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 Continue reading

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

The Wind Lion Gods of Kinmen

Wind Lion God at Xiyuan

Wind Lion God at Xiyuan

Houhu

Sihu

Xiguoshan

Xiguoshan

It’s been many months since I posted a blog here, simply because I’ve been working flat out getting my new book (actually a pair of volumes), Taiwan 101: unmissable places, sights and experiences on Isla Formosa (working title!) researched and drafted. It’s finally getting there! Here’s a draft of one of the 101 sections (slightly abridged: the book will have GPS coordinates for each statue, and some more info) that will be in the book as a taster. Kinmen is a must-see stop in any tour of the ROC (I know – it’s NOT part of Taiwan, so no angry messages please!), and the island’s fengshiye (wind lion gods) are one of its quirkiest and most fascinating sights [my total of statues found and photographed to date is 78 of the 81 statues – wind lion god statue hunting can become an obsession!), so they deserve a chapter all to themselves. The pair of books will be out in May 2016. Continue reading

Hua Island: truly off-the-beaten-track in Taiwan

Hua Island Lighthouse

Hua Island Lighthouse

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Hua Island village

Hua Island village

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island's north coast

Hua Islander collecting wild beans near the island’s north coast

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Hua Island (花嶼), with no airport and only three weekly boats connecting it with the outside world, is probably as far off the beaten track as you can go in Taiwan, short of walking several days into the high mountains. It’s the westernmost island in the Penghu archipelago (and is often quoted as being the westernmost point in Taiwan; in political talk Matsu and Kinmen belong to the ROC but are not part of Taiwan itself – look it up!). Quickly moving away from a highly sensitive subject, I think we can all agree that given it’s lack of connections with the rest of the world, Hua Island is something of a backwater. Continue reading

Jiufenershan: A sobering reminder of the Power of the 921 Earthquake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The famous collapsed temple at Jiji, near the epicentre of the quake

The Grand Canyon at Zuolan

The Grand Canyon at Zhuolan

The Slanting House at Jiufenershan

The sloping house at Jiufenershan

 

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

Photo in the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan, showing tea fields on the line of the Chelongpu Fault, which ruptured during the eartlquake

At 1:47 am on September 21st, 1999, the most powerful earthquake to hit Taiwan in over a century (measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale) struck the center of the island, killing 2,415 people. Over 11,000 were seriously injured, and damage to property (many of the buildings that fell were shoddily constructed or designed to inadequate safety standards) was estimated at NT$300 billion.

The quake has become part of the national conscience (most people still usually refer to it as simply “921”, after the date on which it struck) and although the island has well and truly moved on, plenty of memories of that awful night remain to this day. Like Jiufenershan, a place guaranteed to bring home the primeval power of the catastrophe. Continue reading

Encore Garden: Taichung’s atmospheric abandoned theme park

In the former Orchid Garden

In the former Orchid Garden

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The entrance to Encore Garden

The entrance to Encore Garden

What is it about abandoned theme parks that makes them such irresistible place to explore – for some of us at least? Although there are apparently quite a number dotted around Taiwan, Encore Garden (雅哥花園) at Dakeng, just east of Taichung city, became pretty famous a year or so ago, probably after pics of it did the rounds on the Net.

Continue reading

Fascinating Keelung

The Buddha's Hand

The Buddha’s Hand

Keelung French Cemetery

Keelung French Cemetery

Hoping Island

Hoping Island

Baimiwong Fort

Baimiwong Fort

Keelung Island

Keelung Island

Sheliao Fort

Sheliao East Fort

Fairy Cave

Fairy Cave

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

For details, see Taipei Escapes I

Keelung was true to its reputation on my last visit a weekend or two back – rainy, misty and cold. It was also every bit as fascinating and scenic as ever, and it’s surprising that this much more positive aspect of Taiwan’s second port is so relatively little known. Partly to collect some photos taken over the years in one single place, and also to (hopefully) give an idea just how fascinating Keelung is, here’s a series of photos (and a few words) on some of the city’s most interesting spots (apart from the Miaokou snack street…).

Continue reading

More from Kaohsiung County

Badlands near Yanqiao

Badlands near Yanqiao

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Meiya Waterfall, near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter...), near Maolin

Crossing the Wanshan no. 1 Suspension Bridge (by scooter…), near Maolin

The Natural Cleft behind the 'Stone Breast' Temple near Tianliao

The Natural Cleft behind the ‘Stone Breast’ Temple near Tianliao

The 'Grand Canyon' near Nanhua

The ‘Grand Canyon’ near Nanhua

The main reason for our recent scooter weekend in Kaohsiung County was to explore a couple of new sights, and revisit the area’s mud volcanoes for a new project I’m working on, but we got to fit a lot more into those two jam-packed days.

First up came the wonderful Badlands landscapes: the magnificent ‘Grand Canyon’ (大峽谷) near Nanhua (南化), just across the border in Tainan County… Continue reading

Mud Volcanoes, Revisited

Wushanding Mud Volcano

Wushanding Mud Volcano

Yangnu Mud Volcano

Yangnu Mud Volcano

Another view of Yangnu

Another view of Yangnu

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The main focus of our last scooter trip south to Kaohsiung was to explore the Ghost Axe Canyon, that intriguing spot on the map that turned into such an amazing discovery, but the trip was so much quicker than expected that we had plenty of time to see some of the other sights in the area – butterflies, strange peaks of uplifted coral, a waterfall or two …and mud volcanoes!  Kaohsiung County has a number of Taiwan’s best examples of this strange phenomena, and on this trip I revisited all four – two (Wushanding and Yangnu) near the town of Yanqiao in Kaohsiung County that are probably the best on the island, a tricky-to-find one near the town of Qiaotou, and a fourth at Tianliao, near the border with Tainan County.

I described them all (and a number of others, on the blog here, so this time I’ll put up some more pics of these strange, strange things… Continue reading