Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Discover Taiwan: Off the Beaten Path (Part 1)

 These places, or most of them, are well known to local tourists, but foreign visitors are harder to see.

               Neiwan is a small town on the outskirts of Hsinchu, and it is easily accessible by train. The train is part of what attracts people to the town, but its real charm comes from its old street. When we arrived at dusk, the town was quiet and apparently empty. It had been raining hard, but the rain stopped as soon as we got to the town. Rounding a bend in the road was just like when the lights come on in Spirited Away. Lights and people had materialized out of nowhere. Like Meinong, Neiwan can give you a glimpse into Hakka culture, and we were happy to sample the many treats in its charmed atmosphere. The food isn’t as good as Meinong’s but it was still decent.

            The train is apparently one of Taiwan’s highest, but there is a rather large asterisk on that record: you have to exclude Taiwan’s high-mountain trains. So if you’re seeking the thrill of traveling on Taiwan’s highest of the trains that don’t go high, you won’t be disappointed.

Beaches in Taitung County 
            I’ve never quite understood people’s fascination with white sand beaches. I find black sand beaches much more striking. I also prefer having a beach entirely to myself than people-watching on a crowded beach. Taitung County has some of the most pristine, empty beaches in the country. All you have to do to find them is ride down National Road 11. They are right there beside you. While beaches on the West coast can be littered with trash and their water is of a dubious quality, the East coast’s relative lack of urbanisation, being on the dark side of the moon from China’s viewpoint, and the strong currents that groom it, make these beaches the cleanest in Taiwan. Kenting’s beaches are nice, but I don't think they're anything special, and I find the East coast’s to be more soothing. I guess I’d rather be alone than surrounded by other tourists, especially when Squid is with me to enjoy it.

Chihshang Rice Fields (池上)            
           Chihshang is famous across Taiwan for its rice, to the point where other rice producers might claim their own rice comes from the area to boost sales. In a country where being on a gluten-free diet would get you the same looks as being a one-armed orphan calling his mom on his imaginary phone, that’s high praise for Chihshang’s rice. Oddly enough, we didn’t have much rice while we were there. Squid wanted to try other famous dishes, such as a delicious tofu skins, delectable wasabi flavored tofu pudding, and soy milk. We had just run a half marathon after only five hours of fitful sleep on the floor between wagons on the train, and we didn’t feel like exploring too much. In both restaurants we went to, you can see how the tofu is made, and that’s always interesting.
The valley’s beauty made it an obvious choice for one of EVA Air’s tourism ad campaigns, which popularized one of the trees on the road. So it made national news when a typhoon uprooted it, and it was quickly saved. The beauty comes from more than the fog lifting from the fields at dawn, or the trees shading the lazy road, or even the scarcity of power lines that usually mar Taiwanese landscapes and cityscapes. The sweet, earthy fragrance of the rice is soothing, and will make you want to walk or bike the snaking roads for hours.
This is a great place to take the train to. It runs through the valley at times, and it is comfortable and quaint.
Credit to: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67010507@N02/
As we were running a half-marathon, we didn't have time to take pictures like this.

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