Cycling in Miaoli County

The weekend of cycling began on Saturday when I rode down from Taipei to Hukou for the Blogtoberfest. The next morning I got up early to ride down to Miaoli where I planned to meet a group from the Thousand Mile Island Trail (千里步道). I was familiar with the roads in this area after a motorbike trip I made here last year. However, I underestimated the distance and it took me a bit longer than I expected.

Turning off Highway 3 onto Route 126 I had almost caught up to the group. I eased off the pace and enjoyed the incredible scenery on this road. I finally caught up with the group at Ecological Garden (綠色生態家園) on the banks of the Mingde Reservoir (明德水庫). Continue reading

Sanyi to Taipei: Visit to Hwataoyao

Day 4: 31 May 2007 三義 – 台北

Sea shore at Dajia in Taichung County, Taiwan

In the early morning I rode from the mountains of Sanyi to the sea at Dajia (大甲). The contrast between the green mountains and the industrialised coastal plain was quite stark. I arrived at a small fishing port and then wandered off to the area pictured above. Taiwan does have some nice beaches, but this was not the place to find one of them. 

Next I set out to visit Hwataoyao (華陶窯). It is located on the slopes of Huoyan Shan (火炎山) but it was a little difficult to find. I asked for directions a few times. One farmer gave me quite detailed directions — in Hoklo Taiwanese!! I really must try harder to learn it. I eventually arrived at the gate of Hwataoyao but was still unsure if I had reached my destination. The gateway is obscured from the road. I asked a woman if this was the Hwataoyao and she said yes. 

Wood stacked up by the kilns of Hwataoyao in Miaoli County

The entry ticket was not cheap. It cost NT$380 (NT$450 on weekends). This includes a NT$100 voucher for the cafe or shop. Entering the Hwataoyao I was quite surprised. It was very different to what I expected, but I think it was a very special place. The brochure describes it as a "Botanical Garden, Pottery Studio & Wood Kiln". These elements combine to make a unique experience. In the Chinese characters used in the name Hwataoyao, 華陶窯, the Hwa  (華) refers to flower (not China). So the meanings of the three characters are flower, ceramics (陶) and kiln (窯).

mud brick building in Hwataoyao, Miaoli County, Taiwan

Buildings and architecture are a significant feature of Hwataoyao. I was particularly excited to discover some mud brick buildings. The Hwataoyao called these buildings 土角茨 (tǔjiǎocí) in Chinese which means "earth, corner, thatch". I have visited the tulou (土樓) in China and been involved in natural building projects in India and Thailand so it was interesting to see these buildings and to know that this building method was being practiced in Taiwan. I had also seen some similar buildings in Beipu a few days earlier. The building techniques and materials were very similar to those I used in Thailand and India. 

Garden in Hwataoyao, Miaoli County

The other highlight of Hwataoyao is its gardens. The gardens aim to collect various plants from Taiwan. The variety of plants reflect the diversity of climates in Taiwan which vary from north to south and with altitude. The gardens are beautifully landscaped.

Yuanli Country Rush Exhibition Hall in Miaoli County

After leaving Hwataoyao I briefly visited the curiously named Yuan-li Country Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall (苑裡鎮藺草文化館). I thought the name was a little strange but after viewing the exhibition I worked out what it meant. I guess "Triangle Rush" is a translation of 藺草 (lìncǎo) which is a kind of rush. The exhibition is about the harvesting and use of various forms of grass or rushes. 

Tongxiao Railway Station, Miaoli County

I rode to Tongxiao (通霄) a small town on the coast where I had lunch. The town has a "bathing beach" but I didn't visit it. I went to the Fu Tang Pastry Shop (福堂餅行), which was established in 1899, to buy some of their goods.

train at Miaoli Station in Taiwan

Later in the afternoon my travels came to an end. I went to the Miaoli Railway Station and sent my motorbike back to Taipei. I then bought a ticket for myself and less than two hours later I was back in the big city of Taipei. Overall my travels were a great experience and gave me a new perspective on Taiwan.

Nanzhuang to Sanyi: Wood carving and railways

Day 3: 30 May 2007 南庄 – 三義

In the early morning I went for a short hike along the Xiao Dong He trail (小東河步道) behind the guest house. There were no great views, but it went through some nice forest. I had breakfast at the guest house and the owner recommended that I visit the Shibi Village (石壁) where there is an Atayal weaving centre.

Atayal weaving centre in Shibi Village, Nanzhuang, Miaoli County

I headed back up the valley. When I got to the village it was very quiet and there was nobody around. I peered in the window of the weaving centre but it didn't seem to be open. Still I was in an amazing location surrounded by steep mountains with a river rushing down below.

Saisiat mural and pattern in Baguali village, Miaoli County, Taiwan

Then I headed south from Nanzhuang to Xian Shan (仙山). Along the way I passed through Baguali (八卦力), a small Saisiat village that looked like it was undergoing extensive redevelopment for tourism. In fact in the whole Nanzhuang area I was surprised by how much tourism related development there was. The mural above was on the wall of a building in Baguali. The pattern with the swastika is characteristic of the Saisiat tribe.  

Lingdong Temple in Xian Shan, Miaoli County

Next stop was the Lingdong Temple (靈洞宮) on the slopes of Xian Shan. This is a very large temple. It was supposedly established after drinking water from a spring was able to cure people of diseases.

Mingde Reservoir in Miaoli County

I then rode along past the Mingde Reservoir (明德水庫), which was quite attractive. I had lunch in the small town of Mingde and then skirted around Miaoli City going south to Sanyi. Just as I got to Sanyi it started pouring rain and I was luckily able to take shelter in a 7-11. When the rain cleared I rode on to the Miaoli Wood Carving Museum (三義木雕博物館). 

wood carvings on display in a shop in Sanyi, Miaoli County

Sanyi has so many wood carving shops it is hard to imagine how they all remain in business. The museum is located in Guangsheng Village (廣聲新城). The village has a small street beside the museum that is lined with shops and then the main road, Shuimei Road (水美雕刻街), a little way from the museum has even more shops. 

The museum contains a very diverse collection. I identified a few major themes. The first was wood carving by Taiwan's aborigines, but I think this was poorly represented. Religious art is the next theme. This includes both the representations of dieties and the ornate features that adorn many Taiwanese temples. The last was work by artists that embraces a wide range of styles from traditional to post-modern. A couple of other things of interest that I noticed were the Tibetan Buddhist statues and some Australian aboriginal art. 

Shengxing Railway Station building in Sanyi, Miaoli County

Sanyi's other major attraction is the Shengxing Railway Station (勝興車站). This used to be the highest station on the Taiwan Railways main line at 402 metres. In 1998 the line was rerouted and the station area redeveloped as a tourist attraction. The station building was originally built in 1906. It is a pine structure built without nails. 

View of Shengxing Station in Sanyi, Miaoli County

The station looks deserted, but it would be "people mountain, people sea" on the weekends. The village's narrow main street has restaurants serving Lei Cha and other Hakka specialties. 

Longteng Broken Bridge in Sanyi, Miaoli County

Another point of interest along the railway line is the Longteng Broken Bridge (龍騰斷橋). It collapsed during an earthquake in 1935. A new bridge was built not far away. Now that the railway line is not in use it serves as a hiking trail. 

Beipu to Nanzhuang: Through the mountains

Day 2: 29 May 2007 北埔 – 南庄

72 metre tall statue of Maitreya Buddha at Emei Lake in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

In the early morning I rode from Beipu to Emei Lake (娥眉湖) where there is a giant statue of Maitreya Buddha (彌勒佛). The statue was built by the Tian'en Buddhist Temple (天恩佛堂). While the statue is finished a temple of similarly grand proportions was being constructed next to it. 

Next I rode onto another Buddhist center — Lion's Head Mountain or Shitou Shan (獅頭山). The "tail" of the mountain is in Xinzhu County and has a number of Buddhist temples. The "head" is in Miaoli County and the temples there are the mixed Taoist and Buddhist variety so common in Taiwan. 

Qi Xing Sacred Tree on Lion's Head Mountain in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

There is a visitor's centre with maps and information at the "tail". I went on a hike that took me on a loop around the mountain. It was a little hot so I didn't go far enough to visit all the temples. I only passed one Buddhist temple which was closed. The other place of interest I passed was the Qi Xing Sacred Tree (七星神木).

Quanhua Temple at Lion's Head Mountain in Taiwan

I then rode around to the "head" of the mountain. I wanted to visit the Quanhua Temple (勸化堂 ) as I had stayed there when I visited the mountain seven years ago. I can't say I slept there because I was kept awake all night by fireworks!  

Meishan House near Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

Next I rode towards Nanzhuang and stopped at the Meishan House (眉山居) for lunch. The Meishan House is an old brick building and also a guesthouse and restaurant. The owner was very friendly. He even gave me a copy of a book he had written about his experiences at the guesthouse. The book was called Minsu Sanji (民宿散記). 

Old Post Office in Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

I was quite impressed when I rode into the town of Nanzhuang. It is only a small town, but it looked very neat and well cared for. The town obviously attracts plenty of tourists on the weekends and has a few minor tourist attractions. There is a restored 100 year old wooden post office, Laurel Lane (桂花巷) and the channel for washing the clothes (水汴頭).

Nanzhuang washing place in Miaoli County, Taiwan

The channel for washing clothes and dishes is still in regular use by the locals. 

Laurel Lane in Nanzhuang Miaoli County Taiwan

The narrow alley of Laurel Lane. Several shops here sell coffee and local snacks. I am sure that you could barely move here on a weekend.

Dong He Valley in Nanzhuang, Miaoli County, Taiwan

I then left the town behind to ride into the mountains. I rode up the Dong He (東河) valley which has a number of small aboriginal villages. Some belong to the Atayal tribe and others to the Saisiat (賽夏族; also spelt Saisiyat). Along the way I saw the biggest snake I had ever seen in Taiwan. It looked like some kind of python but it slithered away before I could get a really good look at it. 

Saisiat Museum in Xiang Tian Hu village in Miaoli County

The village of Xiang Tian Hu (向天湖) contains the world's only museum of the Saisiat tribe. The Saisiat are one of Taiwan's smaller aboriginal tribes. There are about 5,000 members and they live in a few places in the mountains of Xinzhu and Miaoli Counties. The museum is very informative with everything clearly labelled in English.

View of the mountains in the Saisiat village of Xiang Tian Hu, Miaoli County, Taiwan

The location of the village is quite spectacular beside a small lake surrounded by mountains. The village is at an altitude of 880 metres. The village also hosts the "pygmy dance" ( 矮靈祭) once every two years. The next dance will be next year (2008) on the 15-17th days of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.  

As it was getting late in the afternoon I headed down the mountain. A short distance south of Nanzhuang I saw a sign to a Youth Hostel. I headed up a small road to have a look. I found the LTC Holiday Pension (栗田莊度假莊園). It wasn't really a typical youth hostel; it was more like a small resort in the mountains. Still I could use my card there to get a discount and it was NT$1,200 to stay in a very nice room and included breakfast. (The normal price is more than double that).

Trip to Xinzhu and Miaoli

my motorbike ridden on the tour

I've just returned from a four day motorcycle tour around Xinzhu and Miaoli Counties.The trip took me to many interesting villages and temples and through lots of beautiful mountains and countryside. I discovered some amazing places there.

waterfall next to the cold spring in Beipu, Xinzhu County

I will post a day by day travelogue of the trip on the blog over the next few days. I will also upload many photos to flickr. 

Update: For easy reference here are the links to the blog posts and photosets at flickr.