Thursday, July 6, 2017

Mountain Rambles

My friends know me well. They know I like (in no particular order): coffee, books, and biking/hiking. So, a couple of weeks ago, Callie asked if I'd like to go hiking sometime during my last week here in Taiwan. Of course, I said yes. Throughout my six years in Taiwan, Callie and I have done a variety of hikes together in different parts of Chiayi and (I think) Nantou counties. After doing some research, Callie settled on a place part way up AliShan (阿里山). She, and her daughter, picked me up from school around 7:30am, and we started our drive up into the mountains.

Today wasn't as sunny as it had been at the beginning of the week; however, it wasn't raining either. When we exited the car, I actually put on long sleeves, because without the sun shining and the slightly higher elevation, it was just cool enough.

The mist rolling in
The hike would lead us through a bamboo forest and several tea fields. The first couple of miles were just stairs going up the side of the mountain, with a pavilion here or there to both serve as a vantage point to admire the scenery and a place to rest. Stairs in Taiwan don't tend to be very steep, so when I'm headed up a mountain, I have found it's easier (and less work) to take them two at a time. Today was incredibly foggy or "misty." It was like clouds rolling up the side of the mountain enveloping you in a haze. There was a sign posted about the "mist" explaining that this was one of the factors that made AliShan tea so good (and AliShan is famous for their tea!). It did obstruct the view a bit; thankfully, the sun poked out just long enough to clear one or two views towards the top, which I appreciated. The tea fields are beautiful! Sadly, the tea fields aren't doing anything to help with the erosion problem taking place up in the mountains of Taiwan.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


The best approx. of the route I can figure out on a map. 
I have a favorite approx. 10 miles loop to bike. When my brother came to visit, we biked it together. Although thinking that I biked too fast, he enjoyed the scenery and being out as well. It spans rice fields, pineapple fields, and passes a university. On a day with clear skies, you can see the mountains.

One of the things I'm going to miss about Taiwan is biking. For the past 2.5-3 years, my bike has been my main source of transportation; and I've enjoyed that! As a result, before leaving, I definitely wanted to fit in one more ride along my favorite loop. Thankfully, the mornings this week have been really beautiful! Blue skies. White fluffy clouds. Views of the mountains. A little hot... but that just reminds you you're alive. :) I threw a bottle of water in my backpack before heading out.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fantastic Foods and Where to Find Them (Around Minhsiung and Chiayi)

My second year here in Taiwan, the boys would set aside one month every spring where they would intentionally eat at a different restaurant/stand every day. It's easy for all of us to fall into a routine with where and what we eat, but the 民雄/嘉義市 (Minhsiung/Chiayi) area offers a wide variety of cuisines. This was their way of branching out and trying new things.

In no particular order, these are a few of my favorite places to eat or pick up food from the 民雄/嘉義市 (Minhsiung/Chiayi) area.

Even before visiting Vietnam my first year, Vietnamese food was one of my first food loves here in Taiwan. My favorite place for chicken and rice or bun cha, always with a side of fried spring rolls, is a small restaurant located on Minzu Rd. in Chiayi city. If I'm in the mood for pho, I will often go to a hole-in-the-wall place in Minhsiung on Wenhua Rd.

Thai food is also a favorite of mine. When I'm in the mood for a good green curry with chicken (or pork), I head to a small restaurant with a great atmosphere located off Minquan Rd. in Chiayi city. It was (and maybe still is?) owned by the family of Concordia Middle School alumni, which is how I first found out about it. For curry or pad-Thai I like to go to another Thai restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere that's near Chiayi Park.

Korean food, or more precisely stone bowls, is another favorite of mine. My favorite place is located in Minhsiung, and judging by how busy they always are, it's obviously many people's favorite Korean restaurant. However, if you want a curry stone bowl (a yellow curry of sorts), you can always head to the fancy Korean restaurant in Chaiyi city. Make sure to have a reservation though, because this restaurant is small and they're always full! If you're okay with spicy, there's a Korean restaurant on Daya Rd in Chaiyi city, as well, that makes a delicious stone bowl. It's a little more expensive, but the cost also covers a slew of vegetable sides.

When living in Minhsiung I would actually have sushi Saturdays, because the sushi place on the other side of the block from my apartment was really good. You don't have to just take my word for it either, as it too is almost always packed with people waiting outside for a table to open up.

Other delicious Asian foods include: tie ban tofu, Champion cakes, fried rice, chicken rice, dan boa fan (egg wrapped fried rice).

Chicken Rice 

"Champion Cakes"

Tie ban dofu

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fun in 奮起湖 (FenQiHu)

Today was the first official day of summer vacation, and some friends and I took the opportunity to go and explore 奮起湖.

阿里山森林鐵道 after arriving in 奮起湖.
奮起湖 had been chosen for two reasons. One, my friends know I like to hike. Two, I'd never ridden the 阿里山森林鐵道 (Alishan train), which is one of the biggest tourist attractions in 嘉義 (Chiayi), along with being historic. It has been running for over 100 years! Several of the stations along the line are still the simple Japanese style stations built when the Japanese occupied Taiwan. Apparently, Taiwan has been trying to get the train/line registered as a World Heritage site; however, thus far they've been unsuccessful. 

Today was a beautiful day for a trip up into the mountains. The sky was blue. It was neither too hot nor too cold (and it was even a little cooler once we reached 奮起湖). Riding the train was a neat experience! It still rocks back and forth a lot more than the newer trains as it clacks down the tracks, and it's not nearly as large. Each car seats three across: two seats, aisle, single seat. The engine actually pushes the train up the mountains. As the train navigates 獨立山 (DuliShan), it actually makes three progressively smaller circles up the mountain. It's said that if you plan on climbing 玉山 (Jade Mountain - the tallest peak in Taiwan) that you should practice on 獨立山. There were really beautiful views of the mountains as we chugged along, and also stunning views of 嘉義 (Chaiyi) city. From station to station, the ride is about two and half hours. But the time passes pleasantly.

Lemonade Jelly
奮起湖 itself is also a destination. The narrow old street is packed with vendors (and therefore samples!) of a variety of foods, toys, teas, etc. As all cities in Taiwan are, 奮起湖 is known for several foods: their lunchboxes (便當), a glutinous rice dumpling of sorts - there are both sweet and savory varieties (糯米糕), baked doughnuts (現烤甜甜圈), and Uncle/Grandpa's Jelly (愛玉). [If you're interested in learning more about some of the aforementioned foods, check out this]. And after hiking, we stopped for all of these treats (And if you look at the above link, although we visited a different lunch box place, we stopped at the same other stands).

Looking at mountains while rambling around other mountains
In between eating, we did some walking and hiking. There are some very nice paths in the surrounding forest for simply walking. I was keen to go on a little farther though, so, looking at the map, I identified what I thought looked like a viable route: not too long, but would make an interesting loop. With a plan in mind, we set up the trail toward the shrine/temple. The path up, filled with stairs/scrambling up rocks and eventually stretches of flat ground, was a fun ramble (minus the mosquitoes)! There were also some lovely views of the mountains, although the sky was starting to darken. When we reached the top, we stopped to munch of some snacks that we had in our bags. Then, we started our descent down the "Cake Thief's Trail." It said "trail" on the map... really... it was a barely discernible foot path which eventually turned into some really slippery steps. Three of the four of us slipped and fell to some degree at one point or another (thankfully, none of us were hurt). The thunder started to rumble as we were about halfway down. (Also) Thankfully, we made it down before the buckets of rain poured down from the sky. It was a fun adventure!

Apparently, 奮起湖 is also the location of a house used in a famous Taiwanese movie about a girl who lived with her grandpa. Since it is located across from the doughnuts, we did a quick walk through.

It was a really nice day spent with dear friends!