Mountains

Sanjiaopu Mountain (三角埔頂山)

A few years ago I posted a blog about the beautiful Silver Grass (芒花) that appears during the Autumn and Winter months in Taiwan turning the country’s lush green mountains white.

I might have been a bit ahead of the curve as the blog post was the only English-language resource available at the time that introduced the beautiful weeds.

Since then ‘Silver Grass tourism’ has sort of become ‘thing’ around here and people are flocking to mountains all over the country taking photos of the tall grass.

I’d like to think my humble blog post played a small role in that.

Actually no, I jest.

The sudden popularity of Silver Grass-related tourism as of late is probably thanks to what I’ve started to refer to as ‘Insta-tourism.’

To put it simply, trends in domestic tourism in Taiwan these days is almost completely driven by trends on Instagram and Social Media - Think Pokemon Go, but instead of catching a monster, you get to take photos.

In the the west we’ve taken to referring to those people who earn a living from their Instagram following as ‘influencers’ while here in Taiwan they are known as “Internet Beauties” (網美) or “Internet Celebrities” (網紅).

In Taiwan these so-called influencers play a lot of the same advertising roles that they do in other countries but are also very much engaged in driving new trends and introducing new photo locations to their followers.

A single photo from one of these people has the ability to turn what was once a quiet destination (enjoyed mostly by locals) into a social-media sensation.

As an avid hiker, I’ve found that I’ve always been able to climb mountains on weekends and never really had to deal with traffic jams on the trails. Now though, you have to be very selective of what mountains you are climbing as some of them have become popular spots for Instagrammers to roam around.

As I’ve mentioned before, Jinmian Mountain (金面山), Kite Mountain (鷹山), the Sacred Mother Peak (聖母山步道), Yuanzui Mountain (鳶嘴山) and the Pingxi Crags were all hiking trails that were pretty much only frequented by hiking groups. Today they are all filled with people looking not for a good day of exercise but to increase their follower counts.

Whether or not this kind of tourism is a good thing remains to be seen.

As Silver Grass tourism became a popular trends over the past few years, the mountains where it grows in abundance have been filling up with visitors.

Traditionally, the most popular locations to go and check it out has always been on Taipei’s Yangming Mountain (陽明山), Cixing Mountain (七星山), Datun Mountain (大屯山) or on the historic Caoling Trail (草嶺古道).

This year however there was a new contender for the most popular spot thanks to Instagram.

Like many other mountains in Taiwan as of late, what was once a quiet hiking trail frequented only by locals, Sanjiaopu Mountain (三角埔頂山) has became yet another internet sensation thanks to the power of social media.

The mountain which sits on the border of Taoyuan and New Taipei City was once most well-known for its panoramic cityscape views of the Taipei basin. These days however not many people really care about those beautiful views as Silver Grass tourism has completely taken over.

Interestingly enough, despite the local government having constructed a well-maintained hiking path on the mountain, it was never really that popular as most people stayed away due to the fact that the mountain is also home to a cemetery - which in Taiwan automatically means there are ghosts!

Rising only 285 meters above sea-level, Sanjiaopu Mountain isn’t a very big one and doesn’t actually require much hiking. You can drive your car or scooter almost all the way to the top where there is a parking area at the trailhead.

From the trailhead you only really need to walk about five minutes to reach the peak.

Not really a day trip if that’s what you’re looking for. 

There are however several trails on the mountain that allow visitors to walk around the perimeter where you’ll get different panoramic views of the cityscape.

On a clear day you’ll be able to see as far as Guanyin Mountain (觀音山) to the north and Datun Mountain (大屯山) and pretty much all of Taipei City to the east.

The views on top of this mountain are ideal for landscape or cityscape photographers.

While most people enjoy the views of Taipei City from Elephant Mountain (象山), this mountain provides a completely different perspective than what most are used to seeing and is justifiably very popular after dark for unparalleled night views of the city.

These days however its all about the Silver Grass.

Silver Grass (芒花)

Silver grass or ‘Miscanthus Sinensis’ is a species of flowering plant that is endemic to East Asia growing in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China. In both Taiwan and Japan, the plant is widely respected and when it is in bloom people will flock to the mountains and hillsides to see it.

Coincidentally in North America attitudes toward the plant are the polar opposite as it is considered an invasive species and is usually destroyed to control its growth.

It's interesting that the so-called “weed” is reviled in one area and highly respected in another.

Between the months of October and December you can pretty much see wild silver grass growing all over Taiwan - Its literally everywhere you find a patch of grass.

If you want to see it growing in abundance, or you want to get some photos of yourself in a field full of it - you're going to have to head to the mountains where it grows without impediment.

Check out my blog post from a few years ago where I posted photos of the beautiful Silver Grass from the top of Datun Mountain in Taipei.

Getting There

 

As I mentioned above, Datun Mountain and Yangming Mountain in Taipei have always been most popular thanks to their accessibility when it comes to public transportation.

Unfortunately for the ‘influencers’ of the world, if you want to visit this one, you’re not going to be able to rely on public transportation to get there.

I mean, you could take a bus from Shulin (樹林) to Taoyuan (桃園) and get off somewhere in the middle and then walk a few kilometres up the paved mountain road.

But thats not really the best idea if you want to enjoy your time on the mountain.

If you do insist on using public transportation it’d be best to first take a train to Shulin Train Station (樹林車站) and from there take bus 701, 843, 985 or Orange 26. While on the bus watch for the “New Village” bus stop (新村站) where you’ll get off and begin your 2km walk up the mountain.

On the other hand, if you have your own means of transportation you’ll want to take Provincial Highway #1 (省道台一線) from either Taoyuan (桃園) or Xinzhuang (新莊) and turn off at the Dadong Bridge (大棟橋) where you’ll be transported behind some factories and up the mountain.

The mountain has quite a few side roads though and its easy to get lost, so its probably a better idea to input the words “三角埔頂山“ into Google Maps, which will guide you up the mountain where you’ll be able to park.

I realize that by (purposely) posting this blog well-after the Silver Grass season has ended won’t really help you out very much - especially if you’re an Instagrammer looking for a cool new spot to take photos - You’ll have to wait until next year for that.

This mountain however is a great spot all year long, so if you’re looking for somewhere to take cityscape photos that are going to turn out different than everyone else’s - you’ll definitely want to consider visiting this mountain!

Likewise, if you’re reading this blog just in time for Silver Grass season make sure to visit for the Silver Grass but remember to stay for the cityscape photos - especially at night!


Thousand Island Lake (千島湖)

Over the past few weeks there has been a considerable amount of discussion and heated debate with regard to the methods that the government has been using to promote the country as a tourist destination. The government-run social media efforts in particular have been extremely unprofessional and have likely done more harm to the nation's reputation than good.

This was all expertly pointed out by blogger Tricky Taipei in her post: "Something Very Wrong is Happening at Taiwan Tourism Bureau" which focused on a government run social media account that was full of spelling and grammatical errors. It would be easy for some to say that English isn't the native language of Taiwan, so a little leeway should be given in these matters, but in truth, the account in question was maintained by an outsourced company based in the USA, which more or less pointed to the government wasting funds. 

The government has since acknowledged some of its mistakes and has promised to both improve and provide more oversight into the way it does its business, but the way the Taiwan Tourism Bureau promotes the country has always been problematic.

The picturesque national beauty of this country in addition to its beautiful cultures and traditions should be enough to attract people, but when it comes to promoting Taiwan overseas, the Tourism Bureau has traditionally only focused on the food scene or a few select locations. I'll gladly admit that the most common locations that are used are scenic, but it would be much easier to attract tourists if you let people know that there is more to Taiwan than just Taipei 101 and Stinky Tofu. 

One of the most popular locations used in tourism publications is that of Taipei’s Thousand-Island Lake (千島湖) which itself is not actually a popular tourist attraction for tourists, but is I'm sure beautiful and exotic enough to entice people to visit. 

I've lived in Taiwan for well over a decade and over that time I've seen hundreds if not thousands of beautiful photos of Thousand-Island Lake, but never really felt the urge to visit on my own. There are of course a few reasons for this - most importantly, I feel like this location is overdone. 

I've also learned that when visiting photo hot-spots like this, you're very likely going to have to wage war against a large group of territorial old dudes with cameras who take up all the best spots. In cases like this I feel like it wouldn't be worth my time. 

Over the recent extra-long Tomb Sweeping Day holiday, one of my hiking pals asked if I wanted to join her and some friends on a short day-trip to the area. I figured that since most people in Taipei had already gone south for the holidays that it was probably an opportune time to visit, so I thought why not go check it out to see what all the fuss was about. 

Thousand-Island Lake (千島湖)

To start, I think its important to note that the area, which is known in English as ‘Thousand-Island Lake’ or in romanized pinyin as ‘Qiandaohu’ doesn’t actually have a 'thousand islands' nor is it even a 'lake'.

The water comes from the Beishi River (北勢溪) which flows between New Taipei City and Yilan County and is a tributary of the much larger Xindian River (新店溪). The so-called ‘islands’ are actually just submerged mountains in what is a man-made environment.

The 'lake' gets its name from a similar man-made lake in China’s North-Eastern Zhejiang Province (浙江省) which is similar in terms of landscape. China's lake however actually does have more than one thousand ‘islands’, which again are just submerged mountains from when the Xin’An Reservoir (新安水庫) was constructed in 1959.

The Taiwan version of ‘Qiandaohu’ was created in 1987 with the construction of the nation’s largest dam, the Feicui Reservoir (翡翠水庫) which supplies water to both Taipei City and New Taipei City and their almost seven million residents. 

Plans for the reservoir project started in the 1970’s to solve the problem of water shortages in the north caused by severe droughts and damage caused by typhoons which often forced residents to have to go without water service for long periods of time.

The construction of the dam meant that the area where 'Qiandaohu' now exists would have to be flooded with water - The area at that time was scarcely populated, but to complete the project the government was forced to relocate over a thousand residents who resided in the now abandoned Bishan Village (碧山村).

Link:  Taiwan in Time: The ‘Atlantis of Taiwan’ - Taipei Times

As usual with forced relocations or evictions in Taiwan, the government did a terrible job of forcing people out of their homes and they resisted the relocation for a number of reasons:  

  • Most of them were dependent on the tea trade and their livelihoods were attached to the land.
  • Families had lived in the area for hundreds of years and their ancestors were all buried there.
  • The government offered little in terms of financial compensation - a battle that took until 1994 to resolve.

Today the Shiding (石碇) and Pinglin (坪林) areas continue to be an important player in Taiwan’s tea production. The area is considered to provide the perfect climate for growing Taiwan’s famous Pouchong Tea (文山包種茶) as well as Oriental Beauty Tea (東方美人茶). If you are a fan of Oolong teas, you will appreciate the hard work of the local people in the area, especially those who were relocated but persevered nonetheless.  

When visiting the scenic areas of Qiandaohu, it would be difficult not to notice the terraced fields of tea which grow on almost every mountainside in the area. For tourists who want to experience Taiwan’s tea culture, I’d suggest that a trip to this area in conjunction with nearby Pinglin village would offer a much more authentic experience than a visit to the very touristy area of Maokong (貓空), which is closer to the city.

What most people are looking for from a visit to Qiandaohu is a wide view of the mountains,  the terraced tea fields and the emerald green water of the river. Some think that you need to hike all the way down to riverside to get these photos, but you’d seriously be wasting a whole lot of time and energy if you did. The most iconic views of the area are from above and there are well constructed platforms in several different locations for visitors to view the beautiful landscape.

If you have access to your own means of transportation, then it will be easy to visit each spot to get photos. If you are a tourist and relying on public transportation however, you are going to have to decide how far you are willing to walk to check out the different views.

Getting There

 

'Thousand-Island Lake' is situated on Taipei’s notorious Number Nine highway (北宜公路) which is more or less a playground for the morons of the country who own fast cars and motorcycles. The ‘highway’ is a narrow and winding mountain road that is dangerous even without the Fast & the Furious wannabes. The road apparently averages at least one (or more) traffic fatality daily. 

If you are a foreign tourist and driving either a scooter or a car on this road, you need to take extreme caution. Take your time. 

If you are driving, just follow the road roads on the number nine until you reach the “Yong-An Community” (永安社區) where you’ll turn off the highway and head down the mountain. 

Thankfully, Taiwan is a convenient country and you are able to make use of public transportation to get there - From the Xindian MRT station (新店捷運站) take the Green #12 bus to Shiding (石碇) to the “Shisangu” (十三股) bus stop where you get off and walk down the hill.

The walk shouldn’t take you any more than ten minutes to get to the first platform. From there its up to you if you wish to continue onto the others. Make sure to keep track of the time though and be aware of the bus schedule which takes you back into town.

Once you arrive on the hill you’ll notice detailed maps for the Yongan Trail (永安步道) which show each destination, the route and the distance.

Depending on your method of transportation, a trip to Qiandaohu can be a short stop on a day trip where you could also stop by the Shiding Old Street (石碇老街), Pinglin District (坪林), Wulai District (烏來區) or further into Yilan County. If you have to rely on public transportation however, its probably best to plan an entire day around your visit.

No matter how you get there, I'm sure you'll enjoy the beautiful scenery and will be able to take some nice photos. Be sure to share them online and help show people that there is more to Taiwan than just Taipei 101 and Stinky Tofu! 

Enjoy yourself and be safe on that road!