Even in the car it was a tough climb up to the hostel. Though the weather was fine and the road was in a reasonable condition it was easy to imagine slipping and plunging hundreds of meters to the bottom of the valley.
But the view was worth it. A sea of clouds lapped against the peaks of Five Finger Mountain (五指山), part of Taiwan's central mountain range in Hsinchu County (新竹縣). At an altitude of over 800m the air was light and clean, refreshing the lungs after their daily battle for oxygen in smog-bound cities.
Hsinchu is at the heart of Taiwan's much-trumpeted "green silicon island" revolution. When Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) became president six years ago and before clouds of corruption spoiled the view, he outlined a vision of Taiwan being a high-tech country that could also be a premier tourist destination. Economic progress and environmental protection would walk hand-in-hand into a bright future sunset.
PHOTOS: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES
As Taiwan's manufacturing base migrates to China, it has been reasonably successful in transforming itself into a knowledge-based economy. Copying the example of California's Silicon Valley, Hsinchu Science Park has become a center of innovation and home to the world's top semiconductor foundries.
But the green part of silicon revolution hasn't really happened. Although there was a 16 percent increase last year in the number of visitors to 3.2 million, according to the Tourism Bureau, this was achieved mainly through celebrity endorsements rather than tending to its natural attractions.
Even so, there are a few good-news stories and examples of businessman going green. On a clear day (and there aren't many of them) you can see Five Finger Mountain from Hsinchu. This is where Hsieh Te-jin (謝德金) built his hostel, Time in the Mountains (山居歲月), on land in Wufeng (五峰) owned by his wife, who is from the Saisiyat tribe.
"I started construction 10 years ago and did all the work myself. At first the property was a vacation home for my family and friends but then I had the idea about five years ago of expanding and building small chalets for tourists," Hsieh said.
Since then visitors from Hsinchu and beyond have been heading to Time in the Mountains for long-weekend breaks to recharge their batteries. Hsieh provides afternoon tea and coffee as well as fresh, home-cooked meals. Business has grown steadily and other hostels have been opening up in the area, Hsieh added.
Some of them, like Lu Wooden Farm (魯木農場), also in Wufeng, have drilled deep and found cold-water springs. The owners have marked out trails for walks that suit a range of people, from fitness freaks to the basically sedentary. There are benefits to one's mental and physical health from simply sitting on your porch, reading a novel and watching time go by.
Other attractions in the area, which is listed among the 12 most enchanting places to visit by the Tourism Bureau, include forest walks and bamboo groves. There are also caves, some of which were used by the short people, a race the Saisiyat believe were the original inhabitants of Taiwan.
By the roadsides there are informal markets where farmers from the predominantly Atayal, Saisiyat and Hakka population sell produce fresh from their fields. In many settlements you will find small huts by the side of the road that have KTV equipment and offer light refreshments. There are also many restaurants offering Hakka and mountain food.
The towns that connect Five Finger Mountain include Chudung (竹東), which has a few temples but not much else of interest; and Wufeng. In Peipu (北埔) there are first-grade historical sites and an old street that is worth browsing. But if it's birdsong and unspoiled nature that you crave, it's easy to find in the mountains of Hsinchu.
Mountain road factbox:
The towns of Chudung (竹東), Peipu (北埔) and Wufeng (五峰) are jump-off points for tours of the peaks of Five Finger Mountain. All are easily reached from Hsinchu.
Time in the Mountains (山居歲月) is at 269, Lin 14, Da-ai Village, Wufeng, Hsinchu County (新竹縣五峰鄉大隘村14鄰269號). Open Friday to Sunday. Phone 0970-153-283. Check www.mtlife.104inn.com.tw for further details, including a map of how to get there. Rates are from NT$1,300 to NT$1,600.
Lu Wooden Farm (魯木農場) is at 463, Lin 23, Maopu, Da-ai Village, Wufeng, Hsinchu County (新竹縣五峰鄉大隘村23鄰茅埔463號). Open all week. Phone 0933-267-460. Check www.minsu.com.tw for details of this hostel and others in Taiwan. Rates are from NT$2,500 to NT$5,000.
Sept. 28 to Oct . 4 A large number of 3000-year-old slate coffins were unearthed on a hill near Nanhe Village (南和村) in Pingtung County on Sept. 30, 1985. Unfortunately, the United Daily News (聯合報) noted that they had been seriously damaged by construction, and no artifacts or human remains were found. Although the newspaper called the find a “significant discovery,” little information can be gleaned about this specific site because it’s just one of countless locations where stone sarcophagi have been unearthed across southern and eastern Taiwan, and as north as Yilan County. These stone receptacles for the dead were
Until this summer, when the idea of hiking the length of the island first occurred to me, I didn’t even know that Cijin (旗津) had been a peninsula until 1967. That’s when diggers and dredgers severed Cijin from Taiwan’s “mainland,” because the authorities wished to create a southern entrance to Kaohsiung’s fast expanding port. The island is just under 9km long, but a bit of research quickly convinced me that a south-to-north trek wasn’t a good idea. The southern third of Cijin is dominated by container-lifting cranes, warehouses and other facilities off-limits to the public. Dunhe Street (敦和街) forms the boundary between
Sitting at the bar, martini in hand, Kristin Scott Thomas rolls her eyes briefly heavenwards. And then she declares, in one of the most memorable monologues of the cult BBC drama Fleabag, that menopause is the “most wonderful fucking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot and no one cares. But then — you’re free! No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.” When an entranced Fleabag says she has been told the whole thing is horrendous, Scott Thomas’s character responds: “It is horrendous,
As if the climbs and views and snacks and companions of cycling in Taiwan aren’t sufficient, the GPS-generation of route-planners are now using apps such as Strava and Endomondo to create works of art as they ride. One such is nicknamed the Dove Road of Sijhih (汐鴿路), a 25km ride that follows the riverside bike path from the Nangang-Neihu Bridge (南湖橋) to New Taipei City’s Sijhih District (汐止), climbs around 400m up the Sijhih-Shiding Road (汐碇路), before dropping back down past Academia Sinica to generate a very dove-like pattern. Originally called Kippanas by indigenous Ketagalan people and transliterated into Hoklo (more commonly