I really have to finish this documentary of Taiwan before everything I want to talk about slips away from memory. Too bad night shifts get in the way of me functioning normally… but I’m back!
On Day 3, we went over to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). It’s a famous spot in Taiwan, and even though it’s again hidden within the mountains, a lot of my Hong Kong friends have heard of it. From Taichung, it’s about an hour drive.
What it is, is really just a huge lake. Not quite as big as Garibaldi Lake, but big enough. There are 3 main ports around the lake, each connected by ferry. Some people come to bike around the lake, which I hear takes around 4 hours. We would have done that, but again our adventure started way too late in the day. Instead, we just took the ferry around.
The port we parked at is called the Xuanguang Temple Pier, literally because there is the Xuanguang Temple nearby. But aside from that, there is nothing at this port. We quickly got our ferry tickets and made our way to the next station.
(Oh, I guess the one advantage of this station is the nice panorama shot you can get from the temple:)
Anyway, as you approach the Yidashao Pier, it already looks a lot more populated and interesting.
It’s not a huge area, but there are quite a few shops for food and souvenirs – clearly targeted towards tourists. The general appearance of the area is similar to the markets in Taiwan, except maybe not as crowded and the streets are a bit wider.
I found my favourite food here: barbecued mochi (rice cake) with sweet toppings. You watch as they put a block of room temperature mochi on the grill, and it slowly turns golden brown and starts to produce gooey bubbles. That’s the sign that it’s done! All you have to do is pick your favourite toppings, and you have a delicious treat ready to be served.
My absolute favourite is the one on the right: condensed milk and powdered cheese. It sounded like a really weird combination, which naturally sparked my interest. I’m glad I tried it!
This is one of the more unique souvenir stores I came across. All of the stuff they sell is traditional ‘aboriginal’ stuff, from clothing to bags to tools and carvings. I didn’t even know there were aboriginal people that lived in Taiwan…
We had one more stop at the Shui She Wharf before completing a full circle back to our starting point, but we didn’t have much time to walk around here. Just from our basic skim of this place, this area looked a bit higher class than what we saw previously (although obviously it doesn’t compare to the hotels in Central Hong Kong). There was a nice hotel, a Starbucks, and a post office – all of which I didn’t see in the other ports. However, it was also a bit less populated than the Yidashao area. I’m guessing that this place is still under construction (and advertisement), and maybe it will look a lot more grand in a few years time.
That was Sun Moon Lake for us. There’s actually a lot more to do around here if you have the time. At Yidashao, there’s a cable car that you can take for some better views. There are also many temples situated around the lake at various places. They are not all easily accessible – you might need to take a hike to reach some of them! If you want more time here, there are many hostels and hotels to choose from. But for us, a few hours was enough.
We went back to the city, and our local friend showed us a mall close to where we live. It is literally the same as every other big mall I’ve ever been to, whether it is Vancouver, Hong Kong, Toronto, Osaka… Every brand is familiar. We just took a walk through it, but since the prices are also too similar, we didn’t have anything to buy. The stuff that you find along the streets of Taiwan are quite cheap, but once you go into a mall, you’re facing the same standards once again.
This is a very pretty picture that Google Photos automatically edited for me… the original picture looks a lot more plain.
I took this picture at the intersection right next to the mall. The long, white weird looking piece of architecture is a bus station. It reminds me of the bus stations up in Markham and Richmond Hill (you know, the ones they spent some ridiculous amounts of money on).
In the background, you see some residential buildings. This was one of the first observations I had when I arrived in Taiwan – why are these buildings so empty? If you look closely, you’ll see that most of the lights on the building are reflections of street lights, and not signs of units being occupied. Our local friend said that it’s because these areas are very expensive, and not many people can afford it. That always leads me to think, if there is no market, why are they built in the first place? And why is there still construction in the background to build more high-class, unaffordable units?
From here, we took a 20-minute walk home, and went out yet again to the night market to enjoy our last night of delicious and cheap eats.
This macaron ice cream is a very cute idea, and nice to take pictures of, but I wish I chose nicer colours. I thought champagne ice cream would be white…it ended up being purple.
Every now and then, you will come across this deliciously fresh aroma of cake. It’s usually one of these stalls that sell biscuits, made of something similar to waffle batter. Their shapes are all quite cute though, which is part of what makes it attractive. Although they smell really good, there’s not much taste when you actually bite into it. Just like waffles – I mean, who eats plain waffles?
This was another snack that turned into one of my favourites, called 地瓜球 – literally ‘ground melon balls’. I kept asking what ground melons are, and people said its like sweet potato but not quite. It tastes like sweet potato, so that’s good enough for me.
The thing is, the texture of this thing doesn’t resemble a vegetable at all. The outside is fried, but not exactly crispy. The inside is chewy. The closest thing I can think of to this is 煎堆 that you can get at Chinese dim sum, but with sweet potato flavour. I stood here for a good five minutes or so trying to figure out how it’s made. All I saw was this guy pulling out the finished deep-fried product out of a wok of oil, and then pressing out the excess grease. I still don’t know exactly what’s in it.
Here’s a must-eat when you go to Taiwan: 蚵仔煎. In Cantonese, I would know it as 煎蠔餅, or fried oyster cake. However, it’s not exactly the same thing. The oyster cake that I’m used to has a thicker batter to it, and when you bite into it, it actually feels like you are eating something flour-based. This Taiwanese oyster cake is a small snack made with tiny oysters in a thickened paste, but not exactly a batter. An egg is cracked over the oysters, and this is simply cooked with some vegetables. In the end, it resembles more of an ‘oyster omelette’ rather than ‘oyster cake’
One final (food) recommendation is this stall, famous for papaya milk. We tried a different place on our first night before being enlightened to this place, and trust me, there’s a huge difference! Our not-as-good drink had the texture of milk and over-sweetened powder papaya flavouring. This place actually has a much richer flavour of papaya pulp, and the taste is strong without being too sweet.
On our last night in Taichung, we finally wandered to this main area that we didn’t even realize existed. It’s the intersection literally 2 streets down from the entrance to Fengjia University, which explains why it looks a lot busier here. We walked the street parallel to this one, which is more ‘back alley’ and is lined with food. This main street is lined with retail stores instead.
There are even public bikes for rental! Too bad we found out a bit too late.
That’s pretty much my four-day adventure in Taichung! On our last day, we had a quick lunch and went straight to the airport. This is what the airport looks like – and this is literally all there is. It’s a pretty small place.
For those who are interested in travelling here, you can get your phone SIM card and currency exchange done right at the airport. The rate won’t be the best, but it’s not too bad. From what I recall, we got 1 HKD to 3.97 NTD. Google’s rate said 1 HKD to 4.11 NTD which is a pretty small percentage difference, especially when you’re not exchanging huge amounts anyway.
SIM cards for your phone are cheap. As soon as you come out of the departures area, you will see this booth, which is crowded with tourists buying their SIM card plans. You must have a foreign passport to be allowed to buy these plans, and they will ask you for your travel document to photocopy. We got SIM cards with 5 days unlimited data and a set amount of airtime (which is quite unnecessary at today’s technology) for $300 NTD. There are also various other plans for your needs.
I already told you that Taichung Airport is tiny. It seems to also serve as a military base? During our taxi out to the runway, we saw a bunch of fighter jets in their caves, seemingly ready to come out anytime.
And finally, I would like to say that this was the most amusing part of my entire trip: seeing other people do what I usually do at work. Before starting this job, I’ve flown dozens of times, but I was always completely oblivious to what pushback really is. After doing this myself, I can sense what’s going on through movements (the jerk when the tow bar gets connected to the plane) and sounds (the roar of the tow truck, sounds of engine starting up, squeaks of hydraulic systems being pressurized) without actually seeing it through my own eyes.
I was lucky enough to be sitting on this side of the aircraft, which allowed me to see the goodbye wave after completing the pushback procedure. The goodbye wave is your cue to the pilot to tell them that you’re clear of the area below, and it is safe to taxi forward without the fear of running any of you over.