Dutch explorers named Taiwan “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. There are high mountains, hot springs, amazing hiking, and beautiful beaches. And the winding mountain roads are perfect for weekend Taiwan scooter adventures, 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 know these roads like the back of my weathered old hand. Luckily, every trip still reveals something new and interesting.
The first stop on any scooter adventure is Baoshan Reservoir. It’s beautiful and peaceful and is only about 12 minutes from my front door if I drive kind of fast. A chain of smaller lakes surrounds the main, larger reservoir. The main reservoir is also the site of my first near-death scooter experience when I was learning to drive! The road around the main reservoir is exactly 10 kilometers, which makes 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.
Just beyond Baoshan Reservoir lies the small town of Beipu, settled by the Hakka people who descended from China This village is now the center of Hakka culture in the area. You’ll find samples of traditional Hakka foods and locally grown tea at the popular weekend market.
Beipu’s main tourist attraction is a small Chinese Buddhist temple located near the market area. Built in 1835, the temple is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Guanyin. Traditional tea houses line the town’s streets and serve 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!
Just outside of Beipu along the river is another popular attraction, Beipu cold springs. People often pack the springs in the summer as a way to beat the hot, humid Taiwanese weather.
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.
There are also some great hiking trails at the top. Unfortunately, I’ve only done one impromptu hike wearing flip-flops. It was 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. At about the 5km mark there is a sharp left turn that heads higher into the mountains. It looked interesting so I had to explore!
The road winds along the top of a mountain ridge to a small Atayal aboriginal village called Lian San. The village’s Samu 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.
You will find small aboriginal villages throughout these mountains, mostly Atayal or Say Siyat tribes. These tribal people live very simple lives with few job opportunities and a lot of poverty. As a result, 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 based on music.
The organization buses 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 social life.
A few years ago, the organization won a music competition in Taiwan. As winners, they traveled to Europe to compete at the next level. For these children, the program introduced them to lifelong friendships and changed their lives.
The Road Beyond…
Beyond the remote village of Lian San the road continues higher into the mountains. It winds along mountain ridges, through small aboriginal villages and offers more breath-taking views.
The twisty road winds down the other side of the mountains. It finally reaches the main highway 122 (aka Guangfu Road). At the intersection, you’ll find the village of 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. He’s the man who kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and tried to convince him to join the Communist fight against the Japanese. The government later arrested Zhang and sentenced him to 50 years under house arrest. He served much of that time in this village.
Chingcyuan village also hosts a popular weekend market along the banks of the river. Indigenous people serve up a delicious selection of traditional foods. Luckily, the local Catholic Church offers very basic overnight accommodation making it a good jumping off point for my next exploratory mission. Someday, I plan to drive deeper into the mountains to the Shei Pei National Park area. This park area is incredibly beautiful and even more remote!
The Dutch probably didn’t get to explore these remote mountain villages before naming the island Formosa. However, but they definitely knew what they were talking about! It’s my new neighborhood, my new normal, and always interesting!
For even more amazing views of Taiwan, check out this drone video!
Is Taiwan on your Bucket List yet? Taiwan scooter adventures – a great way to experience the remote mountain villages!