Alishan : Small trains and giant trees

January 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Posted in heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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The oldest tree I saw was 2,000 years old. There used to be lots of trees like this in Alishan, but during the Japanese occupation many were cut down. Narrow-gauge railways were built to help transport the wood for export. Nowadays tourism has taken over from logging and the trains carry people not trees.

The Alishan Forest Railway was badly damaged by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 and much of it remains closed. However, you can still ride from Alishan to Zhushan (which most people do to watch the sunrise).

I hope one day I can go back and take the train from Chiayi direct to Alishan and say hello to the ancient trees again.


Alishan : in Micro

January 13, 2012 at 1:03 am | Posted in heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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When I visited Alishan in December, it was around 12°C. A very fine mist made everything damp and much colder than it really was. The forest seemed to absorb sound. The trees towered up, but I looked down at the micro-world around me, which was a whole little forest by itself.

Alishan : Panoramas

January 9, 2012 at 3:56 am | Posted in heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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The forest-scape of Alishan National Scenic Area was the perfect place to try the panorama feature of my new camera.

As we waited for the shuttle bus at Shoujhen Temple, the mist crept in and enveloped us. Within 2 minutes we could barely see a thing.

There was no ‘sea of clouds’ the next day at dawn, but it was still beautiful, if a little cold and wet up at 2,000 metres.

Ode to Jhunan

November 29, 2011 at 11:30 am | Posted in culture, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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It’s not cold except when you move and the humidity clings to you. Wind breakers and down jackets are essential; a scooter ride is chilling and indoors there’s no heating. A hot shower or steaming congee is the only way to warm up.

Balmy, wet Philippine air curls paper and leaves condensed pools on the tile floor. The smoke from the industrial park is indiscernible in the rainy mist. Mountains appear through clearing air. Puddles evaporate and the atmosphere thickens once more. A few days and mosquito eggs will hatch. Birds chitter-chatter, feasting. At night the bats take over.

Green foliage gets greener. Wildflowers grow at the edges of rice-paddies and scrubland. Butterflies flit, avoiding stray dogs’ playful bites. The Red Man stares out over town, bare-chested, barrel-bellied, taller than the surrounding buildings. The god of fecundity, he seems out of place among the factories, better fitting the mountains beyond.

Food stalls change. Lychee and pineapple trucks appear every day. Dessert orders alter; no more warm tofu or sweet red bean soup. It’s mango shaved ice from now on. Air-conditioning soon follows. The streets feel grimier than ever as the heavy air clings to all surfaces, absorbing dirt spewed out by scooters, cars and 7-11 delivery trucks.

The road shimmers with heat mirages, but at night it’s cockroaches that glisten. Scurrying brown bodies cross the bathroom floor. Movement on the wall; a tiny gecko running out of sight.

Cumulonimbus tower where coastal flatland meets the mountains; stratus whisp away above the rolling waves. Shifting sand is in fact a myriad of tiny, see-through crabs hot-footing it across the burning grains. The huge white arms of windmills sway lazily. The weather has calmed. Surfers eat burgers and drink at the bar whilst families stroll the cycle route through the forest.

At the harbour, the sign says ‘shrimp monkey’ in English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian. Crunchy fried things and fresh seafood are for sale. A man buys three long silver fish and scooters off with them balanced at his feet, pointed noses sticking out on one side and shiny blue tails at the other. Strangely, Matsu, protectress from the sea, has her back to the harbour, instead looking west towards the Red Man. But she must still care as tour buses of devotees regularly visit her temple.

Listless, tumultuous gusts blow hanging clothes on balconies, knock over potted plants and free-standing signs in the streets; the typhoon hits the other side of the island and is barely felt here, except for a lifting of the mugginess.

Soon the wind will start to cool. Walking into the street will not feel like walking into a dirty, decaying greenhouse. For a few weeks the days will be glorious and the evenings cool. Then the clamminess will set in and it’ll be time for the electric blanket and ginger milk tea or hot and sour soup.


November 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Posted in culture, heritage sites, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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Maokong lies in the southern hills surrounding Taipei. The area began cultivating tea in the 18th century and exporting it in the 19th century.

Tea production continues today, although Maokong is now more famous as a place to enjoy drinking tea than as a production centre.

There’s an array of tea houses to choose from (50-60 according to the tourist map). Whether you’re looking for a terrace overlooking the views of Taipei, or a hidden garden tucked among tea plantations, it’s a lovely place to while away an afternoon. There are also plenty of easy hiking routes (paved paths) which lead you into quiet valleys and tea fields.

The views of Taipei are stunning but even lovelier is the cable car ride up to Maokong. The carriages are small, with large windows – some even have glass floors (known as Crystal Cabins).

The total ride is about 20 minutes, although there are two stops before you reach Maokong. Tourist info has a good map which shows how the stations, hiking routes and roads (you can also take a bus here) link up. If you get on at an intermediate stop, you might have to wait a while for a cable car with space since most people ride the whole route without stopping.

video courtesy of Jonathan

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