Sub-heading: Scooter Trip to Miaoli
I’ve learned that Taiwan as an island is very compact and convenient, but also not. It’s extremely easy to get to the various cities on the island, thanks to extensive tour bus services, trains, and the high speed rail. But specific random tourist spots are rarely located near each other throughout Taiwan. Except for Taipei, you can be sure to travel long distances to reach your different points of interest, which is why seeing Taiwan outside of Taipei is best done by scooter. Scooters are great because they’re small and compact, they don’t use a lot of gas, and they’re easy to zip up small mountain roads or park by roadsides to take pictures. My friend Jackie, who has been living in Hsinchu City for the past two-ish years, is now moving to Taipei because of her new job. She invited me along for one last scooter trip on her scooter Pumpkin into Hsinchu County before she left. (It was actually just as we were setting off that morning that Jackie sprang it on me that we were actually going all the way to Miaoli, which is the county area between Hsinchu and Taichung.
Friday night Jackie was in town so we met up and took the bus back to her place in Hsinchu. I was happy to use up one of the many bus tickets she had left from her ticket book. We set off bright and early on Saturday morning after a breakfast at a local shop. The sun was bright and the air was very dry. (All the cities further south from Taipei are considerably less humid) In fact, it was going to be a whopping 95 degrees the whole day. Sunscreen and water was our friend!
We headed south. Jackie got us lost a few times, but that’s all part of scooter tripping through the country. And it lent some beautiful views anyway. The entire ride was all blue skies, clouds, and the sun on our shoulders.
Around noon we were passing through Dahu (大湖), the area of Miaoli where all of Taiwan’s strawberries are grown. On either side of the road for the next several miles were gardens after gardens of strawberries and signs calling travelers to come pick them. (Unfortunately, strawberries are not in season. They harvest in the spring.) I spotted a sign for a “strawberry museum” and we immediately decided to visit.
The museum turned out to be a bit of a dud. It was mainly this courtyard full of strawberry themed sweets vendors (ice cream, mochi, candy, shaved ice, etc.), as well as cute strawberry-esque benches, displays, and decorations. There was a small exhibit inside a building on the growth patterns of strawberries, but that was also a bit of a dud. The bottom floor included a gift shop that sold all types strawberry food – dried strawberry, strawberry beer, ice cream, cakes, cookies, wafers, etc.
We spent maybe half an hour at the strawberry museum, taking silly pictures by the life-sized fruit displays, agreeing that it was not as interesting as it could have been. Dahu is definitely worth a visit to pick strawberries when they’re in season, though!
We continued scootering south after strawberry town, stopping along the way to admire several beautiful views, including the water reservoir that we had to circle around.
Finally we located Jackie’s first point of interest: the castle restaurant (天空之城). The castle restaurant was located up a winding, steep mountain path. It was structured very similarly to the Lavender Cottage we visited 2 months ago. We purchased admission tickets at the entrance and set off to wander the grounds that had been stylized to house a chateau-type castle. Taiwan, I realize, is full of these locally-driven touristy spots. People renovate areas of mountain land and open picturesque restaurants with a view, gift shops full of artisan soaps and handmade goods, while plopping cutesy props around for photo-ops. These locations are merely nice, pretty places to go on the weekend with friends or significant others: you wander around the grounds, then go buy a drink at the restaurant and sit and admire the view for a bit.
We found that as pretty as the castle was, the rest of the place didn’t have nearly as much stuff to explore. The signs were also very unclear. We had a late lunch in the restaurant and relaxed in the air conditioning for a bit. It had just rained, sending the humidity levels soaring.
After leaving the castle restaurant, we traveled to the Longteng Bridge (龍騰斷橋) in Sanyi (三義). The Longteng Bridge was once a railroad track but was destroyed in an earthquake a while back. A new bridge and separate railway line was built afterward, but the enormous foundations of the broken bridge still stand and the location has turned into an enormous tourist spot. I mean, tour buses come up the winding mountain paths and people sell food and play music nearby – that’s how much of a tourist spot it is. And this is what I mean by Taiwan’s scenic points are all spread out. Random things in the middle of nowhere become famous tourist spots for people to come see, and suddenly you have a list of things to visit that are nowhere in proximity to each other.
The afternoon was waning and we were very tired, hot, and sunburned. We began our long 2-hour ride home, this time by way of the coastline. Scootering is tricky for long distances. You don’t want to go for more than maybe 2 hours straight. It gets hot, tiring, and your body grows stiff. This is especially the case for the back passenger, who has to straddle the seat constantly. I was very thankful when we finally got back to Hsinchu.