Wednesday, August 8, 2012


It really isn't the same without the pictures, is it?

Today, we left the city of Taipei behind us and ventured into the northeastern Taiwanese countryside.

First, we headed to Taipei Main Station (台北車站), the central transportation hub of the city, where we took a train to Rueifang (瑞芳, hanyu pinyin Ruifang):
where we had to change trains off the main, electrified line onto a single-track, infrequent diesel line, called the Pingxi (平溪) line after one of the stations.
Throughout this journey, we were constantly in range of other travellers' conversations in Cantonese.  Apparently, the Hong Kong - Taipei air route is one of the most popular in the world, Hong Kongers come to Taipei by the bucketload...
An hour later in Pingxi, we got off and walked around.
Lunch was at a noodle shop:
Marinated fried tofu.
Rice with minced pork.

Some marinated meat.
Deep fried chicken rolls (like spring rolls, but with chicken!)
and a plain bowl of noodles for my picky brother.
It's at this point that I realize how big of a difference these few hundred kilometres across the Taiwan Strait have had on the cuisine.  Wow.  My brother wouldn't touch half the stuff on the table.

Afterward, we went to a nearby shop to have shaved ice with mango.  Apparently, shaved ice is incredibly popular here.

We walked up the mountain (all of the Southern China region is incredibly mountainous) to the local air raid shelter, beside the local Guanyin temple (yet another one!).  It took the form of a tunnel that crossed the hill it was built in, with the other end housing a few statues of Buddhist figures and a giant bust of Chiang Kai-shek, and alcoves with picnic tables every now and again.
 But the main attraction was on the top of the mountain, the system used to warn and bring the citizens to the shelter in case of an air raid.
An old bronze bell - "do not touch!", probably used for the temple services long before the shelter was created.

We took the train back towards Rueifang, and stopped at the town of Shifen (十份, lit. ten parts).  The Pingxi railway runs right through the middle of this town, with storefronts on hugging the rails on both sides.
This area is famous for its giant hot-air balloon lanterns, of which dozens are released every night by tourists who paint good luck sayings onto them.  A bit further down the road, there is a waterfall which is sometimes called "Taiwan's Niagara".  More than a few reviews online and from our relatives in Hong Kong highlighted the length of the walk and the lack of satisfaction afterward, so we decided not to go.  Instead, we went for a walk on the local suspension bridge over the Keelung River:

We caught the next train back to Rueifang.
At Rueifang, we took a taxi to the mountain town of Jiufen (九份), made popular in recent decades for being the setting of A City of Sadness, on the 228 Incident (basically Taiwan's equivalent of 6-4, although it is the subject of public discussion here and involved the native people instead of students - more on that later) and the Studio Ghibli animated film Spirited Away.
 It has a very nice feel to it, narrow streets surrounded on all sides by food stalls, shops, and restaurants, and occasionally giving way to expansive views of the northeastern Taiwanese coast and the city of Keelung (基隆) below:

I had a bowl of beef noodle soup here (牛肉麵), one of Taiwan's national (...I'll spend some time on that one too...) dishes made from marinated beef brisket and tendon in with noodles in soup.

Finally, we travelled by bus down to the coastal city of Keelung, one of Taiwan's two major ports - the other being Kaohsiung (高雄, hanyu pinyin Gaoxiong) in the south.  
The city is home to a famous night market, called Miaokou (廟口夜市) after the fact that it is the located at the entrance - "mouth, 口" of a temple (廟). 

A huge variety of foods can be found in the night market, and one of the specialties of this coastal one is the seafood, not found in Taipei.  Japanese influences can still be found everywhere, and we passed by stalls selling takoyaki, tempura, and even sushi and sashimi.

Eventually, we headed to the Keelung train station and hopped on the first train back to Taipei.

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