By Jacqueline Woo
MY TRAVEL mate thought Nantou is at the south of Taiwan because nan in Chinese means south.
Well, we discovered that Nantou is actually in the centre of Taiwan, and it is the only county on the island that does not have a seaside.
It was my first visit to Taiwan, and although I did not go to Taipei to gawk at the world's tallest building, I had a very relaxing retreat in Nantou - taking in the cool mountain air, eating fresh salmon sashimi and counting sheep.
Cows and humans strut their stuff at
Cingjing Farm's cattle show.
Sheep and cows
I loved the highland scenery at Cingjing Farm. We attended a sheep show in an area surrounded by rolling green hills. And beyond the hills were mountain ranges - a scene that reminded me of The Sound Of Music movie.
We cheered at two sheepdogs herding a flock of sheep down a hillside and learnt how sheep were sorted as they entered the gates. There was also a sheep-shearing demonstration and a mock livestock auction. The cattle show was like a telematch where the volunteers had to ride on cows and compete to pull a heavy load. The farm also has other attractions such as a butterfly park, orchards, eco-tours and guesthouses.
Around Cingjing Farm are more than 20 homesteads for tourists, several with classical European architecture and many have spectacular mountain views. We stayed at Ming Ging Farm, which is well-furnished like a resort. Its owner, Mr Lin Jhao-Ming, was so hospitable that I felt like I was staying in his house.
Chinese chess for the "giants" at Sitou
Mr Lin, 58, was fitter than some of us who were half his age, and he trekked effortlessly up the hilly paths of his farm to show us his swan gourds and tree tomatoes. He even harvested some lettuces for us.
Home of bamboo
The most picturesque sight at the Sitou Forest Recreation Centre is a curved bamboo bridge on the mirror-like University Pond. Bamboo is the most famous flora here and the bamboo forest is truly a classic Chinese scene.
There is a giant Chinese chess set in the forest. I wished to play a game - if only I had the strength to move the pieces!
Rebuilt after an earthquake in 1999, Nei Hu Elementary School in Lugu is a "forest school" designed to blend in with the environment, and it enables the students to have a hands-on understanding of ecology.
It uses earthquake-resistant log cabins as classrooms and looks like a resort that incorporates American, Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese architecture. The school is a tourist stop, with its principal conducting the guided tours.
The bathing beauty at Sun Link
Woman in shower
A highland forest, the Sun Link Sea Forest Recreation Area has nothing to do with the sea at all. Its name is just a pun on the Chinese name of the area, Shanlinxi.
There are several waterfalls here. At the Song Long Rock Waterfall, our tour guide said: "Doesn't it look like a woman taking a shower?" Taking a shower would be the last thing on any woman's mind, I thought, as it was freezing cold near the falls.
Love in a storm
Luxury in the forest is found in Le Midi Hotel, Chitou, which has an outdoor heated waterfall and a helipad. Its icon is the two stone lion statues on the right of its entrance.
The statues used to be on separate sides of the entrance. There is a legend that after a typhoon years ago, the hefty lioness statue was found beside the male lion, as though she had moved on her own to be with him.
Though the hotel has been renovated, the two statues were never separated again and they have become a photo-taking spot for wedding couples.
At Jhongliao, I learnt how to pluck oranges. After a briefing on the types of oranges grown in the area, each of us was given a box and a pair of pliers to pluck as many fruit as we liked. I loved it because the orange trees were short and all the fruit were within reach.
I never thought of finding a fish farm up on the mountains. But at Shalisian Trout Farm in Sinyi, I saw live trout, sturgeon and salmon for the first time.
As the fishes swam in lanes of gushing cold water, it was like watching an Olympic swimming event. I knew that my salmon sashimi at lunch that day was definitely fresh.
Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan's largest lake, is surrounded by mountains.
Its scenery is best enjoyed by strolling along the lakeside and taking a boat ride across its calm waters. Some of the hotels with lovely views of the lake include Hotel Del Lago and Fenisia Hotel.
If you want to do more than sipping tea on the balcony, go for activities such as yachting, hiking, biking, angling, mountain-climbing or educational tours around the area.
This trip was sponsored by Taiwan Visitors Association (www.taiwan.net.tw) and Nantou County Government (http://travel.nantou.gov.tw).
This article was first published in The Straits Times Special. It is produced by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.