Showing posts with label stone_bamboo_shoot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stone_bamboo_shoot. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Postcards from Pingxi - Pingxi town and Houtong Cat Village

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A few weeks ago we did a day hike and a bit of wandering in the Pingxi area (accessible by bus or a small tourist rail line that runs from Ruifang at one end to Jingtong at the other) - it's become increasingly popular in the years since we've been here, but we hadn't explored the area in quite some time (in part because it is so popular now - it's too crowded most weekends).

We've been to Jingtong (an overnight hiking trip taking in Stone Bamboo Mountain and Shulong Peak) as well as Sandiaoling (site of a fantastic waterfall hike) and Shifen for the waterfall and sky lantern festival, Houtong for the Xiaotzukeng hike, and stopped at Dahua as we completed the Sandiaoling hike, and to Pingxi itself for Dutiful Son Mountain, but have avoided the area since the tourists moved in in earnest.

In fact, the above is a pretty great list of solid Pingxi hikes - you'd be wise to save it for future reference.

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Now I wish we'd spent more time here over the past few years. If you come early enough or choose a hot day when a lot of Taipei day-trippers stay home or go somewhere air-conditioned (I love how Costco is a "fun family day trip" here - and the kids love it!) it's really not that bad, and there's a lot to recommend the area.

Before we set off on the Dongshige Trail (topic of my next post) we spent a little time in Pingxi. After the hike we spent some time in Houtong, which is now famous for being the "cat" village, with hundreds, if not thousands, of cared-for tame-but-semi-stray cats that you can watch, pet, play with and, if the locals allow it, feed.

I thought I'd first post a few photos for your enjoyment before I wrote a second post on our hike.

First, Pingxi, famous for "sky lanterns" (which you've no doubt read about in your guidebook):

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...this squid place looks pretty good.

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I recommend the taro ice cream with cilantro and peanut nougat in a crepe wrap sold here. Especially after a hot and dehydrating hike.

There is also a guabao (meat in a steamed bun with peanut crumble, cilantro and more) stand with lean meat that was great (I love guabao but prefer lean meat) and an aboriginal-run mountain pig kebab stand that I recommend very highly. None of these are the "famous" places with long lines. Who cares - avoid the lines and eat at my recommended spots. You'll be happy you did.

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We reached Houtong after the hike as the sun set:

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This Japanese soda is popular here - you shove the glass marble sealing it into the bottle and drink. It's actually pretty good (I hadn't had it in years so I enjoyed a bottle here).

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There weren't as many cats as we'd been led to believe. The soda stand owner said it was partly due to the heat and partly the weekend crowds. Once we'd all left and the weather cooled they'd come out again.

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You can buy various cat souvenirs where most of the cats congregate. Proceeds of course profit the family, but also go to care for the cats (seeing as local families do the caregiving). It's worth it to buy something - money for cat food and care needs to come from somewhere.

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And the ride out to Houtong - not as crowded as you might think!

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pingxi Peaks

I've long been a fan of the hiking on offer in Pingxi (that's the small-gauge railroad area that used to be big on coal mining), and surprised that not many other foreigners seem to venture out to the peaks there. They're small peaks when you compare to what you can climb in central Taiwan, but in terms of beauty and in some cases, the sheer vertical drop of them more than makes up for their stunted height.

I see lots of tourists on the railroad and in the towns - leading one to wonder why the towns don't have better food, although Jingtong has one decent coffeeshop with a singularly awful name - but few ever think to go hiking there. I have students who didn't even know you could go hiking there, and don't know the names of any of the mountains there, either.

Good coffee, but I guess they don't realize what they are implying about the flavor of their coffee.

As for foreigners, a lot of great hiking in Pingxi was covered in Taipei Day Trips I and II - I do wonder why fewer people check it out. Even Lonely Planet (the old, crappy edition) covers some options there. We've been on several trails in that area and never once seen another foreign hiker. What's more, the locals seem to be in-town locals, not domestic tourists.

Below is a short run-down of my three favorite hikes in the Pingxi area - two in Jingtong and one in Pingxi itself, which is next to yet another beautiful hike that I haven't tried yet.

1.) Shulongjian

The summit of Shulongjian

Shulongjian (also known as "Little Fuji" for its conical shape, reminiscent of Mount Fuji in Japan) is visible from various points in Jingtong. After our hike, as storms began rolling in from Muzha, we watched the clouds grazing the peaks from our guesthouse on the edge of town. There are two routes to the top - one via a back-end trail and the other up lots of stairs as is usual in Taiwan. Only the stair route is well-marked and well-known. The other route, though much more challenging, has a troupe of monkeys that hang out in the early morning and late afternoon not far from the top.

Another bonus of this mountain are the abundant and beautiful butterflies, mostly yellow and black or light purple and black, though I saw two bright blue ones and at least one that I believe was a monarch.

Another bonus is that you can see Taipei 101 from the top - that's effin' cool considering how far away it is. You can also watch storms rolling in from Muzha, which is what we did until it got too close for comfort.

To get to the stair route, follow the Pingxi-Muzha road away from Jingtong town in the direction of Muzha. The entrance is near a small shed-like building, leading through a small parking area and to a flight of stone steps. The steps pass through a village before beginning their ascent.

To get to the other route, find a local to help you.

2.) Stone Bamboo Mountain

Stone Bamboo Mountain - we think

OK, full disclosure: we never actually made it all the way up this one. We started too late in the day, hadn't packed enough water and were feeling vaguely ill...and were not sure why. The view over it is beautiful, though. While Lonely Planet claims it's visible from Jingtong, we couldn't see it when we arrived.

The trail to Stone Bamboo (we do know how to get to it, we got pretty far) starts off the same as the trail to Shulongjian, but after awhile you come to a T-junction and have to head in the opposite direction. This trail is not stairs all the way; there are entire sections of actual trail. Made of dirt. That you have to hike up, instead of step up! Wow. After the first bout of "real hiking" there is another T-junction - on the right is the trail to Stone Bamboo mountain, which heads downhill for awhile. To the left is a short trail that ends at a cell phone tower, near which you'll find a good place to break for lunch.

If you want to climb both peaks but don't want to do it on the same day, there is one guesthouse we know of in Jingtong run by the Wang family. It's outside town, follow the road past the old Japanese teahouse restaurant and turn right, the guesthouse is on the left. It's next to the site of the first mine (coal or gold, I forget) opened by the Japanese. Their two black Formosan dogs, Da Wang and Xiao Wang, are very friendly. They have two rooms and are not cheap at $1600 kuai a night (the rooms are quite nice though), which includes free Taiwanese breakfast on the patio.

3.) Dutiful Son Mountain (Xiaozishan, which I'm too lazy to key into my bopomofo keyboard)

Joseph at the rocky precipice near the final climb to Xiaozishan's peak

Xiaozishan is a beauty - and the craziest part of that beauty is that nobody seems to know it's there except for the Taipei Day Trips guy, and one old guy in Pingxi who likes to take pictures of it.

It's not a hard climb, easily done in half a day or less. The top is a jagged pinnacle of rock - literally a pinnacle - like something out of a Road Runner cartoon - accessible only because of a system of carved steps, metal handles and ropes. Most of it was put in by one of Chiang Kai-shek's old bodyguards as a hobby. There are two ways up - one will probably kill you and the other probably won't. Just in case it does, however, there are lots of statues of Guanyin and other deities to make sure your mangled corpse is watched over by the right folks and your soul goes to the right place:

Just in case you die, the gods are right there, ready to help a brutha out.

The other plus is the gorgeous view of other jagged, stunted, pinnacled and cut-up peaks in the area, framing the skyline. It's especially compelling on a misty day, though I wouldn't attempt this in the rain (we did, but we're dumb).

To get there, take the bus or train to Pingxi. From Pingxi town, go to the Pingxi-Muzha road and turn left (across the street from the creek). There is a sign for Ruifang and just after that, a small bit of stone steps next to a tiny waterfall. Walk up this to a giant temple with a friendly, fat white cat and a monk who loves to feed people sweet potatoes, and after that hang a left. You'll find yourself in a clearing with several trail options. To the left is Xiaozishan. To the left is Cimushan (Loving Mother Mountain).

Earlier on (towards Muzha) there is another entryway if you are driving, turn right just before Pingxi town and you'll find yourself at a convenient trailhead where five trails converge.

4.) Loving Mother Mountain (Cimushan)

That one's next. Trailhead is right next to the one for Dutiful Son.