【Treasure hunters】Finding Your Own Treasure in Taiwan/by Eeic Chen

The Mt. Ogasawara Viewing Lot is the best place to enjoy the sunrise at Alishan

In the fall of 2020, when the rest of the world was being put on somewhat of a pause, Taiwan was among the few places where people were able to fully live life without being much affected by the pandemic. I had the honor to participate in a 4-day trip, along with a group of travel enthusiasts from various countries, to explore nature and appreciate the culture in Taiwan. The trip took place in the southern part of Taiwan — focusing on the Alishan and Kenting national forest recreation areas.

The tour was coordinated by the Forestry Bureau of Taiwan and was part of a larger promotional campaign called the Hidden Treasure of Asia. My initial thought on this name was that it was just another glorified title to help promote the natural environment in Taiwan. However, after just four days, I had a much better understanding of its meaning and why the “hidden treasures” in Taiwan have to be defined and discovered by no other than yourself.

Remember that feeling when you had to bid farewell to your new friends at the end of a summer camp? Even though it was just four short days, something about this trip reminded me of that heart-wrenching feeling of saying goodbye at the end. It could have been the gorgeous views that left us in awe, the delicious food that intertwines various cultures, or perhaps it was the kindness and hospitality of the Taiwanese people we met.
The Sunrise

The Sunrise

The main highlight of the trip has got to be the sunrise at Alishan. It was 3:50am in the morning. The stubborn hotel room phone kept on ringing and reminding me it was time to get up for the sunrise. As we got off the hotel shuttle and started our 30-minute train ride, part of me began to wonder whether this whole effort was worth it. The moment we arrived and got off the train, small crowds started exchanging words loudly as they scuffled toward the end of the platform. “What’s the deal?” I thought. As I walked towards the crowds and raised my head looking ahead, I let out a big “WOW!” What came in front of my eyes was a vast sea of clouds surrounded by the towering mountains of the Alishan Mountain Range highlighted with a hint of pink-ish sunray.

The pain and tiredness from having to wake up early were instantly forgotten. Afraid that I would miss the golden opportunity and the best spot to capture the sunrise, I found myself running to the viewing deck. “When was the last time I started running solely due to the excitement of pursuing something?” was a thought I had that quickly vanished upon reaching the Mt. Ogasawara Viewing Lot.

I have had the opportunity to visit various countries and have been astonished by countless spectacular views before, but the sea of clouds complemented by the sunrise at Alishan easily made it to the top of my list. It was my second time there and it was just as amazing as the first. After some intense sunbathing and a two-hour picture and video session, we completed our perfect morning with, of course, some Alishan high-mountain tea.
Another unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed was the learning of tofu-making in Houwan Community, Pingtung County

The Tofu

Another unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed was the learning of tofu-making in Houwan Community, Pingtung County. After being greeted and distracted by the most adorable shiba inu, we began learning about the process of sea salt extraction from ocean water through live demonstration. We were shown the traditional way to coagulate soy milk into tofu, which involves the use of bittern (nigari) instead of gypsum which is more commonly used in modern days.

We pretty much got to try all forms of soy beans, including soy milk, salty tofu curds, tofu pudding, tofu pudding with soy milk, firm tofu, and fried bean curd biscuits. As much as I savored every gulp and every bite of the tofu family, I was ready to take a break from tofu for a week. All jokes aside, the whole experience was not only tasty and informative, but it also gave me a new perspective of something I grew up eating and, perhaps, I will start judging every tofu product I eat in the future as if I was a tofu-making master.
 a butterfly with golden wings – which we unexpectedly discovered during a night-time scouting adventure in Sheding Nature Park

Beautiful Creatures

The unique creatures are another integral part of what makes Taiwan’s nature special. We were super lucky to have encountered a few Mikado pheasants in Alishan, as well as some Formosan sika deer in the Kenting National Forest Recreation Area. They are both important natural treasures of Taiwan; one is the national bird and the other a once endangered species; they are printed on the backside of the NT$1,000 and NT$500 bill, respectively. Among all the beautiful creatures we ran into, what amazed me the most was the Troides aeacus (golden birdwing) – a butterfly with golden wings – which we unexpectedly discovered during a night-time scouting adventure in Sheding Nature Park. The newly born butterfly emerged from its cocoon right before our arrival, ready to expand its golden wings and search for a mate the next morning.
Houwan Community Canoe fun

Less Fear, More Food

There were many other highlights on this trip. Such as watching one of our new friends overcoming his fear of water as we paddled across strong waves in unstable kayaks, and using ropes to climb a tree and hang in the air like Spider Man despite the fear of falling.

It goes without saying that Taiwanese food is another essential player that showcases Taiwanese culture and is what usually captures most foreign visitors’ hearts. I lack the ability to critique food with profound and creative descriptions, so you will have to take my word that Taiwanese food is delicious. This statement is approved and validated by my increased body fat percentage since I moved back to Taiwan.
we climb up to the Mt. Ogasawara Viewing Lot to enjoy the 360-degree view and the magnificent Alishan sunrise!

Hidden Treasures

So what was my hidden treasure during this trip? For me, it was the people that I met. It was Taiwan’s beautiful and diverse nature that made us appreciate what came in front of our eyes and brought us together. It was the delicious food that stirred new conversations and helped us connect. It was the kind and humorous park volunteers that made us laugh out loud and allowed us to be our true selves.

Taiwan’s beauty will almost always be around, but the people we will meet will be different every time. To me, Taiwan’s undefined “hidden treasures” serve as a medium that bring different groups of people together. To cherish the view together, to enjoy the food together, to learn the history together, and to enjoy every silly picture together. I am not sure what is the “hidden treasure” in place for you in Taiwan, but I know for sure that there’s one waiting for you to be discovered.