Taiwan Travelogue 2013 (Part 2/3) -Taichung attractions

Taiwan Holiday 2013 (Part 2/3) -Taichung attractions

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 – Taichung attractions

In the previous Taiwan Travelogue (part 1/3)  we explored Taiwan’s Da Hu Strawberry Farms, Central Market, Sheng Xing Old Railway, the Gao Mei  Wetland and Feng Jia Night Market.  In this segment,  I’ll like to share with you Miyaharu, Sinshe, Rainbow Village, Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village, Wen Wu Temple  and finally the ascent to the mountains of He Hehuan Shan in the Taroko National Park.  We also had  a great meal at Chun Sui Tang, where the original Bubble Tea was founded .

Lai Lai Soya Bean Milk Shop

Our guide Ah Hui, always ensure we get a good start to the day through our stomach. Although most ming su (homestay) does not provide breakfast,  it turned out perfect for us as we get to enjoy popular local eateries. This always enhances the novelty experience and pleasant memories in any vacation, especially if you are a foodie.

Lai Lai Soya Bean Milk Shop, at No. 91-2, Section 3, Wenxin Road is a popular local eatery, famed for it’s salty soya bean milk.  The consistency is thinner than Japanese chawen mushi (steamed egg) and served with you tiao (deep fried flour fritters), chives and drizzled with soya sauce.

The 1st mouthful tasted “weird” but after my taste buds adjusted to the 1st mouthful, it tasted pretty good! .  The shop menu is quite extensive so diners are not restricted to their signature item.

Miyaharu (Gong Yuan Yan Ke)

Housed in a former eye hospital, Miyaharu (Gong Yuan Yan Ke) is opened by Dawncake – an established store in Taichung that sells pineapple tarts and other pastries packaged in nice boxes.  It has become so popular that it is listed on most travel guides to Taichung. Miyaharu is worth visiting even if you have no intention of buying anything.  But it take the most disciplined of shoppers not to let the purse strings loose as the packaging are simply beautiful.

Not many visitors to Miyaharu (Gong Yuan Yan Ke) can leave without tasting their wide range of ice cream flavours or siping on their bubble teas. You can either have it as takeaway at their main branch or at another outlet nearby, where you can dine-in.

Mushroom Garden, Sinshe.

Enroute to the famous Lavender Cottage in Sinshe, we stopped by the Mushroom Garden. Sinshe produces 60% of all Taiwan’s mushrooms, so there are many mushroom farms and restaurants. But Mushroom Garden is one of the most popular and it has a casual eatery with mushroom-based menus. It also has a pick-your-own mushroom farm.

Most mushrooms are planted in growth packs under a cool humid conditions. During our visit, there were several mushrooms available for picking: Shiitake and Coral. These fresh mushrooms have to be preserved in the refrigerator within 8-12 hours, so it’s not quite suitable to take home for us visitors. Dried mushrooms would be the way to go.

A beautiful Coral Mushroom seen in it’s “original packing”. Not in the wrapped grocery mart style.

 

Tasty mushrooms based menus. Delicious and healthy. And really reasonably priced at the farm eatery.

Lavender Cottage, Sinshe.

 

The Lavender Cottage was founded by two bosom friends – a music teacher and a banker who both had the dream of having their very own lavender farm. The two girls love coffee and herbs, and they drew their life story and recorded their feelings into music while traveling. After years working in Taipei and Kaohsiung, they quit their jobs and went to live out their dream by being farmers. They tried to cultivate lavenders and bought a hill in a remote place, where there was no network connectivity. It was very difficult but after years of determination, they fulfilled their dream. These two girls are the hosts of Lavender Cottage. The ladies are the two purple drawing figures that are placed outside their shops.

Lovely and soothing lavender plants abound the farm. The best season to visit is between cool November to April, when the bloom is at it’s peak. Hot summer stunts the growth of lavender, so do factor this in your visitation plan.

Our visit in November saw just the beginning of the blooming season. Somewhere towards December onwards will see a denser field of lovely purple bloom.

Make your own bookmarks at the farm booth. No charges applies, a sweet touch.

The farm entrance fee comes with vouchers that you use to redeem drinks and ice cream – lavender flavoured, of course!

Retail shops sell a wide variety of lavender scented products like soaps, perfumes,etc. The soap fragrances are so appealing, even my daughters, who don’t usually use soaps, can’t resist using them.  But being of high-grade and organically produced, it’s quite pricey.

Ding Wang – Premium Spicy Hot Pot

 
 For spicy hotpot lovers, a meal at Ding Wang Spicy Hotpot Restaurant should not be missed. Other than the delicious offerings at this renowned restaurant with many outlets islandwide, you will be bowled over by the impeccable service by the waiting staff, who will bow at almost 90 degrees every time they serve or converse with diners as a sign of respect. This is part of their eatery culture and signifies the founder’s humble beginning.

The menu offers a wide variety of hotpot ingredients, including sliced white pork, prime beef, squid, fish balls, mushrooms and fried dough sticks, as well as handmade dumplings. Ding Wang Spicy Hotpot Restaurant also offers free refills of the soup, pickled cabbage, bean curds and duck’s blood. Even their complimentary white rice (which you can help yourself to) is nicely cooked.  After the meal, the leftovers in the hotpot are packed for takeaway (upon your request). They even top up the pack with complimentary  fresh bean curds and duck blood.  Tip: you MUST make an advance appointment or be prepared to queue up to 2 hours on a busy night.

Chun Shui Tang, home of the original Bubble Tea.

 
 Chun Shui Tang Cultural Teahouse, is believed to be the home of bubble tea, where it all began. It is a definite must-try in Taichung. At their beautifully decorated eatery on 30 Siwei St, Taichung, you can savour a wide range of tea-based beverages, reasonably priced and tasty traditional Taiwanese snacks such as pig’s blood, toasted cheese bread, beef noodles and braised pork rice, etc, all at reasonable prices.

 My daughter’s western breakfast meal of toasted bread with cheese, served with vegetable salad. She simply polished off the entire without any prodding.

Our lip-smacking noodles with braised pork.

And of course, at the ground zero of bubble tea.  You will love it, bar none.

Rainbow Village

This is one of the more unique landmarks in Taichung.  This Rainbow Village was built for Nationalist Soldiers in the 1950s and later it became a residential area. It was saved recently from being torn down for redevelopment, by Taiwaneses who petitioned the government to conserve the venue. The sole surviving veteran soldier is Grandpa Huang, who is 96 years old at the moment. He is the face and soul of the village and he still paints at the wall, floor almost everyday. There’s no entry fee but do show your support by buying mementos from his stall or drop some money for his expenses as art materials cost money. Prepare to spend about 20-30min while taking memorable pics there. Have a picture taken with him, if he’s around at the time your visit. A truly special place with it’s time ticking away. Hope it stays as long as possible.

My family with Rainbow Grandpa Huang….healthy and strong at 92 years old.

 

The whims and artistry of Rainbow Grandpa is reflected in the riot of colours and decor at the Village he created. Occasionally, students drop by to help him clean and maintain the village.

 

In travel across Taiwan, visitors will invariably come across this scene. Yes, a drive through one of the many tunnels cut through mountain ranges. Taiwan is a mountainous country, with it being divided East and West by mountain ranges from North to South. Certainly lot of engineering ingenuity and effort was used. This pic was taken on our way to our next venue as you will see below.

Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village

This popular huge 62 hectare themed park was opened in 1986. It was famed for introducing Taiwanese aboriginal culture and its lush forest and beautiful European Garden. I remembered visiting this themed park as part of our R+R after our army training. It has grown much bigger since and includes an amusement themed park and cable cars to Sun Moon Lake.  Sort of a bigger version of Genting Highlands but without the casino. It was awarded the “Premium Award theme park”, from the Taiwan tourism bureau. Prepare to spend at least 3-4 “rushed” hours before taking the cable car to Sun Moon Lake. Remember, in winter solstice the days are much shorter. It gets dark from 5:30pm onwards.

Checked out archery (recurved bow) at the range at NT100 for 20 arrows. Instruction from aboriginal instructors are complimentary, of course.

An aboriginal craftsman honing his skill, and as showcase for visitors…

Wen Wu Temple

The Wen Wu temple entrance facing the Sun Moon Lake is a focal point for most visitors at this scenic location. It is said that many fought and perished over that piece of rock in the picture.

It was foggy but it lent an air of romance and mystic to the venue.

On a clear day, you can expect to enjoy the scenic Sun Moon Lake, as seen on my guide’s Smartphone.  Enjoyment of Taiwan is subject to the whims and wills of Mother Nature. She gives you some and she takes back some too.

Food vendors, in Taiwan, are generally warm and friendly, even sincere as this elderly cha ye tan (tea leaf eggs) and sausage vendor (at the Wen Wu Temple entrance) showed. Many, especially at night markets, will politely and enthusiastically invite you for a free tasting with “absolutely” NO obligation to buy. But once you are in their “lair”, chances are you will part with some money as their warm and hospitality will bowl you over. It helps that their food is delicious.

 

Although the fog obstructed our view of the Sun Moon Lake, we were rewarded with a “once a lifetime” event when we chanced upon the Nippon-Taiwan Vintage Car rally. It was Japan’s reciprocal gesture to Taiwan for their huge humanitarian aid in the wake of the Tsunami disaster of 2011. It was an exciting event, especially for car buffs.

An antique Mercedes roadster

Rally start/end point at the Sun Moon Lake visitor centre.

The Sun Moon Lake visitor centre, designed by Japanese architect Norihiko Dan and Associates is an awesome modernistic and Zen-like structure completed in 2006. Certainly worthy of a stop-over whenever you visit Sun Moon Lake, one of Taiwan most famous landmarks.

Cing Jing Highlands

The ascent up the mountainous region of Qing Jing marks one of the highlights of our Taiwan vacation. Stays at this region are usually at one of the cosy ming su (family-run home stay) around 1800m above sea level.  Most offer awesome expansive view of the mountain valleys, plantation and of course, cool clean unpolluted air. Other than the room, bed and breakfast, WiFi connectivity are commonly available too. My only gripe is that most ming su websites are in Mandarin.

 

Waiting up early for the 7+am sunrise can be difficult and takes commitment, especially in the 5’C to 8’C temperature that we encountered during the trip. My younger daughter refused to wake up, it was too comfy and toasty in her quilt cover. We were “lucky” to encounter such a cold snap as it means we will be able to see snow. That is rare in Taiwan and only possible in Hehuanshan in Taroko National Park.

For a city folk like me, view like this are certainly memorable and enriched the vacation experience.

Thin newly formed clouds greeted us as we wake up to a new day.

Another European styled ming su Old England , a very popular with wedding photographers who always use their clock tower as a background for their outdoor shoots. Understand from my guide it’s very expensive to stay there and their bistro serves NT500 high tea (appointment advised).

Green Green Grassland Farm

I finally realised why my wife booked the ming su which you see above. It was just a 10 minute walk downhill to the Green Green Grasslands. This awesome sheep farm holds daily shows with sheep shearers from New Zealands. You can stroll slowly among the green fields, take in the azure skies with the mountains range in the distance and frolic with the grazing sheep.

A rodeo show at the farm. Feel the power of the whip!

Sheep feeding time! A word of caution, these sheep are hungry, in fact, Famished! Little kids might be pushed over if not careful.

A Taiwanese couple doing their wedding shoot at the farm. The farm is a fave wedding photography venue.

Just had to do a picture for my family with the “castle” in the background so we could tell friends we were in “Europe” πŸ˜‰ …

Bees farm at the Cing Jing market further down the mountain, excellent bee pollen and honey products are available for purchase at reasonable prices.

Enroute to Hehuanshan, our guide brought us to Ta Luo Wan, an eatery famed for it’s fish head hotpot and scenic view. He needed to warm us up for the -5 to -8’C temperature at the mountain peak at our next destination.

For a non-fish lover, this delicious and fresh deep fried head hotpot was a gem of a find! It tasted like fried chicken wing with a really tasty broth.

 

The eatery, nondescript-looking from the outside. But once you step inside, be enthralled with the view, nicely paired with great food. The colourful Taiwan logo is an indication of the standards achieved. It’s also famed for it’s roasted chicken.

HehuanShan (3275m)- Taroko National Park

Words cannot expressed the chills from the -5’C temperature we experienced that day. It’s also the wind that further adds to the chills down your spine. Be prepared. Ear mittens are a must, to prevent frostbite. It helped that our guide prepared hot Milo to warm us up and the spectacular scenery made it worthwhile.

One fringe benefit of the freezing temperature, icicles (no sugar, no artificial flavouring) comes complimentary.

The frozen WC in the men toilet…did someone missed their target? or maybe they couldn’t do zeroing in the freezing temp?

The frozen foliage encrusted with ice. When the wind blows, the plants jingle like wind chimes. An experience beyond description.

The ever-changing mountain scenery in the setting sun… awesome beyond words.

I have friends who saw this picture and asked “is this real ? Photoshopped?”. What do you think ?

A group of Taiwanese photographers snapping away at the sunset. I envy them for the beauty at their “doorstep”.

 

A great way to end the day would be a session at a Lushan spa hotel. Lushan is one of the famed hot springs area in Taiwan, where  many locals and tourist go to for it’s mineral water hot dip. Our family hot spa package was NT1800 ($76 SGD) for a 2 hours session. The room was stocked with drinking water, a rock-like hot tub, shower & toilet facilities, etc. It was a great way to warm up our body after the chills at the peak. 

Thank you for joining me thus far. In the final segment, you will get to see more food and Taiwanese attractions!


Note: All pictures in this blog are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography – all rights reserved and not to be used without permission! πŸ™‚

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