The Daylily Mountains of Hualien and Taidong

Daylilies at Chihkeshan

Daylilies at Chihkeshan



The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

The harvested buds laid out to dry, Chihkeshan

Winter is returning, and with it the Yangmingshan Calla Lily festival, which means that once again while heading up Yangmingshan to teach students there twice a week I’ll have to share the bus with gaggles of giggling young couples clutching armfuls  of white calla lily blooms.

What’s the big deal with calla lilies and the annual Jhuzihu Calla Lilly Festival? What drives so many to venture up into frigid, mist-shrouded Yangmingshan at the nastiest time of year just to see a muddy fields of apple-green foliage studded with white funnel-flowers which don’t even have a scent? Those who seem to think that the calla lillies at Jhuzihu make a fine display in the early months of the year really must make a point next summer of hiring a scooter, renting a car, joining a tour, or otherwise finding some way to get down to Taiwan’s east coast during the hot months (August and September are best) and see one of Taiwan’s most astounding annual sights: the blooming of the three great daylily plantations in southern Hualien and northern Taidong Counties Continue reading

Taiwan’s Offshore Islands: an Introduction

Wangankou Beach, Wangan Island, Penghu



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

Happy island hopping!

The beautiful cliffs along the eastern peninsula of Dongyin island, Matsu

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

Lanyu and Green Island: a return visit

Youzihu, Green Island

Pekingese Dog and Sleeping Beauty Rocks, Green Island

A violin made completely by hand by an inmate at Green Island’s notorious New Life Correction Center (the first of two penal colonies on the island)

I’ll keep this short.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Lanyu (Orchid Island) and Green Island are  fabulous! Getting to either involves nabbing a notoriously hard-to-get plane ticket (and they’re much harder to obtain for Lanyu than for Green Island) or putting up with an often rough boat ride. But its well, well worth it! Continue reading

Badlands Country

Between Caoshan and Tianliao, in Tainan County

Apart from some magnificent temples, the occasional fine old town, and a scattering of miscellaneous minor sights, the flat plains and rolling foothills that run down Taiwan’s western coastal strip is generally a zone to pass through quickly, rather than stop and explore, but in northern Kaohsiung and southern Tainan counties, the otherwise monotonous and unremarkable landscape is punctuated by a quite remarkable series of bizarre landforms, known collectively by the Taiwanese as ‘moon world’ (月世界). Continue reading

The Mud Volcanoes of Southern Taiwan

Yangnu Mud Pond, near Yanchiao in Kaohsiung County

It was a bit of a shock a couple of years ago when a couple of professors at Taiwan University suddenly announced that the volcanic peaks of Yangmingshan (which loom above my apartment window near Guandu) are not extinct, as was generally assumed, but that there is in fact still an active magma chamber below, and the volcanoes may well erupt again at some time in the future. Luckily, they hastened to add, Taipei citizens shouldn’t expect any trouble in the foreseeable future. However somewhere out in the boonies of Kaohsiung, Taidong and Hualien Counties, several volcanoes are very much active, erupting up to several times a year and inundating the surrounding countryside with their all-consuming, liquid contents. Glad to say though that these aren’t malevolent, lava-spewing giants, but another, completely different and much less dangerous kind of force of nature, the mud volcano. Continue reading


Sure-footed goat on the Dragon’s Head Rock, at Lanyu’s southernmost tip

The only detailed guide to Lanyu in English is in The Islands of Taiwan, on pages 195-216.

The only detailed guide to Lanyu in English is in The Islands of Taiwan, on pages 195-216.

 According to a couple of local girls we got talking to while hiking up to the marvellous Heaven Lake (天池), Lanyu (蘭嶼, Orchid Island) isn’t as quiet as it was a few years ago, but for me, as a first-time visitor, it’s an absolutely magical outpost of Taiwan, unlike anywhere else in the country; it’s far more rugged and pristine even than Green Island, its nearest  neighbour, and although the numbers of visitors prepared to put up with the three-hour boat ride over from the Taiwanese mainland are increasing (on summer weekends at least), so far Lanyu, like the smaller islands of the Matsu group, remains blessedly undeveloped, tourism-wise, in comparison with Green island, Penghu or Kinmen.   Continue reading

The Three Faces of Green Island

Wangong Arch, the largest natural arch on Green Island (and probably in all Taiwan) is huge!

According to the elegant phrase on the T-shirts sold at the gaggle of tacky souvenir stalls that greet new arrivals to Green Island stepping off the boat from Taitung, “Green Island is … F***ing Hot“.  Actually for about half of our three days’ stay on the island, the weather was Bl**dy chilly, as a front of cool, rainy weather coincided with our visit, but in another sense the blokes that coined that slogan got it right.  Continue reading