Friday, December 26, 2008

Day 5: A Yangmingshan Yarn Part I

Our next big day out was a trip to Yangmingshan National Park, on the fringe of Taipei City. Again, we left everything in our room at TS Hotel and brought a daybag each, for our little excursion and overnight stay.

The plan was to take Bus 260 from outside Exit 3 of Ximen MRT Station. The bus schedule at the bus stop said 9 a.m. We waited for 10 minutes but there was still no bus, so we figured that somehow it had already come and gone. We moved on to Plan B which was to catch a train to Shihlin Station, in the hope of catching up with the 9 a.m. bus. When we arrived at Shihlin, we realised that the bus stop for bus service Red 5 was nearer.

waiting for bus R5

By the time the bus came, we already felt as if we had spent the whole morning going nowhere. To compound matters, the bus was packed to the gills. We barely managed to squeeze on. The bus was filled with undergraduates bound for the Chinese Cultural University, practically at the doorstep of the national park. That meant that we had to stay standing in a most uncomfortable position (there wasn't even space for us to stand upright) all the way there, until the crowd got off at the university. We wondered if Bus 260 would have been a better ride.

By this time, we were a little frazzled. We had originally planned to head straight for the park, but HM suggested stopping by our hotel first, to drop off our bags and maybe just recover from the bus ride. This seemed like a good idea, since the hotel, Landis Resort Yangmingshan, was enroute, except that we had already missed the bus stop for it. Two stops later, the bus pulled into the Yangmingshan NP bus terminus. There was nothing for it but to turn around and take the next bus in the opposite direction. Which we did.

Unfortunately, we were early and our room was not ready. While the hotel was happy to keep our bags for us, we found ourselves with the choice of hanging out in the hotel's F&B outlets or sallying forth into the "wilderness". We gritted our teeth and headed out.

Back at the bus terminus, we discovered a long queue waiting for the park's internal bus service. Things were not going our way. The bus, we could see, was at most at a 20-seater, and ran once every half an hour or so. It would be at least an hour's wait. Not sure what to do, we took the Sidewalk Trail to the YMS Visitors' Centre. There, we (well, I did anyway) tucked into some lunch.

chicken leg set with udon-type noodles (120NT/S$6)

Revived, we decided to walk to the next bus-stop on the internal bus circuit. Hopefully people would alight at that bus-stop and allow us to board. That way, we also figured, we would at least be doing some sightseeing instead of just waiting at the bus terminus. A look at a map of the park displayed at the Visitors' Centre indicated that we had two choices: either continue walking on the Sidewalk Trail, along the main road, or across Yangmingshan Park (a landscaped park within the grounds of the national park) and past various tourist attractions. The latter looked more interesting. This would turn out to be a bad mistake, but more on that later.

lofty heights

Once on the move, we felt better. We had made it to the national park. We were breathing in fresh air and taking in the view of the surrounding mountains. We should just relax and enjoy the experience, we told ourselves.

The Yangmingshan Park was as expected, all flower beds, wide lawns, statues and water features, but we wanted to see the REAL national park - the fumaroles, the hot springs and the hiking trails - and so we pressed on.

We stopped at the park's Visitors' Centre to check if we were headed in the right direction for Yangmingshuwu, one of the former residences of President Chiang Kai Shek. This was the nearest landmark to the second bus stop on the internal bus circuit. The staff member, a rather fey young man, who fielded my question looked distinctly incredulous. We were crazy to try and walk there, his whole attitude seemed to imply, although he was too polite to come right out and say so. We blithely took this with a huge pinch of salt, convinced that walking probably wasn't this young man's thing.

We continued walking along the road leading from the park to Yangmingshuwu. It was hot - at least 25 degrees in the sun - and uphill. The only relief we had was a short detour to Datun Waterfalls. We could hear some major waterfall action but, anxious to get to the bus stop, we didn't dare wander too deep into the area.

probably only a preliminary

ah yi relaxing


We eventually reached Yangmingshuwu only to find it closed for the day, and we still had to trudge to the bus-stop which was some distance away, on the main national park ring road. At the bus-stop, it was evident that our problems were not over. There, waiting, were a group of ah yi. They had apparently been there for an hour already, not able to board the overcrowded bus.

It was already past four in the afternoon. HM and I decided to give up for the day. We would head back and hope for better luck the next day. We crossed the road and waited.

not a bad idea at all, except that HM can't cycle

The bus approached. We flagged it. The bus slowed down but did not quite stop. Using a public announcement system, the bus driver announced apologetically that the bus was full and that we would have to wait for the next bus. This really was not our day!

All was not lost. We realised the Sidewalk Trail ran past that bus-stop and downhill back towards the YMS Visitors' Centre and the bus terminus. In the end, we made our way back on our steam and in less than half the time it had taken to get there!

Exhausted and, I swear, suffering from mild symptoms of heatstroke, we were never so happy to see our room at Landis YMS.

Admittedly, it wasn't the prettiest or most luxurious of rooms, not after Spring Park Urai anyway, but it was comfortable enough and, at S$340 per night*, half the price of SPU. Anyway, after the trials and tribulations of the afternoon, we felt more than justified clambering into our inroom bath.

* per room night rate, including breakfast but not dinner

a welcome sight

Euphemistically called nai tang or “milk soup”, the water was sulphurous. It was our first experience of this and the pong of rotten eggs took some getting used to. But there was something therapeutic about the water which we could not quite put a finger on. All we knew was that we emerged from the bath all refreshed.

Before dinner, we checked out the rest of the hotel.

the view from our room - Christmas decorations going up

the rec room which also included a gym

wow, 3.5m deep

Like the bath-house, the other facilities appeared to be open to the well-heeled residents of Yangmingshan, much like a country club.

Dinner was at the hotel's Chin Tein Restaurant, reputedly one of the better dining options in the YMS area. There were two individual sets on the menu, for NT$2596 (S$130) each. Feeling all virtuous (we were quite sure we had burnt off enough calories that afternoon), we allowed ourselves to indulge in a good Chinese meal.

sauteed scallops with veggies

sauteed prawns with veggies

sharksfin with bamboo pith

sharksfin with seafood

lamb with hongshao sauce

lamb with thai sauce

braised sea cucumber with gooseweb

abalone on a bed of chinese spinach

stirfried noodles with pork stock and roast pork

stirfried noodles with seafood and XO sauce


"purple rice soup" aka pulot hitam

The meal was indeed good. The dishes were well-executed if not particularly innovative. Why reinvent the wheel, we agreed.

After dinner, we treated ourselves to another soak before turning in for the night.

nai tang or milk soup

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