December 19 and 20, 2017
Manila to Chiayi
Leaving Manila on a rainy Tuesday for the 1140pm flight to Taiwan, ROC (Taoyuan Airport).
Have booked flights as early as August hoping that the free visa to PHL passports would take effect before our trip.
Armed with all the useful mobile apps (Taiwan Bus, Taiwan Metro,Taiwan Railway System) to guide us on our 9-day journey exploring Central, Western, Northern and Eastern Taiwan. The only part left out was Southern Taiwan (Kaohsiung and Kenting areas) as we needed 3 additional days to explore.
We arrived at the Taoyuan Airport at 2am. We stayed for 3.5 hours waiting for the opening of the pocket wifi kiosk to retrieve our device. At 6am, we went to the ground floor to board the airport shuttle bus to Taoyuan High Speed Rail (HSR) station. As we went out, the freezing wind got through our Pinoy outfits (jeans, long sleeved shirt and rubber shoes). We were freezing and immediately took out the thick jackets, scarf, gloves and bonnets. The trip took us only 20 minutes to the HSR station.
We purchased our HSR tickets from Taoyuan to Chiayi in Central Taiwan and left in 10 minutes. The 300 km distance only took an hour on board their very efficient and on-time bullet trains, (I can only wish for this to be brought to the PHL). At 715 am, we took our breakfast at a convenience store inside the HSR station and also bought our Easycard (this is similar to the HK Octopus card).
Chiayi to Alishan
At 830am we were in platform 3 to take Bus no.7329 to Alishan.
It’s a mountain county known for its beautiful mountain tea plantation, giant cypress trees, an old but still functional railway built by the Japanese before the World War, bento lunch boxes, refreshing and calming Oolong tea and cold climate. The trip took us 3 hours.
Reserving a good and strategic place was a challenge for an AirBnB patron like me. After 2 months of browsing in Trivago and Booking.com, we got lucky in reserving a cozy triple room in Wankou Hotel.
Alishan County Proper
After settling in, we headed to the Tourist Center just a few steps to the Alishan Railway. We had our first lunch of real Taiwanese cuisine-an eclectic mix of vegetables, some meat and delicious passion fruit, bamboo shoots, mushroom, dumplings and rice.We washed down everything with a refreshing cup of Alishan mountain tea.
From the center, one can see the eroded mountain where one attraction once was. An earthquake destroyed the area and hasn’t been opened since, Using zoom lens, the destroyed road can be seen.
We explored a little area of the county walking through its paved walkways. At 2pm, it was already 8degrees Celsius. Not much for a Westerner but quite uncomfortable for people who grew up in a tropical country like the PHL.
We took a rest until 5pm and at 6pm we again went out to check the town for dinner. We were served with Mountain Deer Hotpot. It was paired with stir fried noodles and rice plus Oolong mountain tea.
The crisp and cold mountain air crawled into my “Grandma coat” which I also lovingly called “Ginger coat” named after my Yorkie. It was really cold. The night was capped by hot tea and the cookies infused with coffee and tea which we bought from a local store.
December 20 and 21
Fun in Formosa (The train to Zhushan, Ogasawara and ANFRA then Yuchih)
Other than the old railway and oolong tea, Alishan is also known for its beautiful sunrise in Zhushan. On a clear day, one can even get a glimpse of Mount Yushan (or Jade Mountain or Snow Mountain). To get to Zhushan, a ticket reservation at the Alishan station must be made on or before 4pm on the day before the trip. We overslept on the day we arrived so we were not able to reserve tickets. However, I refused to give up and did some reading before we slept. We can buy tickets even on the day of the trip itself. We just need to wake up early and buy or tickets.
I woke the boys up at 430 am. After some whining and requests to extend sleep, they went up their feet and we headed outside towards the Alishan Railway station. It was 4 degrees celsius.
When we arrived at the station, we thought that all visitors planned to view sunrise… it was packed with sleepy yet very excited visitors (mostly Chinese). I went to the ticket window and bought 3 tickets (NTD150 each one way and roundtrip is NTD300 each). We were scheduled for the second trip. The schedule of the trips were made depending on the time of sunrise. We left at 550am and sunrise was at 634am.
Being transported in a train running on old and ascending and winding tracks was a bit nostalgic. The train chugged its way to the misty forest and I’m slowly rejuvenated by the refreshing smell of cypress and mossy trees. Eventually, the Amoy-Kumot smell of my seatmates in the train faded.
The train stopped at Zhaoping Station to pick up more passengers from the posh hotels in the area (Alishan House and Alishan Gou Hotel). At 620am, we alighted from the train and started to explore the Zhushan viewing point. There were Chinese tour guides chanting something and we were bit disappointed on the size of the crowd.
We started to hike up and checked our maps. We were headed to Mt. Ogasawara.
Our itchy feet got lucky choosing the correct trail. Indeed, unpaved trails lead to beautiful places. The red maple leaves scattered on the trail and the cherry blossoms (not yet in bloom) give that winter and fresh feeling. It is different from my hardcore mountain climbs in the PHL were I usually get to see dried pine needles or perennial grass and sometimes nasty limatik while walling on stony or muddy trail (if you are lucky to have a trail).
After a short hike, we arrived at Mt. Ogasawara. It was developed but not as crowded as Zhushan. The sun slowly peeped from the summit and to the west was the sea of clouds sprawled in the lowlands. All around were Taiwan red maple or Hayata, Magnolia and azaleas ( I read markers and take down notes…hahaha).
We headed back to the Zhushan station and went on board the train after taking photos. The hotel offered free breakfast. It was different.The pancit lacked the usual ingredients I see in Ongpin, the porridge tasted like “am’ but the pickled cucumber and soya milk were yummy. After breakfast we headed to the 711 to reserve bus tickets to Sun Moon Lake in Yuchih then went back to the hotel to check out.
We left the luggage at the hotel and headed back to the Alishan forest trails. The hotel proprietor said that the entire trail can be completed in 3.5 hours. Because we were fast walkers, we finished the entire hike in 2 hours. Everything was paved either with wood or stones. Several interesting attractions can be seen along the trail. Cherry Blossom trail was near the Zhaoping station, then we passed by the huge and elegantly decorated Shouzen Temple, Zhouzhi bridge (shaped like a boat), Magnolia Garden and then Sister Ponds. The Giant Cypress trees were also interesting. Some were more than a century old (around 30 trees), some were felled by typhoons and seeds sprouted and grew inside the trunk of fallen trees (called three generation trees). Some were given names like Elephant Trunk, three brothers, etc.
At 1230pm, we were at the hotel and brought to the bus station for a trip to Sun Moon Lake in Yuchi.
The trip was 4 hours. The hotel we booked was just across the bus stop and overlooking the spacious parking lot. After settling in, we explored the park near LongFeng Temple but didn’t get inside as it was already late. We just enjoyed the cool breeze and had delicious noodle dinner. Unfortunately, Yuchi does not serve any meat dishes at the time we were there because of a festival banning meat. We settled for tofu. And mushroom as meat substitutes.