Souvenir stamping in Taiwan

Prior to my trip to Taiwan I researched extensively for some local or unique experiences. No different to planning any other trip really. However this time, I also unearthed a bit of info, that for me personally was really quite exciting….. stamping in Taiwan is a ‘thing’.

souvenir stamps from Taiwan

A selection of souvenir stamps from my Taiwan travels

Let me put this into perspective, particularly if you’re not a ‘crafter’ like myself, as otherwise I just sound a bit odd.

As a card maker/scrapbooker I’m always on the lookout for anything crafty or creative. In fact I think I’m a little unique in the travel blogging hemisphere in this sense?!

Rubber stamps have long been featured on my handmade cards, scrapbook pages and wherever I can use them. So being able to collect unique souvenir rubber stamps whilst on my travels was of course going to be a highlight.

Taiwan stamps

I’ve struggled to pin down exactly when the stamping in Taiwan originated. The Taiwan Railway released 100 stamps at selected stations in 2011, as part of the Discover Taiwan Railway project. Then a Railroad Stamp Rally took place in 2015, which gave collectors the opportunity to get special souvenir presents. These were then awarded to the first 2,000 customers.

There have also been official collectors notebooks for these railway stamps, but during my visit I couldn’t find any still available, disappointingly.

Many of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stamps have been developed in recent years, with each station now having its own design which incorporates local scenes from that area. For example see the website Taipei MRT stamps for details.

MRT stamps in Taiwan

Each MRT station has it’s own unique design

Addiction

I felt a little bit like a Pokemon Go addict… thinking I’ve gotta catch/get ’em all. I even carried my own ink pad around, which definitely came in handy.

It turned out that every single sight or landmark had its own stamps, not just the MRT stations; even shops and information counters had some. Often they had more than one! Although sometimes I had to ask for them as they were hidden away in a drawer.

So, of course, everywhere we went in Taiwan during our visit, we had to allow extra time to find stamps. It was easy at the MRT and train stations as they had little tables near the exit and sometimes you could just reach over the barrier and get the stamp without swiping through. We did stop at a few extra stations when time permitted, just for the stamp!

Find them wherever you go in Taiwan

In 2 weeks I collected over 350 individual stamps from across Taiwan. I could have filled my smash book with mostly these, but instead I picked up a little notepad and grabbed every stamp I could.

Even Phill got into the hunt for stamps. By the end of the trip we had one of the best collection of souvenirs from all of my travels. At least in my opinion ;).

What now

We stayed in 5 cities in Taiwan. More about some of those in my last post ‘10 reasons to visit Taiwan‘. So, I’m keen to consider a return visit to see more places. Of course there will be more stamps!

We also picked up a few geocaches too – something perhaps more appealing to others. Have you tried it? More about that in my post Geocaching on my travels.

I’ve since read that there are several other places in the world with stamps like in Taiwan… I’m making a list. Another reason to travel there :)!

Paint Matryoshka Russian dolls in St Petersburg

Matryoshka dolls are a typical souvenir from Russia and with so many different colour combinations and themes it’s difficult to pick out that unique set to take home.

These beautiful dolls are sold everywhere in Russia, so it’s important to consider the mass produced ones versus the hand painted creations. Some of the themes include favourite Disney characters and even footballers, very apt with the World Cup in Russia this year. The traditional classic colours tend to be yellow and red.

Local art and crafts and any chance to get creative on my travels always get me a little bit excited, so of course I went in search of somewhere to paint Matryoshka dolls when I was in St Petersburg last month.

Matryoshka Masterclass is run by Elena who offers classes daily where you can learn how to paint Matryoshka Russian dolls. Paint and decorate your own unique Matryoshka doll or set of 3 dolls. Of course I wanted to create a matching set so anticipated it would take a little longer than the advertised 2 hours.

Whilst Phill went off to visit more of the Hermitage museum; I’d already spent a day there. I sneaked off to do something creative, which was a lovely way to end my time in this beautiful city.

Matryoshka doll painting

Fortunately the dolls come ready painted with faces, as I’m sure this would have been the hardest bit with such tiny details. So to start, I only had to pick a set with either brown out blue eyes and select the 2 basic colours.

blank mtryoshka dolls

Base

Starting with the outline, is definitely a good way to get the hang of the texture of the paint. The guidelines make it fairly easy to brush on the chosen colours either side of the pencil lines indicating the edge of the dress/shawl.

paint matryoshka russian dolls

The painting does get slightly harder as you move from the larger doll to the medium one and then the baby. Repeating the colours on each. After the base is complete it’s time to work on the the front of the headdress which starts to get fiddly, particularly if you choose to adapt the design to one of the non standard options. I just added a point to the headdress and kept it simple, but making it symmetrical was challenging enough.

Features

Next, choosing one plait or two is a difficult decision. I opted for just the one, as wasn’t sure how balanced my freehand brush strokes would be at plaiting pig tails.

As time pushed on I was tasked with dotting on blobs of paint to create delicate flowers. Then more dots to decorate further and some help from Elena with the featured flowers. More dots followed and then a bit of blow drying, both the paint and then the varnish.

The hardest part is choosing the colours, not only for the dress and shawl but for the flowers and dots. Elena keeps the instructions simple so it’s fairly easy to just keep painting stage by stage, remembering you have to do each bit 3 times, if you are completing a set.

The class was small, just 5 of us, a mum and young son, plus a dad and his teenage daughter. All were Russian speakers, although I suspect at least one spoke some reasonable English, but the concentration on the painting didn’t allow much time for breaking the language barrier.

A wonderful experience and great souvenir. The more I get creative on my travels the more I want to travel for these sorts of experiences.

Handmade papers on my travels in Asia

Handmade mulberry style paper often features in my card making back home. So I am always keen to see the source of handmade papers whilst on my travels. Here are some of the destinations in Asia where I’ve found some lovely handmade papers.

Thailand

The trees in Thailand persistently grow and regenerate after harvest so it’s an eco-friendly resource – surprising for Asia maybe.

The bark is soaked and boiled with wood ash, then it is pounded into pulp. This long fibered pulp solution is placed on a submerged screen then lifted out to dry. The resulting paper is strong, beautiful, and can be made to the required thickness and size.

Stunning hand painted paper umbrella

This is all done by hand – pretty impressive!

Check out my post Papercrafts in Thailand: Bo Sang for one of the best places near Chiang Mai where you can see handmade paper being produced.

Lao

Close to Luang Prabang there’s a whole area where they create handmade paper and a variety of other handmade crafts. You can find more details in my post Papercrafts in Lao: Ban Xang Khong. Even if you’re not a papercrafter like me, this is a great place for paper souvenirs or just to spend a few hours.

Sri Lanka

I’ve found a similar production process to making paper, which is used in the recycling of elephant dung.

Whilst in Sri Lanka in 2011, I visited an elephant orphanage which I can highly recommend for animal lovers. Here I saw the full production process for elephant dung paper; starting right from the point the dung is collected off the ground outside.

If you would like to read more about this visit do have a look at my post: A lot of elephants and temples.

Nepal

In 2009 I visited Nepal and was overwhelmed by the number of shops, particularly in the capital – Kathmandu. There were many places that sold handcrafted paper items and the paper itself, in large sheets.

Nepalese Lokta Paper is made from the fiber of the “Nepal Paper Plant,” also called the Daphne Shrub or Lokta Bush. They often use beautiful bright colours in their paper – making it very distinctive.

A puppy admires the beautiful coloured powders

I was only in Nepal on a short trip so carried the appropriate container with me in order to take home the paper safely, and I still have quite a bit of it left in my craft stash now.

However, what Nepal lacked was the opportunity to see the paper being made. In both Lao and Thailand, I saw the production process from raw material through to finished products.

Do you like to get creative when you travel? I’d love to hear about what you get up to…

Papercrafts in Lao: Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang

I love to hunt out arts and crafts on my travels, and even better, actually give making something a go. There’s already plenty to do in Luang Prabang in Lao including basket weaving, pottery and embroidery (onto Hmong slippers) but of course for me the papercrafts were the first thing I went in search of.

Close to Luang Prabang is the village of Ban Xang Khong, which specialises in manufacturing and selling products made from silk and Saa Paper (paper made from the bark of the Mulberry Tree).

Whether you are just passing through, on holiday or looking for a place to source from, this area is where you will be able to fill a couple of hours admiring the other handicrafts as well as papercrafts and stock up on souvenirs.

Hand painted pictures and cards
Hand bound note books
There are a number of little stores run by local people still using traditional papermaking methods to create beautiful handicrafts.
What I enjoyed most is the opportunity to see items being entirely made by hand, including the Saa paper.
Ban Xang Khong – paper making

To be able to appreciate the diversity of products, you will have to wander through a number of shops, but the larger ones in the centre have the most variety.
How to get there:
Go to the North station (you can take the little wooden bridge if you go by bicycle). At the North station, continue for about 50 yards, and turn left (just after the petrol station). Then, go straight on. The village is on the left, along the Mekong. A great way to get there is by bicycle.

Why I try to get creative on my travels

I often end up with too much to carry, as I stuff my bag with “just a few bits” of craft stuff that I find along the way. I’m disciplined, but I’m still a crafter at heart, so I try to find each and every opportunity to get creative on my travels.

Volunteering

For example, when I was volunteering on a turtle conservation project in Tioman Island in July last year, I made ‘turtle’ ash trays out of empty drinks cans!

Recycled ash tray made from ‘Sprite’ can

See related post for more: Turtle conservation in Malaysia, and how to help.

Local Life

What I like most about getting creative on my travels, other than the obvious, is that these opportunities sometimes give me an insight into local life as well.

When I was in Chiang Mai, in November, I enjoyed getting creative with a few banana leaves, for Loi Krathong, which is celebrated at the same time as Yi Peng.

Krathong efforts

See more, including a detailed tutorial, over on my craft site: Making Krathong, banana leaves boat.

Craft supplies

Despite finding opportunities to be creative, I also can’t resist the many craft supplies around the world that I find when I travel. One of my favourites is mulberry style papers which used in the making of all sorts of products, including souvenirs, all over Asia. It’s quite popular in the craft world back home in the UK too.

Here’s a card I made with mulberry paper flowers, I found in Chiang Mai, Thailand; for my Mum’s birthday last year.

Yes, I’m a crafter at heart and I’m always trying to seek out opportunities to make something and get creative on my travels. When I can’t I just collect bits and bobs to take home and include in my scrapbook or handmade cards.