Taiwan and Japan

2015 - 2016

Day 7

Shifen, Juifen and toilets!

Today was out last full day in Taiwan and we had planned a day trip to Shifen and Juifen with a Driver named Peter Wang. The weather forecast was not looking great, so we packed rain coats and umbrellas and met Peter downstairs at our hotel at 9am. Peter introduced himself, ran through where we were going and we were on our way.

Once we left the city we got another opportunity to see just how beautiful the Taiwanese country side is. Our first stop was the Shifen waterfall. Peter dropped us off and gave us some basic directions and a rough time to head back in order to leave enough time to see the rest of the tour.

We walked over a large bridge and into a small village just outside the waterfall. There were a few stalls selling food (and toys) before reaching the look out area. There were a fair amount of people and lots of vantage points, so I raced up to the highest point I could to get a few long exposure shots with my ND filter.

We took in the sights for a while and headed back to meet up with Peter. Along the way Anthony was asked for a photo by some random strangers, except they didn’t want him to take a photo of them, they wanted a photo of him! They even gave him a business card! There have been a few occasions now where we have been asked to pose for photos for strangers, like at Taroko Gorge - there doesn’t seem to be many western tourists around Taiwan, apparently most of the tourism here is from China and other surrounding Asian countries, but that seems to be slowly changing.

Next stop was Shifen Old Street. This was the place we had watched YouTube videos for before coming here. The main street was more of a clearing for a train track but it was a busy tourist area and there were people walking everywhere and letting sky lanterns go right from the tracks. There were market stalls lining the sides and the smell of tasty street food filling the air. Every now and then a train would slowly make its way through this area and everyone would clear the tracks for the train. This would simply not be allowed in Australia, but people seemed to be well behaved and it was certainly something I hadn’t seen before.

Peter came with us this time and helped us purchase a sky lantern. The shops were really crowded, but we managed to squeeze in to pick, purchase and write on our lantern. The colors of the material used in the sky lanterns all had a different meaning. The sky lanterns have four sides, so we got to pick which colors we wanted. We chose the colors that represent “Happiness”, “Promotion”, “Health” and “Wealth”.

The shop assistant pegged our lantern to a frame so we could write our messages.

Once we were done, another assistant helped up setup our lantern over the train tracks, he got us to pose for a photo while he took all of our cameras to get some shots for us, then he lit the candle and told us when to let go. It was a cool atmosphere! Not only was it strange to see a train line going through a market, but looking out to a mountain backdrop with sky lanterns filling the air was definitely different. We couldn’t help but think how many of these lanterns were littered all over the countryside, but they are supposedly biodegradable.

Peter suggested we get the famous “Chicken Rice” from this market, which was right at the end. Instead of just chicken and rice, they actually stuff the chicken with rice. We were a little hungry by this point and with the damp, cool weather it was just what we needed. On the way we saw a show that was selling these small bars of nougat and thought they would make a good on-the-go snack, so we bought some them and then lined up for the chicken rice. It was really nice chicken! I wouldn’t mind trying to make these myself!

After a quick break to eat, we met up with Peter again and we headed out to Juifen. The first stop was a somewhat random waterfall on the side of the road. This waterfall was called the Juifen Golden Waterfall because the surrounding rocks and dirt had a yellow tinge to them. Juifen used to be a popular mining town in the past and water had made its way from the top of the mountain and through these mines where copper and iron were collected and forged its own waterfalls in to the landscape and over the years the entire stream had turned everything yellow. It turns out that this water is also quite toxic due to high levels of arsenic, but as long as no one drank the water, it made for an interesting tourist attraction. As it was raining, we jumped out of the car, quickly took some snaps and hoped back in to go to the next stop on our tour.

Up next was Juifen Old Street which was high up in the mountains. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much cloud and fog cover so close. Along with the low number of people out (because of the rain) the whole area had a really eerie atmosphere. We pulled up at a large temple and even up close, most of it was covered by fog, it looked amazing! Peter pointed us in the right direction and started walking towards the town center through the back streets of the village. This way was dead quite and let us skip a lot of the crowds on the way.

As we were walking the rain started picking up and just as we arrived at the town square we found a shop selling umbrellas for those who didn’t have any. Even though it was raining, the town square looked really nice. We started climbing the nearby stairs amongst a bustling crowd of people, there were umbrellas everywhere! On the stairs there were a few restaurants, we ended up stopping at a dumpling place and hoped the rain would blow over while we ate. The staff at the restaurant didn’t speak much English, but we managed to order some dumplings and nice warm tea for all of us, the only problem was that they interpreted “six teas” as “six tea pots”! There was so much tea we ended up paying more for tea than we did for food.

After lunch we continued up the stairs and made our way to the market. Between the town square and the market you could see how Spirited Away was based on this place, but it was fairly subtle. The markets were also packed with people and their umbrellas and it was pretty big. We had a slow stroll through but managed to get separated due to the crowds. We eventually found each other and after some shopping headed in the direction of the exit. On the way out there was a clearing with an amazing view, with all the fog it was like the market was built in the clouds.

We found Peter and we drove out to our final stop for the day, the Hutoung Cat village. This was a big deal for Rob and he was pretty excited! When we got to the car park, you could already see some cats lingering around and Rob darted off ahead. The cat village was once a popular mining town, but eventually the mining started to decline and people moved away. It wasn’t until then that a local resident started organising volunteers to give some of the abandoned cats a better life. They posted cats pictures online and cat lovers from everywhere started responding and helping out. The town then became famous for cats and tourism revived the township. There is cat memorabilia for sale at the market stalls and cat artwork everywhere including painting and statues at the station and randomly around the township.

We spent a bit of time walking around and petting the cats. As I bent down to reach out to one of them, it climbed up on me and made itself comfortable and started sleeping! It was fun to take photos around here, there is a pretty big variety of cats and the backdrop of the mountains covered in low hanging cloud looked great and provided the perfect lighting conditions. There were even a few dogs around the place, but they seemed pretty on edge and mostly kept their distance, probably because they were significantly out-numbered!

After spending some time walking around we eventually dragged Rob out to get back to Peter. Peter had another stop in mind and gave us the option to go back to the hotel or continue on the tour. We were all pretty tired by now and decided to head back so we could get some dinner. There was one other thing we wanted to do in Japan, but it was really only Amy and I that wanted to do it and that was the toilet restaurant! This restaurant has a toilet theme so the food is served in small toilet bowls, there are toilets as seats and even the food is… well… toilet themed. Anthony, Chris and Rob didn’t really want to go, they were a little put off by the idea and I think Sarma was happy either way but in the end we convinced them all to come so we got back to our hotel, dumped our stuff and navigated to “Modern Toilet”!

When we arrived, there was a toilet in the lobby and some kids were getting their photo taken, so we thought we’d follow suit and take some photos in front of the sign too. Anthony called this photo the “Poo Angel”.

When we went up stairs the the artwork made us all chuckle a little bit and needless to say there was lots of toilet puns all night.

We ordered some food and it was pretty good. Anthony, Chris and Rob didn’t look like they were very impressed but I’m sure they had fun anyway, it was a good night full of laughs!

After dinner we did our final walk through our local area, went to the arcade for a little and then headed back to the hotel to pack. Unfortunately we had a bit of a problem that night, Rob had accidentally forgotten his JR pass back in Melbourne, so we all put our heads together and tried to work out some alternative options. We tried to get some friends and family back in Melbourne to post it over but there was a risk we wouldn’t get it in time and we couldn’t get in contact with JR because it was too late, but we did as much preparation as we could and Rob planned to get up early in the morning to sort it out. In the end he needed to buy some new tickets at the JR office, but we did our best. Apart from spending a little more money than originally intended, it worked out ok and we were all still going to be able to travel together in Japan.