11.12.16 Taichung to Taipei – An End Has A Start

So, someone rustled plastic bags at 4.30 and left,  and the cyclist rustled more bags at 6.30am so we didn’t need an alarm.

As we were making our way back to Taipei we were in a really good mood, despite the lack of sleep!  Guy had a Mos Burger breakfast, my stomach was feeling ok again so I had cheese straws and cake! 

We swiped our ezy cards and went to our usual platform for our usual train to Taipei. Well, maybe usual is a little strong, but we had done this same trip about 2 weeks earlier so felt like we knew what we were doing! Only the train was heaving, absolutely rammed, we got seats and settled in for a 3 hour journey stopping at every station on the way with a constant flow of people.

Arriving at Taipei main station the place was full of people and many Muslims, there was a lovely smell of clove cigarettes outside, we had no idea it was a Muslim holiday, but knew about it now. Taipai Main Station is like a familiar old friend, there are enough food vendors there to keep you going for a whole year, and they all look amazing.  A little different to the sad Pumpkin cafes in UK. We had seen a Japanese curry house there previously, Coco curry, and headed there. It was delicious! 

We eventually found somewhere to leave our bags and went on a fruitless search for a phone in an electronic geeks paradise, Guanghau market, the smell of testosterone was overpowering! 

Phones were no cheaper than home so we decided I would do a social experiment and do without a mobile phone for a couple of months, no WhatsApp communication for me! I still have email and Facebook if you wish to contact me. 

We had a rendezvous at 4.30 with our Air Bnb hosts and were taken to a fab little apartment which was our home of a couple of nights.

It was airy, clean and had a TV with movie channels, we contemplated staying in all night but stomachs were rumbling so we headed out and got shredded chicken on rice with the aid of pointing and lonely planet phrases. Simple and delicious. 

We got back to our apartment to see the 5th element followed by Guardians of the Galaxy, and slept like babies  (although really babies don’t sleep so that phrase is nonsense).

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.

Xiamen to Taichung ferry and train to Taipei advice

We travelled overnight in November 2016 from Xiamen, China to Taichung, Taiwan, this is how we managed logistics and is being posted to help anyone else planning on doing the same. 

We booked our tickets through Amoy travel, all online and very quick to respond. All that was required was to pick tickets up from the ferry port before 4.30. Fine, but there was no indication of opening time of the stand, it is 2pm.

As with most things we have done in China there are groups of Chinese tourists but few, if any, non Chinese. Just 2 Danish guys were on the ferry as well as us.  

The ferry is very basic! One restaurant, no bar and very little duty free (and not cheap) so take your own food and drinks, albeit the restaurant is o.k. We had fried rice, seaweed soup for 25 yuan. There were signs for karaoke booths and sauna but neither were open. So we ate and went back to bunks for lights out at 10.20 pm. They were back on at 5.50 am along with music soon after. 

We did get a key for our room from reception, deposited 100 yuan, but it was hardly worth it for the amount of time you are out of the bunks. There are the outside decks to wander round but it was so windy and wet that these were closed off after a while on our trip. There was a ‘lounge’ with 8 chairs in the corridor. 

On leaving the ferry at Taichung through immigration we had help from a guy who worked at the port, there were no ATM’s and he was able to change some currency for us (rate was o.k.- 450 NT$ for 100 yuan, should have been 465) 

He then helped us get the green bus no. 308 at 9.20am from the right hand side of exit from harbour building, cost NT$ 66 each. Bus had English announcements and signs at most stops,  the driver was very friendly and helpful the train station is the last stop. The journey took 1hr 15 mins. A taxi was quoted as TW$800.

We then caught the train to Taipei, so as Taichung station is currently being rebuilt (next door) we followed people walking through the old building to the new, bought tickets with UK credit card and waited for our train. The slow train takes 3 hours and cost TW$140 each. 

The biggest frustration in Taipei on arrival was finding an ATM, we did find one in a 7/ 11 outside Taipei Main Train Station. 

23.11.2016 Chunderville to Taichung to Taipei

Wow! What a night! 

Kids wailing, women screaming, men hacking up, dozens of people puking (then hacking up), being jolted awake (if you were asleep) by the metallic hull of the ship slamming into waves, like a giant brass gong. 

Guy managed some sleep, I was just nodding off when the lights and music started up at 5.50am. We weren’t due in til 8.30am. 

There were a lot of ashen faced Chinese tourist groups on board, they really don’t have sea legs all. 

We have also decided not to go to Antarctica either. 

Still we are in Taiwan, a new country with new customs and food to explore. Firstly we need cash, there is no ATM at the ferry port. Why would you???

We change cash with a helpful bloke in the port who also guides us to the bus, gives us leaflets galore on the town and what to see and eat here. And amazing it is in English. 

1 hour and 15 mins later were are at the train station and purchased tickets with our UK credit card. This is sooo much easier than China!

We are Air BnB’ing it here, and check in isn’t til 7 so we have time to kill.

The slow train takes 3 hours and we doze, fitfully, to Taipei. It feels very friendly, many more people can speak English and are willing to help you or just welcome you to Taiwan! We are also seeing westerners again, which is exciting. 

We were starving once we got to Taipei, but still cashless so eventually found an ATM and then had Japanese ramen dishes as a first Taiwanese meal. 

It is wet, absolutely tipping it down so we make our way over to our Air BnB area, do a reccie on the location and kill a couple of hours in Cafe 85 with a ginger tea and slice of cake. 

Eventually, our hostess Fiona arrives and lets us in, making us feel at home and tea. We chat to a lady in the next room and crash, knackered.