Thursday, January 31, 2013

Exploring the Pingxi Line

Our visit to The Most Amazing Place Ever was actually a stop on the Pingxi Line, an old coal train line that winds through small towns and beautiful scenery, about an hour from Taipei. After we left Houtong, we tried (and failed) to buy day tickets and ended up getting tickets to Shifen, a few stops from Houtong and the site of the Shifen Waterfall, the 'Niagara of Taiwan.'  

I'd read that going anywhere on the weekend in Taiwan was a nightmare, so I wasn't expecting the train to be so busy - all of the seats were taken, including half a carriage being occupied by a particularly repulsive family that reminded me of the Honey Boo Boos. We were relieved to disembark and explore.

Shifen is really tiny and the bulk of the township crowds the edge of the train line, the awnings from the stores almost brush the carriages as you travel through. It looks pretty cool as well.

Sorry, more cats first.

The trains are hourly, so during the downtime people walk along the tracks like it's no big thing.

Wishes on bamboo outside one of the stores.

The Pingxi area is famous for their annual Sky Lantern festival, held in February. Not to miss out on potential dollars, you can set Sky Lanterns off whenever you want to - the colour of your lantern helps orient the wishes - red for good fortune, pink for love, orange for money, and a catch-all rainbow lantern for the indecisive.

Despite the rain there were several people setting off lanterns which would careen damply into the buildings on either side of the tracks before escaping into the open air.

Inflating the balloon.
Off it goes!
We ate a quick meal and then set off in search of the waterfall which was meant to be a 15 to 60 minute walk, depending on which blog you read. Ours turned into about an hour of walking, because the 'excellent signage' didn't exist. If you're at this blog looking for directions to the Shifen Waterfall, look elsewhere. I can't even tell you where is good because all of the blogs I read were wrong. Sorry. Get a cab.

We started out what I thought was the right way only to discover it wasn't, and then ran into a man who tried to tell us ... something ... and then started laughing because he couldn't and gave up, and then we followed some other people who were going the wrong way, and then we finally found it by going through an area I later discovered said 'do not enter.' Wonderful, and not at all irritating in the pouring rain!

Eventually we did find it, paid a few Taiwan dollars to get in and went exploring. The falls have a large and rather odd park/entrance thing around them, with a lot of fake wood panelling and absurd sculptures. The falls themselves were insane - 40-something metres wide and loud and a bit ugly from the rain.

We returned to the station wet and grumpy and instead of continuing we went back to Houtong for some more CAT!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Favourite Day Ever Ever!

Before we went to Taiwan I had a few days at my school with nothing to do except scour blogs for things to do in Taiwan. I'm pretty glad I had that time because although there's a lot of posts about Modern Toilet and Taipei 101 and Taroko Gorge, if I hadn't had a stupid amount of time to spend on the internet I wouldn't have found out about the most magical place in the world, Houtong.

There isn't even any information about Houtong in that link, except to say it's a train station. It's so much more.

Houtong used to be a mining town and then when the mining jobs died out, the town died too. Until a few years ago, when the remaining residents decided to adopt all of the stray cats it could find and become a Cat Town. A Cat Town! So awesome. Tom and I are both total cat people so it was a given we'd visit.

We got up bright and early and caught a train from Songshan Station to Houtong. The day was utterly miserable and rainy but we were mostly undeterred. We left the tracks and as soon as we got into the station there were kitties! 

Cat themed signs were everywhere - these are in the station
Station Kitties! Tom sets to work petting all of them.

I'm not excited AT ALL.

It was absolutely pouring with rain so we took shelter in a clearly very new tourist attraction which was about the town's old mining history. I had great difficulty faking interest in a giant diorama explaining the mining process, so I left that to Tom and got to cuddling one of the cats who was sitting in the doorway.

This guy was so beautiful, and just loved being hugged - every time we tried to put him down he'd burrow into your neck and cling on. Naww.

We left the mining exhibit and headed back to the station to be greeted by this kitty. Tom picked it up and gave it a cuddle. There were a few older men in the station who kept speaking to us in Chinese and pointing at a weird staircase which we eventually realised went over the train tracks and to the actual 'cat village.'

Although it was absolutely pouring with rain, the kitty below made a valiant effort to cross the (uncovered) bridge and follow us to cat land. We could hear him wailing as we walked on in search of more cats.

This dude was pretty angry, and I think he was appointed the mayor or something. 
Determined to get cuddles and pats, this cat followed us for almost the whole time. 

Houtong from above.

Find the cat!

We stopped to take shelter under someone's balcony and play with the three or four cats which were hanging around. Every few minutes, another cat would pop up until there were about eight cats climbing all over us! Eventually, the woman who lived there popped out bringing even more cats with her!  She didn't speak any English but explained which cats were pregnant, which were just fat and which one was the meanest - the fluffiest one in the picture below.

After a few hours of snuggles and ear scratches we reluctantly got back on the train and continued exploring.

As a note - we ended up visiting Houtong later in the day, and the cats weren't as cuddly the second time. This could have been due to more visitors coming through, or because it was so rainy. But a pro tip -visit early in the morning on a weekday, and you'll have your pick of cats. This also works for Cat Cafes too.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Taipei Random

More pictures that don't really fit in anywhere.


Anti-harassment subway ad. 
Ximending Street Art
Our hotel was in the clothing district. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Taipei Touristing

Our second day in Taipei was far more productive than the first. Armed with maps and metro cards we set out to do all the things and did pretty well. 

Stop number one was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a monument to the former President of the Republic of China (just read that on Wikipedia, so it must be true.)  The memorial is set in a large garden and while we were exploring it I slid down a bridge and took several layers of skin off my knee which kinda altered my mood for a bit. I sat down and wrote some postcards while Tom had a good look around.

Steph Face/general displeasure post-knee graze.
The stairs to the top were closed (there's 89 of them, because Chiang was 89 when he died) but we could take a lift to the top. A lovely woman explained the significance of many of the items in the room but I forgot to take pictures and forgot all of the facts except for the stairs thing. Sorry. For more comprehensive touristy information, look elsewhere.

After the hall we set off for Ximending, a popular shopping district which reminds me of the popular shopping districts I've been to in Korea. We were here for two reasons only:

Again, I'm a bad tourist and I forgot to take pictures of Sophisca - it's a small and kinda expensive candy shop, which specialises in chocolate condoms and sticking plasters, and marshmallow sanitary pads! I bought a few boxes and when I finally manage to send gifts home there will be some included.

I didn't forget to take pictures of Modern Toilet, because it was too hilarious. It's a restaurant with a toilet theme - the seats are toilets, the tables are made from bathtubs, the food is served in miniature toilet bowls and ceramic squatters and the drinks are in plastic urinals you can take home after your meal.

I'm not sure if they were sticking to the theme, but the food was shitty - expensive, not tasty - and the service was similarly crap (hyuk hyuk) but it's a restaurant themed around toilets, so how could I not go, you know?

After Modern Toilet, we left Ximending for a little bit of (more family-friendly) culture and went to Longshan Temple. Longshan's a small interfaith temple and although I've been to a lot of temples in my travels - soooo many temples, you guys, you have no idea - I really enjoyed Longshan. It may have helped that we got there during prime prayer time but it was small, crowded, vibrant and beautiful.

Longshan is a congregation point for elderly Taiwanese men who just talk a bunch on plastic stools. 

Tom updating his twitter account. 

Cool dog.
Our day of touristing ended with another meal at Raohe Night Market and a crappy American movie before sleep. Not bad.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


After a couple of nights in Hualien we hopped a train back to Taipei. Incidentally, the reason we'd gone to Hualien first was because over the New Year period the cheapest Taipei hotel we could find was $150 USD. No thanks. After the holidays we managed to track down a place for about $50/night and headed back to the capital to stay there. You know how I talked about trains being standing room only in my first Taiwan post? The train back from Hualien was worse than the one there. It was like this for the entire three-hour journey:
Can you see an appropriately sad-looking Tom?
Although we'd planned on arriving in the city and storming it, we ended up in our hotel room sitting on our butts and napping. Our hotel was pretty far from the city's nightlife but it was a 10 minute walk to Raohe Night Market, so after sufficient recovery time we went and picked up some snacks for dinner, something we'd end up doing almost every night. I don't seem to have any pictures of the market or the food we ate there, except for this one:

Deep fried Oreo. OMG.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Taiwan Random

Here's some pictures which don't warrant posts of their own.

Up close and personal with my Taroko Gorge lunch.
Alllll of the TV monitors on the bus.
The other side of the Pacific. 
White Men toothpaste