Firstly, what’s a minsu?
Similar to a B&B (bed & breakfast), guesthouse or farmstay, a minsu in Taiwan generally refers to a homestay kind of accommodation. It is mostly run like family property, with seperate units for guests. Your neighbours might be fellow travellers or even locals. A minsu is a good chance for you to get a taste of local life, and is a very popular choice of accommodation in Taiwan.
In January 2016, I stayed at a minsu called Starry House Nantou in Cingjing, Nantou, near Taichung in Taiwan, and this post is a review, largely based on that experience.
At 2,106 metres above sea level, Starry House is the highest minsu in Cingjing. Public buses do not go up until that altitude, so only privately owned cars or vans can go all the way up. The tiny road that leads into Starry House from the main road, was in fact steep and narrow. I was glad my driver was a very experienced driver!
Some of the things you can expect for your minsu stay in Cingjing
Cold weather & perhaps even snow
Due to its high altitude, Cingjing can be a cold place to be at, especially where the peaks are at (such as Joy Mountain aka 合欢山 (11,207 ft)). When we drove up to Cingjing in the daytime (end-January), the temperature was easily 0-2 degrees outdoors. At one point, it was snowing where we were at the mountains. This year’s January was also the time the cold surge hit countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Check the weather before your trip.
If it snows, the roads will turn slippery and cars need to add snow tyres to the wheels. The road might be closed too when authorities step in.
Cingjing is especially cold in the early morning and at night. When the sun is out, the temperature will rise significantly. I got up very early to catch the sunrise, but not before putting on my sweaters and jacket =D
No in-room heaters
Honestly, it came quite as a surprise for me to discover this, but there was absolutely no heater in the room at all. There’s no aircon unit that blows hot air out either. Which means the room is coldddd. I went to read up about other Cingjing minsus afterwards and found out this is actually a common phenomenon. If you have young kids, be fast in preparing them for and after showers in order to not have them catch a chill. There’s the usual water-heater in the bathroom for showering.
Mattresses come with electric heating pads underneath the bedsheets, which you can control using a switch. It was very comfortable to lie in bed. I felt so glad to be sleeping in a warm bed at night!
To keep warm inside the room, you either need to keep your thick jackets on, or stay snuggled under the covers.
Basic, none-lavish amenities
Amenities inside your room will be basic and minimal. Outside of your room, there won’t be gyms or heated swimming pools. There’s TV in the room though, although I didn’t take a photo.
No lifts / elevators
Families travelling with elderly people need to note this especially. Even the popular minsus including Starry House and Misty Villa do not come with lifts. You could be lugging your luggage up to a few levels to your room.
The lady-owner of Starry House very kindly gave us a room for 6 people at the ground level although there were just 4 of us, so that my elderly parents didn’t have to climb the steps.
No flushing of toilet papers is allowed
Due to the location being high up in the mountains, plumbing is an issue. You’re not supposed to be flushing used toilet papers into the toilet bowl or you risk choking it. Thrash them into the rubbish bin in the toilet instead. This is something I can never get used to overseas =S
(Maybe) Bugs & flying insects
I’ve seen reviews sharing moths or cockroach-like bugs that will be in your room if you didn’t shut the doors or windows properly. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any of those creepy-crawlies. My room came with a wooden door as well as an additional screen-door.
Like other kinds of homestays not just in Cingjing alone, if you’re staying for more than one night, don’t expect housekeeping in the morning while you’re out of the room. A minsu is not a hotel. I only stayed for a night so I didn’t verify, do check with your minsu for confirmation!
And now for the good!
Peace and quietness
Away from the city, there were no noises, no screaming children (although this has nothing to do with the city); it was generally quiet and peaceful to be at the minsu. I totally enjoyed short walks to the common patio for amazing views.
Fresh mountain air!
Hospitable, friendly (Mandarin-speaking) owners
The owners were very hospitable and warm people! I had engaged a driver for my trip, so I didn’t need other transport services, but from reviews I read, the minsu-owners will be more than happy to help you arrange transport to attractions downhill such as to Green Green Grasslands or Swiss Gardens.
I’m not sure if the owners speak English though, as my bookings via the website and emails as well as verbal conversations were fully in Mandarin. You can try.
A homely kind of decoration style
Staying at a minsu feels almost like you’re staying at a relative’s house. The decor is homely and charming. Look at the corridor!
A chance to get close to nature
Plants, trees, shrubs, flowerpots and agricultural crops down the hills, a minsu stay gives you a good chance to get close to nature.
It’s really awesome to have a delicious, homely style of steamboat for dinner when the weather is chilly outside! This amount of food was prepared ahead by the minsu and was more than sufficient for the four of us. All we had to do was to cook them in the steamboat.
For breakfast, there weren’t any hotel-like buffet spreads, but tasty toast, fruits, sandwiches and coffee prepared by the kitchen helpers.
Sunrises, sunsets, stars overhead, highlands underneath
These are the kinds of activities you can expect at your minsu (*subject to weather conditions). I watched the sun rise over the mountains at the common patio outside my room at Starry House, but if you’ll like, you can join a tour to catch the sunrise at Joy Mountain, which will be arranged the night before by the minsu owners.
Disconnection from the outside world,
to connect with the people you’re with
Although there’s WIFI at Starry House minsu, the atmosphere, the surroundings were too lovely to neglect if you turn your attention to the phone. With the sun out, it was a lovely temperature to be outdoors, where you can sit with your family, travel companions or other travellers who are also staying at the minsu.
I don’t even need to elaborate on this. View my pictorial entry of Cingjing here!
Overall, my minsu stay in Cingjing was quite an experience in itself and I’ll recommend for anyone to try a stay for one night (any more than that will be torturous because I refused to go poop hahaha)!
Hope this post gives you good insight on what you can expect from staying at a Taiwan minsu in Cingjing!
Featured minsu: Starry House Nantou 清境觀星園景觀山莊
Visited: Jan 2016
Additional reads about minsu accommodation in Taiwan: Web in Travel • Travel Weekly Asia
Image credits: snow scene is taken from Starry House’s Facebook. All other photos were taken by me (if of me, it’s by my brother).