Laomei Green Reef (老梅綠石槽)

People often have a hard time understand how it is that after so many years of living in Taiwan that I’m still so eager to explore the country. I often get asked by locals and foreigners alike how it is that I’m not “bored” living here. On the contrary, I’ve always been of the opinion that even though I’m constantly on the go, there is always something new to see and more importantly to learn about.

I think one of the best things about living in Taiwan is that we are truly blessed with a well-established schedule of things to see and do on the yearly calendar. Whether its a cultural or religious event or something happening with the natural environment, there is always plenty of things for locals and tourists to enjoy or take part in. 

With that being said you will have to keep a keen eye on all of the events taking place and in some cases may even have to miss out on some in order to check out others. Being able to pick and choose though is one of the great things about living here. 

I often tell people that Taiwan is only ever going to be what you make of it. So, if you spend all your time partying and going to clubs, you’ll have to excuse me when I roll my eyes at you when you tell me that this is a boring country with nothing to do - There is always something to do!

Today’s blog post is about a popular landscape spot in Northern Taiwan and is a spot that I always try to visit if I can find the time. It’s also a place that has been made popular thanks to the many skilled photographers who have spent time taking beautiful photos. 

Unfortunately if you want to see it, you’re going to have to pay close attention to the calendar as it doesn’t last for long!

Laomei Green Reef (老梅綠石槽)

In recent years the the Laomei Green Reef has become a popular tourist attraction along Taiwan’s beautiful North Coast. The Green Reef is situated on a beach next to the Laomei community of New Taipei City’s Shimen District (石門區).

While photographers may have played a small part in making this unique spot a popular one with tourists, its origins date back at least two hundred thousand years ago when a volcano in the Datun Mountain range (大屯火山群) erupted. The lava that spewed out of the volcano helped to form Taiwan’s North Coast into the shape that we are familiar with today.

In addition to the 700 meter long reef formed by lava, centuries of sea erosion has helped to shape the rocks into strange-looking trenches where sea water easily goes in and out with the tide.

In the early months of summer, (more specifically April and May) when the weather starts to warm up, algae from the ocean comes in with the tide and makes its home on the reef. This creates a vibrant shade of green on the rocks and is the reason why large crowds of people flock to see it. 

The area is especially popular at dawn and dusk with groups of photographers who want to catch some beautiful light reflecting in the water with the vibrant green of the created by the algae.

Unfortunately the amount of time that we’re able to enjoy the “Green Reef” each year depends on the weather and the tides. If April and May are hot (like they have been this year), the algae tends to die off quickly returning the rocks to their natural colour.

This means that the period of time people are able to enjoy the Green Reef is short and can be likened to that of the blossoming season of some of Taiwan’s flowers. If you want to visit Laomei when the reef is Green you’re going to need to pay close attention and make sure you’re free in April or May to pay a visit.

While the natural lifespan of the Green Reef depends on the weather, there are also external factors that contribute to the “green” parts of the reef dying off earlier than usual.

You will notice signs on the beach in both Chinese and English that urge tourists not to walk on the reef - The signs have not only been put up for the safety of tourists, but for the protection of the reef.

The popularity of the reef in recent years has caused a bit of an issue with disrespectful tourists and photographers tramping all over the green parts of the reef killing the vegetation.

Don’t be an ass. You can easily enjoy the natural beauty of the reef without walking all over it.

One of the best ways to know when the reef has turned green is to look at “Recent Photos” for the geo-location “Laomei Green Reef” or “老梅綠石槽” on Instagram which will give you a pretty good idea of the recent conditions at the reef.

There is a lot to do on the North Coast, so if you are lucky enough to visit Laomei when the reef has turned green, you will also be able to visit many of the other tourist stops along the way as well as being able to stop by one of the fishery harbours for a feast of fresh cheap seafood!


Getting There

 

If you don’t have your own method of transportation, you’ll want to go to make your way to the Tamsui MRT Station (淡水捷運站) and then take bus #862, #863 or #892 and get off at the Laomei stop (老梅站


Sesame Hotel (芝麻大酒店)

Its been said that I'm a bit slow with some of the photos I post. Sometimes it takes months for me actually get around to blogging about something or sharing photos with people. While I’m out shooting different locations though, I always use the Instagram Stories features to share what I'm doing in real time.

The responses I receive from the "stories" I upload on Instagram tend to vary between appreciation for the photos or general appreciation for the way I introduce Taiwan to others.

The responses I receive from locals when I’m out Urban Exploring however are always the same: “Aren’t you afraid of ghosts?!

Suffice to say, if I were afraid of ghosts, its not likely that I’d be visiting most of the places I do, but for locals, the struggle is real when it comes to pests of the supernatural variety.

I’ll admit that some of the places I visit aren’t really for everyone and can at times even freak me out (especially when there are giant spiders) but for the most part exploring abandoned buildings interests me because there is always an interesting history and a reason why these buildings have become abandoned.

One issue that always comes up though is that the national obsession with avoiding ghosts and haunted houses makes it a bit difficult to do research and get any concrete information about some of these historic abandonments.

The subject of today’s blog post is no different - At least 95% of the internet search results come up with it rated as one of the ‘Top Ten Haunted Places' in the nation but they all fail to provide any relevant information about its history.

If I had done any research prior to my visit, I probably would have left feeling a bit disappointed as my expectations for something considered one of the ‘Top Ten Haunted Hotels’ (十大猛鬼酒店) in the country didn’t offer anything remotely spooky.

Luckily I didn’t bother doing much reading before I went and enjoyed my visit as the afternoon light inside the building was shining through all the open windows providing for absolutely beautiful light in the long corridors of the hotel.

The Sesame Hotel (芝麻大酒店)

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Taiwan underwent what is popularly known as the “Taiwan Miracle” (台灣奇蹟) allowing the nation to experience rapid economic growth and making quite a few people filthy rich.

The rapid growth of the economy notably was of benefit most to those loyal to the state, which in that time meant the party. If you happened to be an upstanding member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (中國國民黨) or the military, it was likely that you would have a much smoother experience in your entrepreneurial endeavours.

One such entrepreneur was a former soldier named Chang Ke-Dong (張克東) who after leaving the military in the early 1960s started a career in business by founding the Hua-Mei Construction Corporation (華美聯合建設公司) in 1965.

Chang used his influence as a former member of the military to secure construction contracts allowing his company to quickly gain a large amount of capital and a reputation as one of the most influential of its time allowing him to amass a large fortune.

Chang used his fortune to diversify his holdings and would become not only the owner of a very successful construction company but also two five-star hotels, a department store, movie theatres and several retail outlets among others.

To make a long story short though, due to Chang’s corrupt business dealings and various contract disputes in addition to a slowdown in the global market, his fall from grace was just as quick as his rise.

He fled to the USA in 1982.

Before the demise of Chang’s companies, two of his most important holdings were his prized five-star hotels - The Sesame Hotel in Taipei (台北芝麻大酒店) - also an abandoned building - as well as the Sesame Hotel and Resort (石門芝麻大酒店) in Taoyuan were places where the nation’s elite were known to frequent. 

Taoyuan’s Sesame Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel built on a mountainside near the scenic Shimen Reservoir (石門水庫) was a luxurious all-inclusive resort that opened in 1976 with an investment of more than $400 million NT dollars.

In the years between 1976 and 2008 the hotel was a popular one and became an important destination for both local and foreign dignitaries as well as celebrities. It was also a popular location for government functions with a professional staff that numbered well over a thousand.

The nine-storey pure white hotel featured over 150 suites and a presidential suite. It was designed in a way to make it stand apart from the mountain behind it and the turquoise water from the reservoir below.

On-site facilities included nightclubs, shops, cafes, restaurants, hot spring saunas, a swimming pool, an open-air cinema, solarium, tennis courts, etc.

Guests were also offered horse carriage rides around the reservoir, fishing trips, lakeside barbecues and excursions to nearby tourist areas like Daxi Old Street (大溪老街) and Cihu Mausoleum making the experience an all-inclusive stop for people of all ages.

Even though the design of the hotel was cutting edge for its time, there were a few areas that were considered not very kosher in terms of Feng Shui. The design is said to not only have confused its guests but also later contributed to gaining its ‘haunted’ status.

The top floor of the hotel for some odd reason was named the "first floor", while the ground-level floor was referred to as the "eighth-floor".

No one really knows why, and I couldn’t even assume to have any idea why anyone would make such a decision, but it apparently caused quite a bit of confusion for guests who had a hard time finding their rooms. 

As the economy started to slow down at the turn of the century, business at the hotel declined and even though the quality of the rooms remained the same, the other facilities an the resort started to become neglected in order to save money.

The lack of business and the unsightliness of the area around the resort gave people the idea the hotel was haunted, which is a reputation in Taiwan that is never good for business.

After over thirty years, the Sesame Hotel closed its doors in 2008 - The decline of the tourism industry in the area, the failure of Chang Ke-Dong’s businesses and the hotel’s reputation as a haunted house were all too much to overcome leaving the beautiful building completely bare and abandoned to the elements.

In the decade since the Sesame Hotel closed, it has become a popular place for urban explorers and tour groups who visit at night looking to freak each other out. Even though the building has been almost completely cleared out, it is in pretty good shape and offers urban explorers some pretty good opportunities for photos.

Locals may be consider the hotel to be one of the most haunted buildings in the nation but I’d argue that it is a beginner level exploration and if you are thinking about trying your hand at urbex, this one would be a good place to start.

While this one may be considered one of the "most haunted" buildings in the nation, I’d argue that it is a beginner level exploration and if you are thinking about trying your hand at Urban Exploration, this one would be a good place to start.

Not only is the building a structurally safe one to visit, all of the windows are open and the air inside is fresh meaning that you won't have to put up with the stench that is common in other abandoned buildings here in Taiwan. There is also a distinct lack of anything creepy-crawly in the building, which is an added bonus (giant spiders freak me out). 

As usual, I won’t be telling you the exact location of the hotel, but I’ve left so many clues that you should be able to figure it out on your own!