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Saturday, May 26, 2018

a weekend getaway to Alishan

Last weekend, we spent three days in the Alishan National Scenic Area in central Taiwan hiking and catching up with good friends before they leave the island for summer break and we move back to Washington State. I chose Alishan as the destination for our weekend getaway because Sean & I didn't get to experience it fully on our winter road trip around Taiwan due to terrible weather and a website that hadn't been updated in a year. 

When we went to Alishan in early February, the weather was our nemesis. Not only was it literally freezing the entire time, but a thick cloud cover enveloped the entire region of Taiwan. The fog was so dense at the top of the mountains that we struggled to see more than 20 feet in front of us. Suffice it to say, there were very few breaks in the fog and even fewer beautiful mountain vistas we had been pining after. On that trip, we also did not know that dogs were not allowed into the national scenic area because the park's website hadn't been updated to reflect the change in policy, so we were turned away when we pulled up to the gate with Bubu in the back seat of the car. 

Alishan was the only place I just had to visit one more time before we fly out in July, and I am so glad we did because we had such a great weekend with our friends!

Like in February, we used the small mountain village of Fenchihu as our base to visit Alishan; Fenchihu is the last town before the national park, which is just a 40 minute drive deeper into the mountains. This little village is essentially one big high mountain tea plantation with walking trails scattered here and there. One of Taiwan's famous old streets is here as well, and it sells delectable cherry blossom mochi. 

On Friday, our first day, we did an old forest hike in Fenchihu; the trail started at the top of the old street market. The wooden and stone walkway was lined with informative posters, photos, and gazebos. Some spots of the trail were run down and even a little dangerous like a collapsed stairway. It is no joke here that you have to be careful about venomous snakes-- the most popular kinds you are likely to encounter being vipers and cobras-- and the giant Asian hornet. You can learn more about the snakes of Taiwan here. Whenever hiking in Taiwan, ensure you are wearing proper shoes and be aware of your surroundings!

On Saturday, we drove into the scenic area early in the morning. Even though it was early, the parking spots were starting to fill up. Alishan is one of the most popular weekend destinations in Taiwan, so it is important to arrive early. We didn't understand at first that we had to walk the entire scenic area and that we were not allowed to drive beyond the main entrance. Once we figured it out, we parked and then followed the suggested walking route for the first 30 minutes. 

In Taiwan, 99% of the hiking trails are either stone steps or slightly raised wooden walkways. Alishan was no different. Sean ended up finding two hiking poles because the stairs are so hard on his knees. The walking route takes you past cute train stations and raised walkways perfect for the cherry blossom season, which runs from March-April. 

Eventually, we broke off of the main route to walk the sunrise trail. Most people visit Alishan out of cherry blossom season to see the sunrise; there are two choices for doing so. One is taking a train to the top of the mountain, and the other is walking a trail. We decided to hike this trail mid morning because there was no one on it and we wanted to the views from the top of the mountain. We were not disappointed (although I was stalked by a giant Asian hornet--yikes!). 

The trail pops out onto a road that minibuses use to transport people around the park. Take a left off the trail entrance and walk until you see railroad tracks. Follow the railroad tracks to the left and eventually you will come to the sunrise viewing platform. The view of the mountains was spectacular, and I was so happy we choose to do this hike! 

On Sunday, we headed back towards the Alishan National Scenic Area from Fenchihu, but instead of entering the park, we turned right at the 7-11 immediately outside the park's entrance and headed towards Yushan National Park. About 10 minutes down this road, there is a trail entrance on the right to the Tefuye Historic Trail. 

This is an old railroad trail that is beautiful and very well maintained. This was by far my favorite hike from the weekend. Do note that wild monkeys, boar, and bear frequent the area. We were not too worried about it though because the trail was pretty busy with other groups hiking. The benefit of this trail is that it is outside of the national park, so Bubu was allowed to join us on this hike (and it's free). 

We needed to head back to Hsinchu City to get our rental car back on time, so we did not walk the entire length of the trail. We turned around shortly after the first bridge and gazebo. This trail was perfect because it was shaded nearly the entire time by the tall trees and heavy brush. I wish that we would have arrived earlier so we could have walked more of the old railroad tracks!

With our time quickly coming to a close in Taiwan, this was our last adventure on the island. It was so fitting to visit this beautiful place with the friends we made our very first day in Taiwan. Once again, I cannot express how thankful I am for the six years we have got to call Taiwan home or for the dear friends we have made in that time. Taiwan will always hold a special place in my heart, and I know one day we will return to show Ruby where she spent the first 14 months of her life. 

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