Friday, October 30, 2015

Hehuan Wuling 合欢武领

We were not in luck as we began our journey on our 4th day. Allie had to drive really carefully through the thick mist that shrouded the mountain roads.

It was still quite pretty though, the sight, as I felt it dream-like. Too bad we did not manage to visit on a day with blue skies, bright sunshine and rolling white clouds that look like rows of cotton candy.

Halfway to our first destination of the day, we made a pit stop for the washroom and for some things to munch on.

Some kind of funghi?

Allie insisted that we try this:

These deep-fried salted mushrooms were so addictive, I nearly finished the whole tub when they left it with me while they went shopping for fruits at another stall. Aiya....

The first stop on our itinerary for the day was Hehuan Wuling Hehuan Wuling (合欢武领), at 31.5km of Highway 14. At 3,275 metres above sea level, it is the highest transport-accessible point in Taiwan.

I felt that our arrival at Wuling was slightly lacklustre because of the thick mist - a tad disappointed that we did not get to see the famous scenery. That and also the large amount of tourists.

I suppose, that means that I need to make a third trip to Taiwan, eh? ;)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cing Jing Xiao Zhu 清境小筑

My worries regarding accommodation in the mountains came to naught because I found out that there were hundreds of places to stay at from the cheap budget motels to big hotels and one-of-a-kind boutique homestays.

For our night up in the mountains, I chose to stay at a place called Cing Jing Xiao Zhu 清境小筑. Browsing their website somehow gave me the impression that they are similar to a place I would find in Cameron Highlands. And I was not wrong in my assumption.

Not only was the exterior of this B&B similar but also the weather and surroundings. The dirt road leading to this B&B was a meandering narrow one that skirted vegetable patches and allowed only one vehicle at any time.

The reception was unmanned when we arrived but there were instructions on calling the owner on the counter. Apparently, they live nearby and had just ducked home for a bit.

There was a cosy hangout platform with a pot of Chinese tea and snacks.

We walked through an outdoor area complete with comfy chairs, beanbags and coffee tables to get to our rooms.

My original booking was for a room on the top floor because I wanted the view but was informed by the owner that the view would be the same as there were no obstructions. As Mum and Dad did want top climb up too many flights of stairs with heavy luggage bags, we took up the suggestion to take the room directly beneath the original room.

The room was comfortable and had a sufficient bathroom.

The morning scenery from our room was breathtaking. No regrets switching rooms.

The dining area where breakfast was served resembled a canteen but with more fancy furniture. Those wooden chairs with floral cushioning were really heavy and difficult to move.

Breakfast was home-cooking served buffet-style. It was a meal of very typical Taiwanese brekkie.

And right beside the dining area, there were big juicy lettuces growing in rows!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lumama 鲁妈妈

Allie introduced us to this place called Lumama 鲁妈妈 for dinner. Situated at 2,044 metres above sea level, we were dying to get indoors for some warmth.

It felt a little like an over-sized home renovated to include a restaurant. Yes, it felt homely. The owners are a couple - the wife is a Bai Yi woman and the husband a nationalist veteran, which explained why most of the dishes on the menu were Yunnan dishes.

We ordered quite a few dishes and ensured that there was a soup dish in our order - anything soupy is a must in cold weather.

And so our soupy dishes were this bowl of 傣味米线 and tangkwei chicken soup (当归鸡汤):

This Yunnan-style tangkwei chicken soup was very unlike the Korean-style tangkwei chicken soup. This had a stronger tangkwei taste and the chicken were in pieces, not in whole.

I quite enjoyed this stir-fried bacon with fermented vegetables (酸菜炒腊肉), as if it was a East meets West taste.

A popular Yunnan dish is the gin sa (锦洒), a mix of minced pork and herbs wrapped in raw locally-grown cabbage leaves.

This was one dish that will got our hands dirty because we had to wrap the mince with the leaves and because of its juiciness, we were busy licking our fingers so as to not waste the juice - haha!

We ordered a tangkwei omelette (当归叶煎蛋), as well, we have never tasted omelette with tangkwei in it. Surprise surprise, in actual fact, the omelette was only garnished with tangkwei leaves. What was inside it was spring onion. Or perhaps there were some tangkwei leaves in it but we could not taste them.

Nevertheless, it was a hearty meal for all of us.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Carton King 纸箱王

Before I made this trip, bff Evon was raving about a place called Carton King (纸箱王), insisting that it is a place that my parents and I will find fascinating. Therefore, I included it in my itinerary when liaising with Judy. 

Fascinated we were! Just look at all their things!

All their displays were made of carton! And I mean everything!

Even their wall tiles were made of carton slices. Their curtains were made of patterned crepe paper.

They had furnitures made out of carton, too. Although not too comfortable, they were pretty sturdy. They even had wearable apparel like caps and shoes, even accessories like handbags and backpacks.

There were food stuff for sale that were in attractive paper packaging.

There were chandeliers and light fixtures made of carton, too.

There were toys in various sizes made from carton.

There was a working old school game machine (can anyone please enlighten me as to what this is called, please?) made of carton.

Too fascinated! Outside of the shop, there was a post shop selling notepads, diaries, journals, postcards and other stationeries of sorts.

I bought a few for my own keeping and a few I posted to close friends in KL and in Sydney.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Small Swiss Garden 小瑞士 & Green Green Grasslands 青青草原

Luck was not on our side as we approached the mountains. Rain clouds gathered and gradually, the pitter patter of raindrops became louder and more constant. The grey skies was not good for optimum photography, unfortunately, but I tried my best.

Small Swiss Garden (小瑞士) is part of Cingjing Farm (清境农场) was so named due to its resemblance to misty, Northern European surroundings.

It was a colourful little garden but the colours were less from the flowers and more from the artificial decorations put in place.

I believe that if not for the weather, the place would have felt more pleasant but we think that it is a place that you would visit once only.

Also due to the weather, our stop at Green Green Grasslands (青青草原) was less enjoyable. We just missed the sheep shearing show (but we have seen that in Australia and New Zealand anyway) and so we headed directly to where the equestrian show was performed. We waited for a bit, trying to find the least wet spot in the audience seating. I know Mum and Dad were a little annoyed with the rain but I insisted on waiting because we can't go away without watching anything, can we? And I am glad that we stayed because the equestrians were quite skilful. I was quite impressed.

Not only was it wet, it was really cold up in the mountains. Well, we were 1,750 metres above sea level so naturally it would be cold!

Even the webs in the leaves that sparkle with water drops look like snowflakes!

As we descended the stairway towards the carpark, we bade farewell to the adorable sheep grazing in the cold... er, maybe not so cold for them, they may love this weather.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hu Guo Xiong Traditional Noodles 胡國雄古早麵

This place was packed to the brim - there was hardly anywhere to find parking for the car, too. We took a number and waited to be called. With that kind of crowd, no wonder the kitchen was all go and no stop.

This place that I am talking about is a place called Hu Guo Xiong Traditional Noodles (胡國雄古早麵). What made this place special, I think, was the side dishes that accompanied their in-house noodles.

The list was quite long but Allie selected a few that he felt we should try. One of it looked and tasted like the paku that we like eating back home:


There was this side dish of pig's liver or meat that was near the liver (I am very bad with a pig's anatomy) cooked in a kind of sauce and served with ginger and spring onion. It was so tasty I think I nearly devoured the entire plate:


There was a soup with pork innards and immediately, I thought of my flatmate D, who, like me, loves eating innards!:


And of course, you can't come to a noodle shop and not have their noodle, can you? Although I am not a big fan of this kind of yellow noodles, I thought they tasted quite good, really - with the right texture in the noodles and the right flavours in the soup:

切仔麵 (汤)

My tummy was happy, maybe because the soup helped to warm up my body - especially needed during cold, rainy days. And then we were off to the mountains!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chung Tai Chan Monastery

Chung Tai Chan Monastery (中台禅寺) is a Buddhist monastery located in the township of Puli in Nantou County. It took 10 years to build and from 2001, when it was first open to the public, it has the tallest Buddhist temple in the world.

On our way to the temple, we could see it from the highway. Allie also informed us that it was designed by the same architect who designed the Taipei 101.

Situated in a mountainous site, the temple grounds were also surrounded by beautiful mountain landscape. Street parking was ample and after Allie parked the car, we walked towards the welcome arch, which to me was quite a grand one.

I noticed a map and it struck me that the place was huge! No wonder Allie said that it would not be possible to cover the whole monastery in a day.

My first impression was: Wow, so grand... so huge... so erm... actually, it looked like a 6-star hotel or a shopping complex more than a temple (no offence meant here).

As we climbed up the stairs to reach the main hall, it felt even less like a temple or a place of worship. This was made worse by the huge numbers of tourists.

The high ceilings, marble and granite finishings, despite showing how generous their followers are, also baffled me slightly. In my own experience and knowledge, Buddhism teaches pragmatism and moderation. Many a times, I hear the phrase "the middle path" whenever attending Buddhist talks. I felt rather overwhelmed here instead of the serene and calm feeling I was expecting.

However, my consolation was visiting the Chung Tai Museum (中台山博物馆), where we were shown around by a very professional and knowledgeable volunteer. I learnt much during this guided audio tour, which included exhibitions and collections of different types of Buddhist statues made of different materials such as bronze, stone and wood, as well as in different forms, such as Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arahat. There were also Buddhist scriptures and calligraphy that were written during different eras differentiated by the different styles and brush strokes. The piece I was most transfixed on was a big piece of calligraphy of the Heart Sutra (心经).

Should you be one who is interested in the different branches (or brands) of Buddhism in Taiwan, this monastery is definitely a place for you to visit. Now, I have covered two of the four (I have been to Fo Guang Shan [佛光山] in Kaohsiung). Another two to go. ;)