We are right back to where we started. Taichung Station is even more breathtaking at night. Two escalators with white led lights prides itself and there’s a huge signage of Taichung is displayed below it. This is the last surprise. The one that will make me regret for only spending a day in its charming city. But a new adventure is calling. We must go to Chiayi tonight because tomorrow another bewildering destination awaits us in Alishan. I can’t contain my excitement.
The train makes the last call for the trip going to Chiayi. It will take almost two hours to get there. A little downtime will actually let me regain my energy. I am up for it.
Trails of sound from the train slowly loudens. It is ready to leave. Then it finally zooms and the view outside starts to darken. I am only left with my reflection from the mirror. Almost like a double-exposure film.
I like riding trains. Seeing unknown faces pass by my bench, minding their own lives and just watching it unfold before my eyes. And how the views are almost like pop-up arts unraveling as the train motions in its way.
Chiayi’s station is so quaint. “It looks like a local station in Kyoto“, my friend says. I am suddenly excited. Japan is my forever favorite place. I might have not travelled there before, but if Chiayi reminds my friend of Kyoto, then it’s good for me.
After loading credits on our train cards, we map the Bnb hotel we booked. We are lost in the lights from arcades and shops. This now reminds me of Incheon. It’s amazing how simple things remind us of past experiences.
We are still lost, going back and forth because the map somehow does not add up to what we are seeing. A local, standing in front of a convenience store, offers us help. Finally after getting dizzy from walking in circles, we are finally in our hotel.
The hotel is old. The lights are faint, and the hallways are a bit frightening. Then we are suddenly talking about how someone can open our hotel room in the middle of the night and snatch our souls away. We laugh our asses off in the silent, barren halls. Once again, we are lost. But this time, due to a difficulty in finding our hotel room number. We open a few doors using our key but it does not work. We are still laughing. Nervous laughs. It seems that we are in the correct door, but the key is not working. We take the elevator, wanting to ask the guard. But he is already anticipating even before we ask him. All along, he has been watching us from the cctv recordings. He is chiding us for not being able to open the door. “See? So easy”, he jokes.
We take turns in opening the door, still not believing how easy it was for him to open it. The hotel room is massive. It is not the original room we have booked but our Bnb owner is generous enough to upgrade us. Four separate beds, a stunning view of Chiayi and free drinks inside the fridge.
Morning comes and we are ready to depart for Alishan. It is so peaceful in Chiayi. I can’t even hear unnecessary blowing of horns. Almost too good to be true.
The bus number 7322 going to Alishan National Scenic Area arrives at exactly seven-thirty and departs a few moments after. It does not wait too long for people nor it wants to get full before leaving. They always run on time.
Traveling early in the morning means soft sunlight I can gently trap in between my fingers, watch unadulterated scenes outside as people get perform their routines, uncontrollable yawns I let out as I squint my eyes through the whole ride.
The bus drives on countless of winding roads going up the mountains. Breathtaking views strike me as I open my camera. I snap some until the bus stops. We are here. The door opens and the coldest breeze welcomes us.
Our teeth are chattering. We are now in the viewpoint of Alishan. “This can’t get any better than this”, I think to myself. Sea of clouds roll down the mountain top.
We walk our way to the entrance. And walk some more towards the information center. He directs us to how we can go around the site.
The tallest trees I have ever seen in my entire life are now in front of me. Suddenly my world is painted with green. Endless staircases and pathways, some of wood and some of cement, lead us the way inside the scenic area. Some trees are numbered and a trivia regarding it is posted in a stand before it.
Sister Lakes, as what the locals say it’s called, is tinier than I expect. Shallow water surrounds two huts that stand delicately on top of a thick tree bark. The water reflects mostly whats on top of it, which are all green leaves. The ambiance itself is almost too quiet. I can almost hear my thoughts form a war inside my head. I guess I need a bit more of the city noise. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy serenity and solitude, but not dead silence.
We continue to walk until we are sore. The clouds start to lie so low—I swear I could almost touch it. Thin cotton-candy strips slowly pass before me. I open my mouth and try to exhale fogs. Temperature dropping this low numbs my system. I can barely think of anything but to find a warmer place to heat me up.
Somewhere on the indecipherable map, a square of food stalls act as a traveler’s refuge after that deadly march. The aroma of food being cooked can be smelled from where I am standing. My stomach is slowly rumbling, ranting, heeding for some food.
I pick the easiest, most familiar food I see in the bunch—sweet potatoes. I tend to stock up food inside my body, so I’ll have ample energy to go on this day tour. No judgments, please.
After feeding ourselves and some stray dogs, we continue our journey. Ciyun Temple sits quietly in front of the food square. A few moments ago, it was shrouded in thick fog but once it disappeared, Ciyun Temple started to show us its beauty.
To reach the old Forest Railway, also called Alishan Station, we need to walk back. My friend pulls out the map again, and leads the path.
On a bridge before the station, I see a man setting his phone and tripod to shot a timelapse scene of the sea of clouds. Of course, as any sane person would do, I mimic him—trying my hardest to give justice to this piece of heaven in front of us.
The clouds are still thick, the view is almost all-white. We walk on the tracks, hoping to get amazing and eerie photos. There’s something so cool and haunting, taking photos with fogs. Unknown elements behind your back can create illusions for anyone who sees the photographs.
The station staff calls for all who wants to buy tickets. The train will be arriving soon and we it’s our time to go. We need to catch our train back to Taipei at 5 o’clock.
A loud chugging sound starts to envelope the whole area. Steam from the train trails its past. The train is painted in bright crimson with a white V-shaped stripe in front. It reminds me of the train used in Polar Express, a favorite childhood Christmas movie. I remember watching it over and over, alongside other hallmark movies and the timeless Home Alone.
I hold my camera out the window and our remaining scenes here on video. It’s painful to see such a charming place slowly disappear from my sight. Leaving a tourist spot is always bittersweet to me. While it excites me to go to our next destination, there’s always a part of me that wishes I could stay longer, bask in the beauty a bit more.
Alishan has one more surprise before we leave. Seems like the clouds are guiding us on our way out. Frankly-speaking, I am not ready to leave yet. I have imagined myself watching the sunrise here. I want to lie under the sea of clouds. Or have morning coffee in this blissful terrain while writing down my stories. There’s a million of thoughts inside my head but time does not stop for anyone.
I bid my last goodbyes to Alishan and snoozes my way back to Chiayi’s HSR station.
The sky is almost burning. It is already a quarter before 5. 15 minutes more to take every memory in. A few minutes more to feel my muscles shaking from fatigue and from holding back tears.
From where I am standing, somewhere in Chiayi Station’s platform, I can see the horizon. It reminds of how far I have come and how wide is the road I still need to travel. I just hope that time and money are on my side to accomplish this life-long mission.
I intentionally wanted to see the original Meteor Garden’s set here in Chiayi, but I failed. Maybe, in an alternate timeline, I have made it there. However, in this universe, I did not. Next time I go back here, that will be on top of my list. At least, there’s an unfinished business here in Chiayi that I need to deal with. Enough reason for me to come back.
If you want to see the whole album of my Alishan trip, you can check it here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.989414664581194&type=1&l=e02f07e4c5