Backpacking in Taiwan: Tiansiang. Special.

Backpacking in Taiwan: Touring Tiansiang. A special place.

Before we even went to Tailuga, I had read and heard about “Tiansiang”, what appeared to me to be the “heart of Taroko Gorge”, situated bang in the middle of the massive National Park, this enclave put to shame previous wee villages I’d been in. Vaduz, Serravalle and Groomsport won’t last quite as long in a person’s memory as the little mountain village of Tiansiang. My gosh was I impressed! From our hostel base at Fushih, well really the village of Taroko, the village of Tiansiang is 18 kilometers away. My mate Neil once walked it. What a journey that would be. That walk would take you through caves, past waterfalls and into a dream world only God could have created. Embrace once said “you have to follow Nature’s Law”, and without meaning to be, its relevant to the village of Tiansiang.

Downtown Tiansiang – Eva and Natalja

Picnic table on route to the Pagoda in Tiansiang.

Staircase to the top of the Pagoda

It started with a bus from Taroko National Park Information Centre. The buses are infrequent, but never full, so once you get to Tailuga, just pop in and check the bus times (there and back). They are written in 2 languages – Chinese Mandarin and English. The bus cost 71 New Taiwan Dollars, and is one of the most spectacular, scenic bus journeys I’ve ever took. I’d compare it to a bus journey up the snowy hills to San Marino City in what I described as my last ever Northern Ireland away match in February 2009. Except there was no snow. It was just that special.

The bus took around 35 minutes I think. There was me, Eva and Natalja. Plus one other guy I think and that was it. The scenery was amazing, the road itself had been carved miraculously into the cliffs, like a scene from a James Bond car chase, where the car leaves the cliff. We were on the edge a few times, but it was safe…except a few signs saying “beware of the rockfalls.” Looking out the window my eyes were feasted with superb views. We past famous parts of Tailuga (which given more time and better weather we could have seen as well, but time was at a premium here) Changchun Shrine, Bulowan Village (tiny…), Swallow Grotto Trail, Tunnel of 9 Turns Trail (closed due to the heavy rain/typhoon) and another mini village (if that?) called Heliu.

After twisting roads, constant waterfalls, signs saying “no entry” and pouring rain, our bus finally pulled up in what was a small car park beyond two bridges deep deep in Taiwan’s mountains. This was magical. It was as if we had stepped out into another world. Everything seemed to stop and slow to a standstill in this surreal mountain village. Its name: Tiansiang. Even our local lady, Eva hadn’t been here. The magic mystic was seeping from her eyes to. “Special”, “Natural” she said to Natalja and I. She was right. A lady of few words, but a late of comments that will hang around with me for a lifetime.

Pagoda towering over beautiful Tiansiang.

After exiting the bus we saw 3 locals sitting down and we only had an hour or so to explore Tiansiang. The buses were infrequent, and missing the one an hour later would have meant a 12 hour non-direct trip back to Shinying from Hualien. Rather than from Shincheng. That option wasn’t a go-er so we had to move quick. It was at this moment that an American traveller asked me for directions to the “tourist information centre”. Strange that really, as he was quite older than me, travelling alone and appeared to be fit and dressed like an avid experienced traveller. “No idea” I said to him “we’re in a hurry to see everything here!”, though I pointed at a building to the right and said “try that building there, it looks like tourist information”, he said “no it’s not thats a post office, maybe you have a map?” Well I did but we were in such a hurry to see the Baiyang Waterfalls, Houran Pavilion, Tiansiang Temple and The Heaven’s Summit Pagoda. Natalja seemed upset that I hadn’t helped the guy more. I wasn’t! We had no time to waste, and he wandered off. 2 minutes later I noticed that the building he said was a post office and wasn’t tourist information actually was the information centre for the area. The only one. He obviously hadn’t looked long enough.

Dreamy Tiansiang

Up the hill we went past a cliff, a school and a hostel. Plus some very random shops. Anything in the middle of a mountain forest gorge is random. Past this we saw the entrance for the Baiyang Trail. I had been reading about this in Neil’s book and was particularly interested in the Baiyang waterfall itself, even if it would have meant running there very quickly to see it and straight back due to the bad timing of it. But sadly even the trail was closed, with a guy guarding the entrance, for our own safety. There was a danger of flooding and rockfalls. The song by TLC came to mind. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”, so we didn’t because we couldn’t. Never worry, we had time to do the entire Siangde Temple Trail, and I even wanted to start the Houran Pavilion Trail. Basically Tailuga has loads of “trails”, set routes for hikers and travellers to follow, easy to navigate using maps and generally safe. Even if poisonous snakes and killer wasps lurk.

Gushing river in Tiansiang

The girls posing at Tiansiang

Glorious backpacking days in Tiansiang, Taiwan.

Up the hill to a Youth Centre, which must have doubled as a shop and a hostel, I saw the entrance to the Houran Pavilion Trail. Sadly it was closed, though I went as far up as I could, making a video and waving down at the girls who were happy to stay on the main “road.” At this main road, there was a massive fleg (that’s flag in Northern Irish English) and right there became a photo opportunity with my Northern Ireland flag. The flag was a beautiful green colour, in the middle it had 3 red stripes on white, with a white sun inside a blue circle. Its a great wee fleg and I had a look for one in vain to keep as a souvenir. I love flegs, and wanted a mini one of this, a Taroko Gorge fleg, or maybe a Tailuga fleg. Either way the photo had to be got and the memory was granted.

We had no time to waste so onward we went, back down the hill through the village “square” past a lonely dog, “Tiansiang Service Station” and some pleasant flowers. Tiansiang is actually the area where most of the accommodation in Tailuga is centred. So we could have stayed there, and there are about 3 or 4 hostels, as well as a 5 star hotel. Its obvious which one I would choose. What I also admire about Tailuga (and Tiansiang) is that there are NO ATMs there at all. Thats the way it should be. Lack of commerce. Similar to the remote tranquil island of Sark in the Channel Islands. Anyway it was photo time again as we crossed the first bridge of the Siangde Temple Trail. A gorgeous view can be had here. Where the world looks down at you, as you gaze at a confluence of two rivers.

The rivers are the Dasha and the Tacih Jili. Me and Natalja had a laugh at that, as she has a Latvian friend called Dasha, who also lived with me in Charminster in Bournemouth, just 11 days before my trip to Tailuga! Those small rivers submerge into one, almost in between the two bridges. That river is then called the Liwu. Later and further down the Liwu meets the Shakadang river in two differing colours (a murky brown v. a sky torquoise blue and eventually heads into the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Taiwan. I had time to focus on the rivers and the beauty of it all. We crossed the second bridge which led up to the Temple and up to the high mountain, just before which the Pagoda stood elegantly tall overlooking this wee village.

Tiansiang

The two bridges are the Jhihhuei and the Pudu. One bridge connects Tiansiang with the road needed to get back to Taroko. The other bridge, a more stylish red one connects the temple area to the village. There is some information written in English at various points. I tend to read these quickly and take a photo to read it in detail later, when I’m relaxed. One of these, by the bridge revealed Tiansiang to mean “sugar palm” when translated into English. Again I was thinking of songs and Boney M’s “Brown Girl In The Ring” got a play on my fake mind radio at the time. The line “she looks like a sugar in a plum” was the one that did it. Soon we had crossed both bridges and carried on up steep steps.

The trail that was closed

There is a “V” shape formed in the scenery at Tiansiang. This is due to the curving of the mountains and cliffs and the valley where the rivers and bridges are. Its not an obvious “V”, but I liked the quote from the information point which read “the gorge forms a V shape and while neither side juts into the clouds, it still radiates a pristine ambiance.” Whatever that means I’m in agreement. Worries in the world seemed to disappear as we walked though that very V. Once on the other side we see the signs for all the toruisty bits. Basically there is the big temple at the top of the second lot of steps. This temple is the Buddhist Siangde Temple. There are also two statues and a small prayer room on the way up. A giant gold Bodhisattva is there as part of this trail. I quickly ran up to the top of the next set of steps though, as time was running short until the bus we needed.

Northern Ireland and Tailuga regional flags together

The girls were happy enough relaxing for a few minutes by the temple. I ran to the top of the next set of steps, where the Pagoda started. I had to go to the top and check out the view. It was sublime and surreal. From the top it was quite something. Amazing view. I took many photos and a wee video. Hopefully the videos below in this post can do it all justice. Its breathtaking. Truly something awesome. Amazing view! Amazing place this Tiansiang. It was the third Pagoda I’d been in in Taiwan (did the Tiger and Dragon ones at Lotus Lake just a few days before). But soon our wee trip to Tiansiang would be over.

The village at Tiansiang

Not before I climbed back down the steps, took a few more photos and had some quiet poignant time to myself in life. Truly truly truly one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. But then there we were waiting by the bus, boarding the blue mini bus, heading away from the misty magic of Tiansiang and back to Taroko village. It was a moving moment. It is a wonderful place. Its name: Tiansiang.

Tiansiang in a word: SPECIAL.

How to get there – Walk or Bus from Taroko or Bulowan.

Population of Tiansiang – 2,000

What is there – Amazing scenery, hikes, school, hostels, churches, shops, a post office, temples, a pagoda, two bridges, a giant Bodhisattva. Quite a lot really for such a small village.

Nationalities Met – Taiwanese, American.

Key Songs – Boney M – Brown Girl In The Ring (“she looks like a sugar in a plum”) and Embrace – Nature’s Law (“you have to follow nature’s law”)

BUS TO TIANSIANG FROM TAROKO VILLAGE:

TIANSIANG CROSSING RIVER:

TIANSIANG BRIDGE TO PAGODA:

HUORAN PAVILION TRAIL CLOSED FOR ROCKFALLS:

GOING TO THE TOP OF THE HEAVEN’S SUMMIT PAGODA, TIANSIANG:

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