Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園)

Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園) is another attraction in the area of Beitou; one of the eight national parks of Taiwan, located between the city of Taipei and the new Taipei. It is listed as one of the most scenic wonders in the country; and boasts of the beautiful cherry blossoms, fumaroles, hot springs, hiking trails, grasslands, sulphur deposits, sceneries and even an inactive volcano, just to name a few of the gems kept so proudly over the years.
The inactive volcano mentioned, is also one of the highest peaks at 1,120 metros high; Qixingshan (Seven Star Mountain); among all the other inactive volcanoes in the country.

The secrets behind the grassy lands and murky white water filled with sulphur deposits landscaping the national park are many; from the treacherous paths along the hiking trails to the cattle resting to the secret burrows of the poisonous snakes, there is just something to surprise the unaware traveler who visits the national park. It was all part of the package that comes with nature; and the beauty of the breathtaking views here makes up for it.

Yangmingshan had her past with the Japanese during their occupation here; from the transporting of cannons along the zigzagged Japanese trail to the secret base of the Japanese military, parts of the park were important to the strategic planning of their establishment during the colonial era.
During the Japanese rule, the park was known as Datun National Park (大屯国立公園), evolving from its original name of Grass Mountain (草山); a name which was given to the place dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
As the story goes, it seemed that the sulphur deposits in the area were prized possessions and often eyed by the thieves in the area so much so that the officials would secretly set fires to the mountainous area to keep them away. Most of the trees were burnt down and only the grass were left; leaving vast grasslands everywhere and in a rather unattractive state. The trick worked to keep the thieves away but also keeping visitors at bay from visiting the mountain.
While the first national park in Taiwan was established in 1937 during the Japanese occupation period, it was only after the World War 2 when the KMT (Kuomintang party) renamed and put the place together to establish it as a national park.

Grass Mountain; as it was originally known, was then named Yangmingshan National Park in commemoration of the famous scholar, Wang Yangming from the Ming Dynasty, by President Chiang Kai Shek in the year 1950 and works of restoration of the natural beauty of the land followed soon after in the year 1962.

There are many scenic spots and points of interest to look out for while in Yangmingshan and one just need to hop onto the bus which stops at each and every of the point along the way; taking you on a wild ride through the national park.
Oh, and make sure you have your Metrolink card with you(and it's loaded with credit) to tap onto the reader on the bus each time you hop on and off. (yes, it's not a free ride)

The recommended scenic spots:
1. Tianmu Trail (天母古道)
2. Lengshuikeng (冷水坑)
3. Qingtiangang (擎天崗)
4. Xiaoyougeng (小油坑)
5. Mt Qixing (七星山)

I did not manage to stop by each and every one of them; not due to the time constraint, but rather due to the cold weather even with my windbreaker and warm sweater on.
The wind chills up here on the mountains can be really bone-chilling.

The following are my favorite spots:-

Xiaoyougeng (小油坑)
This is probably the best recreational spot in the whole of Yangmingshan; from the rising steam or gases continuously spewed from the sulphuric passages to the sights of bubbling hot puddles and the odor of sulphur, all ready to take you on a scenic journey you will not forget.
The yellowish color from these sulphuric vents spotted provides a rather beautiful image, though one may need to bear with the pungent smell of the sulphur at the same time.

Although it is an inactive volcano, post-volcanic activities are evident in action here; through the upward/outward spewing of the steam caused by the continuous heating of the water underground by the residual heat as a result of a volcanic eruption. These formed the steam which can be seen rising here through the rocks; forming the many fumaroles and hot springs, solfataras and the landslides landforms in this area, which are part of what makes the attractions here.

A panoramic view of the area

Qingtiangang (擎天崗)
This is another interesting spot; with vast areas of grassland where it was once an important spot for the grazing of cattle during the Japanese occupation era. It seemed that the tradition stays until today.
The fertile ground was a result of the lava flowing from the Mount Zhugao; forming this lava plateau and a rather level terrain (elevation of an approximation of 770m) filled with a wide area of grassland.
It was indeed a peaceful and enjoyable sight; and a good reference to the term 'green pastures'.

Besides being a land, the level terrain also was located at a strategic location between the Mount Zhugao, Mount Huangzui and the end of Mount Dajian, which linked to the Mount Qixing mountainous areas. This provided a direct route from Jinshan to the Shilin and Tianmu areas, coming from Qingtiangang and this was taken advantage of the natives who used it as a major base for transportation back in the early days of settlement.
There are many trails to the Japanese occupational era; with the zigzagged paths of the Japanese trail where these trails were used to transport weapons (mainly cannons) down the road. Then there are also anti-airborne pillboxes and military sites which can be found if you were to follow the trail guides and take a walk around the area.
(Qingtiangang Loop Trail, Jinbaoli Trail Gate where they used to transport food, Mount Ding-Mount Shiti Trail where there is a Japanese fir forest and the famous Oldham's Azalea along the area).

A panoramic view of Qingtiangang

Yangmingshan National Park, was unique in her own ways and provides a memorable scenic journey into the beautiful nature that Taiwan is so proud of, making this unarguably one of the top attractions in Taipei.
Getting there is easy via the train which one can take to Taipei Main Station and then take Bus 260 which will take you directly to the Yangmingshan station where you can hop on the bus to get to the the spots mentioned above.

Tips for enjoying Yangmingshan:-
1. The temperatures are significantly lower in the mountainous areas; particularly during the winter season and it is recommend that you bring along a down jacket or just pile on layers to keep yourself warm during the period. Otherwise, you could find yourself freezing instead of enjoying the scenic views.

2. As this is nature, it helps to put on good walking shoes which are meant for a little hiking as well. Slippers, flip flops or heels are not recommended. Jeans and thick pants would be good to keep you warm while up on the mountains; and with the strong wind, it is also not advisable to wear skirts or dresses.

3. The buses are pretty much in the forms of small vans and it can get really crowded as people get off and on at various stops. Hold tightly to the rails, as the roads can be rather winding in nature and one could easily lose balance. If there are elders boarding the bus, it goes without saying that you should offer your seats as it would be dangerous for them to keep their balance while on the winding road.

4. Follow the instructions on the signs posted at each of the scenic sites and do not attempt anything funny; such as going near the fumaroles or hot springs if you are forbidden to do so. The signs are there for a reason, and please respect them for your own safety.

5. Make sure your Metrolink card is loaded with credit to pay for the bus fares and also enough for your return trip home (including the train).

Lastly, bring along your camera with additional batteries or memory/SD card and enjoy the view offered by the beautiful Yangmingshan!~

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