Zengin Café: Alishan, Taiwan
For Westerners, Taiwan remains low on the list for the most frequented destinations within Asia. Growth in tourism has steadily increased for the island since 2008 when Chinese mainland citizens were granted access, but the numbers for U.S. citizens remain small. Fortunately though, Taiwan allows 90 days of visa-free entry for U.S. citizens and the number of visitors from the U.S. has grown to over half a million as of 2018. Being one of the most mountainous islands in the world, Taiwan offers a number of adventurous opportunities given its richness in cuisine, culture, and natural beauty. Visitors of Taiwan can have fun with little worry about expenses, and with the present infrastructure, much of the transportation is nicely streamlined.
The geography of Taiwan is such that the center of the island is split North to South by several ranges of mountains. Within these mountains is the Alishan Township, averaging 2500 meters above sea level inside Chiayi county. Rather than staying within the Alishan park itself and paying a high price, there is one option that goes unmatched outside of the recreational area with immaculate views and peacefulness surrounding it. Zengin Café, under $100 USD per night and over 100 reviews with 5 stars, treats you to some of the best views you will ever have from your room while perched on the loo’. Unlike your typical Airbnb reservation, a healthy and hearty complimentary breakfast is prepared the moment you walk downstairs. The food is accompanied with a cup of warm soy milk followed by your choice of coffee or tea. While Zengin’s homegrown, local coffee is some of the best I have ever tasted, you must try sipping on some of Zengin’s Alishan oolong (wulong) tea. For many, Alishan is best known for its high mountain oolong tea embedded along the hillsides.
During one morning, my girlfriend and I were given the delightful opportunity to meet one of the owners at 5:20am to view the sunrise. We followed him across a vacant parking lot and onto a bamboo forested trail until tea farms were at our feet. The sunrise and sea of clouds are perhaps one of Alishan’s most coveted sights and usually require careful planning with the Alishan railway as well as being in the presence of a large crowd. For a more personal experience, Zengin Café provides access to a location that could not be any more serene. Imagine meditating on a large boulder in the middle of a tea farm overlooking a valley on a clear morning and you are there.
We ambled along the ridge line as the owner spoke to us in Chinese about features of the landscape around us. Additionally, he mentioned that we could return on the same path during the night to see the glowing mushrooms found exclusively on rotting bamboo shoots. Later that night, his wife would take us for a quiet stroll to see not only the glowing mushrooms, but dozens of fireflies as well.
In the afternoon, we walked down a paved road from Zengin to more tea farms, where tea farmers could be seen working in the fields. About 2 km from the café is the Yawumasi hiking trail, which led us into a jungle-like environment adjacent to flowing water and crossing two suspension bridges. This area has been home to the Tsou culture, a member of the Gaoshan (高山) ethnic group, for more than 260 years. As of 2018, the Tsou people represented over 1% of Taiwan’s indigenous population.
When you eventually decide to enter the Alishan National Scenic Area, the bus stop is located just outside of Zengin Café and to the left of the gas station. The bus is a fast, convenient, and affordable way to travel especially with the use of an EasyCard. However, if you’re just looking to get to the 7/11 or a restaurant 5 minutes down the road, Zengin Café’s staff will likely be more than happy to give you a ride, as they did for us.
When you plan your trip to Alishan Township in Taiwan, I am confident you will wake with the sun every day.