IT IS 8.30 am on a warm Monday early morning at busy Chiayi train station in main Taiwan.
A streamlined, high-speed reveal glides wonderfully into platform 2, while a jam-packed commuter train crawls from platform 3.
However all eyes– consisting of ours– are excitedly on platform one, where a little red diesel engine with a white V-shaped stripe on the front blasts its horn two times prior to gradually trembling to a stop.
The waiting travelers rush to get the very best window seats in the 4 spotless coaches.
However since we remain in Taiwan, where everybody is constantly incredibly respectful, no one presses.
For this is the Alishan Forest Train, a narrow-gauge line developed more than 100 years back by the island’s previous Japanese overlords to transfer big cypress logs below surrounding mountains.
It’s a wonder of early 20th century engineering that weaves, zig-zags and corkscrews prior to spiralling back on itself to gradually climb up practically 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) to the magical, mist- covered tops.
You do not need to be a train enthusiast though to delight in the incredible journey as it crosses more than 70 wood bridges and plunges through 50 tunnels to labour up the incredibly high gradients.
And however for the truth that Taiwan– or the Republic of China to utilize its main name– was voted out of the United Nations in favour of its larger neighbour, the Socialist Republic of China, this train would definitely be a Unesco World Heritage Website.
Groups of ecstatic schoolchildren and celebrations of hikers stop to wave as we down gradually previous. However like us, a number of the travelers are not simply occurring for the trip.
For Alishan is where, as every happy Taiwanese will inform you, the world’s finest oolong tea is grown.
With its sweet, flower scent, it’s deemed to lower tension, relieve indigestion, enhance the body immune system– plus work other magic.
The area, however, is much more popular for the spectacular “sea of clouds” dawn over the Jade Mountain, at 3,952 metres (12,965 feet), the greatest peak in the nation.
So every day, numerous residents and travelers take the train to invest the night in the cluster of no-frills-but-comfortable hotels like the Gau Shan Ching in Zhongzheng town, all set to increase at 4.30 am to enjoy dawn break.
By the time we reach the wood-built Alishan station in the pitch darkness the following early morning, it’s standing space just on the unique Daybreak Train which is currently loaded with drowsy travelers.
However the charming girl station master Wu Li-Hu ushers us to VIP seats in the taxi beside the train motorist for the 20-minute jolting journey even more up the twisting track to Zhushan.
From there it’s a 10-minute walk to a seeing location, where a substantial crowd of individuals is grating about excitedly in the predawn chill. Vibrant stalls do a roaring trade selling hot beverages, breakfasts and mementos, and as the very first rays of sun lighten the sky, a male with a loudspeaker advises the crowd to yell, “Ha-Ha-Ha”.
That, my buddy Jui-Pin, among Taiwan’s best-known artists, discusses, is expected to bring us luck all the time– with the possibility of a lot of riches coming our method the future. So I yell, “Ha-Ha-Ha” too (athough I’m still awaiting the cash).
Lastly, as the sun peeps over Jade Mountain, there is a holler of approval and applause as numerous cams click and the clouds listed below us gradually turn a wonderful shade of pink.
Later on, we walk through the mist along a forest path in between big cypress trees– some more than 2,000 years of ages– previous pleasantly scented magnolias, hydrangeas, lilies and rhododendrons to a coffee shop called Tea Farm No35 for breakfast.
Vibrant Mikado pheasants strut happily around the luscious gardens outside as a wonderful lady called Yoshie, using a crimson beret, animatedly shows how to prepare– and consume– tea the Taiwanese method.
It’s a far cry from soaking 2 teabags in the pot in the house.
After thoroughly picking a handful of completely formed tea leaves, Yoshie puts boiling water on them then, within seconds, decants the brew initially into a bowl and from there into our thimble-sized cups.
Lastly, she motivates us to smell the tea approvingly prior to we take our very first sip.
“Tea in Taiwan,” Yoshie discusses with a smile, “resembles a gorgeous girl.
” It does not require a very long time for makeup. No milk or sugar either, simply the flavour of the tea.”
Appropriately revitalized, we follow the Cherry Bloom path through the forest, previous gleaming waterfalls and the 2 Sis’ Ponds, where legend has it a number of terrible young maidens leapt to their deaths.
Indications point the method to the 3 Generations Tree, the Number 28 Giant Tree, the Elephant Trunk Tree and the Tree Spirit Monolith, developed to calm the spirits of the splendid cypresses dropped when Japanese ruled the island.
There’s even a Spiritual Tree, or a minimum of there was. Regrettably, it dropped a couple of years back and just a stump stays.
It’s quickly time to walk back to Zhongzheng for the bus to Chiayi, prior to taking the high-speed train to Taiwan’s buzzing capital, Taipei.
While the Forest Railway train hardly reached 25mph jerking its method up the mountains, this rockets along so efficiently at 186mph that you’re hardly conscious it is moving.
Taipei is a little bit of a contradiction, with its conventional Buddhist and Taoist temples, filled with vibrant flowers and incense smoke, nestled in between contemporary high-rise buildings.
Overlooking whatever is Taipei 101, up until a couple of years ago the world’s highest structure at 508 metres prior to Dubai developed one even greater in 2009. Looking like a huge bamboo stick, it’s still a remarkable sight, however, and boasts the world’s fastest lift– which strikes 40mph while blending you as much as the 89th flooring observation deck in simply 37 seconds.
There’s an excellent view from the top over the city– however finest provide it a miss out on if you’re frightened of heights.
Pull back on strong ground, one location that should not be missed out on is the huge National Palace Museum, real estate a valuable gold mine of Chinese history.
It boasts more than 700,000 products– some going back to the 14th and 15th century BC– although just around one percent of them are on screen at any one time.
Many were ransacked from the Forbidden City in Beijing as Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces left from China in 1949 after being beat by Mao Tse Tung in the nation’s civil war.
Neighboring is the vast Shilin night market, the most significant and earliest of its kind in the city, stuffed with vibrant stalls offering all sorts of things along with some odd and fantastic food.
I will buy one delicious-looking kebab when someone whispers that the little portions of meat sizzling on a skewer are really chickens’ bottoms. Yuk!
Lots of stalls serve smelly tofu, a preferred special in Taiwan. It smells disgusting, however, if you can tolerate the odor, really tastes rather great.
Simply around the corner is among the world’s most strange dining establishments– the Modern Toilet Dining establishment, where restaurants rest on bathrooms while tucking into an unique PooPoo meal of deep-fried chicken drumsticks.
For a couple of cents more, there’s PooPoo bread to mop up the brown sauce, cleaned down with Taiwanese Urine Beer.
Sounds horrible, however do not be delayed. The location is really rather enjoyable. And the costs are so low-cost you do not need to be flush to consume there.
” We’re the top,” boasts manager Garry, including, as I tuck into some PooPoo chocolate ice cream, “and the second!”.
The regular, scrupulously-clean and super-fast colour-coded City makes it extremely simple to navigate Taipei. I take heaven Line to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, where 2 soldiers, perfectly dressed all in white, secure a 6.2 metre high, 21-tonne bronze statue of the late Generalissimo.
For 50 minutes they stand definitely stiff, stagnating a muscle, up until the fracture of a rifle butt on the flooring signifies a sophisticated, not-to-be-missed almost-balletic altering of the guard routine.
Downstairs are shown Chiang’s 2 bulletproof Cadillac limos, in addition to an exhibit about the life of this questionable figure who developed the contemporary Taiwan, a nation about the size of Switzerland however with 3 times the population.
I’m remaining at the main luxury Howard Plaza Hotel, an imposing structure with its own outside swimming pool, fitness center, aerobic centre and sauna, a cosy bar and numerous various themed dining establishments.
It’s an incredibly location that I can’t advise extremely enough, with among the most significant, most tasty breakfast spreads I have actually ever seen.
You can even get a plate of snails to opt for your bacon, sausage and egg– although I plumped for baked beans rather!
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