Monday, April 07, 2008

Day 3 Tuesday :: Sun Moon Lake > Alishan ::

We woke at 5.40am to catch the sunrise at the lake. As we were feeling a little lazy, we decided to just lounge in our room to enjoy it instead of traipsing out to the nearby Meihe Gardens to do so. Glad we decided to wake up early for the sunrise as the skies were clearer.

We skipped the hotel’s breakfast in favour of some tongue searing hot soymilk, waterbuns, meat buns and yummy potstickers (NT120) down the road as we rolled our luggage to the bus stop for the 7.25am Nantou bus to Taichung. While our cabby the day before recommended short bus journey to Shuili then take the Jiji line small train to Ershui and transfer to a train to Chiayi with an ETA of 1pm but we didn’t know the bus schedule and were worried that we might get lost in Shuili, an unknown quantity as we were not sure if it is in the rural area and end up wasting our time finding the train station past the time for the Alishan transport so we decided to stick to our original plan of traveling to Chiayi via Taichung (TC 1007 Mout SuAo To Kaohsiung 10:09 11:20).

As it was the Cherry Blossom season, we didn’t manage to buy the forest train tickets as we couldn’t book the tickets beforehand. We had a small interlude with a tout that misled us into thinking that she has train tickets but instead took us to a taxi. Felt it was strange when she dragged our luggage further and further away from the train station past the bus station. It was a good thing that we insisted on carrying our own luggage or she’d have strong armed it into the boot.

In the end, we called Miss Su of Dafeng Resort who promptly arranged for a local to pick us up in his SUV at 12.50pm (must pay NT400 one arr!) as we had missed the both the 12pm mini tourbus and the 12.10pm Chiayi Bus by then.

After the arrangement we parked our luggage in the luggage room in Chiayi TRA station for a small fee (can’t remember how much but it must have been cheap as we paid in NT10 coins) and went to the nearest of the eateries on Zhongzheng Rd selling the ubiquitous turkey meat rice. Tried the turkey rice, LuRou Rice, Milkfish Porridge and a interesting tricolor egg thingy (consisting of century egg, normal egg and quail egg?) with mayo that is like a slice of layered cake with hardboiled eggs quashed into it as well as some other small dishes. We were less than impressed with the turkey rice but the strange egg made up for it.

Glad we didn’t take the Chiayi Bus up as we took the route for smaller vehicles which was different from the one we took previously by tour bus, and from what I heard, the county bus too. Is that true? Anyways, it was more scenic than the previous route I took, with stretches of yellowish pine-like trees (I dunno if it is due to the lack of water for it can’t be autumn) and supposedly faster. Therefore, along the way you can see huge concreting trucks sneaking, ok, more like vrooming down this road to the swears and curses of our driver.

It was an interesting experience as he made impromptu stops in Chiayi city to pick up a monk, cartons of frozen bread from a delivery truck in front of 7-11 to bring up the mountain, an Alishan 7-11 staff and on the way up, an odd box of roasted sweet potatoes from Fencihu (hint hint). As he unloaded and loaded supplies in Shizuo and Fencihu we have ample time to take in the sights, the railway and sample foods like CaoAhQuey, Fencihu Train Biscuits (I can eat a lot of it without getting sick of the taste as it isn’t the usual cloyingly sweet traditional pastry) and Aiyu drinks in Fencihu Old street. We decided not to try the Fencihu Hotel Bento.

The journey up took around 3+h and even though bread in general doesn’t need refrigeration with temperature drop to ~7degs at Alishan (Chiayi was hot when we arrived), I wonder who will be the lucky chap eating it.

Reached Dafeng Hotel close to 4pm upon which Miss Su informed us of the last steam train depart Alishan station at 4.15pm to Shenmu Station (NT150 single trip) and recommended that there is ample time for us to go for it as an alternative for missing out on the forest train. After enquiring about the sunrise watching, we decided to take up the costlier (NT300) minibus package that will take us from our hotel to wait for the possible sunrise at Tatajia and other sights like the husband/wife tree and Shenmu II along the way instead of taking the hotel bus to the Jhaoping Station to take the train (NT150). Seeing that we come from a hot climate, she advised us to turn on the bed warmers and lay the blankets flat on the surface to ensure that they are thoroughly warmed when we go to our rooms before going to the train station.

Got to the station on time but it seems that the operator would wait for ~5mins to allow more people to purchase their tickets and board before leaving so we managed to snap some pictures with both the wooden train and the Alishan forest train that was parked beside it. The antique looking wooden train provided numerous photo taking opportunities and was lots of fun as it swayed past curves, sashayed through the trees and spat noxious fumes at its passengers. Don’t have much impression of the Shenmu Station except it was misty, crowded at the sides by tall trees and the old Shenmu was left fallen near it. The station was swarmed with people when we arrived, waiting to take photos with the train which nicely came to a halt under a flowering magnolia tree.

According to the officer at the Shenmu ticket booth (that doesn’t sell train tickets), there are two ways to return to the commercial area: One option was to take a 40mins walk through the giant woods trail, another was to take the train back. None of the passengers seem to be willing to walk the unfamiliar trail and with the sky turning dark, we felt it was more prudent to return by train and top up the return ticket at Alishan station. He also explained why there are only a few trips for both the steam train and the forest train so as to prolong the lifespan of the trains as possible: the age of train engine and the need to do constant need to do maintenance for wear and tear as well as the difficulty of finding replacement parts for the trains.

Reached Alishan Station at around 4.45pm and decided to see how far we could walk from the station up the road to Jhaoping and take in some sights. Noticed a few blossoming trees along the way and heard that the FRA would close at 5pm. We didn’t verify this as we didn’t manage to go that far as it was freezing with only one light jacket (was expecting ~10degs but didn’t expect the temperature to be 7-8 deg C in the afternoon let alone 5-6 deg C in the evening as the weather bureau website earlier posted a range of 6-13deg.) That’s when our camera started giving us problems as the AA batteries lose their performance in the cold. Our pockets started to bulge oddly as we started storing batteries there to keep them warm.

Tips for best results in cold weather: 1) Store the camera and batteries in a warm, inside pocket.
2) Never carry small metal items (eg keys or coins) in the same pocket with your batteries to prevent short circuiting the batteries.
3) Use non-rechargeable Photo Lithium batteries since they perform the best in low temperatures.
4) Avoid alkaline batteries for low temperature use.
5) Attach a hand warmer to the bottom of the camera (work well for ~10degrees)

@ around 7pm, we went to the commercial area for dinner. There are many shops with hostess hollering outside and you can scrutinize all their menus and how they actually looked like before deciding on the restaurant. We ate hotpot in NineNine Restaurant. Strangely, it came in a soupless frozen state which meant that our dinner took longer to cook as we have to defrost it. When we asked: Why no soup, the waitress told us that it will appear when the pot cooks. Sure enough it did. It was the weirdest steamboat ever! *_*;

It started to drizzle after dinner that made it even colder. The drop in temperature to 5 deg around 8pm had many people scurrying into diners, restaurants and cafes for hot food and coffee which we did after purchasing 3 sets of chenille gloves, scarf and wasabi nuts (total NT450 which we thought was much cheaper than sold in Singapore) from a shop ran by a friendly uncle at the second floor of the commercial area to ward against the cold. He told us that the previous night rained too dropping to 1-2 deg late at night but the next morning was sunny and wished us a dry morning for sunrise watching after the night’s rain.

Do note that if you aren’t prepared for the weather or do not want to lug so much baggage around, you can rent winter wear for NT100 from either the shops in the commercial area or your hotel (our hotel did posted that they provide this service even though we brought our own, not sure about other premises so you have to ask).

We returned to the hotel after a cuppa coffee and were glad that we took the advice of Ms Su as the covers were really nice and toasty. In a streak of inspiration, I decided to stash our apparels (turned inside out) for the next morning under the extra bedcover to keep them warm before turning in early for the night.

6-7 degrees when we arrived dropped to 5 degrees in the evening and 1-2 degrees in Yushan.

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