08/26/2018 - 08/26/2018
I woke up a bit later than I had wanted, had breakfast, and tried to get out of the hotel for the first bus, but that wasn't happening.
When I first tried to catch the second bus, I was wearing jeans and brought a sweatshirt in anticipation of the rain that was supposed to come today.
It was still early and not as hot as it was going to get, but already I could tell that jeans would not be fun, so I quickly ran back up to change, knowing that if the bus was on time, I might be really close.
As I stood on the street corner, waiting for the light to change so that I could cross the street to the bus stop, I saw 2 tourist-looking buses stop there. They then moved on to the light, which had now turned so that I could cross. Crap.
I crossed, and decided that since the light was very long and the buses were waiting, maybe they'd let me on. The first bus was not the bus to Beipu, but he pointed to the second one, which was. He gestured for me to go out into the street and try that one, honking to the other driver to help me. At first I was nervous, but there was plenty of time left on the light. Thanks to him, I was able to get onto the bus and didn't have to wait another half hour for the next one.
The bus is actually really nice. The seats are wide and comfy. There is enough legroom. It is decorated a bit funky- tassled orange curtains, textured seats, and overhead lighting that belongs in some 80s teenager bedroom- but that just makes it more fun.
The next stop was the Hsinchu High Speed Rail station. As we arrived, a recording came on over the speaker system to tell us about the architecture awards the station was eligible for and won.
The bus continued on past all of the skyscrapers and into an area of town with much shorter apartment homes, although they were still packed tightly together. As the bus went along, announcing the stops and informing as about them, we never quite seemed to leave the densely-packed housing. There were some agricultural areas interspersed in the city areas, but they were more like a football field in the city, than their own area.
Some seemed flooded. I'm hoping that they are rice paddies that are supposed to be that way, and not normal fields that have flooded due to the recent rains.
We finally left the city behind about the time we got to the agricultural park.
At that point, we were in the forest. We passed acres of woods or farmland, periodically punctuated with a cluster of houses. Still, I saw no individual homes, just densely-packed clusters of 3-story apartments or townhomes.
We arrived at the end of the line- Lion's Head Mountain park. The information center gave me a map and advice, and I was off.
I admired the many beautiful plants. The butterflies clearly liked them. And the dragonflies were out in full force too. I appreciate a locale that has pretty bugs and not the stingy itchy kind.
I started on a path towards some sort of cave temple. I found it, but it was not what I expected. The temple is new and modern and not covered in the gaudy designs like all of the interesting temples I saw last time. It is located under an overhanging rock that causes a waterfall. The whole thing is set in a forested gorge.
While the natural setting is quite serene due to all of the greenery and the sound of the flowing water (both from the waterfall and the nearby very clear stream), the temple wasn't much. I had wanted to continue on the trail to a bridge made of glutinous rice, but the ranger had mentioned that it was closed today.
I didn't really come here for hiking, and it was HOT and super humid. I was sweating up a storm and very glad I had gone back to change into sport capris. Jeans would have been hell. I decided to take the next bus back towards Beipu, which is what I was really interested in anyway.
The bus came by the well-marked stop and I piled on with a bunch of other tourists, although they seemed to be a more local group.
I hopped off at Beipu old street. This area is a touristy area where you can buy all sorts of traditional foods and souvenirs. Fortunately, there were plenty of free samples.
Beipu is known for their dried persimmon. I don't particularly like persimmon, but either these were better than ones I've had in the past or drying them improves them. I saw (and sampled) plenty of other dried fruits and even some kumquat juice. Everything was good, but I didn't taste anything I felt was super special.
Another food item Beipu is known for is Hakka tea. Hakka tea is definitely different from any tea I've ever seen. This tea starts with a collection of ingredients- anything from nuts and seeds to dried fruit and spices, even beans and grains are usually somewhere on the list. This seemingly random collection is thrown in a large wooden bowl with some actual tea leaves (maybe) and beaten with a stick. (Basically, this is their traditional version of mortar and pestle.) Eventually, it becomes a thick paste, if you have patience. If not, then it's just a collection of bits and chunks. Add hot water and viola! You have chunky, gritty tea! I'm glad they had free samples and I didn't have to pay to taste this.
But, if you have kids, grinding the tea is a fun activity. Lots of shops advertised DIY tea and at lunch, I saw several families order a bowl and mash their own. Or, you can make it at home. Here is an example of an ingredients list for "original flavor:" soybeans, corn, black sesame, black beans, barley, rice, sorghum, millet, green peas, oats, white beans, buckwheat, kidney beans, chickpeas, yam, ginkgo, soy milk powder, sugar. Tea leaves isn't even on that list.
I actually did try one that was good enough I bought a packet to take home. I was almond and very very smooth. This was not ground by an amateur and must have required a lot of patience.
As with all markets, there were some vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, although as many as usual. One guy had a food truck that only served freshly cut pineapple. The more exciting of the vegetables was bitter melon and of the fruits was dragonfruit.
There are a few craftsmen selling their wares, like a guy weaving sandals, but the majority of the goods sold here are food.
Personally, I loved the mochi samples. They could have used more sugar, but since the dough was rolled in a sugar and nut mixture, they balanced out in the end. Little old ladies stood by their tables full of loose, handmade mochi dough. It was looser and less stiff than what you can get in the store, but was equally chewy and delicious. They had little balls already coated in the powder or you could buy a bag of the dough and a bag of the powder and make your own balls. If I thought for an instant that I had the ability to transport that, I would have bought as much as I could carry.
In addition to the markets and restaurants, there are 2 temples in town. One is located right next to the bus stop. It is quite ornate and worth checking out. The other is the "big" temple and is also very ornate. You can go in and see all of the fun art, but this is also an active temple. People come in and burn incense, bow, and pray. I rather enjoyed watching people live their normal life, semi-oblivious to the wide-eyed tourist ogling the roof dragons.
For lunch, I stopped in a restaurant because it had air conditioning. It's hot and the air felt good. I also happened to enjoy the food. During college, a colleague at my internship gave me the best advice ever: if a restaurant has homemade pasta, order it. While intended for Italian food in New Jersey,this is also applicable to Taiwanese rice noodles. The soup containing the homemade noodles was ok- some sort of spicy curry and tomato broth with lots of cabbage, some tofu, and some other sort of dried tofu sheets. The noodles were a bit more exciting. They had a very different texture than store-bought rice noodles (less chewy, but thicker), and they were less sweet.
After lunch, a light drizzle had started to fall. It was good planning on my part to have done the hiking and nature area in the morning when it was dry (at least from the sky, the humidity could have fooled me) and leave the afternoon for more of the transport.
I got back on the bus and headed to Zhudong Station, which is where to get the train to Neiwan, another old street. This tourist shuttle is so easy and convenient! It's like a hop-on-hop-off bus except the route isn't contained in one city. They do a good job taking care of tourists here.
The Neiwan train only runs once an hour, so I waited a bit in the little train station waiting room before waiting some more on the platform. It may not run so conveniently, but it is super cheap- 20 Taiwan dollars, or about 65 cents.
It passed a few train stations that might have been neat to check out, if the train ran more than once per hour. Also, if it was a clear day. By this point, the drizzle had turned to full-on rain. When I got off at the Neiwan, a field of umbrellas was lined up to get on the train, and based on the number of bright yellow ponchos, some store was doing good business.
Despite the wet, tons of people were still out and about and shopping. I can't imagine how crowded it would be on a day with nice weather!
Neiwan Old Street is pretty much just that- a single street. It twists and turns a bit, but it doesn't really branch out and you can't really get lost. You really have no choice but to walk up one direction and then retrace your steps before doing the same in the opposite direction.
But, this street is somewhat like a night market or fair, only during the day. Like Beipu, there was plenty of food, but unlike Beipu, there was so much more.
Lots of shops sold mass manufactured goods- purses, plastic toys, clothing. But a lot sold locally made artisan items- wood carvings, soaps, or calligraphy.
In addition to the shops that sold items, the street abounded in entertainment shops- arcades, carnival games, and a poop house.
At first, I got excited when I saw a banner showing a lady wearing poop on her head. Then I saw what was in the building- a bunch of opportunities to pose with fake poop, toilets, and a cutout that makes it look like you are coming out of an elephant's rear. If I was with somebody, this would probably be hilarious! But it's hard to take selfies in those poses and less fun by yourself, especially for somebody who doesn't like being in pictures that much anyway.
And of course, the food here was different than in Beipu. The dried fruit was different- here there were more pomelas and less persimmons. (BTW, dried pomela is super-crazy-strong, like a breath mint.) There were more barbecued and fried dishes- things you might find at a night market. There was an abundance of bamboo- I saw a ton of different ways of serving bamboo shoots, and every other food stand seemed to have sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. The mochi here was a bit more refined. They were not just dipped, but filled and dipped. Some places had a wide variety and sold them in variety boxes like little bonbons.
Eventually, I had walked to both ends of the street. While my shoes are water repellent, they aren't water proof, so my feet were pretty wet at this point. I decided to grab the next train back to the bus to the hotel. I had excellent timing, as I could hear the train in the station as I approached. I quickly bought my ticket and was able to get on the train just before it left. Plus, while some cars were packed, I was able to move to one where I could find a seat. Lucky me!
The first thing I did upon arrival at the hotel was pull out the hair dryer to use on my feet and shoes.
The second was to grab dinner at the hotel because I was not going back out into the wet.
And then I needed to make plans for tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be the same. While I do really want to see Sun Moon Lake, I'm not thinking that it will be so beautiful and fun in the rain. I'll keep you updated...