Day 2: 29 May 2007 北埔 – 南庄
In the early morning I rode from Beipu to Emei Lake (娥眉湖) where there is a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha (彌勒佛). The statue was built by the Tian'en Buddhist Temple (天恩佛堂). While the statue is finished a temple of similarly grand proportions was being constructed next to it.
Next I rode onto another Buddhist center — Lion's Head Mountain or Shitou Shan (獅頭山). The "tail" of the mountain is in Xinzhu County and has a number of Buddhist temples. The "head" is in Miaoli County and the temples there are the mixed Taoist and Buddhist variety so common in Taiwan.
There is a visitor's centre with maps and information at the "tail". I went on a hike that took me on a loop around the mountain. It was a little hot so I didn't go far enough to visit all the temples. I only passed one Buddhist temple which was closed. The other place of interest I passed was the Qi Xing Sacred Tree (七星神木).
I then rode around to the "head" of the mountain. I wanted to visit the Quanhua Temple (勸化堂 ) as I had stayed there when I visited the mountain seven years ago. I can't say I slept there because I was kept awake all night by fireworks!
Next I rode towards Nanzhuang and stopped at the Meishan House (眉山居) for lunch. The Meishan House is an old brick building and also a guesthouse and restaurant. The owner was very friendly. He even gave me a copy of a book he had written about his experiences at the guesthouse. The book was called Minsu Sanji (民宿散記).
I was quite impressed when I rode into the town of Nanzhuang. It is only a small town, but it looked very neat and well cared for. The town obviously attracts plenty of tourists on the weekends and has a few minor tourist attractions. There is a restored 100 year old wooden post office, Laurel Lane (桂花巷) and the channel for washing the clothes (水汴頭).
The channel for washing clothes and dishes is still in regular use by the locals.
The narrow alley of Laurel Lane. Several shops here sell coffee and local snacks. I am sure that you could barely move here on a weekend.
I then left the town behind to ride into the mountains. I rode up the Dong He (東河) valley which has a number of small aboriginal villages. Some belong to the Atayal tribe and others to the Saisiat (賽夏族; also spelt Saisiyat). Along the way I saw the biggest snake I had ever seen in Taiwan. It looked like some kind of python but it slithered away before I could get a really good look at it.
The village of Xiang Tian Hu (向天湖) contains the world's only museum of the Saisiat tribe. The Saisiat are one of Taiwan's smaller aboriginal tribes. There are about 5,000 members and they live in a few places in the mountains of Xinzhu and Miaoli Counties. The museum is very informative with everything clearly labelled in English.
The location of the village is quite spectacular beside a small lake surrounded by mountains. The village is at an altitude of 880 metres. The village also hosts the "pygmy dance" ( 矮靈祭) once every two years. The next dance will be next year (2008) on the 15-17th days of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.
As it was getting late in the afternoon I headed down the mountain. A short distance south of Nanzhuang I saw a sign to a Youth Hostel. I headed up a small road to have a look. I found the LTC Holiday Pension (栗田莊度假莊園). It wasn't really a typical youth hostel; it was more like a small resort in the mountains. Still I could use my card there to get a discount and it was NT$1,200 to stay in a very nice room and included breakfast. (The normal price is more than double that).