April 17, 2008

When visiting the cities of Taiwan, it's easy to forget just how mountainous the island is. Looking at a map though shows you that the mountains start from just outside Taipei and stretch out all the way down the island.

Now I have to say that I love this kind of scenery, even though ironically I am not a fan of heights. So I'll take any excuse to get out into the peaks of Taiwan as I did last week.

One of the more famous places to head to is place called Lalashan. I know it sounds like it should be in the chorus of a pop song, but the name actually comes from the Atayal tribe, where "Lala" means "beautiful". "Shan" means "mountain" in Mandarin, so you get the idea.

Getting to Lalashan is all part of the mountain experience situated as it is about half-way along the Northern Cross Island Highway (Highway 7). This highway deserves mention, and stretches of it are reminiscent of the road going through Taroko Gorge. Time and again I found myself asking, "How?" Just, "How?"

It is a struggle to keep the highway open however, as landslides regularly take out sections. There are many scars on the sides of the mountains, and this is definitely not a place to be during a typhoon when most of the damage is done. Despite this, the road itself is good albeit narrow, and the views are fantastic.

Amazingly (for the less energetic perhaps), Highway 7 is also a popular cycling route. There are places to rest along the way like Baling Bridge. If you make it to this bridge, please let me know your theory of how it was built. How did they fit the girders of the bridge along the road at all?

It takes about three hours from Taipei to Lalashan Mountain National Forest Sanctuary. Enjoy the drive, but remember to fill up on gas before you leave. It's also worth stopping at the Visitor Information Center to pick up a brochure in English.

There are places to stay inside the park (sanctuary) and I really wanted a room with a view. On arrival it was hard to tell if we'd have a view at all as the fog (or maybe the clouds) was too heavy. But the next morning all had cleared and the view was indeed wonderful. In fact you could almost hear Julie Andrews. "The hills are alive..." There's a reason why a lot of places included "Swiss" in their names.
Some of the accommodation is perched, literally, on the side of the mountain. For a full on mountain experience, you certainly get fantastic views. For the slightly more faint of heart, you can stay on the other side. Our wooden cabins were surrounded by bamboo giving a truly "in nature" experience.
Something else I really enjoy are the coffee shops perched on mountain sides. There are plenty of shops and it seems as though they are spreading (there are even some well-known ones on Matsu now). Take some time and soak up the atmosphere... "with the sound of music..."
This area is famed for its peaches, and the orchards are everywhere. The trees were in bloom so we couldn't try the fruit, but I am reliably informed that they are top notch. The cabbages are also very good (I did try). Probably not the easiest thing to stick in your suitcase, but well worth trying at a local restaurant.

Apart from the local produce and the stunning scenery, Lalashan is famous for its forest containing giant aged cypress trees, and some of the these trees are really old. Like, thousands of years old (the oldest is 2,800 years old). There is a trail around 20 or so of these giants, and each is numbered with information in English.

Instead of dashing around though, it was quite an experience just to sit and think what these trees have lived through.

Inevitably though, you will end up walking around at least some of the other trees, and it is a beautiful walk. The path is well laid out although I am not sure if it was my reading skills or my walking skills that made a supposed hour long walk turn into two and a half hours! Carrying our nine month old daughter probably didn't help either. If you are bringing small children, it would be handy to have an on the back child carrying device. There are a lot of steps!

After the walk it was a straight shot back to Taipei. As there is only one road it is hard to get lost. Even if you turn the wrong way on Highway 7 after coming off the mountain you will eventually get home. Indeed that would take you to Ilan and from there... but that's another story.

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     Malcolm Higgins at April 17, 2008 Post | Reply(0) | Quote(0) | Forward

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