When Taiwan was handed over to Japan by China, the Japanese found lots of desirable wood on Alishan mountain and promptly began to build railroads to support the logging industry they established here. Luckily, the logging fell out of economic favor over time and tourism became the top priority, which meant that this little train station has been preserved, and visitors can experience the train station and the little boom town village around it with a nice historic ambiance. Think something between Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away all in one place.
A train museum is there with century-old trains on display, nicely maintained so they look like they could up and head out if needed. Quite the solid slice of history.
In the museum was also a model of the train system that had been built on the mountain area.
The museum extended outside, and you could touch the trains too, not to mention climb on them and take some fun pictures (at your own risk).
You can even see the old school ticket booth where people used to pay for their trips. It looks like a gnome’s vacation condo.
Outside the museum, there are some beautiful bamboo groves, and the surprising thing is if you wrap your fingers around these bamboo, you will find that they are in fact SQUARE instead of round. Bamboo never ceases to amaze me.
There’s also a really awesome looking hiking trail going up the mountains from the station and town area. Unfortunately, our feet were so RAW from all the walking and hiking so far, we decided to skip out on this one, so all I’ve got for you is the sign at the trail head. When I can enjoy my leisurely weeklong stay at Alishan, I definitely will come back to this place and climb the stairs of this trail to enjoy the view.
Out an about the village, there was definitely a certain quaintness to it all, and instead of being a plastic amusement park tourist trap, it really did just look like a small unassuming mountain town that just happened to be surrounded by gorgeous views.
Apparently, the town is known for selling wooden shoes, and when I say wooden shoes, I think we’re talking primarily Japanese wooden shoes, not Dutch ones, although with the Dutch background in the area (Dutch had supposedly retreated to these mountains when attacked), I wouldn’t be surprised to find some sort of overlap in influence.
At the suggestion of our Taiwan Tour Bus guide, I tried one of their local specials, a sort of starch meat patty wrapped in a leaf. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what was in them, some sort of ground meat with vegetables and mushrooms, but it was pretty good. It reminded me of something my grandma used to make, and I’ve had variations of it before. I imagine it must have been the perfect to-go meal for those who needed to head off to work somewhere logging in the mountains.
Personally, I LOVE Taiwanese mochi. There’s something about the consistency of mochi in Taiwan–it seems softer and less dense than the traditional Japanese kind and just goes perfectly with the peanut or sesame powder. When I saw some, I just had to pick it up. As I said before, everything tastes better on the mountain.
After the buffet breakfast at Alishan House hotel, the starch meat patties, and the mochi, I was bursting at the seams. Yet, I could not pass up the chance to eat the local classic train bento.
It came in an awesome tin, which I wish I could’ve taken with me, and it reminded me a lot of the lunches my parents used to pack me. My mom told me tins like these were what she used to bring lunch to school when she was a kid.
The soup was bottomless, unlimited refills, and it was really tasty and hearty. The bento was good, but I was really so full of food already that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, not to mention the fact that I had recently changed my diet to less oil and salt, which made the meal not as awesome as it would be for someone who was didn’t have an American whole foods princess palate–me 15 years ago.
Next up, Alishan Tea Farm Hike.