Destination: Taichung & Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

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Sun Moon Lake (June 2016).

The third-largest city in Taiwan (after Taipei and Kaohsiung), Taichung (臺中) gets its name for being situated in the center of the country, as well as being the entrance to the mountains where visitors can hike, raft, and otherwise explore the deep, beautiful nature of central Taiwan. One of the most famous attractions is the mesmerizing Sun Moon Lake, where my family and I would make a trip over during our one night in Taichung.

From Taipei, we took the two-hour train ride to Taichung– time passed fairly quickly, for the seats were comfy and spacious, as well as the passenger car having air conditioning, much-needed during the oppressive summer heat! We arrived in the late afternoon, taking a taxi over to our hotel where we checked in, dropped off our bags, and immediately headed out to check out the Feng Jia Night Market, reputed to be the largest night market in Taiwan– from the looks of it, I could see how it got its reputation! Considering we only had that one night in town, we wanted to get at least a taste– literally and figuratively– of what Taichung was all about.

Fun fact: Boba milk tea originated in Taichung, at the Chun Shui Tang tea house back in 1983. The original location is still opened today, although my family and I didn’t have the time to pay a visit. I actually didn’t get boba milk tea during our stay in Taichung, but since the drink has become synonymous with Taiwan, it didn’t really matter where I got it– ended up getting the drink in Taipei, and it made my boba-milk-tea self very happy.

We wandered through the Feng Jia Night Market, which encompassed a huge portion of downtown Taichung– from the major streets packed with motorcycles and pedestrians in the same lanes to the smaller alleys along the way, it was sensory overload– visual, audio, olfactory– for the tourist’s palate, especially mine. It was difficult trying to weave through throngs of people while also avoiding taxis and motorcycles on the side, all in the meanwhile checking out what each food stand had to offer to whet my appetite. After all, it was around dinnertime, so I was hungry!

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Feng Jia Night Market.

My family and I made stops at several stands to buy different dishes. Of course, we had to go for the traditional stinky fried tofu, as well as pig’s blood cake on a stick (tastes better than it sounds!) and refreshing taro shaved ice. Also got hujiao bing (pepper buns) and papaya milk juice to-go, which we consumed back in our hotel. Personally, I’m not a fan of the papaya fruit, but in juice form, it proved to be rather tasty!

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Stinky fried tofu.
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Taro shaved ice.
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Papaya milk juice.

Our stomachs getting full, my family and I took a quick tour around the shopping section of the night market before heading back to our hotel; we were tired after a long day of traveling, and we wanted to rest up for our trip to Sun Moon Lake the following morning.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and our driver picked us up at 9:00 to begin our long day journeying to Sun Moon Lake. Essentially, my parents hired private drivers to take us around Taiwan, which gave us the freedom to stop wherever along the way to explore more of the area. With that said, we piled into the car and sped off to visit what the Taichung/Nantou County had to offer.

Our first stop of the day was in Puli, a township known for its wine factory that makes Taiwan’s famous Shaohsing wine. Apparently, the wine has been offered to foreign politicians upon visiting the country, including the Jamaican president back in the day! We didn’t try the wine, but rather made a quick tour through the wine museum where we saw massive barrels used to store the strong drink– goes to show that Europe’s not the only place where good wine is produced!

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Inside the Puli wine factory.

Leaving the Puli wine factory, we also stopped by a small chocolate shop to buy some sweets, as our private driver said that that particular shop is known for being a good one for chocolate. We happily munched on the chocolates as we headed to our next destination for the day, the famed Sun Moon Lake. It’s the largest body of water in Taiwan and gets its name from how it’s structured– apparently, one side of the lake resembles the sun’s shape, whereas the other like the moon. All the same, it’s a popular tourist attraction, for its cerulean-blue waters and silhouette mountains represent the true definition of paradise. Photos don’t do justice to how beautiful (and hot!) the day we visited.

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On Sun Moon Lake.

Our driver gave us the late morning and early afternoon to explore Sun Moon Lake on our own. There were small boats which left every 30 to 45 minutes from different points on the lake, so we took it as a hop on-hop off kind of transport, getting off at one stop to visit a temple, which from there we could get hill-top views of the lake in all its splendor. Really, the natural sights were like heaven on earth.

The next stop along the lake was essentially the tourist center, where visitors could get information about hiking trails and cable car rides up the nearby mountains. There were also numerous cafes and souvenir shops, so my family and I got lunch in town. We had Thao aboriginal cuisine at one of the restaurants, considering that the Thao people are native to the region. I wouldn’t say that the dishes we had (fish and local greens) were significantly different from Chinese or Taiwanese food, but the flavors did taste more subtle and delicate than the strong, bold flavors associated with Sichuan or Hunan cuisines– I liked them!

We left Sun Moon Lake in the early afternoon, our driver taking us to a peat bog– sounds strange, but apparently the Taichung/Nantou County has a considerable area of unstable, wet land, and we got to experience it by getting a bit dirty in the bog. Of course, we took precautions to cover up, boots and all, and the short tour through the squishy, muddy ground was a novel experience.

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The peat bog.

Our final stop for the day was at Toushe Grandma’s Laundry Pool, which is literally an outdoor water source where women (particularly mothers and grandmothers) would take their clothes to manually wash, thus bringing the community together. Sort of like our present-day’s laundromats– gossiping included!

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Laundry service, much?

Wrapping up for the day, our driver took us back to Taichung where he dropped us off at the main train station. We were to catch the train to our next destination, thereby leaving Taichung and its surrounding areas. Our stay was brief and while I would love to have stayed a bit longer to explore more of the Feng Jia Night Market (as well as visit the Chun Shui Tang tea house), it was a pleasant sample of what the city had to offer for visitors like myself. I was glad that we had the opportunity to make it over to Sun Moon Lake, as it certainly didn’t disappoint!

Next up: Tainan, Taiwan!

 

— Rebecca

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