Floyd and I just got back from an overnight getaway in Ali Shan, one of Taiwan’s beautiful mountain areas.  It’s famous for its spectacular sunrise, which is the main reason most people visit.  (However, I must confess that in the picture below, we’re standing in front of a mural!)

We stayed in a nice little bed and breakfast called Tea Garden (their “Mountain Hometown” location).  It was small but cute and easy to get to.  Click here to read Floyd’s review of it on AAA.  Below is the room we stayed in.   
We arrived Monday late afternoon, and they let us check in early.  Then we got back in the car and drove up to Ali Shan National Scenic Area to make sure we knew how to get there for the sunrise the next morning.  It was about an hour’s drive from Mountain Hometown along steep, winding mountain roads.  The park entrance fee was pretty reasonable (450 NT – about US$14 – for the two of us and our car, with Floyd’s student discount).  We found ourselves in a little shopping area with a visitors’ center, restaurants, gift shops, and even a 7-Eleven, all surrounded by scenic forest criss-crossed with hiking trails.  There was a train station there too, where we bought tickets for the next day’s 5:10 a.m. departure to Chushan, the famous sunrise spot.

Ali Shan’s Forest Railway is quite famous in Taiwan.  We saw lots of tourists taking pictures of each other in and in front of the little red train, on the tracks, and by the various railway signs.

Back at Mountain Hometown, we enjoyed a tasty dinner (ordered in advance on their website when we made our reservation) and hit the sack early.  The alarm rang at 3:30 a.m., which I think is probably the earliest I’ve ever purposely woken up to start my day!  We packed up, loaded our car, and drove back up the mountain in some of the thickest fog I’ve ever seen.  It was a little scary, but we made it safely back up to Ali Shan Scenic Area with time to spare.  We boarded the train (standing room only) and enjoyed a 40-minute ride up to Chushan.
There was an observation area at the top with a viewing platform, souvenir shops, restrooms, and stands selling savory-smelling hot foods and drinks.  Yep, that’s how people enjoy the beauty of natural wilderness here in Taiwan!

When we first got there (a little before 6 a.m.) it was still pitch black, but as the sky gradually lightened, we saw that the mountainscape below us was covered in clouds.  Gradually the clouds began to clear, and everyone waited breathlessly, hoping hard that there would indeed be a spectacular sunrise worthy of the tales we’d all heard.  

The sun was supposed to rise at 6:15, and as the moment approached, more and more of the mountains became visible.  But at exactly 6:14, a massive bank of fog came surging in from the south and settled heavily over everything, reducing visibility to a few yards.  And that was our Ali Shan sunrise.

We took the train back down through the fog to where we’d started and then enjoyed a long hike along one of the trails through the forest.
Of course, bear in mind that a “hiking trail” in Taiwan is usually a wide, smoothly paved route with handrails when it gets steep and frequent warning signs in the “dangerous” sections.  Ali Shan’s trails were no exception!

You can also expect lots of strict signs about what is not allowed in that particular corner of nature.

I guess they didn’t want us to leave the path?

The warning sign above was on a suspended bridge over a stream.

I like the parts that prohibit “frolicking” and instruct visitors not to “make annoying sounds” or “engrave text and graphics” on “panels”!

The trees in Ali Shan’s forest are mostly Taiwan red cypress.  They were all covered with moss and were quite beautiful.  Through a combination of the growth process and the effects of rot, many of the trees and stumps had twisted themselves into all sorts of unusual shapes. 

Various animals supposedly live in the forest, but besides the occasional bird, the warty little guy below was the only wildlife we spotted in Ali Shan.

Below: trees have the right of way on Ali Shan trails!

Partway through our hike we came to a little museum with displays about Ali Shan’s historic railroad, lumber industry, and aboriginal people.  It would have been more meaningful if we could read Chinese, but the exhibits were still interesting.  I wouldn’t recommend a trip to the area just to see the museum (it only took us about ten minutes to see everything), but if you’re there anyway, it’s worth taking a look.

At one point we came to an open area by a temple where people were selling trinkets and snacks.  We bought pork sausages on sticks from this lady; they came with a saucer of seasoned powder for dipping.  (The powder was tangy and complemented the salty sausage flavor nicely – but be careful not to inhale as you’re about to take a bite!)  We asked what other kinds of sausages she had, and turns out there were several different meats represented.  The black ones are cuttlefish!

After several hours of hiking, we returned to the visitors’ center area for lunch.  It felt as though we had stayed all day, but of course that was because our day had started so early.  We drove back to Taichung tired but satisfied that we had done (as far as we could tell) nearly all there was to do in Ali Shan.  Too late, we discovered that the sunset is apparently pretty impressive there too, but for now we’ll have to content ourselves with the pictures we took by a mural.

Floyd and I enjoyed our visit to the zoo in Kaohsiung.  It’s smaller than the one in Taipei (which you can read about in another of my blog posts here), and not quite as nice, but still pleasant.  You don’t need all day to see it thoroughly.  Here are a few glimpses of animals and sights we enjoyed while we were there:

We especially enjoyed the bird enclosure, where tourists can walk around right by all the birds.

Notice the second animal in this picture?  The rhino had a visitor!

A sign we saw in one of the buildings…

I had a fun weekend with friends in the little mountain community of Gu Guan. It was refreshing to get out of the city and actually see some green!

Peggy, Natalie, Fiona and I spent time hiking through the forest, soaking in the hot springs, and hanging out in 7-Eleven. Yes, even in Gu Guan!

“Recrotion” area?! Well, whatever it was, it was a great place to hike. We enjoyed the Bamboo Forest, the Cherry (or “Cheery”!) Forest, river, and waterfalls.

I found these ripe cherry tomatoes growing wild by the side of the road as we hiked. They made an unexpected, tasty snack!

Another unexpected treat was the sight of several monkeys up in the trees. It was my first time to see the elusive Formosan macaque (or indeed, any real wildlife in Taiwan (rodents and giant spiders don’t count))!

As is often the case in Taiwan, there were some truly funny signs in the river area.

This beautiful mosaic of semi-precious stones (with the symbol for the hot springs) was inlaid in the floor of our hotel.

We just got back from a fun little four-day vacation in Kenting (pronounced “kun-ding”) at the southern tip of Taiwan.  We went with some friends from Morrison who were nice enough to let us ride with them in their van (we don’t have a car here in Taiwan). Kenting is one of the most famous tourist spots on the island; sooner or later everybody goes there to spend a few days at the coast.  Although we enjoyed our stay, I must confess I’m not sure why it’s so popular.

A lot of people love the beaches there, and I guess they were okay, but they were too crowded for my tastes (and there was far too much trash on them).  Maybe I’m spoiled after having grown up in Kenya, where the coast at Mombasa is so pretty.  Or after the year I spent in Indonesia, where the remote beaches I visited were literally an unspoiled tropical paradise.  I must admit, however, that these ones are nicer than the beaches in Southern California!

This particular beach was much less crowded than the more popular one above.  This one is on the Pacific coast (to the east), not the Taiwan Strait (to the west).  Unfortunately, it still had a lot of trash (I was careful with the camera angle so as not to show much of that), but I’m told it’s trash washed up by the waves, not dropped by tourists.  That’s better… I guess.  In any case, it had good waves for boogie boarding and coral tidepools where we saw sea stars, urchins, crabs, and seashells.  And both beaches turned out to be perfect for taking naps on the sand in the warm sunshine.

One thing we did enjoy was walking around town.  There’s a touristy area where there are lots of shops and stands selling souvenirs and interesting things to eat.  If you ever go there, though, make sure you notice the mannequins in the clothing stores.  They have a bit more, shall we say, personality than most.  If they came to life and started walking around, it would make for an excellent horror movie.

Floyd and I agree that the best part of our Kenting experience was the aquarium.  If you ever go there, you have to check it out!  Our friends who were with us had elementary-age kids, and they loved it; but really, the two of us enjoyed it just as much as the children.  There’s something there for everyone:

touch tanks…

huge tanks containing coral reefs with all the layers, complete with not only coral but fish and a wide variety of other creatures – it was interesting to see the reefs through the glass at eye level, the way only a scuba diver (or a fish!) normally would…

all sorts of sea creatures, (our favorites were the beluga whales, rays, and angry-looking whale shark), clearly visible from a winding glass tunnel people can walk through under the water of a gigantic tank…

…and of course the submarine simulator arcade games!  

They also had separate areas for habitats like antarctic waters, kelp forests, and the deep sea (you know, with the glow-in-the-dark fish). Part of the aquarium was designed to look like the inside of a shipwreck, which added to the fun.  All in all, we spent quite an enjoyable morning there!

One of our last destinations in Taipei was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial.  We got to watch part of a changing of the guard ceremony, but it was too crowded at that point to get any good pictures.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds, which were spacious and park-like.  Here I found a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen to pose with.

We got quite a kick out of this warning sign by the little pond on the grounds!

Well, we had a fun vacation, but alas, it was time for us to head back home.  Taichung, here we come!

See also:
Playing Tourist in Taipei, Part 1 (Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Longshan Temple)
Playing Tourist in Taipei, Part 2 (Taipei Zoo)
Playing Tourist in Taipei, Part 3 (National Museum of History, Botanical Garden, National Palace Museum)
Playing Tourist in Taipei, Part 4 (Taipei 101)