Igor Tolkov
Software Engineer, Facebook
Co-founder and Lead Developer, taiLib
University of Washington, Class of 2013
B.Sc. Mathematics, Physics; B.Sc. Computer Science; B.A. Linguistics

Welcome!

I am a STEM quadruple major and recent University of Washington graduate. I currently work as a Software Engineer at Facebook.

Read more about me via the links on this page, and feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

Timeline

2014Apr+Software Engineer @ Facebook
2013Aug-Undergrad @ UW
2012JulChina Trip
2011FebtaiLib Launch
2009Aug-DecStudy Abroad in Europe
2007Sep+Undergrad @ UW

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If you can guess where the cover photo was taken, I will add your name to a list of winners (coming soon).

Blog

Here are the latest photos and posts from my blog.

It so happened on this trip that whenever my plans changed at the last minute, there was plenty of time to make the change. Such was the case this day when I bussed to Sun-Moon Lake. In brief: I was quite irritated by the atmosphere around the Sun-Moon Lake visitor center, so much that I took the next bus right back down to Shueili. From there I took the train to Checheng.

Checheng is an old town that sits on a train yard next to a hydroelectric dam.

I walked the streets of the old town and admired the paintings on walls and fences.

Then I found a place for lunch. This is a train town, so lunch had to be a Taiwanese train box.

Apart from lunch, at this place I found a shopfront with wooden items and a cat whose fur matched the color of the wood.

After lunch, more walking around and admiring the sights, narrow streets, paintings on walls.

There was even a private train museum:

Checheng one last time…

After this, I stopped by the gift store and bought some things; then hopped on the Checheng - Shueili - Sun-Moon Lake bus.

Next post will be about Yushan logistics, followed by photos from Yushan.

Shueili on a Monday morning:

A. and I had onion pancakes with egg for breakfast. Then A. gave me the key to her bike and went to work. We said good bye until lunch, and I took the mountain road to Jiji.

On the way I passed a funeral procession. I do not wish to disrespect anyone - I had no idea that it was a funeral procession until I saw the portrait while reviewing the pictures. They passed quickly, and the truck in the front played loud music.

Soon the palm trees appeared. Jiji, I guess is a banana town.

I stopped at an old train station and wondered if the railroad is active. (It is!)

Across the road is a military park featuring tanks, fighter jets, and a huge plane.

Jiji is probably most famous for its collapsed temple. It was a very good idea to leave the ruins in place and just build a new temple on the side.

Outside the temple is a market where I bought bananas, some candy, and two sorts of high-mountain Oolong tea. I biked on and found the other end of the old railroad.

They told me the round trip on this train takes 30 minutes.

A bit farther is the actual train station of the Ershui-Jiji-Shueili-Checheng line.

But I was on a bike, and so instead of returning by train I crossed the Zhuoshui River and returned by another road that took me through the fields.

Back in Shueili:

It was too late to go on to Checheng, so I returned the bike.

Before I came here, I thought Jiji was the name of a cute black cat. The town I discovered is cute, and might as well be named after the cat. Or the cat could be named after the town. It’s a fun little place.





















It was time to leave Kaohsiung. We hurriedly caught the next train to Ershui (Western corridor, mountain line), where we changed trains toward Shueili. I got to exchange a few words with the friendly conductor, who can be seen waving at us in the picture.

The town of Shueili sits on a tributary of the Zhuoshui River. It was night when we arrived, and decorations were lit around the creek.

Dinner was delicious. In a small town such as this one, you know a lot of people, and a lot of people know you (but, as A. remarked one day, ‘The dogs don’t know me yet’). The sliced persimmon was a treat for us, and it was a good treat to add to a day that seemed full of treats.

A. offered me her bike the next day to explore the area. After that I would go to Sun-Moon Lake to prepare for the upcoming Yushan hike.

We bid good night.

Meinong was A.’s family’s idea, and it’s great that we were able to drive there. Our first stop was the culture museum. The first thing we saw there was a salamander that ran along a bridge and plopped into the water.

Inside the museum were traditional Hakka household items. Something farming-related (I don’t know agriculture…):

Fishing:

For carrying things. (Really bad for your back, by the way.)

On the wall were paintings depicting the Hakka way of life.

A. explained to me that Hakka families used to live together in large houses. Water buffalo, used for farming, were treasured members of the household.

I forgot what this is for.

Paper umbrellas:

Bridal carriage:

Three types of baby cribs: rolling, rocking, and (I think) for picking up and rocking in your hands. In the US we don’t find these because we think it’s bad for the babies.

A real iron (not the fake electric one) and foot-powered sewing machine:

Outside we got some miniature paper umbrellas. In another part of the museum, we could paint designs on them, but we didn’t have time.

The next stop after the museum was a clay factory. I am familiar with how a block of clay becomes a finished cup or bowl, but here they also made the clay. We weren’t allowed to photograph inside.

From the hills, macaques stared ominously.

Meinong, mostly, is fields with mountains behind them. Very pretty.

Our final stop was a shopping place where we had lunch, and I bought souvenirs.

Taro ice cream!

Inside the gift store:

From the balcony we could see the fields and kids playing with traditional toys.

Here I bought an umbrella and a basket as gifts. I also was tempted by a wide farmer’s hat. I originally thought it would be difficult to carry, but everyone liked it on me, so I got the hat, too.

Back outside (I really like it when the well pumps work, because in the US they often don’t):

I close with me and my new hat.

The plan for Sunday was thus: we would go to the Hakka village of Meinong in the morning. Then A. and I would go by train to Shueili where A. works during the week.

But first we had to drop off A.’s younger sister at work. This put us close to the North end of Lotus Pond. We made a circle around the pond. First was the Confucius Temple.

Looking South at the lake one can see a large statue of Guan Yu.

Then there was the Qiming Temple.

Finally we came to the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. Visitors walk in through the mouth of the dragon and come out through the mouth of the tiger. Along the walkway are etched illustrations of various classic stories.

I climbed up to the top of the dragon pagoda. The view was good, but there were too many people waiting for their turn to go into the balcony. So, I went down one floor. The view was almost just as good, but the balcony was empty ;)

Here’s a fun angle…

Inside the tiger:

It was a short time by the lake, but I’m very happy we came here. Next stop: Meinong.





















This is Kenting. I’m too lazy to describe how to get there in detail. (There’s an express bus that connects with the HSR, and there’s a slower express bus that starts inside the city.) We (A. and I) got off at the Nanwan (South Bay, 南灣) beach stop.

After the beach, we walked down the road toward Kenting proper, trying to find a bicycle rental. There are lots of bicycle rentals around Taiwan, but it seems that in Kenting most people prefer motorbikes / scooters. We eventually did find a rental that had bicycles. In retrospect, we should have bussed to Kenting and then biked up to Nanwan. Though, I should also learn to ride a motorbike.

We took the bikes down the road to the Southern-most point of Taiwan. There was a structure that looked like an abandoned cafe with a paid entrance and tourniquets, but there wasn’t anyone selling tickets, so we just went through the tourniquets and looked at the ocean. Outside there were some shops, one selling ice cream, another selling sodium water, etc. We walked along the trail to the platform at the Southern-most point.

We then returned to Kenting. It got dark, and the night market started up. We ate all sorts of barbecued things and fruits.

And fell asleep as soon as we got on the returning bus.





















I arrived at the Zuoying station at around 16:30, which means it only took 3.5 hours to get from Lushan all the way to Kaohsiung. It helped that I took the high speed rail, though I never did that again - too expensive. My friend A. with whose family I would stay for the next two nights met me at the station and took me to their flat.

These are my first impressions of Kaohsiung. There was a book-themed restaurant where we had dinner. Then we drove to Love River and walked around the park. I was very tired after the mountain trip and slept well that night. The next day A. and I rose early and headed for Kenting.

This was the day I would walk 17 km to the Lushan hot springs bus stop. The path cuts through the Truku Seediq language area, passing at 5 km the village of Toda (都達 or 平靜, Pingjing) and at 10 km the village called, maybe, Sipaw (希寶) - I’m not sure, as this name is not on the maps, nor in my book on the Seediq language (Holmer, A parametric grammar of Seediq).

The day started with breakfast. It was standard but very good.

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I also include day-time pictures of the hotel. Note that individual rooms have private entrances, while the office and dining area are in adjoining structures.

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After I prepared to leave, the owner told me to wait and offered a ride back up to the main road. I declined, saying that I am headed down. The owner considered driving me down, but decided against it.

The better.

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I walked past tea fields, farms, and orchards. For the first time, I saw persimmon trees.

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The village seen in the distance in the photo above is Toda.

Soon I came across a house with a family sitting outside, chatting. They explained that they are from Toda, reassured me that I was almost there, and offered me some local fresh water (which I accepted) and beer (which I declined). Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I came to the bridge across Zhuoshui River.

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I entered the village.

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So, alang = tribe, Toda is the current place name, Snapaw is the place I came from (Qingjing), and hakaw means bridge.

Many of the houses here have a rectangular shape. They are modest in construction, yet some are quite nice-looking.

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There is even a place that advertises karaoke:

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That road exits the village. I didn’t want to leave quite yet, so I turned around and met some friendly folks who spoke English. They showed me inside a traditional Seediq log cabin.

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The sign says “sapah sbiyaw”. Sapah = house, sbiyaw probably means traditional.

A while later, as I was on my way out, one of them drove by on a little truck and offered to take me along the way. He then passed me off to another family in a car, and they took me down further.

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For this I am very grateful to all. Mhuwe namu.

I followed the road.

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That says “Sipaw tribe”. I searched for both Sipaw and the Chinese, 希寶, on the Internet but couldn’t find much. And it’s not in Holmer.

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Down the road, my new friend passed me again and gave me a lift to the hot springs area in the back of his truck.

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In all, that saved me about 7 km, or about 2.5 hours of walking. With a 35-kg pack, that’s significant. Plus, I don’t often get to ride in the back of a truck ;) Mhuwe su.

The Lushan hot springs area has a foot bridge connecting the North and South parts of the town. There is also a trail to a lake, and a road uphill which eventually leads to a monument where there was a great battle. Not to mention the hot springs. The town was very badly damaged by a typhoon a few years ago with whole buildings swept into the river, and I wanted to give the place some business. In the end, though, I only had the energy to see the bridge and walk around a bit.

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I took the 13:00 bus to Puli. There I transferred to a bus bound for Taichung. At Taichung I boarded the high speed rail bound for Zuoying. Thus my first mountain excursion was over.

This and the next post describe a two-day trek through the Cingjing-Lushan area. After exploring the touristy Cingjing, I would do what nobody ever does: descend from the ridge down a local road, cross a foot bridge over Zhuoshui River, and enter the village of Toda. I would then walk along a county road South to Lushan and the Lushan hot springs area, where I would board another bus down from the mountains.

To make the trip easier, I booked a hotel that was located directly on the local road out of Cingjing, two kilometers down (out of seven). The booking was confusing: a friend in Taiwan helped me make the required bank transfer, but I neglected to contact the hotel to tie the transfer to my name. However, it was not a busy day, and the hotel kept my reservation.

Now, in chronological order… In the morning I had breakfast, checked out, and walked to the bus stop. There was plenty of time to look around and say good bye to the town.

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At the bus stop, another lone traveler like me asked for directions to Taroko. Her bus was at 15:30. I advised her to stay in Lishan and explore as buses are rare in this area. She stayed, we left and soon got stuck at the construction area where we had to squeeze the day before.

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Past that, right at the fork, and we started climbing higher into the Central Mountains.

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We took a stretch break at the pass, 3158 meters above sea level.

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We then descended, passing Cingjing and Wushe. On the way to Puli the driver stopped again, for tea. I followed him and was treated to good high-mountain oolong.

My first impression of Puli was “busy streets, no sidewalks.” It wasn’t a very good impression - I was looking for a bank. I eventually found one, a good 15 minutes away. Fifteen more minutes, and I was back at the bus stop searching for the Cingjing-bound bus. I didn’t see it, so I asked a bus driver. He said the stop was “far away”, but on his way, and he offered to take me there. I remembered that I could have simply navigated using Google Maps instead of roaming busy streets with no sidewalks.

Eventually, I was in Cingjing. I decided to start at Old England and traverse North to Green-Green Pasture. Old England is a really expensive hotel.

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There are a lot of themed hotels here, as well as gardens.

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Eventually I came to a place called Little Switzerland. There I bought a cone of ice cream. The shops were cat-themed, even though there weren’t any cats. There was also a flower garden (paid admission), which I skipped.

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From here on, there is a foot path. It looked like the path also continued South of here, but if it did, I didn’t see it. Here is a map, though!

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They grow fruits here, in the mountains. And everywhere they sell them. I bought persimmon from one of the tents and had it with my cabbage. (I got some criticism for eating the cabbage raw - I know, I know, this variety is meant for cooking, but I was on foot and had no way of preparing it.)

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At the nature area, there was a horse show, where locals displayed their talent and heritage.

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North of here is the rest of the nature area and the Green-Green Grassland with sheep. It was rather yellow, and there were no sheep - perhaps it isn’t the season.

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The day was coming to a close. I found the local road (there were signs to Winlu Hotel; the Chinese characters for Winlu are really complicated) and followed it.

Some thirty minutes later I came to the hotel. It had a very inviting Japanese setting. Included in the room rate was an individual hot pot dinner.

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When I first came to the hotel, a white dog acknowledged me, barking. I waited. The dog stopped barking. I walked toward the entrance, and the dog followed me closely. Later, as I was putting on my shoes, our heads became level. It was then that we made eye contact, and I saw into its soul.

As I toured the Taiwanese countryside I got barked at on many occasions. Some dogs were chained, many were not. These creatures live in near-solitude for their entire lives, working for the family that feeds them. I have a lot of respect for them.

There are few guides on the town of Slamaw, known also by its Mandarin name Lishan (Pear Mountain). When I mention the name, most people think I went to a different mountain area that happens to be a popular tourist destination in Taiwan. When I correct, some people became very surprised, while others had no idea what I was talking about.

So, what is Slamaw, and why should anyone bother going there? For once, it lies on the edge of the Central Cross-Island corridor, which currently means routes 8 and 14 connecting Hualien on the East to Puli on the West. Much of the route lies inside Taroko National Park, but even the parts outside the park are extremely scenic.

If you are like me, crossing the mountains by bus, you will either arrive in the early afternoon from Hualien/Taroko and leave for Cingjing at 08:00 the next morning, or you will arrive in the late morning from Cingjing and leave for Taroko/Hualien on the same day at 15:30. Either way, you have about three hours to spare. I recommend two activities: the Lishan Guesthouse ecology trail and Fushoushan Farm. The Lishan Guesthouse ecology trail starts from somewhere around the Guesthouse (next to bus stop) and ends right at the South end of Fushoushan Farm, so they are perfectly aligned. I could not find the guesthouse trail, so I took the county road to the farm. This means I passed by the Lishan cultural museum, which had exhibits of traditional structures, tools, musical instruments, dress, etc.

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This was a beautiful place.

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Eventually I went off the county road and continued (with permission from people sitting outside a nearby house) along a foot path past the fields. Here locals grow cabbage.

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At the end of the path was Fushoushan Farm. It’s more touristy: there are paved paths everywhere and signs saying to not pick the fruit.

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I returned along the same path, which is why I missed the ecology trail. As I reached the county road, the same people whom I asked for permission to pass earlier saw me and gifted me a head of cabbage. It was quite a pleasant surprise, even though I had to carry it around with me everywhere. (Also, I suspect the dogs no longer trusted me with a cabbage hanging off my backpack.)

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Mhuay su balay. Thank you.

As I descended back to the town, the sun set and illuminated the surrounding hills and foliage.

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Dinner was modest. I realized that I do not have quite enough cash to pay for the next two days’ expenses, including bus rides and a hotel. The solution was to detour all the way to Puli, which has a bank. I would do that tomorrow. In the meantime, good food and a good night’s rest.

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From the road a small path leads to the hotel:

After breakfast, I accidentally happened on a flag raising ceremony. The Taiwanese anthem was played but not sung.

I took a last look at my room (best view) and checked out of the hotel.

In the center of the town I heard some loud music coming from a truck. I thought it might be something like an ice cream truck, but it turned out to be a garbage truck. Apparently, in Taiwan garbage trucks play music, and anyone who has trash must come down and throw the trash into the truck.

Right outside Tienhsiang there is a hill with lots of temples, statues, etc. I went up to the hill.

Finally it was time to board a bus and leave this town. The ride to Lishan took 3.5 hours. That included a 40-minute wait at a construction zone (traffic allowed through every hour) and slow going at another construction zone.

The next post will be dedicated to Lishan.













Today power was out at my house between around 14:00 and around 20:30. I spent much of the evening fulfilling Thanksgiving-related obligations.

In the early afternoon, however, I went to Carkeek Park to watch salmon. This was my second time - the first was a week ago. Last week we watched salmon swim up the stream, while this week, a lone couple laid eggs. (The first set of three photos are from last week, the second set of three photos is from today.)

It was also the first snow in Seattle. We’re in a rain shadow, so we got much less than to the North of us, but it was enough to brighten the cold day.

At the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center, breakfast hours are 07:00-08:30. Then, at 10:10 I was to board the bus bound to Lishan.

That day I woke up around 06:00. The sun had not yet risen above the mountains of the park. I decided to use the morning hours to hike the Baiyang Waterfall trail. I was traveling light - no backpack, cell phone in pocket, camera in bag.

Turns out this trail is full of tunnels, so typically a headlamp would be useful. But I was light, which means headlamp not needed. (Pun intended.)

Past this first long tunnel, I could see the creek. The sun was starting to peek out from behind the hills and illuminating the trees in the distance.

There were more shorter and funner tunnels along the way. Maybe five or six? I lost count.

Above me, contrast proved too much for my camera to handle.

Below me was the flow of water.

There are multiple waterfalls at the end of the trail.

The trail technically continues further, but it was long time for me to turn back. I sped up to a jog, stopping for a few shots.

"Everybody watch your step."

From the trailhead it is only a short walk along the road to get back to Tienhsiang.















Today’s post is short because it’s Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!

I had about thirty minutes before my bus to Tienhsiang. I didn’t want to miss the bus, so I saved ten minutes for the bus stop and spent the other twenty on the Swallow Grotto trail, which is really an old section of the highway with great views of the gorge at a narrow point.

Everyone with safety hats is part of a tour group. The trail was packed with tour groups - there’s a reason permits are required for Zhuilu. But I’m not angry - as I waited for the bus, one of the tour bus drivers called me over and gave me a fruit drink.

On the way to Tienhsiang, my bus driver forgot to close the door and caused a single vehicle collision with the siding. That’s why the door is crooked.

Tienhsiang was a fun little town. I’ll post more pics of it tomorrow. My room had a good view.

That’s it. Enjoy your turkey!

In the previous post, I described the details of how to make this trip work. Today is the photo tour.

I took the first train from Taipei to Hualien (06:20 departure, 08:19 arrival). The train is the Puyuma Express, which makes zero stops between Taipei (Songshan) and Hualien. It then continues to Yuli and Taitung. Because I didn’t know any better, I tried buying the ticket from the non-reservable ticket machine, but there wasn’t a button for Hualien. Good thing, as this train doesn’t have non-reservable seats. I then tried the other machines and purchased what looked like the last ticket for that train. (Definitely buy the ticket in advance.)

At Hualien, I changed to the Taroko-bound bus.

I exited at the Visitor Center for permits. I also ate lunch there. There was time to waste before the next bus to Yanzikou, so I walked around a bit.

The Zhuilu trail starts with a beautiful suspension bridge over the gorge.

No one, other than permit holders, is allowed on the bridge, which is separated by a short locked wooden gate. People mostly don’t mind, but as I crossed the gate and went down onto the bridge, those behind me seemed somewhat displeased.

I could see this old bridge in the distance. I guessed that it probably isn’t part of the trail.

The trail is 3.1 km each way. I had four hours to hike to the turn-around point and back, so I paced myself. Distance markers every 0.1 km made this easy, but the initial climb was somewhat rough.

What complicated matters was that I was mobile - that is, moving from one town to another. This means that everything I brought to Taiwan: laptop, changes of clothes, etc. were in my bag. The gross weight was, I believe, around 35 kg.

At 1 km I reached a clearing where an old settlement once stood. There were many butterflies here.

There were also two nests, which appeared abandoned.

Sometime after the clearing I came to a bridge.

I continued climbing and enjoying nature.

There was a hole in the rock (tunnel?), then another little bridge. Eventually the trail narrowed, and a sign said to pass quickly. To my credit, I did pass as quickly as possible, stopping only to take pictures.

There was another little tunnel with a shrine and offerings of trail snacks.

Past the tunnel, the narrow trail continued.

Let’s talk about safety. You definitely don’t want to be here in snow or heavy rain unless you like adventures. (Keep in mind that the rope does not extend all the way across.) Otherwise, it’s okay. You can also take pictures, ask someone else to take a picture of you, or put your camera on a tripod and take your own picture, as long as you are always watching where you step.

One thing you should never do on a trail like this one is take selfies. Taking selfies is very dangerous because (1) you assume an unnatural pose with one arm extended, which makes it difficult to maintain a balance without moving your feet, and (2) it is hard to concentrate on taking a picture of yourself while at the same time maintaining a high level of awareness of your surroundings.

Okay, done with that, more pictures.

Past the narrow section, which is about 0.5 km long, is the Cliff Outpost. From here on the trail was closed. Hopefully it will re-open soon. Meanwhile, I had 85 minutes to return to Yanzikou. There was enough time to set up a tripod and pose for a few shots.

I then descended down the trail. At 15:55, the Taroko gorge and swinging bridge greeted me back as I crossed the gate, 5 minutes early.

Next: Yanzikou trail and the bus ride to Tienhsiang.

When planning the trip, I was actually hesitant about going to Taroko because of the difficulty of arranging transportation. The scenic areas of the park are arranged along a stretch of highway. A tour bus will stop at each spot, as will a personal vehicle, but it’s difficult to get around by local bus. (I learned at the park that it is possible - more on that later.)

Several things happened. First, everyone I talked to said that Taroko is a must-visit. Second, J. recommended the Zhuilu Trail. Instead of visiting five places in the park, I could hike Zhuilu and visit one or two more. Third, about a week before the trip I redesigned a large chunk of my itinerary. Instead of a day trip out of Hualien, Taroko became a stop on the way up into the mountains. Logistics became much simpler.

There was one complication. Zhuilu is in a protected area of the park, and hiking the trail requires a permit from the park. It also requires a mountain permit. There is a lot of information to cover, so I’m making a separate post just for the logistics. Photos tomorrow!

Introduction to Permits

Most tourist destinations in Taiwan do not require any permits. For example, most trails in Yangmingshan and most trails frequented by Taroko visitors do not require any permits.

However, longer trips require a mountain permit, which can be applied for and granted at a local police station on the day of the trip. The point of the mountain permits is to provide an account of trail usage and to keep a record in case of emergencies.

Trails passing through protected areas of national parks require an additional entry permit from the park. The point of these is to limit the number of people who hike the trails. Park permit applications must be filed in advance and, the rules / process is different for each park.

Zhuilu Old Road Permits

First, a map of the park:

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This is a map of the longer trails. The Zhuilu Old Road is the chunk of the red trail between Yanzihkou (燕子口) and Cihmu Bridge (慈母橋). This map omits some shorter trails such as the ones in the Buluowan / Yanzikou area. At the Taroko National Park Visitor Center you will get a different map that includes these trails but excludes the Zhuilu Trail and others.

No later than a week before your trip, and no earlier than a month before, submit the on-line application. You will need:

  • Your passport (number)
  • Your biographic/contact information. I’m not sure if a Taiwanese phone number / address are needed, though the system seems to imply this. I used a friend’s contact info.
  • Your itinerary. This means you should decide whether you want to hike the full trail one-way (starting at Cimu, 10.3 km) or a section of the trail there and back (starting at Yanzikou, 2 x 3.1 km).
  • Name, phone number, and address of an emergency contact in Taiwan. This definitely means a Taiwanese phone number and a Taiwanese address. This should also be someone who is comfortable talking in Chinese over the phone, as the park will contact them.

You can also check whether the day you want has open slots. There’s an on-line status page for that.

You should get a reply (by e-mail) relatively quickly. If the reply is in English, be prepared to be confused.

  • "Taiwanese citizen" - means Taiwanese resident.
  • "Emergency contact and rear personnel" - means your emergency contact. "Rear personnel" should be interpreted as ‘someone who stays behind and keeps in touch with you to make sure you’re okay’.

Otherwise, they may either approve your application or advise you to make changes. When I applied, only the short version of the itinerary was possible due to trail damage, so I had to change my itinerary.

If they approve your application, you will get an e-mail (in Chinese) instructing you to download the permit from the park web site. You can always log in and check your application status. The username is your passport number, and the password is your phone number.

Print two copies. One copy is to give to the park officials, another is to present to a park ranger if you run into one and they ask. If you don’t have access to a printer, save the permit to a USB stick. They can print it for you at the Visitor Center. It looks like this (just without the white slip at the top):

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A bit past the Visitor Center is a police station where you can get the mountain permit. Show them your park permit and passport, and wait 5 minutes. The white slip at the top is the mountain permit.

There’s one more step before you can set off on your hike. Once you arrive at the trailhead, you will have to hand off one of the copies to the local guard who will open the gate for you. They will most likely not speak English. In my case, there were also two issues: I arrived a little late - so the guard instructed me to come back before 4 PM, which is when it starts to get dark in the mountains; and part of the trail was closed - it said so on my permit, but the guard wanted to make sure I’m aware of this. This became somewhat comical, as I was nodding, and she (or he? I don’t remember) was not satisfied with that. 你聽得懂我說什麽?”Do you understand what I am saying?” So, I repeated the instructions.

Getting around the park

When planning my trip, I relied on this bus schedule. In summary, there are a few local buses running between Hualien and Taroko. But there are also shuttle buses which compliment the local buses. Here is a schedule:

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The notable stops are:

  • Hualien Railway Station - transfer to all trains.
  • Hsincheng Railway Station - transfer to local (slow) trains.
  • Taroko - the town right on the border of the park. Don’t get off here if you want to go to the park.
  • Taroko National Park Visitor Center - for park information, permits, and some trails.
  • Yanzikou (Swallow Grotto) - The Swallow Grotto trail. Also, board here after finishing the Zhuilu trail. Alight here if hiking the short version of the Zhuilu trail. Honestly, I have no idea how to get to the other (Cimu) trailhead.
  • Jiuqudong - the “tunnel of nine turns”, which was closed when I visited the park.
  • Tienhsiang - the terminus for most buses. Hotels, food, Baiyang Waterfall trail, etc.

Each day, two runs start and stop at Luoshao (洛韶), further in the park. One goes all the way to Lishan (梨山), which was my next stop after Taroko.

References

I found these blogs very useful as I planned my trip:

  1. "One-Day Hike in Taroko Gorge", Travel Taiwan. http://taiwan-itinerary.blogspot.com/2014/03/Taroko-Hiking.html
  2. "How to get a permit to Zhuilu Old Trail", Opposite Live. http://opositlife.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-to-get-permit-to-zhuilu-old-trail.html

Watch out. Crazy trip ahead.

This was the day I was supposed to visit Jiufen, then continue to hike the Caoling Old Road, and take the train to Hualien, where I would spend the night. Instead, I had a slow morning, then a really long day of hiking, and came back to Taipei around 23:30. What happened?

I was tired after a day wandering and slept in a bit. Then I packed my stuff and had breakfast with R. from the hostel. By the time I checked out, it was 12:00. At 12:33 I boarded the train to Gongliao (貢寮). I arrived at 14:04.

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The guides for hiking the Caoling Trail recommend starting at Fulong. I didn’t read the guides, so I started here. Turned out, there is not much to do in Gongliao.

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I did, however, get to see the countryside for the first time.

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I soon came across a large temple. A sign pointed me to it very early on, but I ignored the sign.

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There are signs for the Caoling trail, so finding the way is easy. Initially, it involves following a road. It’s already scenic, though.

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Eventually the actual trail begins. As usual, it’s made out of stones and climbs stairs.

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At 16:30 I reached the pass.

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It was beautiful. Here, I had a choice. I could take the direct trail down to Dali, or I could go right toward Taoyuan Valley. I turned right despite a sign instructing otherwise.

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The trail went up and down hill after hill. On top of each hill was a lookout post. Thus I call this the Great Wall of Taiwan.

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Eventually it got dark. I put the camera away and turned on my headlamp. The only exception was to register the highest point on the trail.

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Here’s a map of the trails in the area. The dotted white shows the path I took. I would like to hike the whole thing again, but with a day pack (not all my stuff) and when it’s light out.

Overall, by the time I got to the Daxi train station, it was around 20:00, and I was pretty dead. Fortunately, I had extra water, there was a functional well by the trailhead, and I passed an open convenience store with candy and snacks. I didn’t have time to make it to the Hualien hostel before close (they don’t do late check-ins), so I booked a room at a hostel in Taipei and came back by local train.

When I arrived (around 23:30) I found instructions taped to the entrance on how to check-in. The next morning, I woke early, left the money and keys in my room, and walked out around 06:00 to catch the early train to Hualien. I never saw the hostel staff.

For the next few days I will be in the mountains of Northern Taiwan.

Back at Yangmingshan second car park I waited for the bus 1717 toward Jinshan. (The linked page shows a timetable and expected arrival times at each stop.) Jinshan is a Northern coastal town and the transfer point toward Yeliu. For lunch there I had an oolong noodle soup which was packed with assorted seafood.

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The photo shows my lunch stop, as well as a wheel cake cart. Somehow those were the only wheel cakes I stumbled across in all of two weeks.

Yeliu (easily reachable from Jinshan by bus 1815 that stops 20 feet from the 1717 terminus) is known for one thing, and it is not the boats in the harbor.

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No, it is the Yeliu Geopark. Volcanic rock, carved underneath by water and wind, turned into mushroom like statues.

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Meanwhile, the wind kept polishing the rocks as waves broke around us.

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The most famous of the rocks here is known as the “queen’s head”. Visitors lined up and waited a long time for their turn to take a picture with the “queen’s head”.

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That’s it. The queen’s head.

The peninsula on which these rocks are located is similarly shaped. Beyond the mushroom rocks is “turtle head hill”. Most people don’t care about the hill, so the path is quiet. At the tip of the peninsula is an observation platform with a picnic table, while at the top of the hill sits a lighthouse.

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There are plenty of buses going from Yeliu to Keelung, which is famous for its night market. It is also a port town, and there are trains and buses going between there and Taipei.

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When I woke up the next morning, it was dry. This was good news. I packed plenty of gear for rainy days, but getting out of the house would have been difficult.

My destination that day was Yangmingshan National Park to the North of Taipei and the Northern coast of Taiwan. In this post I account the part of the park around Datun Peak.

Logistics: there are buses to Yangmingshan from the Jiantan and Beitou stations (on the red line). From Jiantan, buses either stop at the Yangminshan bus station or continue to the Yangmingshan second car park. The bus station sells day passes for the park shuttle buses, which connect to other trailheads. The shuttles don’t run often (more often on weekends than weekdays), and it only makes sense to buy the pass if you’re spending the entire day at the park. All buses accept EasyCard - but only if you have money on it. The car park is next to the visitor center. There is also a short trail from the bus station to the visitor center.

I took the shuttle to the Erziping (二子坪) stop. From there a road/trail leads to Erziping, an old farming area.

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I continued South toward Qingtian Temple, then turned left toward Datun West Peak. The trail began a steep climb. The rope proved incredibly useful.

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Soon forest gave way to tall grasses which bent over in the rain.

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Eventually I reached the peak. The climb was relatively short - only 160 m. On clear days this peak has a great view of Taipei. Not today.

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The trail down was steeper and very muddy. Fortunately there was still a rope to hang on to.

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Back down, I could choose to go right and climb to East Peak or go left and walk through the valley. Content with West Peak, I went left.

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I then took the trail to the bus stop. The direct trail climbs the main peak of Mt. Datun. So I began up the stairway to heaven.

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There was, as expected, nothing to see at the peak. It was wet and cold, so I kept going to the bus stop. A shuttle took me back to the visitor center, where I boarded another bus onward in my journey.

But first, lunch! Having spent three hours in the hills, I was hungry. So, here is a storefront (永和豆漿,110台北市,信義區,福德街270號) and my lunch there.

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After lunch I checked out another YouBike and rode West along Zhongxiao Road (blue line).

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Outside the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall there were stalls with food and games, staffed by apparent volunteers from a world peace NGO. I don’t know too much about that. Inside I watched the changing of the guard. In a large chair in the back sat the Father of the Nation, looking down at the Land Under Heaven - or a small part of it, rather - at long last in the hands of its people.

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Outside the hall there was some kind of drill team performance.

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After exploring the park around the hall, I kept going and briefly stopped at the old Air Force Headquarters library.

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That bear is the Formosan black bear. They are an endangered species endemic to the island. They are also the only large wild mammal species to live here - the Formosan clouded leopard became extinct in the late 20th century.

I ended my day at the Da’an park. It’s Chinese name calls it a “forest park”, but it’s more like a large park with a pond. Around the pond were many turtles and birds, and all were fed.

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 (Especially that one.) There was also a large playground.

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Soon it got dark and started to rain. I put on my jacket and biked back to the hostel.

Dinner was at the Lijiang night market. Tomorrow I would wake early and head North.

Former class schedules

I graduated in the summer of 2013, but my six years of course schedules are still up, and I have no plans to take them down.

About Me

If any of these topics interest you, click "read more". You will find a whole page related to that topic.

MathematicsRead more
I am most specialized in mathematics, particularly in algebraic number theory. Read about my early math days, my trip to Budapest, my graduate coursework, and see some of my course papers for math classes.

PhysicsRead more
Read about how I completed my physics degree upside down, browse through my quantum mechanics notes, and look at some of my seminar slides.

Computer ScienceRead more
Explore the fruits of my early computer science experiments, my computer science coursework and research, and my web start-up. Watch videos of projects I designed in the hardware lab.

Linguistics and ChineseRead more
Learn why I like linguistics so much, browse pictures of my trip to China, and read my course papers for linguistics and Chinese classes. Practice your traditional character recognition on a writing sample.

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See what I do in my spare time. I used to lead a student organization, and that's no easy task. Read about that and my other leadership activities.

Websites and Profiles

Old Site http://igor.tolkov.com/archive
No longer maintained, but still interesting.
China Blog Stories and memories from July 2012
And any future China travel plans.
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My present blog, mostly with photos. Mirrored on this site.
Google+ "Not all those who wander are lost"
I occasionally post photos here.
LinkedIn My LinkedIn Profile
taiLib My taiLib Profile
A service I co-founded and run. We aim to connect students who have textbooks with students who need them.