CHARMING, quaint and delightful – that was the first thought that came to my mind when I saw the scenic suburban mountain town of Nanzhuang.
The old Hakka town is populated by people hailing from the Atayal and Saisiyat aboriginal tribes. Located at an elevation of over 2,000m, it used to have prosperous forest and coal industries but, with their decline, the town was left pretty much untouched.
You’ll find old architecture and the pristine natural surroundings of lakes, forests and mountains.
With the proliferation of European-style cottages acting as alluring bed-and-breakfasts (or what is termed in Mandarin as minsu), it is no wonder that the place is a growing tourist hot spot.
Here are some suggestions on what to see in the picturesque town.
PENGLAI RIVER FISH PROTECTION TRAIL
The 2.4km-long trail (South of Nanzhuang, Road 124, Miaoli County) was built after the area was preserved by the government for its thriving ecology of animals and plants.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to be held in nature’s thrall, and to take leisurely, relaxing strolls.
The wood paths and bamboo bridges take you through forested areas. Walk along the Penglai Creek to see schools of fish swimming in the crystal-clear waters.
This lake, located at Donghe Village (No. 3, Datong Road), is a rustic spot with lush forests of conifer trees. Mist often rises over the calm waters. Cradled between towering mountains, the overall vibe is peaceful – perfect for walks around the lake. Or, the more gung-ho can challenge themselves by going for hikes up to the top of the 1,225m-high Mount Xiang Tian Hu. It is home to one of the smaller indigenous tribes in Taiwan, the Saisiyat.
Near the lake, along a tributary, visit the San Jiao Tan (Triangle Pool) which is, you guessed it, distinctly triangular in shape. This pool of chilly blue water at the foot of towering cliffs is great for a summer swim.
To get there, take a Tour Taiwan shuttle bus from Zhunan Station towards Xiangtian Lake.
NANZHUANG OLD STREET
This antiquated street, which is made up of a large area along the main Zhongzheng Road, Zhongshan Road and Wenhua Road, as well as perpendicular alleys Minzu Street and Minsheng Street, holds a distinct vintage allure.
Stroll through the streets and peer at old stalls. Some of the wooden clapboard buildings, built during the Japanese colonial period, still have a strong Japanese flavour.
The stalls sell old-fashioned straw hats, traditional folk art, embroidered items and Japanese kimonos, while old-school eateries – some selling homemade noodles or 1950s-style ice lollies – are sure to send you into nostalgia overdrive.
Try the famous home-made Guihua Niang (sweet-scented osmanthus wine) and Meigui Niang (rose-wine) from Wu Yan Xia (No. 24, Zhongzheng Road). A teaspoon of the latter, a thick paste, with hot water is said to have health benefits, and can even soothe the stomach.
The store opens only on Saturdays and Sundays, with the staff spending the rest of the week painstakingly boiling its products and packaging them by hand.
The owners believe in cooking the paste naturally instead of adding additives. They make about 400 bottles a week. Also visit Zhang Mu Niang Dou Gan (No. 52, Zhongzheng Road), one of many stalls – many of which are more than 50 years old – in Nanzhuang Old Street. It sells braised dougan (dried tofu) in a soupy base with pepper and vegetables, as well as pre-packed packets of dougan of different flavours.
Another highlight of the area is an extremely narrow lane at Guihua Alley (or Osmanthus Lane), which sells a whole range of souvenirs and snacks, such as freshly rolled osmanthus (also known as sweet olive) crisp rolls, deep-fried pastries, coffee and osmanthus- and rose-wine.
The shopowners are friendly and will offer samples. Go ahead and try them; there’s no obligation to buy.
What’s particularly interesting is that the street also houses offbeat and trendy alternative stores, such as one that sells a large variety of lavender products, which sit snugly alongside makeshift market stalls that sell fresh buns and fried fish.
Another popular attraction is a restored wooden Japanesestyle post office (No. 5, Wenhua Road, Nanzhuang Township, Miaoli County) which has been there for more than 100 years. The simple but historic building now serves as the Nanzhuang Cultural Hall.
Opposite it, in another Japanese-style cottage, is a popular stall which sells shredded ice with matcha and red beans, a great dessert for cooling off after the long walk.
If you are in the mood for a stroll, try the Chayuanping Trail – a 342m-long route which starts at Osmanthus Lane, goes past Yongchang Temple and up to Chayuangping Hill. Along the way, you get a magnificent view of forests and hear the peaceful calls of birds.
End your trip by digging into authentic Hakka food at the old street. Try home-made fried-rib noodle soup, soyabean ice, trout cooked in various ways and citrus-leaf pig-intestine soup. Lovely.
This page is brought to you by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Taiwan Visitors Association
Bamboo bridges: 竹桥 zhú qiáo
Indigenous: 原著民 yuán zhù mín
Painstakingly: 煞费苦心地 shà fèi kǔ xīn de
Offbeat: 非正统的 fēi zhèng tǒng de
TO GET to Nanzhuang from Taipei, take a train from Taipei Main Station to Zhunan Station. From there, take the Miaoli Bus Company Line and stop at Nanzhuang Old Street/Tourist Centre.
From now until Feb 29, visitors on free-and-easy packages to Taiwan are entitled to gifts, while stocks last. Flash your air ticket and hotel confirmation to redeem them from the Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore office at 30 Raffles Place, #10-01 Chevron House, before leaving for Taiwan. Call 6223-6546/7 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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