10.12.16 Sun Moon Lake

With no one in our dorm we sleep in, so a later start than we wanted to go to Sun Moon lake. 

For better info on how to get to the lake, have a look at this blog – lazygirlideas

We take the tourist shuttle bus which goes via the HSR station and takes about 2 1/2 hours. The journey drags and I’m wondering if its worth it when we round a bend and see sunlight shimmering off the lake which is surrounded by green mountains. With the blue sky above, it’s nature at its finest and I’m glad we came. 

I’ve never visited the north Italian lakes which are supposed to be beautiful but the scene in front of me reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of them.

We arrive at shuishe pier where the bus leaves us. It’s a busy tourist village and there are many bike rental shops, restaurants and tea shops. Al is off food but I dive into a leek pancake with egg. The vendor tops it with chilli sauce and its really good. Sweet, savoury and greasy, perfect for breakfast.

We follow one of the walking trails along the lakeside. It’s Saturday morning, so there’s a lot of weekenders enjoying the sunshine and glorious scenery. We read the information boards and learn about trees, plants and birds and drink in the views.

Al isn’t so feisty so I know she’s ill, and we divert from the radiant sunshine to a cafe where I try my first proper bubble tea. I love it! Sweet milky tea and toffee tasting tapioca tadpoles hoovered up through a wide straw. Riding a sugar wave, I get carried away with my travel skills and order tofu with preserved egg and scorched greens. The scorched greens are welcome but the preserved egg is more flavoursome than the last one we tried. This one smells of ammonia too but also tastes of it. I only eat half.

We stop for the loo in the tourist village before we catch the bus back. In the gents, above the urinals are quotes from Socrates and Nietzsche. Amazing.

Back in Taichung we wander round the downtown area. We watch a hip hop dance contest then crawl around bakeries. Smitten with bubble tea, I have another.

In our room we have new flatmates. A Taiwanese guy who is going to England to learn English, a guy from Hong Kong who is cycling round Taiwan and two young fellows who don’t speak. We chat to the guy learning English and try to give him advice.

Eventually, everyone goes out and Al feels better so we go for Japanese noodle soup. We get home first, followed by the cyclist who rustles carrier bags till 2am, the English student who quietly does stuff on his laptop till 3am and the quiet couple who come back separately after 2.30am. 

Cyclist snores like a vibrating bass drum amplified into a cavenous disused warehouse where the echo resonates loudly enough for seismic activity. 

Occasionally, he wakes himself up, rubs his face and starts the rhythm again, like Ravel’s Balero, starting slow and building slowly, adding bass and depth until the wallpaper vibrates.


9.12.16 Alishan trip then Chiayi to Taichung

A good nights sleep and no curtains means I’m up at 6am and I carry my stuff in stealth mode on tip toe to the communal area. Al joins me and after packing we walk to the bus station and catch an earlier bus to Alishan National Park.

The journey is 2 hours with the final 1.5 hours snaking up mountain switchbacks where vertical drops mean sections of the road have disappeared here and there. Views are breathtaking though, with morning mist sitting in green valleys and blue skies above.

From Alishan village there is a well developed network of signposted walkways which we spend the morning following. Although the sun is beaming, we have climbed a lot, so jumpers are donned. We see the old Japanese narrow gauge railway used in colonial times for logging and a huge, busy temple before we stop for tea.

Alishan is also renowned for tea due to perfect growing conditions, especially oolong. We try an oolong which is delicate and slightly sweet and a Alishan black tea which is very floral.

We follow the ancient tree trail through the atmospheric cypress wood which is dappled in sunlight. Dragonflies hover, ferns gently unfurl in a prehistoric setting where trees and rocks are covered in moss and some cypresses have stood for 2000 years. In front of us, Chinese grannies scream at each other piercing the forest stillness.

The trail turns steep and the grannies turn off and we enjoy the mossy quiet. Its an old, old environment, a reflective and thoughtful place.

Back in Chiayi we walk to the train station and an older fellow starts chatting to us. He asks what we’re doing and if we’re enjoying Taiwan and then helps us with the train and platform we need to get to Taichung. He also tells us we can use our ‘easy card’ which saves us a lot of money. Another example of how kind and helpful the Taiwanese people can be.

A short walk to our hostel and its tea for one tonight of Japanese noodle soup. Alishan has a poorly stomach.

8.12.16 Tainan to Chiayi

A short train of less than an hour and we arrive in Chiayi. The hostel checks us in but as we’re in a dorm and its 9.30 we leave our bags and head straight out.

Our destination is the National Palace Museum Southern Branch. In the gift shop of the Taipei branch were replica models of a rock shaped like pork which is a national treasure. We asked where it was and were told Chiayi, so here we are on a museum/food pilgrimage.

A free shuttle bus to the High Speed Rail station and another 10 minute bus later and we’re staring across an artificial lake at an architectural marvel. The museum was opened in 2015 and has a curved bridge over the lake to a stunning steel and glass building which houses the museum.

The huge glass atrium is light and airy and aircon cool. We ascend the curved marble steps as if we are going to a ball. An information on old stuff ball. 

There is a film about Asia and one about the history of Chiayi then we’re onto Buddhist art which all museums seem to start with. There are beautiful copies of the sutras from the 1400s.

There are exhibitions on Korean pottery and Japanese pottery which in my ignorance I can’t put into context.

An exhibition on Asian textiles with some amazingly intricate costumes and including a film on how to wear a sari.

Finally, before the exit is a history of tea which explains how the method of preparing tea has changed with historic examples of the equipment required.

The whole museum is very engaging with information in English and unbiased appreciation of how other countries (Japan, Korea, India) have influenced the Asian arena which we have not seen before.

We get to the exit and haven’t seen the pork shaped rock. We ask the attendants. They don’t understand our eloquent English or mimes of pork shaped rock so get over an English speaking colleague. “Meat?” she shouts at us and points behind the exit.

I’m amazed. Its worth the trip.

Back at Chiayi station we buy bus tickets to Alishan National Park for tomorrow. (Alison loves to be referred to as Alishan by the way so remember that in your texts and emails)

We try the local delicacy of turkey rice which is topped by a fried egg. 

In the hostel we are invited to the launch party of a new local restaurant which will sell savoury food in a waffle cone perched on a pineapple drink. The hostel owner translates the precedings to us and we see photos of the organic pineapple farm and the building where the restaurant will be. After the speeches the guests tuck into various flavours and we share a chilli pork one. It looks so colourful and tastes good.

We chat to our dorm mates which include two Swiss girls, a Canadian/Hong  Kong bloke and a Chinese man who is cycling round the whole of Taiwan in 12 days on his foldable commuter bike. Chapeau!

We crash first in the quietest, most considerate dorm we’ve stayed in.

7.12.16 Tainan Odyssey

Tell me, Muse, about the man of many turns, who many ways wandered when he had sacked Troys holy citadel.

Today we planned a voyage through Tainan to the original Dutch port area of Anping. The first street in Taiwan is said to be here. Along the way were many distractions, threatening our course.

First was chilled oolong tea. Refreshing, sweet and fruity.

Further along the road we saw a girl perched on a bamboo stool on the pavement with a bowl of braised pork rice. We pulled up tiny stools and asked the stall holder for two bowls of this food which she explained was called Ro Zao Fan. It was melting and rich.

When we paid, the stall holder gave us a gift of chilled hibiscus tea which was sweet and sour. Her husband fetched a bag of the dried flowers to show us. Such wonderful, kind people.

We continued and stumbled upon Tainan market. Piles of really fresh fish were being cleaved into pieces or filleted. Sushi stalls next door shouted “hello” and looked very enticing but people had already been drawn in and there were no seats left. The meat, veg and fruit produce on all the stalls looked very good quality, the freshness was visible. Best of all were the friendly, smiley stall holders making us feel welcome. We were tempted to stay, admiring the produce and eating but the pull of our quest drew us away.

We dropped down to the canalside and admired the garden designs. Old fishermen said “Niii Haaaooo” in a drawn out, relaxed fashion.

Our next challenge was public exercise equipment which you see in residential parks all over China. We were delayed by them for some time until minutes later we managed to subdue our inner athletes and continue our stroll.

By now the sun was high in the sky and fierce. We followed the exposed canal, grateful to the Gods that we had avoided the danger of cycling into it.

We saw trolls in a park but quietly bypassed them.

Alas, we cannot say the same of the modern sculpture garden where one shipmate was enticed by the ancient banyan tree, white bamboo and a mirrored walkway. Only the thought of food got her back on course.

Has the sun affected our minds? We pass a tree growing out of a building.

Finally, we pause for refreshment and taste the local fare. Local food gathered from land and sea, eaten by the locals for generations. Oyster omlet, shrimp rolls and fried oysters with ketchup.

Praise Poseidon we reach our destination and stroll around the ancient streets admiring trinkets designed for tourists and packaged sweets worth many gold coins.

Our adventure does not cease now though, for we must return back to our fourteenth floor abode. The hot sun has warmed the earth and with full bellies we hide in shade as we chart our course home. 

After 100 metres we see a Creme Caramel shop. Our bellies are full but our legs are weary and the thought of rest overpowers us, so reluctantly we pull ashore and taste the soft sweet goo.

With bellies so full we are in danger of capsizing we set off again but soon we see a MANGO creme caramel shop and cry out to Zeus –

“Holy Zeus, why do you curse us so?” “We just desire the hard Asian mattress and slightly damp smelling aircon of our room but you keep delaying us!”

The mango creme caramel is fruity, sweet, creamy, very wobbly and very good. To ensure product consistency we also share a lemon cheese cake. It is consistent.

Zeus must hear our cries, for our voyage is mostly smooth sailing from here, as we roll our bellies homeward. The market is closed when we pass and most food stalls are closed.

The heat has parched our throats, so nearly home, we pull ashore for one last stop of iced Heineken Green Tea. (Well, it had to be done)

Does the adventure end here you ask? Do adventures ever really end?

After dark we attempt to find a night market for supplies but our sea charts fail us and alas we are off course, so we settle for an eel restaurant. Sour eel soup and fried eel with noodles.

The End.


6.12.16 Kenting to Tainan

We checked out and crossed the road to the bus stop. A taxi driver shouted at us but we smiled and pointed to the bus stop. In the hotel behind it, we bought two tickets to go to Kaohsiung train station and the lady explained we needed to wait for 20 minutes and pointed to a sofa. Al waited and I popped to 7/11 for bananas. The taxi driver shouted at me again and I smiled and said we had bus tickets. Half way down breakfast the taxi driver appears in the hotel lobby and chats to the lady who sold us the bus tickets. ‘Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung’ he shouts at us. ‘No money, no money’. I point to the bus timetable and look to the lady for help. She seems to say its fine so we show him the tickets and watch as money crosses the counter between them. Bags in the boot we head off. He shouts at us ‘bus three hour, taxi two’ and we smile. We pass another hotel and he stops in the road and shouts. It occurs to us that he’s going to fill the cab. 10 mins later and with five of us in the car we leave Kenting. 

As all taxi drivers do the world over, when the meter isn’t on, he drives at full speed. Tap, tap, tap on the accelerator as we constantly lurch forward, heads bobbing back and forth, stomachs reeling as if we have been punched. He undertakes trucks using the cycle lane, switches lanes in heavy traffic at high speed, answers calls on his two phones (shouting, obviously) and constantly fiddles with his dashboard.

I find him fascinating. He constantly touches the back of his head, smoothing his hair. He has a good luck charm hanging from his rear view mirror which has a bell on it. Sometimes as we speed round a bend he grabs it so it doesn’t ring, sometimes he will ring it himself. He sits upright in the drivers seat but with the back lowered. His seatbelt is across his lap but the diagonal chest strap is behind him against his chair. His default communication method is shouting. He checks his mobile every few minutes. He seems frantic.

Later, after a fellow passenger has got out and paid we stop at a big junction. The driver pulls out a massive bundle of banknotes and with a level of OCD that I can only aspire to, carefully irons out all the creases of the banknotes with his long fingernails and meticulously folds each note precisely in half before adding it to the bundle alongside notes of the same value, facing the same direction. The car is rolling forward the whole time,  slowly inching across the white line, encroaching into the junction. I’m relieved when the light changes and he floors it.

We arrive exactly two hours after we left but have aged more than two hours. I’d rather have taken the bus.

We buy train tickets to Tainan and a random sushi selection and board the old but spacious carriage. I love the old Taiwan trains as you have so much room between seats.

The journey is only 50 mins which now seems hardly any time to settle in and enjoy the scenery. 

Our hotel is across from the station, a big, fourteen floor, curved building which is past its heyday, but is clean and we have an ensuite!

In the afternoon we complete a twelve temple walking tour with a cake stop. The temples here are located within residential areas and busy, giving them a vibrant feel. They are also old, with dark wood interiors, faded murals and aged statues. Tainan was founded by the Dutch and used to be the capital of Taiwan and the temples give a real feel of history to the city. We have already seen a few temples on this trip and are sad to say that recently we are uninterested in sights that would have fascinated us three months ago but we really enjoy visiting the temples this afternoon.

Tainan is also renowned amongst Taiwanese for its food. For tea we go to a recommended restaurant which serves many of the local delicacies. We try oyster omelette, milk fish stomach, tao zi noodles, sweet potato leaves, steamed rice cake, meat dumplings and shrimp rolls washed down with white gourd tea. It is not spicy or herby but sweet and delicate food with great fresh ingredients. 

Stuffed, we walk home but unfortunately pass a cupcake shop and as its three months since we left, celebrate with cupcakes and a Guinness brownie.

5.12.16 Kenting

We walked to Kenting National Park in hot, sunny weather. Even the cows were soaking up some rays.

Then we went to the beach. There was just us and 5 surfers. About 3pm other people arrived and by sunset there was almost 30 people.

We ate local Hakka cuisine in the evening.

Then we had a beer and watched Anchorman 2. We laughed a lot. We’re loving seeing movies again.

4.12.16 Kenting – Sunday at the Beach

In two days it’s three months since we left. Alison likes hot weather and although I have freckles, feeling the heat of the sun on your skin is one of lifes simple pleasures. When we crossed Siberia we’d be liars to say thoughts of sunshine never came to us.

Where sea and sand are warmed by the sun, happiness occurs.

Today we go to the beach!

The sand is smooth underfoot but the beach is steep so those glass like aquamarine blue waves have a dangerous undertow. Perfect for British paddling. It’s hot. Thirty degrees. Factor 30 required for those with pasty English skin.

We assume salamander position and soak up the warmth. 

Waves crash noisily against the beach. What a beautiful hypnotic sound.

Wispy clouds cross the sky followed  by the sun’s ark.

The peace is broken when a huge lizard jumps onto my leg. I cooly usher it off.

Home for a shower then back for sunset, accompanied and enhanced by cold Taiwan beer.

We step out of the hotel to the Night market outside for food. 

Taiwanese sausage and chips.

Meat pancake and spring onion pancake.

Xiaolongbao. 

A chat with a zebra.

Finally, home for a movie in English. Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Spoiler Alert! – someone kills his dog, he kills everyone.

3.12.16 Hualien to Kenting

In the free breakfast bun fight we threw together a fried egg and ham on top of grilled cheese on toast and felt quite Ready Steady Cook. 

We got on our mini bus and did the usual trailing around hostels and hotels in town to pick up others, then we were on our way to Kenting. It is a national park in the southern tip of Taiwan, so sunshine should be guaranteed. 

We had a few stops to make on the way so it wasn’t just driving all day in the minibus. There were a couple of Chinese blokes with us and a Canadian. The Canadian didn’t like Angkor Wat. Nuff said. 

The scenery was stunning, the first stop was here. We are back to the mini bus on time. 

Second stop was at Shitiping (I know, you couldn’t make this shit up!!!!) and the scenery was like this and were late back to the mini bus. 

Third stop was the tropic of cancer and we were late back to the mini bus. 

Fourth stop was here, it was some hump backed bridge. 

Next stop was to see water flowing uphill, we weren’t late back to the bus. No explanation as to why the water was flowing uphill, you were just supposed to say Wow. 

Lunch was next,  I thought I was ordering beef tendon noodle soup, I ordered cooked, sliced and dried beef tendon, it was soft and slightly chewy. Guy’s pork, veg and rice was ok. It is the closest to service station food we have come across.

Next stop was a railway going into a tunnel, coz that never happens in this mountainous country! 

But I did also have an amazing mango icecream so it was worth the visit. We were last back to the bus, again!By the time we got to Kenting we felt like proper Chinese tourists.

The hostel is clean and lovely, even have towel swans in the room to greet us. 

We need food and there is a night market outside our door so we wander up and down eating very unhealthy food, again. 

A blurred photo of some white sausages we keep seeing, they are sticky rice sausages and tasteless. 

French fries with ‘cheese’ sauce and ‘meat ‘ sauce,  not particularly Taiwanese but tasty.

Potato and cauliflower cheese, yes that is broccoli,  we were so happy to see some broccoli!

Fried chicken which has lemon juice on it, delicious. 

Deep fried milk, this is sweet and delicious, would eat again!

Finally sweetcorn which was hard and tasteless,  would not eat again.

Back to room and we have a bunk each and a tv each! So we settle in to watch the English language movie channel!!!! I know!  We are so excited and settle down to watch Escape from LA (excellant sci fi with Kurt Russell’s tongue firmly in his cheek!) and Night before Xmas (made us a little sad, but was LOL at times). 

Was ace to watch films again. 

2.12.16 Hualien – Taroko Gorge

…..we didn’t get a good nights sleep. Before I moan about it, I apologise to everyone I know who has kids and who is kept awake every night.

The couple in the bunk below us arrive back at 11.30pm and shower and use the REALLY LOUD hairdryer and then go out again at midnight. They are back at 1.40 which wakes us and then have some fun time in each others company which keeps us awake. 

Yes. In the bunk below us. They are presumably aware we are there as they said hello to us earlier. There is also another bloke in a single bunk in the room too. In case anyone is interested, they were quieter than the Shanghai couple.

Their alarm goes off at 4.40am and is snoozed until it goes off again at 4.45am. Then one of them packs noisily and leaves.

Our alarm goes at 7am and we dress and go for the free breakfast bun fight. Someone pops our bread out of the toaster before it’s done which angers me beyond reason but I suspect I’m tired.

We catch the local bus with many other tourists to Taroko Gorge, the big draw here. There are many trails leading off the main valley and Al has chosen three to walk today. First is Shakadang trail a well marked route following a river which is a beautiful clear powder blue colour. We slowly overtake elderly Chinese tourists and marvel at the striated marble cliffs and boulders. 

Its a lovely scene with the green vegetation on the mountains around us  and we are enjoying stretching our legs until a notice informs us the trail is closed due to typhoon damage.

Back to the bus stop and up the valley to Yanzikou or Swallow gorge which is spectacular in its depth and scary in its height. Rock falls here kill tourists and all tour groups have hard hats on. We hug the cliff face and nervously look upwards.

The final trail is Lushui, an old trail used by Japanese colonialists which winds through the forest. Signs warn us about wasps, bears and snakes but somehow we enjoy the trail.

In the park toilets Al sees an enormous spider!

For tea we cross the road and have some traditional Taiwanese food of pork with rice, sesame noodles, dumplings and green veg with pork. Its not the best looking restaurant but the food is fabulous.

 

1.12.16 Taipei to Hualien

Heavy rains on the corrugated iron roofs outside meant a bad nights sleep. The advent calendar we brought with us is at the bottom of my rucksack too.

We are leaving Taipei and would be very sad about it if we didn’t know we were coming back. We buy train tickets for the slow train to Hualien which saves us £2.50 each but adds 1.5 hours onto our journey. Time is something we are rich in.

The train is quiet with few passengers,  something we never saw in China. We stare at the wet, grey scenery and watch it become hilly, green, wet scenery. We crawl along the east coast where the rough sea is a deep blue flecked with white foam and lush mountains descend sharply. Beaches are strewn with washed up wood and unspoilt. Its a beautiful coastline and we are even treated to blue skies.

After a bad exit to the wrong side of the tracks we find the hostel and dump bags. The hostel is very stylish, exposed concrete floors and wooden planks, retro distressed furniture and neon signs. We have a double bunk bed! Weird.

Its a bad time to eat, between lunch and tea when restaurants are tidying up or preparing so we eat onigiri from 7/11.

After doing our washing and booking the next few days its dark so we go to a nearby dumpling restaurant for fried curry and Korean spicy dumplings and corn chowder and swordfish and octopus soup. The dumplings are very good.

We head back to the hostel, crash early and read looking forward to a good nights sleep…….