Monday, September 24, 2012

Stars Above Canvas: Camping in Central Taiwan (Compass)

Traveling within Taiwan has a lot going for it. The people are very friendly. Public transportation is reliable and inexpensive, and the road network allows motorists to get from A to B quickly. Food is available almost everywhere almost any time of day or night. There are lots of museums, many of which don't charge admission. One gripe, however, is the cost of accommodation. On weekends or during holiday periods, your hotel or B&B may well account for over half your daily expenditure.

One solution is to pack a tent in your car, motorcycle or backpack. For as little as NT$100 per person you can stay in a campground with toilets and hot showers. Many have additional facilities-possibly even a karaoke machine. "Guerrilla camping" is fairly common in certain places and costs absolutely nothing. Guerrilla campers typically find a good spot during the afternoon, loiter nearby until dusk, then pitch their tent on an empty patch of land without the knowledge or permission of the owner. Usually they're gone before breakfast.

On many weekends, guerrilla campers can be spotted in parking lots beside the highest sections of the Rt. 21 New Central Cross-Island Highway (新中橫), a spectacular mountain road that runs between Shuili in Nantou county (南投縣水里) Tataka in Yushan National Park (玉山國家公園). In and around Hehuanshan (合歡山), brave campers have found prime sites where they're tolerated by the authorities-so long as they pick up their garbage and refrain from making camp fires.

These locations-many have toilets but no showers-are breathtaking places to stay. Before retiring for the night, go for a stroll and enjoy views of stars you'd never get on the lowlands. When you step outside your tent the following morning, you'll likely catch sight of a dramatic "sea of clouds" filling the valleys below.

Parts of the New Central Cross-Island Highway are 2,000 meters or more above sea level, so city-dwellers must be prepared for temperatures much lower than those they're used to...

To read the rest of this article - cover story in the magazine's September issue - go here.

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