Wild Taiwan

A lady of leisure writes about wildlife in Taiwan.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

XiTou 溪頭森林遊樂區 and Shanlinxi杉林溪

This will probably be our last vacation in Taiwan this year so we wanted to go to a really nice place. The two places which we chose were XiTou and Shanlinxi. We took the train to Taizhong and then took the Taizhong bus to XiTou. While waiting for the bus, we had a walk around Taizhong city. It's a huge city with a lot of Philipinos, Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese. Some of these were probably married to Taiwanese men or immigrant workers. There were also many shoe shops, jewellery shops and bead shops. It's almost like Taipei!
The Taizhong bus left at 1 pm and drove through Nantou city, Luku and finally Shanlinxi. Nantou had some streets which were really old and the street signs were so faded. The houses were one storey with classic red gates. These same houses are usually abandoned in Taipei but in Nantou, they seemed to be occupied. As Nantou lies on the faultline, lots of earthquakes happen here. In Sep 21 1998, there was a 7.8 quake and 4 bridges collapsed, the hospital caved in and many buildings were damaged and couple of thousand people died. As we were staying in Xitou we got off the bus there and walked to our inn. The inn which we stayed in was 好聖地民宿 meaning good holy ground inn http://forest.mmmtravel.com.tw/?ptype=a1It's probably a deliberate change of chinese character to sound like the original tourist attraction 好勝地. The inn has two locations. One down the road built like a tudor house and one at the shopping street. We stayed at the shopping street as it's nearer to the entrance gate to Xitou.
The shopping street housed restaurants and shops, all selling the same things like tea, bamboo rice, trout, stream prawns, fermented bamboo, honey, carbon-coated peanuts, preserved plums etc.
As the altitude was around 1000 m, it was quite cool. It even rained shortly after we checked into our room. Thank goodness that each bed has a very thick and warm blanket. One thing I must say, Taiwanese inns have super hard beds, it was the same in Wulai and elsewhere. We used one of the blanket as mattress in order not to wake up with stiff shoulder and necks, even then it only barely helped matters.
The second day, we woke up to a hazy morning. As the inn doesn't serve breakfast, we went to this local breakfast place tugged in the village and had fried noodles, hot soy bean drink and carrot cake. Only the noodles and soy bean were good. We packed some glutinous rice from the stall as lunch. As it was Sunday, the whole place was swamped with cars and people. There weren't enough car parks and all the cars were parked on both sides of the road which was a slope. Nobody seemed to put any rock beneath their tyres. It would have been quite a disaster if some car's brakes failed. We were waiting at the bus stop for the bus that would bring us to Shanlinxi and in that half hour wait, we saw about 10 cars coming to park at this particular spot. After each car had parked properly, as the driver stepped out of his car, the parking attendant would yell at him and said parking was not permitted. So much petrol was wasted! A woman drove up in her SUV and asked everyone at the bus stop whether they want any lift to Taichung. I supposed she would charge a fee. No one said yes so she sat down and had her breakfast.
The bus came and we paid 60 NT each to get to Shanlinxi. It was a winding road. Each complete curvature was named after one of the twelve chinese zodiac character. I supposed it would help in case a car breakdown or in an emergency, the exact location could be given. We climbed above cloud level. Along the way, we saw tea plantations and some more inns. Some cars were also parked along the road side. There were also vegetable sellers selling fresh local produce. At the entrance, a staff boarded the bus and we paid him the entrance fee of 150 NT. Then he left and wished us a pleasant trip.
Shanlinxi is a temperate/alpine forest area. There are some broadleaved plants, conifers, and of course stream/river from the waterfall which gave it the name shanlinxi. 杉 is chinese fir. 林 is forest while 溪 is stream or river. I've always understood 溪 as a stream but in Taiwan, that can be a huge river!
A road connects the waterfall at the edge of the park to the entrance. Bus fare was 20 NT per person. We decided to walk along the road which was pleasant enough except when the bus passed by, we had to hold our breaths against the diesel fumes. The bus ran every few minutes so holding our breaths was a regular exercise. We passed by a green eutrophicated lake, which I suspect received its water from the toilet built next to it, an archery ground, experience earthquake fun house, karaoke shops and restaurants. There was a medicinal garden with lots of medicinal herbs and an eatery that sold some of the medicinal soups using the herbs found in the garden. A budhist bell was in a pagoda and kids and adults alike hit it. The sound travelled quite far and we thought initially that there was a monastery within.
The waterfall was not spectacular but the curved caves on either side was very interesting. There must have been more water before causing so much erosion.
As the bus to XiTou was departing at 250 or 430 pm we decided to take the earlier bus. We initially wanted to walk down to Xitou but the rising mist was getting too thick that we couldn't see ahead of us. The 40 min bus ride brought us back to where we started and the same lady with the SUV was still waiting there.
There was nothing to do when we got back to Xitou except wander outside the park entrance, around car park, looking at people plucking some cucumber-like plants.
The first night we had grilled trout, trout soup with fermented bamboo shoots, stir fried mushrooms and raw egg with young fern fronds. It was all pretty good. The second night we went to another stall and had bamboo rice, oil-dipped chicken, stir-fried dragon's bristles and lily bulb soup. It was not so good. I asked the owner what's the difference between the bamboo rice sold at Xitou vs Wulai and he said they're the same as the bamboo came from the same area.
As we wanted to see more of the south rather than just Xitou and Shanlinxi, we asked the inn keeper and his wife whether they knew anyone who would drive us around. They found a friend of theirs who would charge us 3000 NT for a trip to Sun moon lake. After further discussion, the wife of the innkeeper decided that they would drive us themselves. So the third day, we walked around Xitou instead. The inn keeper drove us passed the entrance so we didn't have to pay the entrance fees. We had breakfast at the Leader hotel within the park. For 500 NT for the two of us, it was really expensive and service was non existent. We had to clear the table and get the spoons and chopsticks ourselves so that we could eat. The CDs that the restaurant was playing kept jamming so it was quite an endurance test.
Anyway, it was good to get out of there and walked around the park. Xitou is one of the experimental station runned by National Taiwan University's Forestry Department. There are Taiwan fir, gingko trees, bamboos etc. There were lots of birds too. We walked along the road and then took the bird watching trail to the peak where the observatory was. It was a long walk, to and fro, about 10 km uphill and downhill. Then we went to see the University Pool. It was one the best scenic locations. All in all, we walked about 20 km.
To celebrate our second year wedding anniversary, we had dinner at another hotel, Mingshan hotel. See http://www.mingshan.com.tw/di-2.htm Surprise, surprise, we had the same kind of food offered at the shopping street: bamboo rice, stir fried dragon bristles, trout soup, steam trout, stir fried watercress. We just can't escape local specialities!
The next morning, just as we were leaving the inn, there was power failure. It was very good timing, the inn keeper and his wife drove us to Luku to eat rice cupcake and wanton noodles. Both were excellent albeit too oily. Then we head to sun moon lake. Along the way, the inn keeper's wife was telling us lots of interesting titbits aboud places and people. The bananas, rice, tomatoes were excellent in the Mingjian 名間 area. The 集集 Jiji mini train station where people go and see the train station and bicycle around. 綠色隧道, green tunnel, a nice road with camphor trees planted on both sides. We went to see a collapsed temple that was still standing because the contractor did a shody job. It was quite amazing, the ground floor and upper floors were all collapsed and sunk underground. We saw only the outer facade of the temple and the intact roof. She also mentioned that the Shuilisheyao 水里蛇窯, a pottery kiln that also sold pottery was nothing great and also very expensive. Finally we reached Sun Moon Lake日月潭. It turned out to be just another lake, not fantastic. I wonder what all the huha was about. It was a major tourist trap. Everything was expensive.涵碧樓大飯店 The Lalu Sun Moon Lake must be the top of the top in terms of price range. The brochure indicated that the hotel charged 17840 NT (S$900) for a single room. We wanted to use the washroom and it was not permitted. We were not even permitted to visit the place. I guess each flush of the toilet would cost 1000 NT. In the end, we used the toilet from the teacher's hostel next door.
After sun moon lake, we went to Puli 埔里. Now this is an interesting place. Here is a geographic marker which marks where the centre of Taiwan is and also a wine factory. The wine factory makes the famous Shaoxing wine 紹興 that is used by every household that cooks chinese dishes. This wine is sold all over S.E. Asia too. The factory is not so much a factory but more like a display shop with museum upstairs. The shop sells Shaoxing rice crisps, Shaoxing ice cream, cakes and several different types of wines. The museum upstairs was showing the earthquake scenes and the extent of damages in different districts within the Nantou county. Previously, the inn keeper's wife told us that the earthquake happened at night, when they got up in the morning, the whole mountain moved and all the soil piled out just outside their door! The huge boulder, five times a man's height and with width doubling that, inside Xitou, was actually further up the mountain but was loosen after the quake. During the typhoon, it was swept to its present location. Since nobody could move it, it became a tourist attraction.
For lunch, we had some fatty pork, also called kongbak, in Taiwanese, with rice. It was really tender and smooth. Then it was time to bid farewell to our inn keeper and his wife. We took the Puli bus back to Taizhong (150 NT each) and then it was back to Taipei. All in all, it was a very enjoyable and educational trip.