Fei Cui Valley (翡翠谷)

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Nature makes us happy. It’s why we seek the outdoors, and look for untouched wilderness. This is no more apparent in Taiwan than now.

Natural Taiwan is really as good as it sounds. While some secret gems require a world of effort to get to, others are surprisingly accessible. It’s not everyday, you come across newly uncovered rock pools and a waterfall metres away from a road, and minutes from other popular attractions. Fei Cui Valley (翡翠谷) has been incredulously overlooked.

A couple of trips to Hualien (花蓮) ago, I wrote about magical Mukumugi (暮古墓魚), a pristine place to swim and relax in despite its increasing popularity. Those yet to make a visit however, will be disappointed to discover that due to damages from last year’s typhoon season, the area is closed for rehabilitation. Before you cross off all plans to visit Hualien though, minutes from Mukumugi is a place just like it – if not better.

Fei Cui Valley follows the Fei Cui Stream (翡翠河), just 1.5km east of Mukumugi Valley in Xiulin Township (秀林鄉). But unlike Mukumugi, it requires no permit to enter. At the time of my visit which was November last year, the valley remained known to only a few locals and even less to visitors. But to no surprise, it has gained more visitors since. Still, this place is very much untouched, and if it were not for the intrepid individuals of Taiwan Adventure Outings, which I had the pleasure to travel with, Fei Cui Valley would have remained eluded from me.

We hired scooters from central Hualien, and barely half an hour later we were taking the scenic route, zipping around local farms towards Fei Cui. The entrance to Fei Cui is actually a tunnel, so a short hike through there and some shrubbery later is all it takes to arrive at the stream’s edge (see below for details and map). We traced up the river and enjoyed lunch at the first beautiful rock pool before going for a dip in its perfect, crystal green waters.  Fei Cui (翡翠), by the way, means emerald.

Our lead guide, Ryan, took us past the first rock pool to see what else was waiting in Fei Cui’s wake. The ascension may take roughly 40 minutes, but the beauty that lie beyond the first main pool made every effort worthwhile.

We climbed like monkeys around and over giant boulders; slid on rocky crags as though they were natural slippery-dips; and swam in more shimmery pools of green, some deep enough to be the cooling oases we needed from the beating sun. Our grand prize for the long journey was a small but lively waterfall. As I later found out, this is the aptly named Zi Mu (子母) or, Child Waterfall.

All in all it was so much prettier than what these photos could make you imagine. I sometimes think back to the adventures I get up to in Taiwan, and it is always being in the outdoors that bring the biggest smile to my face. Fei Cui Valley is one of my favourites –  it’s that hidden outdoor sanctuary you need without the difficult access, which makes it all the more fascinating.

Beautiful, untouched Taiwan could be within an arm’s reach, all you have to do is be adventurous and venture just a little further!

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Our rocky ascension begins after a short hike through the green past a man-made waterfall. Photo courtesy of Lace He.
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After 40 minutes, this was our reward!
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This is the first large pool which had plenty of space for lunch before a refreshing dip
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A young blue-tailed skink is disturbed as we continue our trace up the stream
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Hazzah our coup de gras! Pictures cannot do it justice.

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Ridiculously clean water makes everyone happy!

Check out the whole TAO expedition of Fei Cui, thanks to fellow explorer, Guang-hui Chuan:


Getting there

It’s easy getting to Fei Cui Valley. A 30 minute scooter ride from Hualien is all it takes to get to the entrance. We didn’t choose the fast route, and went through small roads to see farmlands, which made our trip even more beautiful!

Once you’ve parked around Banyan Road (榕樹路), head towards the trail which hugs the river. It leads through a dark tunnel or bat cave (apparently bats make a home out of it in the winter). Continue through it and on to Fei Cui Stream. There are a few spots to enter the stream at the beginning, but we chose to hike in the jungle a bit before veering off to the left over a water way. Most locals will stay in the man-made waterfall area at the beginning. Go past that before hopping into the stream to start your trace.

This is where you’ll require to do more work. Trace up until you see the really beautiful swimming pool which you see here. After that there is a 10 minute jungle trail to the waterfall, or, you can continue tracing another 40 minutes or so to Zimu waterfall as described above.

Taiwan Adventure Outings

Be adventurous.

That’s the tagline of Taiwan Adventure Outings, or TAO, as its creators Ryan Hevern and Dustin Craft like it to be known. They’re all about bringing out that adventurous spirit in everyone whilst exploring Taiwan. What started out with two guys as a means to get outdoors and meet people became much more than a hobby group.

Apart from connecting travellers with small-scale local tourism initiatives, TAO ensures they give back to the community by hosting free monthly beach and forest clean ups. They hope that TAO travellers not only appreciate Taiwan’s beauty, culture and adventures but are also given the opportunity to contribute towards maintaining these well-loved locations. In fact, they are the brains behind Taiwan National Clean Up Day, launching this May 20, which is a collaboration with long-term hikers, other activity groups and local communities to make Taiwan more beautiful.

As mentioned, my enviable experience at Fei Cui is not mine alone and I owe it to these guys for showing me the way. If you like to explore Fei Cui with company too, TAO is organising another trip for the long weekend of May. For more information on these events, the friendly guys at TAO would be more than happy to help you out!

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The Museums of National Taiwan University (臺大博物館群)

This month, National Taiwan University is welcoming visitors to enjoy its main campus at its most vibrant and beautiful. The 2017 Azalea Festival (台大杜鵑花節) is on until the end of this month, and no doubt, everyone visiting will want to take a couple of photos with these flowers in full bloom.

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While I’m very partial to azaleas, the university holds a few more secret gems that delight in different ways! On the same university grounds lie a number of museums practically unheard of. Housed in some of the university’s oldest historical buildings, they’re open to the public, and free!

During my year of study at NTU, these museums and galleries made intriguing places to relax in after class and I would recommend it to anyone who could spare even ten minutes. While everything is happening at NTU, don’t just walk down Royal Palm Boulevard and take selfies with the pretty azaleas. Take a gander in the following museums, and make your visit to Taiwan’s oldest and largest university even more worthwhile!


NTU History Gallery (校史館)

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A university that was established in 1928 is bound to have a wonderful collection of historical artefacts! What began with only two faculties and a combined total of fifty nine students, is now recognised as Taiwan’s top university, globally reputable for outstanding academia. Furniture, teaching manuals, and student records are here on display along with information about NTU’s chosen symbols (where you can learn of its patron flower, the azalea). The Gallery also depicts NTU’s most turbulent past, such as the student protests while Taiwan was under marshall law.

NTU Museum of Anthropology (人類學博物館)

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Small yet detailed, the museum allows you to see the lives of those who have called Taiwan home through the ages. Much of the collection is sourced from the era of Taihoku Imperial University which preceded NTU under Japanese rule. From clothing, hand tools, and wooden artefacts, to films, photos, and written accounts; the museum provides a thorough understanding of indigenous communities who existed long before the Han Chinese arrived. The Museum is right next to NTU History Gallery in the same building so team up the two in one visit.

NTU Agricultural Exhibition Hall (農業陳列館)

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credit of Wikipedia

NTU has its own farms and makes its own food. On the main campus you can wander over to the Experimental Farm and admire its crops and gardens. The university therefore takes Taiwan’s agriculture pretty seriously. The Exhibition Hall takes you through the best of the industry, new and eco-friendly technologies, and promotes more love for Taiwan’s green and natural. At the Agricultural Product Sales Centre, you could also purchase NTU food stuffs as well as the famous NTU milk. Lines are always out the door.

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NTU Museum of Zoology (動物博物館)

Extend your walk to Zhoushan Road (舟山路) and you might catch a whiff of something that smells vaguely like an animal farm. Follow your nose to the Life Sciences building (生命科學院) and you’ll find the Museum of Zoology. Despite the modern exterior, the museum’s foundations could be traced back to 1928 when the university first opened. Over 20,000 fossils and animal specimens from Taiwan and surrounding islands have been documented – most of which are on display here, including a baleen whale!

NTU Geo-Specimen Cottage (地質標本館)

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At first look, it’s easy to mistaken the Geo Specimen Cottage or Geological Herbarium as a house for the groundskeeper. Though well-preserved, the cottage was used only as a warehouse until the museum’s conception in 2003. Inside holds a modest collection of 3500 specimens of rock, minerals and fossils of significant geological value from Taiwan. You can look at these specimens under a light microscope, then take a stroll in its garden to see larger rock formations typical of the Taiwanese scenery.

Herbarium of NTU (植物標本館)

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This is one of my favourite places to walk around in on a nice day.  The Herbarium was one of the earliest that were established, and its focus was to collect and document Taiwan’s flora, which eventually reached an incredible 250,000 or so specimens. About 60,000 of these are indigenous to Taiwan and it was here that some of these newly-discovered species were named. There’s also an exhibition room archiving seeds and other dried plant specimens, but do not miss the outdoor areas, including the fern greenhouse.

NTU Heritage Hall of Physics (物理文物廳)

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Somewhere in NTU’s original nuclear physics lab lies Asia’s very first Cockcroft-Walton linear accelerator. Built by a professor and his young team of students during the Taihoku Imperial University era, the achievement sent shockwaves through academic circles in Japan and the rest was history. The Hall has been reconstructed to commemorate their achievements, and to house not only the main portions of the accelerator, but also a number of other impressive scientific resources from back in the day – including glassware hand-blown by previous physicists, and Hokutolite, a radioactive mineral originally sourced only in Taiwan.


Getting There: Here’s a map to help you find all these knowledgeable worlds with ease. The NTU Museum of Medical Humanities (醫學人文博物館), NTU Archives (檔案館), and the NTU Insect Museum (昆蟲標本館) are outside the main campus, but are also included for you to enjoy!

Opening Hours: Most of these museums are open 6 days a week, closed either Mondays or Tuesdays, and on public holidays. Hours of operation are usually 10am to 4pm with a one hour lunch break from 12 to 1pm. For accurate opening hours, view in Google Maps.

*unless stated otherwise, photos credit of NTU

Day 2 in the Life of a Taiwanese Farmer

I stirred awake, not knowing what time it was but realising I had woken up to the crowing sound of a rooster and the crack of dawn peeping through our bedroom window.

It’s day two on the farm, technically our official day of farm life, though we were initiated yesterday. Groggily, we got up a little past six in the morning to get ready. We had no real idea what we’d be doing today, but expected to be busy the moment we meet the owners downstairs.

To our surprise, Yi Hsing was still asleep and A Deng was no where to be found. ‘Ah, could’ve slept in’, I thought but taking advantage of the unexpected free time, I went about farm-venturing to see just how much land this family farm covers. Fields of yellow and strips of green took over the neighbouring hills. Ah what a sight in the wee hours of a beautiful day!

Work finally began with the sounds of honking geese, clucking chooks and squabbling ducks. We took to the pen, wincing from the extreme noise they were making while they were waiting for their feed.

Once every animal was fed, it was our turn to fill our stomachs, and breakfast came literally scootering into the warehouse. A Deng rode his scooter to the city and brought back fresh, hot 湯包 (tang bao: soup dumplings) for breakfast. At 50 NTD a box (which holds eight of these squishy, mouth-watering delectables), they were far better than any dumpling I’ve eaten in Taipei. A Deng, who has been here all his life proudly proclaims with a gruff voice that he starts every morning with them. Sleep-ins and extra good Taiwanese breakfast…If this is farm life so far, it suits me just fine.

After breakfast it was straight back to the sweet potato fields to pick up where we left off yesterday. Whatever ease I thought of the work the first time was completely absent today. It was doubly hard to weed the vines under the sweltering heat. I was damp all over from sweat and there were moments I struggled to pull the weeds, even with two hands and my heels digging into the earth. It wasn’t at all bad, however! Quails would shoot up into the sky out of no where (which would scare the begeezes out of me), and we even caught sight of a little deer, no bigger than a large bunny hopping for its deer life (pun intended). Yi Hsing said that the poor fella stumbled onto someone’s farm and was attacked by a dog. Now rehabilitating in the sweet potato patch it was understandably frightened of anything that moved.

By midday we were still out there hacking at the weeds. Panting for a break, I went to the silo where A Deng was shovelling grains of rice into a giant hole covered by an equally large grate.

The hole is in fact a chute that sucks grains into a dryer. Here, a constant flame dehydrates the rice for further processing or storage. I stepped onto the grate, careful to not let my feet slip through and followed A Deng’s movement, dragging the mounds of rice into the hole below me. It was a nice change from weeding, and I enjoyed the smell of the roasting rice grains. We used an air hose to shoot what little leftovers there were into the chute. Every grain counts.

Before we knew it, it was lunchtime and we sat down in the warehouse again to eat together. Lunch was 水餃 (shui jiao: boiled dumplings). I’m starting to see a trend.

Belly full with dumplings once again, I was allowed a little kip before heading back out to the field. I’m starting to not enjoy weeding, even if the resident hen who I took the liberty of naming Clucky, would drop in next to me to keep me company. By 3.30pm, we were only halfway through the field, and even Yi Hsing called us in to rest. 

Thankful, I left dear Clucky but as it was still day out, we made the most of it by heading to a nearby waterfall. Fengxiang waterfall is only a 30 minute drive away and I was especially excited to swim after toiling under the hot sun. We found this place with one of our favourite blogs, Follow Xiao Fei. However we were sorely disappointed to find out it has since been closed. A sign read that three people had lost their lives here, and locals didn’t want a fourth victim. Damn. If that doesn’t scream caution, what does?

So we found ourselves at a nearby creek instead and had a splash around before heading back to our farmland home in time for a modest dinner. Both A Deng and Yi Hsing eat little for dinner, and though I usually don’t hoard on rice, I ate two bowls due to an unfamiliar hunger that has taken over. Working the fields has boosted my appetite and I need all the energy I could get.

Tasked with washing up afterwards, I was surprised to find they use tea tree leaves grinded into powder as dishwashing detergent. As water used here are all redirected back to their farms, natural products are used whenever possible. It required more elbow grease than usual but I like the fact they do things differently here.

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Arden Rice's farmlands

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I eat this everyday for breakfast
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Noisy birds
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Handling sweet potatoes fresh out of the ground!
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Careful not to lose my footing!

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The creek where we took a dip

Magical Mukumugi

Mukumugi (2 of 5)Relaxing in lush scenery and swimming in natural pools with old and new friends sounds like a pretty decent way to spend a day.

Last weekend, I did exactly that, searching for a place I’ve previously heard of only a couple of times. A place of crystal-green waters in a valley slightly hidden away from the rest of the Hualien (花蓮) crowd .

Located on the lands of Taiwan’s indigenous Truku tribe, Meqmegi (later renamed by the Chinese as Tongmen, ), the gorge was originally known as Tbsagan Mgmgi. To ease pronunciation difficulties, it is now popularly referred to as Mukumugi or Mugumuyu (慕谷慕魚). Whatever the name, its original Truku meaning has some impressive interpretations: Paradise of peace and happiness…Wonderland…A beautiful place…

If this doesn’t tickle most people’s fancy to attempt a visit, then perhaps the activities that could be done here would entice. A 45 minute or so hike through the village will lead you to the pristine aqua brooks of Qingshui River (清水), a natural river whose name literally means clear water. Here, you can swim, cliff jump, enjoy natural hydrotherapeutic spas from the babbling brook, and transform giant boulders into natural slip-and-slides.

Though overshadowed by its more famous sister, Taroko Gorge (太魯閣), Mukumugi is not such a secret anymore. It is becoming more popular, especially amongst locals. Despite this, it wasn’t crowded even on a weekend, and hardly anyone else dared to swim in the pools. As the officer in charge will tell you, you can jump in but exercise caution!

We jumped in without a moment’s hesitation.

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Though the indigenous Truku tribe were the first to inhabit this area, Meqemegi became known as Tongmen when copper reserves were discovered. Tong  = Copper … Men = Gate
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Copper is no longer mined here but an active power plant stands.
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We passed many laid-back cafes, some serving traditional Truku food.
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Dragonflies dart back and forth quite frequently but if you’re lucky, you might just find tadpoles swimming about in the small watery crevices of the rocks.
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We’re here. And it’s glorious!
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Don’t let the first pool completely rapture you. Swim across, clamber over some rocks, you will find more pools. Though smaller, you’ll have it to yourself. Further along there is a giant boulder if you dare to slip and slide. Photo courtesy of Jon Webster.
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At the smaller pools. Photo credit of Jon Webster.
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Photo thanks to Guang-Hui Chuan.

Getting there: Best to drive or scooter. Provincial Highway 9 and signs reading 慕谷慕魚 will get you there. It will take you roughly 3.5-4 hours drive from Taipei, so if you could, spend some time around that region instead of taking a daytrip like we did. We managed, but it was tiring!

Applying for Entry Permits: Online applications (in Chinese only) must be made at least 7 days before scheduled date. Otherwise you can only do it in person at Tongmen Police Station. There are two sessions: mornings from 9am and afternoons from 12pm. A limit of 300 people per session per day may enter. But no need to worry, it doesn’t get that busy. There’s a car park a short walk away from the station. There’s no fee for the permit, but ID is required.

Pro-tip: Go where the locals go. Don’t stick to the first main pool you see. Swim beyond, clamber over those rocks, and you may catch a couple of admirable locals sliding down wet rocks with their bare skin.

 

Taiwan is Ridiculously Beautiful

DSC05435(2)Last week I went on one of the most epic of roadtrips I’ve had for a long while. And with none other but my elderly parents! Though less nimble as they were, we were able to circle Taiwan in just over a week. I think it was quite a feat for them to have seen so much as first-timers to this little island. Small it may be, there is plenty to see and do in Taiwan, and I am so glad they’ve had the chance to appreciate its diversity. For me this getaway was doubly special because not only did I get to show my parents how wonderful life could be in Taiwan, I again witnessed some ridiculously beautiful scenes, only to further reinforce my will to stay.

Hopefully you’ve seen my other post about how awesome I think Taiwan is for a leisurely drive. This time, taking a trip all the way around the island and exploring some central areas made me realise how much more there is to discover here! It absolutely fascinates me how quickly the landscape can change, how local customs and food differ by just crossing through counties, and most importantly, in discovering that the road itself is sometimes more worthwhile than the actual destination. We made no set plans on this trip, just went with whichever road felt right. Most often than not, ending up in the quietest of towns and discovering their uniqueness only once we arrived there.

A picture paints a thousand words, so here’s a selected few to get you inspired. If you’ve yet to embark on your own roadtrip around this island, don’t hesitate to do so! Honestly, it would be a big shame to visit Taiwan and not take advantage of how easy it is to get around. My dad is nearing 80 years, and still managed it!

From the infamous Sun Moon Lake, to the lesser known mountains of Xinyi Township. We got wonderfully lost here, and wounded up having some of the most magnificent views.
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Lotus Forest of Lugu Township is one of those places that hold plenty of mystery. I arrived too late to see the magical pools it usually possesses. But all the better for me to keep wanting to come back to this place soon (though best after some rainfall)
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Into the valley we go, where mountain peaks surround us, and crops take over the plains as far as the eye could see.
伯朗大道…a stretch of road not to be missed when travelling the East Rift Valley. Come in Summer for the lush green crops but yellow fields make a sunny day even more radiant.
Feeling on top of the world at Liushishi Mountain (六十石山)

Where and How: We hired a car from Taipei taking the western highways to start the bulk of our roadtrip in central Nantou County. Where without a doubt, we were already blessed with a fair collection of picture perfect scenery. Of course you could start with the East Coast and East Rift Valley, as I have done on many occasions, but I highly suggest you leaving that till last. There’s nothing quite like tracing the Pacific Ocean to finish off what would already be an epically beautiful roadtrip!

For reasons unknown, Google Maps have restricted the number of locations I could add to my map. Though it does not represent all the places visited, most of them were en-route to destinations already listed here. If you still can’t decide where to go, remember I’ll be more than happy to help!