We left Hualian Train Station bright and early the next morning by High Speed Rail (HSR) for the five hour trip to Taitung – the cost was TWD$343 each (AUD$15).
On arriving at Taitung we exited the train station and turned left and waddled along the road for about 500 metres to our hotel for the night; the Genuinn Hotel. The Genuinn Hotel is a trendy little hotel where you leave your shoes locked in a cabinet at the front door. There is an ominous sign on the cabinet warning, that if you do not close the cabinet door, the dog may eat your shoes!!!
We threw all our bags into our room and were off back to the train station to catch a local train two stops to Beinan Train Station, the cost was about NT$50 each or AUD$2.50. We then jumped into a taxi for a ten minute trip out to Jhiben Hot Springs, costing NT$200 or about AUD$10. It was NT$300 each for entry and we had to buy these really super, hot and spunky swimming caps, for NT$50 each – wearing these super cool swimming caps is compulsory to enter hot springs pools– to Di and I it was our ultimate fashion statement and we purchased multi-coloured caps to match our travel weary eyes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Jhiben Hot Springs are one of the most famous hot springs in Taiwan. They are alkali carbonate springs and the water is both clear and odourless. When we were there the water temperature was 40.7 degrees Celsius. Getting into the water is rather fun on the first attempt as it is, well …… HOT!!!! Once your skin has melted a bit and you have been in the hot spring for a few minutes you become accustomed to the temperature…. well sort of. The water isn’t very deep and you can lay in it.
When you begin to look like a lobster and the Taiwanese get the thermidor sauce ready, you know it is time to get out and dive into the cool pool of normal water next to the hot spring – when you dive into this water you certainly know you are alive!!!!!!!!!!!! To say it is refreshing diving straight into cool water after being slow boiled is an understatement!!!!
The hot springs were reasonably quiet whilst we were there as it was a week day afternoon. At the source of the water coming out of the ground it is a lot hotter and can get into the 50’s Celsius.
An area has been set up where you can cook eggs. You buy raw eggs from the pool reception – they even throw in a small bag of salt – the eggs cost NT$10 or just under AUD$0.50cents each. We bought two.
You then pop the eggs into a small metal basket and plop the eggs and basket into the boiling water – wait ten minutes and then you crack open a hot, two egged feast!!! Di could not be tempted and let me eat both the eggs!!!
We stayed at the hot springs for about three hours and I pretty much spent two hours of that, either submerged to my neck in the hot springs water showing off my cool swimming cap, that made me look like a liquorice all-sorts condom; or coolly cooling off by wading in the cool pool!!!!! Life gets pretty good sometimes! There are other pools in the pool complex, as it is a health spa, but Di and I stuck to the hot springs during our stay. I would recommend a visit to the Jhiben Hot Springs if only to buy the super swag swimming cap – I cannot wait to wear my purple and pink swimming cap on the beaches of the Blackpool Riviera!!!!
We caught the same taxi driver back to the train station from the hot springs and paid NT$200 again – this felt a bit pricey and I wondered what the locals paid! Unfortunately, we just missed the local train and unbelievably the next one was not for an hour! We then had dinner at the train station – two minute noodles in the train station car park – the Meandering Wanderers live the high life at times! We locked our shoes in the dog proof cabinet once back at the Genuinn Hotel and slept like well-cooked prawns that night!!!! The next day our brief, but enjoyable, stay at Taitung was over and we were back on the station platform catching a train to Chiayi.
The HSR to Chiayi takes four hours and costs TWD$600 (AUD$25). On arrival at Chiayi, Di thought she had been clever and had booked a hotel across the road from both, the train station, and from the bus stop, where we needed to catch a bus from the next day. Unfortunately, the best laid plans become complicated, and we were again confronted with large construction going on at the front of the railway station. Google map came to our aid but we stood looking at where the Yoyo Hotel should have been, but just could not see it. It was, again, just a small sign at the entrance to a large building indicating the Yoyo Hotel was on the eleventh floor. We stayed two nights at the Yoyo Hotel and it cost AUD$D70 per night. We spent time in the early evening wandering the streets of Chiayi, but there is not much to see as it is just a big city; our real objective was to go for a day trip to Alishan the next day.
The breakfast at the Yoyo Hotel was terrible and was included in the price of the room. I will not bore you with the awful tasting muck they served up, only to say we never bothered the next morning with breakfast – starvation was a better option.
There are two public transport options to get from Chiayi to Alishan. One is going one way by steam train and then one way by bus. We considered this option but there were difficulties with it. Firstly the train up the mountain only goes at 9am. The train down the mountain leaves at 2pm. The train takes three hours one way – thus it is very difficult to take the train both ways and still see the sights of Alishan, hence most people only take the train one way. As I have stated, previously, Taiwan has a lot of problems with heavy rain and landslides; we were again faced with land slide issues. Only three quarters of the rail line to Alishan was open due to a large land slide back in 2014. The last quarter of the journey has to be completed by bus – a bus you had to pay extra for. Thus we chose to catch a bus the whole way there and back. If you take the train make sure you book and most people go up on the 9am train, so places on this train are competitive, make sure you book early.
To book bus tickets to Alishan you simply go to a Convenience store, we went to Family Mart behind the Yoyo Hotel and you book and pay for your bus ticket at a vending machine in the convenience store – or you do what we did and plead senile and the girl behind the counter will help you. The ticket cost TWD$238 each one way, about AUD$12.
The bus stop is directly opposite the Yoyo Hotel entrance – but due to the renovations of the train station it kind of blends in and is hard to see – even when standing directly in front of it – it is a very temporary arrangement. Whilst we were there two local men helped us identify the bright green bus to Alishan.
Whilst we waited at the bus stop several taxis stopped and offered to take us there, and several people (who did not look like taxi drivers) said they would take us – we declined all offers and caught the bright green bus number 322.
The bus trip up the mountain takes about two and a half hours and it is very scenic, once you leave the city limits. The bus was about 75% full and Di and I were the only westerners. The bus driver was pretty good and actually stopped for five minutes at a lookout so we could all take some good photos of the view.
We eventually arrived at Alishan. So what is at Alishan? Alishan is a township and a National Scenic Area and is basically in the dead centre of Taiwan. The area is popular with mountain climbers and mountain hikers. It also has a large National Park with many trails. Within the National Park are waterfalls, a forest railway, gardens, temples and it is famous for its sunsets and sunrises – for us though the option of sunrise or sunset was out of the question as it was very overcast.
The weather was pretty bleak and rain was certainly on the card. The entrance fee into the National Park is reduced by NT$50 (AUD$2.50) if you come by public transport – the reduced fee for us was NT$150 each or AUD$7.50ish each. As it was midweek, and there were ominous rain clouds around, there was hardly anyone at the park. In fact, we got off the main trail quickly and at most times we had the trail to ourselves.
There are some absolutely lovely spots within the park, and the trees are simply ancient, with many being thousands of years old.
Di and I walked for miles along the trails through the forest. In some areas the mossy landscape was so surreal and looked like something straight from a Tolkien novel. As the day wore on a mist settled everywhere adding to the mystique of the place.
We walked everywhere, but there is a small train to take you around the park and a minivan service – but we loved the walking.
The waterfall and the temple are okay, but we loved walking the Tashan Trail though.
Unfortunately whilst we were on the Tashan Trail it started to rain very heavily and we came across signs of rock slippage so we turned back.
We were at over 2000 metres above sea level.
We took shelter from the heavy rain on a small island in a pond and the mist descended. This turned the moment into a Stephen King clichéd, horror moment with Pennywise lurking in the mist. It was a marvellous moment to simply sit and embrace the magic of the quiet scene.
Unfortunately with my black rain jacket on, the hood up, the mist, the forest and rain I, too, took on the look of a sinister character from your worst nightmare – oh the clichés!!!
There are simply lots of bridges, little rivers, tiny waterfalls, temples……. It is just a lovely place to walk around.
By this stage though it was pouring down and we were getting absolutely drenched. We walked for over three hours through the park and decided we had had enough and started the walk back to the village. We resisted the temptation to catch the train or minivan as we were soaked and a bit more water would not hurt.
We had booked seats on the 4.10pm bus but had no problems showing our tickets and getting on the half full 3.20pm bus.
The ride back to Chiayi was not as memorable because of the reduced visibility due to the cloud cover and the rain. I enjoyed the day immensely and would recommend Alishan be included as part of your Taiwan visit.
There is accommodation up in the Alishan National Park, but it does appear to be pretty expensive, for the likes of long-term budget travellers like Di and I.
The next morning we avoided the Yoyo Hotel’s breakfast like the plague and settled on leftover Subway from the night before. Please do not get me wrong, the Yoyo Hotel was a great little hotel they just had the worst breakfast EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We only had a short stroll across the road and we were on the train station platform awaiting our next train.
The adventure continues ………………………