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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Taiwan, Hong Kong (2)

(2) From Taipei to the east coast

Finally, all set to ride
Riding out of the city, along the river Dan Shui (淡水河, freshwater river).  This beautiful bike path was very lightly used. We started to wonder aloud Taiwan's claim to be "bicycle kingdom" was grossly exaggerated. 

We stopped for lunch when we saw the long line
For me, that was our best meal in Taiwan. The minced meat rice 魯肉飯 sauce was a little heavy handed, but the 虱目魚 fish belly soup was absolutely delicious. 
This restaurant was also the turning point of our bike trip, the couple we shared the table with started to put ideas in our heads, they managed to convinced us that the east coast of Taiwan was worth visiting.

Highest point on our way to Tao Yuan (桃園,peach garden), almost all downhill riding from here to the airport city. 
We were surprised how rural Taiwan looked. (I think this was taken on Wan Shuo Road 萬壽路)

We were 20 Km from our destination Xin Shu (新竹, new bamboo), with much trepidation, we checked in to this motel.  At this point we had ridden 50-60 Km and it started to get dark. W had to walk some hilly parts, but held up okay otherwise. 
The motel was in a town called Yang Mei (楊梅, bayberry), the room (including the ground floor garage) was relatively inexpensive  (about 35 USD) and looked like a love nest sort of place. Despite the jacuzzi with neon lights, everything turned out to be decent. I particularly enjoyed their simple breakfast. 
Outside of major cities, Taiwan is still very Taiwan, few people speak Mandarin and there are betel nut (檳榔)stores everywhere, working class people chew betel nuts all the time (because of the narcotic effects). I paid about 2 USD for a bag, chewed the heck out of them that night and felt nothing.  

We tried to board a train to the south but decided to check out some rental cars in the town of Zhong Li (中壢, middle lowland). We ended up getting this spacious white Toyota (偷油的) for 10,000 (about 300 USD) for a week. The rental company required us to have a temporary Taiwan driving license so most of the day was wasted biking around to get the paper work done. That's when I discovered Hong Kongers are becoming Singaporeans, W was complaining constantly how inefficient Taiwan was and how superior Hong Kong was in everything... 

The long side of this map is only 2 miles

With the car, we changed our plan completely, we decided to make seeing as much Taiwan as possible our primary goal

 At around 4PM when the painful paperwork was finally done, we set out to drive to the east coast via Northern East West Highway 北橫公路.  Up to that time, everyday had been overcast and drizzly, through the fog the scenery was spectacular. The reason I didn't take pictures was the road was so treacherous that it demandeded all our attention. You can see from the Google maps (check the scale on the bottom)  how tight the switchbacks are, the switchbacks are usually single lane meaning you must look at the convex mirror installed at the apex to know whether to proceed or wait in an area wide enough for both cars to pass.
As dusk fell, visibility became nil, we got to Yi Lan (宜蘭,suitable for orchids) late in the evening, probably at an average speed of 20 Km per hour or less on the "highway". 

Hotel in Yi Lan

Checked into the first decent hotel we saw,  so cool to park right on the sidewalk, inches from the lobby door.

Gentleman Framers

I saw many giant tractors, and a Range Rover and other SUVs parked on this dirt road, I'm guessing the produce is not their only livelihood. (I heard country people got rich from the land.)

Near the ocean

At mile 0 of the bike trail

I was up so early that when I rode back to the hotel, the nearby market was just getting ready to open, W was just getting up. 

The Market

Truth be told, food in Taiwan was not great. But it turned out the market was staggeringly good, so much so that at we were asking strangers if we could borrow a kitchen to cook the food ourselves.


A shopkeeper gave us some advice on where to eat.

Many different kinds of chickens

  I could only imagine how good a home cooked meal could be. I could think of no reason for people to go to the supermarket where the selection was very poor. 

Friendly Photogs

A section of the bicycle trail I rode earlier was now blocked by SUVs and photographers.

Dedicated birdwatchers

Local birdwatchers had been monitoring the water around the clock both electronically and personally. I could only see the bird through a huge 800mm telephoto lens.

Serious Hobbyists

I had not seen so much top-end photo equipment used by amateurs in one place. 
Some of the photographers were decked out in waxed cotton jackets and Wellington boots, properly attired to go skeet shooting with QE2 and Prince Philip. 

The star bird was a stork

Strangely, I would see the same kind of bird later in downtown Hong Kong, a giant bird perched on a tree in Central!

Su Hua Highway

We took it easy the rest of the day in Yi Lan. The only project left was to visit a famous hot spring in Jiao Xi (礁溪, fish rock brook) 10 miles away. We wisely chose the (town owned ?) Japanese styled bathhouse, the other option was private bathtubs in by-the-hour resort hotels. 
Japanese style is befittingly called 裸湯, naked soup, people share soups of different temperatures in several pools. Thankfully, male and female patrons are segregated these days. 

On to Hua Lian (花蓮, flower lotus) the next day via Su Hua Highway (蘇花公路).  All of a sudden, the  sun came out and we were too dsitracted by the breathtaking view to take pictures. Running out of road, we stopped to look at the sea, this was a popular spot with mainland China tourists and the parking lot was full of yellow taxis.

Priceless beach with coarse charcoal colored sand

This is by no means extraordinary, cliffs and turquoise sea was everywhere. 

Big waves

My foot with Achilles tendon problem flared up after Jiao Xi hot spring, managed to hike down to the beach and feel the water nevertheless.

Ocean of youth

Sister W lost 90% of her age playing with pebbles. She took a 5 pound bag of rocks home. 

Most of the visitors were properly dressed for cold weather except these two

We were soaking wet and about to enter Tarako National Park (太魯閣, a name I first thought was Japanese, it's actually indigenous.)

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