After nearly a month in Taiwan (on two different visits, two and a half years apart) I was beginning to feel like a helpless child. I was almost always following along with my friend Grant, other travelers or my hosts at the DADA school. Although I was invited to tag along on a camping trip to Kenting I decided to do a little exploring on my own. Upon the advice of one of the students at the DADA school and a little research of my own, I planned a [brief] two-day visit to Changhua and Taichung. I considered going further south to Tainan but ultimately didn’t want to spend the time or money in doing so.
Saturday morning started with an early train ride to Changhua where I planned to see the Giant Buddha I had read about during my few minutes of ‘research’. As I got off the train all I saw were eager taxi drivers, lines for buses and lots of other chaos. I figured a tourist map would help me out but the stall only had brochures for the entire Taichung area, not helpful. I was fairly confident the Buddha was reachable by foot so I simply started walking, not truly knowing where I was going. Before long I reached another main road with signs directing traffic to the ‘Big Buddha Observation Area”, glad I went with my instincts. The Taiwan tourist site actually advises visitors to take a bus to the nature park, but there is absolutely no need to do so. I walked for about 10 minutes and another 10 minutes uphill through the park before I arrived at the Big Buddha. After living and traveling in Asia for 3 years I’ve seen my fair share of Buddha’s (standing, sitting, lying, gold, bronze, emerald, wood, stone) so this one wasn’t actually as impressive as I was hoping. It was big, but I’ve seen bigger; what was cool is that you can go inside the Buddha to learn more about the story of Buddha.
After touring the Buddha I worked my way back towards town in search of food, finally settling on a Taiwanese lunchbox, cheap and a variety, works for me. Although I hadn’t done a whole lot in the city it was time for me to move on, I caught a quick 15 min train ride north to Taichung where I’d face a bit of trouble finding the bus to take me to my CS host, Ching. Thanks to a friendly bus station worker, and a payphone (yeah, they still exist in Taiwan) call to my host I navigated the bus situation and was on my way into the mountains.
Couchsurfing has never let me down so when I was in search of something different to do in Taiwan, while also connecting with the locals I knew this was the way I should go about it. Once again I was rewarded with a great weekend, new friend and good memories. Chif picked me up from the bus stop and took me back to his house where I met his family, we shared some travel stories, and took a rest before heading off to the local night market.
Chif’s wife and two of their friends joined us for the night market which was great because the best way to tackle the food options available at the markets is with a team. I let it slip that after two visits I had yet to try stinky tofu so Chif assured me he wouldn’t let me go home without doing so. To accompany our tofu we got two heaping plates of what ‘Mongolian BBQ’ which was chock full of veggies, so definitely something I enjoyed. After eating we walked around and played a few games (think county fair midway) before returning home for some much needed sleep.
Sunday morning we had plans to tour around on Chif’s motorbike, eat a traditional breakfast and visit the flea market but none of that happened. Instead I woke up somewhere around 5 am to roosters and sun, decided to block that out with my earplugs and face mask and was out cold until nearly 10:30. I told Chif he should have woke me(!) but he refused so instead we spent the morning on the farm, harvesting ginger and talking about life. The family presented an awesome spread of food for lunch which would prove as great fuel for our afternoon hike.
Around 2 pm we packed our bags and drove a short 15 minutes to the Dakeng hiking trails where we decided to tackle route 5. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as Chif said the trail was of medium difficulty, he told me after reading my CS profile he figured it’d be a piece of cake for me, I was hoping he was right. I’m usually up for a challenge but my knees don’t always agree and after two days of walking cities my right foot was oddly sore. It was about a 5 minute walk to even get to the path at which point I saw stairs, lots and lots of stairs. If I wasn’t lucky enough to have the knees of an 80 year old this would have been an awesome hike, but that’s not the case. The path was awesome, you could tell the government really put a lot of effort into developing the trails in this area, the path consisted of stairs built entirely from logs which although cool looking weren’t the easy to trek along.
Despite the grandma knees and sore foot I managed to humble along just fine, in fact Chif didn’t realize anything until I showed some hesitation when he asked for the 3rd time, do you want to keep going? The views could have been better (damn clouds and fog) but the hike up was still worth it, I don’t think I’ve ever regretted a few hours of good exercise in gorgeous weather.
Unfortunately my time with Chif, his friends and family was coming to an end. I had only brought an overnight bag and had plans to return to my friends house in Taipei. Being the great host he is Chif offered to drive me to the train station in Fanghua. This saved me a bus back to Taichung, apparently his wife wanted to do some shopping anyway, either way I appreciated it. The down side to all these travels is that my return journey to Taipei just happened to be at 7 pm on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a 4 day holiday weekend, meaning I’d be joined by about half the country. Obviously not having pre-booked a ticket I had no seat for the 2.5 hour ride but I was lucky enough to score a comfortable standing position near one of the entrances. I had a phone full of music, good book on my kindle and bubble tea in hand, I could tackle this journey.
This country has a smell, I can't describe it and I actually don't know what it is, but as soon as I step out of the airport I know I've arrived. The land of night markets, bubble tea and so, soooo much food, your tastebuds will be tired.