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Published: September 28th 2014
It was still raining lightly when we woke next morning but we were planning a day at Yangmingshan National Park and a bit of cooling misty rain wasn't going to stop us. The park covers 114 square Klms, and has thick forests mountains (just), hot springs (13 in total) and acres of rolling grass hills. It was once the centre of the armed resistance movement in Northern Taiwan after Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895. Old fortifications from that era dot the park as well as many Japanese pillboxes from the Second World War.
The park was easy to get to - a couple of subway stations away and a half hour bus ride. The bus was full of older Taiwanese - the couple we spoke to go to the park most days to walk and meet friends. Once there a circuit bus goes around all the scenic points of the park. As the park is so large, with many trails, you could easily spend a few days there just seeing the highlights. We were hoping to spend a little time in one of the hot springs - the park has thermal areas, mangrove, grassland pastures - in fact
the landscape is very diverse. We didn't get to one though as the walk we wanted to go on was closed due to slippery conditions. A typhoon had skirted Taiwan a few days before we arrived, resulting in heavy rain.
We followed the retirees and walked a couple of klms along paved and pebbles paths to Erziping nature area. This is a man built lake and bird reserve surrounded by picnic tables. Very pretty with the mountains surrounding it and many groups of retirees having picnics around the lake. Lovely fresh air though still humid it was cooler. Smog hasn't been an issue for us in Taipei though the city has been covered with a fine rain cloud and resultant drizzle since we arrived. We left to go on one of the trails leading from the picnic area but turned back as it was downhill and the paved path was slippery with moss.
We caught the bus up to one of the thermal areas but despite smelling strong sulphur smells couldn't see any of the sulphur pits. due to thick fog.We decided to walk the Jinbaoli trail to the hot springs but were told at the ranger's office
that the trail was closed part way along. We chose to walk the circuit trail instead - it was lovely as it crossed the hilly grassland - and after the high rises of Taipei it was good to be out in the open again. We walked through the mist for a few hours, meeting the occasional cow, but nobody else.
We left the park after lunch (much earlier then we planned) as the weather was definitely against us. We caught the MTR from the outskirts to visit the Taiwan Culture Shop as I wanted to check out the local handcrafts. Really pleased that we did as we saw some quality items for sale. We loved the Rainbow Jade stoneware vases. They aren't really my thing but the colours of the stripes in the stone were intense and we've not seen stone anywhere like it before. I bought a handmade glass bead (they are made by one of the indigenous groups here) and Jerry bought a few bits and pieces. Wooden carvings, handmade soaps, jade, cloissene, leather products, glass beads, indigo fabrics and finely crafted pottery items (tea sets etc) are all produced here. Their ceramic items are particularly good,
and very highly priced.
Hunger pains caught up with us so we left to visit another of the many night markets scattered throughout the city. The Roahe market was aimed squarely at the locals who seem to eat out more then they eat at home. Night markets sell endless cooked food and of course the usual market household items. We couldn't find it however (we always seem to be lost here despite English signs and helpful locals) but found another one - though it was more a shopping street - instead which was a lot of fun. We tried bubble tea, a cold milky tea full of large cocoa flavoured tapioca. Certainly drinkable but we won't need to sample again. We can't quite see the appeal of chewing pieces of tapioca! We did enjoy the pastry, egg and cheese snacks we had. The dough is stretched so it's very flaky with filling placed on top before being grilled on an open grill. We did find a cafe/museum that we had been looking for the previous day - unfortunately ten minutes after it closed. Another long day....
The sun was shining as we headed off back to the main
station next day to purchase a ticket to Ruifang, the starting point for one of the tourist railway lines. Standing room only, so thankfully only an hour long. There was a mad rush at Ruigfang Station as all the local tourists bought tickets for the Pingxi railway. The train follows the course of a river through a narrow valley and the region was once the centre of coal mining in Taiwan. Jerry and I were planning to go to the end of the line and travel back down it during the day. The train gradually emptied as we went up the valley. The countryside was very lush and we eventually followed a river along until we reached Jingtong. A little time exploring the tiny town and dodging the souvenir stalls before we walked a couple of klms to the next small town of Pingxi.
This little village is famous for it's sky lanterns. Once only released during an annual festival they are now a major income source for the villagers. They are very large, four sided, made from tissue paper and bamboo. At a cost of AUD $6 certainly not expensive, but hundreds must be released weekly (daily in
high season). We couldn't resist sending one up! It was a lot of fun painting them and now all our family are blessed with good wishes and health after having their names painted onto the sides of our red lantern. The balloon is lit and then floats up into the sky - you will all be happy to know it drifted for a long time before disintegrating.... They would be very pretty to watch after dark as they glowed in the night sky. Later we passed by a man who was paid to go around and collect the remains of the lanterns that didn't burn up totally. No doubt the hills are littered with them but as they are made from layers of very fine tissue they wouldn't last long on the ground.
After the delights of sky lanterns we walked up into the hills for a picnic lunch under the tree canopy. A welcome relief from the intense humidity. The day before we had found a temperature gauge with a humidity reading of 99%. Catching the train onwards to Shifen where we spent a fun hour watching all the Taiwanese tourists play on the railway tracks. Asians love
taking photos of themselves and pose for endless photos at every possible opportunity. Everybody with mobile phone cameras are carrying around sticks with phone clasps on them so they can take selfies from a distance. The markets are full of camera stands, leads and attachments in vibrant colours. There is a great range of LED USB leads that flash and change colour. They are probably in Australia but I've not seen them anywhere.
We enjoyed another food treat - guava ice cream, very refreshing, sold wrapped, with crushed peanuts, in thin pastry. Yummy... I bought myself another indigo dyed cushion cover to add to my collection. From Shifen we planned on walking along the waterfall trail to the next village of Sandialong. However the tourist office told us it was closed - we thought because of damage - but discovered when we got to the first waterfall it was closed because local entrepreneurs who owned the land around it had fenced it off to free access, thus not allowing a direct route to the rest of the path. We would have been happy to pay to get passed but the all the restaurants etc were all locked and closed
for business. We were not the only disappointed tourists.
We walked back to Shifen and caught the next train - back to Ruifang as it was now to late to walk the route to the other waterfalls as a one way and back to the beginning. The Pingxi valley hadn't really been a success walk wise! But fun all the same - we certainly enjoyed watching and joining in the fun of the sky lanterns. The scenery beside the train was very pretty, extremely dense and green. We caught a bus from the square in front of the train station in Ruifang - it was easy to find as we followed the crowd of local tourists - they were all heading to Juifen, once a gold mining village, set in the hills above the ocean, as were we.
We wound though the hills for twenty minutes or so passing one gaudy new temple and spotting another temple like structure (or hotel maybe) absolutely sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight with gallons of gilt paint which was being constructed in the hills high above the sea. The bus stopped lower in the village and we all trudged up the
slope to the maze of tiny narrow streets. Once it would have been quaint but today was full of tourist shops and restaurants and thronged with people.
We surged with the crowds, most following a guide carrying a flag. You got easily identify the tourists from mainland China by their noise level. They are so much louder than the Taiwanese people. Lots of weird and wonderful food on sale - green coloured herbal cakes (sold in very doughy looking cubes) and treacle cakes. Once we passed through all the stalls which lined the streets near the bus stop we found a much more pleasant part of the town. There were many viewpoints of the north east coastline from along the footpaths in the hills of the town. We watched the sun set over the ocean.
I went into one of the teashops which were dotted around the town. It was the first teahouse in the town and was in one of the lovely old wooden buildings. Beautifully decorated with heavy wooden furniture it would have been a very appealing place to pass a quite hour or two. Despite the very expensive price per pot of tea it was
full, with a wait list. We decided to go back to Taipei to eat and were lucky to find a bus leaving.
Nearly an hour later we left the bus when it stopped outside a MTR station with a lovely temple across the road somewhere in the city, planning to take the subway into the city centre after we visited the temple. As we turned the corner to go to the temple we saw the Roahe night market - the one we had been looking for the previous evening!
We spent some time amidst the candles and the LED lights of the temple before joining the throngs of people enjoying the night market. We joined the first long queue we found and waited for the pork buns they were selling. With our hands full of steaming packets we thought we would have a plate of vegetables at one of the stalls with tables and chairs whilst we waited for them to cool slightly. Beans and sweet potatoes are offered hot or cold at most meals here - including breakfast. It was very much a local market which we thoroughly enjoyed. Full of clothing, electronics and household products as
well as endless stalls of food. No tourist bits which was great.
It was getting late and still having no idea of actually where we were we thought that we should go back to the MTR station which was at the opposite end of the long market. We had to push our way back down the length of the market and arrived at the MTR to find it locked. We were standing there looking perplexed when somebody came us and told us that they were still building the line! Which meant a taxi or a bus home....
We were directed to the bus stop and (thankfully all transport signage here is in mandarin and english) soon were on a bus headed into the city after yet more help from locals. I like the Taiwanese people!
We got off close to Taipei 101 - it looks great after dark as it glows with colour - and were soon on the MTR and having a welcome shower and 7/11 beer in our room. The next day we were leaving
Taipei to visit Tarako Gorge, considered the number one scenic site in the country.
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