| Part 5:
- > Guanziling
Toong Mao hotel, Guanziling. 112 Euro
for a nice room in one of the better places in
Guanziling. The highlight of this hotel is the own spa
area, consisting of a swimming pool (cold water), and an
open air spa with hot mud spring basin (39.5°C) a hotter
hot spring basin (42.5°C), a cold water basin and a
basin with fish which feed on the dead skin of the feet.
(Indoor) sauna facilities available, although we don't
The room itself is pretty high end, with good soft beds
and everything except a safe. The WLAN connection in the
room is also too bad to be usable (I have to use the
mobile phone in tethering mode to connect to the
Internet with the notebook PC). Overall a very nice
hotel, although not a cheap one. Still, this would be a
place where to spend a few days. A pity we have only one
Weather: overcast in Tainan in the
morning, no rain however. The sky opens up when we are
in Guanziling and we have mostly blue sky with a very,
very thin clouds layer. Warm also in Guanziling
(probably around 27-28°C), no rain.
After checking out of the Good Ground hotel in Tainan we
take a taxi to the car rental, Hotai Motors. We are there
at about 11:20am, then have to wait for some time until
it's our turn.
Our car is a Toyota Vios, a small car which however
is sufficient for our purposes, i.e. we manage to put all
luggage into the boot. The engine is not particularly
powerful (as I notice later when driving the mountain
roads), but still ok. The car has an automatic gearbox, a
navigation system and costs 10080 TWD for 5 days. All
insurances are included, although I have to cover the
first 10000 TWD of damage.
I am a bit nervous, because it's the first time I drive in
east Asia. My nervousness seems to spread to Shirley and
even to the kids. They are all a bit overexcited. Never
mind, we complete the formalities and get into the car.
The navigation system is a small problem because it's the
English version one (with instructions in English), but to
enter the names of the locations in Chinese it uses the
bopomofo system rather the pinyin transliteration. A
little problem, because neither me nor Shirley are
familiar with bopomofo and only know pinyin. So we have to
ask the car rental to enter the address of the hotel into
the navigation system for us.
Since it is already 12 something pm, we drive to the
shopping mall opposite the car rental and have some lunch
in the food court. My lunch costs just 109 TWD and
consists of a pretty big dish with chicken steak, rice,
vegetables and salad.
Around 1pm we start driving towards Guanziling. The idea
would be to reach Guanziling driving along the scenic
Dongshan coffee road.
Everything proceeds smoothly, but the navigation system
brings us onto a big highway, not exactly the scenic
country road I was imagining. I realise that when I ask
Shirley to double-check our route with Google Maps.
When I get a glimpse of the smartphone screen I
immediately notice that we took a northern, less
interesting route. This is probably the fastest and
simplest way to get to Guanziling, but not the most scenic
So I get out of the highway at the next exit and examine
more closely what options there are to get to the Dongshan
scenic road. In the end I conclude that all options are
too complicated and that the best thing is to simply drive
to the hotel first and from there drive to the scenic
So we proceed and around 2:15pm reach the hotel in
Guanziling. Guanziling is in a very scenic area, a few km
into the mountains after the end of the coastal plains
area at an altitude of approx. 400m asl.
Since it's too early to check-in, we continue driving
towards the Dongshan coffee road, which apparently is only
a few km away. The entire area looks great. The vegetation
looks tropical, but the air is quite fresh on this early
April afternoon. It's a bit like a forest in Malaysia, but
without the oppressive heat and high humidity. This is an
area of gentle hills, covered with various plantations.
We drive bit along the street and notice a
large gate which leads to a temple. Since it looks
interesting, we make a small detour there at 3pm. It's
actually a new temple, apparently still undergoing
After half an hour we continue driving along the road
looking for the Dongshan coffee road. It's supposed to be
here, and there are even street signs showing the way, but
somehow we can't find it.
Or let's say, we have no clear idea of what exactly we are
looking for. I'm expecting sort of an area with coffee
plantations, farms and places where you can stop for a
drink or some food, similar to the Bolaven plateau in
southern Laos, but can't find anything similar here.
To make things more complicated, because of the winding
roads with many curves, the kids vomit. I guess we should
have given them antinausea pills. The scenery here however
is definitely beautiful.
At 4:20pm we finally find a cafe on the hills with
tables and chairs and a fantastic view of the hills and
plains. So we stop here and have something. This place is
run by a friendly lady and is surrounded by citrus fruit
plantations. By now the sky is blue, and the late
afternoon light and fresh air invites to stop here and
We spend one hour in this place, having some drinks and
fresh waffles (excellent waffles by the way). The lady
explains that she rarely gets tourists from Europe, which
shouldn't be surprising, given that we are pretty out of
the standard "Euro tourist trail".
So at 5:20pm we drive back to Guanziling. We get settled
into the room and then have a dinner in one of the
roadside restaurants. The bill totals 600 TWD and
according to Shirley this is one of the better meals we
have had in Taiwan so far.
After dinner we get back to the hotel. Because there are
coin washing machines we start washing some of the
clothes. While we are doing this we use the hotel spa.
This consists of a number of different open air basins,
with cold, hot and even hotter water. One of the basins is
the mud hot spring one. We are back in the hotel room
Tea Homestay, Leye village about 28km
from the Alishan station. 64 Euro for a room in a
pension type of place. The room is big enough (probably
around 25 sqm), has a flat screen TV, three chairs, a
small table+mirror, a tray and not much else. The beds
are very hard. No A/C because at 1300m of altitude it is
quite fresh. No cupboard for the clothes. Bathroom with
shower+tub, but you have to wait a while for the hot
water. No breakfast. Fast WLAN in the room.
The biggest problem is that no towels are provided, only
some small and thin paper towels, which have to be
thrown away after the use. The location is not good,
because you are 28km from Alishan proper (where the
Alishan train station is), and it takes 40-50 minutes to
drive this distance. When I booked this place I wasn't
aware that the location was so bad.
As I hear today, there are several places where you can
stay which are closer to Alishan. But these places
cannot be booked online, i.e. you have to call them one
by one on the phone and you need to be fluent in
Weather: sunny blue sky in the early
morning in Guanziling, later around 11am the sky is
overcast. As we drive to Alishan the sky opens up a bit,
then closes again. Quite warm, no rain.
We leave the hotel around 11am and, after buying some
groceries at a convenience store, start driving towards
Alishan. The navigation system leads us on a mountain
road, narrow and with many curves. Not a road which allows
to drive speedily, in fact we perhaps drive most of the
time at 40-50 km/h, sometimes even less than that.
The road passes
through a quite scenic area. Lots of betel nut palm tree
plantations everywhere. In fact for a good deal of the
duration of the trip we will pass through forests of betel
At 12:50pm we stop for a while in a place (Fanlu?) with a
pictoresque Chinese temple. We break the journey here for
about 20 minutes. then continue driving. The road
continues to be difficult, with many curves and many spots
where it shrinks to just one lane. Shortly after 2pm we
make a photo stop at a tea plantation, then continue
Finally, at 2:45pm, we reach the Tea Homestay. Some
discussion with the owner of this place, about what would
be the best plan for today. The owner of this place also
owns a tea plantation and a nearby tea
factory. In fact the area here, at 1300m of altitude, is a
tea production area.
After about 20 minutes of discussions and deliberations we
unload our bags into the room and continue driving to
Alishan. That is because tomorrow morning I will drive at
4am to the railway station and would like to know how the
road to Alishan looks like and possibly buy the train
ticket in advance.
The road now is a bit better, but is still an endless
series of curves and curves which after a while get
We finally reach Alishan shortly before 4pm. Initially we
have to pass a gate where we have to pay a fee (200 TWD
per adult, not sure why they are charging this). Then we
get into what is Alishan. Surprise, surprise, it's not a
village or city. We are at an altitude of 2200m and this
seems to be some kind of commercial settlement centered
around the train station. There are a couple of parkings,
some convenience stores, several restaurants and not much
more. I can't see a hotel. Probably people do not stay
It's not cold, but definitely fresh. I'm still wearing the
shorts I put up this morning and quickly wear a jacket. We
briefly explore this place. Then I buy a ticket for the
sunrise train of tomorrow (100 TWD one way, leaving at
4:50am, sunrise is at 6am). Will walk back from the
sunrise place to the Alishan train station
We then have some sort of early dinner in a restaurant and
after that do some shopping. At 5:20pm we start driving
We are in the village near the homestay shortly after 6pm
and buy some food for tomorrow's breakfast in a
convenience store (the homestay doesn't provide any).
Tomorrow I'll have to get up shortly after 3am in order to
be in Alishan on time for the sunrise train. Shirley and
the kids will get up as usual and will take the bus to
Alishan. We should meet around 11am-12pm.
Tea Homestay, Leye village.
Weather: rain, heavy rain in the
early morning, fresh. Overcast the whole day. In the
afternoon the sun peeks through the clouds very briefly.
Overall a very wet day.
The day starts early at 3:20am. I take a shower, get ready
and at 3:50am start driving towards Alishan, with the aim
of catching the 4:50am train for the sunrise.
Outside it's dark and raining heavily. I keep on hoping
that by the time the sun rises the cloud cover
miracolously opens or that the viewing point for the
sunrise is above the clouds. None of these hopes will
unfortunately be fulfilled.
The road is empty. Only every now and then there is a car
passing by. I start to wonder if perhaps I'm the only
crazy person driving at 4am towards a mountain summit with
I reach the parking of Alishan at 4:40am. Quickly I fetch
my things and rush to the train station. I'm not the only
one, as I run into two Asian girls who, when seeing me,
say "We are not alone!".
I'm at the train platform at 4:45am and suddenly see that
indeed I'm not alone. Like me, lots of people came this
early morning to catch the sunrise train. There is a long
queue and in fact the first train will leave at 4:50am and
another one at 5:05am. There are even families with small
kids. Everybody is wearing rain gear or is using
umbrellas. All visitors are Asians, i.e. I cannot see no
So at 5:05am I get into the train. The trip lasts about 30
minutes and at 5:37am we are at the Zhushan train station.
This is at 2470m of altitude and from here there is
supposedly a nice view over the sunrise.
A staircase leads from the train station to the viewing
platform. On top there is luckily a roofed area, good in
case it rains, and a viewing area. There are also some
shops and toilet facilities. I also notice some roads
leading here, i.e. apparently you can drive here by car if
you are allowed to.
So we wait a bit and it gets brighter. But there is no
sunrise, because the sun doesn't manage to peek through
the thick clouds layer. But it is raining a lot and it is
cold. I'm glad I didn't catch the 4:50am train, so I have
to spend less time waiting in Zhushan.
A Chinese guy with
a megaphone tries to generate some positive atmosphere,
almost to counteract the hopeless situation. All these
people got up very early in the morning to see a brilliant
sunrise over a sea of clouds, but all they get is this
By 6:30am the last people leave in order to catch the last
train down which leaves at 6:40am.
Even me, I have been pondering for a moment whether I
should catch the train instead of walking down as
originally planned, because it is raining so heavily. But
then I conclude that it will definitely be more
interesting to walk down to the Alishan train station,
because so I will experience the scenery.
And the scenery indeed is most likely great. With proper
weather (sunny, blue sky) this forest for sure is a
beautiful place. Tall cypress trees, magic setting.
I walk down on the paved road because of the rain (the
forest trails are all full of water). While walking down I
meet a couple of Honkies who are spending their holiday
here. They seem pretty surprised when I tell them I'm from
Around 7:30am I'm down at the Alishan car parking where I
left the car. It's still raining heavily. I get into the
car and start driving down.
I have already informed Shirley by SMS that with such a
weather it makes no sense for her to come up to Alishan
and told her to just sleep long with the kids and wait for
I drive down very slowly. The problem is not so much the
rain, the real problem is the very poor visibility. The
road is in the middle of the clouds and depending on the
clouds density in some spots the visibility is just 10
Also, in a few spots there are some big stones on the
street which were not there yesterday evening when I drove
down with Shirley and the kids. It must be the rain which
has caused these stones to fall on the road. These
precarious conditions do not hinder other people from
driving the street down at much higher speeds.
While driving down I notice many, many buses which are
driving up the mountain in spite of the bad weather. Must
be people who have booked a trip a while ago and cannot or
do not want to cancel the trip.
At 8:30am I'm back at the guesthouse. The owner sees me
and smiles and asks "kan richu?". I reply "mei you richu"
(went to watch the sunrise? ... there was no sunrise). I
then get back to the room and crawl back into the bed.
Shirley and the kids are still sleeping.
We'll spend the entire morning in the hotel room, because
with this weather it's pointless to go anywhere.
After noon the weather improves markedly and it stops
raining. So, since we also need to eat something, we leave
the hotel at 12:45pm and drive to Fenqihu, a village the
guesthouse owner has recommended us. It is a few km from
With a small detour through the tea plantation to take
some photos and some stops on the way to take photos of
the cypress forest we reach Fenqihu at 12:40pm.
Fenqihu is a small village centered around the train
station of the Alishan railway. Right now the trains do
not operate. This is a touristic village with pictoresque
houses and tourist shops and restaurants along a street.
Quite a nice place, ideal for a day like this when the
weather does not allow forest hikes.
We have a lunch in a simple restaurant, then do a shopping
tour of the various shops. These offer the local
specialities, i.e. handicrafts, tourist junk but mostly
local culinary specialities such as moji, cookies, local
made juice, cakes and so on.
At 4:10pm we leave
Fenqihu and drive back to the Lehe village. There we buy
some medicine in a pharmacy, then drive back to the hotel.
I fuel up the car at the petrol station near the hotel (95
octanes petrol costs 35 TWD/litre).
In the evening at 6:20pm we get out again for dinner. This
time we drive to the 7/11 convenience store, thinking of
buying some snacks. It turns out that this 7/11 store
sells ready-to-eat meals which just have to be heated up
in a microwave oven, which the store has. So we have a not
so bad dinner (actually quite decent) in this 7/11
convenience store. When we get out of the store we see
other people eating here, i.e. this store doubles as a
restaurant. We then drive back to the guesthouse.