Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the Magical Mountains of Pingtung, Part I

Last week I get an email from someone representing the county government of Pingtung. Would I like to participate in a blogger activity -- travel in Pingtung, stay there as a guest of the local government for 15 days, and blog on my experiences? For bucks? I couldn't say yes fast enough. Sounded like heaven. Read on for my first few days of adventuring in Pingtung county. (WARNING: Picture heavy. Give it some time to load up).

Shuimen seen from Route 185 across the river in the early morn

My first foray into Pingtung was aimed at the area around Sandimen, a popular tourist area in the mountains that offers aboriginal culture and stunning mountain scenery. On this trip I actually stayed in and around the town of Shuimen in Neipu. The last time I was in this area was after Morakot in Aug of 2009 (post). But then I didn't have a chance to really experience what the area had to offer.

Shuimen town

I stayed one night at the Aboriginal Culture Park just outside of Shuimen town. It is easy to find, Shuimen being a town of few roads. I had never spent much time in this area -- like many people, I had heard that Sandimen and the surrounding area was lovely with lots to see and do, but had never been there to check it out.

Shuimen town in the morning. Sunday looked totally promising and I was itching to get on the bike.

In the morning I hopped on my bike and crossed the big bridge on Rte 24 over the Ailiao River into the mountains of Pingtung.

Rte 24 starts climbing immediately once you cross the bridge, through a well-developed touristy area with the coffee shops and B&B that are common wherever tourists gather. The views of Shuimen town and the nearby plain are lovely all the way up.

I am still learning the art of self-photography. Glad to have the ten second timer, though -- I need every second to get that stomach sucked in....

A few cyclists out in the morning on nice road bikes, speeding past me.

Shops along the Rte 24.

Another look at the views on a stunning clear day.

As you leave the town and continue along Rte 24, you enter the mountains. River gorges, peaks, clouds.....lightly hazy, but still gorgeous.

The grade isn't too bad and the road surface is excellent with plenty of shade to duck the sun.

Views are nice too.

A hamlet along the road.

Rte 24 is still recovering from Morakot and more recent typhoons, and construction is incessant.

Hawks frustrate me -- imaging them clearly is soooo difficult.

Just before the turnoff to Da She, there is a police checkpoint. Don't forget your ID! Hiking and camping are a possibility, and there are several places to stay further in on Rte 24.

Students out enjoying the mountains and the beautiful day.

I stopped to take a breather and to contemplate this awesome view -- note that massive landslide scar. Ouch. As I stood there, scanning.....

....this man rode up on his mountain bike. It turned out that he lived in the area and biked in the mountains every weekend. We spent a pleasant half hour chatting and taking pictures as he outlined and routes and told me where I should go. I took in the long area of construction there and decided that I didn't want to bike it twice. So I turned around, since I had to meet a friend in the afternoon and the road ahead offered little prospect of lunch.

Heading back.

Another view of the village with its imposing church.

Morning mountains.

Oh no! My rim overheated and the tube failed. After a few moments imitating T.E. Lawrence in the opening scene of Lawrence of Arabia, I managed to get the bike under control. Here I am letting the rim cool -- it was too hot to touch.

On the way back I stopped at the Aboriginal Culture Center in Sandimen.

It has exhibits, arts and crafts activities, and performances. $50 NT to enter.

Audience members await a performance.

The crafts area.

A street in Sandimen town.

I went back to Shuimen and had lunch. Plenty of cyclists on the many bike paths in the area.

Since I had no spare tube, I had to make a trip to Neipu town to grab a couple of spare tubes. I set off down 187 for a few kms of flatlanding....

A few stretches are quite nice.

Temple offerings.

Heading back to Shuimen.

One of the best things about the area is the constant presence of the mountains, which halt at the border of the plains like so many massive soldiers awaiting orders.

A religious procession along the way back to Shuimen.

A drummer passes the time as she waits for the procession to get moving.

I returned to the Taiwan Aboriginal Cultural Park above Shuimen town on Pingtung County Road 35 (Ping35) where I was to stay the night. The rooms were well appointed and the staff friendly. Alas, the restaurant closes at 6 so food can only be had in Shuimen town.

A bus driver catches a breather in the parking lot.

Like every police station in the area, this one on Ping35 right next to the park has everything a cyclist needs.

I walked around Shuimen town and took a few pictures. It's a moderately touristy town with a few cheap places to stay and one or two souvenir shops.

A river runs through it.

Waiting for customers.

Monday morning dawned even more impressively, warm and inviting. I put on my short sleeve shirt and rolled up Ping35 into Majia Township. My plan was to go in a few kilometers, and then turn around, move to my next hotel around lunch, and then ride 185 north to the border of Kaohsiung county.

Ping35 is an excellent road with fabulous views over Shuimen and Sandimen. The grade is steep to the top of the ridge and then quickly levels off to an easy slope above 600 meters. There are several attractions along the way, including a new leisure farm and aboriginal villages, including Majia itself.

Sandimen and beyond.

Taking a breather.

Shuimen town.

I think this is a resettlement village for refugees from the Morakot disaster in 2009.

A makeshift shrine by the roadside.


These plants were planted along the road the whole way.

Early morning spider.

About km 3 the road levels off and the views are excellent.

Good views to the east.

In the morning the road is busy with motorcyclists and cars going to and from the aboriginal villages higher up.

Slowly, my self-portraits are improving. Slowly.

A tiny spider waits patiently.

Pingtung's mountains are amazing and Ping35 is absolutely gorgeous. Highly recommended. You can stay at the Aboriginal Cultural Park (http://www.mazalu.com.tw/); Ping35 conveniently goes right past it.

Admiring the view.

I stopped to chat with a work crew and asked if I could take a picture with one of them. She was "volunteered". After we took the pic, she asked: "So what am I, your younger sister or older?" I cried in mock indignation: "Wife!" Everyone laughed and she grinned and punched me on the arm. The locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming, especially if you are on a bike.

Returning to Shuimen for lunch.

In the afternoon I headed out north on 185 after shifting to my new hotel. 185 heads north and then swings east toward the mountains before heading north again.

The opening section of 185 north is quite nice.

The road winds through banana and pineapple farms at the base of the mountains, with splendid views. It's a bit like riding on the east coast with the mountains right over your shoulder.

The bike path by the side of 185 apparently gets little use. I don't recommend it.

The only decent section I found was where it follows Ping29 to the village of Koushe.

Pineapple fields forever.


This is another section of the bike path. After clackity-clack-clacking on this pavement for a few minutes, I gave up and returned to 185.

The road is flat, poorly-surfaced in many places, and overrun with trucks.

But it offers some truly impressive and enjoyable views.

More importantly, not only is 185 to the north an easy and pleasurable ride, but it provides access to all sorts of attractions -- waterfalls, the Purple Butterfly Valley, mountain hiking, and similar. Everyone focuses on Kenting, but the rest of Pingtung is wonderful too.

Farms, mountains, resorts.

I swung back on Rte 27 to Ping27 in Taishan, and then on Monday night stayed at Daluguan hotel outside Shuimen on 185.

Stay tuned for parts 2,3 and 4 -- Taiwu and Laiyi townships, more Majia township, and Kenting!
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Okami said...

Pic 34 is a guava orchard, the trees are that short. Nice pics, but I don't really see how it differs much from other parts of Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Nice work Michael. I really appreciate and enjoy all of your photo essays.

Anonymous said...

You're looking thin.

With the potted palms, I might suspect that temple incorporates some plains aboriginal beliefs into worship.

Michael Turton said...


it's beautiful, but then so are many other places in Taiwan. If you want to go to a lovely place you haven't been to, Majia and Sandimen are good choices.

Thanks, 6:33 anon.

8:09 anon, my "thinness" is the result of wearing black. I just got that new Mavic jersey and it looks great.

Todd said...

Great pics Michael! Looks like you had some excellent weather on your trip!

OzSoapbox said...

Your rim overheated?!

Was that due to the ambient temperature or excessive braking from being up in the mountains?

Lucky you it appears you had some nice sunny weather. I'm utterly over this bullshit extended winter crap we seem to have had since November'ish.

Is it rude to ask what the paycheck was?

D said...

Very cool.

Jade said...

I now appreciate more and more the beauty of Taiwan through your camera. Living in the US, I am hoping that I'll retire in Taiwan someday and enjoy bike riding.

Ashish said...

Stunning pictures and account Michael. Pingtung is the only county I haven't been to yet so it is good to read your travels there and see the photos. Looking forward to the next essays of this trip.

Tim W said...

Nice gig, Michael! It's great to see pics of these places. Why am I in Jhongli again?

Michael Turton said...

Good god, Tim! Stuck in Chongli? Surely there must be a position somewhere where there is sun and people who don't look like escapees from a Martin Scorcese flick...

Unknown said...

Michael, what do you mean when you say the people in Chongli look like escapees from a Scorsese film? The foreigners, or the Taiwanese? Both? Which Scorsese movie and which actors. The more recent Scorsese movies...well, you might be referring to the mental asylum in Shutter Island. Or the gangster movies. I just find Chongli to be supercrowded. It's one of the more densely populated cities in Taiwan (perhaps more than most of Taipei). Hsinchu is similar, but Chongli is like this on a much bigger scale. Still, I'm curious about what exactly you mean. I am still scratching my metaphorical head (mind you, I do have a real head, just not in this vicinity at the moment) quizzically.