Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where There's A Road, There's A Bus (En Voyage)

Taiwan is stupendously scenic, having 1,566km of coastline and 258 peaks over 3,000m in height. It’s also well developed, the population of 23.3 million enjoying good public transportation and a comprehensive road network. Where these elements come together, visitors can enjoy truly breathtaking bus journeys.

Obviously bus travel can never be as flexible as self-driving, but on almost every route it’s possible to break your journey in one or more places. In addition to being an inexpensive way to get around, buses save you the stress of navigating unfamiliar streets and adapting to a different style of driving when you should be concentrating on enjoying the island’s visual splendor. And you’ll enjoy it in some comfort, as every bus in Taiwan is air-conditioned. To maintain high levels of cleanliness, eating and drinking are prohibited on many routes.

If family or business commitments keep you close to Taipei, focus your attention on Yangmingshan National Park and Taiwan’s north coast. Bus #1717 provides a splendid introduction to the park’s extinct volcanoes. It can be boarded at Taipei Main Station, Jiantan MRT Station or points in between, and there’s approximately one service per hour. Staying on the bus all the way to its terminal stop in the town of Jinshan is satisfying yet unadventurous. But if you love the great outdoors, get off at Xiaoyoukeng. You’ll have no problem recognizing the stop, because a steam-belching fumarole comes into view as the bus rounds a corner. It looks as if part of the hillside has collapsed, and many of the exposed boulders bear yellow-green stains. As long ago as the 16th century, local aborigines were mining the sulfur deposits here and selling the chemical to visiting Chinese merchants. For even better views of the fumarole, follow the steep path up the hill toward Seven Stars Mountain, the peak of which (1.6km away and 1,120m above sea level) is the highest point in the national park. 

There’s plenty to do at Jinshan. Al fresco eating options are available a stone’s throw from the bus stop. At Jinbaoli Old Street, where pre-World War II merchants’ houses have been preserved, vendors hawk dried seafood, peanut candy and other traditional items.

If you regret not stretching your legs at Xiaoyoukeng, or simply prefer flat paths, you can tramp from the heart of Jinshan to the end of the promontory that shields its fishing harbor. It takes about an hour, and it’s impossible to get lost if you follow the signs to the Twin Candlesticks [shown here in my own photograph], a pair of unwieldy 60m-high rock columns just offshore...

To read the whole article, which is spread over eight pages in the August edition of EVA Air's inflight magazine and accompanied by superb images - none of them mine - click here and scroll forward.

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