TAMSUI-KAVALAN TRAILS: PINGLIN to QINGYUN BRIDGE (淡蘭古道南路:坪林/清雲橋)

DISTANCE: 10.5km one way, a little less than double that to return if you take a couple of shortcuts.

TIME: From Pinglin to Qingyun Bridge took me 3½ hours, (including time spent cooking and enjoying the view), to return it took a total of five hours.

TOTAL ASCENT: 98 metres, (one way) although much of the route was so flat that I barely noticed any increase in elevation.

DIFFICULTY (REGULAR TAIWAN HIKERS): 1/10 – this is a very easy stroll.

DIFFICULTY (NEW HIKERS): 3/10 – simply for distance or navigating transport to Qingyun Bridge, (it’s either one or the other).

SIGNAGE: Quite clear as long as you know where you’re heading, although honestly you just have to follow the river, so it’s not challenging at all.

FOOD AND WATER: I got through about 1.5L on a cool day because I cooked and made coffee, (and did a return trip). This will vary depending on whether you walk, walk both directions, or cycle.

SHADE: Not really very much shade, I would have required an umbrella if it were sunny.

MOBILE NETWORK: Clear throughout.

ENJOYMENT: Since this whole walk follows a bikeway, it is a lovely, easy, gentle section which would suit pretty much anyone at any time of year. The fact that it has a couple of places where you can get down to water level might even make it enticing in the summer months. Conversely, if you’re in search of remote, less populated trails, then this one probably shouldn’t be your first choice.

SOLO HIKE-ABILITY: This is both super easy, and quite a busy place even on weekdays, so I had absolutely no worries doing this alone.

OTHER: Since this is actually a cycle route, you may want to hire baikes from Pinglin to complete this section. Dong Mu He Teahouse (東木河茶莊) has a side-business renting out bikes to visitors. Also, be prepared for the town of Pinglin to be heaving with visitors if you visit on a weekend, it sits along Beiyi Road, one of northern Taiwan’s most popular routes for weekend bikers and cyclists, and as such is often flooded with two-wheeled vehicles on Saturdays and Sundays.

TRAILS AND POINTS OF INTEREST ALONG THE WAY:

OPTIONS TO SPLIT THIS ROUTE: You can’t really shorten this route by much, but you could cut out the loop around the headland after you cross the second bridge, (the first being the one still in Pinglin town).

MAP:

GPX file available here.


DIRECTIONS:

Numbers by photos refer to the GPS coordinates at the end of the post.

12:05 – Leave the town of Pinglin behind by taking Pinglin Bridge over the river. Pinglin being famous for its tea, the railings along the whole span of the bridge are topped with teapots in various shapes and sizes.

12:09 – At the far end of the bridge cross to the left side and head around a building to get to the cycle path that passes under the road you just crossed on. (1)

12:13 – From here on out, the route is very easy to follow and equally easy to walk.

Looking back in the direction of where you started, there’s a nice view to be had of the town nestled between the hills and the river.

12:28 – The next bridge you’ll come to is Pinglin Suspension Bridge. You don’t need to cross it, but if you walk to the middle and look down you should be able spot some aquatic behemoths, ridiculously huge fish, the largest maybe 80cm long, they seem to congregate here in the hopes that visitors will ignore the no feeding signs.

Looking back upstream there are views of cloud-cloaked hills. I imagine it is extremely picturesque on a sunny day, but there is a certain wilder, bruising beauty about the sky full of heavy greys.

12:33 – Ignore the road and instead keep right on the cycle path.

12:38 – Cross over Jingguan Bridge, (later on the walk will continue along the footpath you can see heading under the bridge to the left here).

12:40 – At the far side of the bridge you have a choice: you can either take the path heading more or less straight on, (left in the above photo), then later the path will loop back to this point and head back under the bridge you’ve just crossed; or you can skip the loop around the headland and turn right straight away.

I wanted to explore the area properly so I went left first, however if you plan to walk the whole of the southern TKT route, then you can just turn right since the trail connecting from Wutuku will also bring you here, (I didn’t realise this at the time).

The tea-growing that Pinglin area is famous for is evident all around, large areas of the fields nearby and the slopes across the water are given over to growing rows of tea plants, (as well as plenty of groves of skinny betel nut trees).

12:45 – A Fude Gong Temple sits at the junction between the bikeway and the actual road, I would have liked to check it out more closely, but it was heaving with resting walkers and cyclists so I just kept going along the river.

12:51 – As I was approaching this junction I heard a bizarre noise, kind of like an elderly man huffing. I looked around and, not seeing any disgruntled old men, continued as I was. Then I heard the sound again, soon followed by the rustling disturbance of a stick falling through the branches from higher up. This second sound caused me to look skywards and I was surprised to find a pair of monkeys skulking around above me. These were Formosan rock macaques, Taiwan’s only native primates (if you don’t include humans), and they seemed distinctly unconcerned by my presence. Despite the relatively good behaviour of the Taiwanese ones, I have been a little wary of monkeys ever since an unpleasant experience in Hong Kong a few years back, so I didn’t stick around too long, and instead continued on my way taking the right path along the water. (Later the path returns back down from this left trail, so you could do the loop in either direction.)

The raised bikeway hugs the water’s edge as the river bends round to the left. Even on an overcast day the colour is enticing, I imagine the pull to jump in on a clear hot day must be overwhelming.

The view looking back is particularly impressive at this point, the strays of the rock echoing the angles of the far off hills, and the clouds mirroring the shadows cast by ripples on the water’s surface.

Near one area with benches a construction worker had gone rogue (or maybe a passing walker had spotted an opportunity to do some long-term graffiti), because the concrete floor had been decorated with leafy impressions.

12:57 – As the path reaches the apex of the bend the forest on the lefthand slope is replaced by tea terraces, and a large grave. From the bamboo trees between me and the water came the high pitched croak of many tree frogs, but try as I might I couldn’t see a single one.

13:06 – The path curves through an area that looks like it’s been set aside for some kind of conservation purposes, (possibly frog related given the number of ponds). At this junction follow the paved path left.

13:07 – Walk towards the red paifang then just before you get to it double back sharply and take the path heading back uphill on the left.

13:11 – This takes you back up and over the protruding bit of land that the trail has just skirted, through the tea growing terraces and back towards ‘monkey junction’.

13:26 – I carried on back the way I had come from, passing the temple which was still full of hikers until I found myself back at the blue bridge. Here you need to head under the bridge and away from the place you started at. (2)

13:41 – When I reached the next bridge (Dalin Bridge/大林橋) I decided to make use of both the nearby toilets (on the right of the path), and the little pavilion (on the far side of the bridge). Crossing over I noticed a few people fishing, and later I would see many more, it seems that this river is a very popular fishing spot.

13:44 – 14:07 – Most people walking this probably won’t need to stop for lunch or snacks, but this was already my second adventure of the day and I was getting hungry. Being by myself meant I was able to prepare, eat and pack up pretty efficiently, and I stopped for less than 25 minutes.

When I was ready to get going again, I returned back to the toilet side from the bridge, here the path continues upstream.

Despite the greyness of the day, I found the scenery delightful. Not pretty in the same way that parts of the middle section are, nor rustic in the way that a lot of the northern route is, but it’s own kind of beauty.

14:25 – After about twenty minutes, the path becomes the narrowest two lane road I’ve ever seen, at the junction keep straight/left and keep the water to the left of you. I passed through a bigger-than-average grove of betel nut trees which covers both sides of the road, the lines of narrow trunks playing tricks on my eyes as I walked.

14:35 – On the far side of the river Jiu Xiong Lin Shan rises behind a settlement of the same name.

14:46 – After 20 minutes of following the road, take the cycle path on the left before the road head uphill.

Here the raised path keeps you a bit higher above the river, before veering briefly off course to skirt some farmland.

14:50 – In the field a couple of men were tending to their crops whilst the women oversaw their work, at first I thought the pushchair and rug were for a child, but a closer look revealed two Maltese terriers and no babies.

15-00 – Follow the cycle path all the way to and then over Yingzilai Bridge. On the far side there was a team of workers picking tea leaves on one of the slopes, five or six of them all working the same patch.

After crossing the bridge turn right and continue heading up against the water.

15:06 – This is the first of two holey concrete bridges over the river, this one ran from an area which looks like some combination holiday farm/temple/cafe. On a Monday afternoon it was empty, but I imagine that it would be busier on a warm weekend.

15:12 – Just beyond the bridge I passed through a campground, pictures on Google Maps suggest that it can get quite busy in good weather, but off season there was no one there.

15:15 – Not far past the camp ground there is a second concrete holey bridge, this one was accessorised with a fishing couple, the man and woman sat far enough apart that they didn’t need to communicate. Follow the path over the water and then turn left to keep close to the river.

The geology on display here (as well as along much of the rest of the river) is striking, a wall of horizontally stratified rock rises from the far side, at the bed rock of the river is a water-smoothed layer strewn with boulder of varying sizes.

15:26 – Before long the trail arrives at and crosses the penultimate bridge of this section. After you cross the water you have another choice, you can either follow the river to the right or walk up into the village.

I wanted to check out Bao’an Temple so I headed straight up towards an odd looking building (possibly a now disused hotel).

On both sides there are more tea fields, and on the left there’s a Fude Gong temple which sits beautifully in the landscape framed by betel nut trees, tea and against a backdrop of forested hills. I wonder if it was built with the proceeds of tea growing.

15:29 – At the top of the road turn right towards the village.

The house at the junction is guarded by a particularly noisy dog. I wasn’t sure if it was noisy and and aggressive or just noisy, so I talked to it to let it know I just wanted to walk past and it came over wagging its tail. It was also weirdly interested in seeing (or smelling) my face, standing on its back legs to get a closer look. (This photo was taken looking back at where I’d just come from.)

15:35 – Bao’an Temple sits a little way back from the village’s main thoroughfare down a narrow lane that I may have discounted if I didn’t know to look. The temple looks out onto a plain concreted courtyard, and opposite the doors there is another structure that looks somewhat stage-like – I’ve come across a lot of these in the courtyards of rural temples, I guess village temples are more likely to have the space for extra features. (3)

The main deity worshipped in this temple is Baoyi Zunwang (保儀尊王, or Revered King Baoyi), a real historical figure from the Tang Dynasty who died in battle and was later highly praised for his faithfulness to the Tang court and the fact that his sacrifice bought the government some extra time.

On one side of the temple courtyard you can spot a couple of old buildings, one of them has the name “厝邊老廊” (Cuobian Old Gallery) written on a plaque by the door. From what I can gather, this is an example of a community initiative to breathe new life into one of the many crumbling stone buildings that are scattered around the countryside. In 2016 it was established as a space with the dual purposes of providing public space for the community and as a way to showcase some of the traditional handicrafts and skills that used to be vital for life in rural Taiwan. Inside you can see some artifacts of historical village life, such as woven shoes and circular trays used for drying food in the sun. A few information boards explain what you’re seeing, but they’re Chinese only, and a lot of the items have started degrading in the years since they were placed there. It is a lovely idea though, and I hope that it continues to be cared for by the community.

Adjoining the old house-turned-gallery is this bizarrely shaped bud-brick house, it seems in better nick than many buildings of a similar age and build type.

15:33 – To reach Qingyun Bridge, turn right out of the temple courtyard and follow the road back down to the river. (4)

This particular spot seemed especially popular with fishermen, there were many of them dotted along the shore. At this point I had to turn around and head back the way I came, (there is a bus here, but it comes just once a day and I had missed it by five or six hours).

Instead of walking back through the village I decided to return along the river’s edge and found the whole stretch populated with fishermen. This one’s friend caught something whilst I was watching.

I took a shorter route back, (heading over the hill from Dalin Bridge, and then down Beiyi Road to Pinglin), and I arrived back five hours and six minutes after I’d set off.


HOW TO GET THERE

Google Maps address:I started from Pinglin Bus Station and walked over the bridge to catch the trail, then walked to Qingyun Bridge and walked back via the same route.

GPS location:

  1. Entrance to bikeway near Pinglin Bridge – N24 56.035 E121 42.650
  2. Jinguang Bridge – N24 56.065 E121 41.975
  3. Bao’an Temple – N24 54.525 E121 42.555
  4. Qinyuan Bridge Bus Stop – N24 54.375 E121 42.605

Public transport: First you need to get to Pinglin either by taking the GR12 or the 923 bus from Xindian Station. However, for me it’s quicker and easier to get to Muzha, so I took the 660 to Bafenliao (the 666 and 795 also stop here), walked across Fenglin Bridge to Feng Zi Lin Rd. Intersection bus stop and caught the 923 from there.

The transport on the next section is a bit trickier. If you want to be able to do the walk in one direction only, then you need to arrive in Pinglin before 9:15, early enough to catch the bus to Qingyun Bridge (the F723 Shicao minibus), which only runs once a day Monday-Friday. If this is too early, then you’ll either have to walk or cycle to Qingyun Bridge and then back again.

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5 thoughts on “TAMSUI-KAVALAN TRAILS: PINGLIN to QINGYUN BRIDGE (淡蘭古道南路:坪林/清雲橋)

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