In search of a nice cuppa at the tea farm, a giant bee makes a decision for us, and Lil does her best gnome impression. 

Day 227: Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan. We heard some loud voices coming from the room next door last night. As we walked down the hotel corridor we discovered why; through the open door we spotted the bickering couple from the bus the other day (thankfully packing their bags).

We headed out into a sunny morning and set off in search of some tea tastings. There are a few different tea farms in the local area. After a quick squizz online, we decided to visit the Antique Assam Tea Farm, which gets pretty good reviews.

The tea farm is only four or five kilometres outside town, however walking along a busy main road wasn’t an option, so we caught a Taichung-bound bus, and got off outside the entrance gates.

We were initially quite impressed as we walked up the avenue lined with tea plantations, to an old Japanese style building with ivy and wooden windows.

We walked around the back of the building to the front entrance (which sounds a little bit Irish), and entered a small quiet shop. We managed to get our paws on a couple of small tasting cups of ‘Tea No.18’ which is the top rated specialty tea here, but otherwise, the visit was a bit of a let down. The cafe and restaurant is closed to the public, unless you’re part of a tour group with 20+ people, and the little garden with chairs and tables was pretty much deserted. There were some fab views across the valley though.

We couldn’t find anything else to do, so we walked back down the avenue to the main road and caught a bus back to town, approximately 18 minutes after we got off the outgoing bus.

We caught another bus from town back to Ita Thou (Yidashao). There was one walking trail that we hadn’t done, so we decided to check it out. The entire trail is up a very large mountain, and takes about 7-8 hours to complete, so that wasn’t an option. However there’s a shorter trail that goes to a couple of viewpoints, that we thought should be doable.

We were in two minds about walking at all today – our legs and feet were aching from the long distances covered over the last couple of days. As we started to climb the many thousands of steps up to the viewpoints, we found ourselves totally mobbed by large mossies. We put on another layer of insect repellent, and continued the climb.

Still only half-keen on doing the walk, the decision on whether to keep going or not was made for us. One of the dreaded giant hornets appeared out of the bushes in front of us, and without any further discussion we both quickly turned and retraced our steps back down to the town.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Ita Thao. We’d already visited the town a couple of days ago but hadn’t spent much time walking the streets and poking our heads into shops.

On the edge of town there’s a small aboriginal settlement with some interesting historic prints on the sides of houses, depicting the lake’s original people.

We stopped for a coffee and spotted a new innovation – a Self-Heating Beef Hot Pot. We’ve no idea how it works, but given all the warnings about the need to read the warnings and stand well back while it’s doing its stuff, we probably wouldn’t be tempted to try it out. Even if we were happy to pay the near 15 dollar price for a jumped-up pot noodle.

We walked around the pier and past a bunch of arcade games. We were amused to spot one game where you test your skill to win a prize of a cardboard cup of milky tea. You might as well just pop into the local cafe and buy one there.

When we’d finished exploring we walked to the top of the town and waited on a very high bench for the next bus to arrive. Lil looked like a little gnome with her legs dangling off the seat.

As we waited, we saw a couple on a motorbike who were both reading their phones as they zoomed past. Scary stuff.

When we got back to town, we had a cold beer, then dinner at the same restaurant we’ve eaten at for three days in a row (which perhaps says something about the limited choice here).

And Christmas decorations are STILL in place on 10 January, so Jim had the opportunity to pose next to yet another Xmas tree.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Puli, a town about 15km north, making way for the hordes who spend the weekend at Sun Moon Lake. Along with a brewery, a distillery and a paper factory, there’s also a bee farm in Puli. Hopefully we won’t find any giant Asian hornets though.

More then.

Watching out for elderly ladies on e-bikes, Jim does his best kangaroo impression, and a dog that’s clearly not a Kylie fan.

Day 226: Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan. We headed out this morning for another long walk – this time around the west and south sides of Sun Moon Lake.

It was another glorious day; sunny and warm with a forecast high of 22C, making it a perfect walking weather day.

Occasionally we passed other people walking and cycling around the lake on a mix of bicycles and e-bikes. Some looked like they hadn’t been on bikes since they were kids (or perhaps ever) as they wobbled along, desperately trying not to crash into people or things.

One elderly lady was having the time of her life, going at full speed on her e-bike while pedestrians (including us) plastered themselves against the railing for fear of getting flattened as she sailed past in a not-so-straight line.

The walk was fabulous, around 10km on the lake’s edge with even more spectacular views.

We had to walk along the main road for a bit, though thankfully there was hardly any traffic. Lil glanced at a road sign and commented that it was a bit odd the sign showed the same place twice. But as Jim pointed out, on closer inspection they’re not the same places at all. Oh the joys of Chinese language.

We had lunch by Xuanguang pier, one of the places where boats ferry people back and forth to the other towns around the lake. The area was busy for a weekday, with a pretty loud band playing, called Fun Full.

From the wharf we followed the pilgrim trail up to the next temple, passing a tree which had been adorned with prayers.

And finally we climbed our way up to Ci-En Pagoda, which is located on Sha Ba Lan Mountain. The pagoda was built in 1971 by Chiang Kai-Shek in memory of his mother. Construction was tricky as all the materials had to be shipped across the lake and hoiked up the mountain.

The hexagonal building is 46 metres high, with 12 floors. We walked up the spiral steps to the top viewing platform, where there are sensational views across the lake and surrounding mountains.

We walked back down to the courtyard, which has a thick layer of tiny white stone pebbles, presumably intended to look a little like show. A huge ornamental drum is housed under a roof and of course we had to take turns to stand on the concrete platform to try the drum out, which was pretty impressive (the drum that is, not our drumming).

When we’d finished walking around the pagoda grounds, we made our way back down the mountain to catch a bus home. We were an hour early for the day’s last tourist shuttle, so we walked along the road in search of coffee. We found a shop and cafe open just opposite another temple, with wooden benches and seats alongside a window offering great views of the sun setting across the mountains.

The owner of the shop was lovely, giving us Taiwanese cookies and oranges while we drank our coffee. She asked where we were from, but couldn’t understand our reply despite us repeating ‘Australia’ several times. So Jim took to going ‘boing boing’ and hopping around her shop like a demented kangaroo. While a little mad, it worked – after half a dozen hops, she shouted “Ahhh, Australia!!”

Meanwhile the owner’s dog strutted around the shop, dressed up in a pink tutu dress, while her son pedalled away furiously on an exercise bike behind the counter (presumably the only place the bike would fit). He had a selection of workout music on in the background. At one point Kylie Minogue’s “I Should be so Lucky” played and the poor dog started yapping her head off. Clearly not a huge Kylie fan.

The shop sells lots of aboriginal products from the local Ita Thao people. We tasted a couple of different millet and taro wines, which are famous locally produced drinks, and bought a bottle of millet wine to take away.

Then we caught the tourist shuttle bus back to town, sharing the bus with only a few people (ah the joys of travelling in low season).

Tomorrow we’ll search out some local tea tastings, and maybe climb part of a mountain. Though our walking legs may insist a rest is in order, after all the pathways, mountains and steps covered over the last couple of days.

More then.

The makings of a nice cup of tea, matchmaking at the local temple, and watching out for scary things.

Day 225: Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan. Late morning we headed off in search of some tea plantations.

There are heaps of good walks around Sun Moon Lake, and one goes up to the top of Mt Maolanshan, through lots of tea fields. It’s not overly long, but it’s a reasonably strenuous uphill walk, and the views across Sun Moon Lake are to die for.

The tea plantations in the area were set up by the Japanese as they realised the location has the ideal climate for growing tea. The tea we saw today is part of a research project to improve and diversify the crop.

We saw yet another sign saying it’s the snake/bees season – hopefully it’s left over from summer. Though there were signs everywhere we went today, so who knows.

We walked back down to the town, and had a quick look at Longfeng Temple. The deities enshrined here are the Lord of the Somber Heavens, Mother of Heaven, and Divine Ancestor Cankui. A matchmaker deity which once resided in a different temple was moved here in 2000 after the devastating earthquake the year before. We read online you can buy love tokens at the temple, presumably linked to the powers of the matchmaker deity.

Afterwards we walked around the eastern side of the lake, mostly on a dedicated walking and cycle track. Thankfully there weren’t too many cyclists out and about.

We only intended to walk a short way, but in the end we walked around half of the lake to Yidashao. By the time we arrived the sun was low, and we went for a quick coffee before sunset.

We bought a couple of chilled beers and walked down to the pier to watch the sunset, only to discover we’d missed it. The sun went down behind a hill long before it hit the horizon (as Lil says, there’s always another day), but it was still fun to sit on the pier and watch people taking endless selfies, followed by a stroll around the town. There’s a small night market, a bunch of restaurants and some souvenir shops, but not much else.

Then we caught the local bus back to where we’re staying, had some great braised beef noodle soup, bought a bunch of fruit and headed home for a movie and early night.

Tomorrow we’ll either walk part of the way of Mount Shuishe or we might walk around the other side of the lake. Or maybe we’ll just sit and read a book (less likely).

More then.

Making a Star Wars character on the train, three maps are better than one, and passing a potty dancing dog.

Day 224: Chiayi & Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan We walked across to Chiayi train station for the last time today, to catch two trains then a bus to Sun Moon Lake.

We assumed Christmas decorations would have been taken down by now, but surprisingly, they’re still going strong. We’re now a little curious to know how long they’ll be in place for – perhaps locals follow the Queen’s lead to leave decorations in place until at least 6 February every year, or perhaps they come down just before or after Chinese New Year. Let’s see.

We sat in the train station waiting room for a bit (we were pretty early again, surprise!) A guy was sitting just to our left in the front row of seats, fast asleep. His phone rang 5 times while we were sitting there, but his deep sleep state meant he didn’t hear it ringing.

Lil got more anxious every time the phone rang, imagining that it was his work calling him to know where he was, or friends or family calling to find out why he hadn’t shown up somewhere, or or or… She was close to going and shaking him awake, but Jim convinced her it was probably better to leave him be. He was still fast asleep when we headed to the station platform, and who knows, he may still be there right now.

We caught the first train to Ershui, then switched to a train to Shuili. We had 20 minutes in between trains. Lil decided to run to the loo, causing havoc as she needed to get through the station barriers without tapping off with her travel card. A lovely station guard let her through, then showed her where the bathroom was, and before she disappeared into the ladies, urged her to ‘beware of time!’.

While we waited for the train to depart, we pulled apart a Kinder Egg that Lil had bought earlier, scoffed the chocolate and put the toy together – a Star Wars bracelet that Lil wore until it fell apart later in the day. Big kids that we are.

The train to Shuili was very cool – old carriages with arches, and old style curtains. The driver was sitting at the front of our carriage, in a small curtained cubicle. And we could see out the front window down the track ahead, making we feel like co-pilots (or co-train drivers, which admittedly doesn’t sound quite so cool).

The journey was fabulous – we wound our way through forests and farms growing all kinds of fruits and a series of awesome little train stations. We only realised half way through the journey that the route we were on is now a popular tourist route called the Jiji line.

Then we caught a bus from Shuili to Sun Moon Lake, an easy 30 minute journey. There were only a handful of people on the bus (and thankfully no bickering couples today). The driver managed to steer us around windy mountain roads and up to Sun Moon Lake with one hand, while slurping a large drink through a straw with the other. Impressive, if a little alarming.

We arrived at Sun Moon Lake early afternoon, had a quick coffee, then popped into the nearby visitor centre. Lil already had one tourist flyer for the local area and wanted to see if there were some more detailed maps. Language difficulties resulted in us walking out with a second copy of the same map. Oh well.

We walked to our accommodation, a two minute walk away, and the lovely manager served us hot plum tea while we checked in. We also tried some cherry tomatoes with fruit jelly which were pretty unusual, but delicious.

And to top everything off, she gave us a third copy of the map we already had.

We got settled into our room, then headed out for a walk by the lake. Sun Moon Lake is a tourist hot spot in Taiwan – we’re lucky to be visiting in low season, and to be here midweek when it’s far less busy. Also by the time we arrived the tourist buses were leaving, so we had a nice quiet afternoon.

Sun Moon Lake is Taiwan’s largest freshwater lake, named because (with a fair stretch of the imagination) the east side looks like the sun and the west like the moon. There’s a 29km path that runs the entire way around the lake, which we’ll cycle around over the next few days.

This afternoon we had an easy walk around to a larger visitor centre, where we caused mayhem by walking across a drained ornamental lake, which was being cleaned. Then back to town for pre-dinner beers, then dinner.

And our selfies are still rubbish, as this pic at a heart shaped pergola shows

On the way back we passed a slightly potty dog which was tied to a fence, but doing some mad dance moves on its hind legs.

Tomorrow we’ll either rent bikes and pedal around the lake, or we’ll do some shorter walking trails. And with three copies of the local map between us, we should be well prepared.

More then.

A spot of bickering on the bus, sitting on top of the world, and front row seats are the place to be.

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.

More then.

Off to the mountains on a narrow gauge train, in search of some famous doughnuts, and people have a giggle at Jim’s shorts and gloves.

Day 222: Chiayi & Fenchihu, Taiwan. This morning we walked over to Chiayi station to catch the Alishan Forest Railway train to Fenchihu. This is the farthest the train runs these days, due to typhoon damage in 2009 and 2015. The full line is expected to be renovated in time for a possible World Heritage listing in 2023.

It was pretty exciting to board an old narrow gauge train, and even more exciting to clickety clack our way out through Chiayi and start the climb into the mountains.

The journey took just under two and a half hours, and we went through some of the most scenic terrain we’ve encountered so far. Huge mountains, tea plantations, palm trees and bamboo trees, plus dozens of tunnels and old wooden bridges. And some tiny, very cute little railway stations.

We arrived in Fenchihu around midday, grabbed a quick coffee then set off in search of our hotel. It turned out to be about 25 metres away, along a side alley and down a small flight of stairs. The very efficient receptionist grabbed a local map, sat us down and marked the local walking trails and other points of interest. Our room is big and airy, and the view from the tiny balcony is just wonderful.

Fenchihu is a really interesting town (though to be honest, it’s more of a large village). It’s centered around an old street called Old Street (lots of creative naming there), which has lots of different shops and stalls selling all sorts of sweet and savoury foods and treats. We tried a local sweet rice cake, then a bean flavoured jelly sweet. Much to the disappointment of the stall owners, who were hoping to offload large bags of the stuff onto us, we weren’t keen on either.

Despite the town’s popularity, it’s managed to retain a rustic feeling, with lots of old wooden buildings and some cool artwork dotted here and there.

We set off for a walk around the local walking trails, and they were spectacular. Lots of ascending and descending, but on decent wooden staircases and boardwalks, and through thick bamboo, cedar and mahogany forests. The cherry blossoms are just starting to bloom, which added pink splashes against the cloudy low sky.

It’s a lot chillier up here in the hills, and Jim’s slightly mad outfit of shorts and gloves attracted a few stares and lots of giggles.

It took a couple of hours to complete all the trails, then we headed back into town in search of some famous doughnuts.

There’s a blue wooden house just down the hill from the train station which was used as a scene set for the Taiwanese 2011 fantasy drama movie Starry Starry Night. The house is open for viewing and not surprisingly it’s also a popular place for selfies. There were oodles of people posing inside with the historic exhibits, and outside alongside the cherry blossoms.

And right next door to the house, tucked away around a corner, is an open air and rather chaotic looking bakery, that sells incredibly good doughnuts. We bought one to try it out and see what the fuss was about. It was a little more like a croissant than a traditional doughy doughnut, but still delicious and not too sweet.

We had a quick look around the train museum, which has lots of historic photographs, and a very cool model showing how the railway switchbacks we went through earlier today, all fit together.

The evening called for a chilled glass of wine, ideally relaxing on the deck of a bar overlooking the valley. Unfortunately, there aren’t any bars up here, so we got a couple of cold beers from 7-Eleven and sat on a wooden deck overlooking the village, as the clouds descended into the valley.

By 6.00pm most eateries and shops were closed. We popped into a restaurant that was still serving food (and wasn’t overly touristy) and ordered large bowls of noodle soup and some fried rice. The food was excellent, with tasty mangetout and pea sprouts being the local twist.

An older couple nearby seemed to find it amusing that two foreigners were eating with chopsticks and couldn’t stop looking and grinning (Lil quickly checked she had her chopsticks the right way up, after her last chopstick faux pas). The couple themselves were even more interesting – they brought their own silver bowls and cutlery into the restaurant for their dinner. No idea why.

Then we headed back to our hotel to chill out and watch TV. By now it was starting to get really cold (though Jim was still wearing shorts) – night time temperatures drop to about 8C.

Tomorrow we’re up early to catch a bus to Alishan, the original end of the railway and a higher point up the mountain, to walk some of the small trails there. And later the same day we’ll catch a bus all the way back to Chiayi, a two and a half hour trip down a crazy winding road, which should test out Jim’s travel sickness containment skills nicely.

More then.

Seeing eye to eye with a bunch of fish heads, frozen water bottles stuffed up chickens, and Jim gets his live insect fix.

Day 221: Chiayi, Taiwan. We woke this morning and popped out into the hotel corridor to switch our bedroom light on. It’s a kooky little hotel, made all the more challenging by some over-excited kids sports teams charging up and down the corridors, banging and hooting.

And as a side note – thanks to our mate Cynthia for clarifying what ‘smoking crow weapons’ means, from yesterday’s blog post – apparently it’s opium. Not something we tend to carry around Asia with us, so all should be good.

After a late breakfast, we headed out for a long walk to Lantan Lake, with a quick detour to a local Saturday morning market. There was all kinds of everything on offer at the market, from fish heads to intestines to frogs with their insides hanging out. All a bit much, straight after breakfast.

A guy pulled over on a motorbike as we were staring at the fish stall, to ask if he could help (he spoke excellent English). We said no thanks, but he still gave us a good briefing on the different fish on offer, including the ones in the pic below which are called milkfish.

And we came across a novel way to keep chickens fresh – stuff frozen water bottles inside them.

There was also a very cute dog sitting in a box at a stall. We assume it wasn’t for sale.

We walked on to Lantan Lake which is part of a reservoir system providing water to Chiayi. It’s a little less picturesque than it would usually be, as the water level is pretty low just now.

We had a side trip to the NCYU Insect Museum, the largest collection of insect specimens in Taiwan. The last information we could find about it online dated back to 2017, but we took a punt that it might still be open. It was – and it turned out to be a very worthwhile detour.

We were lucky to turn up just as a live insect show was taking place. Jim queued up with a bunch of kids to hold pieces of wood with all sorts of huge insects hanging onto them, including an enormous elephant beetle.

After we’d had our insect fix, we walked around a nature trail through Houshansunliaobudaoxiao Park, which was just as fabulous as its spelling. The 3.5km track, which is very popular with local people, winds away from the lake up onto a ridge and back down to the main road.

Then we walked back to town past some more great Xmas decorations that are still in place, had noodles for dinner, and kicked back at home to research and book accommodation for the coming week.

Tomorrow we catch the Alishan Forest Railway train east to Fenchihu. The train used to go all the way to Alishan but due to typhoons in 2009 and 2015 the highest section of the railway has been closed. The good news is it’s being repaired and is expected to reopen in 2023.

More then.

Smoking crow weapons banned at the hotel, Jim gets his Star Wars fix, and a very inconvenient light switch.

Day 220: Tainan & Chiayi, Taiwan. We packed up this morning and caught the train to Chiayi (prounced Jaah-yee), a city about 70km north of Tainan.

Chiayi is a key jumping-off point for Alishan National Park, and the start of the Alishan Forest Railway, which we’re taking on Sunday (we’re very excited).

After our futile attempts to get our Alishan Railway tickets printed out at 7-Eleven kiosks, we decided to ask the ticket office at Chiayi for help. Like everything here, it was a super-efficient process, and less one minute later, we were walking off clutching our printed tickets.

Jim took the opportunity to pose next to a monster Christmas cat outside the station. We assumed Xmas decorations would be whipped down a day or two after Christmas, but they’re still going strong.

There was also some cool artwork next to the station, featuring a family of mice having dinner around a big table (as they do) – it says something like ‘Happiness is yours – Chiaya Heart City Vision Pavilion’. Looks like mice enjoy dumplings too.

We walked 50m to our hotel, which is definitely from a different era, but it’s clean and fine for what we need. And the big plus point (which is why we chose it) is being a stone’s throw from the station.

After we’d settled in (and worked out that the bedroom light is in the corridor outside the room), Lil quickly translated all the information messages in the room in case there’s anything we should really know about. Mostly they were saying not to cook on any stoves in the room (very unlikely), or to dry clothes on lighting fixtures or lamps (also very unlikely), and if police knock on the your bedroom door, make sure to ask to see their search ticket (alrighty). Plus no gambling in the room and no ‘smoking crow weapons’ (we’re thinking that last one may not have translated very well).

Once we’d read and memorised all the notices, we switched off the light in the corridor and headed out to visit the Alishan Forest Railway Park. The beautifully kept park has lots of old steam engines and carriages once used on the railway into the mountains. Some of the trains ran continuously for over sixty years, well into the 1970s.

There was also an awesome exhibition of wooden sculptures in one of the nearby buildings, by different local artists.

Then we walked to a sculpture called Song of the Forest, an impressive wooden structure with views over the surrounding parks and houses.

Late afternoon, Lil packed Jim off to see Star Wars while it’s still showing in cinemas here. Apparently the Chinese subtitles weren’t too intrusive.

Then we met for dinner in the town – scoffing huge plates of dumplings – and headed home to do some travel planning. We had an earlyish night, and discovered that a light switch in the corridor is even more inconvenient when you’re already in bed.

Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk around Chiayi, to check out some more local sights. And hopefully a visit to a night market to try out some weird and wonderful local foods.

More then.

Spotting Woody Woodpecker’s distant cousins, a whacky display of birds’ feet, and another sighting of Gus in Boots.

Day 219: Tainan, Taiwan. We headed out for a long walk today, around the ‘Yanshuei Estuary Important Wetland’.

The walk took us along a boardwalk lined with mangroves and figs, and we strolled through clouds of bulbul birds chattering away. It was a stunning walk on a beautiful warm day, and even better, we had it all to ourselves.

As we wandered along, Lil heard something manically pecking at a nearby tree trunk and we peered through some branches to find two woodpeckers searching for their lunch. They were local varieties rather than the Woody Woodpecker sort (perhaps his distant cousins) but still fabulous.

Being the ‘important wetland’ that it is, there are lots of different herons and waders in the estuary, and again Lil’s sharp eyes spotted an avocet sifting through the mud. There are supposed to be black-faced spoonbills visiting the area too, though we didn’t spot any today.

Where the boardwalk meets the sea, we ducked through an underpass to avoid having to dart across a main road, and spotted some interesting artwork.

There’s a short track through mangroves that leads up to a sunset look-out south down the beach. There were lots of Taiwan blue magpies flitting around and screeching at us to leave. Not a friendly bunch at all.

From the beach we could see hundreds of oyster beds which continue for hundreds of kilometers up the shoreline.

Then from the shore we walked into Taijiang National Park visitor centre, which was built in 2010 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It’s one of the better visitor centres we’ve visited.

Along with lots of stuffed birds there was a whacky display of coloured birds feet.

We left the visitor centre to take a walk around the local wetlands. We spotted a guy walking in front of us, who we also saw in the city yesterday – an unmistakable European guy with long wavy hair and knee length boots, which must be hellish in this heat. We’ve taken to calling him Gus in Boots.

After a long walk around the wetlands, we stopped for coffees at a small cafe by a temple. The lady at the cafe clearly knows what she’s doing – they were some of the best coffees we’ve had on our travels so far. Nice cups too.

Afterwards we walked through the Anshun Salt Fields – the first industrial district for salt production in Taiwan. It was created between 1919 and 1923 during the Japanese occupation period. The salt is dried in beds using pottery shards, which creates very high quality salt that can be consumed directly.

Most salt production was exported to Japan (98%) and Korea (5%) – although the figures don’t add up, that’s what the sign says. Only a tiny quantity of salt is still produced today. There’s also a interesting old deserted village in the complex, from various eras of redevelopment, with some small parts still used for outdoor activities. Jim had a quick rest outside what we think was the old barber shop; shame it’s not still in operation as he could do with a hair chop.

We walked back towards the coast, passing the remnants of an old Dutch fort. The big wall has holes for cannons to fire through at any intruders approaching from the sea, which is now about 2km away.

The sun was setting as we walked from the wetlands and past a local temple to the bus stop.

We caught the bus back to town, had dinner and another chilled evening, tired out from a long day of walking.

Tomorrow we pack up and catch the train to Chiayi, a town about 70km north of Tainan, and a jumping-off point for Alishan National Park. And perhaps we’ll spot Gus in Boots there too.

More then.

Burning joss paper at the temple, feeling smarter than the average bear, and the New Year’s parade just keeps on going.

Day 218: Tainan, Taiwan. We were woken at 7am by some crazy loud drumming and screeching noises coming from the street outside.

Bleary eyed after a very late night, we peered through the curtains to see a large and noisy New Year’s Day procession rolling past. A little early for us.

We got another hour’s sleep then headed downstairs for breakfast. This morning’s breakfast had been moved back to the guesthouse restaurant, and we were treated to more country and western tunes, including some in French. Go figure.

We moved accommodation today, to a different guesthouse across town. Despite it being a public holiday here, most shops and restaurants seemed to be open – even the local street market was in full swing. We spotted an interesting stall selling what looked like girdles and other strapping – we’re still not sure if it’s for exercise strains or bondage needs.

After dropping our bags off at the new guesthouse, we headed out for a New Year stroll around the town.

We dropped into the Wind Temple, which is almost 300 years old and the only temple in Taiwan that worships the wind god (who, interestingly, is also called Uncle Wind, the Wind King and the Wind Queen).

A lovely man at the temple pointed out the God of Thunder and God of Lightning, who were standing proudly nearby.

Another temple nearby was selling large blocks of yellow joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, which people then threw into a large brick furnace in the outside courtyard. Joss paper burning is a traditional Chinese-Taoist practice during special holidays and funerals, and is said to send money and material goods to deceased relatives in the afterlife. Some temples have now banned the practice, due to pollution concerns. The temples themselves may not be too happy about that one, given it’s reported they make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from selling the paper.

Afterwards we walked through a large market, with lots of fruit, vegetables, fish and a stall selling New Year cakes. We bought four different cakes – let’s just say they’re pretty solid, though delicious. The lady at the stall chattered away in Chinese while we were pointing to different cakes – we’ve no idea what she was saying, but it caused lots of chuckles from people in the queue behind us.

We also visited the Chihkan Tower, a 19th century pavilion built on top of the remains of a 17th century Dutch fort.

By now it was mid-afternoon and we watched the New Year’s Day parade for a bit, which was still going around the city. Some of the guys had clearly had enough already, as they were fast asleep on their float as it went past.

We also popped into the Confucius Temple – which is dedicated to education and intelligence. We climbed the rickety steps to upper levels and placed some coins on the shrines, in the hope that we’d leave feeling smarter than the average bear.

Our last stop for the day was the Great Old Gate, to the south of the town. Built in 1736 it’s one of only two city gates left from when Tainan was the capital of Taiwan. A stall outside the gate was handing out free pots of rice congee, which was fabulous. Laba congee (literally 8th day of the 12th lunar month) is prepared to celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment day.

As we walked home, the parade floats were still doing their rounds. We had dinner at a local eatery, picked up a few things from the local store, then had a quiet night in watching TV with a glass of vino.

We went to bed after 10pm and were just falling asleep when we heard loud drumming and screeching noises coming from the street outside. We peered through the curtains, and yep, the parade was still going.

Tomorrow we’re planning a long walk along the coast and through some salt beds. And hopefully the street parade will have finished by then.

More tomorrow.