We set off early with packed breakfast and snacks loaded up in a private van to drive through the northeast corner of Taiwan, the Pingxi District. Our route more or less followed the along Pingxi Branch Line, a railroad originally built for transporting coal. We originally thought we’d take a train through the stops and sure enough we often traced along the train tracks. The scenery was beautiful, very mountainous, lush, and green. We stopped at numerous waterfalls and quaint old towns.
The fun thing was the van stereo was equipped with Bluetooth and a microphone so we could not only play our own music from our phones but also sing along! Woo-hoo! We snacked and sang our way through the day.
Our first stop was Lingjao Waterfall which was a very short walk from the train station. It was quiet and we were the only people there. All our following stops that day would be filled with other tourists so this was a hidden gem.
Next up was Shifen Old Street where tourists decorate and release painted lanterns into the sky. Sadly, this is quite an environmental problem when the lanterns drop back down so we simply observed and didn’t participate. We also went on a short walk to Jingan Bridge which was quieter and was a good viewpoint to watch the rising and falling lanterns.
Some say our next stop, Shifen Waterfall, is the “Little Niagra of Taiwan.” The waterfall measure about 20m tall and is wide, powerful, and beautiful. It was a 15 minute walk or so from the road to reach the falls. The area was bustling with tourists.
Our final stop before lunch was the Houtong Cat Village. Apparently, this once prosperous mining town was in decline and was resurrected by volunteers providing care for stray cats in 2008 and publicizing it online. The cat population and the town’s popularity exploded.
We took a break for lunch in Jiufen and explored the alleyways of Jiufen Old Street after eating. The place was packed with tourists and the old street was much longer and more active than Shifen Old Street. It felt more like a winding marketplace with endless types of food, dessert and souvenirs to sample.
After lunch, we were suppose to hike Keelung Mountain but it was too fogged in and we were feeling tired. Instead, we let our driver take charge and show us some temples and viewpoints as we wound down to ocean, including a stop at Golden Waterfall, so named because of its appearance from heavy metal deposits in the riverbed. It reminded me a lot of the tailings at Holden Village in Washington.
We stopped along the coast for more viewpoints and the Nanya Peculiar Stone before snoozing our way to a seaside town for dinner and had a seafood feast.
The rest of the drive to our bed and breakfast in Taroko was in the dark and along very windy roads. Our van driver took turns too fast for my taste. It felt like he was racing along highway 1 in northern California. Throughout the day, he also was determined to correct whatever Justina had planned for our itinerary. He seemed to always have a very opinionated suggestion on what he’d do differently. I missed many of the arguments because they were in Mandarin but I got the gist. It was annoying, but in the end it was fine. He did show us a few unplanned cool things.
Finally, we arrived at our B&B and were greeted by the owner as well as Alanna and Jonatan who had arrived separately by train. Janet, Kenneth and I assembled our tandems on the deck in the dark to be ready for an early departure the next day while the others discussed highlights of Taroko National Park.