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

The best of the best: five fantastic Taiwan day hikes

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

Shipwreck on the Chufengbi Coast Hike, Pingdong County

On the Stegasaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

On the Stegosaurus Ridge, New Taipei City

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

Jhuilu Historic Trail, Taroko Gorge, Hualien

On the 'Cliff Trail', en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

On the ‘cliff trail’, en route to Jiuhaocha aboriginal village

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Cloud Dragon Waterfall, Batongguan Historic Trail

Without a doubt, Taiwan’s finest hiking is in its astonishing high mountains, but with a very few exceptions (the peaks of Hohuanshan and the Southern Three Stars, which are still out-of-bounds over half a decade after Morakot destroyed the road leading to the trailheads) arranging the logistics of the trip (permits, transport, accommodation etc) is guaranteed to prove anything from a headache to a full-blown migraine.

However Taiwan (and especially the northern half!) has scores of outrageously good day hikes, most of which are free of such irritating hassles, and there are enough hikes of all grades to satisfy all but the most demanding of hikers. Continue reading

Save The Sanctuary!

Sean McCormack’s inspirational venture, a shelter for abandoned dogs and other animals on the north coast of Taiwan, is facing closure after the authorities declared their structures on their new location illegal yesterday (November 20th), despite assurances in the past on the contrary. In Sean’s words: Public Works came this morning. They said we have to destroy the kennels, even though they advised us we could remove the roofs and lower everything to legal height, which we have spent a lot of time and money doing instead of finding a new place. Judy will be calling Mr. Kao, the official overseeing our case, to find out why this is happening.

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Sanctuary residents get a walk

The Sanctuary is a not-for-profit organization established in 2010 and run by expat and local animal lovers to give a home to abandoned, injured and unwanted animals. Its mission, in its own words, is ‘To relieve the suffering of animals in the Taipei City and Taipei County areas, through rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming…‘ Presently over 200 dogs, plus various other animals, including cats, birds, squirrels, and even pigs, call The Sanctuary home. Unfortunately, through reasons beyond its control The Sanctuary is suddenly facing eviction from its present location, and with a long and wet winter coming up soon, a new home for The Sanctuary’s many animal residents is urgently needed.  Continue reading

Shanghuang Stream (上磺溪): a Little-known Yangmingshan Gem

The 'cave' on the Shanghuang Stream

The ‘cave’ on the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

Tracing the Huangxi with its sulfur-stained rocks, en route to the confluence with the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

The beautiful (and popular) Bayan Hot Spring lies near the start of the river trace to and up the Shanghuang Stream

Yangminshan has a couple of classic river traces – the wonderful Masu Stream (still one of my favorite river traces to date) and the popular Toucian Stream – a very popular place for beginners to learn the art of river tracing. The remaining river traces in the national park (and it’s beginning to look like there are quite a few good ones!) seem to be the preserve of keen local river tracers, and, if our discovery of this real gem last week is any indicator, there are some jealously kept secrets on YMS waiting to be discovered by the rest of us!

We only discovered the Shanghuiang Stream and its amazing gorge/cave scenery after a member of our hiking group posted a video of two blokes kayaking (yes, kayaking!) down it (probably after a typhoon). Continue reading

Taipei’s National Palace Museum: What on EARTH are they thinking…?

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(click here for the full story)

First they tried to charge hikers to use the new Paiyun Hut on Yushan (Taiwan’s highest mountain; which is fair enough), but then decided to charge foreign climbers way over twice the price paid by local and expat resident hikers to use the same facilities. Now, according to a news story that appeared on March 17th, the local authorities have come up with the bright idea of increasing entrance fees (by between 56% and a staggering 150%!) to possibly Taiwan’s greatest single tourist attraction, the National Palace Museum, but only for foreigners – apparently tax paying expats as well as visitors. Meanwhile Taiwanese visitors will actually enjoy a 6.2% decrease in the ticket price when the proposed new measures come into effect.

I’m not even gonna try to work out the logic or reasoning behind the daft and potentially extremely harmful plan as described if this tier pricing system does actually come into effect.

I, and I’m sure many other foreign visitors, find it offensive that on the evidence of this, the Museum authorities seem to think the Taiwanese people have priority to see and enjoy the magnificent contents of this museum. Especially odd is the decision to increase the price of group tickets (the majority of groups visiting the Museum being of Mainland Chinese tourists) by a mighty 150%. Is the sublime irony lost on them?  The custodians of the collection, the Taiwanese (many of whom are at great pains to distance themselves from their Chinese heritage these days) technically stole the collection from its original owners in Beijing, and will now charge the Chinese a great deal over the odds to view one of their own country’s great treasures.

In any event it might not bode well at all for Taiwan’s hopes to have places such as the basalt formations of Penghu, the historic battlefields of Kinmen, and the unique aboriginal culture of Lanyu (Orchid Island) added to the UNESCO World Heritage list if they think they can get away with welcoming foreign tourists to visit another of the island’s world-class attractions, but then charge them way more than the Taiwanese for the pleasure of seeing another piece of world heritage lying within its borders. Another one that, in the spirit of UNESCO, should be preserved for the good of the ‘entire world citizenry’ .

(photo from Wikipedia.org)

(photo from Wikipedia.org)

Twenty Favorite Taiwan Waterfalls

The Golden Grotto in Hualien County

The Golden Grotto in Hualien County

The YUanuang Waterfall on the Xiaonianxi in Kaohsiung County

The Yuanyang Waterfall on the Xiaonian Stream in Kaohsiung County

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County

Longgong Waterfall, Chiayi County

Taiwan is paradise for a waterfall lover like myself. It’s a bit of a joke among friends and family, but I’ve loved these things since I was a kid and used to scan guidebooks back home in England, reading about stunning cascades with rich and evocative-sounding names such as Cauldron Snout, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Falls of Glomach and Sgwd y Eira. When I finally passed my driving test (em…on the fourth try…) and got my first car, a Datsun Violet, there was no stopping me  – in a series of weekend trips and longer holidays I started methodically touring first Wales and then England, exploring all those waterfalls I’d read and dreamt about in books. Within a year or two the interest had become almost an obsession, resulting in me writing a book (sadly never published) covering the complete waterfalls of England (totalling some 370… named examples).

It would probably be near-impossible to see all the waterfalls in Taiwan even if I made it my full-time job, since they are just too numerous and many are simply very remote or otherwise difficult to reach, so it’s just as well I’ve at least partly grown out of my youthful obsession. Waterfalls are still an irresistible magnet  however, and I’m never happier on a hike then when it includes at least one (but preferably more than one) waterfall. Continue reading

Mount Beichatian and White Veil Waterfall: Northern Taiwan at its Wildest

White Veil Waterfall (thanks to Nick E for the photo)

White Veil Waterfall (thanks to Nick E for the photo)

The Hewei Tree

The Hewei Tree

One of the many crude ladders on the final push to the summit of Mount Beichatian

One of the many crude ladders on the final push to the summit of Mount Beichatian

escape2 cover

The walk (including the trail to White Veil Waterfall) is described on pages 194-201).

Mount Beichatian (北插天山: 1,727 meters) is such a popular challenge hike (it’s the highest peak that can reasonably climbed as a day trip from Taipei) that I (and I’m sure many other weary, muddy hikers) fail to appreciate just how beautiful it is while panting up its steep, seemingly never-ending ridge. Good weather does of course make a great difference, so that’s probably why my third trip there, on a weekend in mid October that turned out unexpectedly nice, was the first time that I really noticed its extraordinary scenic merits.

The first time I climbed the mountain was as a day trip, coming in and out from Manyueyuan, near Sansia in Taipei County, and although we made it up and back in daylight, my main memory of that climb was how damned muddy the final section to the summit was. It was nearly a decade later when I climbed it again, 2 years ago (in 2011), with a group of Taipei Hikers. This time the trails were very much better, with wooden boardwalks in places on the trail up to the campsite, and log ladders up the steepest muddiest parts of the summit trail. For this trip we decided to split the trip into two days, camping the night in the idyllic wooded ‘spring’ (水源) campsite on the shoulder of the mountain, which worked great, because it gave us time to explore the nearby Yunei Stream Ancient Tree Grove on the second day before heading down. Continue reading

Youkeng Old Trail and The Thousand Step Ridge (Sandiaoling to Shifen, part Two)

A very brief walk on the tracks, between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations

A very brief walk on the tracks, between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations

Pretty (and little-visited) Youkang Waterfall

Pretty (and little-visited) Youkang Waterfall

The tough part of the hike - ninety-plus minutes from the Youkang Old Trail up to the ridge high above

The tough part of the hike – ninety-plus minutes from the Youkang Old Trail up to the ridge high above

Youkeng Old Trail (幼坑古道) runs parallel to the tracks of the Pingxi Branch Line (an hour’s train ride southeast of Taipei) between Sandiaoling and Dahua Stations, and not only provides a much easier alternative to the ridgewalk between the two stations over Mount Neipinglin (described in the last blog entry, below), but also makes for an attractive and interesting hike in its own right. Of course this being Taiwan, there are several options for turning this simple and pleasant walk into a (much) harder hike, and instead of descending to Dahua station at the end of the old trail, we went in the opposite direction, south, taking a trail over the steep little Mount Youkeng and a seemingly endless succession of similarly steep little peaks, to finally join the Mount Neipinglin ridge. A final descent to Shifen was by the Thousand Step ridge, which is a lot more attractive and worthwhile than the name might suggest! Continue reading

Mount Neipinglin: a magnificent alternative hiking route from Sandiaoling to Shifen

Arriving on the summit of Mount Neipinglin

Arriving on the summit of Mount Neipinglin

On the trail, about an hour out of Sandiaoling

On the trail, about an hour out of Sandiaoling

The Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk is without doubt one of Taiwan’s finest (half-) day hikes, and such is its popularity that most hikers (myself included) rarely get to try any of the other very fine hikes in the immediate area. In a determined attempt to start putting matters right a rather large group (17!) of us offloaded onto the platform at Sandiaoling Station one bright and sunny Sunday at the end of September with the intention of following an intriguing ‘new’ route that, like the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk,  connects the stations of Sandiaoling and Shifen on the scenic Pingxi Branch Railway Line. Instead of waterfalls, wide dirt trails and the occasional wooden rope ladder for company however, there’s some seriously dense and rough terrain, plus a succession of pointy little peaks, culminating in 502 meter-high Mount Neipinglin (內坪林山). Continue reading