My 2015 wasn’t just filled with waterfalls. I visited Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia (Borneo) in February and Bali in June in addition to dozens of trips around Taiwan. Some of these places are well-known but some are well off of the beaten path. They also show just how varied Taiwan and east Asia can be. I have already mentioned my plans for next year in my waterfall recap but I expect to have an even better year next year.
My Top 10 Hikes and Places from 2015
- I usually shrug my shoulders when someone mentions going to see a cave but I was traveling in a group in Sarawak, Malaysia that wanted to go to Niah Caves. It looked pretty interesting and they also wanted to go to Lambir Hills National Park (with waterfalls) so we teamed up and rented a car. Niah Caves was incredible. To say that it is big is an understatement. You can fit football fields in the cave. There are 1000’s of bat and swiftlets that live in the caves and they provide two very valuable products for the local population. Bat guano is used as fertilizer and bird nests are harvested for a popular Chinese soup. Over-harvesting has led to a big decline in the swiftlet population but they are now setting quotas and times to restore the population (I don’t know the effectiveness though).
2. In January Mark Roche (Blue Skies Adventures) led a trip to a mostly abandoned aboriginal village in Pingtung County, Taiwan. In 1979 the village moved out of the mountains to a new village lower in the river valley and was able to connect to roads. In 2009 Xinhaocha (the new village) was completely buried by rising river silt and rocks during Typhoon Morakot. Luckily the village had been evacuated prior to the storm and the villagers have moved to Rinari near Sandimen.
Jiuhaocha (the old village) is a beautiful village with slate houses in various condition. Some haven’t been lived in for decades while others are maintained by villagers that live in both the new and old villages. It requires a little effort to visit and for most it is best as an overnight hike (stay in a slate house). It is one of the coolest places that I have visited in Taiwan. It feels like an authentic aboriginal experience instead of the festivals in the villages. I have attended and I enjoy the festivals but I really liked seeing what life was like in an original aboriginal village.
3.Beidawushan is the southernmost 3000 meter peak in Taiwan and a very popular weekend trek. The hike is challenging right from the start and climbs almost 2000 meters to the summit. Many hikers do Beidawushan as a 2 day trip but that requires getting up at 2am to summit and return to the car by dark. If you have an extra day and can do a 3 day trip then I highly recommend it.
4. I am possibly the only person to ever plan my entire Bali trip around visiting its waterfalls but you would have to try very hard to avoid visiting Bali’s temples. There are 1000’s of them on the small island. Instead of being grand complexes (a few are) each unique temple possesses a lot of character and detail. I blogged about my 10 favorites from my trip and Tanah Lot (pictured below) is one of the most famous and visited.
5. One of the best and most unusual festivals in Taiwan is Donggang’s Wang Ye Boat Burning Festival. Every 3 years they hold the 10 day festival. All week they shoot off firecrackers and make noise to lure the evil spirits out from hiding with everyone following in the parade. On the festival’s conclusion the local temples march a giant boat to the ocean. All night long they prepare the boat for its voyage by piling up a mountain of (fake) paper money. Finally they light the boat on fire taking the evil spirits with it so the town is prosperous for another 3 years.
6. Laomei Reef is one of those rare places that is hard to believe exists until you visit it. The green algae only blooms for 2-3 months (March and April most likely) every year and you will need to track the ocean tidal charts and visit during low tide. Unfortunately it will be crowded on the weekend but English teachers that start in evening could do a weekday trip from Taipei and be back in time for class.
7. Brunei is a tiny country on the island of Borneo whose economy is heavily tied to oil. One side effect of their wealth is that their rainforests are virtually untouched compared to their Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors on the island. Although small compared to its neighbors the size of their virgin forests is significant. Brunei’s crown jewel is Ulu Temburong National Park. 99% of the park is set aside for conservation and only researchers are allowed access to those parts. Tours are available starting with a traditional longboat ride up the Temburong River from Sumbiling Eco Village or even Bandar Seri Begawan from several tour agencies. Once inside the park the hike leads to a canopy skywalk but unfortunately a hard thunderstorm rolled in and we were unable to go up there.
Our guide with a researcher discovering a new ant species.
8. Taiwan only has two short stretches of roadless coastline. Both of them are located in Pingtung County north of Kenting. There were serious proposals to build a road along this part of the coast but thankfully that appears to be permanently shelved. The Qufengbi Coastal Trail leaves from the Jialeshui Scenic Area and is full of interesting sights. The Jialeshui Scenic Area is the sight of fascinating ocean carved rocks. There are also shipwrecks (the big one is dismantled), an old army fort and green cliffs that seemingly fall into the ocean. The Alanyi Trail is a little farther north in the same area. It is a little shorter and includes great views of the ocean.
The Jialeshui Scenic Area at the beginning of the Qufengbi Trail
The Alanyi Trail
9. Gunung Batur is Bali’s most hiked volcano since it can be done in a day (1/2 a day actually). Gunung Batur is the center cone in one of Bali’s largest craters with an impressive lake in the southern portion. I was unaware of this when I decided to hike Batur but it has erupted at least a dozen times in the last 150 years.
10. Hehuanshan is Taiwan’s most accessible high mountain area due to the Central Cross Island Highway (new version) passing nearby. It used to be the site of Taiwan’s only ski hill but the area no longer gets significant snow and the infrastructure is in ruins. Now Taiwanese flock to Hehuanshan on snowy weekends so they can experience snow likely for the first time.
Overall there are 5 of Taiwan’s Baiyue (top 100 peaks) in the area and several others (Cilai North) that can be accessed via longer trails. Hehuanshan Main Peak, Hehuanshan East Peak and Shimenshan are short hikes that hikers of most abilities can handle. Hikers that want a little more challenge can tackle Hehuanshan North Peak or go all the way to Hehuanshan West Peak (a very long dayhike).