Day Four (10th Jan 2019) Chiayi
The Morning Rush
This day, we planned to stay one night over at Chiayi just before we catch our train up to Alishan, early next morning. We have prepared our luggage the night before for our 3D2N trip away from Taipei.
Mainly because we did not want to freeze when we are up in Alishan and Constant Companion RR brought her very heavy and dense jacket in addition to my own heavy and dense jacket. With her huge bag of female necessities and both our three days worth of clothing, it was clear that we required a lot more space than what we thought would be sufficient.
As we had to wake up real early that morning, we rushed to pack so we could get as much shut eyes as possible the night before. By the end of that night, we loaded everything that we need (and then some) into the suitcase which I flew into Taiwan with.
We woke up bright and early (Constant Companion RR a tab earlier because she needed the time to prepare herself, so I snoozed a bit more) and I hauled all our luggage to Taipei High Speed Rail Station, while Constant Companion RR latched on to me, sapping me of my body warmth and energy.
While waiting for our train, I had a much needed rice roll (delicious) to replenish all that energy loss. From the now familiar 7-11 outlet inside the HSR Station, we purchased two cups of hot Americano to take on our train ride.
Chiayi HSR Station
Our train arrived and departed on time and around two hours later, we reached Chiayi shortly before 10am.
I love how the High Speed Rail Stations are built. Those I have been to, they all look so spacious and modern; Chiayi HSR Station was no different. In no time, we got on a cab and headed to our hotel right in the city center.
Taxi driver was a really friendly elderly man. He started chatting with us in his unique husky voice the moment we got into his vehicle. Just the usual questions. Where are we from? Where will we be visiting in Chiayi? He offered to drive us up to Alishan, for a flat fee, after we told him that it is part of our itinerary. Unfortunately, I had to turn his offer down as I have already arranged for our transportation up many weeks before. He did not take my rejection too hard and continued chatting with us, offering us directions and food suggestions, as he drove us all the way to the door step of our hotel.
Strange Hotel Timings
It seems that for most hotels in Taiwan, the check-in timing is at 3 pm and the hotel we booked for that night, was no different. Constant Companion RR and I find that timing to be extremely weird and inconvenient, especially since guests have to check out by 12 noon. We made small talk with the hotel receptionist regarding this issue, as she checked in our luggage for us. Her response was kind of like saying that things are the way they are, because that is how things are. We did not get anything new from her reply but I guess, we just have to accept it since it is not something within our control.
Once our luggage was deposited with the hotel, we could start with the first thing on our list of things-to-do in beautiful Chiayi.
Chiayi East Market
With Google map, we walked down to Chiayi’s East Market, hoping to get some breakfast. I have done my research and there are a few food stalls in that area which are highly recommended online.
It was a nice walk to the East Market. We noticed that crossing roads in Chiayi city can be a bit daunting. At some road junction/ crossing, while there were zebra crossings to mark out where we are allowed to cross the road, you will not find any prominent and reassuring red and green men.
At first, Constant Companion RR and I were confused whether or not the vehicles would stop for us, because the traffic was relentless (it was part of main road with heavy flow of traffic) and there was no other indication to prompt us on our opportunity to cross. Standing around for a while, studying and weighing our options, it was then I saw the tiny traffic light hanging directly above the road, right smack in the middle. Apparently that tiny traffic light would be sufficed to guide both vehicles and pedestrians.
We reached the East Market safely. There were a lot of scooters zooming by in both direction, weaving in and out among the human crowd. Even within the shelter the East Market, the locals rode their scooters through, just inches away from the various stalls available. It was quite an amazing and chaotic experience. Only complain is the smell of the fumes from the scooters passing by.
Most of the stalls in the market were already closed for the day, we arrived around 1040 am. Luckily, the food stalls were still opened for business.
From an unassuming stall in the dimly lit Chiayi East Market, we ordered a bowl of “Geng” as starter, it was a bowl of “Geng” with pieces of fish and pork. Without any exaggeration, I must tell you that I felt genuinely touched by the taste of that “Geng” that morning; it was that good. Halfway through it, I wanted to place an order for another bowl but I was stopped by Constant Companion RR, who suggested me to “leave room” for other food. I was a little sad when I had to leave the stall, not knowing when will I ever come back again.
A few stalls away, we saw a couple of ladies working industriously away in another modest little food stall. One of them was busy battering pieces of meat and frying them in bulk in her black wok of hot oil. Curious, we stood around and looked at their menu. The moment Constant Companion RR explained that the stall offers “Mi Gao” (glutinous rice), I knew we had to try. The friendly stall attendant brought us to a table with 3 seats right behind the stall. We ordered the “Mi Gao” (of course) and when asked what else do they sell, the stall attendant told us to try their fried pork ribs in winter melon soup.
In no time, she came back with our orders. Pointing to the metal cup of pinkish gravy on our table, the friendly stall attendant recommended us to add a little bit of that on our “Mi Gao” to our taste, but do take the first bite as it is, to taste its original flavour. We did exactly as she instructed and the “Mi Gao” we had that morning, was a flavour-bomb of soft, hot glutinous rice topped with savoury minced pork. It is right up there among the best glutinous rice dishes I have had.
Perhaps it was because of the small amount of the pink gravy we added (just a tiny dollop) on our “Mi Gao”, neither of us could discern its actual flavour, and it did little to affect the already tasty “Mi Gao”. The fried pork ribs in winter melon soup was good too.
I envied the locals for having access to such delectable food.
Chiayi Local Market
After breakfast, we were exploring the area around East Market. We found ourselves walking around the market. They are small narrow streets with shops and stalls set up on both sides and where the flow of people, on foot and on scooters, mingled in an uncontrolled mess.
When Constant Companion RR spotted a shop which sells soup/ beverages made from a variety of grains (barley etc) and beans (red bean, green bean etc), she immediately flew towards it. I knew that whatever she was going to order (most likely barley), it would not be sweet as Constant Companion RR does not take sugar with most, if not all, of her food.
Next, she will exclaim how good her drink is, and forcibly make me take a sip and question me if I enjoy her sugar-free (aka taste-free) drink as much as she does. If my answer is not convincing enough, she will then continue asking why can I not taste the natural taste of whatever her drink is made of (most likely barley).
The above mentioned process has happened more times than I can count. That morning, she came back with a cup of unsweetened (gasp) cup of barley (gasp) drink and I braced myself for a sip.
Somewhere in the middle our market exploration, a young man stopped me in my track to offer me a couple of free samples of the cuttlefish balls he was selling. I politely declined at first, but he was quite persistent, claiming that his stall was just minutes away from closing for the day, and he plead for me to help him finish up the free samples. Since I am always quick to lend a helping hand (or mouth) to friends and strangers alike, I accepted his free samples of fried cuttlefish balls.
Those are some good and chewy cuttlefish balls.
From the market, we walked to our next location, Hinoki Village. It is an area with a collection of Japanese style houses which have been preserved, restored and re-purposed for various shops meant for tourists.
From my personal experience, being there at 12 noon is something I do not recommend. With the sun blazing directly above, the weather was sweltering. We were thrown into a sleepy and dazed state which was caused by three factors; too full from food, woke up too early that day and the warm weather. Aimlessly, we wandered in and out of the shops the way people, with too much free time on their hands, do.
Worth mentioning, there was this shop which specialises in handmade jewellery. The gentleman who was tending the shop, gave us as a tour around his shop. To the different collections of jewellery displayed, he patiently offered some descriptions and explanations. Right at the back of the shop, they even have a small little workshop with a few workbenches. That reminded me of my time in the workshop as a jewellery design student and I imagined how nice it must be to have such a lovely workshop in such a conducive, beautifully wooden environment.
In Hinoki Village, we had a couple of snacks. The first one being “egglet” waffle with a scoop of ice cream (roasted tea flavour). To be frank, we wanted some shaved ice which was featured in an attractive poster outside and we actually went into the wrong shop (the shop next door sells shaved ice), but we did not realised until much later. When we looked at the menu and could not find any shaved ice, we settled for the “egglet” waffle instead as any escape from the outside heat was welcomed.
Not too bad. The waffle, as a snack, was a little too filling since we had breakfast only a couple of hours before. We sat down on the wooden benches the shop offers for its patrons and finished our waffle with ice cream.
We chanced upon the next snack when Constant Companion RR found this shop which has been selling traditional biscuits for many years. One of their most popular items is the egg roll with chilled cream filling. Shared one between the two of us, and it was a light and enjoyable snack.
Personally, I was surprised how commercialised Hinoki Village was; far different from what I had in mind prior to my visit. However, I am sure we did not see the everything Hinoki Village has to offer. It is worth to make a trip down just to see what is it all about. Go around evening time when it is less hot and when the lighting is more dynamic if you are keen on taking pictures of the place.
North Gate Station
From Hinoki Village, Constant Companion RR and I walked north towards the North Gate Station.
It is a nice location for photography; I bet it is a popular location for wedding photography. At the time of our visit, it was an extremely quiet and sleepy weekday afternoon. We had the whole station to ourselves and we made use of the opportunity to snap some pictures.
The next morning, we will pass by this station on the train to Alishan.
Chiayi’s Cultural Affairs Bureau
The next location seems like an odd choice for tourists like us to go, but we found ourselves in Chiayi’s Cultural Affairs Bureau where we visited two local exhibitions. The first one was a solo exhibition by a Chinese calligrapher and the second, a photography/ photo editing exhibition by a group of photography/ photo editing enthusiasts.
As we were the only two visitors in both exhibitions; it felt good having so much space to ourselves. I had a strange, yet almost nostalgic feeling as I walked around Chiayi’s Cultural Affairs Bureau. Constant Companion RR thought that it was so cool to visit such an “odd” place.
The Koji Pottery Museum was closed, so we could not visit it. Although we do not know what to expect in there, Chiayi City Music Hall (located next building) was not opened too. Even Chiayi Municipal Museum was closed and that was disappointing, as it was part of our itinerary and I was looking forward to spending a couple of hours there.
With nothing else left to do/ see, Constant Companion RR and I started heading back towards our hotel. Time then was around 2 pm, an hour before our hotel room was ready.
Detour! A nearby Cafe.
On our way back to the hotel, we came across a cosy-looking cafe and decided to stop for coffee and refreshments.
After going through their menu, Constant Companion RR decided we would only have coffee, much to my dismay. From the time the shop attendant took our order till the time she came back with our order, we waited for about 20 minutes.
With such a long lead time, I wondered if the shop has difficulty making a profit? Perhaps its rental is really affordable and both the young staff working behind the counter, are the owners of the joint and are only passionate about brewing the best coffee they can, without a worry for things like money.
We had a lot of time to look around at the shop and observed the people (2 staff and 7 other guests) within. Quite a nice shop with the usual creative/ hipster approach to its decorations and interior designing.
From the row of books in the shelf behind her, Constant Companion RR selected a book and started reading. It is a wildly popular book about healthy eating. Constant Companion RR went through the content page with me, reading out loud whatever that caught her interest. She went on to buy a physical copy of the book, while I got a digital copy of it.
The coffee were good, according to Constant Companion RR, who is an avid coffee drinker.
I could not find anything wrong with our room for the night. Everything was clean and tidy, the bed was inviting and comfortable. I would like to compliment how large, soft and absorbent the hotel bath towels were.
Could not comment anything about the view outside the window; the curtains were drawn when we stepped in, and they remained drawn throughout our stay.
Awaken from our nap, Constant Companion RR and I stumbled out into the night in search of food. We knew what we want for dinner; the highly recommended stewed fish head from the restaurant, “Lin Cong Ming Fish Head Casserole”.
From our hotel, it was a 15 minutes walk down to the restaurant. Luckily, we arrived at a time when there was no queue, we got a table almost right away. We checked what we want from the menu and handed the slip to the cashier in the front. After payment, I returned to my seat and enjoyed the warm and busy ambiance of the crowded restaurant.
Faster than expected, our food started to arrive. For dinner that night, we ordered one of their famous stewed fish head, two side dishes (a plate of eggplants and a plate of bitter gourd, both served cold) and a bowl of another well-known Chiayi delicacy, “Chiayi Chicken Rice” each. Calling it “Chicken Rice” is kind of misleading because the meat they use is actually turkey meat.
Constant Companion RR and I are no “expert fish eater”; we like our fish all filleted, free of bones and worries. Being handed half a side of a large fish head, we did not know where to start. After much probing with my pair of chopsticks, I managed to locate the edible part and started pulling out chunks of fresh fish meat. The bulk of it went into the bowl of Constant Companion RR because she was sitting there, looking totally clueless and waiting to be fed like a newborn bird.
In the dish, there were generous serving of soft vegetable, tofu, tofu skin and black fungus. The piping hot soup had an interesting slight kick of spice which died down almost immediately; it kind of reminded me a bit of Assam Fish. Fried with batter before serving in the fish broth, the fish head was free of any fishy smell; its meat fresh and plentiful. It was delightful and hearty.
After that huge dinner, we took a stroll down the local night market, looking for anything that we might need for our 2D1N trip to Alishan the next morning. Remembering how useful Cousin Nana’s disposable raincoats were, we purchased a couple of them from a nearby Watsons.
Soon after that, we called it a day and went back to our hotel. We had train to catch at 9 am the next morning.