Before our breakfast were served, we savoured the beautifully-decorated restaurant, which we had briefly observed the previous day. The red curtains and purple table cloths gave the restaurant a really romantic feel. The decorations - toys, miniatures, paintings and carvings - on the pillars were clearly European. It would be so wonderful to bring a girl there for a date. I glanced at Mark and sighed.
The breakfast set included a bowl of vegetable cream soup and a coffee jelly dessert with
sweetened milk on top, which were served first. Then came the thick toast and coffee. It was unbelievable that a free breakfast could be so lavish. After breakfast, I went to the washroom and noticed more decorations outside its door. The decor featured a green pasture with lots of toy sheep on it. Without a doubt, I knew it was a mock-up of Cingjing Farm. We would be at the very farm in one and a half hour's time.
We were at Puli Bus Station and bought two tickets (NT$104 per pax) for the 8.40am bus to
Songgang (松岗), which was a stop further than Cingjing (清境). I noted that there was a counter selling tickets for bus to Taipei and quickly noted the time schedule. After 15 minutes' wait, the bus arrived and we were on our way. It would be a 70 minutes journey. Along the way, I saw some scantily-clad betel nut girls by the roadside at the outskirt of Puli, but most of the shops selling betel nuts in the town were family-operated. Following a clamped-down by the Taiwanese government on sexy betel nut girls as a hazard to road traffic, would this culture become a history?
It was near to 10am when we set foot on Songgang. It was a pretty hot day and not misty as compared to Alishan. We were on a mountain and surrounded by valleys and more mountains. Songgang had quite a number of resorts and there were also farms situated on the mountainside. We followed the road down towards Cingjing and taking in the scenery along the way. Most of the resorts were European-styled and one of them was decorated like a castle. We were not able to identify the produces of most of the farms except for a peach farm because it was stated clearly on a signboard.
The walk towards Cingjing Farm (清境农场: www.cingjing.gov.tw
) took us almost 45 minutes, including some time spent in a 7-Eleven where I bought a bread to relieve some hunger. Cingjing Farm was actually a big tourist area, not a farm. The most popular attractions would be the Green Green Grassland (青青草原) and Small Swiss Garden (小瑞士花园). Coming down from Songgang, we reached Green Green Grassland first. We bought two tickets (NT$80 per ticket) at the entrance and started our photography session proper.
We roamed the grassland taking photos of the sheep against any good backdrops that we could discover. There were white sheep and brown (not exactly black) sheep but there were not many of them. The bigger ones were allowed to roam the grassland freely whereas the lambs were penned up in the Lamb Kingdom (绵羊城堡) and fed. Sometimes, we had to chase after the sheep in order to take some close-up shots. But we were also being chased by the fiercer ones when we got too close. One sheep was so curious about my camera that it almost succeeded in licking the lens.
There was a Sheep Show Area (羊咩咩秀场) for tourists to watch strip shows. The performers were the sheep and they would be stripped of their clothings before the audience but only during weekends. Today was a weekday, so we missed something. It was a regret that would make us come back some day. However, there was a second regret, Cingjing Farm was known as the "farm above the clouds (mist)" but there was no mist on this hot day. I should have planned a winter trip.
There was also a resting point amidst the grassland with a souvenir shop and a stall selling some food stuff. We bought some sausage from the stall and noticed that they sold bottled goat milk. I asked for two bottles and was told that each bottle came with a free packet of some foodstuff for feeding the sheep. I happily paid for the milk. From now onwards, the sheep would come to us instead of us chasing them.
We went into the souvenir shop after a short break to see what it had. Most of the souvenirs were related to sheep, of course, but I was more interested in the dairy produces. I bought a packet of goat milk candy (羊奶糖) and a packet of cow milk candy (牛奶糖) to bring home. I liked the packaging especially, the goat milk candy was called "Sister Goat" and the cow milk candy was called "Brother Cow".
And it was time to feed the sheep. We did not have to walk very far. Once we stepped out of the resting point with the sheep food in our hands, the sheep surrounded us. I fed the sheep while Mark took photographs for me and vice versa. Mark had only one sheep to feed while I was "attacked" by three, causing me to fall backward once. It was tickling on my palm as they licked the food. Once all the food was consumed, we showed them our empty palms and they walked away.
Green Green Grassland was actually divided into four regions, as indicated on its map on the
reverse side of the entrance ticket. Not realising that initially, we had stayed in the Sheep Region (绵羊区) for the whole morning. As we walked downhill to exit the grassland on the southern entrance, we came to the Southern Business Region (草原南端商圈). Most of the stalls were closed and nothing much for us to see. A short walk further, we came to the entrance for Mountain Scenery Farm Region (观山牧区). There was no need to buy ticket again as the last two regions were also included in the grassland tickets that we had purchased earlier.
There were many more hills in this region and we were also closer to the edge of the mountain. And we saw hundreds of sheep roaming and feeding on the grass all over the hills. The headcount was definitely more than those in the Sheep Region. There were also goats in a penned up area on the other side of the pathway. A warning sign advised tourists to keep clear of the fence as the goats might charge towards them - their horns were no joke.
Further downhill, we came to the Ecological Region (生态园区) where there were trees, flowers and butterflies garden. But the main highlight in this region was the stairway (步步高升) measuring about 1.8 km in length. We were lucky that we had entered the grassland from the northern entrance and were walking down
the stairway. If we had entered through the southern gate, this stairway would break our legs before we could even see the sheep. Anyway, the southern entrance was at the bottom of the stairway.
It was already 2.30pm and we were starving. We came to the Tourist Centre (旅客服务中心) and went in to search for a dining place. Most shops were closed except for a restaurant but there was nobody inside. We went in and called and a waiter responded. We were saved. We ordered
set lunches and were served in 10 minutes. The food were not bad but I guessed we were too hungry to notice any unsatisfactoriness.
After exiting from the restaurant, we walked passed a stall and were presented with free dorayaki
(铜锣烧) each since we had the tickets to Green Green Grassland. The dorayaki had a Chinese character "羊" (meaning "sheep") on it.
Further downhill, we came to the Small Swiss Garden (小瑞士花园). Cingjing Farm's guest house (国民宾馆) was just opposite the road. We bought the tickets (NT$120 per ticket) and
went in. Perhaps we had came at the wrong time of the season or maybe there were other reasons. The Swiss Garden was not what we expected. It was more a place for tourists to take photos of themselves with some of the static displays. I lost interest in this garden within 10 minutes. Well, you would not miss a lot if you skip this little garden.
We skipped the guest house, after exiting from the garden, and wondered down the road, hoping to see more of the countryside. And also to get to a bus stop that we thought might be just nearby. We were wrong in both instances, there were nothing much to see further down the
road, except for more guest houses, and there was no bus stop in sight. We walked further and further, hoping that we would not missed the last bus back to Puli or we would have to spent the night on the mountain. We finally came to a bus stop and waited for, we hoped, the last bus. It was 6.50pm and the last bus was scheduled to depart from Cingjing at 7.10pm according to what I had copied from Puli Bus Station. While waiting, a taxi driver stopped in front of us and offered to drive us back to Puli for NT$200. It was almost the same price as taking the bus back so we hopped on. The taxi driver drove at such a high speed down the meandering road and I started to feel nausea. I shut my eyes and mouth and tried to sleep.
There was a traffic jam and the taxi driver had to drop us at some back street. It was not difficult to get our location pin-pointed and I quickly led the way to our guest house. Still feeling nausea, I was in no mood for delicate food and also there was no night market on Thursday, so we settled for a quick dinner at a small eatery just a short distance away from Puli Town. I had wanton noodle (馄饨面) and Mark went for fried-sauce noodle (炸酱面).
After dinner, we headed back to Puli Town. Miss Tu was at the reception counter and we went up to her to have a chat. She made us a glass of homemade passion fruit drink with apple each - on the house. We learnt that Miss Tu was also a keen traveler, average about one trip a month. Most of the decorations in the guest house were actually collected on her Europe trips. We chatted on other things and also bought the tickets for a yacht ride in Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) from her at NT$199 per ticket. It would be NT$300 per ticket if we had went to Sun Moon Lake and purchased them there. Miss Tu also added that if we decided not to take the yacht ride, she would refund us. We thanked her and went up to our room.
We went down to the restaurant in Puli Town Europe Stayhome and ordered our breakfast at the bar counter. Miss Tu, the lady owner, was not around but her sister attended to us. There were three types of breakfast set on the free breakfast menu. The main course was French-style thick toast with three choices of spread: almond peanut, three-berries jam or milk cream. Since we would be staying in Puli Town for three days, I opted for the milk cream spread and would try the others on the following days.