Monday, January 25, 2016

Nantou (南投) Special - How to go to Hehuanshan - Cingjing Farm in Winter - Swiss Garden [Taiwan Day 876: Center of Attraction Part 2 “When it snows, it pours” - Jan. 24, 2016]



Posted by Travel in Asia on Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Four layers of socks, four layers of warm pants, three layers of thick shirts and one brand new Uniqlo winter jacket were my attire in experiencing my first white winter. I also have my panda bonnet and my cowboy hat to protect my head from falling snow. My Travel Buddies and I just need to board Bus 6658 which would take us to Cingjing Farm. However, the excitement was turned into tension when the driver refused to take us to our destination. Temperatures have dropped near zero in Cingjing Farm and Hehuanshan was already covered with thick snow making it dangerous to drive.







We were already inside the bus when the driver wanted us to get out of the vehicle.

I was surprised by the turn of events. I haven't read any blog nor any review about bus operations being suspended during times of heavy snow and this was the first time that this incident will be reported online through my blog. We were supposed to leave Puli town at 7:05am and arrived at 8:20am in Cingjing Guest House. The meeting time OK bus set was 8:30 am for seeing snow in Hehuanshan and my travel team should not arrive late. 

While still on the road going to Cingjing Farm the rain suddenly turns into solid particles. Snow! Snow! Snow!


While still on the road going to Cingjing Farm the rain suddenly turns into solid particles. Snow! Snow! Snow!


We went back to Puli Center Center Hostel which was a few steps away from the bus station and called immediately the staff for help. I asked them to call a taxi to take us to Cingjing Farm. A car appeared in front of the hostel at around 7:30am and Mr. Chen (the taxi driver) became our saviour of our travel adventure. He drove very fast and even bypassed many cars just to reach Cingjing Farm as fast as we could. As we go up in the mountains, the temperature becomes colder and colder until the drops of rain falling on the car's windshield suddenly turned into solid particles. Snow!
 


 As we go higher in the mountains fog begins to cover the road and also as the temperature becomes lower and lower my ears were also popping.


Some of the leaves of the trees along the road going to Cingjing Farm were already covered with snow.

It was a magical moment. For a Filipino who grew up in a tropical country, I only knew snow through pictures and by watching television. I've always wanted to touch that soft and fluffy white thing falling down from the sky. Filming the whole drive up to Cingjing Farm was not practical so I just took a video if I saw interesting. It was already 8:28am and I was about to cry. We were still on the mountains and we haven't reach Cingjing Farm yet. The van of OK Bus waiting at Cingjing Guest House would left us within two minutes. My cellphone then rang and I didn't know that my camera was open and it recorded everything that happened.


I didn't know that my camera was on when the driver of OK bus called me.  However, he was talking in Chinese and I couldn't understand  what he was saying so I passed the phone to our driver.  My travel team need to be in Cingjing Farm at 8:30am but we were still on the road.


There was more snowfall as we approached Cingjing Guest House. We were late by 10 minutes but the van of OK bus was still there and waiting for us.


“Wei”, said by the person on the other line. The driver of OK bus called me and was speaking in Chinese. I talked to him in English and we couldn't understand each other so I just passed the phone to our Mr. Chen. My reliable camera captured the events as more snow falls on the windshield of our car. I didn't know what our driver said but we arrived in Cingjing Guest House at 8:40am. A van was waiting on the parking lot and I told Rakesh and Leo to go near to that van with the logo of OK bus at its front immediately. My friends rushed to the van while I pay Mr. Chen NTD 1,000. 
 

inside the OK bus



There is a standard tour for seeing snow in Taiwan and the OK bus company provides that service. They would pick you up at your chosen hostel in Cingjing Farm and they would take you to the different viewing points in Hehuanshan. Towering at more than 3,000 meters above sea level, Taiwan's Hehuanshan is accessible by car and public transportation making it possible to have this kind of 'snow' tour. I reserved three seats through their online reservation system at their website at http://www.cingjingbus.tw/. I also called them to confirm if they received my application but talking to them was a headache. They have limited English speaking skills so I sent a message to their facebook page of OK bus (fb name: OK巴士 - 暢遊清境) where it replied that they received it and it was approved for the 8:30am tour. Another option is to avail of KKday's services. They have a Hehuan mountain sunrise tour (https://www.kkday.com/en/product/1641?cid=3255) and probably during winter they might also have a Hehuanshan snow tour.  
The view from the windows of OK bus


As if everything was ok, the road going up to the peak of Hehuanshan was a hell of a traffic jam. I sat at the back seat where I met a new friend from Malaysia. Her name was Felicia and she went to Taiwan for an internship. I've shared her my stories of my fun trips in Taiwan and she was surprised to know that I have travelled to many places in Taiwan alone without knowing how to speak Chinese. We were now friends on facebook and it would be great if she could join my future trips. Felicia and I have already talked about a lot things when some of the passengers especially locals decided not to go anymore to Hehuanshan. They already became impatient and according to reports the road going to the mountain was already filled with snow and the farthest point that we could reach was just 6 kilometers. We can reach the peak of Hehuanshan but going back down was not certain. The roads could be blocked by thick snow and we could freeze to our deaths. All the passengers decided to postpone the trip with all of these unfortunate events.

collecting snow falling from the sky using my hat







while inside the 7-11 store near Cingjing Guest House


The quest for snow didn't just end with the failed Hehuanshan trip. We were already in Cingjing Farm at an elevation of 1,750 meters and there was snow all over the place. Cingjing Farm is not actually a real farm but a recreational farm where many sheeps can be found. It is considered as the Switzerland of Taiwan especially when the green color of the grasses returns during summer. There are a lot of hotels which are called 'minsu'. The most popular are the Misty Villa and the Starry House but the cheapest accommodation can be found at Cingjing Guest House which is a government controlled hostel.
 















































slippery when covered with snow...





I have to walk down carefully. The hills of Swiss Garden were covered with snow and it was slippery.



Travel Buddy Leo goes down the slippery hill.


















When rain turns to solid particles in Cingjing Farm Swiss Garden


catching snow with my hat







The excitement of experiencing snow fall in Taiwan





ice skating in Swiss Garden


Swiss Garden was just nearby the Cingjing Guest House. Leo paid the regular adult ticket of NTD 120 while Rakesh and I paid only NTD 90 since we were students in Taiwan and we presented our IDs. The place has a cute garden with a windmill placed on the middle of a lake. The theme was a winter wonderland with patches of snow everywhere. The weather was a bit okay with a slight drizzle of rain. A fog from the nearby mountains enveloped the area and the rain became of mixture of rain and snow. A few minutes later, the precipitation became 'soft hail' until the falling snow began looking feathery.
 






















We continued our tour at Carton King. Create your own world with their various replicas of tourist destinations like the Eiffel Tower, Burj Al Arab and many more. We didn't dwell much time in this place but there were good photo opportunities like the bench with human-like figures and the the mini-castle featuring the elevation where Cingjing Farm Carton King is located.
 

 feeling cold


 And there was more snowfall!









Cars going up in Hehuanshan need to be wrapped in chains!


















My attempt to make my own snowman


There were no more traffic jams going up to Hehuanshan and we could see that the van of OK bus was still parked at the Cingjing Guest House. It was almost 1pm and I knew that there was a 1pm session but we just decided to hike all the way to Green Green Grasslands where we can see many sheep. The elevated hiking trail was filled snow making it slippery and dangerous. I don't have shoes with spikes underneath so I just walked slowly in order not to slip and hurt myself. We found a car filled with snow and we have fun writing our names there. I even attempted to make my snowman but I failed to add proper eyes and ears to my snowman. haha!
 










I touched snow with my bare hands.







Cherry blossom trees disrupt the whiteness of Cingjing Farm.







hiking in the middle of snowfall

















It was a battle between spring and winter as we walked the longer trail than the standard 487-Step Trail. We found a large patch of 'whiteness' and we took the opportunity to have picture with the snow. My ice-cold travel adventure would not be complete without touching snow with my bare hands so I removed my gloves and touched the snow the excitement. Yehey! I also played with the snow with my gloves on but I didn't know that it would have a bad effect on my hands.
 





When you can't walk down the hill because it is slippery then slide yourself in the snow.  Feel the chill with bare hands. lol











I also pushed myself down the hill with bare hands. Brrr!

Travel Buddy Leo's turn to slide down the hill covered with snow.




snowball fight


Rakesh's snowball fight with a little girl



Equestrian Stage


My Uniqlo heattech knitted gloves became useless because it became 'wet' with snow and my hands starts to feel the near zero temperature in Cingjing Farm. I just put my gloves back to my bag and just inserted my hands on the side pocket of my jacket. Surprisingly, it was more warmer when I did that. We reached the Equestrian Stage where a horse performance should happen at 3pm and we played on the the snowy environment while we wait for the show. Leo enjoyed himself taking selfie while Rakesh and I have fun taking photos with the snowman. There was a lonely tree on top of a hill and we took pictures while the other one was down below. Going down was the exciting part. The hill was covered with snow and walking down was dangerous so we just slid down pushing ourselves with bare hands and it felt very cold. I also set up my tripod and camera and started throwing snowballs at each other. We weren't wearing any gloves but it was one of the best moments of my life. I never knew that I could experience having fun in snow – in Taiwan!
 







It was already 3pm but there was no horse show. Cingjing Farm is dead when it snows! I felt some pain at the back of my hand and I noticed a very thiny cut with blood on it. Leo told me that it was the first sign of frostnip and my life was in danger now. Actually, as we ascend higher in the hills of Cingjing Farm, the temperature gets colder and the air becomes thinner. We were gasping with air because we were doing hiking. I then decided to go home and told my Travel Buddies that it was time to go down back to Cingjing Guest House.
 












Walking down the slippery 487-Step Trail.  It was covered with snow! Part 1


Walking down the slippery 487-Step Trail.  It was covered with snow! Part 2




Rakesh voluntarily took a video as we hiked down the metal stairs of the 487-Step trail. The hills of Cingjing Farm was filled with snow with Taiwan cherry blossoms hanging on the tree and it was a great scenery. We met more Filipinos along the way and Leo and I talked to them. Rakesh documented the encounter with my camera and we were very lucky when we reached Cingjing Guest House. A taxi was waiting for passengers and we hopped inside. The taxi driver was initially offering a ride to Taichung for a price of NTD 2,500 but we refused and we just want to get to Puli Bus Station for a price NTD 1,200. After a series of haggle, the driver agreed to take us to Taichung for a price of NTD 1,600. It was actually a right decision. We just slept along the way and we just woke up that we were already near Taichung Station.


Although we haven't reached Hehuanshan there were some milestones with this two day Nantou Special aside from seeing and touching snow. The first was Leo's participation in my travel adventure. He was the first friend who I just met online through facebook that said that he wanted to join my trips. His trust in my travel system raised my Taiwan Day Adventures to another level. My trips in Taiwan were no longer exclusive for people in Academia Sinica. The second one was standing in the middle of the geographic center of Taiwan and it was like discovering Taiwan's hidden Taipei 101 in the heart of the island. The third one was finding out that bus operations in Puli to Cingjing Farm are suspended during times of heavy snowfall in Taiwan. My blog is the only English website that will report this event. Actually there is Bus 6506 that goes to Hehuanshan directly from Taichung and stops at the highest hotel in Taiwan which is Song Syue Lodge located in Hehuanshan but I thought that the bus service was also suspended. The fourth one was documenting how to go to Hehuanshan. There were a lot of English blogs about snow tours in Hehuanshan but none of them would tell how to go starting from Taipei or even in Taichung. They would just tell that the van of OK Bus picked us up at our “minsu”. Calling OK Bus to reserve a seat for a snow tour freaked me out as the telephone operator can only speak Chinese so I was scratching my head on how come that there was no blogger who mentioned about having this problem. An inspection of the profiles of my fellow bloggers who had been to Hehuanshan revealed that they were Singaporeans and they could speak Chinese. My blog again would be the first website to document booking a tour in Hehuanshan by an non-Mandarin speaker. The fifth one is that this is a very long post and is not the end yet. lol
 

Screenshot from the Central Weather Bureau website.  The weather at Hehuanshan on  January 23, 2016 at 6pm.

Screenshot from the Central Weather Bureau website.  The weather at Hehuanshan on  January 24, 2016 at 1am.

Screenshot from the Central Weather Bureau website. Trends of 24-hour observations at Hehuan Mountain Peak.

Ok, so there is snow in Taiwan and the best location to experience white winter was in Hehuanshan. But when is the best time to see snow in Taiwan? We must first know that there are two things needed before it snows. The first one is that the temperature must be near zero degree Celsius and the second is that there must be moisture. Without these two things there will be no snow in Taiwan. Temperatures higher than 5 degrees Celsius would melt the snow in the air and make it fall as rain while a near zero temperature without any moisture will be dry and with no snow. So how to know when these two requirements are meet? Just go to the website of the Central Weather Bureau, click “Forecast” and then click “National Forest Recreational Area” where Hehuanshan is listed. You will see the forecast for Hehuanshan and an icon of an ice crystal would mean that there will be snowfall. To check how much snow have fallen in Hehuanshan, just go to “Current Conditions” and then click “Central Area” and click “Hehuan Mountain Peak”. Data will be shown about the past hourly precipitation and those within temperatures below zero degrees Celsius are probably snow. Take note of the “Forecast” for changes in temperature throughout the day when you go to Hehuanshan. It usually goes higher at noon which results to snow becoming liquid water.
 
Touching snow for the first time in my whole life

And there goes the end of this Taiwan Day 876! I will be returning to Hehuanshan in summer to hike its various peaks. Who wants to join my adventure at an altitude of 3,416 meters? It is so high but I’m sure it will be another epic adventure in Taiwan’s “Center of Attraction”.



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