We’re in Taiwan, it’s Sunday and it’s raining. What to do?
I’m scared of weekends in Taiwan. Last time the tourist destinations were very crowded.
We don’t feel like museums or shops. I want to go on at least one scenic railway line this trip.
Last time we caught the Pingxi Line on a weekend. Gorgeous and terribly crowded.
But it’s raining. The election was yesterday. There are fewer Mainland Chinese.
Let’s just do it. We’ll go the Neiwan Line today, back to an old Hokkien town.
On our walk down to the train station we stop by a tiny corner store selling pork buns and pancakes. They are really delicious.
Things get complicated down at Taiwan’s main train station. We need to buy Alex a Easycard stored value card for train travel, B and I already having adult cards from the last trip. But the nearest place to get a child card isn’t at the main station. We have to go one stop along to Ximen, with Alex buying a single trip token.
And back again. Now we buy return tickets on the THSR, the Taiwanese Shinkansen, to Hsinchu. At Hsinchu we then have to walk through to massive and modern structure to elevated Liujia station to change to a local train to take us one stop to Zhuzhong to join the Neiwan line. But we don’t hurry enough and miss the connecting train, and now have to wait half an hour for the next one.
An electric train takes us one stop to Zhuzhong, then out again and another wait for the next train. There are plenty of people on the platform. I really hope this train isn’t going to be supercrowded.
|Sleepy Bear. He’s super optimistic!|
Fortunately, when the train pulls up there are plenty of seats to go round. Even better, the exterior and interior of the train are colourfully decorated with a cartoon theme with “Moon gate” doorways between compartments. There’s even a cartoon lion figure sitting on a seat.
These scenic lines are all operated by DR3100 class diesel multiple units. If they seem somewhat familiar it is because they are of Japanese origin. It’s like riding on a Japanese rural line and, as always, I am happy, really happy.
The line roughly follows the Youluo River, through urban Hsinchu City before heading up into the mountains. The rain is constant, making the landscape outside more miserable than it should be. It’s up in the hills that the line really does become scenic. Despite the weather we spot a group playing outdoor paintball.
A massive cement factory piques my interest. It has its own beauty in an industrial sort of way. Many station platforms have cartoon statues of animals, robots or superheroes. Hexing Station has old carriages converted into a cafe.
We reach the terminus of Neiwan and emerge into the rain. The old wooden station building has character. We are all very hungry. Lining the streets out from the station are small stalls selling a wide range of snacks, from fruits to fried chicken, traditional sweets to tea.
They often have samples to try and thus are we often convinced to buy.
We buy a block of sticky black sugar and peanut, too much to finish and indeed it eventually goes mouldy. A tray of sweet fruit jellies that we snack on. A bag of freshly cut vinegared green mango. A tasty seaweed and sesame snack that Alex devours.
Despite our umbrellas we are getting wet. We purchase a cheap poncho for Alex. He’s “hangry” and so we head into a restaurant serving traditional Hokkien dishes and with an English menu, too hungry to decipher anything else.
The duck, noodles and deep fried fish and river shrimp with basil are pretty nice and certainly satisfyingly warm for the cool and damp weather.
Wandering through more of the town we find a curious place with big plastic statues of Gremlins, a cool ape, a super bear, Spider-man with a broom and an upright crocodile. There are other interesting looking eateries and stalls, but we’ve had enough for the day and return to the busy waiting room at the station.
The train back is more packed than the first and our carriage is decorated in an identical way. Perhaps it is the same. I snag a spot standing and looking out the front window of a train, right next to the driver’s compartment. He seems to know the young lady and her two young kids also seated at the front.
The driving rain and fading light make for poor vision from the front, but I enjoy it all the same, watching the parallel lines of the railway tracks continually roll towards us. The lady eventually departs to be replaced with a teenager who loudly watches gameshow videos on his phone without headphones. This draws the ire of the conductor who makes him turn down the volume.
It is dark when we arrive at Liujia, and again we wait for the connecting service. We’ve missed our booked high speed train ride back to Taipei, but the lady at the ticket counter endorses them to ride in the non-reserved section of the next available train.
B finds a seat with Alex on her lap but I have to stand for a while. One of my shoes has got a hole in its sole and is thoroughly soaked, numbing my foot.
Eventually we all get a seat and are soon back in Taipei. But though it’s late the day is not yet over. Back in the direction we walked yesterday afternoon is the Ningxia Night Market, devoted to foods sold from stalls along the street.
Alex learns the smell of fermented “stinky” tofu, an unpleasant stench. There are all sorts of other dishes, fried, steamed and boiled. B tried a seafood mornay in a scallop shell. We order other dishes, “frog spawn”, a lime flavoured drink with jelly made from the aiyu fig, a popiah-like spring roll and other items which I am too tired to photograph.
My favourite meal of the night is the mango snow dessert that Alex and I shared. The mango was delicious, the shaved ice so soft. It’s not the weather to eat it, but we don’t care.
Alex pesters us to let him play an old fashioned pinball like game where a you have to get the ball into selected slots to win prizes. He only gets some lollipops, but that makes him happy.
Unfortunately he was less of a fan of the other food options that night and so we take him to the McDonalds opposite the hotel for a burger. We knew from the first trip that traditional Taiwanese dishes don’t always agree with our palette and had decided to be more flexible in our choices.
With the Neiwan Line I’ve now done half of Taiwan’s scenic railways. The towns along the route weren’t as interesting as the Pingxi Line, with its lantern festival and suspension bridges, but it was still an enjoyable ride and a great way to see something of Taiwan outside of the big cities.