The best way to describe Tongjing Mountain Forest Trail is a series of areas strung together with a strange octagonal concrete path.
Situated in a rare “not-so-mountainous” area of Miaoli, the Tongjing Trail starts off, as most of Taiwan’s hiking trails do, with a series of gentle steps.
I don’t really know why they opted for eight-sided concrete tiles to mark the trail (cheap?), but I suppose they worked well enough.
Bit slippery and uncertain in the rain though. Oh and watchout if you have small feet, it’s very easy to twist your ankle if your heel comes down wrong.
The opening stretch of theTongjing trail takes you through scattered farmland and greenery.
The trail only goes over some minor hills (Sanwan is already nestled in the mountains), quickly flattening out.
Our first sight along Tongjing was… well what I can only describe as a cicada graveyard.
I’m no insect expert (I think they’re cicadas), but as I understand it a cicada feeds by “drilling” into a tree and drinking sap.
Perhaps this particular tree was poisonous to the insects or something? There was an awful lot of dead cicadas in this little area stuck to the trees so obviously something particular to this little area had killed them off.
They were everywhere and well and truly decomposed shells. I have a bit of a big flying insect phobia so surrounded by hundreds of these silent brown shells, I was kind of expecting them all to come to life and zombie swarm us or something.
Some of them had what looked like puncture wounds on their back, which kind of gave off a whole “alien birth” vibe (something fed off them and burst through when it was ready to move on). Leela pushing a few around on the ground wasn’t helping either.
After taking my photos I got the hell out of there pretty fast. I love nature and all but uh… yeah, when things get all National Geographic I start to feel out of my depth.
Shortly after the mysterious cicada graveyard we arrived at what I initially thought was the end of the trail.
It opened up onto this grassy field area, which overlooked the outskirts of Sanwan’s northern farming area:
Once you navigated your way through the overgrown grass (watch out for snakes!), it was clear that someone had gone to a bit of an effort to set up this little narrow viewing platform area.
The area was absolutely deserted but it was a nice touch. I’m guessing whoever built the platform figured the trail would be getting a lot more use than it currently was. Oh and no idea what’s up with those big squares in the grass… looks like something somebody started but never got around to finishing.
Nonetheless we took the opportunity to take a short break to ponder our next move. The trail did continue on but it looked more like a road. There was a small building next to the platform but it was hollowed out and rather derelict looking.
Surely the fifteen twenty minute walk we’d taken to get us here didn’t warrant giant brown “Tongjing Trail” tourist signs all over the place?
After deciding we still had ample to time explore, but not wanting to leave our bicycles all the way back at the start of the trail, we opted to trek back, pick them up and then proceed down the road the trail had broken out into.
Worst case scenario this truly was the end of Tongjing Trail and we’d see where this small road took us by bike, otherwise the trail would continue on somewhere up ahead and we’d lock the bikes up again.
Doubling back on the trail we’d already hiked, as short as the trip had been, was still a bit annoying. Leela didn’t mind though,
she wondered what was taking us so long.
With the bikes picked up we were back at the look-out field, so we headed down the small road next to it. As the road wound down an easy decline, we passed this immaculately kept grave site:
Flanked by elephants and guarding lions, dunno who this person was but they must have been rich and influential.
Further down the road surrounding a reed-choked pond you had the long-forgotten graves of presumably not-so-important people:
Some of the graves were in passable condition. Most however were inaccessible and overrun with vegetation.
Continuing on the road, we then came to what a nearby signpost referred to as “Link Lake”:
Link Lake, in addition to being totally deserted, was very picturesque and peaceful.
As the signpost above notes, there’s a footpath that runs around the lake. After a brief rest on the benches overlooking the lake, we went for a stroll (mind the busted stair railing).
I’m guessing when the path was built around the lake, installing viewing platforms seemed like a good idea.
With little to no maintenance though, today all you get is a view of overgrown shrubbery.
This seating area also probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but felt rather unnecessarily excessive:
Surely some benches and a simple rain shelter would have sufficed.
Most of the path on the “rear” side of Link Lake is made up of the same octagonal concrete “tiles” the short trail we initially walked had.
Coming back around the front of the lake we passed some houses:
Totally living in the middle of nowhere but you’ve got to envy the access to the lake they had (mosquitoes in summer might be a bitch though).
Around the back of the lake we spotted this sign for “Byrne Pasture”:
Figuring we still had a few hours of sunlight left, we rolled the bikes along and decided to check it out.
With “pasture” in the name I’m not really sure what I expected… but turns out Byrne Pasture was indeed a pasture (“land covered in grass”):
I don’t really know what the point of it was, but uh yeah. Down the back of the pasture you had these trees, which I think were of some citrus variety.
What we did find at Byrne Pasture was another signpost, directing us to… wait for it, “Big Grass Garden”.
Yeah uh, didn’t we just see that?
The going was a bit tough here as we had to climb a bit of a steep hill. We had to roll the bicycles next to the concrete tile path, as they weren’t all that stable going up otherwise. The slipperiness of the tiles didn’t help either.
Five to ten minutes later though we crested the summit and… lo and behold there was a great big field of grass up there.
I suppose the view of Miaoli’s mountains in the background kind of made up for the unspectacularness of it all.
Other than that though… all you had was as the sign read: a big grass garden as far as the eye could see:
The Tongjing Trail continued on around the Big Grass Garden so we pressed on, wheeling the bikes as riding them was a bit risky.
At one point the path disappeared and we had to cut through the grass itself:
As we slowly navigated our way through, all I could think in my mind was “SNAKES SNAKES SNAKES!”
Finally the Big Grass Garden broke out into a trail again and that led us down what I think was the otherside of the hill we climbed to get up there.
At the bottom of the hill the final stretch of Tongjing Trail dumped us out onto a road, and from there we jumped back on the bicycles. Finding a major road was easy enough and then we were home free.
Despite the initial disappointment at what we thought was a mediocre 20 minute walk, Tongjing surprised us and turned out to be quite the adventure.
Tongjing Mountain Forest Trail is located near Sanwan Township in Miaoli County. Getting there is a bit of a bitch though.
Heading out of Toufen along Provincial Highway 3, the turn off for Tongjing is just before Sanwan Township proper. You want to be looking for this intersection:
Turn right and then follow these wooden signs till you get to a small cluster of houses (not big enough to be a town):
You want to be following the one that reads “Tong Jing Cun Wooden Mountain Footpath”.
When you get to this yellow house intersection, turn right:
A few hundred meters up the road you’ll then arrive at this fork, turn right:
Then keep heading down that road till you get to this sign on the right:
Turn left and hidden behind a brick wall is the entry to the Tongjing Trail:
Took us a while to find and multiple asking of the locals. For some reason the big brown tourist signs become scarce once you get off Provincial Highway 3 and it’s easy to get lost.
There’s probably an easier way to get to Link Lake (it has a carpark), however this is where we wound up following those wooden signs.