A China Travel Holiday Special... MEET THE GROOMS! Episode 7: Alishan and the train to nowhere

Culture | by Aimee Groom
Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Updated: January 27th, 2011 | Comments
[showtime] The intrepid Aimee Groom (aka DFH) is back from her own travels in Europe but the story continues as we approach Chinese New Year in MEET THE GROOMS! Think of it as China Travel Reality TV holiday special (without the TV). So, without further ado, please Meet John and Lesley Groom, the backpackers with a bus pass. In December 2008, this intrepid pair of Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui, Taiwan, Fujian, Guizhou and Jiangsu. >>> (Click here for more MEET THE GROOMS!) Huangshan, anhui Sent: Sun, January 18, 2009 11:04:03 AM Subject: Travels in Taiwan Well the plan sort of worked. We got to Alishan safely. The first bus had to be replaced with a taxi to allow us to catch bus 2. Then the two trains were OK. In fact all was OK until we tried to book the narrow gauge railway: Sorry it was not possible, the track was broken and the train was only running on the last third of the line and no, it was not possible to do the first two thirds by bus and then catch the train because the train left before the bus got there. If we could come back in three days the track would be mended! So three hours on the bus it was, but the ride was spectacular. Surely the train could not be better? Find out after the jump... The book says staying in Alishan is like staying in a car park. Well the bus dropped us in the car park. We then went in the Tourist Information and told a chap with bottle glass spectacles we wanted a cheap room. We told a white lie and said we’d only paid £20 the previous night. He got on the phone and then said there was a room for £22 a couple of doors away. He said something about training. We didn't understand. We went two doors along past Chungua Telecommunications and a lady showed us a nice room for £22. It had heating, electric blanket, a shower, breakfast vouchers, internet and most important, cable TV (56" screen!). It was a bargain. The woman didn't speak any English but a chap from a cafe interpreted and we said we wanted it for two nights. She looked taken aback a bit and thought about it, then said we would have to be out by 11.00 a.m., we said OK. It was strange but we think it is really a residential training school for the telecommunication engineers and that she was "moonlighting" with the accommodation and had a thing going with old bottle glasses in the Tourist Information. The importance of the cable TV is that whilst it is warm during the day, at this altitude it is freezing at night and as there is nothing to do in the village it is nice to be able to watch a film in English instead of Chinese TV in a nice warm bed! (James Bond again.) The mountain here is pleasant without being rugged or spectacular. The joy of it is coming up and going down. The next morning we decided to take the train down as far as possible and then come straight back up again. We just wanted to experience it as the book says you should. It is one of only three genuine switch back railways in the world (one is in Peru which we have been on, any ideas about the other one?) and was built originally for logging. The gradients and bends are unbelievable. Anyway it took about fifteen minutes to explain what we wanted to do. Eventually they accepted that we didn't want to spend time in the boring village at the end of the line and sold us the tickets even though they still clearly thought we were mad! But again, half price for over 65s. Because the train, unlike the bus, went through the forest it was really special. Next day uneventful. Bus and train rides to Tainan where we stayed in an old eight-story hotel run by a couple who gave us their undivided attention, probably as we are pretty certain we were the only ones staying there. There are 220 temples in Tainan. We did the lot—totally templed out!! A few odds and ends: Ladies hairdressers. There are an incredible number of them here and not just little ones. They are huge! The recession doesn't seem to have affected them. Similarly bridal shops which seem packed out. Dogs: Dogs are not just for Christmas, nor are they for eating, or at least not in Taiwan. They are for dressing up in silly coats, putting in shopping bags, scooter baskets and on restaurant tables, in fact anywhere but on the ground where they belong! Bookshops: There is a huge bookshop along the road, as big as your average Waterstones. The Taiwanese just take a book and sit (or lay) on the floor and read it. You just have to step over them! 7-Eleven shops: They're everywhere, every block has one. They sell everything including coffee, eggs boiled in tea and pot noodles. (Yes the Chinese and Taiwanese eat pot noodles.) But also they seem to run the bus service. You buy your bus tickets from them and buses stop at them! Tomorrow we get the train to Kaohsiung.
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