Fri, May 04, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Toubiankeng bat cave

A Guanyin temple and its immaculately kept grounds, a suspension bridge and a bat cave are among the worthwhile places to visit in Taichung’s Toubiankeng

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporte

The natural cave at the end of this little adventure in Taichung’s Toubiankeng is one of Taiwan’s more impressive.

Photo: Richard Saunders

The Taiwanese seem to have a thing for bat caves. A surprising number of impressive cave-like rock formations dotted over the island (with or without a population of resident bats) share the name bat cave, possibly because traditionally bats are a considered a symbol of fortune and happiness.

The association isn’t immediately apparent to the average Englishman like myself, who generally associates the critters with creepy vampires, and a certain caped crusader, but the reason is really quite simple. The Chinese word for bat (蝠, fu) sounds the same as the word for fortune (福): yet another way in which our two cultures are so very, refreshingly, different.

I seem to have developed quite an interest in bat caves too, over the years, since I’ve already described several in this column over the last 11 months. Well here’s another, rather special one.

Most of Taiwan’s bat caves are natural formations. Since the nation’s geological makeup doesn’t in general lend itself to the formation of true caves (save for a few impressive examples bored into several small pockets of limestone), most “caves” are just deep (albeit often very impressive) overhanging rock formations eroded over the eons by the weather.

Other bat caves, such as the one at Ruibin (瑞濱) on the northeast coast, east of Keelung (and a protected reserve for a rare kind of bat), are man-made creations, usually old mine shafts.

The bat cave at Toubiankeng (頭汴坑蝙蝠洞), however, is a unique hybrid: part natural cave and part man-made tunnel. Apparently, it once ranked among the top sights of the Taichung area, although its position has slipped somewhat since then.

The bats appear to have long since gone elsewhere (no doubt fleeing the assault of noisy, flashlight-totting adventurers that once thronged here each weekend) and the visitors who come here these days are mostly local, but it’s still worth a visit, particularly if you don’t mind squeezing through pitch-black, claustrophobic tunnels and running the risk of getting your feet wet.

IF YOU GO

Bus 288 (run by Fengyuan Bus Company; 豐原客運) connects Taichung train station with Toubiankeng’s bat cave, with four services daily: 5:40am, 11:00am, 3:15pm and 4:50pm.


The man-made part of the bat cave was chiseled through the rock during the Japanese colonial period, and channels water from the nearby river to irrigate fields downstream.

The entrance is a small slot in the cliff face, into which flows an aqueduct, which is diverted from the river some distance upstream. Unless it’s been raining heavily, these days the water in the tunnel is only a couple of centimeters deep, and a series of flat “stepping stones” along the length of the tunnel allow visitors to keep their feet (mostly) dry.

The roof of the tunnel is just high enough for a person of average height to stand without bowing their head, but the width seems to have been designed for thin people, and more generously proportioned visitors will find it a narrow squeeze, particularly near the far end, where the passage narrows still further.

A few meters in, the tunnel curves right, the light from the entrance can penetrate no further, and to explore any deeper, bring a head torch (or use the torch on your cellphone, but keep a tight grip on it, lest it falls into the water).

After a minute or two a junction on the right pierces the wall of the cliff into which the tunnel is cut, allowing the daylight to flood in briefly, and at the same time partially draining the tunnel via a delicate waterfall that emerges from the cliff and falls into the little river below. Pitch blackness returns a few meters further down the tunnel, but after a couple more minutes’ paddling a second, a third, then a fourth window on the outside world opens to the right. None offers an early means of escape, however, as they all open into the sheer cliff face.

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