This is the second post in a series about my family’s trip to Taiwan back in April 2018. The first post about our journey and a whirlwind day in Taipei can be found here.
The first time I traveled to Taiwan, thirteen years ago now, my husband Brett and I spent a day exploring Pinglin (坪林). This small town is adjacent to many plantations growing baozhong, one of my favorite types of oolong tea. Since Brett was in the tea biz at the time, we had made the trek with the express purpose of buying a bunch of wholesale tea at the source.
Our day in Pinglin turned out to be one of those magical, perfect days: we explored the town and tea museums and went on spectacular spontaneous hikes – and we also happened across Amin, a young man with black-framed hipster-glasses selling tea at his parents’ shop. We spent the entire morning sipping tea with him, having a lovely time despite the language barrier. Brett went on to buy his excellent-quality baozhong for many years.
So, while planning our most recent trip, we knew that our 2018 Taiwan trek wouldn’t be complete without a trip down to Pinglin. So one morning, several days after we arrived, we took the Taipei Metro down to Xindian. By the time we left, the morning commuters had cleared out and we were left with the whole Family Area to ourselves.
We arrived in Xindian just as the 923 bus was boarding – perfect timing! The journey was pretty smooth, for which we were immensely grateful; my daughter C and I were both pretty queasy for the first portion of our vacation.
The bus dropped us off in the heart of downtown Pinglin. From there, Brett navigated us along the main road through town, and we quickly found Amin’s place (田村茶莊, or Tian Cun Cha Zhuang).
It was just as I had remembered: a small space packed with gigantic bags of fresh tea, with concrete floors and a welcoming tasting counter. We met Amin’s wife, Ivy, and their older son G, who was the same age as my son D and had learned some English in school. His much younger brother was also there, though he was mostly preoccupied watching unboxing videos on YouTube. They also had a sweet dog named Hei Bai, and D quickly took a liking to him.
We spent a few hours tasting both winter-harvest and spring-harvest baozhong tea, as well as a mao feng-style green tea and some dong fang mei ren. C&D sipped with us a bit, and G also took them on a few Pokemon-gathering missions.
When it was lunch time, Amin and Ivy graciously offered to feed us, so we walked upstairs to the kitchen/dining area and feasted on tea seed oil noodles, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, fried tofu, and a soy dipping sauce, all served with red rice. Simple, yet absolutely delicious.
Soon after lunch, Amin took us to a local spot that made Taiwanese-style shaved ice. We pointed out what we wanted and he ordered for us as we took a seat in the back of the charming, hole-in-the-wall family eatery. Minutes later, all four of us had our own small mountain of snow, topped with a drizzle of passionfruit syrup and hiding a bunch of delicious treasures underneath: boba, pineapple, coconut jelly.
After cooling down with shaved ice, we decided to hike up to the enormous Kuan Yin statue that looks over the town from on high. G served as our guide. He took us along some side trails, clearing rocks from them as we walked.
We were about to climb the last set of stairs to the Kuan Yin when G stopped us. He showed us what we needed to do first: light two sticks of incense each, then bow thrice before two separate altars, seeking permission from the gods. Once we’d properly prepared, we climbed up and spent a little time with the Kuan Yin, in that quiet and reverent space.
We hiked back down, enjoying the beautiful trail that led through a lovely gazebo, before returning to G’s house for a while to sip (and buy) some more tea.
Amin and Ivy really wanted to show us a “sky temple” that was a 20-minute drive away, so we all squeezed into their car and were just starting off when Brett asked where Amin’s tea garden was. We ended up heading in that direction instead (which was, apparently, the opposite way from the sky temple), up the narrow, winding mountain roads. But the view from that hillside terrace, where the tea leaves we’d just sipped had been recently picked, was stunning.
We headed back down the mountain, and Amin made the executive decision to stop by a famous suspension bridge before heading up to the sky temple. “He’s worried that you might be feeling car sick,” Ivy explained to us. Which was unfortunately true; after the tea garden trip both C and I had become queasy again. C didn’t think she had it in her to go all the way up to the temple, which was still 20-30 minutes away, so we decided to make the suspension bridge the last stop. It, too, was gorgeous.
We walked around a bit, pausing to take a family portrait on the bridge. After crossing the swaying expanse, it felt good to be on solid ground for a while, in the fresh air, with the river rushing by.
Once we’d soaked up the scenery a bit, we headed back to the tea shop one last time to pick up our things, before thanking our gracious hosts and saying our goodbyes. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can return for another magical day in Pinglin!
Have you ever had one of those perfect days where everything felt magical? Or taken a spontaneous excursion that led to an amazing discovery? Have you made new friends while traveling? Do tell!
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