Yushan (Jade Mountain) at 3952 meters is the highest mountain in Taiwan. I started the paperwork barely 3 weeks before I landed in Taiwan, and by a slim margin, I received the permits (park permit + mountain permit) by e-mail just a couple of days before my cheap flight from Manila to Taipei. The permit is free of charge, but one must expect some small expenses to send the original and signed application with DHL, FedEx, LBC Express or if one has a plenty of time, the local post office. I sent my application with LBC Express from Manila, it took 4 days and cost 17 USD.
Passing the fever-scanner
I arrived at Taoyuan International Airport in the middle of the night with a fever and bad cough, but the health personnel at the airport fortunately did not discover anything abnormal on their screen (as I had taken a couple of fever-lowering tablets before I arrived). I had an extra day available before I was going to Yushan National Park, so I decided to travel to Sun Moon Lake first. It was easy to find a bus from Taoyuan International Airport to Taichung City (220 TWD). After a 2 hour comfortable bus ride, I jumped off at the Central Station in Taichung City. Across the street there is a bus stop, including buses that go to Sun Moon Lake about every hour. But I had to flag them down, if I wanted a certain bus to stop. Fortunately, I had 10-15 Taiwanese people around me who knew exactly where I was heading, and they took great care to flag down the right bus for me (Tour Taiwan - 170 TWD). This I would never have been able to do on my own, because of the immense chaos of buses (with Chinese characters) that passed at high speed.
Arriving at Sun Moon Lake 1-2 hours later, I had no problems getting a nice hotel room at heavily discounted rates, as it was Sunday and end of the weekend. Sun Moon Lake is the largest body of fresh water in Taiwan, and has a beautiful (albeit highly developed) landscape surrounded by fairly high mountains. There are also several interesting temples at Sun Moon Lake, including Wenwu Temple, where I also enjoyed a cultural show (see my photos from Sun Moon Lake).
Trouble with public transportation from Sun Moon Lake to Yushan
Next morning I planned to take the bus to Shuili, then switch to a bus for Dongpu and finally take a taxi to Tatajia/Yushan (a route that many websites recommend). The visitor information center at Sun Moon Lake, however, told me that there now was a direct bus all the way to Dongpu. It was leaving in about 5 minutes, so I decided to catch this of course. But the bus driver "refused" me to board the bus, because he thought that I would be stranded in Dongpu. He told me that there are no taxi's to be found in Dongpu, and that I even could forget about hitchhiking, because the traffic across the mountain is too modest to be a good option. I had no desire to get stuck in Dongpu, thus I went back to the visitor information center. There, I learned that there are two buses per day from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan (via Tatajia/Yushan). Perfect I thought, but there was a catch, both buses had already departed from Sun Moon Lake (at 07:00 and 09:00). I could of course not wait until the next morning, because then I would simply arrive too late for climbing Yushan (the one-day permit is fixed on a certain date).
The young guy at the visitor information center must have felt very sorry for me, for the next hour, he used all his resources on me. He called around and searched the internet to find out how I could get to Tatajia (Yushan) before the day was over. In a last desperate attempt, he even called Yushan National Park HQ, and asked if it was possible to change the date of my permit (shift it by 1 day). But understandably they did not accept a last minute change like this, no matter the circumstances. They advised me to take the bus to Shuili, then a local train to Ershui and change for an intercity train to Chiayai. From there, buses continue to Alishan, which is fairly close to Yushan National Park. I had a bad feeling that I would not be able to reach the last bus to Alishan, but I had no other options, I had to get moving as quickly as possible.
3-4 hours later I arrived Chiayai (3pm). The last bus to Alishan had already departed at 2pm. At the station was an elderly woman who tried to fix me up in a private van going to Alishan. The van already had 3 other local passengers, so it was ready to depart anytime. The price for the 2-hours drive was a modest 400 TWD, far cheaper than the taxi I feared would set me back 3500 TWD. I was indeed super-lucky after all. Arriving in Alishan the chauffeur offered to drive me onwards to Tatajia for an additional 1200 TWD. When I saw how desolate and abandoned Alishan looked at night, I realized fairly quickly that I had no other options. He gave me an hour in Alishan, so I had time for a nice dinner and get some shopping done at 7-Eleven for the upcoming climb. The drive from Alishan to Tatajia took about 40 minutes, and he dropped me off right at the door step of Dongpu Lodge where I had reserved a bed (300 TWD) in the dormitory. The name of this lodge must not be confused with the place Dongpu (a big mistake I had made!), as Dongpu is more than 1 hour away by car.
There were just a few people hanging around at Dongpu Lodge in Tatajia, but a few more arrived during the evening and night. I woke up at 2am and headed out in the dark night before 3am. I was invited to join a large group from Taipei (8 men). Initially we walked and talked for 2-3 kilometers on a paved road, before we eventually started on a nice trail. After a couple of hours hiking in the darkness, I was a bit frustrated of the slow pace and all the small rest stops of the group, so I eventually set off on my own. There were clouds in the horizon, thus the beautiful sunrise never really materialized. When I arrived Paiyun Lodge, I could only see a few carpenters on site (the lodge is currently closed!) but no guards. Thus I just continued to the top without showing my permit. I arrived at the top shortly before 8am.
After a well deserved break at the cold and windy summit, I headed back to Tatajia at a fairly rapid pace, so I would be able to catch the last bus to Alishan (at 12 noon). I arrived back at Tatajia and Dongpu Lodge, where I collected my stuff in a furious speed. If I had spent one minute more, I would have missed the bus. Thanks God, that saved me a whole lot of bucks. I was tired but satisfied after having completed 27 km and 1950 meters gain of elevation in just over 9 hours, especially because of my slight fever and a terrible cough. On the bus ride back to Alishan I got no rest at all, because I had to share my entire life story with a group of tourists from China and a Taiwanese guide acting as an interpreter. The Chinese tourists seemed damn impressed that I had cycled through entire China a few years ago. See my photos from Yushan below.
A little more of Taiwan
After Yushan I spent a night in foggy Alishan, before I headed to the city of temples (Tainan) for 3 days (photos). I ended my journey in Taiwan by staying a couple of days in Taipei (photos). Taiwan is a wonderful country and people. If you feel terrified by all the Chinese characters in the train stations and bus stops, or you are completely lost in an unknown street in search of a hotel having only Chinese characters, well, then there is always friendly local people who will approach you and try to their best ability to help you. People can indeed be very helpful in other Asian countries too, but this is often subject to economic motives, such as in Thailand, Nepal and India. In Taiwan, however, it is the warm hospitality that counts, with no hidden agenda at all. They are just a little curious on Western tourists (of which there are only a few of in Taiwan) and some of the younger Taiwanese might even want to test out their very limited English skills. Although Taiwan is a wealthy country, it is also a surprisingly cheap country, almost as cheap as Thailand. During my 9 days in Taiwan, I spent only 15000 TWD (roughly 500 USD), and that covered everything, including transportation, hotels, food and miscellaneous.
I'm expressing my thanks to Lars Holme (who climbed Yushan earlier this year) for his good travel advice and his encouragement to get me started on the paper work for Yushan! The two guys from Yushan National Park HQ who I was in touch with before I arrived Taiwan, did a great job of guiding me through the "bureaucracy", and grant me a permit on such a short notice. Shu-Ting even reserved a bed for me at Dongpu Lodge although, strictly speaking, this is not their responsibilities at all. I'm surprised that their services and the permits still comes free of charge (kind of unusual in a world where nothing is for free, especially in regard of mountain permits). Thank you Taiwan, I really enjoyed my stay! I just wish I had a few more days to also visit the east coast. Maybe next time...
1 USD = 30 TWD (Nov 2011)
Yushan at EveryTrail