Continuing from Part 1 of our trip to Taiwan, this is our second and final post on our adventures.
We departed from Nanzhuang town (南庄) in Miaoli County (苗栗市) to make our way to the town of Sanyi but before we left on the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle service (台灣好行), we had a quick look at Nanzhuang Old Street (南庄老街).
The street is lined with food and old buildings. The narrow alleys are like treasure troves of little shops to discover. It felt a lot more authentic than the usual Taipei street offerings and we really wanted to dwell longer here (but we had a bus to catch).
Our bus took us to Zhunan Station (竹南車站), where we took a train to Sanyi township (三義鄉) of Miaoli County (苗栗市).
You can tell I love train stations a lot. There is something quaint and full of promise in a train station, promises of journeys to new places, and to familiar places like home.
We were met at the station by Mr Lim, the proprietor of a homestay (民宿) called Tan Shiang 88 (炭鄉八八庭園民宿). It is a lovely homestay caressed by the fog of Sanyi.
We were treated like one of the family, and had a hearty meal there, prepared by his wife. We ended up making friends with the rest of the guests at the homestay too, friendships lubricated by Kaoliang sorghum liquor (58% alcohol!!!) and good Chinese tea after dinner.
Mr Lim took us to see a camphor factory where they take wood and make it into camphor oil. It was weird to see and smell the actual wood that the medicated oil we use comes from.
Sanyi is a small town but it is famous for being a coal mining town. You can see remnants of its coal mining heyday like train stations and railway bridges. This is what remains of the Longteng Bridge (龍騰斷橋), destroyed by earthquakes in 1935 and 1999. When it was built in 1905, it was considered one of the greatest railway feats of Taiwan.
This is Shengxing Station (勝興車站), built in 1906, made entirely of wood in the Japanese huya style. The no-longer-operational station sits 402.326 meters above sea level and is now mainly a tourist spot and popular for wedding photos.
The other thing Sanyi is known for, besides lovely clean air and romantic fog, is the arts. In particular, wood carving. The little township is home to many wood sculptors and artists, and even has a museum called the Sanyi Museum of Wood Sculpture (三義木雕藝術展示館).
I really enjoyed my visit here. The wood sculptures here are first rate, and features works from old masters and young art graduates. I even found a sculpture that looks a little like our PM. Ahem.
Also fun was the visit to Sanyi Duck Treasure Shop (三義丫箱寶雙峰木鴨工廠). The boss lady took us to see the history of their wooden ducks, which were sold to American and Canadian duck hunters as duck bait.
On site, the business has since expanded from wooden duck manufacturing to DIY duck painting. You get to pick your own wooden animal and paint it yourself. I picked out a cute snake (Year of the Snake mah) to paint and Ryan chose a wooden cat.
Let's just say I shouldn't be quitting my day job any time soon to paint wooden animals.
We also visited a strawberry farm where we picked strawberries ourselves. Massive, massive strawberries.
One of the famous ones is Dahu Strawberry Cultural Centre (苗栗大湖草莓文化園區).
We made our way to our Sungertain homestay, 三才靈芝農場民宿 located in Shiding District (石碇區), a rural district in southern New Taipei City. This was the only homestay we stayed in during our trip that was not just surrounded by nature, but also near enough to the city centre. Nestled in a valley, this homestay is also a Lingzhi farm.
The lingzhi or reishi mushroom is a rare and extremely sought after health food and here in our homestay, we ate lingzhi, drank lingzhi and even put lingzhi on our face.
After our dinner of dishes made with super-healthy lingzhi variants, the boss lady of the homestay asked if I wanted to try a lingzhi facial. It was very popular with a famous songbird from the old days, she said.
How could I resist a health-giving mushroom facial, right? And to end the evening, we were even given a tube of lingzhi toothpaste. Is there ANYTHING you cannot do with this wonder mushroom?
The next morning, we made our way to Jingtong station (菁桐火車站), up in the hills.
Built for the mining days, Jingtong station is famous for being featured in the movie, "You Are The Apple Of My Eye" (那些年，我們一起追的女孩).
The Japanese occupation of Taiwan left a strong architectural legacy here in Jingtong, as evidenced by the many Japanese-style buildings here. This structure was where the Japanese used to entertain. It is like stepping into another world.
We left our homestay somewhat reluctantly and headed back to Taipei for one last day. After all the beautiful countryside we saw, we were now back in the city. Our accommodation for the night was Sato Castle (莎多堡奇幻旅館), a high-end themed motel.
How do I describe the over-the-top Sato Castle? Hmmm. It is definitely not a place where two blokes like Ryan and I would normally visit. You see, it had two distinct qualities.
Firstly, it was big on privacy. You drive your car into the building and right up to your covered parking lot next to your room. There is no need to get out of your car to go to the reception, and be, er, spotted by nosy paparazzi (if you are a politician with a grassroots worker, for example). The rooms are equipped with anti-spy camera technology too. Loving spouses, furtive lovers, and secretive philanderers can be assured of a private stay here.
Secondly, Sato Castle is built on themes. Every one of its fify-plus rooms has a specific theme. This is the Pirate one.
The PR manager was very proud of the attention to detail in their rooms. She even showed us how to operate the sword stuck into the side table by the bed to make the bed shake in various ways, like a sea mode. She also said their rooms were popular with cosplayers (and role-playing too, I am sure).
Alas, Ryan and I did not stay in this room (or the Fairytale room we also saw) but were given the Chinese Emperor theme suite. Mainly because we wanted TWO beds instead of one king-sized bed (for obvious reasons) and the over-the-top Chinese Palace was one of the few with two beds.
I tried the various features of the humungous bathroom, like the sauna, the massage shower and the jacuzzi (by myself, of course), and felt like a king. A very lonely king.
At night, Ryan and I ventured out to the streets of Taipei to eat and shop. We had our share of street food (which didn't feel as good anymore, after all that great Hakka fare in Miaoli county) and shopped for presents for our wife and family.
We even made our pilgrimage to the 24-hour Eslite Bookstore, our fave place in Taipei to browse and buy books.
I have to say this was an awesome, but a little hectic, trip. I am certainly taking the wife to stay in the Hsinchu and Miaoli countryside the next time. Maybe stay in a homestay longer and have a more relaxed itinerary.
This is a side of Taiwan I think is under-appreciated.
Clean air, great scenery and awesome food… what's not to like?