Magical Alishan

We visited Alishan County and the Forest Reserve in the last week of November, as well as Yu-shan, the highest mountain in Taiwan. This area touches a special place in my heart. Such peace and beauty in the rolling high mountain tea fields and bamboo forests. And silent communion with the giants in the forest reserve. So far my favourite area, along with Taroko Gorge, and Sun-Moon Lake.

This time, Kaya and I get on the HSR to Taichung (1 hour super fast at 300km/hour) where we pick up our rental car from IWS which I booked through Klook at a great deal. Rental cars here can be rather pricey, so it’s really worth to look around. In February, I used Formosa Car Rental, this time I’m getting a better deal with Klook for IWS Car Rental. Both experiences have been great.

After we pick up the car, I’m on the road, sitting behind the wheel of a new, scratch-free car after roughly seven weeks not driving… and am feeling a little bit nervous finding my way through city traffic in Taichung (pronounced Die-djong). We have some last minute shopping to do for Kaya’s Yu-shan trip, find the camping fuel for her burner, some red wine and cheese, other food items for the trip and finally our way out of the Quarrefour store, through the maze of the car park and the many white cars (which one is ours??) and onto our route to Alishan.

The Freeways on the west coast take us through mostly industrial areas, not very interesting to look at, a sea of concrete, brick and glass blending with a greyish sky, but fast if you’re trying to get somewhere. A couple of things stand out along the way – a giant golden Buddha statue and a giant Ferris wheel. No time to stop, (not that we really want to), we’re trying to make it to our B&B before nightfall.

Once we get off the highway and head into the mountains the driving and the scenery become way more interesting. Small country roads become very narrow and curvy – Google maps, where are you taking us?? Oncoming traffic is at times intense, requires sudden stops, alertness and patience. Where are they all coming from? Ahh, apparently, there was a marathon today in this area and folks are heading home now (it’s Sunday). We’re glad we missed the marathon, and glad when we join Hwy 18 again. Later, looking at a map, I see that the tiny road was a shortcut saving us quite a few kilometres. Thanks google!

Hwy 18 runs south-north in this section past Eryanping Trail and would have taken more time. Though I recommend Eryanping Trail which I hiked in February.

And then there are the spider colonies with massive tunnel webs and spiders of all sizes spanning roads… I wasn’t able to get a good shot to show the dimensions and frequency of these webs – luckily mostly high above us! What looks like specks of dirt are all spiders and their prey.

We arrive at our B&B in the Shizhao area of Alishan Township – high mountain tea fields nourished by the cooler and moist cloud forest climate. Our hosts greet us with freshly brewed Oolong tea from their fields (many homestays are located right in the tea fields), freshly roasted peanuts. And, as the sun sets, the sea of clouds rolls in. An ever-changing spectacle to watch in the evenings and mornings. The “cloud baths” are what makes the tea of this area so special.

We enjoy a snack-style dinner and tea on the porch outside our room; it’s noticeably cooler here at about 1600 metres. An evening walk up the hill as darkness envelops the landscapes around us leads us to what will be my morning sunrise spot where the road leads into bamboo forest. I see a single fire fly, would like to venture further, but it’s dark, we’ve got no flashlights and don’t know where the path leads.

The next morning, I get up early to see the sunrise and enjoy the play of light on the tea fields, the valleys and mountains. Delightful!

But as the day progresses, we’re both not doing so well. Kaya has been struggling with an upset tummy, which at 4 a.m culminates in a major let-go bathroom session… I leave the rest up to your imagination. The arthritic joints in my left foot are acting up and thus slowing me down. Okay. I get the message. Slow down. Let’s drive and take in some sights… alas, even that becomes at some point too much on the narrow windy roads. Vistas can’t compete with a turning stomach, so back to the B&B and into bed for Kaya; and I head off to the market to get ginger and find other local medicines in Fenqihu.

Prior to the stomach turning, the drive to Dinghu was lovely. A narrow one-lane road through bamboo forest; then Hwy 18 back to Shizhao; Hwy 159 (Dahua Road) to Kuang Hua Ting Ben Tzu Recreation area (驛馬溪休閒農場) by the Bazhang river. As one traveller describes it, “a great place for emptying” and another adds, “a great place to go for a firefly walk” – very quiet, peaceful, hardly anyone about. Along the way we see a pheasant and a deer. It really is a very lovely drive, as so many in the Fenqihu (or Fencihu) area. The firefly trail is something I’d love to do, alas, not the right season, much better in late spring, early summer.

And the sun rises again filling the world with colour and light…

Kaya calls it “squeezing through the eye of the needle”… and she squeezes through, all perked up and hungry the next day. This one-day stomach bug and its many cousins have moved on to my body and take over in fast progression. By the evening on the next day I’m ready to die (says the drama queen in me). Instead, I slip into a hot bath, a very hard bed, take a strong painkiller and sleep! We made it to Alishan National Forest Reserve, but that’s about it for me – made it. Miraculously! I wake up after 12 hours of sleep, still groggy, but alive and pain-free. We’ve missed the sunrise this morning, but there’ll be another one tomorrow. Over the course of the day my energy comes back full force. I’m amazed. We are at around 2500 metres and today’s hike, though gruelling for me in the beginning, leaves me energized, with a healthy appetite, no rumblings and ready for more adventures. We’ll get up early tomorrow – 5am – to catch the Alishan sunrise train.

Alishan Forest’s red cypress trees are famous in Taiwan and beyond. And there are only a few of the ancient ones left. During my last visit in late February/early March the Sakura cherry trees and some early Magnolias were in bloom drawing many visitors. These blossoming trees are indeed a lovely sight, and were planted by the Japanese in the early twentieth century — in place of the ancient red cypress trees, which they had logged and turned into thousands of smoothly lacquered tea tables… Sniff, ahhh, when it comes to the destruction of virgin forests my heart bleeds. But such has been the way of it for millennia all over this planet, and sadly, it continues as a recent stand-off in my home province British Columbia in the Fairy Creek area shows. I am glad to see the efforts made here in Alishan to preserve the few giants left.

So much to love here, and so much to let go off. As everything in life… this too shall pass. On the way down, we came across this lovely group of hikers who invited us to a bowl of soup freshly cooked on the camping stove. So typical of Taiwanese outdoor enthusiast – cooking and sharing along the way!

The next morning, we get on the Alishan Train to take us up the mountain from where we walk another brisk 20 minutes to the platform to watch the sun rise over Yushan and touch the clouds below. It’s a beautiful morning, conditions are favourable (clear skies, some clouds and mist in the valleys)…

It wasn’t the most colourful sunrise, but we enjoyed it, especially hanging out after most people had left, taking in the the beauty of it all…. 🙂 Alishan is a special place… We finally say farewell to the views and head back down to pack, depart and meet Kaya’s friends for her Yushan hike. Another chapter…

This photo was in the train station, but I actually wonder if it was taken from Mount Yushan and shows a sunrise like the one Kaya will see on her hike.

Off to Yushan, the Jade Mountain, we go…

11 thoughts on “Magical Alishan

  1. I love this post. You’ve really captured the beauty and specialness of the area – magic indeed. It will be top of the list when we finally get to Taiwan.
    Too bad about the stomach bug – nasty little critter – though you both seem to have recovered quickly. I can remember having something similar from time to time over the yrs of travel and there’s nothing for it but to release and sleep. Lol I fainted in an airplane washroom once from food poisoning and came to to find the door had been removed and there was a semi-circle of concerned people looking down at me.
    I can hardly say which is my fave photo, there are so many I’d choose, but must mention the one beneath the opening portrait of Kaya – the spider webs and pink flowers – just beautiful. Also that’s a lovely portrait of your beautiful daughter.
    Alison xo

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    1. OMG, that sounds like quite the airplane experience! LOL looking back, eh. Yeah, Alishan is really special. And Yushan (working on the post). I have so many more amazing photos – it’s easy when you are surrounded by beauty. 🙂 Plan your trip for end of February/beginning of March when the Cherry blossom and local Shizhao tea festival is held in the area. I happened to stumble upon it last year – what a treat! I don’t think you would like December and January here – too cold and rainy in northern Taiwan and the mountains. Though everyone says it’s the worst winter they remember. Kenting is super windy at the moment. I hear Tainan is a good place to spend the winter and will check it out soon. And I will definitely come back to Kenting and the beaches. Now, the upside of winter is that it’s empty! Apparently, in the summer it’s very busy. I have one more day here, then returning to Taipei. xo hugs

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  2. Hi Surati, my internet connection at the hotel is very bad. Yesterday I was not able to get on at all..
    So while it works, quick question: How did you handle your first week after the quarantine? Were you able to get on the MRT or is that strictly forbidden? A guideline states to avoid gatherings, but it seems to be that many streets are crowded and that it could be challenging to do that…
    Ah, so looking forward to freedom and only 1 more week to go!
    Thanks, and continue to enjoy,
    Sylvia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sylvia, hang in there – this too shall pass.
      I used MRT and buses when needed, saw my daughter, did things, especially walks in nature, hikes. Just wear a face mask. If the internet is bad, How about using your phone hotspot? I have unlimited data and connect my computer to my phone hotspot. Looks like it might be a little warmer and nicer by the time you get out. Take good care!
      Surati

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      1. Today I am enjoying the use of the internet and it certainly makes the day go by faster.
        Yes, thank goodness for Mobile Hotspot as well.

        Glad to hear that one does not get into trouble for riding the MRT the first week of freedom. I thought I had read somewhere that one is not supposed to and with the tracking ….

        Thanks for your quick response, Surati

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  3. Hi Surati – I have been enjoying the happy reunion with my son and freedom! Could not be happier (except for very tired quarantine legs and knees)… do you want to send me your email address or should I private message you on FB? Right now my son has lots of time off and next week also.. but his schedule not set in stone.
    Amazed about the warm weather!

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