Showing posts with label hehuanshan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hehuanshan. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Sorry. I know it's been almost a month.

I'm just...busy. I'm getting married in three weeks. In a large wedding. That we planned from the other side of the planet. A wedding on something of a budget in which huge sections that most people delegate to paid professionals...are done by us. DIY. And while B's family has been fantastic, mine have been a little on the dramaaaaatic side. I love them anyway, but it's true.

And yeeess, I took the photo above. I did not rip it out of a calendar or scan a postcard. I took that!

Just goes to show that no matter how much the Taipei basin overpopulates, and no matter how much crap fills the air from China next door (cough cough, wheeze), and now much industry blights the west coast (industry that keeps the economy humming, I know), there's a reason why Taiwan is also called Formosa. It really, truly and deeply is a gorgeous place. It's east, northeast and south coasts, islands and northern mountains along with the central mountains are absolutely stunning. No two ways about it. They say China is beautiful and in some places, it's true. Taiwan still has that beauty - I can't help but think that huge tracts of it have been destroyed in China - tumbled temples, ravaged environments and filthy ecosystems, razed meadows and forests, blanched mountains, depressing zoos, bilious rivers.

It's truly a gem of a place and it's too bad that so many people don't realize it - they think "Taiwan" and it's synonymous with "my keyboard was made there". Not with "mind-bending mountain vistas and cloud seas". Or, if they're a little more astute, maybe they associate it with Sun Moon Lake or Alishan or some such. Eh. I'm sorry, but the sheer vastness, the gut-punching raw beauty of the drive from Puli to Lishan and down to Yilan shoves those tourist-blighted spots down to pale also-rans. And yet you see so few travelers up there.

Which is good, in a sense. I have it all to myself when I go - which is every few years when I need a soul-resting break and a reminder that I am truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Vistas like the one above are good for things like that. When you're planning a wedding - a large wedding, a DIY wedding, a nontraditional wedding, from a distance, you need that perspective sometimes.

So we rented a car - the bus is an option, but it sucks - you can't scream "WOOOO!" out the windows, play burned mix CDs, lean out the window and stop where you please to eat, take pictures or run around shouting about how beautiful it all is. We burned piles of music, grabbed the car at Taizhong HSR Station (CarPlus - recommended. Very good service though their good cars book out fast - we ended up with a Mitsubishi Colt when a Toyota Camry or Altis (Corolla) would have done better. You can return the cars elsewhere for a $1200 NT fee - we returned ours in Taipei. They do insist that you have an International Driver's Permit and they do check.

Anyway, here are some photos of our recent weekend in Lishan for you:

Farms of Lishan with Snow Mountain peaking out the top.

Drew and Emily in the creepy abandoned church.

View from the ridge just below Lishan's main town.

Side doors of creepy abandoned church.

View, I believe, from Fushoushan.

Creepy abandoned church.

One of the peaks of Hehuan Mountain. At this point I turned back toward the soaring views beyond and shouted "WOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOHOOOO!" at passing cars. A lot of people shouted back!

And no, the roads are not that safe. Drive carefully, use your horn, watch the mirrors and be prepared to brake at a moment's notice.

Clouds rolling in.

Emily at Fushoushan.

Happy folks from Tainan on a weekend trip. It is amazing, the hospitality up in the mountains - we shared tea, shared food, swapped stories and had conversations with so many people.

Books in the abandoned church.

Drew in a sniper hole at Fushoushan.

Maple leaves at our farm homestay, right outside our door, from the porch. I loved that in the evenings we could sit out there, drink tea, futz around and enjoy the cool (cool!) air.

Fruit and tea grown near Lishan. Lishan's fruit, vegetables and high mountain tea are superb.

Harvesting snow pears in Lishan.

Awwwww. Me and Brendan.

The new, less creepy, church.

This reminds me of the lyric of a favorite song, "Falling Is Like This" - One minute there was road beneath us - and the next just sky..."

Flower at Fushoushan.


"The Old England: Since 2009"

Rose after a nighttime rain in Lishan

Pears at Fushoushan.

The owner of our farm homestay - Mingxiu (明秀) - it's a kilometer down a steep hill from the top of Lishan proper, but totally worth it. Not cheap ($1500-$2000 /night for a double room with electric blanket, cable TV, hot water and other amenities in a cabin built with local wood) but the best deal in town for what you get and the lovely setting, if you ask me. The owner and his family are very friendly. Drop me a comment if you are ever interested in staying there - I highly recommend it.

More farming near Lishan.

Street food stand with the best damn view in the country.

Since 2009.

Tea at a farm stand just off Hehuanshan.

Farming near Nanshan in the Lanyang Valley.

Lanyang River Valley - after Lishan you basically head down, leaving Taizhong county and entering Yilan County. The signage is terrible once you hit Yilan.

Lanyang River Valley from the top of the mountain on the way down.
View from pagoda on the way to Tianchi lake at Fushoushan Farm about 4km up from Lishan and walkable for those hardy enough - though we drove.

Fushoushan trees.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chinese New Year Extrava-freakin'-ganza

So, we set off the day after Chinese New Year for a quick trip to Central Taiwan - the plan was to head up to Cingjing farm and hike a bit - well, walk happily in the mountain air anyway - before heading over Hehuanshan to Lishan, which our friend Emily has never been to. I've been through Cingjing twice but never stopped, but have always wanted to poke around a bit more and figured that this past week was my chance.

Oh, how I was wrong. It rained the entire time we were there, and as we were camping, in a tent, in the cold and the rain, it was mostly just miserable. We didn't feel like hiking because there was no view due to fog, and the rain was cold and horrible, and we were all already damp from tent-livin' and walking around in the cascading streams and rivulets of water around the campsite.

So, we hunkered down at Starbucks for the first day, hoping that our second day would be clearer (we were told it would be cloudy but it was not likely to rain). Emily drew a picture of what we could see from the vantage points around Cingjing:

We woke up the next day and while chilly, the sky had cleared enough to show us what we were missing: lovely views from the campsite. I snapped a few photos and am happy I did; within 20 minutes the fog was back and it was all obscured again for the rest of our stay.

And it rained some more.

Though when NOT raining, it's a gorgeous place, walkable from the bus stop and so good for visitors without their own transport. Traffic was horrible on the main road, which surprised us because it would make more sense for the weather to drive people away despite the national holiday. The owner of the lodge was very brusque and tactless, but also motherly: she'd make fun of us for sleeping in (it was COLD. And WET. And there was no view. Our sleeping bags were warm and dry. What else were we going to do?), drinking too much (it was not too much, it was about what you'd expect from three vacationers stuck in the mountains with nothing to do) and all around being weird...but then provide us with hot cooked meals as we had not brought our own stove and help us out in all sorts of ways. She also cares about aboriginal rights and economic development, and hires only local aboriginal people as workers. She yells at them the way any laobanniang (boss lady) would yell at subordinates, but also looks out for them.

To reserve grass space for a tent (NT300/night), a platform (NT800/night) or a pre-set-up 4-person tent (NT1600-1800/night) or one of their small sheltered rooms with a bathroom, call 049-2801001. The owner speaks some English but not much. To get there, get off the bus at the top of the farm (the final farm stop - NOT the Mist Center as you enter the farm - it's a large gate to a grassland with sheep and a kiosk for NT100 admission tickets). Do not enter (do not buy a ticket) but get back on the main road and walk downhill about 50 meters. Ignore the 1st sign near a parking lot for a campsite - if you can't read Chinese, it's OK, the phone # above is also on all signs - and turn left at the 2nd sign. Go downhill past cows, sheep and a huge creepy mansion. When you get to the bottom, the lodge and campsite is on the right and they play music during business hours. They have outdoor and indoor toilets (indoor open during lodge hours 7am-10:30pm), hot water, food, snacks, extra gas and other supplies for sale, beer, hot water and beverages and will feed you good meals for a fee per meal (breakfast is included free at the whim of the owner). If you bring your own mini-stove you'll be all set. There is parking if you are driving.

We mostly stayed in the lodge the 2nd day - we never wanted to see Starbucks ever again - playing cards, drinking tea and generally socializing because it was either that or stew in our shot-to-hell vacation.

At least the views from the walk up to the main road were nice, with gnarly trees poking through the fog:

...and if you measure your vacations by time spent with friends drinking beer, sharing millet wine with locals and meeting new people as well as reading novels in your spare time, the Cingjing Farm fiasco was a great success. If you measure it by gorgeous views, hiking and outdoorsy activities, it was something of a massive FAIL.

The Fengyuan Bus to Lishan was not running as snow on Hehuanshan had not been cleared from the road. The campsite laobanniang knows a driver named Mr. Chen (I know, everyone is named Mr. Chen here) with snow tires who makes the trip every day and will take people for NT600-800 per person depending on the size of your group (up to 4 I think). There are also taxis in Cingjing who will take you anywhere but they are a lot more expensive. They're run by a guy - Mr. Wang - whose business card denotes him as "Old Master". We thought about it but then called Lishan and learned that it was also raining there, so instead we chose to try it another time and head back to Puli.

Puli is a drab little town with gorgeous views in the foothills of the Central Mountains and a rich history. With no good local public transport and no one spectacular thing to do we probably wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been rainy in the mountains, but once we did we were really happy we chose to check it out. At first it was a "oh well, I guess this will suffice" but by the end of our day there, we were all thinking "man, that was really great!" We even have stuff to return to see - like the massive monastery - so we'll be back.

The outskirts of Puli, where the mountains are more visible than many towns not at a high altitude:

Notice the clouds low-slung above them. This was taken at the entrance to the lane to the Paper Museum.

In town, there were many small but poignant reminders of the 9/21 earthquake, such as spots with demolished buildings, where nobody had bothered or been able to take away striking little details, like books in old bookcases, sitting in a casement high above the ground:

This was taken outside YoYo coffee, the only coffee we could find near our hotel (the youth hostel outlined as a good option in Rough Guide Taiwan). The coffee is good but they don't open early enough! The hostel was great - I highly recommend it. NT600/night and while I guess the apartment-like dorm offered would be crowded if entirely full, it was empty so the four of us felt we were living in absolute luxury for the final day of our trip - and after 2 nights in a freezing wet tent we were grateful for it. The hostel provides rooms off of a central living room with couches and cable TV, a good bathroom with full bath and hot water, towels, a kitchen (no gas hookup though) and several bedrooms. There is internet in the "lobby" (also a lottery store) downstairs on a good computer. The boss (also a woman though a man works there too) is very friendly and speaks good English.

We first stopped by the Shaoxing Brewery which was fun in a corny sort of way, as well as poignant - the English on many signs was horrifically funny. We got a kick out of the commemorative Puli Shaoxing bottles:

You can buy one with Ma Ying-jiu on it in the shop downstairs. They also had one with an old photo of A-bian and Wu Shu-zhen labeled "A-bian and A-zhen: Brewed With Love".

Poignant because of the section dedicated to the damage to the brewery following the 9/21 earthquake.

And corny with little attractions like the House of Drunk Experiencing:

...I am pretty sure that is not how I feel when drunk.

But all in all it was an earnest effort and we had fun, plus the "VIP tasting room" at the end was fantastic - 50 kuai for a free glass and a generous taste of a product of your choice. We got more than one (I tried brandy, Ailian wedding liquor and Shaoxing 10 year aged wine) but I am not sure that is customary. The shops downstairs yielded affordable sake that we enjoyed that night, some snacks and treats and a new jar of face cream for me that is working well.

The next morning we made our way by taxi to the paper factory. The Rough Guide says one should hire a taxi for the day as sites are spread out and there aren't any local buses, but we disagree. We really only needed a taxi for the paper museum, and we'd have needed one to go to the huge monastery, but for the other museums it was really all walkable.

On the way up the road we passed a family producing and selling honey and honey products:

And bought a bottle of their delicious honey.

The paper factory was also fun, and I can see why kids would love it. We got a free, and informative, short guided tour, watching workers creating, drying and peeling paper.

Then we bought some paper (very affordable) at the gift shop and made our own prints: well as buying some very reasonably priced gifts and souvenirs. We then ate lunch and headed to the Museum of Natural Lacquerware, which is not really a "museum" but is a very interesting stop and definitely worth visiting. We learned a bit about Taiwanese lacquer products, and saw the trees that lacquer comes from:

As well as looking at the items - some artifacts, some samples, some setups of different Asian countries' method of lacquer production, some examples of refined, unrefined, clear, brown, black and red lacquers. Apparently this is how they test the quality:

And this is the lacquer master at work making spoons.

The tour is given by this guy's niece, and she's clearly taken a course in giving an engaging tour as she used some of the tricks, hooks and presentation skills I've taught my own students at companies where they will need to give tours or show foreigners around. We appreciated that - it made it, in Emily's words, "more interesting than the National Palace Museum" because the explanations were so good. It was kind of a "toot their own horn" thing - look how great natural lacquer is, by the way you can buy some here", but we honestly didn't mind as it was fun, and the products on sale were quite nice and not astronomically priced.

Our last stop was a taxi ride from Puli to Caotun on the way to Taizhong with heavy packs in the trunk - remembering this post by the Daily Bubble Tea about Ci De Temple in Caotun, we figured we ought to have a look. It's not hard to find if you go to Caotun town, have the name of it written in Chinese and preferably a printout of the map outlined on Todd's website. I recommend taking a taxi if you don't feel like walking up a steep hill. With our heavy bags, the taxi was the right choice and the driver himself was rather astounded at the temple at the top.

Rather than re-describe this masterpiece of weird, read The Daily Bubble Tea's post on it and enjoy some photos!

(On a positive note, we got to meet the guy who built the thing, Mr. Zhang. He's quite a friendly guy and was excited to show us the gift another foreigner had given him - a Batman keychain flashlight).