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

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

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 http://taiwanislands.wordpress.com/

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

Taiwan’s Top Ten Day Trips

I’ve just written this piece for a Korean magazine, and while most of the places here have already been put on the Blog, it’s probably worth putting the whole thing up here  – Taiwan really is an extraordinary place!

This list is only a start, and on another day I might have come up with a completely different ‘top 10,’ but these are wonderful places, and all are great personal favorites. I’ve uploaded new photos and expanded the write-up on the spectacular Taiji Canyon, which is not covered elsewhere here.


The secret’s finally out: more and more tourists are discovering that Taiwan is an island of quite extraordinary natural beauty. But whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to the big tourist draw cards such as Sun Moon Lake, Alishan and Kenting. The island’s popular sights are great of course, but be sure to make time for at least a couple of the countless little-known gems that lie scattered around the island and on the outlying islets.

There are enough enchanting spots to keep a weekend explorer going for decades, and any ‘top ten’ list is bound to be highly subjective, but here’s a personal list of ten places – all feasible day trips from one or other of the island’s big cities – that may well prove to leave more lasting memories than lying on the beach in Kenting or zooming through Taroko Gorge in a bus.

1.  Loyal Son Mountain and

2. Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk, Taipei County

Descending Loving Mother Mountain

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

See pages 172-177 and 138-143 for detailed descriptions of how to get to both places.

The 12 kilometer-long Pingxi Branch Railway Line, an hour’s ride from Taipei city center, is one of the most beautiful train rides in northern Taiwan, but the real attraction of coming here is the host of natural and cultural attractions easily accessible from the tracks. The area is dotted with atmospheric reminders of the area’s coal mining past, and the valley (which boasts the wettest place in Taiwan) features well over twenty waterfalls. The most famous (and touristy) of these is forty meter-broad Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), the widest waterfall in Taiwan, but waterfall lovers can’t do better than take the stunningly scenic, 3-hour Sandiaoling Waterfall (三貂嶺瀑布) Walk nearby. Named for an impressive 30-meter high fall which plunges over a huge overhang behind which hikers can stand, the walk also features a further two beautiful waterfalls, and several exciting but safe climbs up cliff faces on chunky rope ladders.

Niya Waterfall, on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Walk

Continue reading

Mount Nanhuda (南湖大山)

Climbing the North Peak ridge (Day 2)

Mount Nanhuda, the fifth highest mountain in Taiwan (behind Yushan, Snow Mountain, Mt Xiuguluan and the little-climbed  Mt Mabolasi) seems to be amongst the best-loved of all Taiwan’s highest mountains, and I’ve heard many people over the last decade or more claim that it’s the one of the most beautiful. Unfortunately it’s a much longer hike than either Yushan or Snow Mountain, taking four days. Some crazy locals make the dash to the main summit and back in just three, but that’s really pushing it – five days would probably be the best option, allowing a full day to fully explore the spellbinding moonscape of the summit ridges around Nanhu Hut at the top, and maybe bag a fifth or sixth ‘Top Hundred’ peak as well.  Continue reading

A return visit to Yuemeikang Waterfall: Paradise (not yet) Lost

The walk is described on pages 222-227.

The walk is described on pages 222-227.

It had to happen sometime, and it seems to be starting to happen now. My very favorite ‘secret’ spot in the Taipei area is gradually becoming known. Yuemeikang waterfall in Yilan is the perfect destination for a hike during a boiling hot Sunday in June, as the only way to it involves a short but fun wade up the stream through the narrow gorge below the falls, and with three (yes three!) pools below the falls that are deep enough for a swim, it never fails to enchant me.

The gang, wetted and refreshed, below Yuemeikang Waterfall

Continue reading

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a few Hike Plans for 2011

The wonderful Cloud Forest Waterfall, Full Moon Mountain, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

At the highest point of the Caoling Trail (with few other walkers on the trail – a rare and wonderful phenomenon at this over-popular place!)

I’m off to England tomorrow (26th) first thing to see my family (which will be great, but it’ll be a sedentary two or three weeks, with few chances to get out except a trip or two up to London for the Sales.)  At least I can pick up a new camera there (bought cheap on Amazon), to replace my poor present one which has suffered from many months of knocks and wettings and now refuses to focus properly in anything less than full sunlight. I’ll be back mid January (maybe a little earlier, if I can change my flight ), and look forward to getting out again regularly, if the weather allows.

Strange shrine in natural rocky outcrop above Xinbeitou (TDT book 1, walk 2)

View from the summit of White Chicken Mountain (TDT book 2, walk 17)

On the trail to Cloud Forest Waterfall, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

I’ve been hiking nearly every day this last week or two (since most of my piano students left for Christmas about 10 days ago, these photos are from those trips and the last two weekend hikes), and the two books are well on their way towards revision. Hoping then to change my focus towards multi-day trips to the offshore islands in the early summer.

Between Mount Jhan and Guanyin Mountain (new hike for next edition)

The scenery along the branch path between Caoling Historic Trail and Taoyuan (Paradise) Valley is far more impressive than anything seen along the much more popular Caoling Trail nearby

There are still six or seven choice hikes being reserved for the group on Saturdays and Sundays in the New Year, before we go back to the usual one or two a month from April or so.

Lovers’ Temple, Xinbeitou (TDT book 1, walk 2)

On a bike, about to be run over by a crazy cycle gang going in the opposite direction, on the ridiculously popular Caoling Tunnel bike path – a far more dangerous place than any of the craggy trails I’ve hiked in recent months

Forest Mountain Waterfall, near Full Moon Mountain, Sanxia (TDT book 1, walk 30)

Definitely hikes planned for January 22nd and 23rd, and maybe two for 15th and 16th as well if the jet lag and weather permit.  More details about them later….

Carp Mountain from Dahu (TDT book 1, walk 4)

Dragon Boat Rock, above Neihu (TDT book 1, walk 4)

On top of Guanyin Mountain: fantastic weather!

Gem, perhaps the most energetic and insatiably curious dog I’ve ever known

Here’s hoping for more great weather in 2011;meanwhile wishing everyone best wishes for Christmas and  a Happy New year!

Paradise Valley


This walk is described on pages 210-215.

This walk is described on pages 210-215.

Yesterday’s weather promised so little hiking fun that if I wasn’t so far behind on my hike-revising schedule, I’d have stayed at home with a good book, practiced the piano, or gone out to see Paranormal Activity II at the movies. In the end however, a grim determination to get this book revision finished and done with asap (so I can get back to exploring some new places, and, just maybe, a few more high mountain trips)  saw me and David heading out to Ilan to tackle a hike I haven’t done for nearly a decade: Paradise Valley. Continue reading

Sacred Mother Peak


See pages 217-221 for details of this hike.

See pages 217-221 for details of this hike.

On November 9th, 1980, a group of five hikers from a mountain club in Taipei set off from Pinglin on a hike over the mountains to Ilan in the east. On the way however they became lost, and as darkness settled over the mountains, they arrived at the spot now known as Sacred Mother Peak. Seeking deliverance from their nasty predicament, they prayed, not to Guanyin as you might have expected, but to the Virgin Mary.  Suddenly there appeared, in the top of a nearby tree, a ghostly, white-clad figure. The men found their way off the mountain safely, and to commemorate what they regarded as a miracle, they later set up a statue of the Sacred Mother. Thus this unique and extraordinary combination of hiking route and Catholic pilgrimage site had its origins.

   Continue reading

Turtle Island

The underwater hot springs of Turtle Island, seen from the summit path

Getting to Turtle Island (or rather obtaining the necessary permit to land there) is enough of a hassle that I’ve only been there once before, eight or nine years ago, and that time I never landed. Getting permission to climb the path to the highest point of the island is even more difficult to get, so when I noticed a hiking group in Sanchong City included the hike to the summit of the island in their autumn schedule this year, I jumped at the chance to join them.

The larger of Turtle Island’s two lakes, near the visitor center

Information on how to plan a trip to Turtle Island (and get to the summit!) can be found on pages 222-226.

Information on how to plan a trip to Turtle Island (and get to the summit!) can be found on pages 222-226.

These days boat trips to Turtle Island (龜山島) mostly go from Wushi Harbor (烏石漁港), just outside Toucheng (頭城) in northern Ilan County, and although there was no time to check for sure as we were hurried off the coach and on to the waiting boat at 8:30 in a Sunday morning, posters up on walls nearby seemed to imply that it’s still possible (on weekends at least) to do what I did the last time I visited the island, and simply turn up and get on a non-landing, dolphin watching boat (the pesky permit is required only to land on the island). Continue reading