We were up around 7 so we got dressed & went across the street to the breakfast place and got some onion pancakes & egg pancakes. We brought them back to the house & ate along with some coffee. After breakfast Allen went straight upstairs to the wifi since that seems to be all he can think of to do. We packed up & I can fit my suitcase into the large one we brought over filled with used clothes for the family. My Osprey pack fit in there as well so I’ll just have the one messenger bag carry-on.
Once we were packed Joyce & I walked over to a nearby store to look for some snacks she likes to bring back with us. They had a nice shelf full of various Mr. Brown cans along with a shelf full of decent beer. We ran into Ma there so we checked out other stores in the strip mall we were at & then walked back to the building. At the door we handed the bags to Ma & Joyce & I walked the mile or so the the new outlet mall. It was raining lightly and a cold front had moved in so it was actually cold here. Likely in the 50’s which is mild but it seemed cold. The mall was ok with the usual assortment of stores. They had nearly a whole floor dedicated to the food court so apparently eating is a big draw here. The one unique store to me that they had was an Oakley store that also sold bikes & bike gear. Didn’t expect to see that in a mall. They had Trek bikes along with Look bikes and also had an assortment of bags, helmets, etc. We checked out each floor & then walked back to Ma’s where we arrived around noon. Joyce picked up some fruit along the way from a local market.
About 2:45 Joyce’s brother came to take us to the airport. We loaded up the car and drove the hugely busy highway to the airport & arrived about 3:30. We then entered a short check-in line that led to huge security check & immigration lines. We got through ok & then it was time to wait for our flight. Our plane was delayed so instead of a 5:00 departure we got pushed back to a 5:30 departure but actually didn’t end up taking off until 6:30 or so. It sounds like there was an issue with the electrical system that they had to check out. Once we took off the flight went fine. There was some turbulence like on the flight out but it wasn’t as bad this time. They fed us twice again & I was able to get almost all of the way through the Please Kill Me punk rock book.
Once we landed we went through an enormous line for customs and got our luggage and by the time we were outside it was somewhere around 5:00. Just in time for LA traffic. The ride home wasn’t too bad but we did hit a decent amount of traffic. We hit In N Out burger off of Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad and then drove the final miles home. The house was fine & it looks like the Post Office delivered all of our held mail instead of us having to pick it up. It was a good trip but nice to be home as well.
We had the same routine this morning & had to wake up Bun Boy again. After eating and downing 3 or 4 packets of Mr. Brown we were on our way. We left about 7:45 which gave us just about enough time to clear the road controls & get out of the park. Once out we took our time heading back to Hualein and took the coastal road rather than the main road. There were a few places where we could get out and take in the views of the coast. The first was a spot where they could launch boats & we walked out onto the sand to take a look. There were some puffer fish along with other fish left dead on the sand. The waves were crashing and the water was a beautiful light blue color.
Later on the road we stopped at a spot that ended up being a cemetery. Pretty nice place to be buried being right on the water pretty much. About this time we started smelling some nasty fish smell in the car and thought it was our shoes. We got out and wiped them off on the grass but the smell remained. Turns out it was my shoe that smelled awful. I must have stepped on a dead fish because my shoe reeked! We stopped at another beach lot and I changed my shoes and cleaned them in the bathroom and then wrapped them in a plastic bag. Getting back in the car the smell remained. Turns out I got some dead fish juice on my pants as well so I changed out of them, wrapped them in another plastic bag & all was well again.
Further on up the road we saw a sign for wine tasting so we stopped there. It turned out to basically be a general store but did have one table that offered a couple of wine samples along with a 58% liquor taster. Tough sampling that at 10 in the morning! On the way out we saw they were selling some wood chip potpourri type bags & we picked up a couple to keep the fish smell from dominating my suitcase. They had a vending machine that held a Mr. Brown mother lode but I resisted mainly because the one I wanted to try was out. Near the wine tasting was a beer tasting place so we walked down the street to check it out. They were setting up for tour buses to come in for lunch but we got an ale to try & it was decent. Nothing compared to the craft beer at home but good nonetheless. Once done with my 10:30 beer we hit the road again and set the GPS for the train station. When we got there we bought tickets for the 1:28 train to Taipei and then dropped off the car at the rental place. We then walked towards the train station and found a place to eat right across the street from the station that had some decent soup and some really good dumplings.
After lunch we still had 45 minutes to kill so we walked around the block a bit. It was still raining lightly but not hard enough to really need an umbrella. When it was time to go back to the station we found ourselves a bit lost. We thought we had just walked up one street & then back down another but when we found the station we were on the opposite side we needed to be on. We only had 25 minutes to get there, retrieve our bags and get to our train so we bought tickets for 8 TD each to walk through the station rather than around to save time. We got there quickly, got our bags and boarded the train with plenty of time to spare. The train left on time and the trip was uneventful but did have some great coastal scenery. In fact we passed through what Joyce & I drove out to see yesterday. I started reading the Please Kill Me punk rock history book on the train ride and it’s pretty good so far. Once at the Taipei train station we de-trained and set about finding which subway we needed to take to get to Ma’s. Turns out it is the red line & we needed to go 4 stops where we then transferred to the same bus (#936) that we took the other day from the same stop when we went to the museum with Joyce’s uncle. The bus driver was a maniac this time & he made some crazy lane change maneuvers on the freeway in order to make good time and then came really close to hitting pedestrians, bike riders as well as scooter riders once back on surface streets. If I was on a bike & he did that to me I would have chased him down & pounded him.
We got off at our stop & walked the couple of blocks to Ma’s. When we got in the house we found Joyce’s uncle there who had arrived on the same bus line we took but he was one bus ahead of us. I had a couple of coffee packets while Joyce checked us in for our flight tomorrow upstairs at her sister’s place where the wifi is. Ma made a dinner of beef with veggies, dumplings, potstickers & tofu. Best dinner we’ve had so far. After diner Joyce’s sister-in-law along with her niece came over to visit. Her sister-in-law hooked us up with a wifi hotspot on her phone so I posted some backed up blog entries and checked emails. Joyce’s niece was in a good mood so we played for a while. I was basically a slide to slide down. After that it was time to pack & go to bed.
We got up about 6:30 so we would have time to get breakfast & make it out of the traffic control section before they shut it down. The plan for the day was to explore the East end of the park. Our host wasn’t awake yet so Joyce woke him up & had him steam our buns for us. He’ll now be known as Bun Boy. We had more instant coffee and I helped myself to some extra packets of Mr. Brown in case I can’t find any in the store to bring home.
Once we were done with breakfast we headed out. We got out a bit later than we wanted to but we had enough time to clear the controls. We made it through and were stopped along the side of the road when a work truck stopped & told us to get moving or we’d be stuck & wouldn’t be able to get through. We had thought we were through but there was one more to get through just around the corner. When we got there there was a rope across the road but the lady let it drop & we rolled through. The last one’s to get by. Once through we checked out the area just outside of the traffic control. We walked around the area where the river exits the gorge & enters the Pacific. Across the road from where we were at we spotted a large group of monkeys hanging out in the trees on the hill. After watching them for a bit we drove off. A bit later in the day we ended up back in the spot and went out & walked onto the river bed & got some nice views of the gorge.
Once out of there we drove around a bit more & took a road to where we thought a trail we wanted to hike was. It was a narrow road and we ran into a bus coming the opposite direction. It was narrow so we had to back up to let it pass and when it did the driver said something to us but we couldn’t hear it. Turns out we were going the wrong way on a one-way road. We took a side road up to a temple to get off the road and found a trail that we took. The trail was the Eternal Spring Shrine Trail and it should have gone quite ways but, like many trails here, it was partially closed due to storm damage. We took it as far as we could which was to a bell tower. There was a long suspension bridge to cross which was pretty cool.Once back at the car we drove to the other end of the trail to see if we could hike what was blocked from the other end but only a short portion was available to hike from the other end as well. What we saw was pretty though despite the area being overrun with tour buses.
We then decided to exit the park & check out the cliffs of Chinsueh. It was only a 25 minute or so drive and it was worth it. The area was beautiful. Very much like the Big Sur coast where the mountains go right down to the water. The ocean was a bright blue color near the coast which made it look even nicer. We checked out this area for a bit and then drove back to the park.We grabbed lunch at a place just outside the gate and it was great. The beef was definitely beef this time. After lunch we went back into the park and drove to the Shakadang Trail area so we could hike it. The place was packed with people everywhere. We had to wait just to let a hundred or so people cross the road. Quite a few looked to be school kids on a field trip. We missed the parking area and had to do a decently long detour that involved a few tunnels. In one tunnel there was police blocking the road due to scooter/car collision. It didn’t look good at all but we didn’t see any bodies there so they must have Ben taken away already. Back at the parking area for the trail we got into the lot but all spots were taken so we had to wait for someone to leave before we could park. Once we had a spot we went off and hiked the trail. It was a mellow trail that followed the river so it didn’t climb at all. It was packed with people but it wasn’t too bad. The views, once again, were worth the effort to see them.
From the Shakadang we drove and did the Buluowan area. This is an area that has exhibits on the people native to the Taroko area. There are also four trails that leave from the area but the one we wanted to do was closed due to storm damage. We saw another trail and followed it & it took us up to a hotel/restaurant that looked to be run by the native people. They were serving afternoon tea so we stopped in since it included all-you-can-drink coffee & espresso from the machines they had in there. It also cam e with an assortment of desserts that were just ok. Price was 250 TD which was seemed like a good deal to me for being able to load up on as much caffeine as I could stand. They had fast wifi so we were able to get caught up on emails which was nice. Once done there we walked out into the rain and headed down the hill to our car. It had rained lightly pretty much all day. It was 5:00 so we headed back into the park so that we could get through the traffic control. We at a again at the same place as the last two nights and then went back to the hotel where we called it a day.
We got up around 7 & got dressed and went to the other building to get our breakfast but the guy wasn’t there so Joyce went & got him and he put our buns in the steamer. We had 20 minutes to kill before they were ready so we walked down a path that went down the hillside a bit towards the creek. We got down as far as we could go but we couldn’t go the last bit since it was fenced off. We climbed back up & ate breakfast. The buns were decent & they had this instant coffee packets that are pretty tasty so I put down three of those. I noticed they had Mr. Brown packets in the fridge so the guy gave me a Blue Mountain packet to try. I’m going to try & find those in a store before we leave so I can have some at home.
After we were done we headed back to the room, packed up & hit the road on our way to explore the West side of the park. The road we took is a winding narrow road with plenty of sketchy turns where you really can’t see if anyone is coming the other way & the turns are typically where the road is basically one lane. There are also plenty of one lane tunnels you need to go through so you need to make sure nobody is coming from the opposite direction before you head in. Adding to fun was the fact that the mountains are dotted with pockets of clouds that make the roads foggy in sections. There were also numerous places with roadwork going on that blocked one lane without warning and there were also many places that had recent landslides where the road was still a mess. It was a tough road to drive but it was worth it since it was also extremely scenic.
Our hotel is at about 2,200 feet and our drive today topped out somewhere around 10,500 so there was a lot of climbing. We passed many groups of cyclist who were out climbing the mountain roads. The mountains were really beautiful & many had pockets of clouds sitting around them which made them even more dramatic. At one point there was a stop to view a 3,000 year old tree & there was a store near it so we went in. They offered a toothpick with honey on it to taste & I refused but they gave me one anyways. I don’t really like honey but this was awesome. It was peach honey and was a bit thinner than other honey with a strong peach flavor. I had to buy one & got a coffee which they put the honey in that was also great. Further on up the road we stopped at a gas station where they were supposed to serve good sticky rice in bamboo leaves and they did have the goods. I typically don’t like those since they are usually gooey inside but these were nice & had lean pork inside instead of the typical fatty stuff. The guy working there was also a good guy & he and Joyce talked for a good while. He shared some fresh apple cider that a friend of his made and it tasted great! Apparently it took a year in jar to make. He also showed up the 5 new pups his dog gave birth to recently. Along the roads we drove we were able to spot some monkeys a few times. Some we got pretty close to before they disappeared over the side of the road. Most took off when they heard the power window going down but one stuck around to check us out.
Once out of there we explored some other roads and ended up buying some apples from a local store that were great. They were honey apples & were the same one’s used to make the cider we sampled. We visited the peak at Hehuanshan that was at 10,500 feet but didn’t see any of the views since it was clouded in. The weather was definitely cold up there. We took another road to try & go out to a farm where they sold fruit but ran into road work and would have had to wait 1/2 hour to get through so we turned around & headed back instead. The road down was a bit tough due to heavy fog in some areas. Once we were back down we went to the place where we had dinner last night & walked over to visit the temple on the hill. It closed at 5 so we only had 1/2 hour to get in & out but we were able to do it. It was up a small hill with a bunch of steps to get there but it was worth the hike. We were able to climb up the pagoda & take in the views of the valley. Once we were done we grabbed some dinner at the same place we did last night and today I added a Taiwan Beer. With dinner done we headed back to the hotel and called it a day.
We were up early so we went down for breakfast and it was packed full with tour bus people. It was crazy trying to get any food. The food was ok but they did have a latte machine which I put to good use. We ended up having to eat in the side room where they had tea yesterday because the main room was full. Once done with breakfast we packed up & then had the desk call us a cab to take us to the Jhihben National Park.
The cab picked us up about 9 & drove us the 20 minutes or so up to the park. There was a small town we went through right around the corner from the hotel so we could have wandered out last night & found dinner. The park was dead and we bought tickets from the vending machine for 160 TD total for the two of us & walked on in. We needed to catch a ride from the hotel to the train station at noon so we didn’t have a ton of time. We ended up taking the Brave Man’s Trail (so named due to the hundreds of stairs you climb to the top) and then linking that up to the Banyan Shaded Trail where we made our way back to the entrance.
It was overcast but humid so we were both sweating a ton on the climb to the top. It was well worth it though since it was really a pretty place. Lots of tropical foliage with quite a few banyan trees to check out along the way. Some were over 100 years old so they had lots of aerial roots going all over the place. At the top where the Brave Man’s Trail meets the Banyan Shaded Trail we ended up spotting some monkeys up in the trees. Lucky for us we were the only people in the place so nobody else saw me, a grown man, pointing up in the trees excitedly yelling “monkey, monkey!”. When we were near the bottom Joyce called our taxi driver since it took him 20 minutes to get there. When we got to the bridge we saw him pull up on the other side so it was almost perfect timing. We hopped in the cab & got back to the hotel about 11:00.
Back in our room Joyce showered since we sweated so much but I decided to be lazy & just change shirts. Check out time was 12:00 so they called us then & said we had to go so we took the elevator down and checked out. They took us in the hotel van to the train station and we had 10 minutes or so before we had to walk to our platform so I took the opportunity to grab myself a Mr. Brown from the store there. This one was less sweet & looking at the label it was black coffee & water. So it looks like Mr. Brown has different varieties out there. Joyce went in to get some snacks & got me another one which was Blue Mountain flavor. This one was great! When it was time we walked to our platform & boarded the train when it arrived.
Our seats were at the rear of the car and there was a large open space behind us so we put our suitcases back there so that we could keep an eye on them. The trip was about 3 hours with multiple stops. It was uneventful but it did go through some pretty country with lots of rice fields. There were many other crops along the route as well but rice was by far the most common. No animals to be seen except one lone cow. We exited the train at Hualein where we were to rent a car to drive ourselves up to the Taroko Gorge. We had a small window to get up there since there is road construction and they only let cars in or out in the afternoon between 5:00 & 6:00. We got to Hualein just before 4:00 so we had to move. We found the car rental place Joyce had arranged after having to ask people where the street was. The place was on 7th but for some reason they put that somewhere neat 1st street. We got the car which was a small Nissan SUV with an automatic transmission and hit the road.
The lady at the rental place gave us a GPS so that made it pretty easy for us. It was a bit tough to figure out the traffic light situation since they have flashing yellow lights everywhere & I kept expecting them to turn red. I did end up running one red light so I hope it wasn’t one with a camera. The road took us through some towns before turning West into the Gorge. This is where it got good since the Gorge was beautiful. It reminded me of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park since it had many places where the mountain hangs out over the road. Many places were narrow & we sometimes had to wait for tour buses too pass before we could continue. It was raining lightly the whole trip in and the road was a bit tricky to navigate so I didn’t get a lot of chances to check out the views but it was awesome. We also couldn’t stop at any views since we had to get through in the small window we had. We hit one spot where the there was a traffic break set up & I guess traffic was let loose up ahead for cars coming towards us but a bus going our direction went ahead and was blocking the way. He ended up having to back up in a narrow tunnel and get in line behind us. Once he did that and traffic was able to come through we were allowed to go. Not long after that we passed the last construction area & were in. We grabbed dinner at the first place we came across & then drove the last 4 kilometers to our lodging for the next 3 nights.
The place we got is unique in that it has no couches or chairs but has a small table with cushions on the floor so we sit around like we’re at a Japanese restaurant. The bed is resting on the floor as well and the bathroom is enormous with two shower heads at opposite ends of it so it looks like it is meant for large group. Only one toilet though. The towels they gave us are some crappy disposable towels but I took a shower and they do actually dry you off ok. Shower was hot as well. We paid 5,400 TD for the place for three nights so it’s a pretty good deal. Tomorrow we hit the Gorge & will likely go West since it won’t require us to go through the construction zone. We’d need to leave during the am window and come back during the pm window. We’ll likely do that on Wednesday.
We were up around 7 & walked up to the street to get some breakfast before meeting the driver at 9 for the ride to the Southern tip of the island. We found a place that was small but had some decent food. Had another pancake with egg and added a veggie bun just because. After we ate we went back to the room and hung out until it was time to leave. The wifi in this hotel is worthless so we got our stuff packed & ready to go since we would be leaving as soon as we got back.
We met our driver out front at 9 & he drove us down to the tip of the island in a nice silver van. The drive down was about 20 minutes and he dropped us off at the gate where we bought tickets to get in for 60 TD each. Once through the gates there was a trail network that you can walk with most of it being paved. The walks were pretty nice with some great scenery along the way. There was a ton of volcanic rock mixed in with Banyan trees & other tropical plants. The banyan trees were really cool to look at since their roots sprung out of the main trunk and worked their way to the ground so you could trace all of the different roots back to where they started. There was also a lighthouse there that you could walk around but we weren’t able to get in it. On the way out we hit a shop that had something in a can called Mr. Brown. It has a great label so I showed Joyce and she said it was an iced coffee drink. Hearing that I had to try it & I’m now a Mr. Brown fan for life. Go Brown or go home I say.
After we were done down there we met our driver and headed back to the hotel and checked out. We got directions to the bus stop and picked up a bus that would take us to Fan-Liao where we would transfer to a train to Zhihben. The bus ride was uneventful but I did finish the Clapton book on the way. Once we arrived in Fan-Liao we walked the short distance to the train station and bought tickets to Zhihben. We had a little under an hour before we needed to board the train so we walked out & found a place to get lunch. We ended up getting some noodle wonton soup along with some vegetables and some chive potstickers. It wasn’t bad. After lunch we walked back to the station and caught our train. My suitcase didn’t fit on the overhead rack so I wedged it behind the last seat and the wall. It was a tight fit but it worked. The train ride was only an hour but it took us through some mountains and also along the coast so there was some good scenery to be had.
Once we arrived in Zhihben Joyce bought tickets for tomorrow’s train trip which was a good idea since the early train had already sold out. Once done there we tried to get a cab to our hotel but he didn’t know where it was so Joyce called the hotel and they sent their van to pick us up. It was only about 5 minutes away. The hotel is very nice and has great wifi so it’s win win on this one. They had afternoon tea set up so we went down after we put our bags away & has some tea & some food they had out. We also got caught up on emails while we could. Once done there we relaxed a bit in the room & that was when I noticed that our room has a large glass window between the main room and the bathroom which is really an odd feature since I can’t figure out who would want a window open on them when they’re in the bathroom for any reason.
Around 7 we went down to dinner & they made a special dinner for us since the standard menu was all fish. It was just ok. They made some pork & onions along with veggies, egg rolls, cabbage rolls & soup. All were pretty fatty & only some were decent. There is nothing else around here so it was good enough. They did bring out a special dish that was ostrich with peppers & onion which actually wasn’t too bad. Not sure where they got the ostrich though.
We got up around 8 & Joyce’s uncle was already there. We headed downstairs to the same place we hit yesterday & got some food and we all ate real quick. We left around 9:20 & Joyce was carrying her suitcase which seemed odd for a day trip. When I asked about it she said today was the day that we were heading down to the South of the island to start our island loop. I left them at the elevator and went in to pack all of my stuff. I ended up just tossing everything in my case and heading out again.
Joyce’s brother was there to drive us to the train station & Grandma was coming with us since she was going to stay with her other son while Joyce’s Momis with us. We loaded up the car & had a bit too much for the trunk so we had to use a bungy to keep the lid closed. It was raining a bit on the drive to the station but it was pretty uneventful. Once at the station we said goodbye to Joyce’s brother and we went into the station to buy tickets. Joyce’s uncle picked them up so, once again, we didn’t’ end up paying. It make me uncomfortable but Joyce says it’s normal here for family to pay for you. With tickets in hand we wen to the train & boarded right away.
This was a high speed rail so it was about a 2 hour trip to Kaohsiung where we met Joyce’s other uncle for the grandma handoff. He brought his family with him to meet us & with him was his wife, daughter & grand daughter. We ate lunch at the the beef noodle place in the station. Apparently he had asked Ma what I liked to eat & she told him beef noodle soup so they made reservations. Lunch was pretty good and the new uncle picked up the bill. Once we said our goodbyes we headed off to buy bus tickets to Kenting. We got the tickets and then went down to the street level to wait for our bus which was actually sitting there but it wasn’t time to load yet. After 10 minutes or so the doors opened and we put our bags underneath & took some seats up front.
The drive down was pretty uneventful but it did somewhat take the coastal route so we did get occasional ocean views. Once in Kenting we got off and set about finding our hotel. We asked people along the way and did eventually find it but we walked way more than we needed to. The hotel is decent and our room looks out on the ocean whic is always nice. I think the name is the Kenting Coast Resort. The weather is better here in that it isn’t raining but it is hot and humid though. Once we were settled in we went out for a walk on the beach and it is a pretty nice place. It has a sandy beach but it looks like swimming is not allowed for some reason. We wa;led out to the end of the beach where it turned more rocky & there were some nice volcanic rock formations and some pretty big coral bits sitting on the shore.
Once done with the walk we went back to the room and got ready for dinner. We headed out the back door of the hotel and found we were very close to the main drag where we were dropped off by the bus. We definitely walked too far finding the hotel! Once back on the main drag we found it packed with people and there were vendors lining the road. The booths were mainly food but there were some crafty booths there as well. The food there was 90% stuff I wouldn’t eat and 9.9% things I don’t want to eat. The whole street reeked of stinky tofu and if you’ve ever smelled stinky tofu you would know this isn’t a good thing. We walked about half of the area and it started to rain a bit so we ducked not a restaurant & had dinner. Joyce got clams she said were good & I got beef with peppers but I don’t think it was beef. I ended up eating the peppers & calling it a day. After dinner we walked the rest of the street & I saw a booth with deep fried Oreos & had to try them. They were decent but nothing too great. Once we made it back to where we began we picked up some water and went back to the hotel. We booked a trip to the southern tip of the island for 700 TD. Seems kinda steep but we’ll meet them at 9 in the morning & see if it was worth it. Once back in the room I realized I left my toiletry kit in Ma’s bathroom in my haste to leave. We’ll see how stinky I’ll get by the time we return.