How many guesthouses have you visited where you’ve been prepared a full lunch, local tea, fruit, and coffee and then sung to – all by the hosts?
Back down the long-winding road from Taiwan’s most famous peak, Alishan Mountain, lies a small property called A-Jiang. If you didn’t know A-Jiang existed, there’s no way you would find it. Even those looking for the guesthouse, which is located in the vicinity of Leye about half-way up the mountain, have trouble finding it. But the discovery is well worth the search.
Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, A-Jiang features five rooms, accommodating a maximum of 21 people, although it used to cater for more than double that. Each room is different too, with varying designs and idiosyncrasies. But they do have one thing in common, and that is their organic appearance and in parts, almost Gaudi-esque feel (at least on the inside). Where lower tribes on the mountain use a lot of bamboo in their construction, here they include rocks in their architecture, as well as the odd tree trunk and think branch.
Mr A-Jiang tells us that the main objective of the guesthouse is to allow visitors “to feel the Zhou tribe culture”.
“In this area there are hundreds of homestays, but only this homestay is made by hand – made by himself,” he says, as translated by our guide. Yes, the multi-talented man even helped build the place.
“They want you to feel like you’re really living with the Zhou people.”
But on this visit, I’m not here to sleep, but to eat. Dining takes place under cover outdoors. There’s no menu, and the majority of the ingredients used in the dishes, which are mostly vegetable-based (and thus very healthy) are collected from the mountain. Whatever Ms A-Jiang collects, she cooks. Only the meat comes from markets.
After lunch, we move into a quaint room, where we’re served the guesthouse's famous coffee while our hosts exercise their vocal cords with a few songs, the first a beautiful love ballad and the second a tongue in cheek warrior song about a wandering father.
Just before we leave, we get a taste of the guesthouse’s local tea brewed over a firepit as well as some fresh fruit.
Despite A-Jiang’s enormous charm, the property still mainly welcomes Taiwanese tourists. Visitors from Europe, Southeast Asia, and even Mainland China are rarely received. But all of this is to its credit, and to the advantage of those venturing to this most authentic of experiences.
“When you go back to tell your friends, just remember you always have a home here.” How many Airbnbs can do that for you?