DAKENG TUNG BLOSSOM TRAIL (大坑桐花步道)

A quiet leg-stretch through the hills and farmland of Guishan township. Come in April or May to enjoy the tung blossom that gives the trail its name.

Distance: 6.2km – it could be shortened if you start from the village at the bottom.

Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Difficulty: 3/10 – mostly for being difficult to get to the starting point. Beside that, it might be hard if you don’t read Chinese, since I think the signage is all in Chinese. But the walk itself isn’t too hard. No paved trail underfoot, but the surface is pretty good, and there are a couple of steep sections that might tire out someone who isn’t used to hiking.

Total ascent: about 350 metres.

Water: 1L was more than enough for me, but I did this in cool weather.

Shade: the portion in the woods is shaded, but the road section is completely exposed.

Mobile network: it dropped out a couple of times, but not for too long.

Enjoyment: Anything that gets you out of the house during Chinese New Year is worth it. There was nothing remarkable about this particular walk, but I think that if we had gone during the tung blossom season, it might have been more special.

Seasonal: Visit in April and May to enjoy the tung blossom.

Map:

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GPX file available here.

Not wanting to wait until Chinese New Year tensions bubbled over into anything too dramatic, we dragged ourselves out to explore one of the few remaining corners of this area that we haven’t explored yet.

The drive up to the trailhead didn’t do much to fill me with anticipation – we passed through road after road of factories units which were silent for the holidays save for the dogs which had been left to guard them. There isn’t a parking lot at the start, just a wide patch of road where it’s possible to park up at the far reaches of the industrial estate.

There is a blue sign at the start of a small track to indicate that you’re heading the right way, but it isn’t exactly the most auspicious of starts.

After servers minutes walking, the right hedge opens out onto a tea plantation and a map indicates that you’ve arrived at the start of the trail.

The concrete track becomes a dirt track, on the left there is a maintained clutch of bamboo trees and a small farm on the right. A sign pointing right directs you down onto a smaller path. The walking is gentle and downhill, downslope to the left is a house and farm, and the sides of the trail are lined mostly with tall green bamboo. At one point we saw two black feral dogs darting away from us – they were definitely too scared of us to be of any concern though.

At a fork there is another sign, this one pointing up towards an observation deck (觀景台). This marks the start of the first upwards section.

A quick five minutes later, (spent the same way as the rest of the fifteen minutes we’d been walking – discussing the various family frustrations that are apt to come to light at this time of year), we got to the viewing platform. A small triangular construction looking out over the freeway and a section of the high speed rail line.

The observation deck is the third out of ten points along the walk. After observing all there was to observe, we continued on our way by heading right upwards at the junction. (Eventually we would come back up here on our way back.)

The trail meanders along pleasantly for a while and I imagine this part is especially beautiful in spring. A sign indicating the fifth point along the trail marks the place where the steps turn downward for a spell. The early afternoon sunlight shone nicely here.

As we walked, I spotted a long, blue tail feather which must have fallen off Formosan blue magpie at some point. Living in the city, I haven’t seen so many of them recently, although there seems to be a pair living in the strip of parkland alongside the MRT tracks between Mingquan West and Yuanshan stations.

A little further on still, a sign warns that a small path leading down on the left leads to private property which is guarded by an 獒犬, some type of aggressive guard dog. We heard no sign of it, but kept on the proper path anyway.

The path wound around the side of the hill, the valley to our left occasionally visible when the trees cleared a bit. Also visible was the grand Taoyuan Weitian Temple. We’d passed it on the way up and the road was absolutely blocked with cars and pedestrians making their way to do their New Year praying. Even from across the valley, the sound of the bell, the firecrackers and the occasional loud-speaker-amplified performance made us aware of the festivities.

A bit further along I spotted this rather beautiful specimen of a fungus, (maybe, probably 黃炳小孔菌).

After another climb, the path levelled out at a rest area with a grey factory unit just visible through the trees. Actually our car was parked just a little under 200m away beyond the buildings. Looking at the map at this point, I assumed that maybe the 7km that we’d seen on another description of this route must have been incorrect, but as we were led further away from where I knew we’d parked, I began to have suspicions about the strange mapped out picture of the trail that I’d seen.

The path leads down hill through more bamboo groves and past a stream which was depressingly full of rubbish in parts.

And then emerges at a small roadside temple. It was here that my suspicions about the route were confirmed – it is actually a really squashed lollipop style loop with one part of the loop section being formed by the road.

The blog that we’d used as a guide for this walk, (which we’d taken to calling ‘the Auntie Blog since it outlines the walk as done by a group of four middle-aged women), showed that this temple has had its surrounding area renovated somewhat in the past three years. In 2016 there was no proper bridge, and the aunties had to climb up a small metal ladder set against the wall of the water channel. Teresa being Teresa, she decided that the slightly rusty metal girders presented a more enjoyable way to cross than the shiny new bridge.

A few minutes walking later, we discovered the source of the bleating that we’d heard whilst walking on the slope just above the road. Once more, Teresa being Teresa, she took some time to commune with the goats and made a pair of new friends. Strangely, she found the smell of goat to be pleasant, (why?), and spent the remainder of the walk trying to get me to sniff it to see if I would also enjoy the goaty fragrance.

Just beyond the goats, we also found the source of the barking that we’d been hearing for most of the walk. Two unleashed dogs charged out of their house to let us know whose land it was, but they never came close to the road and eventually just gave up the whole being load thing and sat staring at us. A third, more unfortunate specimen was chained up outside a house. It charged around barking on its short leash, but went and hid in its pathetically small and uncomfortable shelter as soon as we got close.

The road winds through rice fields and whilst Teresa – used to this scenery – powered ahead, I couldn’t help but be just a little enchanted, despite all the muddiness and lack of actual crops. This type of sight always induces a kind of weird not-nostalgia-nostalgic feeling in me. Obviously it is not genuine nostalgia since I wasn’t exposed to such sights as a child, but maybe the faux nostalgic feeling comes from the vague impression of Asian places that I had assimilated into my understanding of the world when I was young. And then, in a strange way it is like the landscape of my youth. I grew up in rural England, I saw this type of place daily, just a colder, less rice-centric version. Maybe it is nostalgia after all.

The road leaves the temple behind and goes over a small bridge which, according to a plaque set into its side, was constructed in 1992.

Just down from the bridge is this second land god shrine. Strangely, this one had no lit incense burning, (I have never seen that before in this type of roadside temple), I guess everyone is too busy visiting the big gods up the hill for Chinese New Year fortune.

The little red bridge on the right leads to a couple of public toilets, but since neither of us needed them, we pressed on and diverted off the road and up through more farmland (as instructed by another sign indicating that this was the right way).

The trees in this orchard had all been cut back to little more than stumps. I can’t imagine this is a standard pruning technique, but then if they want them to die off, why not just pull them up. And why go to the trouble of bagging up their ends?

From the road, it was a steady climb all the way back up to the third point with the observation deck. Once we’d made it back here, it was just a case of following the same path we’d walked in on back to our car.


How to get there

Google maps address: 富友倉儲大湖2倉, No. 45之128, Lane 160, Dahu Road, 龜山鄉 Taoyuan City, 333

GPS location: N25 03.070 E121 20.590

Public transport: there is a bus to just down the road from the temple and red bridge which leaves from Linkou Station. It would be possible to start the walk from here and just do a loop. But there isn’t public transport to where we started.


My new words learnt on this hike:

  1. 現實 / xiànshí – looking out for one’s own interests (adj.)
  2. 你為什麼不反省妳自己 / nǐ wèishéme bù fǎnxǐng nǎi zìjǐ / why don’t you look at yourself? – You might say this if someone is being hypocritical maybe, or is judging others without considering their own shortcomings.
  3. 花瓶 / huāpíng / flower vase – to describe a person who is decorative but not functional doesn’t do anything, only for people to see – just a pretty face. It is not a nice thing to say about someone.

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