Day 223: Fenchihu & Chiayi, Taiwan.
This morning we were up and about early to catch the bus to Alishan. We woke to a chilly but glorious and peaceful morning, with an incredible sky.
Alishan Old Street was deserted as we walked to the bus station, with just a few shopkeepers getting their shops ready for the day.
We caught two buses, the first a short hop to Shizhao, and from there the main bus which took about 45 minutes up to Alishan National Recreation Area. The trip was uneventful apart from a Canadian couple who bickered the entire way. Mostly trivial stuff too, like whether you should be able to pay for two bus journeys on a single ticket. Dear God.
The staff at Alishan visitor centre were incredibly helpful, pointing out the various walking options, the buses around the park, the short hops on the train line, and how to get back to Chiayi in the evening. Overloaded with options, we stuffed our big backpacks into their lockers, and headed outside to put our heads together and work out what to do with our day.
We opted for a very long and very steep walk up a mountain called Tashan with a peak at 2663m (to be fair Alishan itself is situated at just over 2000m so we weren’t starting from the base). It’s the largest mountain in the park, but a minnow in the main range, with Yushan being the highest at 3952m and towering over them all.
Alishan is almost directly west of Taroko National Park, where we walked the Zhuili Old Trail just over a month ago – we’re gradually making our way around the island.
The Mount Tashan walk starts near two lakes, called the elder and younger sisters, with stunning crystal reflections of the surrounding trees and sky.
On the train from Fenchihu yesterday, we chatted to a Taiwanese couple (we had little choice as they were sitting in our seats on the train by mistake when we got on). They’re a lovely couple who now live in Los Angeles and are back holidaying in Taiwan to revisit some favourite sites, including the railway which the husband last traveled 50 years ago (it was probably mostly still steam engines then, and certainly not a tourist attraction). We bumped into them again today as we set off on our walk – they were lapping up the ‘big trees’, the magnolia park and strolling round the lakes. Though they said they certainly weren’t going to be climbing Mount Tashan any time soon.
Our trail followed the mountain railway for a while, and we got the chance to watch a train go past from above.
The walk consisted of endless steps up through the forest, gently climbing at first, and then heading steeply up to the summit towards the end. A seriously good workout.
Along the way we passed a very large Formosa monkey in a tree above us. Given it was sitting on a branch baring its teeth at us and hissing, we decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to stop to take a photo of it.
The views from the peak were amazing, looking all the way across to the other peaks in the surrounding area, and back down to the visitor centre, where we had stood just a few hours before saying “let’s go up there”. It felt like we were sitting on top of the world.
Lil spotted a large bird on the way back down, a Mikado Partridge. Apparently they’re very rare, critically endangered and hard to spot, though this one was super tame and was busily rooting out its lunch as we took photos from a metre away.
After skipping back down the hill, very happy not to have to climb any more steps, we grabbed a coffee and caught the late afternoon bus back to Chiayi. We plonked ourselves in the front two seats, which helps alleviate Jim’s travel sickness – good job, as we were swung back and forth as the bus made its way down winding mountain roads.
We walked to our hotel in Chiayi (we’re spending another night in the town before heading north east tomorrow). Lil had a quick read of the rules of the hotel which include ‘no binge drinking’. Alrighty.
In our room by the bed there’s an amazing vintage control system for the TV (all four channels!), radio and AC. There’s a bundle of cables going in the back, but the only thing that seems to work is the switch for the lamp.
After we’d settled in (as much as you can settle in for one night), Jim headed straight out to do laundromat duty, while Lil headed to the local store to restock on toiletries.
With chores were out of the way, we were starving and had dinner at a nearby eatery – awesome noodle soup with pork loin and pork dumplings.
Tomorrow we catch two trains and a bus to Sun Moon Lake, about 70km north east of Chiayi. And hopefully we’ll get seats at the front of the bus again, so Jim’s travel sickness stays at bay.