Friday, September 9, 2011

Finding bliss in Pinglin

Source Website:
Joy Fang,, my paper | Mon, Sep 5 2011

Free and easy in Taiwan
In this instalment of a weekly travel series on Taiwan, my paper ventures just beyond Taipei's city street for a day trip in the country.

PHOTO: The stream and trademark blue bridge at Pinglin's town centre.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

PHOTO: The writer picks tea leaves on Mr Yu's farm near Nan Shan temple.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

The rural town of Pinglin in south-eastern New Taipei City is worth a day trip, especially if you're aching to see more of Taiwan outside Taipei.

The small mountainous town of some 6,000 people - located on Taiwan's northern coast - is famous for its tea plantations and assorted tea products. The town centre is small and easy to navigate, and with attractions on the higher plains easily accessible via free shuttle buses.

But what visitors would enjoy the most is the fact that the residents there are warm and generous. They may invite you into their homes for tea.

Pinglin - and such hospitality - is just a short bus ride away from Taipei. my paper lets you in on how to experience the lovely town in 12 hours.

9.30am - Catch bus No. 923 from the bus interchange at Xindian metro station. The journey to Pinglin takes 30 to 40 minutes.

PHOTO: Jingualiao stream
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

10.20am - Take the free orange shuttle bus outside Pinglin Travellers' Centre - which leaves every 20 minutes - to Jingualiao stream. Rent a bike to explore the bike paths here, or take a stroll while you savour the peaceful atmosphere.

12.20pm - Get on the free shuttle bus to return to Pinglin Travellers' Centre. Then head to Pinglin Old Street for lunch. There, traditional shophouses stocked haphazardly with baskets, provisions and daily necessities - circa the 1950s in Singapore - line the narrow streets.

PHOTO: Pinglin Old Street at dusk.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

One can sample all kinds of tea products and snacks at eateries. Must-tries are tea eggs, tea oil with wheat noodles, tea oil with rice and minced meat, as well as peanut-tea muah chee - a soft, gooey glutinous-rice snack.

Try Pinglin's famous light and floral Pouchong tea as well.

Also visit the hundred-year-old three-linked stone house. Have a chat with the owner, an elderly man who speaks the Hokkien dialect. He'll welcome you into his humble abode for tea.

2pm - Walk back to Pinglin Travellers' Centre and take another free bus to Nan Shan temple. Buses leave every hour.

The half-hour journey takes you up winding roads with breathtaking views of rolling hills, valleys, lakes and tea fields.

At the temple, check out the intricate stone carvings on its wall. Venture up a trail for 40 minutes to get to the top of the 840m-high Shigong Jiwei Mountain, where you can see Taipei's landmark, the Taipei 101 skyscraper.

PHOTO: The breath-taking views of Pinglin when you reach the top at Nan Shan temple.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

3.45pm - Head to an inconspicuous stone house that is located along a side road to the right of Nan Shan temple. There lives a friendly couple whose family has been growing tea leaves since the Qing dynasty. Stay and taste their fragrant tea.

5pm - Catch the last shuttle bus back to Pinglin town centre and alight at the Pinglin Tea Industry Museum.

One of only three in the world, it is the world's largest museum dedicated to tea. Learn about the delicate art of tea-making that this town thrives on.

6pm - Climb up the hill through the Pinglin Sculpture Park - which is just beside the Pinglin Tea Industry Museum - to a lookout point where you can gaze upon the scenery of Pinglin town centre and admire its trademark blue bridge.

7.30pm - Have a quick dinner of stewed pork rice and stinky tofu in Pinglin's Old Street and grab some yummy tea merchandise to take home before getting on the last 8.30pm bus back to Xindian metro station.

PHOTO: Pinglin's trademark tea fields line the mountain fields.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Local listing
When visiting Nan Shan temple in Pinglin, your eye might fall upon a small, rundown house that lies just off the road near the temple at No. 4 Chang Kong Zi Street (tel: +886-0-9104-15115).

There lives a family of tea farmers who have been producing a variety of about six types of tea for more than 100 years, since the Qing dynasty.

PHOTO: Mr Yu San He, an organic tea grower.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

The owner of the house, Mr Yu San He, and his wife, Madam Zhang Miao Zhen, pride themselves on making tea that is free from chemicals and pesticides. Their tea leaves are picked by hand and are produced in small quantities, then sold at trade exhibitions or to individuals who have heard of them.

"We thought to ourselves, why not go back to our roots and do everything traditionally?" said Mr Yu of his small business, made up of three family members and freelance tea-pickers.

This means they do not make a lot of money - "Only enough to break even," Mr Yu noted - but it's all worth it, he said.

"We are authentic farmers, and that is good enough for us," added Madam Zhang.

PHOTO: The writer picks tea leaves on Mr Yu's farm near Nan Shan temple.
By Joy Fang, Taiwan Tourism Bureau

During a leisurely, hour-long chat with this reporter - between sips of tea and snacks - various people stopped by to buy Mr Yu's wares. Some of them were faithful customers who have been buying from Mr Yu and his family for several years as they believe in their principles.

Later, Madam Zhang suggested I try tea eggs and tea- oil products, the best this town has to offer. Then they saw me off, making me promise to visit them again when I'm back in town. I left, my stomach full of tea and my face flushed with contentment because of the hospitality and breathtaking sights.

If you go, be sure to pick up a pack of Pouchong tea for NT$500 (S$20.80). It never hurts to support a local business, and it's great to take a piece of authentic Pinglin back home with you.

Getting there
To get to Pinglin from Taipei, head to the nearest metro station. Take the green line towards Xindian and get off at the last stop.

Catch bus No. 923 from Xindian metro station. Timings for buses differ on weekdays and weekends. Visit for more information.

From now until Dec 31, 2011, visitors to Taiwan are entitled to free gifts (while stocks last) from Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore. Call 6223-6546/7 for details.
By Joy Fang,, my paper | Mon, Sep 5 2011

我的字典: Wǒ de zì diǎn

Tea plantations: 茶叶种植园 - chá yè zhòng zhí yuán
Shuttle buses: 班车 - bān chē
Stone carvings: 雕镌 - diāo juān
Lookout points: 瞭望处 - liáo wàng chù