Taiwan’s Top Hundred Peaks: 2. Eight Easier Treks

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Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain, is also one of its easiest to climb

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Mountains in Taiwan are famous for their sunrises, but often it’s the sunsets that are the most unforgettable

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Early morning on Mount Tao, Wuling Quadruple

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Jade Mountain is both an exciting climb and a surprisingly easy one

Let me start by saying I’m no expert at hiking Taiwan’s high mountains! Of the Top 100 Peaks (a list of one-hundred mountain peaks from the 270-odd summits in Taiwan that exceed 3,000 meters in height), I’ve so far only done 29 – a lot less than some hiker friends of mine. However I’m acutely aware that starting out on the Top Hundred can be be a bit daunting – the difficulty of the peaks on the list varies hugely, and while two or three summits on the list are within the ability of all able-bodied people, and a further ten or twenty can be conquered by anyone that’s reasonably fit and has a few Taiwan day-hikes under their belt, after that the difficulty level quickly goes through the roof, and inexperienced hikers could easily find themselves in serious trouble if they pick the wrong trek. Continue reading

Mount Baiguda (白姑大山; 3, 341 meters)

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The deceptively gentle-looking summit peak of Mount Baiguda

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Dusk at Siyan campsite, day one

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On the crags which lead to the final climb to the summit

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Ancient trees (both standing and fallen) are a dominant feature of the trail to Mount Baiguda

Mount Baiguda (3,341 meters, no 45 on the ‘Top Hundred’ list) on the border between Nantou County and Taichung City doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as some of the other summits on Taiwan’s Hundred Peaks list. Permission to climb is easy to get (only a police permit is required), yet there were few other people up there this last weekend, despite the absolutely perfect weather. It’s among the tougher peaks on the list I’ve done to date, especially since we did it in 2 days (meaning a 14-to-16-hour second day of hiking!), but it amazed us all with its beauty. Photos I’ve seen on blogs and elsewhere are usually of the deceptively gentle, rounded, wooded summit dome, which looks boring as anything, but is in fact steep and very rocky, with a stellar 360-degree view from the top. Even more rewarding are the series of crags which the trail follows on the way to the final slog up to the summit peak – nothing technical or difficult, but plenty of tough, knee-breaking  ups and downs, and absolutely stunning views over the surrounding wilderness. Definitely one of my top five high mountains so far, and among the tougher ones too! Continue reading

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

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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 Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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