Day Five (11th Jan 2019) Alishan
Approximately an hour after leaving Fen Qi Hu, our bus ride brought us to Alishan Bus Station. After taking a moment for Constant Companion RR to retrieve her jacket from the luggage, we walked to the entrance to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area which was just across the road, and entered after paying a fee.
The mountain air was chilly and fresh, the day remained sunny with clear sky; it was quite picturesque. Occasionally, we would experienced strong gusts of freezing wind, reminding us of the cold temperature the night will bring.
First thing first, we would check in to our hotel for the night. It was a little past 3 pm and we wanted to do a little exploration before the sun goes down that day.
At some point on our way to the hotel, we made a wrong turn and again, received kind assistance by a passing by gentleman. We did not even have to ask, just stood there looking lost and he, who was strolling by, reached out to us. We thanked him and went on our merry way. In no time, we arrived at our lodging.
Hotel. Tacky, but Serviceable.
The hotel we were staying in that night, looked really tacky. It had that weird mixture of European style with Chinese influence. All over the walls, were paintings with usual Oriental subjects of mountains, waterfalls and vigorous animals (horses).
Visually, the hotel was nothing to write home about (unless you want to write about its unique flair), but it was staffed with friendly and helpful folks. Over a small counter, we received warm reception as the ladies quickly checked us in. We even booked transportation which will take us to see the famous Alishan sun rise the next day.
With our room key, we went up to the 5th floor on a tiny elevator which could barely fit 4 adults. After unlocking the door and given it the customary couple of knocks “to announce our arrival”, we entered our room.
The first sight of the interior room was quite charming; had to stop Constant Companion RR from walking in so I could take a snap shot of that moment. Warm afternoon sunlight pouring in through the window, softly illuminating the room. I like the wooden flooring.
Once we had the lights turned on and saw everything clearer, we quickly realised that the room was just the rest of the hotel. From the window, we got a view of mostly trees with odd pieces of ropes/ cables tied on their trunks and nothing else much, which was fine with us. Since we did not want to freeze at night, we had the window locked shut.
On the corner of the room, there were a sad-looking electric kettle and an equally sad-looking electric heater. I can imagine if the electrical appliances were to come alive in the absence of human presence, these two would be best friends. To activate the electric heater, you will need to press the red button on the corner table. Once pressed, the vintage heater would quietly breathes out “small sighs” of warm air, according to the sign on the table, for an hour before automatically shutting down. Its silent operation was definitely not the result of efficient, modern technology but rather, an old and frail motor, almost too weak to propel warm air out let alone make a sound.
However, I remember the next morning being absolutely freezing and I was squatting in front of the electric heater, trying to get as much warmth as possible, as I dressed myself to view the sun rise at an unearthly hour of 5 am. I did not get as much warmth as I would like from the heater, but it provided me with quite an experience.
Like all other hotel electric kettles we met, this was left untouched. The only closet was built into the wall and there was a strange square patch on the wallpaper right next to the wall beside the bed. The hotel phone was hanging from the wall right next to the bed, with a handful of cables.
There was no way to ventilate the bathroom, making everything steamy during showers. Shower gel and shampoo were provided from a dispenser. Hot water was plentiful; its pressure, strong.
We could hear the chatter of fellow hotel guests outside at the corridor, either sound proofing could be a bit better, or perhaps those guests were just too loud. While there were some noticeable stains on the walls, most importantly, everything else we came into contact with, were clean and there were no funny smells to be found. I am not saying I hated the room; my stay was comfortable and I slept well. Only discomfort was caused by the high-altitude, cold temperature.
04:00 pm – Start of Alishan Exploration
We began our actual exploration of Alishan (Alishan National Forest Recreation Area) rather late, leaving the hotel some time around 4 pm.
Unsure of where to go exactly, we simply wandered around a bit. We passed by Alishan Visitor Centre and found ourselves in front of the Alishan Railway Station. Went up to the second floor to take a quick look. The station seemed to be closed for renovation. There were nobody manning the station nor were there any trains running, just a few random visitors.
Continuing on a road northward, we saw a large entrance with huge Chinese characters for “Alishan”. Assuming that that was where we could get all that Alishan’s nature goodness, Constant Companion RR and I walked right in and followed a trail which led us to some stunning sights.
Occasionally, we would bump into other visitors, mostly walking in the opposite direction, heading back to the Alishan Visitor Centre, because the day was coming to an end and the sky was gradually losing light. For most part of our walk, we had the entire place to ourselves and it was a rather magical feeling.
As we continued on our leisure stroll, we came upon a small, cordoned field of cherry blossoms!
04:55 pm – Cherry Blossoms
Constant Companion RR and I spent a bit of time to take some pictures of ourselves and the cherry blossoms. Though the flowers were mostly no longer in full bloom, I considered myself to be lucky enough to still catch a glimpse of them right at the end.
Without following a map, Constant Companion RR and I wandered down whichever pathways we fancied, having an enjoyable time being surrounded by all that nature, engaging in light conversation. Never knowing what we would find at the end of the paths that we seemingly picked at random, with the limited sun light available, our plan was to leave everything to fate.
05:03 pm – Sunlight Rapidly Losing!
From the tiny field of cherry blossom trees, Constant Companion RR and I chose a route which led us to one of Alishan’s most famous tree, “Three Generation Tree”. We continued venturing forward as the sun continued its descend over the horizon; we were rapidly losing light and the path from here on, had no constant source of lighting.
Disclaimer: The pictures that I have taken do not really match up with the actual scene. The capable electronic eye of the camera on my phone saw everything a lot brighter than what my human eye did. It was way darker than what was shown in the pictures. Way, way darker.
05:08 pm – A Shrine in the Woods
Despite the woods were getting dark and there were no reliable, consistent light source, we kept moving forward and encountered this small shrine in the middle of the woods. The colourful and elaborately decorated shrine struck a strong contrast with its earthy surrounding. Being there with nobody else surrounded by towering trees and a darkening sky, I felt a creepy, yet beautiful vibe from the place.
Writer’s Note: I did some research from Google Map and found out that this temple is Shunbao Fude Temple.
To the left of the shrine, there was a flight of stairs leading down to a suspension bridge. The stone steps were a little uneven and strangely slippery; slipping down these steps was the last thing I wanted.
I remember thinking to myself that it would really suck if we could not find out way back out because we would be completely shrouded in darkness.
My contingency plan was, when it comes to that, we would illuminate our way by the torchlight of my phone. I was extremely glad that I always travel around with my 20,000 mAh power bank in my backpack; it would power my torchlight until the following week if needed, or until the bulb overheats and blows.
Thinking logically to myself, there should be an end to whatever trail we were on, we just need to keep going forward.
The only unnerving thing would be, I imagined, walking in total darkness with all that trees around us, only being able to see as far as the light from my phone can reach. Who knows what kind of creature would be staring at us from the darkness?
I did not say a word of my concern to Constant Companion RR, but she must have sensed my uneasiness and both of us began to talk a little lesser (which actually made the situation worse) and walked a little faster.
Stopping at the suspension bridge only to take a couple of pictures, we carried on down the slippery, stone steps which brought us to Alishan’s “Sacred Tree Station”.
It was here we encountered another group of visitors. After hearing nothing but the deafening silence of the woods, to the chatter of the all ladies group brought a small relief to me. Apparently they too were trying to get out of whatever trail we were at before it gets completely dark. Putting on the hope that they knew where they were going, Constant Companion RR and I followed them and entered the “Giant Tree Cluster Trail”.
If you would click on this link to Google Map, you can get a better picture of the trail (click on the 360 view). “Giant Tree Cluster Trail” is a long stretch of wooden platform with trees reaching up to the sky on both sides. From where we started, at “Sacred Tree Station”, it was an upward climb.
Very quickly, the all ladies group walked ahead of us, perhaps feeling panicky about the situation. I do not blame them. As I did not know how much more of the trail was up ahead and whether if we would be out before sunset, I was worried yet, but I was playing it cool in an attempt to reassure Constant Companion RR. Within minutes, we lost sight of them. I patted down my backpack for a feel of my 20,000 mAh power bank.
As we were climbing upwards about 2 km above sea level, I found myself quickly out of breath if I did not maintain at a sustainable pace. With her in front, Constant Companion RR and I ascended the tedious stairs of the “Giant Tree Cluster Trail” one step at a time. Perhaps we were too focusing on making progress and breathing, I remember we climbed without a word, as the shadow grew around us.
Fifteen minutes later, we caught up with a couple of the ladies from earlier group. They were standing at the side, panting and out of breath. Obviously not a strongly knitted group of friends, I thought as we passed by. As we were reaching the top of the climb, I heard commotion of human activities and our little “adventure” came to an end.
05:30 pm – Alishan Shouzhen Temple
We found ourselves at the back this L-shaped complex at the end of our laborious climb. As we made our way to the front, the first thing which immediately stuck out was Alishan Shouzhen Temple, lit up elegantly by the setting sun, across the carpark.
The L-shaped complex housed many small stalls, with a couple of them still opened and its vendors calling out to us, hoping to do one last transaction for that day. After refreshing ourselves in the public restroom right next to the temple, we decided to head back to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area on foot.
Unlike the nature trails, our walk back would be on a well-lit route; we could take all the time we wanted.
The Last Stretch
From Alishan Shouzhen Temple, it took us about 30 minutes to return to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. With visibility (and being stranded in darkness, imagining creatures staring at us) no longer being a concern, we walked leisurely, stopping often to snap some pictures.
Again, the camera on my phone adjusted some of these pictures too brightly, affecting the overall feel. I should manually control the exposure next time.
By the time we arrived the recreation area, we were welcomed by the inviting lights of the many shops and restaurants. Spared a little to check out a few restaurants, comparing their menu before decided on one.
Unfortunately, the restaurant did not serve “Hey Song Sarsaparilla” soft drink I so wanted to drink again. Funny thing is I would only crave for soft drinks during meal times (mostly dinner). That night, we ordered a small hotpot of meat and vegetables, accompanied with a couple other of vegetables dishes. From all that physical activity we had done for the past 3 hours or so, we had worked up quite an appetite and the food was satisfactory.
We retired back to our hotel after dinner for an early night, for early next month (around 5 am), we will be going to see the famous Alishan sun rise on top of some mountain.
Oh! If you are interested in the route we went, I have mapped it out in the picture below.