Landscape

Laomei Green Reef (老梅綠石槽)

People often have a hard time understand how it is that after so many years of living in Taiwan that I’m still so eager to explore the country. I often get asked by locals and foreigners alike how it is that I’m not “bored” living here. On the contrary, I’ve always been of the opinion that even though I’m constantly on the go, there is always something new to see and more importantly to learn about.

I think one of the best things about living in Taiwan is that we are truly blessed with a well-established schedule of things to see and do on the yearly calendar. Whether its a cultural or religious event or something happening with the natural environment, there is always plenty of things for locals and tourists to enjoy or take part in. 

With that being said you will have to keep a keen eye on all of the events taking place and in some cases may even have to miss out on some in order to check out others. Being able to pick and choose though is one of the great things about living here. 

I often tell people that Taiwan is only ever going to be what you make of it. So, if you spend all your time partying and going to clubs, you’ll have to excuse me when I roll my eyes at you when you tell me that this is a boring country with nothing to do - There is always something to do!

Today’s blog post is about a popular landscape spot in Northern Taiwan and is a spot that I always try to visit if I can find the time. It’s also a place that has been made popular thanks to the many skilled photographers who have spent time taking beautiful photos. 

Unfortunately if you want to see it, you’re going to have to pay close attention to the calendar as it doesn’t last for long!

Laomei Green Reef (老梅綠石槽)

In recent years the the Laomei Green Reef has become a popular tourist attraction along Taiwan’s beautiful North Coast. The Green Reef is situated on a beach next to the Laomei community of New Taipei City’s Shimen District (石門區).

While photographers may have played a small part in making this unique spot a popular one with tourists, its origins date back at least two hundred thousand years ago when a volcano in the Datun Mountain range (大屯火山群) erupted. The lava that spewed out of the volcano helped to form Taiwan’s North Coast into the shape that we are familiar with today.

In addition to the 700 meter long reef formed by lava, centuries of sea erosion has helped to shape the rocks into strange-looking trenches where sea water easily goes in and out with the tide.

In the early months of summer, (more specifically April and May) when the weather starts to warm up, algae from the ocean comes in with the tide and makes its home on the reef. This creates a vibrant shade of green on the rocks and is the reason why large crowds of people flock to see it. 

The area is especially popular at dawn and dusk with groups of photographers who want to catch some beautiful light reflecting in the water with the vibrant green of the created by the algae.

Unfortunately the amount of time that we’re able to enjoy the “Green Reef” each year depends on the weather and the tides. If April and May are hot (like they have been this year), the algae tends to die off quickly returning the rocks to their natural colour.

This means that the period of time people are able to enjoy the Green Reef is short and can be likened to that of the blossoming season of some of Taiwan’s flowers. If you want to visit Laomei when the reef is Green you’re going to need to pay close attention and make sure you’re free in April or May to pay a visit.

While the natural lifespan of the Green Reef depends on the weather, there are also external factors that contribute to the “green” parts of the reef dying off earlier than usual.

You will notice signs on the beach in both Chinese and English that urge tourists not to walk on the reef - The signs have not only been put up for the safety of tourists, but for the protection of the reef.

The popularity of the reef in recent years has caused a bit of an issue with disrespectful tourists and photographers tramping all over the green parts of the reef killing the vegetation.

Don’t be an ass. You can easily enjoy the natural beauty of the reef without walking all over it.

One of the best ways to know when the reef has turned green is to look at “Recent Photos” for the geo-location “Laomei Green Reef” or “老梅綠石槽” on Instagram which will give you a pretty good idea of the recent conditions at the reef.

There is a lot to do on the North Coast, so if you are lucky enough to visit Laomei when the reef has turned green, you will also be able to visit many of the other tourist stops along the way as well as being able to stop by one of the fishery harbours for a feast of fresh cheap seafood!


Getting There

 

If you don’t have your own method of transportation, you’ll want to go to make your way to the Tamsui MRT Station (淡水捷運站) and then take bus #862, #863 or #892 and get off at the Laomei stop (老梅站


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!