Day 237: Nantou & Taichung, Taiwan. We were woken this morning by a guy cycling past shouting at the top of his voice (we assume he was selling something), which caused a gaggle of local geese to start honking their heads off. No alarm clock needed here.
After a long and leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the hotel at 11am, then still had an hour and a half to wait for a direct bus to Taichung. The hotel is being renovated and the communal area is upside down, so we walked down to a local cafe and sat drinking more coffee to pass the time.
Getting a direct bus to Taichung meant we didn’t have to shuffle on and off buses with our backpacks at Nantou, however the downside was the bus took rather a long time to get to where it were going. It stopped at dozens of stops and wounded around lots of neighbourhoods – good sightseeing out the window though.
The bus driver was curious to know why we were on a slow all-stops local bus, and sent a passenger who speaks English along to chat to us, to make sure we were on the right bus. Lucky there was someone who spoke English, as the bus wasn’t exactly full.
We arrived in Taichung mid-afternoon. It’s the second largest city in Taiwan, and a large iron footbridge spanning a main road displayed the words ‘The Dazzling City’. We’re all set to be dazzled.
After of a bit of a kerfuffle getting access to our hotel (our fault for not reading the Chinese instructions), we eventually made it to our room and got settled in.
Today marks 5 years since we started dating, and of course memorable dates mean more great opportunities to celebrate. So we headed to a craft beer bar called ChangeX, which the brewer from Pro Beer recommended. We had two great draft German weissbiers.
Afterwards we walked across to Taihu, the very trendy taproom of a Taipei brewery set up by two Americans and three Taiwanese. It was really busy on Monday evening with an eclectic mix of locals, expats and visitors. We had a great IPA and a Double IPA, both really good beers.
Tai is short for Taiwan, and Hu means tiger, and the brewery’s smart logo revolves around a tiger surrounded by hops.
Afterwards we walked back across town, passing a huge teddy bear enjoying a glass of vino. He looked very happy with this lot.
We also passed another Xmas tree so Jim hopped up to have his pic taken – we’re loving that Christmas is STILL a thing on 20 January.
Then we headed back towards our hotel, stopping for dinner on the way, and had a quick wander through the local night market.
At 9.30pm on Monday, the night market was absolutely heaving, with people out eating and drinking and socialising. We’ll have to have a proper look around another evening.
Tomorrow we’ve a choice of things to do, from exploring the town to museums to long walks. Whatever we do, we’re hoping we find ourselves dazzled.
Day 236: Nantou, Taiwan. Another gorgeous sunny day, another long walk – and this time no need for any buses or trains.
Just behind our accommodation, a small road leads to a bigger road, which leads to a smaller road, which winds all the way up the hill to Henshan, the highest point in the local area.
The walk was glorious – through fields and fields of pineapples and tea, with hardly any traffic and just a few people out tending their crops. Pineapples are a traditional gift for Chinese New Year (as are pineapple tarts and cake), so we expect a lot of the fruit will be picked over the next week. Pineapples signify good luck as the word for pineapple – ong lai in Hokkien and wong lai in Cantonese – sounds like ‘Wang Lie’, meaning imminent luck.
Some of the pineapples even wore circular sunhats, to stop them getting too much sun. Perhaps someone should invent pineapple sunscreen too.
We passed a chicken farm, where an unbelievable amount of white chickens were squawking in a long pen, alongside a whole barn full of the fluffy things.
We walked to the highest point at Henshan Peak (not overly high, but still a local landmark). There were great views across the valley and hills beyond, though sadly it was a little smoggy.
Then we retraced our steps a little and walked to the Hawk Watching Terrace. In another couple of months this will be an awesome spot to see eagles but today, a little earlier in the year, we didn’t spot any. There were more great views though.
Then we walked back to town, past a cafe and playground which had a giant Santa Claus sitting in the garden. Every day is Christmas, it seems.
The walk back down the hill was even more spectacular, as the sun started dropping across the fields. Such glorious countryside.
Lil stopped at a local store to pick up some diet coke, and came out clutching something called Coca-Cola Fibre+, which was the only diet coke they had in the shop. It’s diet coke with added fibre, and claims to be the healthiest variant of Coke on the market. How bizarre.
Tomorrow we’re packing up again to catch a bus to Taichung, the second largest city in Taiwan. And hopefully it will still be Christmas there too.
Day 235: Nantou, Taiwan. After a huge happening day yesterday, we were happy to have a much easier one today.
We kicked about the hotel this morning, then set out to walk to a craft brewery called Tsai’s Actual Brewery early afternoon. It’s 11km away from our hotel, so still a decent walk.
Most of the route was along busy roads, but towards the end we found ourselves on the edge of town walking through rice fields, with motorways and flyovers in the background. All a little bizarre.
We spent a couple of hours at the brewery, and it was a lot of fun. The brewery was set up by a guy called Cai, who trained in Berlin and has ten years of brewing experience. A few year ago he said up Tsai’s, which is currently the only brewery in Taiwan producing authentic British beer.
The brewery mascot is a rotund bear which features prominently across everything through the whole complex.
We shared two flights of beer so got to taste everything that was on tap. Our favourites were the amber ale, and mountain pepper wheat beer (which wasn’t an English style beer, but really good regardless).
It’s apparently still Christmas at the brewery – the place was decorated with heaps of Christmas trees and decorations.
The upper floors at the brewery contain a restaurant, another bar and conference rooms, as well as some faux shop fronts that make for excellent selfies.
When we’d finished drinking beers, we walked 3.5km to Caotun to catch a bus home. It’s a lively town and the Saturday night market was just kicking off.
Tomorrow we’re hoping to do some more hiking, which is dependent on finding public transport to the trails. And if all else fails, we can always have a lazy day drinking beer again.
Day 234: Nantou, Taiwan. This morning we mapped out a long walk through a forest, up a large hill and across some tea plantations.
To reach the start of the trail, we caught a bus to Zhuoshui train station, then a train to Ershui station – the same popular tourist train that we took last week on the way to Sun Moon Lake.
At Ershui we had a quick look at some old steam trains and a fighter jet, then walked to Fengbo Plaza, where the trail started and wound through a forest and up the side of a hill.
In the town, we passed a cockatoo and a macaw tied to posts outside a shop; Jim stopped and had a good chat with the cockatoo.
As we started the trail, there were signs everywhere warning of monkeys, and not to feed or interact with them (as always, little chance of that happening).
We’d only gone about 500m when Jim said “Oh look, monkeys”, and right up ahead of us was a pack of about 20 monkeys sitting on the track. We took a deep breath and braved walking past them – some ran into the bushes, while others just sat and watched us go past (which to be honest, is a little unnerving). The pic below are the ones that were left after we went past.
The track wound through thick bamboo forests and acacia trees. After a while we reached a steep stairway, which climbed up the side of the mountain to a village and temple.
As we made our way up the steps, we passed a couple who were helping a very elderly gentleman up the steps. He looked like he must have been in his 90s, but was determined to get there, however slowly.
The village that we arrived in is called Songbolin – it’s famous for tea plantations and production, and the street was lined both sides with tea shops.
We had a quick look around the Shoutian temple where they were revving up for New Year celebrations. Most of the noise seemed to be coming from this stall, which was the local equivalent of a Punch and Judy show.
As we walked through the town, we spotted a sign for a visitor centre and wandered along to take a look. And that’s where the fun really began.
We’re guessing the two ladies in the visitor centre don’t get many visitors, and not many, if any, foreigners. They were super excited when we appeared through the door, pointing out exhibitions and brochure stands – and then they swung into action, realising they had an even bigger opportunity.
First, they got us to take off our shoes and sit on a platform where a traditional tea ceremony was set up, so they could take photos. Giggling, we parked ourselves on the floor and waited while they took a number of pics. We got back up again, and started to look around the centre, and then they pushed us towards a sack of tea for photo opportunity number two.
They also had a big box of world flags, and after asking us where we’re from, dug through and pulled out an Australian and a British flag (because we speak English, they thought a British flag was appropriate). And we had to stand and pose with the flags, feeling quite silly.
Then they dug out a sign promoting the Taiwan Lantern Festival, and asked if we would like ‘photo inside or photo outside’ (no photo at all, clearly wasn’t an option). We sighed and said ‘outside’, and they got us to sit on the ground in front of two cartoon characters, holding up the sign. Goodness knows where our pics are going to appear.
We went back inside and they asked us to scan a QR code and tag them on Facebook, and in return we got two black Taiwan caps and a cute ‘Oh Bear’ wrist sweatband.
Thinking we were done, we started to say our goodbyes, but then they started chatting even more animatedly to each other. They said something about ‘wedding dress’ and shoved us over towards a rack of flowery fabric cardigans. They got us to choose which ones we’d like to wear and insisted we should wear our new Taiwan hats too.
There was no way any of the cardigans were going to fit Jim, so he slung one around his shoulders, looking absolutely daft. Then they got us to stand on a stage and lift some sort of sedan chair – we assume it must relate to a wedding ceremony, but really we have no idea. By now, we were laughing so hard, we were starting to look like loons. And starting to wonder if we were part of a Taiwanese equivalent of Candid Camera.
At that point we really had had enough, so we hung our cardigans back up, said goodbye again and headed for the door. One of the ladies squeezed through the door ahead of us and pointed out a display with leaflets on the importance of insect repellent, and invited us to try the repellent for free. We quickly slapped some on – and then we quickly left.
We badly needed to hit the reset button, so went and got a coffee (yes, in a town full of tea) and sat in quiet for a while, then headed off to find a tea plantation called Two Finger Tea that we were keen to visit.
The tea plantation and associated shop were really quiet, being a weekday. The young manager, called Chang, and his sister invited us to sit down and they went through a fairly complex process of brewing us some local black tea. When the tea was ready, it was poured into a cup called an aroma cup, so we could sniff it – then we had to pour it into small bowls to drink it.
We had a good chat with Chang and his sister while we were sipping our tea (which was excellent), then went out to have a look around the grounds.
Then we started the long walk back to the closest town – which turned out to be glorious. We wound our way through some awesome countryside filled with tea plantations, pineapple fields, and areca palms, as far as the eye could see.
When we reached Mingjian, we caught a bus to Nantou, had noodles for dinner, picked up a few things in Carrefour, then headed back to our hotel, tired out from the day.
Tomorrow we’ll likely have an easier day, exploring Nantou town. And hopefully it will be a day free of dressing up and posing for pics.
Day 233: Puli & Nantou, Taiwan. Today was one of those days where we spent all day getting from A to B – even though A and B (in this case Puli and Nantou) are only 50km apart.
We packed our bags this morning, which is something we’ve become pretty nifty at – perhaps not surprising given today marks 8 months since we set off from Sydney on our Asian Rambles.
Our checkout was 11am which left us with over 4 hours before our bus to Nantou at 3.30pm. The hotel said they were more than happy for us to perch ourselves in their lobby for a few hours, and even served us some of their ‘special soup’ for lunch (and Lil gave the unidentifiable meat bits to Jim).
At 1.30pm we decided we needed a change of scenery so slung our backpacks on and walked to a local cafe. There was a gorgeous dog in a pushchair next to his owner which tugged at our heartstrings – the poor thing was obviously really old, and we’re guessing being pushed to the cafe in a cart is the only way it’s going to get to go out at all. Simply adorable.
An elderly monk next to us made a couple of attempts to strike up conversation. We’d no idea what he was saying as it was all in Chinese, and his efforts to speak more slowly and more clearly and more loudly did nothing to help. We think he said something about Canada and Lil thought he mentioned Mexico but really, we have no idea. Eventually he bowed and waved and headed off carrying several large bags of fresh fruit.
We walked around to the bus station just after 3pm and plonked ourselves on a couple of hard plastic seats. Jim went to one of the counters to check our bus schedule, and the lady confirmed it was 3.30pm, and to queue at gate 5. So at 3.20pm, we queued at gate 5. One of the staff members came over and asked where we were going – we said Nantou at 3.30pm and he said “no one here knows that bus”. We pointed out the lady behind the counter seemed to know about it, so he went and checked with her and came back to announce “your bus will be here soon!”. Good job.
The bus took nearly 2 hours to cover the 50km to Nantou – it was slowed down by late afternoon traffic and gaggles of school kids piling on at a couple of stops. We arrived in Nantou just before 5.30pm, found an eatery nearby and had some seriously good beef brisket noodles for dinner.
Nantou is a decent sized town, with lots of restaurants and shops – including one we passed which has a bizarre name of Why and 1/2. Lil looked it up later on, and the brand seems to be based around a bear called Pop Bear. The web site explains that ‘Pop Bear’s dad and mommy like the colorful and pop pop art, that’s why he named his darling baby Pop Bear’.
And according to the web site, Pop Bear Mummy always says: “This world, we see only half, the other half is a surprise! Just a little bit different angle, you can see the other half of the world’s better! So Pop Bear is always super happy, because there will always be 1/2 of love and surprise!’
So there we go then. Another brand mystery solved.
And Jim of course couldn’t miss the opportunity to pose with a giant inflatable character. With Chinese New Year just over a week away, lots of decorations are starting to appear around towns. We’re not sure if this guy is the God of Good Fortune, or if he’s just trying to get us to play the lottery (which of course could be linked).
Afterwards we caught another bus to our accommodation – this time just a 10 minute ride. We checked in and asked about breakfast (when we booked the hotel, it mentioned a continental breakfast). We tried not to giggle as we were given a pile of 7-Eleven vouchers to go and buy our own breakfast up the street. The vouchers add up to about 1.75 AUD each per day, which just about buys a small coffee. That’s a pretty light continental breakfast right there.
Lil popped out to fill her water bottle from the water dispenser in the corridor and came back giggling. Our neighbours clearly don’t believe in packing lightly – along with some huge suitcases outside their door, there’s a kid’s flash go-cart. Though sadly it looks like the kid must have been driving a little recklessly, as one of the wheels has come off.
Tomorrow we’re planning to go for a much needed long walk, after sitting around for hours today. And perhaps we’ll take Pop Bear Mummy’s advice and try to look at the world ‘from a little bit different angle’.
Day 232: Puli, Taiwan. After a quick breakfast we headed out into another hot sunny day.
Today we were keen to visit a large Buddhist temple and monastery we’d read about online, and perhaps visit the neighbouring museum too, time permittng. The temple is 6km north of Puli – a scenic walk past huge fields of sugar cane and other crops, albeit on a pretty busy road.
When we reached Chung Tai Chan temple, we were met by a young Buddhist nun, who kindly offered us a tour of the monastery including a visit to some levels that general visitors can’t access.
Chung Tai Chan is absolutely huge. It’s the tallest Buddhist temple in the world, with 37 storeys, and was completed in 2001 at a cost of US$650 million. It was near impossible to get a photo that shows its sprawling mass without scaling a nearby tree, so we photographed the picture in the guide book instead.
There were five people in our little tour group – besides us, there was a Chinese couple and an Italian guy who spoke very good English but clearly didn’t understand the word ‘silence’ – he chattered away happily in areas where we were supposed to remain quiet. One of the visiting rules is that photos are only allowed on the two lower floors.
The first floor has a central Buddha with enormous statues in the four corners of room. Jim standing next to one in the pic below for scale, shows just how tall they were. These multi-headed figures are there to protect the entrance to the temple.
Then we took the lift to level 5 where there were Buddhas arrayed with gold and a 500 person prayer hall.
After that, we had a quick visit to level 9 where the floors, walls, ceilings and three very plain Buddhas were all in white, making it feel very peaceful.
Our final visit was to level 16, where there’s a full size 6 storey wooden pagoda constructed inside, and a 30m high picture window, where the individual window panes are cleverly designed to withstand earthquakes and strong winds – they have the capability to oscillate 43.9 centimetres. Each floor has amazing sweeping views across the mountains and those from level 16 were to die for. It’s such a shame we couldn’t take any pics.
When we’d finished we returned to the ground level and said our goodbyes. The nun gave us little cards with morals on them, and a poster that says something like ‘Life is evergreen’ – apparently it’s for hanging up at Chinese New Year, which we’ll make sure to do.
Afterwards we walked 10 minutes to the Chung Tai World Museum, part of the same organisation. Again, the museum is absolutely vast – the three huge levels depict different periods of Buddhism, mostly dating from 300CE and later. Level 1 has mostly replicas of Buddha statues from China, level 2 bronze statues and copies of Tripitaka (Buddhist bible) and other prayers, and level 3 displays even more statues. After about 90 minutes we were experiencing severe information overload, so decided to wrap up our visit.
We wandered around in the grounds of the museum for a bit, enjoying the late afternoon sun and yet more magnificent views across the mountains.
We were hoping to visit a giant Buddha statue across the other side of the valley (which is completely separate to Chung Tai), but it was another 4km away, and the 8km round trip would have meant walking home in the dark.
So we walked straight back to town, had dinner at a local eatery, and went home to finalise our plans for the next few days.
Tomorrow we pack up and head to Nantou, a town about 30km west of Puli. And somehow we’ll have to pack our newly acquired Chinese New Year poster without mangling it.
Day 231: Puli, Taiwan. After another breakfast of toast and weird stuff, Lil headed out to buy a cake for the guys at Pro Brewery, to say thanks for their hospitality yesterday.
She came back with a chocolate and coffee roulade from a cake shop called Honey O, in a flash box and a very smart carrier bag. Everything comes beautifully packaged here, even if sometimes a little over-packaged.
The brewery invited us back today to meet Ray, their head brewer, who has spent time in Australia. Early afternoon we set off and walked across town, this time down quiet country lanes to avoid the crazy main road.
The walk was stunning and thankfully, even though lots of people seem to keep dogs for security, the less friendly ones were all tied up. We reached the brewery and while we waited for Ray to join us, we said hello to Pulo the dog again, who was happily lolling about in the shade.
Ray’s a really lovely, friendly guy. He trained in brewing at Little Creatures in Perth, Australia and is clearly making some great strides with his beers here in Taiwan. He also gave us some great tips on craft breweries and outlets in other Taiwan cities on our list to visit.
We gave the cake to Lu Hua (our spelling may be a bit ropey), the girl who took good care of us yesterday when we turned up to find the brewery under construction.
We said our goodbyes to the team and headed off to visit a huge temple nearby, called Ling Yan. It’s a very impressive new building which can clearly hold thousands of worshippers. It’s still undergoing a final fit out but it looks like enough of it will be ready for Chinese New Year in 10 days’ time. Interestingly, there are three Ling Yan temples; a second one in California and a third at Shellharbour in Australia.
There were more wonderful views across the local villages and countryside from the temple courtyard.
Then we walked back to town, down some different quiet roads, watching people working in the rice paddies, and enjoying the great views back to the temple on the hill.
We passed a huge bamboo tray of orange slices drying in the sun – a great way to preserve the fruit, which is in full season now.
When we got back to town we stopped for a coffee at a local cafe. While we were sipping our lattes we heard loud miaows coming from somewhere. We tracked down the miaows to the doorway, where a customer had parked their cat in a backpack with a plastic capsule front. The cat looked very cute, but it was pretty grumpy.
Tomorrow we’re planning to visit a Buddhist monastery about 6km away, called Chung Tai Chan, along with its neighbouring museum. And hopefully we can enjoy another snarly-dog-free walk.
Day 230: Puli, Taiwan. Our morning started with another hearty breakfast at the hotel, comprising more plates of weird stuff for Jim.
Late morning we headed out to visit Pro Brewing, a craft brewery about 3km south from our hotel. Their Facebook page indicates they’re open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm, however we turned up to find ourselves staring at what appeared to be a construction site.
We decided to take a wander around the back of the building, and it’s a really good thing we did. One of the staff spotted us, explained the bar and visitor centre is still being built, then asked if we’d like to taste their beers (a resounding yes from both of us).
We sat at one of the wooden tables, and played with the gorgeous brewery dog called Pulo (presumably some sort of play on the town name, but who knows). Apparently he had some sort of ‘event with traffic’ and as a result limps badly. Part of his ear is also missing.
Two bottles of beer arrived on our table with glasses – a tea beer, and a lager style beer. Closely followed by a passion fruit beer, then two more bottles of the lager beer (because we mentioned it was our favourite).
Everyone who works at the brewery came out to chat to us (Google Translate got a solid workout), and they even phoned the ‘boss’s son’ Neil, who drove over specially to meet us. He speaks very good English and was interested to find out more about our lives and our travels in Taiwan. His dad was a business man in China and after retiring returned back to Taiwan to set up the brewery in Puli, however he spends most of him time in Taipei, so sadly we didn’t get to meet him.
Neil gave us a quick tour of the brewery room. They can manage a 1000 litres or so, and have a mini bottling line, where they package their 8 different beers.
They’re also building a small hotel in the brewery complex, and Neil took us into the site to show us some of the rooms-in-progress, and up to the roof terrace where they are stunning views across the town and mountains.
Their head brewer wasn’t working today, but will be at the brewery tomorrow, so Neil invited us to return then to meet him and learn more about the brewing process. The brewer (whose name we didn’t catch) has spent time in Australia, so it will be interesting to chat to him.
We said our goodbyes and thanks (and no thanks to the offer of more beers) and walked back to town. Another glorious late winter afternoon, with the sun starting to set across the hills and rice fields.
We had a quick coffee on the way home, admiring a large black labrador and a small cute brown dachshund who came into the cafe with their owner. After a while the owner and labrador left, but the sliding glass doors closed before the dachshund could go through, and he wasn’t big enough to operate the doors on his own. So Lil had to go to its rescue, and we watched laughing as his little legs went at cartoon speed up the road after the rest of his family.
This evening we wandered over to one of the local night markets, and found a stall selling duck dishes. We ordered two bowls of duck noodles and they were sensational, though the flames that were erupting when they were being cooked were mildly alarming.
Tomorrow we’ll go for a long walk, and pop by the brewery again to have a chat with the brewer. And doubtless Google Translate will get another good workout too.
Day 229: Puli, Taiwan. After an interesting breakfast at the hotel (toast and jam for Lil; noodles, pickles, steamed buns and assorted weird stuff for Jim), we headed out for a long walk towards Liyutan Lake, passing the local plastic-toy Xmas tree.
The start of the lake trail, a couple of kilometres from our hotel, has monuments marking the Geographic Centre of Taiwan. The first, at the bottom of the stairs, dates back to the 1970s.
The second monument at the top of the hill, reached after many steps and reading the obligatory warnings about snakes, was built after surveying techniques had improved.
Following yesterday’s supermarket hairdo, Jim’s beard has now gone again too, so he’s back to looking like a teenager.
We exited the peak via a car park where dozens of people were enjoying a spot of (very loud) karaoke and a nice cup of tea. We must have looked at them slightly oddly, because they all became suddenly self conscious and started giggling and waving as we walked past.
An adorable three legged dog joined us for part of the walk up the road. Lil eventually took pity on it and gave it a small packet of cookies from Jim’s packed lunch.
We’d spotted a few parachutes buzzing about across the hillside as we walked along. When we arrived at the end of the surfaced road we found the local paragliding club had set up shop, along with a little cafe. The lady organiser asked if we wanted to purchase a tandem trip, saying today’s conditions were ideal. We declined, but clearly lots of others had decided it was a glorious day for floating about over the city – there were dozens of chutes flying around.
And they would all have had magnificent views across Puli town and the surrounding hills.
We continued up a gravel road to the next peak, then took a winding mountain track down to the valley bottom through a palm grove. There were awesome views across the lake and down to a fire station tucked into the hillside.
Not so awesome were the growling noises that started emanating from the trees around us. Jim was certain they were from grumpy monkeys just keen for us to move on. Lil reckoned the noises were from wild boars, and worried we might get attacked. She was also concerned about bees and snakes, but as usual Jim (not even wearing long pants) wasn’t bothered at all.
We reached Liyutan Lake, craving an afternoon coffee. There was a cafe nearby, but the saxophone equivalent of karaoke was taking place, and it was horribly loud. So we went for a wander around the lake instead, with statues of cute creatures dotted about.
Next we visited Puli Distillery, a winery selling wine and a random selection of Taiwanese goods. The shop is small with a micro-brewery attached but sadly there’s no information about what is going on in there. We asked to taste the wines, and the ladies scurried off to the fridge to find a couple of bottles. We tasted passion fruit wine and their rose wine, which won an international award some years ago. Both were delicious, if a little sweet.
Then we walked back to town, had a coffee in a cafe with no loud saxophones, and headed home for a rest before dinner.
Tomorrow we’ll either visit a craft brewery, check out some local temples, or we might just hang out at the hotel and do some much-needed travel planning. And at least we won’t have to contend with scary growling noises in the town.
Day 228: Sun Moon Lake & Puli, Taiwan. We packed up again this morning and headed across to the bus stand, to catch a bus to Puli.
The day got off to bit of a amusing start. Our bus driver popped across the street to chat to a mate, forgot the time and came running back (nearly getting run over in the process), then zoomed off while an English guy on the bus was desperately trying to tell him his mate was still in the bathroom.
An English-speaking Chinese girl on the bus told the bus driver what was happening. We skidded to a halt and sat in the middle of the main street waiting for the bloke to emerge from the loo, causing total chaos as buses and cars piled up in the narrow street. When the guy finally appeared and ran up the steps of the bus, his mate started sulking and refused to talk to him or sit with him (giggle).
Puli is only 15km from Sun Moon Lake, so less than half an hour later, we were climbing off the bus again. We walked to our hotel, and were happy to receive a free upgrade (Lil now messages everyone in advance asking for ‘a nice room’ and at least half the time, it works). The girl behind the desk said “free upgrade for you today, please give me 10 star rating, thank you, goodbye”. Alrighty.
We somehow managed to walk straight past the main lifts in the hotel, and found ourselves trying to squish into a small goods lift at the back of the hotel, with staff running across the lobby trying to stop us. Nothing like making a entrance.
Once we’d settled in, we headed out for a coffee, then popped into the Puli Winery (which is actually a distillery), where the famous local Shaoxing wine is made. After we’d tasted a couple of the wines (they were ok, but not really our style), and said no thanks to soap and shampoo made from the stuff, we had a wander through the wine cultural centre upstairs. Which turned out to be a lot of fun.
There were lots of exhibits on the history of Shaoxing wine and the distillery itself, but the really fun bit was the information panels outlining the ‘Ten Commandments of Drinking’ which include the sage advice “Do not drink after midnight to prevent from hangover”. If only it were that simple.
And even better, there’s a panel entitled ‘Drunk State’ which allows you to check your drinking buddies for the type of animal they represent when they’re drunk. Which could be a Monkey (sing loudly, jumping around and improvement of reaction); a Pig (tongue tied and yelling for another round; a Wolf (sexually aggressive) or any of the others on the list below (though it’s worth pointing out the last two aren’t actually animals). Even better, they appeared to have slapped the poster across a light switch, making it difficult to read the last few lines.
There was also a ‘House of drunk experiencing’ room which you can enter to experience what it feels like to be drunk. A sign warned ‘Do not enter if you have heart disease or anything serious that might damage your tour’. Assuming it would have a moving floor and perhaps moving walls, Jim carefully tucked away his phone and loose change, expecting to be doing some kind of balancing act. The room had only two features – a fixed sloping floor, and a wall with some geometric optical illusion patterns. If you stared at the patterns long enough, you could imagine they were moving. Sort of.
Next we popped into a very large temple, where there was an impressive shrine and lots of offerings, including a six pack of Coke and a bag of Snickers.
Then we walked across town to visit a paper factory that came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We thought it would probably be rubbish and more suited to kids, but we were very very pleasantly surprised. A young local guy with excellent English gave us a guided tour of the factory. He started by chatting us through the raw materials, tree barks and gum used for paper making, including onion or garlic skins, tea, coffee and hemp for the fibres.
The fibres are blended and fluffed up before being mixed up with the gum, then a master paper maker uses a bamboo tray to make a thin film of the wet mix, and carefully stacks up sheets of the soaking wet paper. This is then left overnight, pressed, and then passed on to the next step which is drying the sheets on a hot table – also an incredibly skilled task.
Some of the masters have been working at the factory for over 30 years. We asked our young guide what will happen when they all retire, and he replied that they would probably just end up showing the tourists a video. Very honest, but also very realistic and saddening.
We also got to try some edible paper, made with fruit and vegetables, which was suprisingly good.
Lil bought a bookmark with a beautifully hand-painted 2020 Chinese year of the rat design, and a small paper purse, both made and decorated on the site.
On the way home we walked to Carrefour to pick up a couple of things (including some craft beers to go in our hotel room fridge). As we were walking out of the store, we spotted a ‘Quick haircuts’ store. Jim scurried in and put 100 Taiwan dollars in the pay machine (equivalent to less than 5 Australian dollars). A hairdresser called him over straight away (the system seems to work like tickets at the deli counter).
After a couple of remodels (the guy seemed determined to give him one of the locally popular hairstyles which are like long quiffs on top), followed by a quick clean off with what looked like a vacuum cleaner, he emerged happy with his new supermarket hairdo.
We wandered through the night market, which only opens at weekends. They were still setting up, so we decided to head on and we’ll visit again tomorrow evening.
We had superb brisket beef noodle soup for dinner, then headed home through the centre of town, where a giant Christmas tree is still standing on a roundabout, made of lots of colourful plastic toys. We’ll have to get a better picture in daylight tomorrow.
Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk round a lake on the outskirts of town, a small mountain and then a distillery (which is actually a winery) to try out some local fruit wines. And maybe we’ll aim to avoid “Drunk State: Monkey”.