Taoyuan

Tung Blossoms 2019 (客家桐花祭)

As a long term resident of Taoyuan, I’ve been lucky over the years to have been immersed in pretty much everything that is Hakka culture. Almost everywhere you go around here, you’re able to find amazing cuisine, festivals and museums set up to share and preserve the culture and language of one of Taiwan’s largest ethnic groups.

Of all the Hakka related festivals that take place every year, the Hakka Tung Blossom Festival has grown to be one of my personal favourites. Taking place every April and May, the festival showcases the beautiful Tung Blossom, a Sakura-like blossom which has become synonymous with the Hakka people.

As each year passes, festival organizers do an amazing job of coming up with new and exciting events and activities that attracts people of all walks of life to the mountains throughout the Taoyuan-Hsinchu-Miaoli area and beyond.

I’ve never really needed any these snazzy events to attract my attention - The beautiful Tung Blossoms that turn Taoyuan’s lush green mountainous landscape white in the months leading up to summer have always been more than enough for me and during the two-month period when the blossoms are in bloom, the beauty of the Taoyuan area in particular begins to shine - and I head to the mountains in my free time to take photos and enjoy nature.

Many of the events that are planned it seems are geared toward attracting the older crowd who are more interested in a day-trip where they can combine the blossoms, some entertainment and most importantly some great food. The younger crowds on the other hand have proven to be much easier to attract as they’re all about the Instagram, and what could be more Instagrammable than these beautiful white blossoms?

As it has become somewhat of a yearly tradition of mine to head to the mountains to check out the Tung Blossoms, there are a few locations that have become my go-to destinations for taking photos. One of the problems when taking photos of these blossoms is that unlike the relatively short cherry blossom trees, Tung trees are tall and that makes it difficult to get close to where they’re blooming.

Not everyone has a telephoto lens, so this is why people have come up with clever ways and cute to take photos of the blossoms. If you pay attention to Instagram, you may have noticed people collecting the blossoms that have fallen to the ground and to heart-shaped designs, Tung blossom crowns, or taking cleverly posed photos of the mountain paths where the blossoms have fallen on the ground creating what looks like a layer of snow.

Personally, I prefer taking photos of the blossoms while they’re still on the tree, so the places I visit are often areas that allow me to get close enough to take photos. This year, I decided to visit a location that I’ve never visited before, but has become a photo hotspot, due to the relative youth of the trees and the ability to get close enough to the blossoms to take photos.

On the day I visited, the place was packed with people of all ages taking photos, having picnics and enjoying a Hakka concert and dance performance. I typically stay away from places like this, especially those that have become really popular with Instagram types but on this day, I didn’t really mind. I had a great time taking photos and people-watching.

I was also able to have a good laugh on several occasions as the beautiful young woman featured in some of the photos scolded her boyfriend for taking sub-par photos. One of her comments stuck with me: “The picture you took of me makes me look like a dinosaur!” (你把我拍的跟恐龍一樣).

I can’t imagine how stressful it is being the boyfriend of an aspiring Instagram beauty.

If you’re reading this and are interested in heading to the mountains to take some photos of the Tung Blossoms, I recommend going soon, before you do though, make sure to consult the Hakka Tung Blossom Festival website linked below. The website provides accurate advice on where are the best locations to view the blossoms and their current state.

Tung Blossoms: 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018

Tung Blossoms (油桐花)

Every year between the months of April and May, forests in many areas of Taiwan turn white thanks to the Tung Blossoms (油桐花) that grow throughout the mountains and hillsides of the country. Often referred to as as "April Snow" or "May Snow" (depending on when they are in full bloom), the arrival of Tung Blossom triggers a considerable amount of domestic tourism with people of all ages making an effort to travel to areas where the trees grow in abundance.

The Tung Tree (油桐樹) is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of about 20 meters. It is endemic to South China and Burma but was brought to Taiwan by the Japanese during the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), and was planted in mountainous areas in north-western Taiwan for its economic uses.

The cultivation of the tree was became most important to the ethnic Hakka people of Taiwan who lived in the areas where the trees were cultivated. The tree brought with it economic benefits as its seeds were instrumental in the production of Tung Oil which was used to make paint, varnish, caulking and wood finish while the timber was used for making everything from furniture to toothpicks.

When the economic benefits of the Tung tree eventually subsided, it took on a new role transforming into a symbol of the Hakka people and the long lasting relationship that they have shared.

While not as popular as Cherry Blossoms, Tung blossoms are loved for their ability to turn hiking trails 'white' with a snowfall effect as the blossoms fall to the ground.

The popularity of Tung Blossoms has skyrocketed in recent years with young people, especially young couples who head to the mountains to have impromptu photoshoots with the blossoms. You’ll often see couples on hiking trails collecting blossoms that have fallen on the ground to arrange into a heart or young men putting the blossoms on a string to make a ‘Tung blossom crown’ for their girlfriends - endless amounts of cuteness, I assure you.

Hakka Tung Blossom Festival (客家桐花祭)

In 2002 the Council for Hakka Affairs started the annual "Hakka Tung Blossom Festival" (客家桐花祭) an annual event which takes places during the two month blooming season as a way to promote and help to preserve Taiwan’s Hakka culture.

The well-organized event attracts large crowds of tourists to Hakka areas of the country, most notably in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli to not only see the blossoms but also to learn about and experience Hakka culture and cuisine. Organizers plan events according to the blooming season offering visitors entertainment and a festive atmosphere at the popular blossom viewing destinations.

I don’t heap praise too often on websites produced by the Taiwanese government, but the website for this festival is arguably one of the most beautiful and interactive spaces on the web. The site offers real-time information on the condition of the Tung Blossoms and the best places to view them by region. Likewise, the website is available in Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) as well as Japanese, Korean and English giving international tourists the opportunity to view the blossoms and experience the culture of one of Taiwan’s largest ethnic groups.

If you are thinking about checking out these beautiful blossoms, click one of the links below!

 Hakka Tung Blossom Festival Website: English | 中文 | 日語 | 조선말 


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!