Travelling Welshman
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Asia,  Blog,  Taiwan

Miaoli: A Final Farewell to Taiwan

Here we are again, at the end of an extraordinary long-term adventure in an Asian country about to begin a new life somewhere else. In a matter of weeks, before we left Taiwan for good, we thought it would be good to get away from it all one last time. We wanted to explore one lesser corner of this fascinating nation, and we chose to do just that in Miaoli.

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A Promise To Keep

Over a year ago, I told Jess that I would take her on a glamping weekend for her birthday, she just had to pick out a date. The problem is that date never came as we were waiting for the right moment. As we were moving away soon, a big balls-out trip wasn’t in the cards. So might as well cash in the glamping card while we still had it.

Why Miaoli?

During our time together in Taiwan, Jess and I had pretty much hit all the hotspots Taiwan had to offer. All that remained were the obscure spots that you wouldn’t typically find in an average travel article.

But Miaoli, that was a name we had on the tip of our tongues for a while. It was close to Taipei and had one of the most significant examples of Hakka culture in Taiwan.

The Hakka people are the descendants of the first-ever wave of migrants that came to Taiwan from Southern China. Hence, they have their own unique culture that is represented amongst about 1/5th of the population.

It was also a part of Jess’ culture, as her family members themselves were Hakka. So, it would be a cool little cultural ending to my time in Taiwan.

How To Get Around?

A short train ride from Taipei and we found ourselves on the edge of Miaoli. For this trip, we weren’t really concerned with the city. We wanted to experience the Hakka culture and explore some of the area’s best highlights.

The question was, how to get about? Transport options weren’t too many, we had the options of taxis or renting a scooter. Though naturally, I would always jump at the chance of riding a scooter around, this time, it just didn’t appeal to me. It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, we had our bags, and the sky looked questionable. So, in this case, we opted for a taxi.

Lucky too. We found out later it was the right call.

Choo Choo

We found a taxi driver who became our driver for the entire trip.

We arrived at the station void of any people and were quite excited at the prospect of having more of a private experience being that we were there mid-week. Sadly, an entire caravan of trains soon pulled up at the station with an enormous horde of gaggling middle-aged women wearing those long-rimmed golf hats. They’d be joining us the rest of the way.

miaoli train
All aboard!

We had also hoped we could have gotten one of the little trains to ourselves, but alas, we weren’t so lucky either. The “train” was essentially little carts that had been fitted with a low-powered scooter engine. They barely picked up any speed and were simply designed to take you on a leisurely journey through the now-disused track.

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Abandoned Paradise

As limp-wristed as the whole activity may have appeared at first, it did at least give me that fizz deep in the pit of my stomach when I’m exploring somewhere that’s been abandoned. It’s something that has always appealed to me. From the frozen playgrounds of Harbin to the war caves of Okinawa, there’s something so exciting about exploring a lifeless destination that you were never supposed to see.

miaoli tunnel
Lights on

The trains made their way through the disused tunnels which have since been modified with a number of lights that cast images onto the tunnel’s walls. Ocean scenes with whales and mermaids would move their way along the tunnel. It wasn’t too dissimilar to the one we had seen in Kaohsiung. Kind of a trippy upgrade to the whole area.

A Stop Off

On the way back, we stopped off at another one of the big hits in the region. But before that, we had to make our way through a well-organized army of sample givers.

The first man we crossed gave us a handful of freshly grown peanuts, something the region was famous for. I have to honestly say they might have been the best peanuts I had ever tasted in my life. But then to my surprise, I was then given PURPLE peanuts, which I had no idea even existed!

Yet, barroom snacks were not the sole reason for the stop. It was to see the remnants of the old railway line which had since crumbled to resemble almost a Roman aqueduct. Quite an eerie reminder of the area’s past history.

miaoli bridge
The remnants of the old bridge

A Cultural Experience

Our next stop was a nearby village and one that barely made a mark on the map. The southern region of Miaoli didn’t really have many things to explore, yet this little town was the little Hakka haven for anyone making their way through.

It was also the perfect time to grab a bite to eat, something that would be a rare opportunity around these parts. Naturally, we stepped into the most traditional and basic-looking restaurant we could find. Both grandma, grandpa and who I assume was their hard-working granddaughter all sprang into action upon our arrival, and you just knew you were about the get some well-prepared home-cooked food.

I also fully confirmed a new Taiwanese love of mine – mei cai kou rou. Pork belly that’s been braised and then boiled which comes with a side of pickled mustard greens. It’s comfort food at its finest and by far one of my all-time Taiwanese favourites.

Time For Tea

Being in the village would give us another unique cultural experience – making our own traditional Hakka tea.

It would be a truly authentic procedure of having raw produce and having to completely powderize them in an enormous pestle and mortar. The raw ingredients included matcha, sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, puffed rice and a number of other things you wouldn’t traditionally associate with tea.

miaoli tea
Time for Hakka tea!

After a number of minutes of working out muscles I hadn’t used since I was a randy teenager, we had our concoction. Some went into creating the traditional tea while the rest would be added to yet another traditional ice cream concoction.

To The Campsite

With the weather taking a turn, we decided to head straight into the mountains and find our campsite for the night. For the trip, Jess wanted a glamping experience. To be honest, I don’t really get it myself.

Of course, having the luxury of a comfortable bed and chic instagrammable cabins is very appealing and more luxurious than a bog-standard tent around a campfire. Yet it’s that kind of experience I prefer, it’s far more authentic and rewarding. Alas, as it was her gift, I had no place to make demands.

Turn out we had ourselves a static caravan, which is quite funny considering the reputation they have back home. Suddenly, this was luxury.

That being said, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Absolute comfort

The Heavens Have Opened

At that point, the rain was torrential, and it would not stop until the next day afternoon. It did not matter to us because at that point we had pretty much-achieved everything we wanted that day, and we wanted to enjoy the time doing absolutely nothing at all.

Plus, the added benefit for someone like me, I got to listen to the pit patter of the rain throughout the night as it collided with the pane-glass window above our bed. This got a little sketchy once the thunder started kicking in. Google’s response to my question “What happens if a caravan is struck by lightning” didn’t reassure me.

Turn out the weather was a little worse than we imagined. The next morning as we left the campsite, there had been a small landslide that covered the mountain road. We happened to be staying nearby that very cliff.

Trippy Bro

For our one and only attraction for the day, we would be heading deeper into the valleys to visit a very quirky site indeed. Keeping up with our Hakka theme, this was a little garden centre/hotel that aimed to preserve their cultures traditions and customs.

We’d be partaking in one of those on this day – tie-dyeing. Now this is none of your one love maaaaaaan sort of activities, this really was a traditional piece of Hakkanese craft.

Step by step

By using a locally grown plant, traditional Hakkanese tribes have used these for centuries to create a deep and powerful indigo colour.

I have always loved tie-dyes, but never bought one let alone try to make one myself. That day, I found myself in the right place at the right time and went all out by splashing out on a full T-shirt.

Dip in the indigo

We were guided through the process and shown the intricate way of squeezing every last drop of dye into it. The deep purple pools were extraordinarily hypnotic, like something you’d imagine in a witch’s cauldron.

In the end after several rounds of dip and rinse, we were left with one of the most incredible tie-dyes I’ve ever seen, if I do say so myself.

Job done!

A Cultural Farewell

For the very last event of my Taiwanese travels, we headed to yet another beautifully traditional little restaurant hidden behind some alleys. It was a classic courtyard structured house, much like property would have been back in those days. Rather than maintaining it as a house, it has since been transformed into a traditional little restaurant with each room acting as its private party.

It was one last chance to sample some delicious Taiwanese and Hakkanese classics.

As traditional as it gets

Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!

Thank you so much for reading Miaoli: A Final Farewell to Taiwan! Check out these other helpful articles!

3 Comments

  • Ace Wan

    Hi! May I know if you still have the contact of your taxi driver? Wondering if it would be possible to look for a big cab to accomodate 7 of us at the train station too.

    • TravellingWelshman

      Sadly I no longer have his contact information. However there will always be taxis waiting outside the train station for arriving tourists, chances are they will either have a suitable taxi there already or know someone who does. I wish you the best of luck!

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