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!
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 Continue reading
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 Continue reading
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.
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
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
It’s been so long since I’ve been hiking that I’ve started putting on weight and seem to be entering a mild depression. The plum rains seem – hopefully – to be loosening their grip on the island and there are hopes that we might have a good weekend exploring coming up (our last attempt, a scooter trip around the mountains of Chiayi three weeks ago turned into a soggy disaster). Meanwhile, partly as a little self therapy, and to replace my last, angry, post from top position where its been for the last couple of weeks, here’s a couple of photos from recent and not-so-recent trips around the main island of Taiwan. Thanks to Oksana for the ancient tree photo – much better than any of the ones I took myself!
With so many favorite routes in the upper Keelung River valley (Pingxi/Shifen/Sandiaoling) it’s hard to believe there are still great hikes yet to discover, but the Dishui Guanyun – Mt Wanggu – Mt Wufen ridge walk, although it looks nothing special on the map, is yet another classic – just long and wild enough to be really fun, and with some really magnificent views (especially around Mount Wanggu).
The hike starts at Lingjiao Station, but first it’s worth a very brief detour to nearby Lingjiao Waterfall, especially when the water level is relatively high, as it was on our visit. This place was once a popular cooling-off spot in summer, but someone drowned there a few years after I first arrived in Taiwan, and maybe it’s because of this that the place isn’t popular anymore. In any event it’s a beautiful fall, second only in width and impressiveness to Shifen Waterfall a couple of kilometers downstream, and spectacular after a typhoon.
A 30 minute walk up the road beside the station leads to the trailhead for Dripping Water (Dishui) Guanyun Cave, which now languishes behind an ugly wall (which makes seeing the stalagmite after which the place is named difficult) and a large temple. At least the view from the temple terrace is great!
The trail starts as a narrow rock-cut ledge in the rockface leading from the temple to its large water tank. Continue reading
It turns out there’s a good reason that I don’t go hiking in the Tucheng area (just west of Taipei City) so often. It’s not that there aren’t lots of trails there, or that there isn’t so much to see, but simply because the meddling local authorities have ‘improved’ so many of the area’s trails, which are now under wide bands of stone (well at least it’s not cement for the most part). Local residents have added their own deft touches – makeshift shelters of iron, tarpaulin and other fine materials, which become an impromptu karaoke parlour on fine weekends, a series of kitchen gardens (which seem to be multiplying) stocked with cabbages, onions and the like, and rustic outdoor ‘gyms’ with bars, swings and (of course) giant hula hoops for getting that waist in trim! Walking along the once lovely wooded ridge between Zhonghe and Sanxia is these days best considered an interesting introduction to Taiwanese culture rather than a walk in the bosom of nature. Continue reading
My new book, The Islands of Taiwan is currently in layout and should be out in December; while choosing the (twenty) color photo pages of the book this week I thought it would be fun (and also a bit of useful pre-advertising perhaps!) to make a short comparison of the main island groups. Writing the book has been an amazing and educational project (although there’s still lots to learn and experience – for instance I STILL haven’t seen one of those elusive Tao boat launching ceremonies on Lanyu!), and I’ve learnt to appreciate and even love a few places (Kinmen especially) that I once wasn’t too keen on. However although I’ve tried to be as objective as possible I can’t help but love some places more than others (I’ve already got in trouble with certain people for my critical views on the present state of Penghu…). The best way to see if you agree with me or not is simply to get out there and see some of the islands for yourself. All of them have their own cultural, natural, historical or military interest (and usually a combination of several) and each makes for a richly rewarding visit. Please feel free to let me know what you feel, or share any useful tips you may have after a trip, on the book’s website, which is up-and-running (although still being constructed) at http://taiwanislands.wordpress.com/
Happy island hopping!
Everyone assumes that Taiwan’s an island, but sorry: this is well wide of the mark: it’s over a hundred islands! Even if we insist on getting pedantic and leave out Matsu and Kinmen (which, by one of world’s more bizarre examples of politics are part of the ROC but NOT part of Taiwan!) there’s still nearly ten-score islands and islets surrounding that big and very beautiful one in the middle which most of us residents live on. Continue reading
For some reason Mount Wudang (武當山), a couple of hundred kilometers northwest of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, doesn’t make it into the list of five sacred Daoist mountains, and yet it’s sometimes regarded as the most important Daoist Mountain in the kingdom. Figure that one out.
Mt Wudang owes its historic significance to the fact that it was here that Taiqiquan was ‘invented’ around a thousand years ago: the familiar story – a monk being inspired by a battle between a bird and a snake – happened right here, in this deliriously lovely spot that now attracts fit hikers and lazy tourists alike with its winning combination of ancient and very atmospheric temple architecture and magnificent natural beauty. Continue reading