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Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Lost Around the Taoyuan Valley and Caoling Historic Trail

Taiwan will surely be enjoyed by hikers. There are lots of beautiful mountains located nearby Taipei so if you only have a few days, you can easily sneak in about 3 or 4 hikes in your schedule. After my travels around Central, South and East Taiwan, I decided to settle again in the capital and explore the neighboring cities around New Taipei for six more days and find out why the locals are raving about the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area.

taoyuan valley
Breathtaking view of Taoyuan Valley

Despite being in Taiwan in November, it was an amazingly hot morning in Taipei. But then again, it’s better to hike with the sun out rather than being exposed to rain and strong winds. I actually had to think twice if I was really pushing through with this plan, since I didn’t really feel like walking too much after a tiring day at Qingshui Cliff, but then again, I didn’t have anything scheduled that day so I pushed myself to Songshan Station to catch the local train to Dali, my starting point to this ancient path. I noticed that I was riding with people who looked like they were going to do the hike as well, complete with boots, walking sticks and windbreakers while I was sitting there with my dri fit shirt and shorts, thinking if I wore the right outfit that day. And oh crap, I forgot to bring more food.

I urge you to study this map first, so that you don’t getting lost like what happened to me :( I only chanced upon this map after losing my way. I’ll save a copy here just in case :)

map taoyuan valley caoling trail

Turns out I was right, the group of hikers I saw were heading for the same direction. I didn’t even need to look for a map and just had to follow them. They were all smiles when they asked me ‘Caoling?’, I could only smile and nod.

If you’ll be doing the trail solo like what I did, there are signs as you exit Dali Station. Just go forward until you see Dali Visitor Center. There were some maps available, which I failed to get, and there were also some staff present, but when I visited, nobody inside could speak any English. As I passed by Dali Tiangong Temple, more hikers popped up and I just followed them. The path started once I saw stone stairs.

dali tiangong temple
the first landmark you should see
paved steps

If you’ve hiked around Taiwan or even in China, you’d notice the abundance of steep stone steps! I actually prefer there’d be no path like this at all, since it’s more challenging on the knees, but I think more people would argue that it makes things easier for them. So even though these steps would take you through the trail, I chose to go the other route which is through the longer roads. And besides, there was heavy traffic on this pathway since there were lots of people going up the same direction. Little did I know that I was already traversing the ‘Caoling Historic Trail’ at this point because all we could see were trees, trees and more trees.

visitors who might have taken the other way around (from Fulong or Daxi) might be descending to Dali. expect to bump in to more people on your way up to the mountains
caoling historic trail
a notable part of the trail

This went on for a good 20 minutes. The scenery changed into something spectacular when we reached the top of the hill. The sea, an island and majestic view of the mountain!

As I walked a little further, I saw wood bungalows and I was immediately excited to take in this amazing panorama. Lots of hikers were also having their lunch so I took this opportunity to rest my feet and take care of my grumbling stomach. If I was paying more attention though, I would have noticed the signs and maps scattered along the area.

almost there?!

If you are planning to hike this area, please take note of this! This area intersects through two different trails. The first one is the other half of the Caoling Historic Trail, follow the marker that says ‘Fulong Railway Station’ since the end point of this trail is Fulong. The other path goes to Taoyuan Valley and ends in Daxi. However, since my brain and eyes chose to ignore the markers, I actually went ahead to explore the more scenic route which is the rest of Taoyuan Valley. Bear in mind that my plan was to only do Caoling Historic Trail and for this hike to end in Fulong.

fulong daxi dali
I only saw this marker after all the fuss of looking for Fulong at the wrong side of the trail. haha
see that zig zag road, that's the pathway from the temple to the start of the trail to the valley

There are four trails that you can take to Taoyuan Valley 桃源谷, the first one starts at Dali, which was what I did. You can also do the opposite and begin at Fulong. I noticed that most locals and experienced hikers make Daxi as their entry point. I can only comment about the difficulty of the Dali-Caoling-Taoyuan Trail since I have not tried the other two, however the Daxi-Dali trail seems to be the most challenging since it spans almost 12 kilometers.

taoyuan valley taiwan

yilan

Thinking I was still going through Caoling Historic Trail, I just decided to move forward expecting I’d go straight to Fulong. I have no regrets getting ‘lost’ though because what I saw up the top – 360 degree panorama of vast grassland and incredible views of Turtle Island and Dali’s shoreline.  The Taoyuan Trail stretches to about 5.5 kilometers so expect to have an enjoyable mountain walk for hours. I think I may even have reached the highest peak of this trail at Mt. Wankengtou which is 617 meters above sea level (though I cannot really say for sure as I didn't notice any markers).

taiwan mountain

taiwan landscape

taiwan mountaineering

I kept hearing the word piaoliang 漂亮, I sure hope they were referring to me, but nope. The views here are indeed beautiful, one of the best I have had in Taiwan, that’s why it’s no wonder the locals loved it. I myself couldn’t help but shout “ang ganda” every time I reach a new peak.


There were some points on this trek that I blamed myself for doing this solo. At times, the wind would awfully get too strong at the top and there were no railings to hold on to, grabbing on to some grass actually helped, but not much. Often times I had to stop and wait for it to subside before I go on, it felt like the wind can actually carry me and throw me back to Manila. Too bad there was no one to share those laughs with ☹ The trail would also be completely surrounded by thick mist to the point where you can’t really see a thing. One wrong step and I would have probably fallen off a cliff or stumbled and hit my head on a rock. This is also followed by rain showers so it’s best to wear a hooded jacket since an umbrella would do you no good.

mountain mist
doesn’t this remind you of the movie ‘Silent Hill’? 😱
taiwan hike

silver grass is prominent around the mountains of Taiwan during autumn

The beautiful alpine meadow of Taoyuan Valley would have been the perfect place to relax, think or perhaps even sleep or roll around. The grass carpet surely looked soft and inviting, but seeing that there were feral water buffaloes roaming around, I stopped my dilly dallying afraid they would attack me.

mountains
taiwan water buffalo
see?!

My only issue with this hike is that there not enough markers, especially with English words. If I didn’t know how to distinguish Chinese characters, I wouldn’t have known that I was actually headed for Daxi instead of Fulong. It was a perfect timing that a large group of hikers suddenly emerged and I was able to inquire about my whereabouts. I inquired about Fulong and they said that I was headed for the wrong direction. How about just the nearest train station? They were conflicted whether to point me to the route heading to Daxi or Fulong, as both of these trails would require me to walk about 5km more. I trusted the locals since they went up via Daxi trail anyway, and lots of reviews from Tripadvisor were raving about ending the trip in Fulong, so I went the opposite direction to go back to my starting point, the intersection to Fulong.

taiwan daytrip

dali taiwan
wonderful view of the Dali coastline

I couldn’t remember how long it took me to reach the starting point to Taoyuan Valley, but am I glad that I got lost and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings? This is probably a first. Anyway, the views up Taoyuan Valley were purely majestic and now, I had higher expectations for the rest of this historic trail. Anyway, I had to hurry up since I still had 6.9 km to Fulong.

caoling historic trail map
Caoling Historic Trail Map

Anyway just like the Dali – Taoyuan Valley trail, the path to Fulong was filled with mossy stone steps, which is more dangerous since there’s more risk of falling and getting into an accident as you hike your way down. It was refreshing trip with nice landscape – views of gushing river on your side, with dense trees and interesting flowers in sight. Most people stop down to appreciate the Tiger Stone with an inscription written hundreds of years ago.


I couldn't really appreciate the relevance of this stone, but locals would stop by and take a picture with it

As I come to the end of the hike, the markers are nowhere to be found and I got lost finding the way to Fulong. I was joined by some locals with this confusion, we came upon a riverside park and some parking space but then again, there was no clear path. We happened to see a road after 10-20 minutes of walking but it turned out to be a highway, I was suddenly reminded of my trip to Qinshui Cliff again.


Anyway according to Google Maps, there was a bus that passes by that path but it will arrive only an hour after, but there was no proper bus stop, just a marker (so you’d be standing there waiting to get an uneven tan). If I walk, it would take me about 30-40 minutes. So because I love walking as you would probably know, you know what happens next.. I totally did not expect that I’d only be passing through highways, though there was enough space that would guarantee me not getting hit by a car, the reviews from tripadvisor did not mention this, so it was a bit of a letdown. Or did I perhaps take the wrong route (again)?


I was so famished and tired when I reached Fulong that I didn’t have the enough energy to look for the beach. All I wanted then was a nice hot bath so my initial thought was to go back to my hostel and snooze. I probably wouldn’t mind doing the long walk to Fulong, if only the scenery was worth it. But instead, there were lots of trucks and no proper shade to hide you from the dangerous rays of the sun. I wished that I had enough energy reserved to explore Fulong though, which is said to have lovely sceneries as well. In the end, I couldn’t believe I have walked about 44,000 steps that day and almost 14 kilometers, what a feat!

fulong beach

I had a really nice time doing this trek especially the seeing the magnificent vistas at Taoyuan Valley. I don’t think I’d loved it as much if I only did the Caoling Historic Trail, and if I had to do it again, I’d probably start at Daxi then go down to Dali since the train station is closer from that way. I would recommend it to intermediate hikers but beginners like me would fare well as long as they keep a steady pace. This is one of the easier mountain trails and highly recommended for nature lovers – it’s on my top three along with Taroko Gorge and Yangmingshan.

More of my 16-day exploration of Taiwan here:

Taipei

Taichung

Nantou

Tainan

Kaohsiung

Hualien

Yilan

New Taipei


2 comments :

  1. Lucky I found your blog!
    I am going to do solo-traveling in Taiwan next 2 weeks and interested trekking at Taoyuan Valley and Qingshui Cliff. By the way love your writing and well explained details. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to be of help and hope you enjoy your trip! I would love to go back to Taiwan ;)

      Delete

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