Escaping from Taipei’s endless rain and cold, and in search of some sun, warmth and blue skies, so we just spent this past week driving down Taiwan’s east coast. Beautiful! Yes, sun, warmth and blue skies, all so much appreciated. My 3 friends, Xiu-Chin, Ah-Guan and her daughter Ya-Ling arrived here on Monday from Taichung and Tainan ~ first stop was to visit Rev. Philip Jung-Long Ho and his wife Shiao-Lan, recently retired back here to Sanzhi from Grace Church, Tainan. So wonderful to see them again!
We set off from Taipei on Tuesday and headed east to Yilan, staying in the famous hot spring town of Jiaoxi. Most interesting is the waterfall and RC church at nearby Wufengqi 五峰旗….
The story behind the church is that some 40 years ago, a group of hikers got lost in the mountains nearby and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. She appeared to them in a vision and guided them down the mountain to safety. The church is beautiful, especially with the red lanterns for New Year and the pink cherry blossom…
We left Jiaoxi heading south to Hualien, stopping at the cliffs….
In Hualien, we visited Rev. Joseph Ray-En Ho (son of Rev. Philip Ho), his wife Pei-Yin and children, who are based at St. Luke’s Church…
His daughter carries a specially-made cross for some of the services, and was so happy to dress up for a photo with us!
We were staying at Ji-an, just outside Hualien, where the early morning scenery was just what we needed after all of Taipei’s endless rain!
We visited Liyu Lake, and watched the inflatable ducks and fountains performing to music…
We visited the local sites, passing by the famous Hualien Starbucks – in the shipping containers…
On Friday, we drove south from Hualien along the coast to Taitung, Taiwan’s most scenic coastal route, crossing the Tropic of Cancer on the way….
The east coast beaches are beautiful!
In Taitung, we stayed at a guest house right near the old sugar factory which is reinventing itself as a big art and cultural space…
Taitung is famous for its custard apples, being sold at the side of the road, so we bought a box and took them with us….
The multi-coloured building at Dawu has had a fresh coat of paint since I last visited, it’s stunning!
Saying goodbye to the east coast, we drove over the mountains and through the new tunnel eastwards to Pingtung, where we stayed with our good friend, Ju-Zi at Wouli. Last year I stayed with her over Chinese New Year and wrote up my blog post here about my visit. It’s an amazing place, with so much history and culture, and we had a really warm welcome. Ju-Zi lives in the Dachen Village in Pingtung, and cooks the most delicious and authentic Dachen food, which she gave us to eat on Saturday night, helped by A-Chao. So delicious!
After the Sunday service at St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung yesterday, so I returned to Taipei, while the 3 others in our group carried on to Kaohsiung to see the Taiwan Lantern Festival. In fact, they went out every night in every place we stayed to see the different Lantern Festivals. There were lanterns everywhere of every kind, including tigers of course. The Lantern Festival officially launches tomorrow, the 15th day of the first lunar month, but celebrations have been ongoing throughout this month. Great to see some colour. Also great to some blue skies and sunshine. Ah yes, it was a wonderful week of traveling round Taiwan, enjoying the scenery and visiting friends. In previous years, we’ve traveled round Taiwan during the Chinese New Year week itself, but then so is everyone else. We were fortunate this year to be able to go a week later, so it was much quieter – which means no traffic jams. YES! Thanks to everyone for their hospitality and my 3 friends for their company – and driving!
High mountains, steep valleys, suspension bridges, hot sun, blue sea, white surf, yummy sugar-apples, pink cherry blossom, betel nuts, indigenous people, dancing, art, mountain villages, lots of churches, cheeky monkeys waiting to steal your lunch, impressive scenery ~ all these and more are waiting to welcome you all to Taitung 台東!
Taiwan’s far distant SE county is separated from the rest of the country by the central mountain range, so it’s always been the most difficult to get to – especially for those who don’t like tortuous winding roads over mountains or slow train journeys. But now there’s a brand new road and tunnel much of the way from Pingtung – yes! These are the views driving along Taitung’s coast….
Chinese New Year is a great time to visit Taitung because the rest of Taiwan can be cold and wet in winter – but while Taitung might be a bit wet, it won’t be very cold and it certainly won’t be that endless miserable cold that haunts Taipei and the northern coast all winter long, don’t I know it! 😭 In summer though, Taitung can be very hot – so winter is THE time to visit! There’s even a few cherry blossom out in the mountains…..
We managed to spend a few days there last week, February 8-11, fitting in our visit just before Chinese New Year. My good friend, A-Guan from St. James’ Church, Taichung, and another friend, Shiu-Chin from Grace Church, Tainan organized everything ~ and off we went! The place we always like to stay is Bunun Leisure Farm 布農部落 in Yanping Township 延平鄉, in the mountains above Taitung City. There are 5 villages in Yanping, mainly Bunun Indigenous People. Bunun Leisure Farm is near Taoyuan Village 桃源村, and was set up by Rev. Bai Guang-sheng in 1995, after serving 11 years as Presbyterian pastor in the village church. Through the “Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation”, his aim was to develop a sustainable tourism industry with a Bunun flavor, including performances, weaving studio, coffee shop, guest houses, restaurants – and it’s still going strong! This is us with Rev. Bai….
There are plenty of other places to stay in Taitung of course, but Bunun Farm has a great atmosphere, lots of art and culture, the food is grown and produced locally, they employ lots of young people who are so friendly and always recognise us from previous visits ~ so, all in all, it’s a very meaningful place to stay. Their dancing and 8-part singing are very famous too, with daily performances….
Ah, it’s a great place!
This time we also visited Taoyuan Village, about 15 minutes walk away ~ we went very early in the morning. As it was just before Chinese New Year, so people were out and about cleaning their homes and streets ready for the festivities. Rev. Bai said there’s over 100 children in the elementary school and over 60 in the junior-high school. There’s 2 main churches, RC and Presbyterian, but also some other smaller churches like True Jesus Church. Taoyuan Village is the centre of the Yanping Township government so there’s lots of government buildings too. And plenty of brightly painted buildings – ah yes, I love it!
We spent last Tuesday, February 9, visiting the coast, working our way from Taitung northwards to Dulan and Donghe, where the cheeky monkeys were hanging out at Taiyuan ….
And the next day we visited the very remote and tiny Shanli Train Station and nearby Kalito’od Church 山里福音教會 in Beinan Township, where sugar-apples are growing everywhere, and also loquat (pipa). The fruits are covered in paper bags while they mature, to stop them being eaten by hungry animals ….
In a nearby noodle shop, the very creative owner, now aged 80, had taken all the used disposable chopsticks left by customers – to make wooden models. Most impressed!
And early on Chinese New Year’s Eve, in torrential rain, we said goodbye to Bunun Farm and set off back to the west coast. By the time we got to the southern part of Taitung and up into the mountains, the sun was out!
Special thanks to A-Guan and Shiu-Chin for organizing such a great trip, doing all the driving and booking and arranging ~ I just took photos! It was fairly non-stop action all day long, and we certainly made the most of it all. Taitung though is a very laid-back kind of place, where even the dogs and cats lie on the station platform enjoying their morning nap…
Grateful for safe travels and, in this pandemic – while so many other countries are in lockdown – that we are able to travel freely around Taiwan with little problem, armed with just face-masks to wear in shops, restaurants and crowded areas. Many people in Taiwan did suspend their Chinese New Year travels after worries about a cluster infection of about 20 people spreading from a hospital in Taoyuan a few weeks ago, but it seems to have been contained, which is good news for all. We are grateful that the government and health authorities continue to do a great job in this time of crisis, which has caused so much suffering worldwide. Our prayers continue for all those affected .
Chinese New Year (CNY) Celebrations for the Lunar New Year / Spring Festival have been going on non-stop all week here in Taiwan! There are mice and rat characters everywhere 🐭 🐀 and Mickey Mouse and his friends have never been more popular. Plus red lanterns galore 🏮🏮🏮….
However, the Taiwan News is dominated by wall-to-wall reporting of the Wuhan Coronavirus situation, which has created a lot of fear, particularly among those who have stayed at home over CNY and watched a lot of TV. We all remember the SARS outbreak in 2003, which the Taiwan government handled really well, but still, many have cancelled their travel plans and are avoiding large gatherings and public transport, and we’re all hoping that the situation does not get worse. There are quite a few suspected – and some confirmed – cases in Taiwan, but so far all remain contained. Kindergartens are back in action as from yesterday, state schools start on February 11. I’m here at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, where all children and staff have their temps checked on entering the school, and everyone is wearing a face-mask and being extra-careful. Face-masks will be worn by all in our churches on Sunday too, and church activities limited for the next few weeks, just to be on the safe side.
But Taiwan people know the importance of celebrating the new year, and despite the concerns, we all had great CNY celebrations! On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I was invited by the Wang family from St. James’ Church, Taichung for their traditional family reunion dinner. Very honoured to sit next to Grandma Wang, aged 87, who kept us all entertained with stories of her early life and 20 years of living in Paraguay. And delicious food, as always – thank you!
Saturday January 25 was officially the first day of CNY, and my good friend A-Guan had invited me to join her on a 6-day road trip to southern and eastern Taiwan. None of her children wanted to go with us, so the two of us set off, in sunny weather heading south for Tainan, en route visiting all sorts of interesting sightseeing spots. First to Gukeng to the Pink Castle 古坑珍粉紅城堡, then to Rosahill, followed by some famous Gukeng coffee, and lastly to Wushantou Reservoir 烏山頭水庫 where it was overcast, but hey, it didn’t rain!
The Temple of Heaven at Wushantou Reservoir is being repaired, but it is modeled on the one in Beijing…. impressive eh?!
In Tainan, we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, his wife, their second son and his family, plus their daughter, all of whom had gathered for the CNY celebrations – actually his second son and family live very near me in Tamsui, ha ha! On Sunday we worshiped with the congregation at Grace Church, Tainan, and I was delighted to meet Rev. Samuel Liao and his family. We were all given red envelopes – as is the tradition, but instead of a token one dollar coin or chocolate money inside, we each received a new NT$ 100 note, plus a Bible verse. Mine was Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer 在盼望中要喜樂，在患難中要忍耐，禱告要恆切”. Thank you Grace Church!
After coffee time and a delicious Korean lunch, kindly hosted by Hsiu-Chin and her husband, we set off for Fengshan, Kaohsiung, where we were to be staying 2 nights with Ichen, our good friend from St. James – and her family. Once there though, it was such a beautiful day, that we couldn’t stay inside for long, and so we went by MRT along 3 stops to Weiwuying, Kaohsiung (still in Fengshan District), famous for it’s street art and wall murals, and the new state-of-the-art performing arts centre. I love Weiwuying – and there’s always new murals to look at – and this time a new multi-coloured seat to take photos on 🙃🙃 and hey, I met one of our church families from Advent Church, Tamsui visiting their family home in Fengshan for CNY!
On Monday, the weather forecast was good, but rain and cold were promised from Monday night onwards, so we needed to make the most of the sunny weather! A-Guan took us first to see the old iron-bridge 舊鐵橋 that used to link Kaohsiung to Pingtung across the Kaoping River 高屏溪, originally built to transport sugar. It was once the longest bridge in East Asia – built in 1914 in the Japanese Era. I loved it! The middle section was washed away in a typhoon some years ago, but much survives and is open to the public. The main train line crosses the river on a bridge close by. We also visited the nearby kiln and tile workshops, and in the afternoon we went to Pingtung to Liudui Hakka Park, plus other places – but there was a lot of traffic, everyone making the most of the fine weather!
On Monday evening, Rev. Lily Chang joined us, ready to leave bright and early on Tuesday morning. By 9:00 am, we were saying goodbye to Ichen and her family – they were so good to us, with delicious breakfasts and dinners, lively conversation and lots of laughs! We drove down the coast and over the mountains to Taitung – by the newly-opened road that goes through the tunnel – it’s great and saves a huge amount of time! We were heading for Bunun Village Farm 布農部落, our favourite place to stay in Taitung. This village project was started by Rev. K. S. Pai over 25 years ago, and is supported by many churches in Taiwan, with the aim of encouraging the local Bunun Indigenous people to remain in the area, rather than leaving for the cities in search of work. The village is a self-sustaining business with guest houses, restaurants, traditional dance performances, weaving, an organic farm and bamboo factory. We love it! We met Rev. Pai, who knows Bishop Lai and our former dean, Rev. Samuel Y. C. Lin from Tainan Theological College days – see the first photo below. I was very surprised to meet 4 Tanzanian students and one from Burundi, most on 4-month internships from Chang-Jung Christian University, Tainan studying Sustainable Development, sponsored by the Jane Goodall Institute 國際珍古德協會. Ah, it was nice to rekindle my Kiswahili!
The photo below left shows the very special traditional Bunun dinner we had on arrival – with millet wine in the bamboo holder ~ and A-Guan won a large glass of the same at the evening show!
On Wednesday, A-Guan took us all over Taitung, a huge circular tour – she really planned everything so well! We went to the local Farmer’s Association – famous for it’s rice products, to the Bunun Village in Haiduan 海端鄉 with its painted walls, to the Hakka Cultural Park and Dapo Lake, and then up to Fuli, Hualien County and over the long and very winding mountain road that led us down to the coast at Dulan 都蘭, famous for its Amis indigenous culture, elementary school bags (one recently spotted at the Paris Fashion Week), surf, old sugar factory turned into art space, and the new RC church. Phew, there was so much to see! And hey, it didn’t rain!
In Chishang 池上 we called in on Yihua and her husband to buy some of their delicious rice-cakes at their shop ‘池上樂米燒’ on the main street opposite the local government offices – they are church members originally from St. Paul’s, Kaohsiung and Grace Church, Tainan – and we also called there 2 years ago when they had just opened their business (see my blog post for that visit at CNY 2018 here). Yihua has a great testimony to share, as well as really yummy goodies to eat!
Our return to Taichung was Thursday, which was actually the return-to-work day for most people in Taiwan after the CNY holidays. We had an extra day, so we avoided the worst of the traffic. On the way, we stopped on the roadside to buy some of Taitung’s famous sugar / custard apples 釋迦 ….
And we also stopped at Dawu, south Taitung to see the painted walls and houses. Nearby is a relocated Paiwan Village built in cooperation with World Vision – the village was originally up in the mountains, but the destruction caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 meant they had to relocate to safer lands…
And so back to St. James’ Church, Taichung by 5:00 pm on Thursday evening, after a mega-trip. Grateful thanks to A-Guan, Lily, Ichen and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and family, and all who we met on the way! And thanks be to Almighty God for His many blessings, safety, good weather, friendly people, lots of laughs and tons of beautiful scenery!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year of the 🐭🐀!
Yes, the Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 is THE trail to hike! And especially when the sea and the sky are blue, blue, blue ~ like they were on Saturday ~ YES YES YES!
The Alangyi Trail runs maybe 8-10 km along the S.E. coast of Taiwan, and walking it takes about 4-5 hours ~ from the very southern tip of Taitung County across into Mudan Township 牡丹鄉, Pingtung County, finishing at Xuhai 旭海 Village, famous for its hot springs and grassland. The trail is significant in that it is the only section of the whole Taiwan coastline where there is no road. No road means no cars, no lorries, no coaches, no random tourists, no 7-elevens (always a sign of economic development!) ~ and to preserve the natural environment, the area is established as a nature reserve, and strictly managed. But this only happened after years of protests and disputes about whether to build a road or not. Fortunately wisdom prevailed, and the Alangyi Trail is just fantastic!
Nowadays, only 300 people are allowed on the trail per day, permits are required, a guide is needed per 20 people and there are police on duty at either end of the trail. During the summer, the temperatures are boiling hot, and there are few people hiking on the trail. In fact, we only met one other group, 30+ youngsters from Changhua – going in the other direction. Fortunately we had a nice breeze to blow us along! A typhoon was slowly heading towards Taiwan, but still far off, and as often happens a day or two before a typhoon, the weather was really great (as I write this on Wednesday morning, 3 days later, the typhoon is roaring around outside as it passes northern Taiwan)!
It is truly an amazing walk, with incredible views! Is it easy? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Both / and! Much of the walk is right down near sea-level, along the upper part of the stony beach, but at the rocky promontory that is called Guanyin’s Nose 觀音鼻, everyone has to ascend 150m to go up and over the top and down the other side. It is very steep, so ropes are supplied to grab onto, and there’s steps in some places. But hey, the views are spectacular – and see the turtle-shaped rock down below!
For centuries, the Alangyi Trail was used by the local indigenous peoples to get from place to place along the coast. The local indigenous people in that area are mostly the Paiwan People 排灣族 (pause here while you open that link to the Wikipedia site to read about the Paiwan People – it’s fascinating)…. Wonder if in years gone by, they enjoyed this stream as much as we did at the end of the trail? Yes, we got soaked, but it was oh so refreshing!
My good friends from Advent Church, 選櫻 (Hsuen-Ying, Grace) and her husband 生豐 (Sheng-Feng, Simon), invited me to join a group of their friends (mostly Grace’s former high school / college classmates and their families – all very lovely!) who they had invited to spend the weekend visiting Grace’s home village of Nantian, in Daren Township, Taitung (台東縣達仁鄉南田村). This is Grace and Simon… as romantic as always!
Grace is Paiwan, Taiwan’s second largest indigenous group, and Simon is Amis, Taiwan’s largest indigenous group – who mostly live further north in the Hualien area. These days there is a certain friendly rivalry between the different tribes / groups ~ although in the past, things were not always so friendly! Both Grace and Simon work at TamKang High School, Tamsui (as did 2 others in our group), and the school has a teddy bear mascot that travels around with them all over, including on the Alangyi Trail!
Nantian Village is the southernmost village in Taitung County, and runs along a single road between the mountains and the sea. Most people coming to Taitung from the west coast do so over the mountain road from Pingtung, this is the first area they reach on the east coast. For cyclists on the round-Taiwan circuit, it’s a welcome relief to get over the mountains and down to the coast. But the only people passing through Nantian itself are on their way to the northern entrance of the Alangyi Historic Trail. Within a few minutes of starting the trail, there’s a river, and that is the border between Taitung and Pingtung – and it is just over that river that the police have a checkpoint to check permits.
And what else is going on in Nantian? Well, there’s fish farming, mainly for shrimp, there’s a camp site, small guest houses, a cement factory out on the main road, 2 Presbyterian churches, and a beautiful stony beach. In the past, the stones were big and well-rounded, so people collected them up and carved them for sale. These days, apparently the coast has changed, the sea level is rising, the stones are much smaller, and well, it’s not easy to make a good living. Many of the local people have moved away to the cities looking for work – and return for festivals, and some in their retirement.
Some scenes of Nantian and the local area, starting with the chief’s stone…