Monday, April 22, 2013

Sailing to Matsu

The Taima Ferry () leaves Keelung six evenings a week and sails through the night for the Matsu Islands (馬祖列島), an ROC-controlled archipelago around 150km northwest of Taiwan.  

There are various ticket options, the cheapest being nothing more than a padded seat in one of the lounges. Most people opt for a berth in one of the bunk-bed dorms; at NT$1050 per person one-way, it's almost half the price of flying from Taipei to Nangan. These bunks are fairly comfortable and you have a curtain you can draw across for some privacy. Unfortunately, all the lights are left on throughout the voyage, which takes eight to ten hours. There are also first- and business-class cabins, but from what I saw they aren't worth the extra money unless you've a great need to watch TV. In the lounge you can buy beer, tea and instant noodles.

It's worth staying outside for the first hour or so as you get good views of Keelung Harbour and its impressive freight-handling facilities [see above and below]. Also, the ocean is dotted with fishing boats using dazzling carbon-arc lamps to attract fish.
The vessel is quite substantial - the car deck can take more than a dozen small trucks - so even if the weather is poor, the pitching and rolling are tolerable. 

I woke up around 5am and went outside. We passed several small islets; officially, the Taiwan-ruled portion of Lienchiang County consists of 19 islands, but that tally doesn't include several isolated rocks.

Matsu's docks depend on military personnel. Each time the Taima makes a stop [such as Nangan (南竿), pictured left], teams of soldiers tie the ship up. Note that the man closest to the water's edge is held by the fellow behind - a wise precaution, I'm sure.

At Nangan the Taima [bottom picture] paused for two hours, during which we hit the island's main market for some breakfast. Then we reboarded the ferry for the two-hour voyage to Dongyin (東引), where we spent the first night.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A museum in Dajia

Jin Hua Shan Mazu Folk Museum (金華山媽祖文物館; 9, Lane 119, Guangming Road; tel: (04) 2676-5678; open: 09.00-17.00 Tue-Sun) is a newish privately-owned museum in Dajia District, Taichung City. It was established to showcase Mazu icons and religious paraphernalia purchased by a Dajia-born businessman during trips to the Chinese mainland, and the collection is well worth seeing if you're interested in local religious culture. There are capes, hats and shoes used to dress images of the sea goddess, but the finest object in the collection is a Mazu statuette thought to date from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1276); the mineral dyes used to paint it have hardly faded despite the passage of centuries. At the time of my visit there was little in the way of English labelling, but this may well change.

The museum doesn't have a proper website yet, but you can see photos taken inside the museum on this page.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Above the treeline

Recently I drove northeast from Wushe (霧社) in Nantou County, past Qingjing Farm (清境農場) and over Hehuanshan (合歡山). This stretch of road is the highest in Taiwan, cresting at 3,275m; Hehuanshan's peak is 3,416m above sea level

The section shown here isn't the very top but gives you a good idea of the scenery. On weekdays there's usually little traffic; at weekends and whenever there's snow, you can expect crowds of people and vehicles. Hehuanshan is inside Taroko National Park. If you'd rather not drive, you can see this road by taking one of the buses which link Puli (埔里) with Lishan (山).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Taoshan Waterfall

A few days ago I hiked to Taoshan Waterfall (桃山瀑布) in Wuling National Forest Recreation Area, which itself is inside Shei-Pa National Park (雪霸國家公園). The trail, 4.3km long, rises gradually to 2,245m above sea level. Getting to the waterfall and back takes around two-and-a-half hours; the path is shaded by pine trees and surfaced with concrete. In other words, it's a good hike for people who don't normally wander off into the wilderness. Because I was well ahead of the mid-morning crowds, I saw a lot of birds.

A fence (not visible in the photo on the left) blocks tourists from getting too close. Judging by this blog, the barrier is a fairly recent addition to the landscape. It's a necessary one, in my opinion, as the consequences of slipping by the pool's edge could be very nasty. The waterfall is about 80m high and was quite impressive when I reached it - not surprising, as it had rained throughout the night.

Within 100m of the trailhead, those hiking to the waterfall cross the Qijiawan Creek (shown right), habitat of the Formosan landlocked salmon. This endemic fish species doesn't migrate to the ocean because it can't tolerate water temperatures above 17 degrees Celsius. It almost went extinct in the 1980s, but in recent years numbers have rebounded thanks to a major conservation effort.