Liah and I only spent one night in Nantou, but we jam-packed everything that we could during the two days that we were there. We left Taipei at about 10:30 on Thursday morning and our total driving time that day was 6 hours. Normally, it only takes two and a half hours to get to Nantou but because it was Chinese New Year, the traffic was absolutely insane (although it was a lot worse going back into Taipei, which we got to experience the following day). Liah realised that it would be quicker to take a different highway than the one that we were on (thanks to Google maps telling us that we’d have 40 minutes of congestion on the highway that we were on) so we switched highways, but in reality, we probably didn’t save much time since the traffic between the two highways was so bad. Liah wanted to take me to Sun Moon Lake, which is less than an hour away from Taichung, so we stopped at a small township called Shueili to get lunch at about 2pm. Parking was extremely difficult so Liah made her own parking spot, and then we checked out the two restaurants in the area, which were both completely packed. We decided to just get food from a stall on the side of the road, where the food was cooked on the back of someone’s truck. I got a set of dumplings, and the owner gave us each a stool to sit on beside the highway. A new experience for me!
However, the thing about these stalls is that they’re the cheapest place that you can get food and they’re also the most delicious! My dozen dumplings were 50TWD, which is only $2.28AUD! We continued our drive to Sun Moon Lake and stopped at the tourist centre before deciding to drive around the entire lake. Our first stop was at Wenwu Temple, which was decorated for Chinese New Year, meaning there were a lot of pigs everywhere since it was the year of the pig. The view of the lake was gorgeous, as was the temple!
We continued our drive around the lake until we got to Ci En Pagoda. We had to go up a bunch of stairs to get to the top of Shabalan mountain (which only took us about ten minutes) and then had to climb to the top of the pagoda, which is 9 levels high and rests at an even 1000 metres above sea level. This gave us a beautiful 360-degree view of the lake and all of the surrounding mountains.
We decided not to wait 40 minutes for the sunset, but then by the time we got back down and into Liah’s car, it was only another 10 minutes until sunset. We drove in front of Xuanzang Temple, where we got a perfect view of the sunset. Then, we went into a nearby shop to get a snack and drink before heading to Liah’s godparents. I just got sticky rice and a coke for 80TWD ($3.56).
We got to Liah’s godparent’s place at about 7:30pm and were given even more food, despite us both being full.
They own a restaurant called 阿亞私房菜 on the main road in the Lugu Township, so Liah’s godmom made us some food and finished working at 8pm. After she finished working, she took me and Liah to her sister’s house in Dingcheng, where we met a lot more of the family. The sister owns a tea plantation (which was owned by their father before), so they showed us some pictures of it and it was gorgeous! Unfortunately, their tea plantation was far to get to and went through mountain roads so we didn’t get to visit it. We were more in the country, so I already felt a huge difference compared to meeting Liah’s family in the city. The cousins were all very interested in what I did and where I came from, and were constantly asking questions (which Liah had to translate back at forth). Some of us played mahjong for awhile (I just watched again but I think I’m almost ready to play on my own!) and then we all visited. In this town, a lot of people speak Taiwanese, so even Liah couldn’t understand what they were saying when they were talking to each other. We left at about 11:30pm and drove back to the restaurant because we were staying in a room above it. Liah and I were sharing the room so we got ready for bed and said goodnight. After about ten minutes, the bed started shaking and honestly, the first thing that went through my mind was that Liah was having a seizure or something. However, the window was also rattling – it felt like we were just next to a train station and a train went by. “Did you feel that?” Liah asked, which confirmed that she was, in fact, not having a seizure. “Yeah…” “I think it was an earthquake, I’ll check with my godparents tomorrow.” What?! I checked the next morning and there was an earthquake at 12:52 that night with a magnitude of 4.9. My first earthquake and I honestly would have had no idea if Liah didn’t say anything.
On Friday morning, we got up and Liah’s godmom had breakfast waiting for us. I tried pork floss with my eggs, which is like a cotton candy made of pork (hence the name) and it was so good! I would buy some to take with me if I could, but with transferring meat outside of the country, I figured it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Liah may have been coming down with something so we decided to just have a relaxing day. We started by going to a coffee shop with the most amazing views, called 啡常哲學. The drinks were a bit more pricey but they were worth it when we got to sit outside and see all of the surrounding mountains. I got a coffee and we split a banana strudel-type dessert, which cost us 200TWD each ($8.89).
We stayed for about an hour and then went to the Fenghuang Nature Education Area, where we had the choice of going to see birds or going to the tea plantation. We chose the tea plantation and had to pay 100TWD each ($4.44) to enter. The tea plantation was gorgeous – I can’t believe how green everything is! During the right season, the plantation would also be lined with cherry blossom trees, but they still weren’t in bloom.
After spending some time here, we headed back to town and went to the tea shop that’s run by one of Liah’s god-cousins. Her cousin showed me how the tea leaves were dried, and then let me try some of the teas (apparently this is the birthplace of oolong tea, so I got to try that too!). The shop was really cute and had some really nice teapots that would have been nice to purchase, but I didn’t want to carry it around for the next two months. The teapots were all glued to the shelves so that they wouldn’t fall during an earthquake!
Liah’s godparents joined us shortly after 2pm (as their restaurant is closed from 2-5pm) and then we ordered food from the restaurant next door, called 阿東窯烤雞. The restaurant is known for their chicken cooked in a Claypot so of course, we got that, as well as a bunch of other food (including my first time trying bamboo rice). What I found really interesting was that the servers just brought all of the food to the tea shop whenever any dish was ready so that the cousin could still look after the shop while having lunch. We set newspaper on the tea table and enjoyed our lunch there.
The food was so good! The chicken was tender, and there was even a fried tofu dish that was my favourite (and for someone who doesn’t like tofu, that’s saying a lot!). After lunch, all of the plates had to be taken back to the restaurant. The god-dad then gave me a pineapple-flavoured beer, which was actually good (for someone who doesn’t like pineapple. Now, I just sound like a picky eater but I swear I’m not!).
Liah and I ran over to 7-Eleven to get something to drink for the long drive home and then we went on our way at about 3:30. We got in the long line to get on the highway and then when we got closer to the front, Liah saw that the highway was closed until 6pm for any vehicles that had less than three people in it. She made some phone calls to family to ask how strict it was, and we decided to risk it. We both nervously waved at the police officers as we drove by, and they luckily waved us through. We were finally on the highway but every time there was an entrance/exit, the traffic would slow to a halt. When we got outside of Taichung, Liah’s phone was telling her it would be faster to get off of the highway and go through one of the surrounding towns, and it was probably right – there weren’t any cars where we were. However, when we went to get back on the highway, there were officers actually looking in the windows to check the cars. We decided to try one of the other entrances but if it was just as strict, it was luckily already 5:30 so we’d only have to wait about a half hour until we could go back on the highway. We were let through into 30 minutes of congestion (which probably turned into 50 minutes during out wait time) – I couldn’t believe the traffic! We finally made it back to Liah’s place at around 8pm and Liah’s mom made us some dumplings to eat. Then, Liah and I walked to Family Mart so that I could buy my train ticket to Xincheng. We also got a couple of drinks and just sat at a table outside the store to visit until about 10:30 or 11 before going back home to sleep.
The next morning, I got up, packed up my stuff, and had to leave at 8:50 to take the MRT to the Main Station. Liah’s mom was up and making breakfast and I felt bad that I couldn’t stay. I had such a great time at their place – they really took great care of me and it made the week go by so fast! I’ll be seeing Liah again in Melbourne, but hopefully I’ll see her family in Vancouver sometime. I headed out, and once again (after nearly two weeks of staying with family and friends), I was on my own. Love always