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: The books are out!

volume 1

volume 2

WARNING: This blog entry includes an image of a bawdy traditional folk belief which might offend some readers!

After three years of writing, and a gaggle of delays and headaches, my latest (and probably last!) books are out. They finally emerged at the end of May, just a week before I jetted off for my summer holidays (which themselves didn’t turn out anything like I had planned, although that’s another story completely…).

Anyway I think Taiwan 101 is my best work (although I suppose I would say that), and I certainly learned more about the history and culture of this wonderful island than while writing anything else about it.

I’ll keep this brief, since I’ve got to get back to regular blogging, so if you’ve bought a copy, thanks, and of not, buy them! They’re available in Eslite and Caves books around Taiwan, and I can send them by mail if you don’t mind paying the postage.

 

Thanks,

Richard

Salt fields in Tainan City, a reminder of an ancient industry that's been practiced in today's ROC for eight centuries

Salt fields in Tainan City, a reminder of an ancient industry that’s been practiced in today’s ROC for eight centuries

Memorial at Checheng, Pingtung County, one of several places in the area associated with the Mudan Incident of 1871, one of the key defining incidents in Taiwan's history

Memorial at Checheng, Pingtung County, one of several places in the area associated with the Mudan Incident of 1871, one of the key defining incidents in Taiwan’s history

Here’s the advertising blag (and I’ve scattered a few photos around to keep things colorful too…):

Taiwan 101: Essential Sights, Hikes and Experiences on Ilha Formosa  

Taiwan is a perfect illustration of the saying that good things come in small packages. In comparison with more popular tourist destinations in the Far East, Taiwan is very modest in size, but despite its diminutive scale, the island has an astonishing amount to offer the curious explorer.

The boat burning ceremony at Donggang, Pingtung County...

The boat burning ceremony at Donggang, Pingtung County…

...and Yanshui Beehive Firework Festival, two of Taiwan's amazing, unique traditional festivals

…and Yanshui Beehive Firework Festival, two of Taiwan’s amazing, unique traditional festivals

The two volumes that make up Taiwan 101 are the perfect guide for exploring the very best of Taiwan: not only the island’s finest hikes, but also its best historic towns and cities, brightest traditional festivals, unique Chinese and aboriginal cultural riches, and its little-known natural wonders such as eternal flames, mud volcanoes and badlands.

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The huge Lulin Tree in Chiayi County is ranked only fifth in Taiwan, meaning that there are at least four larger on the island, while other bigger ones could exist. [There have recently been reports that a tree has been found that might now be the largest in Taiwan]

More giants, and the outrageous phalli spaced around Man Rock in Taitung County, one of the more unusual sights of folkloristic Taiwan!

More giants, and the outrageous phalli, placed at intervals around the Man Rock in Taitung County, one of Taiwan’s more unusual sights!

Together, Taiwan 101 Volumes 1 and 2 present Taiwan’s finest attractions to anyone who wishes to get to know this island of kaleidoscopic charms, and comes with detailed information on getting around by public transport, and accurate GPS coordinates of nearly 800 fascinating places.

The Crescent Pillar at Taitung City, part of a huge prehistoric site that includes the largest known prehistoric graveyard in the Pacific Rim area

The Crescent Pillar at Taitung City, part of a huge prehistoric site that includes the largest known prehistoric graveyard in the Pacific Rim area

Liukou Hot Spring, one of many wild, untapped hot springs that can still be found around the island.

Liukou Hot Spring, one of many wild, untapped hot springs that can still be found around the island.

 

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

Shuiyang Forest: a remarkable reminder of the 921 Earthquake

Shuiyang Forest

Shuiyang Forest

The stream just above the lake

The stream just above the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour's walk beyond the lake

Mianyue Ancient Tree, an hour’s walk beyond the lake

The great Jiji Earthquake, which rocked Taiwan on September 21st, 1999, caused both a huge loss of life and enormous devastation. However in several places the earthquake actually created new landscapes, some of great beauty, such as the lakes at Jiufenershan. None of these new landmarks, however, are quite as magical as Shuiyang Lake (水樣森林), which was born that night when a landslip blocked a stream running through a remote valley in central Nantou County, close to the epicentre of the earthquake. As the stream backed up behind the natural dam, creating a sizable lake, it also flooded a coniferous forest that once clothed the valley floor. The flooded trees, their roots deprived of oxygen, died, and over the following years the tree trunks were bleached white by the sun. The unique result now draws large numbers of hikers to one of Taiwan’s most arresting natural curiosities. Continue reading

Zhenxibao Ancient Tree Groves

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

The biggest tree of all at Zhenxibao, on the trail to the Poison Dragon Lake

Another Giant, in Grove B

Another Giant, in Grove B

Poison Dragon lake is small and reached only by an long, exhausting climb, but it's an atmospheric place

Getting to the little Poison Dragon Lake involves a long, exhausting climb, but it’s worth it – it’s an atmospheric place

It seems like everyone is going to Smangus (司馬庫斯) these days; why they don’t (also) head to nearby Zhenxibao (鎮西堡) in their droves is hard to understand – the road there is a bit easier and shorter, the village (Xingguang) before the trailhead is miles more attractive (and far less touristy than Smangus itself), there are more trees – of comparable hugeness – to see, and the walk (at least to the more popular of the two groves of ancient trees) is a little shorter.

One thing’s for sure though – it’s something to be grateful for that the crowds have yet to discover this beautiful place. Continue reading

Some recent Pics…

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

A quiet corner of Shanlinsi

The Heavenly Steps

The Heavenly Steps

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

The beautiful coniferous forest at Sitou

With research on a new book well underway and a piano recital, it’s been all go recently. Hopefully soon I’ll get to write a bit about the latest favorites, but meantime here are three places in central Taiwan’s Nantou County that are definitely NOT off the beaten track, although none the worse for that (apart from the crowds of fellow visitors, high entrance fees, traffic jams on the way up and over-developed infrastructure). Shanlinsi, Sitou and the Heavenly Steps tend to look better in photos than they do in real life, but ignore the negative impact of mass tourism and they’re all well worth visiting – just start out early in the morning if you visit at the weekend to avoid the masses! Continue reading