The forest recreation areas of Shan Lin Xi and Xi Tou are very close to each other, and we picked Shan Lin Xi (that somehow becomes “Sun Link Sea” on some the signs, an obvious malapropism that I simply refuse to use;) to be first destination – it is the higher one of the two as well, and the winding road that leads up there has 12 switchbacks that are named after the Chinese zodiac signs – rabbit, snake, dragon, and so on. The rat became mouse, because it’s cuter apparently. 🙂
All the recreation areas in these higher areas are quite popular because of the cooler temperatures, and the entrance fees are rather low. That means busloads of people of course – and buses on the winding road up there. Thanks to some l33t German driving skillz 😉 we managed to pass them… only to run into yet more buses at the big parking lot behind the entrance – one unloading a large group of nuns, all dressed in grey and wearing straw hats! What a sight.
After some brief orientation (a simple trail map is included in the entrance fee, and they also had an English version) we began our hike, which was more like a long walk – the trails are so very well maintained in the area, with wooden or granite steps (see photos below), it is very easy to walk, except for the elevation change (which just means many many stairs). With vegetation like this, it would probably be impossible to maintain a trail system that is less fortified – it would overgrow in one single year, perhaps.
Since the main attraction (Song Long Rock) lies at the end of the valley just below a waterfall, there’s also a paved road and it would be possible to take a bus there. We chose the hiking path of course, and thankfully, it leads far enough away from the paved road, and we didn’t hear or smell the buses going up and down (Taiwanese diesel buses are real stinkers).
It was a bright, cloudless and sunny day, which was a bit of a let down initially from a photography perspective, but the trail soon entered the dark, shady and lush forest so we just enjoyed our hike and the beautiful area. Halfway to Song Long Rock lies something like a greenhouse (hu?) which had a really large exhibition of beautiful peonies when we were there, and the place was teeming with people clicking their cameras. A small restaurant was there as well but since we weren’t hungry yet, we continued our hike.
Close to Song Long Rock the trail split, and since the area around the rock and waterfall was full of people, and quite loud, we first headed up, were it appeared to be much quieter, to “The eyes of heaven and earth”. That’s some kind of a rock feature that resembles (the hollow) eyes (of a skull), with a wooden visitor platform directly below. A bit, ahem, overrated I have to say, and quite busy with people as well, but the walk through the dense forest was nice, and we also spotted some wild orchids above us, growing out of cracks in the rock face. I had never seen orchids in the wild before.
In that spot, we also had “first contact” with a rather unpleasant custom: guided groups are always lead by a person that carries a microphone and a loudspeaker (strapped around the neck). Yep, that became quite annoying rather quickly. The group was sitting on the visitor platform, which is not really that big, and the guide was just chit-chatting with her group – all through the mic and speaker! WTH?
We fled down to the remainders of some giant cedar (also a bit overrated, ahem), and then continued down to Song Long Rock, where we promptly ran into the group of nuns again. 😛 Now, that spot would be quite beautiful indeed (it’s described as one of the most scenic locations in Taiwan), but it’s so overdeveloped, with concrete stairs and railings and platforms, that it is a bit hard to appreciate this beauty – let alone make a photo of it and avoid all these disturbing elements. On top of that, there were two more guided groups there, and both of their guides were of course equipped with mic and speakers, which was very annoying at the caldera-like location. X-(
Since we visited during the dry season, the waterfall was a rather sad trickle only, and more like a wet rock with nice green moss on it – during the rainy season and typhoons, it’s an entirely different story though: a piece of debris was left for educational purposes on one of the concrete paths, about 5m (15ft.) above the pool below the waterfall – the sign next to it said it was washed there, during a typhoon when the area received 1150mm (~4 feet) of rain in a single day. That must be like someone emptying a giant bucket of water in the sky! Absolutely crazy. I can not imagine what rainfall like that must be like.
Since we didn’t bring any food we were glad to find another restaurant (whenever I say restaurant, I mean more like a street kitchen with benches or other outside seating) and bought some super duper menu 😉 with bamboo steamed rice and such. After that, we checked out the map and decided to check out the “Blue Dragon” waterfall in the lower portions of the area, so we took it easy, and used the bus. 🙂
And then – pure magic. As we drove down, fog moved in, and it was a really thick, dense fog, with visibility down to 10m. Seriously! Absolutely fascinating and amazing. The whole forest turned into a mystic, muted wonderland, right out of a dream. Incredibly beautiful. What we didn’t know at this point, as we were hiking down to that waterfall, was that there was no access to the actual waterfall – instead, the trail lead to a vista point above the waterfall… well, we heard that there must be a waterfall, but we didn’t see a thing. Bummer! (but, since the creek was running so low, it probably wasn’t that impressive, anyway… at least that’s what I keep telling myself – and we need a reason to go there again when there’s more water, of course;-).
On the way back up and to our car, we took another side-trail that would head up into more forest again, to an area that will eventually become another vista point – it was not a vista point yet… haha… file under: “nice extra exercise”. 😉 Because of the somewhat cavernous nature and canyon-like setting, my GPS tracklog is pretty much a mess. I guess we walked something like 10km that day (not including the bus ride).
Last not least – here’s the photo gallery: