Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Chinese New Year in Taiwan

There are pros and cons to visit Taiwan in the Chinese New Year. On the one hand we did experience the bustling and exciting atmosphere of this big festival of Chinese culture, on the other hand some hard times in transportation were inevitable. We landed in Taipei on the 20th of January. We went sightseeing at some main attractions in Taipei on the 21st before departing at night for Chiayi which was a point of departure for the famous Alishan. We also spent some time in Tainan before heading back to Taipei where we stayed for four more days by the end of the vacation. Worth mentioning was the Taiwan High Speed Rail that brought us from city to city in around 20 minutes. It’s a very advanced and well-developed system opened in 2007. It’s also the most effective means of transportation throughout our trip. What I loved most about Taiwan were still all those palatable foods found in night markets.

The Taipei Metro was adequate, and so we were at ease touring around the city. Main attractions included Mengjia Longshan Temple, National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, and 228 Peace Memorial Park. There were also Taipei 101, the second tallest commercial building in the world, and Beitou hot springs district, where we went for a private hot springs hotel room instead of the public outdoor hot springs. You don’t want to miss such high quality hot springs! Besides, we had a half-day trip and a 1-day trip in two hot spots named Jiufen and Shihfen respectively. Never once had I see crowded trains like those. We could hardly breathe. If you are fine in an extremely jam-packed train, go visit Jiufen, which is a small town filled with both retro Chinese and Japanese style cafes, tea houses, and souvenir shops, as well as stunning views of the ocean, and Shihfen, where you can see the biggest waterfall in Taiwan. 

Visitors go to Chiayi probably only for the popular scenic spot called Alishan, which is a range of mountains on Taiwan’s spine and from which Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan, is easily visible. Since the famous Alishan Forest Railway from Chiayi was under maintenance, we took a bus at Chiayi HSR. The journey took over two hours including toilet breaks. We went sightseeing around Alishan by walking around trails indicated on a map provided by the hotel. We were excited about the view from Jhushan just before dawn, the top attraction in Alishan. The next morning we woke up so early, took Alishan Forest Railway up to this peak, and waited there frozen at 0 degree Celcius. Unfortunately, we saw nothing due to heavy fog. What a disappointing start of the day! Back in Chiayi we shopped and ate again in the big night market. We also had a massage the night before leaving the city.

Tainan City is known as one of Taiwan’s oldest cities and cultural capitals for its rich folk cultures including famous local snack food and extensively preserved Taoist rites. There are more Buddhist and Taoist temples in Tainan than any other city in Taiwan. We particularly loved a big night market in Tainan, as there was a wider variety of mouth-watering snack food. We would have gained some weight if we stayed longer. It’s nice seeing all those cultural heritages too, but again we disliked the messy traffic. There wasn’t a well-developed rail system and there were always long queues at bus stops. We visited Anping Fort which was built by Dutch in 1624 and had been the administrative center of the Dutch regime and the hub for trading, and Chikan Lou, the Chinese style towers built on top of an old Dutch fort called Provintia where some of the original brick foundations could still be seen in certain areas of the site.

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