Justins World

Pingxi, Shifen, Houtong, Juifen

I’m writing this post as i ride a “slow” train from Taipei to Hualien on Taiwans east coast. There are no fast trains along this mountainous and less populated coatline of Taiwan. There is however a perfectly acceptable train service that makes many english speaking countries train service look pretty average. The scenery though is very distracting so chances are I won’t finish this blog post on the train.

My day on the Pingxi line on the outskirts of Taipei, was for me, all about the train. The Japanese built this line to transport coal back in 1921. These days its part commuter, but mostly a tourist service, due to the fact a few towns it runs right through the middle of them with shop fronts right besides the track. I caught the train from Ruifang, which is a station on the normal train line (the train I’m on now stopped there earlier) to the second last staion on the line and the town the line is named after, Pingxi.

Pingxi had a narrow winding old street lacking much activity during the morning and also lacking the toursit hoards, who all got off at Shifen. My only thing to do here was wander around and be back for the next train, which tend to be hourly on this line as there are only a few places trains can pass each other. The next stop in Shifen is the main stop everyone comes for. Its a town that hugs the track and has built a tourism industry around releasing lanterns into the sky for good luck. I chose not to release a lantern because no one could tell me what happens when they come back down! Also I don’t really believe in luck and fortune, stuff happens, sometimes good, sometimes bad, Its hopw you deal with it that really matters.

Shifen, just didn’t feel interesting to me, i read many people who say stay the night, but none of the food on offer looked enticing, I tried the famed peanut icecream roll and it was nice, but not something I’d travel out of my way to eat. There was only one course of action and that was to catch the next trainout of Shifen, I did want to get a photo of the train coming through the town, but I didn’t want to wait another hour to escape the hoards with their lanterns with words like wealth, famous, rich etc scrawled across them.

I was in. luck the next town of Houtong is not only famous for its coal mine, but also the town is affectionally called Houtong Cat village. I saw about 20 cats in my time there and even have coffee and a cake with one. I mean i nearly sat on the cat, but the owner said watch out for the cat as I was sitting down! I had a two seater lounge with just myself a cat and some cheese cake to go with my coffee. This was a much more pleasant experience and the town gets a few people jumpining off to visit, the vast majority come to let their lantern fly in Shifen.

My last stop was catching abus up to the town of Jiufen, another town high on the list of every tourist in Taiwan, especially because of its narrow old street, lines with shops, cafes, tea houses and restaurants. Another town that was bursting from the crowds, thankfully the deeper into the town I went the crowds thinned out more. The viewpoints out to sea, were mostly rendered useless due to the weather, but provided a nice resting spot to drink a lime black tea I bought from a vendor. I was planning to stay late enough for dinner but couldn’t find anywhere enticing to keep me there, so returned to Taipei and found some things in the train station 7Eleven for dinner.

I didn’t finish the blog before the Train stopped in Hualien, I did however sit in the lovely hotel Cafe and have free coffee and ice cream to finish the blog post off. Hualien is a biggish town, but a lot quieter than Taipei! I will make the most of the serenity here and visit a bit of nature tomorrow.

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