Taiwan 101: Part 6. Offshore Islands

My latest book, Taiwan 101: Essential Sights, Hikes and Experiences on Ilha Formosa, will be published in May (in two volumes), and the photos in the following six blog entries describe just some of the hundreds of places and events that appear in the book’s 101 chapters. After this main part, a substantial section at the end of volume two gives a run-down of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, the island’s listed historic relics, its National Parks, National Scenic Areas and National Forest Recreation Areas  etc. and there are tables with info on the complete Top One Hundred Peaks and the Little Top Hundred Peaks. About 800 GPS coordinates pinpoint the locations of all the main places described in the book, and there’s info on car and scooter hire from various cities around the island, and bus/train access, where available. It’s been the hardest of all my books to put together, but immense fun, and during these several years of selecting which places to include, re-visiting many favorite places and visiting many new ones for the first time has only reinforced what an incredibly dynamic, diverse, and outrageously beautiful place Taiwan is!  

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Swallow-tail-roofed house on Kinmen

Temple at Qinbi, Beigan island, Matsu

Temple at Qinbi, Beigan island, Matsu

The Old Man Rock, Lanyu

The Old Man Rock, Lanyu

Rock formation on remote Hua Island, Penghu

Rock formation on remote Hua Island, Penghu

The offshore islands take up only a couple of chapters in the new book because they were covered fairly comprehensively in The Islands of Taiwan, but returning to some of them again, I still found some fascinating new sights and places to explore. Finest of the new discoveries is Hua Island, one of the remotest inhabited islands in the Penghu archipelago. Unlike those other secluded gems Xiyu, Xipingyu and their two companions, which together comprise Taiwan’s newest national park, yet can only be reached by charter boat, there’s a public ferry to Hua Island. The catch is it runs only three times a week, and there’s no hotel on the island, so it’s by far the most laid-back, unspoilt accessible island in the whole archipelago. It’s also amazingly scenic, dotted with loads of small but strange rock formations, and indented with lovely small bays.

Three chapters are dedicated to Kinmen, easily the most historically fascinating corner of Taiwan-controlled ROC.  The finest collection of old architecture in the whole of the country, over 70 unique Fengshiye (‘wind lion god’) statues, and many sites related to three remarkable decades of war with China, just a few kilometers away (including quite a few places that have been opened to civilian visitors since the Islands book came out) make this a constantly fascinating place to visit. Kinmen also has two of the five extraordinary underground harbors built by the ROC army around the early 1970s to protect army boats from mainland Chinese bombs. The remaining three are on the Matsu archipelago, a much more scenically spectacular place than Kinmen, with some magnificent coastal landscapes, especially on tiny, little-visited Dongju island.

Green Island is a famous and scenically stunning summer getaway for both locals and increasing numbers of foreign visitors. Its most remarkable attraction, though, is the Human Rights Culture Park, which protects the two penal colonies built on the island during the White Terror period. A visit makes for a rather somber morning, but  an essential one.  Finally, there’s the incomparable Lanyu, quite simply Taiwan’s most magical corner. Completely unlike anywhere else in Taiwan, with its spectacular scenery and Taiwan’s most intact aboriginal culture by a long shot, it feels more like a Pacific island towed in and dropped here by accident. It’s already changing though (the first 7-Eleven made it to the island last year), so get there quick!

Beihai Tunnel, Nangan island, Matsu

Beihai Tunnel, Nangan island, Matsu

Detail on a house in a traditional Kinmen village

Detail on a house in a traditional Kinmen village

Army shelter among the agave plants, Kinmen

Army shelter among the agave plants, Kinmen

View from Nipple Hill, Lanyu

View from Nipple Hill, Lanyu

The east coast of tiny Dongju island, Matsu has some of the ROC's finest coastal landscapes

The east coast of tiny Dongju island, Matsu has some of the ROC’s finest coastal landscapes

Entrance to the abandoned Shigang underground hospital, Kinmen

Entrance to the abandoned Huagang underground hospital, Kinmen

Drying fish on Hua Island, Penghu

Drying squid on Hua Island, Penghu

Beihai Tunnel, Beigan island, Matsu

Beihai Tunnel, Beigan island, Matsu

The wonderful cold springs on the east coast of Lanyu

The wonderful cold springs on the east coast of Lanyu

Fengshiye statue on Kinmen

Fengshiye statue on Kinmen

Houses on Kinmen

Houses on Kinmen

The wall of Oasis Villa, Green Island

The wall of Oasis Villa, Green Island

Monument at Hunan Heights, Kinmen

Monument at Hunan Heights, Kinmen

Howitzer firing demonstration in progress (blanks are used, naturally), on Kinmen

Howitzer firing demonstration in progress (blanks are used, naturally), on Kinmen

Basalt cliffs on Tongpan island, Penghu

Basalt cliffs on Tongpan island, Penghu

Beautiful Shuitou village, Kinmen

Beautiful Shuitou village, Kinmen

The east coast of Dongju, Matsu

The east coast of Dongju, Matsu

Zhaishan Tunnel, Kinmen

Zhaishan Tunnel, Kinmen

Swallow Cave, Green Island

Swallow Cave, Green Island

Fengshiye statue, Kinmen

Fengshiye statue, Kinmen

General Temple Kinmen, surely the only temple in the ROC where the enshrined deity is a military figure who died (in battle) only a few decades ago.

General Temple Kinmen, surely the only temple in the ROC where the enshrined deity is a military figure who died (in battle) only a few decades ago.

Name list of political dissidents detained on Green Island during the White Terror at the Green Island Human Rights Memorial

Name list of political dissidents detained on Green Island during the White Terror at the Green Island Human Rights Memorial

Tunnel in one of the many underground forts on Kinmen

Tunnel in one of the many underground forts on Kinmen

The bizarre Statue of Liberty (with wings) at Chenggong, Kinmen

The bizarre Statue of Liberty (with wings) at Chenggong, Kinmen

Beautiful Hua Island, Penghu

Beautiful Hua Island, Penghu

Qinbi, Beigan island, Matsu

Qinbi, Beigan island, Matsu

Little Taiwan rock, Qimei, Penghu

Little Taiwan rock, Qimei, Penghu

Taiwan 101: Part 5. The South

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The endemic Formosan macaque at Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

The Boat Burning Festival at Donggang, Pingtung County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Titantic Rock, Chiayi County

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

Sperm Whale skeleton, Taijiang National Park

Southern Taiwan has some of the most interesting aboriginal culture on the main island, with atmospheric (and often remote ) villages of Paiwan and Rukai stone houses, and several of Taiwan’s most memorable traditional festivities, including the insane Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, surely one of the most intense traditional annual participation events anywhere in the world.

For lovers of natural beauty, Chiayi County is unsurpassed. The crowds all flock to Alishan, but the best places in the area are just to the north, where villages like Laiji, Fengshan, Taihe, Ruili, Ruifeng, and (just over the border in Yunlin County) Caoling and Zhanghu offer some of the finest exploring in the whole of Taiwan. Further south, Tainan and Kaohsiung cities are both stuck on the flat plains quite far from the mountain foothills, but thanks to a geological anomaly known as the Gutingkeng Formation, a band of crumbling mudstone stretching north for tens of kilometers across the border between Tainan and Kaohsiung cities, there are some remarkable sights within easy reach of both cities. Best-known are the strange Badlands formations that dot the landscape here. Also here are the related natural phenomenon of mud volcanoes (Taiwan’s two best examples are only an hour from Kaohsiung) and all but two of the island’s strange natural eternal flames. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Gutingkeng Formation, Dadi Gorge, is only accessible for two months of the year, thanks to a reservoir that now floods the only approach to the gorge at all times except the very end of the dry season, so make a note to visit in early April for the best chance of seeing it!

The area around Tainan is (together with Keelung and Tamsui in the north) where Taiwan’s recorded history began, with the arrival of the Dutch in the 1620s. Tainan is famed as Taiwan’s historic capital, and while  visitors expecting another Hanoi or Penang will probably be sorely disappointed, there are still loads of fascinating and beautiful old Taiwanese temples, memorial gates, town houses, and Western-style structures dating from the Japanese colonial period to make it easy to ignore the ugly, functional architecture that crowds many of the city’s streets. Further south, Hengchun, the closest town to Kenting’s beaches, is an unexpectedly fascinating place, and the only Taiwanese town or city to retain much of its Qing-era city walls.

Kenting itself is far more than sandy beaches; one of its most remarkable natural attractions is its amazing uplifted  coral landscapes, eroded into jagged towers, bluffs, narrow crack-like chasms, and several caves, including the only stalactite caves in Taiwan open to the general public. More amazing coral landscapes can be found near Tianliao in Kaohsiung City, at beautiful Xiao Liuqiu off the coast of Pingtung County, and, looming above Kaohsiung city center, the amazing natural playground of Shoushan, dotted with rugged little clefts and gorges (some of which take a bit of searching out), more caves, and a large and very visible colony of Taiwan’s only endemic primate, the Formosan macaque.

 

Dadi Gorge, Tainan City

Dadi Gorge, Tainan City

National Museum of History, Tainan

National Museum of History, Tainan

Anping Tree House, Tainan

Anping Tree House, Tainan

Hiking on Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

Hiking on Shoushan, Kaohsiung City

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County: a path leads right behind the waterfall

On the trail to Yushan, northeast Asia's highest mountain

On the trail to Yushan, northeast Asia’s highest mountain

Aboriginal art at remote Jiuhaocha village, Pingtung County

Aboriginal art at remote Jiuhaocha village, Pingtung County

Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, Taiwan's most extreme traditional event, Tainan

Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, Taiwan’s most extreme traditional event, Tainan

The astonishing yet virtually unknown Ghost Axe Canyon, Kaohsiung City

Ghost Axe Canyon, Kaohsiung City

Ruitai Old Trail, Chiayi

Ruitai Old Trail, Chiayi

Hiking back from Jiuhaocha aboriginal village, Pingtung County

Hiking back from Jiuhaocha aboriginal village, Pingtung County

Bizarre coral formations on Xiao Liuqiu island, Pingtung County

Bizarre coral formations on Xiao Liuqiu island, Pingtung County

One of the old city gates, Tainan

One of the old city gates, Tainan

White Horse Pavilion, Zengwen Reservoir, Chiayi County

White Horse Pavilion, Zengwen Reservoir, Chiayi County

Buddhist statues at Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung City

Buddhist statues at Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung City

Waterfall near Ganlan Gorge, Chiayi County

Waterfall near Ganlan Gorge, Chiayi County

Alangyi Old Trail, Pingtung County

Alangyi Old Trail, Pingtung County, perhaps the finest coastal walk on the main island of Taiwan

Swallows Grotto, Ruili, Chaiyi County

Swallows Grotto, Ruili, Chaiyi County

Lulin Ancient Tree, the fifth largest in Taiwan

Lulin Ancient Tree, the fifth largest in Taiwan

One of the old Shay steam locomotives that once ran on the Alishan Forest Railway, Chiayi County

One of the old Shay steam locomotives that once ran on the Alishan Forest Railway, Chiayi County

Aboriginal art at Duona Elementary School, Kaohsiung City

Aboriginal art at Duona Elementary School, Kaohsiung City

The middle fall at Yuntan Waterfall, Ruili, Chaiyi County

The middle fall at Yuntan Waterfall, Ruili, Chaiyi County

Tefuyie Old Trail, Chiayi County

Tefuyie Old Trail, Chiayi County

Tashan (Tower Mountain) Chiayi County

Tashan (Tower Mountain) Chiayi County

Chiken Tower, Tainan

Chiken Tower, Tainan

Bizarre rock formations at Chufengbi, Pingtung County

Bizarre rock formations at Chufengbi, Pingtung County

Coral cleft at Sheding Park, Pingtung County

Coral cleft at Sheding Park, Pingtung County

Temple sculpture, Tainan

Temple sculpture, Tainan

Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung City

Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung City

Lovers' Waterfall, Kaohsiung City

Lovers’ Waterfall, Kaohsiung City

Statue of Koxinga, Taiwan's national hero, at Taijiang National Park, Tianan City

Statue of Koxinga, Taiwan’s national hero, at Taijiang National Park, Tianan City

Jiuhaocha aboriginal village, Pingtung County, to reach which requires a two-day (return) trek

Jiuhaocha aboriginal village, Pingtung County

Meishan Grand Canyon, Chiayi County

Meishan Grand Canyon, Chiayi County

Green Tunnel, Taijiang National Park, Tainan City

The famous Green Tunnel, Taijiang National Park, Tainan City

Alangyi Historic Trail, Pingtung County

Alangyi Historic Trail, Pingtung County

Yushan (Jade Mountain) the highest mountain in Taiwan, yet one of its easiest high mountains to climb

Yushan (Jade Mountain) the highest mountain in Taiwan

Chufengbi, Pingtung County

Chufengbi, Pingtung County

Near the summit of Yushan (Jade Mountain), Chiayi County

Near the summit of Yushan (Jade Mountain), Chiayi County

Neptune's Palace, Pingtung County, one of the finest easy river tracing venues in the south

Neptune’s Palace, Pingtung County

Ghost Axe Canyon, Kaohsiung City

Ghost Axe Canyon, Kaohsiung City

Taiwan 101: Part 4. Western Taiwan

Hakka sanheyuan house near Xinpu

Hakka sanheyuan house near Xinpu

Dabajianshan, Taiwan's most magnificentlly distinctive high mountain peak

Dabajianshan, Taiwan’s most magnificentlly distinctive high mountain peak

Temples at Shitoushan, Miaoli County

Temples at Shitoushan, Miaoli County

Shuiyang Lake, a beautiful creation of the great 1999 earthquake

Shuiyang Lake, a beautiful creation of the great 1999 earthquake

In Taiwan 101 western Taiwan is everything from the Hakka lands of Hsinchu and underrated Miaoli, through Taichung City, Changhua, Yunlin (another under-explored corner of the island), and beautiful Nantou County. This long swathe of the island comprises the flat and (for a nature lover) relatively uninteresting western plains, but these are dotted with some of Taiwan’s most historic (and interesting) towns, the majority of Taiwan’s heritage structures are found here, and there’s even the occasional stunning natural anomaly, such as the badlands landscape of Fire Mountain and the Da An River Grand Canyon, both just north of Taichung city.

Taiwan’s magnificent central and Snow Mountain ranges are also generally approached from the west, which has easier access to most of the high summits, while in their foothills, Taichung City and the counties of Nantou, Yunlin, and Chiayi feature some of the island’s most magnificent easily accessible scenery. For hikers and nature lovers with time to explore only one part of Taiwan, this western region (with the magnificent scenery of Chiayi County just to the south) is the area to go for. Several months could be spent hiking around and exploring the area’s extraordinary range of natural and cultural attractions without exhausting the possibilities.

The summit of Mount Yuanzui, perhaps the most exciting day hike in the Taichung area

The summit of Mount Yuanzui, perhaps the most exciting day hike in the Taichung area

Wannian Gorge, Yunlin County

Wannian Gorge, Yunlin County

Atomospheric old alleyways in Lukang, Chunghua County

Atomospheric old alleyways in Lukang, Chunghua County

Eve Tree, Zhenxibao, Hsinchu County

Eve Tree, Zhenxibao, Hsinchu County

Taiwan Pleione, a rare endemic orchid, on a trail in Hsinchu County

Taiwan Pleione, a rare endemic orchid

In Chung Tai Chan Temple, Nantou County

In Chung Tai Chan Temple, Nantou County

Atayal sculpture at Shilai, Hsinchu County

Atayal sculpture at Shilai, Hsinchu County

Taoshan Waterfall, Taichung City

Taoshan Waterfall, Taichung City

Temple sculpture, Lukang, Chunghua County

Temple sculpture, Lukang, Chunghua County

Taiwan's highest road (3,200 meters) at Mount Hohuan, Nantou County

Taiwan’s highest road (3,200 meters) at Mount Hohuan, Nantou County

Old Movie Theater at Nanchuang, Miaoli County

Old Movie Theater at Nanchuang, Miaoli County

Japanese-era Lidong Fort sits atop a mountain at just under 2,000 meters, Hsinchu CountyCounty

Japanese-era Lidong Fort sits atop a mountain at just under 2,000 meters, Hsinchu County

Ancient red cypruss tree (over 2,000 years old) at Zhenxibao, Hsinchu County

Ancient red cypruss tree (over 2,000 years old) at Zhenxibao, Hsinchu County

Sun Moon Lake cycle path

Sun Moon Lake cycle path

Shenxian Gorge, dwelling place of Atayal aboriginal ancestors, Miaoli County

Shenxian Gorge, dwelling place of Atayal aboriginal ancestors, Miaoli County

The Hall of the Four Kings at Chung Tai Chan Temple, one of Taiwan's largest

The Hall of the Four Kings at Chung Tai Chan Temple, one of Taiwan’s largest

Kuhuatan Waterfall, Miaoli County

Kuhuatan Waterfall, Miaoli County

Smangus, Hsinchu County

Smangus, Hsinchu County

Climbing Mount Yuanzui, Taichung City

Climbing Mount Yuanzui, Taichung City

Shuiyang Lake, Nantou/Chiayi County border

Shuiyang Lake, Nantou/Chiayi County border

Maliguang Waterfall, route 60, Hsinchu County

Maliguang Waterfall, route 60, Hsinchu County

Cijiawan River, Wuling Farm, home of the critically endangered Formosan landlocked salmon

Cijiawan River, Wuling Farm, home of the critically endangered Formosan landlocked salmon

The famous Fan-shaped Railway Depot at Chunghua

The famous Fan-shaped Railway Depot at Chunghua

Water Curtain Cave, Caoling, Yunlin County

Water Curtain Cave, Caoling, Yunlin County

Confucius Temple, Changhua

Confucius Temple, Changhua

The thrilling Batongguan Historic Trail, a Japanese-built route from Nantou to Hualien County

The thrilling Batongguan Historic Trail, a Japanese-built route from Nantou to Hualien County

The original Heavenly Steps bridge at Taiji Canyon in Nantou has since spawned several imitators around the island

The original Heavenly Steps bridge at Taiji Canyon in Nantou has since spawned several imitators around the island

Granddaddy Tree, Smangus, the third largest known tree in Taiwan

Granddaddy Tree, Smangus, the third largest known tree in Taiwan

View en route to Shanlinxi, Nantou County

View en route to Shanlinxi, Nantou County

The spectacular Pinglai Stream Canyon, Nantou County

The spectacular Pinglai Stream Canyon, Nantou County

The famous Chiyou Tree, on the Wuling Four Mountains high mountain trek

The famous Chiyou Tree, on the Wuling Four Mountains high mountain trek

Beautiful but rarely visited Fenghuang Waterfall, Yunlin County

Beautiful but rarely visited Fenghuang Waterfall, Yunlin County

Smangus, Hsinchu County

Smangus, Hsinchu County

The view from the summit of Snow Mountain, Taiwan's second highest mountain at 3,886 meters

The view from the summit of Snow Mountain, Taiwan’s second highest mountain at 3,886 meters

Songlongyan Rock, Shanlinxi, Nantou County

Songlongyan Rock, Shanlinxi, Nantou County

 

 

Taiwan 101: Part 3. Aspects of Taiwan

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

Guardian at the Zheng Chong-he Tomb , Miaoli County

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage, which starts in Taoyuan City and heads all the way down to Yunlin County and back

On the 8-day-long Longde Temple Matsu Pilgrimage

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

Salt fields at Jingzaijiao, Tainan County

 

While the natural beauty of Taiwan will always be its greatest allure for me personally, the island also has an extraordinary wealth of cultural, historic and industrial attractions. Salt harvesting has been carried out on Taiwan for hundreds of years (with a history of eight centuries on the ROC-controlled island of Kinmen). Today salt production is a very minor industry here, but some of the salt fields (and a pair of unusual salt ‘mountains’) remain; the best have a strange beauty that’s quite unlike anything else on the island. Sugar, one of Taiwan’s biggest industries in the 1950s and 60s is now produced at only two sites on Taiwan, but some of the old (mostly Japanese-built) sugar factories have been opened to the public, and it’s fascinating to explore the factory workings, and, at one, even ride on an old sugar train!

All over Taiwan, reminders of the Japanese occupation can be found in the form of Western-style buildings and Shinto shrines (all but one now in a ruined state), and (from an earlier age) over forty monuments to chastity and tombs of Qing dynasty figures, plus a trio of beautiful Qing-era gardens, all of which can be found along the western plains and in cities. Down the eastern side of the island vastly older monuments to Taiwan’s prehistoric past can be found in the form of carved rocks and standing stones.

Taiwan is home to several of the world’s rarer and stranger natural phenomenon. Natural eternal flames, pockets of natural gas that seep through cracks to the surface and ignite, can be found in at least eight spots around the island. Taiwan is one of around twenty countries around the world to have mud volcanoes, and is the only place on earth where strange badlands formations are found in a wet, tropical climate.

Finally Taiwan’s traditional Chinese (and Taiwanese) culture is far more intact and authentic than on Mainland China, thanks to the brutal excesses of the Cultural Revolution, which,  of course, never reached the island. Chinese opera is regularly performed at several venues in Taipei, the uniquely Taiwanese form of budaixi (Taiwanese glove puppetry) is displayed at two museums, and, among many traditional festivals and events celebrated around the island each year, there’s the Ghost Month, celebrated with eye-opening events in Keelung and Yilan County. Best of all, there’s the incomparable set of Mazu Pilgrimages (considered one of the world’s largest regular religious events), held (usually) over seven or eight days, starting at several temples around the island (and on outlying Penghu too), and  covering up to 400 or more kilometers – all on foot!

 

 

 

Sugar train at Qiaotou Sugar Factory, Kaohsiung City

Sugar train at Qiaotou Sugar Factory, Kaohsiung City

Mud Volcano at Tianliao, Tainan County

Mud Volcano at Tianliao, Tainan County

The Saoba Stone Pillars, the visible part of a prehistoric site over 3,000 years old, Hualien County

The Saoba Stone Pillars, the visible part of a prehistoric site over 3,000 years old, Hualien County

The Sloping House at Jiufenershan, devastated by the great earthquake of September 21st 1999

The Sloping House at Jiufenershan, devastated by the great earthquake of September 21st 1999

Ovens at Qiaotou Sugar Factory, Kaohsiung County

Ovens at Qiaotou Sugar Factory, Kaohsiung County

Celebrating during the Longde Temple Matsu Procession, the largest in northern Taiwan and the longest of all Matsu pilgrimages in Taiwan, covering over 400 kilometers - all on foot! - during its 7-8 days.

Celebrating during the Longde Temple Matsu Procession, the largest in northern Taiwan and the longest of all Matsu pilgrimages in Taiwan, covering over 400 kilometers – all on foot! – during its 7-8 days.

Fire Water Spring at Guanziling, Chiayi County

Fire Water Spring at Guanziling, Chiayi County

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung county

Museum of Marine Biology, Pingtung county

Monument to the Ryukyuan islanders killed in 1871 by Paiwan aborigines, setting off the Mudan Incident, which eventually led to the invasion of Taiwan by Japan

Monument to the Ryukyuan islanders killed in 1871 by Paiwan aborigines, setting off the Mudan Incident, which eventually led to the invasion of Taiwan by Japan

Eternal Youth Spring, a Japanese-era reservoir at Changua

Eternal Youth Spring, a Japanese-era reservoir at Changua

Offerings at the Grappling with the Ghosts Festival in Toucheng, Yilan County

Offerings at the Grappling with the Ghosts Festival in Toucheng, Yilan County

Zhongxing Guesthose (later renamed Yangmingshuwu), the last residence of President Chiang Kai-shek

Zhongxing Guesthose (later renamed Yangmingshuwu), the last residence of President Chiang Kai-shek

Chinese opera at Taipei Eye, Taipei City

Chinese opera at Taipei Eye, Taipei City

Water pipe bent by the force of the great 921 Earthquake, at Shigang, near Taichung City

Water pipe bent by the force of the great 921 Earthquake, at Shigang, near Taichung City

Museum of Marine Science, Keelung

Museum of Marine Science, Keelung

Ghost lantern (about to be burned) at the annual Releasing of the Water Lanterns festival during Ghost Month in Keelung

Ghost lantern (about to be burned) at the annual Releasing of the Water Lanterns festival during Ghost Month in Keelung

The Sarcophagus, a prehistoric site in Taitung County

The Sarcophagus, a prehistoric site in Taitung County

Taiwanese Budaixi (glove puppets) at Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum in Taipei City

Taiwanese Budaixi (glove puppets) at Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum in Taipei City

Inside the brick chimney at  Yuemei Sugar Factory, Taichung City

Inside the brick chimney at Yuemei Sugar Factory, Taichung City

Badlands formations at the Grand Canyon, Caoshan, Tainan City

Badlands formations at the Grand Canyon, Caoshan, Tainan City

Salt fields in Tainan City

Salt fields in Tainan City

The Japanese-era Land Bank building, Taipei City

The Japanese-era Land Bank building, Taipei City

One of Chiang Kaishek's cars, at his Sizihwan Bay Villa in Kaohsiung city

One of Chiang Kaishek’s cars, at his Sizihwan Bay Villa in Kaohsiung city

Museum of Marine Science, Keelung

Museum of Marine Science, Keelung

The Grand Canyon of the Dahan River, on the border between Taichung City and Miaoli County, created by the great 921 earthquake of 1999

The Grand Canyon of the Dahan River, on the border between Taichung City and Miaoli County, created by the great 921 earthquake of 1999

Matsu Pilgrimage celebrations

Matsu Pilgrimage celebrations

Japanese-era Wude Hall (used for martial arts training during colonial times), Tainan City

Japanese-era Wude Hall (used for martial arts training during colonial times), Tainan City

Fire Mountain, Miaoli County

Fire Mountain, Miaoli County

Yangnu Mud Pond, Kaohsiung City

Yangnu Mud Pond, Kaohsiung City

Lin Family Garde, one of Taiwan's 'Four Great Qing Gardens'

Lin Family Garde, one of Taiwan’s ‘Four Great Qing Gardens’

Ruined Shinto shrine at Jinguashi, New Taipei City

Ruined Shinto shrine at Jinguashi, New Taipei City

Wushanding Mud Volcano, Kaohsiung County

Wushanding Mud Volcano, Kaohsiung County

Grappling with Ghosts at Toucheng, Yilan County, during the annual Ghost Month

Grappling with Ghosts at Toucheng, Yilan County, during the annual Ghost Month

Chastity Memorial Arch on Kinmen island

Chastity Memorial Arch on Kinmen island

Jenn Lann Temple on the first night of the annual 7-8 day Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage, the largest and most famous of Taiwan's Mazu pilgrimages

Jenn Lann Temple on the first night of the annual 7-8 day Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage, the largest and most famous of Taiwan’s Mazu pilgrimages

Chuhuo natural eternal flame, Pingdong County

Chuhuo natural eternal flame, Pingdong County

 

Taiwan 101: Part 2. Eastern Taiwan

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

Stone Umbrella Rock, Chenggong, Hualien County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

View from Dongao Rest Area, Yilan County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Daylilies at Liushidanshan, Hualien County

Hualien and Taitung Counties are finally becoming easier of access, with fast (although famously difficult-to-book) Puyuma trains, and big improvements (still ongoing) in the notoriously dangerous Suhua Highway, and the undisturbed, peaceful nature of this region might eventually change, but for now it remains one of the most enchanting regions of the island. Since the Central Mountain Range is relatively inaccessible from the eastern side, the main attractions of the region (apart from Taroko Gorge) is its rich aboriginal culture, beautiful, often spectacular coastline, and the wonderful East Rift Valley, where not only do two tectonic plates meet, but the ‘join’ can even be clearly seen in a couple of places.

Matai'an wetlands, Hualiuen County

Matai’an wetlands, Hualiuen County

Shakadang Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Shakadang Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Aohua Waterfall, Yilan County

Aohua Waterfall, Yilan County

Mount Nanhuda, Yilan/Hualien Counties

Mount Nanhuda, Yilan/Hualien Counties

Taroko Gorge Gridge, Hualien County

Taroko Gorge Gridge, Hualien County

Pineapple fields in southern Hualien County

Pineapple fields in southern Hualien County

The lower fall at Jinyue Waterfall, Yilan County

The lower fall at Jinyue Waterfall, Yilan County

The remote Mysterious Lake, Yilan County

The remote Mysterious Lake, Yilan County

Moon Cave, Hualien County

Moon Cave, Hualien County

Datong aboriginal settlement, Hualien County

Datong aboriginal settlement, Hualien County

Monument in memory of those who died building the cliff-hugging Suhua highway, Yilan County

Monument in memory of those who died building the cliff-hugging Suhua highway, Yilan County

Lisong Hot Springs, Taitung County

Lisong Hot Springs, Taitung County

Walami Trail, Hualien County

Walami Trail, Hualien County

Sculpture beneath the Man Rock, Hualien County

Sculpture beneath the Man Rock, Hualien County

Alishi Cold Springs, Yilan County

Alishi Cold Springs, Yilan County

Water Curtain Cave, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Water Curtain Cave, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Beach at Fenniaolin, Yilan County

Beach at Fenniaolin, Yilan County

Xingang Waterfall, the highest waterfall in eastern Taiwan at nearly 200 meters

Xingang Waterfall, the highest waterfall in eastern Taiwan at nearly 200 meters

The Qingshui Stream at Mugumuyu, Hualien County

The Qingshui Stream at Mugumuyu, Hualien County

Mysterious Coast, Nanao, Yilan County

Mysterious Coast, Nanao, Yilan County

The incredible green paddy fields of the East Rift Valley

The incredible green paddy fields of the East Rift Valley

Wenshan Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Wenshan Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Lintienshan, the best-preserved Japanese-era logging station in Taiwan, Hualien County

Lintienshan, the best-preserved Japanese-era logging station in Taiwan, Hualien County

Golden Grotto, one of Taiwan's finest river traces, Hualien County

Golden Grotto, one of Taiwan’s finest river traces, Hualien County

Shitiping, Hualien County

Shitiping, Hualien County

Jiaming Lake, Taitung County

Jiaming Lake, Taitung County

On the Dali-Datong Trail, Hualien County

On the Dali-Datong Trail, Hualien County

Suhua Highway view, Yilan County

Suhua Highway view, Yilan County

The amazing Zhuilu Old Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

The amazing Zhuilu Old Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Jinyue Waterfall, Yilan County

Jinyue Waterfall, Yilan County

Liyu Lake, Hualien County

Liyu Lake, Hualien County

Rafting the Xiuguluan River, Hualien County

Rafting the Xiuguluan River, Hualien County

Dongyue Cold Spring, Yilan County

Dongyue Cold Spring, Yilan County

Another view of Water Curtain Cave, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Another view of Water Curtain Cave, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Phoenix (Fenghuang) Waterfall, Hualien County

Phoenix (Fenghuang) Waterfall, Hualien County

Near Dali, Hualien County

Near Dali, Hualien County

Wulu Gorge, South Cross-island Highway, Taitung County

Wulu Gorge, South Cross-island Highway, Taitung County

Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Wenshan Hot Springs, Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

 

Near Lisong Hot Springs, Taitung County

Near Lisong Hot Springs, Taitung County

 

Taiwan 101: Part 1. The North

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan

The Candleholder Rocks, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

Disused logging railway tracks at Taipingshan, Yilan County

The Buddha's Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

The Buddha’s Tongue, Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

Cave of Foreign Words, Keelung

I’ve started exploring new places again, and should start getting back to regular blog posts in the next couple of week. Meanwhile, I thought I’d make a few posts giving a short overview (in photos) of my latest book, Taiwan 101, which aims to show the incredible variety of sights around Taiwan (and the ROC-controlled islands). It really is an amazing place, and I’ve come to realize this even more during the several years I’ve spent researching and writing the new books (there are two volumes), during which I’ve seen loads of places, attended a number of amazing festivals, and done quite a few things that I’ve never done here before. Hopefully I’ll get out six posts, one for each of the six main sections into which the two volumes of the book are dvivided.

 

First up: the north: Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan City, Keelung City and Yilan County. Here’s a taste of the many, many places to see and things to do within day-trip distance of Taipei city.

Scholar Huang’s Residence, Lodong, Yilan County

Scholar Huang’s Residence, Lodong, Yilan County

Way down to the wonderful natural Xinxing Hot Springs, Yilan County

Way down to the wonderful natural Xinxing Hot Springs, Yilan County

Sisters' Waterfall, Sanxia, New Taipei City

Sisters’ Waterfall, Sanxia, New Taipei City

Loving Mother Mountain, New Taipei City

Loving Mother Mountain, New Taipei City

Pinglin, New Taipei City

Pinglin, New Taipei City

Dayoukeng Fumaroles, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

Dayoukeng Fumaroles, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

Lovers' Bridge, Jingtong, New Taipei City

Lovers’ Bridge, Jingtong, New Taipei City

Tunnel at Fuxing Mine, Houtong, New Taipei City

Tunnel at Fuxing Mine, Houtong, New Taipei City

Teapot Mountain, Jinguashi, New Taipei City

Teapot Mountain, Jinguashi, New Taipei City

Sileng Hot Springs, Taoyuan City

Sileng Hot Springs, Taoyuan City

Natural rock pillars at Nanya, Northeast Coast, New Taipei City

Natural rock pillars at Nanya, Northeast Coast, New Taipei City

Sulfur Lake, Yangmingshan, Taipei City

Sulfur Lake, Yangmingshan, Taipei City

Historic Coal Transporting Bridge, Houtong, New Taipei City

Historic Coal Transporting Bridge, Houtong, New Taipei City

River TRacing on the Masu Stream, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

River TRacing on the Masu Stream, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

Main Gate of Huwei Fort, Tamsui, New Taipei City

Main Gate of Huwei Fort, Tamsui, New Taipei City

Taoyuan Valley, Yilan County

Taoyuan Valley, Yilan County

Silver Stream Cave, Xindian, New Taipei City

Silver Stream Cave, Xindian, New Taipei City

Mysterious Coast, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Mysterious Coast, Jinshan, New Taipei City

Zhou Family Monument, Jingtong, New Taipei City

Zhou Family Monument, Jingtong, New Taipei City

Wanggu Waterfall, Shifen, New Taipei City

Wanggu Waterfall, Shifen, New Taipei City

Sheliao East Fort, Keelung City

Sheliao East Fort, Keelung City

Cuifeng Lake, Taipingshan, Yilan County

Cuifeng Lake, Taipingshan, Yilan County

River Tracing at Jiaoxi, Yilan County

River Tracing at Jiaoxi, Yilan County

Longdong, Northeast Coast, New Taipei City

Longdong, Northeast Coast, New Taipei City

Paigu Stream Hot Spring, Yilan County

Paigu Stream Hot Spring, Yilan County

Houshan Hot Spring, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

Houshan Hot Spring, Yangmingshan, New Taipei City

 

Taiwan’s Fascinating Memorial Arches, Historic Tombs and Ancestral Shrines

 

Here’s another (somewhat abridged) chapter from my new book, Taiwan 101: unforgettable places, events and experiences on Isla Formosa (working title: feedback and suggestions for improving it welcomed!). It’s a bit more ‘specialized’ than the majority of the 101 sections, but these historic curiosities become remarkably interesting when you start to explore them, and they’re sadly little known and under-appreciated. The chapter in the book will include more examples of each. 

Qinjing Arch, Kinmen

Qinjing Arch, Kinmen

Zheng Yong-xi Tomb, Hsinchu

Guardian statues at Zheng Yong-xi Tomb, Hsinchu

The beautiful Wuluanqi Cemetery  in Taiping, Taichung City

The beautiful Wuluanqi Cemetery in Taiping, Taichung City

View from the Tomb of Huang Wei over the flat plains of northern Kinmen island

View from the Tomb of Huang Wei over the flat plains of northern Kinmen island

At first glance, Taiwan’s historic relics seem rather humble in comparison with the island’s magnificent natural beauty and its extraordinary cultural richness. It’s a sad fact that much of Taiwan’s history has been lost for good owing to a lack of money in the past to preserve many old and crumbling structures, combined with an unfortunate eagerness to tear down historic houses to make room for more modern structures, or rebuild precious old temples simply to make them bigger and grander. Thankfully though, the Taiwanese authorities are generally far better these days at looking after the island’s remaining historic treasures, and, although Taiwan has little that’s likely to quicken the pulse of the average European historian, there’s a great deal of pleasure and fascination to be found by exploring the island’s heritage structures. Continue reading