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Published: October 8th 2014
At lunchtime, after our fruitless morning trying to visit Pine Gardens we checked out of the hotel, walked across the wide square to the train station and were lucky enough to catch a train leaving immediately for our next destination, Ruisui, a small town about 70 klms from Hualien. We were planning on going to the hot springs there. As the train approached the town we both decided that it really didn't look as pretty as we were expecting so decided just to continue on down the line to the next town. The train was passing through the East Rift Valley between two mountains and both ranges were easily visible from the train. The scenery around Ruisi was dominated by a white river basin - which meant grey gravelly river bed and grey water - not the rice fields we were expecting to see. The town is known for its 24 klms of rafting water on the river - it would be very leisurely rafting as there weren't going to be too many serious rapids!
Another half an hour saw us in much more scenic countryside - fields of emerald rice paddies with blue mountains rising behind them. We departed
the train at Yuli, population of 3,000, and the type of little town we most enjoy. There were two hotels opposite the train station both very Taiwanese (hard beds), basic shower facilities, very worn though immaculately clean rooms. We paid 1,000 NT$ for the room - the only downside was that below our window was the constant blaring of a car alarm. The owner of the hotel's car was causing the problem and he was unavailable to turn it off till 7pm that evening!
The noise forced us out of our room so we wandered the town, poking about in all the smaller streets, watching everybody live their everyday lives. Always fun and so easy to do in Asia where they live often where they work so many shops in the smaller towns have the living room right at the back of the shop. Once again we were impressed at how clean the streets were. We couldn't find any tourism information in English except train timetables (which, along with bus schedules, are always in English on the walls of the stations). Yuli is feted for an increase in tourism numbers soon though as a massive new railway station was
Looking across to the mountains from Yuli
The clouds had all settled onto the top of the mountains momentarily - it looked very pretty!
being built over the top of the current one.
Late in the afternoon once it had cooled down, though not quietened down (the car alarm was still echoing through the streets), we decided to explore the countryside. We discovered a wonderful bike and walking path where once the old railway ran (the tracks had been cemented between). We walked for ages along it along the edge of the train with the rice paddies on one side and the mountain range behind. There were many local people also using the track which runs for 12 klms.
We met a young expat who had been living in the town for 10 years who advised us to visit the Wallami Trail which was a 12 kilometer bike ride out into a mountain valley. The last two kilometres was uphill though and though he offered to accompany us ( he was much younger than we were!) we declined his kind offer.
We explored the in the cool of the evening, dined on a 7/11 green salad and a bowl of the local noodle soup before going back to the quiet (at long last!) of our room. Jerry the arranged for a
taxi driver to collect us next morning to take us the easy way to the beginning of the Walami Trail. Next morning after breakfast at a small bakery we met the taxi for the twenty minute drive into the mountains. We were both pleased that we hadn't attempted to ride a bicycle up! Had we obtained an International Driving Licence before leaving Australia we would have been able to hire a scooter.
A pretty drive through the rice paddies - how we love being back amidst them again - before we did the final climb. We walked along well kept paths as far as we could go without permits. The path crossed over two suspension bridges - one very long and I admit to checking out it's supports first... - and the undergrowth along the path was very similar to Australian rain forrest. Lots of palms and lovely moist air, but with monkeys. Not that we saw any though we could here them.
The taxi was waiting upon our return and we were soon on the train heading further south. Gorgeous country - pineapples, palm trees and lots of rice.
Arriving in Guanshan half an hour later,
again another small town, and the usual difficulty finding somewhere to sleep. It's very hard when there is no obvious advertising. In this instance the guest house owner found Jerry. Her little house was called Fukada and was lovely. Extremely comfortable, sparkling clean and the owner was very sweet with reasonable English. At AUD $60 a bargain for this part of the world. Guanshan has set up tourism around a 12 klm bike path they have built around the town. The streets were full of bicycle rental shops with no customers at all. I guess the weekends are when they are busy. Our guesthouse had fabulous free bikes to use and late in the afternoon we ventured out on them. It was an absolutely wonderful ride through the prettiest country. At times between rows of extremely tall thin palm trees, through the rice paddies and along the foothills of the mountain under heavy forest. Most of the trail followed an irrigation channel which was first constructed in 1907 to irrigate the hectares of rice fields. It incorporated a series of small locks to divert the water to where it was needed.
By the time we had finished the ride
we had already decided to spend another night in Guanshan and repeat the ride the following afternoon. We had decided to pre purchase our train tickets from Taitung to Tainan (for two days time so we could guarantee a seat and therefore book accommodation) but that process turned into a farce. The ticket seller couldn't understand that we didn't want to buy an onward ticket from Guanshan - we were planning on spending a day sightseeing on the coast after leaving Guanshan. Eventually we went back and got our guest house owner to help - laughter ensured later when he told her that he did understand what we wanted eventually and was just about to sell us the correct ticket when we left. We got a merry wave from him every time we saw him over the next couple of days. The joys of miscommunication in foreign countries!
That evening the guest house owner directed us to a small restaurant down the street where we enjoyed melt in the mouth pork and vegetables to the accompaniment of the local television. By 9pm the little town was closed up for the evening. Quite a contrast to the cities where the
shops don't close until 10pm. Next morning after breakfast in the 7/11 (we are totally addicted to both their hot and cold milk coffees) we caught the train further down the valley to the tea growing area of Luye. Not a particularly pretty town though it did have some of the old wooden hakka houses around the railway station. I have been a little surprised to see very little hakka culture here at all. The odd tourist dance show aimed mainly at mainland Chinese so very garish. Even the souvenir shops (which actually are not very common) have no real indigenous craft items for sale.
We were able to catch a bus to the plateau above the town where we saw low tea growing plantations. The plateau was a flat grassy area where there are two hang gliding platforms (there were people doing this when we were there). Every year an international ballooning festival is also held here - by the photos on display it would be a colourful festival to attend. We were hoping to hire bicycles to go for a ride around the tea plantations but though they were advertised there were no hire shops open. So
back on the bus to our next stop which was to a resort, with hot springs, which our guesthouse owner had told us about. The resort was terrible, supposedly four star, but empty, expensive and run down. And the price quoted for use of the springs, which were closed anyway until late that afternoon, outrageous. Certainly not what we had been advised they were.
We had an hour to fill before the next bus but decided watching the traffic on the highway was preferable to the dismal resort. Traffic and people watching is entertaining as you never know what you might see. Though people here do seem to follow the rules there is the odd exception.
Later that afternoon we enjoyed the road around Guanshan again, this time extending it to go to the lake park nearby. It was also closed! But we did see a bit more of the countryside and had quite an enjoyable ride also around the city streets because they were relatively traffic free. That evening we went to the weekly night market. Quite an event in the town - it was very busy and as well as food included clothing stalls and plenty
of fair ground type games. Ring over the bottles (alcohol prizes with mainly children playing), shoot the balloons, and lots of miniature arcade games. Arcade games are really popular here - there are large shops with rows of machines lined up in every block nearly.
I confess to being well over Taiwanese food - they eat a lot of food on sticks. Tofu, all manner of seafood cooked with shells etc under batter, dozens of different types of meat balls or such on sticks, endless sausages (tasteless rice sausages, sweet pork sausages), intestines, slices of chicken skin is sold fried, in fact everything seems to be deep fried. The other option is all forms of noodles eaten in both. There is also a lot of sushi available as well. Other then steamed greens the most vegetables we've seen have been on breakfast buffets. The apples and pineapple are really nice and we've been enjoying the crisp green salads from 7/11 stores. Supermarkets are full of prepared food, particularly microwavable noodle dishes. Tomatoes are very expensive here, bananas AUD$1 each.
Next morning we purchased tickets to Taitung from our cheery station attendant and headed off to the beach.
Leaving our luggage in baggage storage at the station we boarded a tourist bus for the trip up the east coast. We went an hour and half up the coast to a place called Platform of the Three Immortals or Sansiantai which is a series of arched bridges going across to a small island nature reserve. It was vert photogenic and the rocky beach was gorgeous. Again the colour of the ocean really stood out. Lots of mainland Chinese sitting on the pebble beach taking photos of every wave as it washed in. It was worth the drive up - which in itself at been very scenic the whole way - but because our time was limited due to having a train ticket booked that afternoon to Tainan and bus schedules we were soon driving back down the coast again. We had an hour between bus schedule times and had originally planned on spending it in the art complex at Dulan (the small coastal town we were originally going to stay one night in - choosing instead to have another night in the rice paddies) but as it was closed went onto the next stop - Water Flowing Upwards -
which had been packed with tour buses when we passed it earlier that day. If you ever go there - go right past! It was the most boring thing we have ever visited! An irrigation channel which appears to flow upwards but you can see from the other side of the road by using a power pole as guide it's actually going upwards! A boring site which literally gets hundreds of tourists a day.
An ice cream helped pass the time and after half an hour counting cars on the highway our bus arrived.. Wifi and air conditioning in the train station and soon we were on the train for the four hour trip to Tainan and the after dark adventure of finding a room to sleep in...
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