From Taipei, we took the High Speed Rail (HSR) to Chiayi to get to Alishan (阿里山). We chose 53.1 Homestay Min Su (民宿) from very good online reviews on its location, friendliness of hosts and cleanliness. 53.1 Homestay Min Su (民宿) arranged a taxi for us (NTD$2000, SGD80+) which picked us up from the Chiayi HSR station to bring us to Fen Qi Hu (奮起湖, also spelled at Fen Chi Hu) and then drive us to 53.1 at Alishan. Including the stop at Fen Qi Hu, the total journey was ~3.5 hours. For those we are prone to motion sickness like me, tip: I highly recommend you to take motion sickness pills and sit at the front of the taxi. The ride is windy and quite bumpy!
Fenqihu (奮起湖) has a long history that can be traced back to 100+ years before the opening of the Alishan Forest Railways in 1912. As I learnt from the official Alishan site, Fenqihu is surrounded by mountains on three sides and with the ground low and flat, it looks like a bamboo dust pan (fen qi) and, when embraced by mist and cloud, it looks like a lake (hu), so the area earned its name as Fenqihu. The Alishan Forest Railway which runs through Fenqihu was built around 1912 by the Japanese during the occupation, which made Fenqihu a popular stop for lunch. According to historical writeups, “back in the days when the only way to reach Alishan was by rail, Fenchihu was the largest and most significant halfway point station that lumberjacks and workers would take a rest and have lunch.”
Hence, Fen Qi Hu is known for its Bian Tang (便當, Lunch takeaways) and Mochis. I like the traditional old town feel in Fen Qi Hu. I also appreciate the effort the locals have take to preserve the traditional trains that used to run through the are and also preserving the unique Bian Tang food culture unique to Fen Qi Hu.
We chanced upon a very good kurobuta pork jerky store that comes in wasabi, black pepper and almond flavours. Recommend to buy back as snack/souveneirs!
The Mochis in Fen Qi Hu (奮起湖甜甜圈) are fresh and soft. Recommend to try the black skinned mochi that is the black sugar flavor that is native to Taiwan; a lot of the other mocha flavours can be found in Singapore already. 奮起湖甜甜圈 also sell good freshly baked cheese donuts.
After 3.5 hours, I was very glad to arrive at 53.1 Minsu (民宿), which is a lot more modern looking than how I imagined. It is also the most modern structure in the mountain areas. 53.1 Minsu is a 2 storey home with glass panels from ceiling to floor, allowing for majestic views from within the Minsu. The hosts, Mr Cai and his wife, Lily, together with their 2 children live on Level 1, renting out the 3 rooms on level 2 to guests.
53.1 Minsu is very conveniently located right next to a great spot to view the famous Alishan Sunset. One can climb up the trail in the backyard of 53.1 to view the famous Cloud Ocean (雲海) and Tea Plantations. The trail can take up to hours to complete so do ensure you plan to return before 5pm as the sun sets early especially in winter.
Camped outside 53.1 waiting for the famous Alishan sunset, and she didn’t disappoint with her glory…
Before my trip, I always thought Alishan was a particular mountain. So I learnt on this trip that Alishan is actually a whole mountain range, and that 53.1 is still 1 hour from the main Alishan attraction where the historic trains and Sacred Tree (神木) station is. However, the public bus stop is right outside 53.1, and you can get to the main Alishan attraction in 1 hour. When I look at the crowds staying at the main Alishan attraction, I am glad we chose 53.1 for a quieter, homely stay. It also helps that you can see both the sunsets (right next to 53.1) and sunrise (Xi DIng viewpoint 200m from 53.1) from 53.1 Minsu.
On day 2 in Alishan, after our visit to the main Alishan attraction, we returned to Mr Cai and Lily’s tea shop right opposite 53.1 for tea tasting. It was educational learning about the different types of tealeaves grown in the Alishan area. For example, the tea leaves grown in higher altitudes tend to have stronger tannin aftertaste. It was the first time I could really smell and taste the difference in the various types of Chinese teas.
After tea tasting, Mr Cai drove us to aboriginal Youbasi (means rich in the native tribal language) Restaurant, where we got to try some very traditional native tribal food of the aborigines. The rice was traditionally cooked in bamboo, given the starchy short grain rice a very unique taste. The Shrimp Wine is very unique but has a very STRONG shrimp taste. Imagine taking 100 dried shrimps flavor and compressing it into an alcoholic drink. We do not recommend to people who do not usually like prawns and shrimps. I tried the Honey Wine, which was sweet but comes with dead bees, for a true tribal experience.
Mr Cai and Lily left Taipei 20 years ago to pursue a quieter lifestyle in the Alishan mountain range, and adopted a simple content lifestyle running their tea shop across the road from 53.1, and 53.1 minsu. They regard all the guests who stay at their minsu as their friends. Their mindset explains why their hospitality outflows naturally – from turning on the GPS to ensure we only go out to the bus stop when the bus is near and not waiting out in the cold, to Mr Cai coming out to the bus stop to ensure we know which public bus to stop, to Lily explaining to us in details which stop to buy the tickets for when we have to return from Alishan main attraction back to 53.1. Conversations with Mr Cai, Lily and their children gave us a lot of insights into local Taiwan culture and perspectives, and made the homestay very sincere and meaningful. Highly recommended homestay! The only watchout during winter is that there is no heating, so do request for the portable heating station or pack on the heat packs under the blanket!
Full sets of posts that might be useful for your Taipei planning:
- Wu Fen Pu (五分埔) Shopping and Rao He Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市)
- Xi Men Ding (西門町)
- Shi Lin Night Market (士林夜市)
- Taipei 101, Christmas Illuminations, 大佳河濱公園 Park for 2014 Countdown
- Restaurant – L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Restaurant (侯布雄法式餐廳)
- Hotel– Hope Hotel (全家歡商務旅店 ) and Cosmos Hotel (天成大飯店)
For locations outside of Taipei:
- Taiwan: Alishan (阿里山) – Fen Qi Hu (奮起湖) and 53.1 Homestay Min Su (民宿)
- Taiwan: Alishan Main Attraction – Alishan National Scenic Area (阿里山國家風景區)
- Taiwan: Alishan 阿里山, Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 , Cing Jing 清境, Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園
- Taiwan: Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園
- Taiwan: Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園 Lodging/Hotel – Silks Place 太鲁阁晶英酒店
- Taiwan: Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園 Lodging/Hotel – Leader Village 立德布洛灣山月村