There’s so much more to Cingjing than its famous Green Green Grassland farm. In fact, that was my least favourite spot as it’s crowded and touristy. I’ve read about people coming to this area from Taipei just for a day trip, but that’s a real pity because this is a fantastic place to slow down, appreciate nature, and savour the local cuisine. Here are 6 things I’d recommend anyone visiting this splendid mountain town to do.
1. Staying at Spring Ground B&B
Having a balcony and a view of the mountains for our room in Cingjing was a must for me. I envisioned many quiet moments just sitting and taking in the scenery in the comfort of our own space, and Spring Ground B&B was just perfect for that.
I originally booked a simple triple room via Agoda at SGD142 per night. But as we were staying for 3 nights, the friendly staff gave us a choice of taking up the fancier double-storey room. It was such a nice upgrade!
But what made the stay extra memorable was the accommodation’s restaurant.
For dinner, the restaurant serves up absolutely delicious hot pot meals. I’ve never been a fan of hot pot as the ones we get in Singapore come with lame ingredients that all taste the same after being cooked in the same soup. But the one we had here was really the best hot pot I’ve ever had.
I have no idea what stock we had, but it had a distinct sweetness that can only be derived from fresh ingredients. And look at that big, beautiful piece of prawn! Everything tasted so clean and scrumptious.
2. Stuffing our faces with fresh local produce
This region is famed for its urn-roasted chicken, but I didn’t think it was that special. It’s good, but kinda like Chinese restaurant-standard roasted chicken you can find just about everywhere in Singapore.
My favourite of the whole lot of dishes (we took up a SGD133 set meant for 4-5pax because we wanted to try a bit of every thing) is the locally-sourced fish. So fresh, so smooth, so firm! It’s common for restaurants here to prepare one entire fish in a few ways — such a great idea to stretch your dollar. So we had ours in 3 ways: stir-steamed with ginger and soy sauce (the best), stir fried with garlic, and added to a rather bland clear soup dish.
The region’s common veggies were all so wonderfully sweet, and best appreciated when prepared simply. Its original taste blew me away. If this is what vegetables are supposed to taste like, what the hell is going into the produce at Singapore’s supermarkets?
3. Strolling along the skywalk
Cingjing is easily explored with its many scenic paths conducive for older folks, and that’s one of the upsides about being in a touristy spot. The downside? You’d have to walk bravely among big tour groups, and use this line repeatedly: “FASTER, STAND THERE! NOBODY IN THE SHOT, FASTER GO LAH PEOPLE COMING ALREADY! 1-2-3, OK.”
4. Indulging our sweet tooth at Patisserie a la Montagne
Mum’s a huge fan of kitschy, shabby chic decorations, and was delighted to find this adorable Japanese/French-style bakery below our hotel. And me? I can never say no to cakes. Especially when they have those perfectly glazed ones that I have been ogling on Instagram for ages.
I love, love, love all the delicate cakes! We had earl grey and guava glazed cakes with moosey insides, a tart lime tart, an average strawberry shortcake (I don’t like airy, spongey cakes), and naturally-sweetened fruit teas. The cakes cost between SGD5-7 each.
5. Crossing the suspension bridge in Aowanda forest
For me, being in the mountains is not just about going great lengths to get the best views. I really love stepping into a lush forest, absorbing its tranquil energy, and just taking my time to discover its quiet magic.
I wish we had an entire day to properly enjoy Aowanda forest. But as we didn’t have our own transport, we had to take a shared return van ride that cost us SGD33 each, which only allowed for 2+ hours at the recreational area.
The driver recommended following the path that’ll lead us to a suspension bridge. But it had to be a rather brisk tramp as the signs at the entrance indicated that it was a 75 minute walk away, making it a 150 minute round trip back to the pick up spot.
We were off to a good start! But I felt quite bad having to rush my parents along so that we could make it back in time. We didn’t have the luxury of sitting down for long periods to admire the environment.
And then the bridge came into view and I was so surprised that it wasn’t just some lame ass suspension bridge. It’s a proper mountain pass! That got me excited because I’ve never crossed one this long.
6. The scenic road towards Hualien
Unless you’re doing a self-drive, there’s really no other convenient way to get from Cingjing to Hualien than to get a private driver. I knew it was going to be a pricey ride, but I took comfort in the fact that we were safe in the hands of a local who’s experienced in navigating the tricky mountain roads punctuated with many hairpin curves. For SGD247, we would ride in a roomy 7-seater, with a the chatty driver who entertained us with a Mandarin commentary on Taiwan’s history and the sights we passed.
The journey would take us through Taiwan’s stunning central mountain range, and with such beautiful weather that morning, I couldn’t wait to set out.
I’d love to revisit this region again to do some hikes. Many trailheads are just by the road, but it’s a pity that there’s no public transport system that enables hikers to explore this area without self-driving.
We then descended through this thick layer of cloud, and emerged out of the mountains and into Taroko Gorge. The driver was quite nervous about driving through it as there have been many cases of falling rocks over the past decade, so we didn’t make any pit stops since we’ve already been here during our previous trip.
After a 4-hour ride, we arrived in the sleepy coastal city of Hualien, where we would spend the next couple of days.
So those were the great bits about our time in Cingjing. But there was one bit that wasn’t so successful because, well, Mother Nature has her moods.
The “failed” sunrise at Hehuanshan (合歡山)
We woke up at 3:30am to get ready for a 4:20am pick up. And to make matters worse, there was a persistent rain that accompanied us all throughout the hour-long journey up to the mountain peaks. Everyone was bundled up in thick layers as temperatures dropped to single digits up here. All this fuss just to catch the sun rising out of a sea of tangerine-tinted clouds as advertised. But as with everything in nature, you’ve got to be prepared for the worst.
After a couple of useless photo stops where it was just us stumbling around in darkness and getting whipped by incredibly cold winds and rain to try and see signboards that marked the high altitude, we arrived at THE spot to view the sunrise.
It was already rather bright when we got off the coach to wait for the golden moment, and all we could see were clouds obscuring most the view. So even though the enthusiastic tour guides tried to keep our hopes up every time a tiny little bit of cloud scudded along to reveal a few seconds of the sun’s glow, I didn’t have any high hopes.
But thankfully, all was not lost because we still managed to see the same region in a much better light during our drive out of Cingjing.