Bus Trip to Central Taiwan
Taiwan Tour Bus
TAKING A BUS OF THE TAIWAN TOUR BUS NETWORK IS AN EXCELLENT CHOICE FOR FIRST?VTIME VISITORS TO GET AROUND TAIWAN.
For so much of the world, Taiwan remains a mystery - a country reduced to a few stereotypical monuments and concepts. This is unfortunate, because the country's relative smallness masks a goldmine of cultural and scenic richness. Those tourists who try to "do" Taiwan in a few days find themselves lost in a sea of choices, wondering how a country the size of Vermont could offer so much to see, and do, and above all know.
Here is where Taiwan Tour Bus excursions come in. Our group was eight: in addition to Sunny (my photographer) and myself, there was a German couple, a pair of honeymooners from the Czech Republic, our gracious if soft-spoken driver, and last but most definitely not least, our guide James. A living, breathing encyclopedia of all things Taiwan, visitors I implore you: let James be your Virgil. I promise he's not nearly so virtuous (dull) as Dante's famous escort.
The trip from Taipei to Taichung took 2.5 hours, an easy drive with a fifteen-minute rest on the way and a meal at the end. At the restaurant we joined a dense lunchtime crowd out on the stone patio, overlooking the lawn and a pool stocked with colorful carp. Our German friends were baffled by the chunks of beef and bone seasoning our soup, but with a little coaxing (and heavy finger-use) found it much to their liking.
Next we headed to Sun Moon Lake , our primary destination for the day. If Taroko Gorge represents Taiwan's masculine scenery - a steel-toned torrent piping through serrated spires on its way out to sea - then Sun Moon Lake is its feminine counterpart. The name stems from its unique shape, the eastern shores rounded like the sun, while the opposite side forms a crescent. Tracing the contours of the water, our drive afforded excellent views as we made our way up into the lakeside hills to Cih-en Pagoda . The tallest pagoda in Taiwan, its nine stories were erected by Taiwan's late president Chiang Kai-shek in honor of his mother. From the top you can send shivers down the ornate structure by ringing the gong, and at exactly 1,000 meters above sea level, the view is ideal to survey the lake and surrounding mountains.
Next stop on our journey was lakeside Sun Moon Village , which offered a variety of traditional clothing and artwork of the Thao people , the smallest of Taiwan's 13 officially recognized indigenous tribes. The village included an esoteric shop that specialized in owl-oriented pieces - everything from coffee mugs to intricately detailed, life-size wood carvings. There were countless food vendors as well. Almost all were willing to provide samples to us camera-waving waiguoren ("foreigners"), so we grazed our way down to the docks.
After a long day we headed back to the hotel in Taichung. Taichung Plaza International Hotel offered all the amenities I could have asked for, which in this case meant a comfortable bed and complimentary breakfast. After breakfast we got an early start on the road to Lugang .
Longshan Temple in Lugang is the second oldest in Taiwan, following the temple of the same name in Taipei. Much work is currently being done to restore the complex, though James pointed out the many original pillars and doors are still securely in place. The temple's spaciousness was notable, with an expansive courtyard that allowed tranquility in spite of the work being done. It was an ideal place for quiet contemplation.
Lugang is one of the few towns left in Taiwan that has managed to resist all-out modernization. The high-speed rail system does not venture this way, nor do the major north-south freeways exit here. Heading down Old Market Street , I was struck by the traditional buildings, exhibiting a style of architecture I'd little seen in Taipei. Their narrow mouths opened to reveal deep interiors, long dark bellies stocked with everything from toys to artwork to cakes.
Sadly, Sunny and I had to head back to Taipei after visiting Lugang. Our companions were forging ahead to Kaohsiung, and we made hasty goodbyes. Despite our language barriers (the Europeans' English wasn't spectacular, my Czech and German nonexistent), our companions were one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip. Without a common language we had to be creative. Gestures and facial expressions were our grammar, and our shared experience as foreigners - outsiders looking in with a curious blend of awe and trepidation - was a kind of language to draw upon.
My Taiwan Tour Bus outing had at least one drawback (departure time at 8:30 am), but the benefits infinitely outweighed the negative. Had I "done" Sun Moon Lake alone, I could have woken up and come and gone as I pleased, yet I wouldn't have met Jim, or any of my traveling companions, or the other beautiful people we came across. As the adventure lies in best coming to know the unknown, a tour is the only way to go.
Lugang is also home to Mas