besides that, the lake has become a busy touristic site, with a popular bicycle pathway, ferryboats and pagodas on the surrounding hills. Incidentally, Chiang Kai-shek even had his own chapel near the villa (he had to convert before marrying his wife, who is said to have been the real dictator in fact). It is very simple and now open to the public.

 

The Lalu’s cuisine thoroughly meets high expectations. The breakfast buffet has a good selection and also offers local “Assam” tea (a bit odd, as it is very light, hence everything but Assam). Besides a Japanese restaurant the hotel also houses a Chinese restaurant, which is said to be very good. For reasons that are not interesting enough for fussy explanations, I finally landed in the third restaurant, called The Oriental Brasseries, and had some Western food there. It was good but not outstanding.

 

At the end it would not be fair to point out the beautiful location and the felicitous architecture without mentioning the obliging staff of this original property. After my hotel room quest finally had turned out to be successful, I decided to refresh myself down on level zero, in the heated 60-meters outdoor pool. It was a misty day, with a cold wind slightly blowing; no wonder I was the only one out there. When I got out of the swimming pool the pool boy approached me with a steaming cup on a plate. “Some ginger tea for you.” Wow, thank you! The staff at The Lalu really made me feel pampered.

 

Hotel’s website