Alishan Mountains: Beautiful as a Chinese painting (seen from 鹿林神木 Lu Lin Shen Mu).
Suggested Itinerary Day 10: Tainan 台南 to Alishan 阿里山
Mr NGFL wanted to skip Alishan but 阿里山的姑娘美如水呀／阿里山的少年壮如山：come on, who doesn’t know the song? From Tainan, you have to take either the Taiwan Railway or High Speed Rail to Chiayi 嘉义 and stay at a homestay, which is likely to be on another mountain but have a good view of Alishan. Don’t stay at a hotel on Alishan Mountains because it’s crawling with tourists and there is nothing much to see. Get your homestay to fetch you from the train station and start the tour by going to 奋起湖 Fen Qi Lake. Funny story about the lake: there is no lake here! According to Ah Tiong, our driver, there isn’t any water to begin with! According to legend, in the olden times, when people saw the town from a mountain zenith, it looks like a dustpan. So they called it dustpan in Hokkien. And over time, they transliterated “dustpan” to Fen Qi Hu. To be honest, this town is very kitschy and touristy, you may skip it if you want to.
Fen Qi Hu is a small town, known for its train station and its 铁路便当 train lunchbox. Stop for lunch here. Out of the many stalls selling lunchboxes, we stopped at 铁路餐厅 Tie Lu Can Ting (竹奇乡中和村奋起湖148号, No. 148 Fen Qi Hu), which advertises itself as the only licensed shop selling lunchbox. Since we’re law-abiding Singaporeans, we ate here. Not too bad: the pork chop was marinated thoroughly with hints of star anise and sesame seeds, crispy and hot, cooked on the spot. But the photo above looks better than it tasted.
After Fen Qi Hu, ask your driver to send you to 鹿林神木 Lu Lin Shen Mu to see a 2, 700 year-old tree and a great view of Alishan. Soak in the quietude and grandeur of an old spirit. Then go buy some tealeaves at 达明茶库 Da Ming (pictured right, address and telephone number included). That’s right, the guy in the photo is the teahouse boss’s husband! Da Ming wins awards for best Alishan tea yearly for the past 10 years and the boss was very friendly and chatty. She kept feeding us tidbits till we nearly missed our bus. Her award-winning tea doesn’t come cheap: a small packet (about 150g) costs $450NT. TIP: Like wine, tealeaves need to rest. Keep it for a while before drinking it.
After buying tea, return to your homestay for some interaction. We lived at Mimiyo 秘密遊民宿, which is one of our best experiences of the trip.
At Mimiyo, you can see Alishan in all rooms, including the dining room. Gorgeous stone toilet with a mountain view.
The Dining Area
The home-cooked aboriginal dinner was fantastic! 6 or 7 dishes, all ingredients are either grown or caught by them. ORGANIC! The aborigines are hipsters before hipsters are cool.
Tiny river fish, with many edible bones like sardines, tasting like mineral.
Homecooked Taiwanese breakfast of congee: not too bad. If you’re white, they even give you bread, but the bread looked like the texture of man-tou. Haha.
After dinner, the owner would start a fire on the veranda, boiling tea that aids sleep. We sat around to chat with other travelers. Very toasty.
By the time you reach your homestay, if there is still light, you can ask your host to see if there is any fun activities. Our aboriginal host taught us archery!
While Mimiyo is rather amazing, there are three flaws: (1) expensive. For transportation, food and lodging for a night, we paid $6200NT. (2) Inconvenient: it’s on another mountain, not on Alishan, so you have to hire driver. (3) No air-con or heater. When we were there, it was winter atop a mountain, freezing our nuts off.
Days 11 and 12: Alishan 阿里山 to Sun Moon Lake 日月潭
Lake on Alishan
If you want to watch sunrise, aim to reach Alishan Zhu Shan 祝山 by 5am (tell the hosts to arrange) but to be honest, there will be so many tourists and tourguides speaking through loudspeakers that you won’t enjoy the sunrise. Instead, have your breakfast leisurely and reach Alishan Recreational Park at 9am. A hike around Alishan would take 2-3 hours and you can take the 1pm direct bus from Alishan Recreational Park to Sun Moon Lake by Yuan Lin.
Along the way, the bus stops at a plum village. If you like plum wine, 梅子梦工厂 Dream Works of the Mei sells one of the best plum wines in the county.
By the time you reach Sun Moon Lake, it would be around 5. Check into your hotel or homestay. When you book your hotel, remember to check that it’s at 水社 Shui She town. The other towns are quite far away and you may have to take a ferry across. We had the good fortune to stay at Hotel Del Lago 日月潭大浃阁, just two minutes’ walk from Shui She Visitor’s Center where the Alishan-SunMoonLake bus stopped.
Hotel Del Lago sits on the famous Shui Shen Quay
Large beds overlooking Sun moon Lake with Crabtree & Evelyn Toiletries.
Hotel Del Lago was awesome! Great service, beautiful view, big bed, big bathtub, wonderful amenities, convenient. If there is one minor thing, it is that the bedsheets may be too thin. But I’m being finicky.
A few weeks ago, Straits Times posted a photo of Taiwan. Guess where the photo is taken from: Hotel Del Lago! (see photo below.)
Morning view from Hotel Del Lago
After resting for a while in the hotel, go out for dinner. 2-minute walk from Hotel Del Lago, try 阿荣邵族面 Ah Rong Shao Zu Mian (南投縣魚池鄉水社村名勝街18號 No. 18 Ming Sheng Street, +886-49-285-6876). The concierge assured us that Ah Rong is where the locals eat. It was crowded and they had to turn people away and the food was sold out at about 8pm. So be there early.
We ordered set for 2 ($1268NT) at an exorbitant price which included a steamed President fish (river fish has so, so much bones), wild boar hotpot, Shao Family’s braised pork trotters, etc. The food was homely but nothing spectacular and we had a mild case of diarrhea. You can buy ferry tickets at the restaurant at 50% off the normal price. Take advantage of it.
After dinner, take a walk around the town and wharf, which takes 15 minutes. At the wharf, try Dolce Luna Gelato (名胜街3号B2, Basement 2, No. 3 Ming Sheng Street, +886-49-285-5381) for their handmade gelato with no added chemicals, chilled at -14 degrees Celsius.
The next day, wake up early at 6am to take a walk up the mountain. Hotel Del Lago has a guide who brought us up and taught us about the ecosystem. Return to hotel to have breakfast and take the ferry, which stops at three places for you to walk. There are too many places of interest at Sun Moon Lake to list. Pick up a copy of Sun Moon Lake Tourist Passport ($80NT), which provides detailed itineraries, catering to a traveler’s needs.
Day 13: Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 to Taichung 台中 and Lukang 鹿港 (Day Trip)
From Sun Moon Lake, take a 2-hour bus ride to Taichung via Nantou Bus Company. If you stay in Taichung, visit the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (free entry) and Paochueh Temple with one of the largest and fattest laughing buddha. But Mr. NGFL likes 罗大佑’s “鹿港小镇,” we used Taichung as our base, dropped our bags at CityInn Hotel Plus 新驛旅店 which is just beside the train station, continued to Lukang, and returned to Taichung at night. Places of interest in Lukang include Longshan Temple 龙山寺, Matsu Temple 天后宫, Folks Art Museum 民俗文物馆, Old Market St 古市街, Nine-Turns Lane 九曲巷, and Breast-Touching Lane 摸乳巷. For more info on Lukang, visit Lukang website or the visitor center in a large carpark across from the bus station.
Continue the journey:
Part 4: Northern Taiwan: In and Around Taipei
PS: Thanks to Mr. P. K. Liang for arranging such a nice room at Hotel Del Lago.