Friday, April 04, 2008

Day 2 Monday :: Taichung > Sun Moon Lake ::

Woke at 6.30am and walked around the area between Zawjung & Carrefour. Many breakfast stalls there with almost the same menu: the ubiquitous fried noodles/mifen, innards soup and braised pork. Since pig innards soup and braised pork isn’t my cup of tea first thing in the morning so we ended up eating fried noodles, mifen, Tunghoon soup, meat balls soup in a stall that looked crowded.

We checked out early at 7+am to hunt for the Nantou bus to SML. At that time more breakfast shops have opened and there is one across the street from Zawjung Hotel selling traditional breakfast items like soymilk, pau and dumplings that smelled deliciously good when we went past it and the Ah Peh was making something that looked like popiah skin so if you are staying in that area do try it out.

Unfortunately, we still couldn’t find the bus to SML mentioned by guy from the Nantou Taichung office was supposedly near the Taichung Rd / Minquan Rd + JianGuo Rd opp a hotel after asking the TRA info counter, the vendors of the snack shops along the line of bus stands and calling the Taichung office twice. Another option was to take the Renyou 8am Bus for SML which would have departed by the time we found its bus stop. Everyone we asked gave different directions, so after running around for 0.5h (according to schedule, the nantou bus have left and the next is 1h later), we decided not to waste anymore time and take a cab to SML instead, reaching SML around 10am.

Note: While Lvchuan West looked pretty close the TRA station on the map, it certainly was so when our Freego bus went past it last night, not when lugging 20kg worth of luggage.

Initially we planned to stay in碧水山居民宿Sun Moon Lake crystal jade chalet which have a full unrestricted lakeview but it is located so much further away and it would be too troublesome to carry our luggage to the bus stop in front of the Visitor’s Centre and ridiculous to hire a cab for this. We didn’t book any lodgings in advance because it was a Monday and there are many hotels practically all buildings lining the entire road were hotels. We chose mid-range Apollo Resort Hotel at Shuishe for these reasons: 1) Proximity to visitor’s centre 2) Lakeview room for NT3000 after tax. The Harbour Resort Hotel 1 unit down the row offered lakeview with balconies big enough for you to lounge around with your loved one and savour a cup of coffee unlike Apollo’s full length window. Looked like an excellent cozy and romantic place for two.

After dropping off our luggage in the hotel, we wanted to cover as much as possible so we took up the offer of Cabby Chen at the Visitors Centre for these eight locations:

Wenwu Temple, Peacock Garden, Ita Thao, XuanZhuang Temple, Ci-En Pagoda Xuanguang Temple & Wharf, Matchmaker God in Dragon-Phoenix (Longfong) Temple. Do note that these taxi tours have their prices regulated at NT1200 (stated in brochures) so you shouldn’t pay more than that.

SML was slightly foggy when we arrived and the weather turned chilly, thickening the fog when it started drizzling in the afternoon as we toured the Ci-En Pagoda and temples. We were able to see puffs of condensation when we breathe. Nevertheless, we felt that the fog gave SML a hint of mystery and poetic beauty as layers of the surrounding landscape were hidden and revealed by the winds as they shifted the overlaying fog. We climbed many steps to finally reach the Ci-en pagoda. In that foggy and chilly atmosphere, Ci-En looked like it was snowing as the grounds were covered in zen white pebbles. Do make the effort to linger on each level as you travel up the nine floors of the pagoda as you get to see SML in 360deg. We noticed that the view becomes more fog-shrouded as we clambered up to ring the bell. The lake slowly hides itself as we moved higher thus the feel and view of the place evolved slowly transforming itself from a 3D landscape to a piece of watercolour painting. Even the feel changes when you look at the same spot at each level so I think coming here was very worth it even though it is foggy as the beautiful lake showed a different facet of her. If we have the opportunity, we would definitely revisit SML in good weather as it would shed a different light. This area is must visit for us.

Another interesting stop was at the community centre somewhere near Ital Shao. The community centre is where the aboriginal products are congregated. Previously they have to travel to different places to gather up the products but now the products come to the centre. Cabby stopped there for us to pose in front of a small replica of boats and huts featuring the traditional way of life & take some kitschy pictures of ourselves in aboriginal costumes. Later the lady (with a flowery name) there told us that the representation of the colours: blue for the shamans, white for the elders and the remainder: red. She treated us to some honey with a flowery aroma and tea and showed us her photo albums as we chatted. I suspect it is some sales ploy but it was enlightening nonetheless. It seems that the shamans for her tribe were chosen for their wisdom and ability to guide the people spiritually and recently there was a shaman induction ceremony. It was a rare occasion as the post of a Shaman is for life. The seven shamans gathered on the floating platform at the Lalu island for the induction ceremonial rituals for the new shaman. They looked to be in their 50-60’s in the pictures but some of them are already in their 70’s and 80’s. Talk about being remarkably well preserved! Also looked at their pictures of the Fengnian Festival which takes place in 7 or 8th month. Celebrations usually start on the 1st Lunar Day of the month and runs all the way to the mid-autumn festival akin to our Chinese New Year. Mom bought a HUGE jar of Magaadun 100% Pure Honey NT500, I privately thought was too ex, so wrapped up in newspaper that we forgot it was liquid. That certainly gave us trouble at the airport as we forgot to check it in. ^_^;

The bottle is currently sitting in my fridge undergoing test eh. The last time I went on Taiwan trip with a tour group in Nantou, I was told that when a jar of pure honey is tilted rapidly, you can only see ONE big bubble and if it is 100% flower honey meaning the bee is not fed with sugared water during non flowering season, there shouldn’t be sugar deposits but at the same time we debated that when the sugar concentration in the honey is so high that when temperature drops to a certain point, some of the sugar will crystallize out so we shall see.

We skipped the last attraction: Matchmaker God in order to catch the latest boat tour from Shuishe Wharf, NT200 at 4pm which lasted till 6pm which offered us more photo ops. The boat tour drops visitors off at these points with ample time to explore: Lalu Island, Xuanguang Temple Wharf, Dehua Wharf. The Xuanguang Temple is the transition point of the Sun and Moon shape that gave the lake her name. Along the way, you can see a squat building near the shore that had everyone in the ferry going “HUH?” when the captain told us it was a 2 storey lighthouse, boat houses and little floating islands of grass used for trapping fishes and also traditional Chinese fishing nets with a pulley system that, if I recall correctly, is used even in India. We experienced early Sunset (around 5.40pm) at Dehua Wharf, nothing spectacular but due to the fog cover, we were able to look straight at the tiny yellow egg yolk in the sky before it fell slowly behind the mountains.

After the boat ride, we returned to Shuishe Wharf. By that time, Meihe Gardens and the wharf area were lit up in orange and blue with the odd Christmas trees and décor which I have no idea if they were leftover from xmas. We noticed that the Ci-en pagoda was lit up like a beacon in the dimming lights when we returned to our hotel room and decided to enjoy scenic view of SML in the last rays of the setting sun at the balcony before taking a stroll around the Shuishe area till full dark before having dinner at one of the numerous restaurants in the commercial area.

Saw the elusive Taichung-HSR-SML Nantou Bus parked at the Visitors centre and double checked with the driver its timetable. It seems that there is some discreptancy due to misinterpretation with the image they posted on their website. The timings shown on their webbie for SML-Taichung 7.15am bus refer to the time it sets off from the Taichung HSR station regardless of the direction not the set off time from respectively SML or Taichung. It actually arrives in SML at 7.25am so it is best to refer to the sunmoonlake official webbie instead:

After chatting with the driver, we noticed that some shops were starting to close so we had better eat our dinner in one of the restaurants that looked less empty than the others. It must be a psychological thing because more people came in after this and the restaurant gradually filled. We particularly enjoyed the crispy Betel flower salad and steamed President fish famed in SML ~NT700 as it is charged by weight. Strange fish it is: it was very bony near the tail and nearly boneless in the centre with branched fishbones similar to the milkfish. I enjoyed it more than milkfish though.

After dinner we took a leisurely stroll and examined some of the souvenir shops slowly making our way to Meihe Gardens at 9+pm. It was dark but there were still some groups of elderly sitting around the benches in the pavilion and chatting. The trail and other parts of the gardens were not lighted except the pavilion, so we left after enjoying the breeze. The lights at the Ci-en Pagoda switched off at around 10pm and we could no longer see the pagoda from our room.

New Developments:

  1. There is a large 25 storey hotel (highest building) with conference rooms that is currently under construction near Harbour Elite Hotel which promises to give their guests an even better view of the lake and that means more $$$. I think it is an expansion of the posh posh水沙蓮大飯店 one unit ahead of Apollo.
  2. Our tour cabby also showed us the site near Ita Thao that is slated for community development with new houses (wooden ones) being built beside the lake and new opportunities for the local aborigines.
  3. Construction of Cable Car connecting Formosan Cultural Village to SML after youth centre so you have another transportation option other than the lakebus or taxis in the near future.
  4. New Buddhist museum behind the XuanZhuang Temple just started ground breaking and foundation works
  5. Reclamation of Lala Island. They had some kind of micropiles structure forming a polygonal shape. Sections of it were already lined with geo textiles with drainage in between sections then filled with soil and plants. I couldn’t get more info as the locals don’t seem to know much either. I didn’t like it because the air was foul with the construction and paint smells and it was noisy when we alighted from our tour boat. Also there seem to be some information boards being fixed all over specially for tourists when I thought Lalu was the sacred domain of the Thao Tribe that they fought hard to keep? Workers were painting the edges of the boardwalk with yellow glow paint so boat operators can see the dock clearly in the dark.

I can’t say much as there are opposing views on these developments. Some say that SML is being rapidly being urbanized and becoming ‘ugly-fied’ but the people there have to make a living and the same phenomenon is occurring elsewhere so I guess it is up to the locals to manage the fine line between the preservation of the beautiful landscape and commercialism so that the tourists keep coming back.

A general pictorial of the main commerce road:

Hotels & drinks | Food, Small Hotels/Lodgings, Souvenir Shops | Visitors centre/BusStop

Minsheng Road

Lakeview Hotels | Food, Small Hotels/Lodgings | Police Station | Fire Station/BusStop |

1 comment:

Fishie said...

Hi there! How would you rate your stay at apollo resort hotel. was deciding between that and harbor resort. Thanks in advance!