Scooter Adventures – The Beauty of Taiwan’s Mountain Villages

 

The Dutch explorers called it “Formosa” meaning “beautiful island”. Those Dutch guys were experienced world-traveling explorers who knew what they were talking about.  The beauty of Taiwan is kind of a well-kept secret, but I’m spilling it here … high mountains, hot springs, amazing hiking, and beautiful beaches. The winding mountain roads are perfect for weekend scooter trips, exploring the roads less traveled and stumbling upon small aboriginal villages.

That’s kind of become my new weekend hobby – “aboriginal village explorer”, kind of like the Dutch explorers only on a scooter. There’s nothing better on a beautiful sunny day than hitting the road with no real destination in mind, going whichever way the wind blows, with 70’s classic rock playing as my soundtrack.

These mountain roads are my new neighborhood, my “new normal”, and I’ve gotten to know these roads like the back of my weathered old hand, but every trip still reveals something new.

Baoshan Reservoir 

The first stop on any exploratory mission is Baoshan Reservoir –  beautiful and peaceful and located only about 12 minutes from my front door if I drive kind of fast. The reservoir is made up of a few smaller lakes and the larger main reservoir – the site of my first near-death experience when I was learning to drive my scooter! (No one was hurt in the incident.) The road around the main reservoir is exactly 10 kilometers, making it a great spot for the occasional weekend race or for locals who just want some exercise. It’s a tough loop with plenty of rolling hills and incredible views.

Baoshan Reservoir View.
Baoshan Reservoir View.

Beipu

Just beyond Baoshan Reservior lies the small town of Beipu, settled by the Hakka people descended from China and now the center of Hakka culture. The weekend market offers lots of samples of traditional Hakka foods and locally grown tea.

Beipu’s main tourist attraction is a small Chinese Buddhist temple located near the market area. The temple is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Guanyin and was built in 1835. The town’s streets are lined with traditional tea houses serving a special Hakkanese blend of tea and nuts called lēichá .The tea is kind of thick, like a watery “Cream-of-Wheat” consistency which sounds disgusting but it’s actually really good!

Beipu temple

Another popular attraction in the area is Beipu cold springs, located along the river just outside of town. The springs are often packed with locals looking for a way to beat the heat on hot, humid Taiwanese summer days.

Wuzhishan 

Beyond Beipu Cold Springs, the road becomes steep and twisty, winding to the top of Wuzhi Mountain in the area known as “Five Finger Mountain”. On top of the mountain is a Taoist-Buddhist temple, small market area, and an amazing view – on a clear day you can see China from here (well…almost).

One favorite stop is a visit with The-Guy-Who-Sells-Wooden-Stuff and offers free tea and appetizers. He doesn’t speak English but keeps the tea flowing and loves having people hang out at his shop, drinking tea and eating whatever snacks he can find.

Popsicle mountain
The guy who sell wooden stuff and serves tea.

There are also some great hiking trails at the top that need to be explored much more in the future. I’ve only done one impromptu hike wearing flip-flops – a bad idea but it was such a beautiful day I had to follow the trail.

Exploring the Ridge…

Near the top of Wuzhi Mountain is a 5-road intersection, a mini-spaghetti junction, with one sign pointing to the back road to the village of Nanzhuang. Along that narrow road to Nanzhuang, at about the 5km mark, is a sharp left turn heading higher into the mountains. This road was just begging to be explored…so of course I did.BB 1

The road winds along the top of a mountain ridge to a small Atayal aboriginal village called Lian San. The village coffee shop serves up delicious drinks along with stunning views. On my first visit, the owner was so excited to see a foreigner in this remote village he started taking selfies of us together! Very friendly guy! The view is amazing and is a great place to sip a latte and people-watch – two of my favorite hobbies.

Village on the ridge
Remote village of Lian San.
BB Coffee view
Latte with a view!

Taiwan Mountain Road

These mountainous areas are dotted with small aboriginal villages, most being settled by the Atayal or Say Siyat tribes. These tribal people live very simple lives with few job opportunities and a lot of poverty. The aboriginal children often live with grandparents while their parents find work in the larger cities like Judong or Hsinchu.

One of my students, Jerry, has done some volunteer work in this area and shared their story with me:

Many of these mountain children live with their grandparents and often lead very sheltered lives with little contact with other kids. In order to help these isolated children, a middle school principal in the larger city of Neiwan started a non-profit organization dedicated to helping these kids through a weekend music program.

The organization busses the kids from their homes scattered through the mountains and brings them to Judong, a larger Hakka town very near Beipu. The kids get together on weekends and focus on music and performance, which is a huge part of the aboriginal culture. This program also provides the children with a chance to form friendships and have a little bit of a social life.

A few years ago the organization won a music competition in Taiwan and went to Europe to compete at the next level. For these children, this was the experience of a lifetime and the friendships they made through the music program were life-changing. (I’m hoping to meet that principal to do an interview and story on his organization.)

The Road Beyond…

Beyond the remote village of Lian San the road continues higher into the mountains winding along mountain ridges, through small aboriginal villages, and offers some of even more breath-taking views. Wufeng view 2

Wufeng town
Village of Chingcyuan at the end of Highway 122.

The twisty road winds down the other side of the mountains and finally reaches the main highway 122 (aka Guangfu Road) in Chingcyuan, a larger Atayal village with an interesting history museum. The museum opened recently and is the site of the long-term house arrest of Zhang Xuelian, the man who kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and tried to convince him to join the Communist fight against the Japanese. Zhang was later arrested and spent  50 years under house arrest, much of that time served in this village.

Chingcyuan village also hosts a popular weekend market along the banks of the river, serving a delicious selection of traditional foods. The local Catholic Church offers very basic overnight accommodation and will be a good jumping off point for my next exploratory mission – scootering deeper into the mountains to the Shei Pei National Park area…even more remote and incredibly beautiful!

Taiwan Mountain Road
Mountain roads – steep, windy, and deserted!

 

It’s unlikely the Dutch had the chance to explore these remote mountain villages before naming the island Formosa, but they definitely knew what they were talking about! It’s my new neighborhood…my new normal…and always interesting!

Is Taiwan on your Bucket List yet? It probably should be!

 

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4 thoughts on “Scooter Adventures – The Beauty of Taiwan’s Mountain Villages

  • May 13, 2016 at 5:27 pm
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    Looks and sounds amazing!!

    Reply
    • May 14, 2016 at 1:27 am
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      Always something new and interesting and so many new roads to explore! I’m hoping to explore Shei Pei National Park in the next few months.

      Reply
  • December 29, 2016 at 2:27 am
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    Hi Andy ! Great Blog Page !!! I lived in Taiwan for three months and taught Englhish in Zaoquiou, Miaoli county. I hope to return to Taiwan soon to Teach and live again. I’m having fun right now reading your descriptions and looking at the wonderful photos ! It’s giving me some good ideas on where I want to go, but also making me wish that I was already there ! Saving money right now to return.

    ~ kind regards, Gavin

    Reply
    • December 30, 2016 at 9:55 pm
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      Thanks Gavin! The mountain roads are beautiful and there’s always something new to explore. I think I’ll never run out of new and interesting areas! It’s a great way to meet the local aboriginal people too! Enjoy!

      Reply

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