Taiwan’s Wild Hot Springs 1: The North Cross-island Highway

The river at Sileng Hot Springs

The river at Sileng Hot Springs

Pool near Xinxing Hot Springs

Pool near Xinxing Hot Springs

Looking down into the Xinxing Hot Springs gorge from Galahe village

Looking down into the Xinxing Hot Springs gorge from Galahe village

volume 1

both hot springs (and the routes to them) are described in detail in Taiwan 101, volume 1, on pages 137 – 142.

We’ve got Taiwan’s position on the Pacific Ring of Fire to thank not only for its hot springs, spooky, steaming fumaroles and volcanic peaks, but for its very existence!  The island was created as the Eurasian Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate met, pushing the first under the second. Of course it’s not always peachy living on the scenic collision point of two massive chunks of the Earth’s crust, and earthquakes (most, thankfully, only big enough to jolt rather than do any real damage) happen several times each year, even in Taipei.

The benefits, of course, generally far outweigh the potential for violent natural mayhem, however. Taiwan probably wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful, as mountainous, or as enchanting if it were created any other way, and the chilly, rainy weather that descends on the northeast corner of the island every winter from December to about April (thanks to the prevailing northeast monsoon winds) would make life in the capital a lot more dreary if we didn’t have a choice of hot springs (to the north, east and south!) to head for during those long, cold, wet evenings.

Sileng Hot Spring waterfall

Sileng Hot Spring waterfall

Taiwan’s hot springs were generally only enjoyed by the island’s aboriginal population until the Japanese introduced hot spring culture to the island during the colonial era (1895-1945). The ensuing popularity has since seen most of the island’s hot spring sources (many in beautiful, wild spots, deep in the mountains) developed, robbing them of their former wild beauty.  The last decade or two has seen a huge growth in more aesthetically pleasing hot spring spas, and while most of them make no attempt to blend into their surroundings, they do at least look less of an eyesore than the horrible, purely functional concrete-box designs that once seemed to be the default for hot spring developments island-wide.

Near Sileng Hot Spring

Near Sileng Hot Spring

For the nature lover, however, the relatively few completely unspoilt, undeveloped hot springs sources that can still be found around Taiwan can’t be beat. Just a couple, such as Wenshan Hot Springs (文山溫泉) in Taroko Gorge and that wonderful gift to Taipei-dwelling nature lovers, Bayan Hot Spring (八煙溫泉) lie just a short walk from the road, and can be enjoyed by just about any able-bodied person. The real charm of most of Taiwan’s undeveloped hot springs, however, is in getting to them. Getting to several of the island’s remoter springs takes several days, which is too big a commitment for most explorers. A number of others, however, are day hikes – remote enough to keep the crowds (and the developers) away, but within the range of reasonably fit hikers. Over the last few years I’ve started exploring more of the island’s natural hot springs,  and a goal for the approaching winter/spring season (2016-7) is to get to some of the others. Meanwhile I’m hoping, in a series of blog entries, to write up those I’ve already visited. As I explore the others, I’ll add them to the blog. Continue reading

Guguan Seven Heroes, Taichung

Near the summit of Mount Baimao

Near the summit of Mount Baimao

Mt. Wuwowei, the steepest climb of the seven, is also one of the most interesting

Mount Wuwowei, the steepest climb of the seven, is also one of the most interesting

Mount Tangmadan, although the l;owest of the seven peaks and the shortest hike, is one of the most unremittingly steep climbs

Mt. Tangmadan, although the lowest of the seven peaks and the shortest hike, has one of the most unremittingly steep climbs

The Seven Heroes are also described in Taiwan 101, volume 2, on pages 57-60

The Seven Heroes are also described in Taiwan 101, volume 2, on pages 57-60

Flowing westwards down from the mighty central mountains towards Taichung city and the coast, the Dajia River (one of Taiwan’s major waterways) cuts a magnificent gorge through the foothills of the Snow Mountain Range, threaded by highway eight (the Central Cross-island Highway). Before part of the road was severely damaged during the great 921 Earthquake in 1999, the highway connected Taichung with Hualien on the east coast, climbing over the Snow and Central Mountain Ranges. Once one of Taiwan’s best road trips, part of the western half of the highway remains closed in early 2016, although there are persistent rumors that the road may eventually reopen.

Until that day, heading eastwards from Dongshih (東勢), just east of Taichung city, highway eight can be followed for only about 35 kilometers, till just after the hot spring resort village of Guguan (谷關), beyond which a roadblock bars further progress. It’s a very scenic drive out there, however, and Guguan itself (apart from the charms of its hot spring resorts and hot spring park) has a magnificent setting, deep in the Dajia River gorge. Continue reading

Six of the Best: my favorite corners of the world (so far): Part One

Incredible coastal scenery in the Faroe Islands

Incredible coastal scenery in the Faroe Islands

Adele penguins in Antarctica

Adelie penguins in Antarctica

The unforgetable ice fjord at Ilulissat, Greenland (taken just before midnight in July)

The unforgetable ice fjord at Ilulissat, Greenland (taken just before midnight in July)

Following an enforced change of plans this summer, over the last six weeks I ended up exploring Ireland and Sicily, two European regions I’ve been fascinated by for years, but never made it to until now. Both are magnificent, amazing places, although their also far from unknown quantities to travellers. Ireland was about as wonderful as I’d long expected, but Sicily really took me by surprise – it’s surely one of the great travel destinations of the world.  Despite the popularity of both places, one thing that struck me in a very positive way was how ‘authentic’ they felt on the whole. Tourism is still relatively low-key in Ireland, Sicily and elsewhere in southern Italy, the people of both countries are curious, friendly almost to a fault, and absolutely fascinating culturally, retaining their own unique characters in a world where people often seem to be losing their individuality. Best of all though the despised plague of mass luxury tourism that’s infecting popular tourist destinations the world over has yet to taint either.  This summer’s travels set me thinking about other far less well-known places that I’ve been lucky enough to visit already, and how bizarrely and inexplicably (although so fortunately, for us travellers) they’ve remained off the radar for most to this  day. 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 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

Continue reading

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