Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Camping in Taiwan

It's safer for everyone if I don't drive in Taiwan, and living in Taipei we don't need a car, but this has meant that opportunities to go camping in Taiwan have been scarce. Even if a campsite is on a public transport route, hauling our stuff on and off buses isn't really feasible. This is a great shame because Taiwan is in the grip of a camping craze.

Why exactly this is my Taiwanese friend couldn't explain, but she assured me camping is more popular than ever, and last weekend she invited us to go along with her to a campsite about 1 3/4 hours' drive from Taipei, near Hsinchu.

I was curious to find out about camping Taiwanese style.


Food figures highly in the Taiwanese value system, nearly as high as education. My son learns all about the famous dishes in each town in Taiwan in his social science lessons at school. (We have to go to Alishan because the wasabi at Alishan is the best and Daddy likes wasabi, he tells me.) And eating the local dish at a destination is often the sole reason for travelling there.

We arrived at the campsite at the tail end of lunchtime. We were the last of our group to arrive - doing things in groups of families is also very common - and the kitchen area had already been set up under a huge awning. There were two or three portable stoves and more kitchen equipment than I have in my permanent kitchen at home. Lunch had been a big affair,  but we didn't miss out because dinner was a big affair too, as was breakfast the day after, and the lunch we ate before we left. Two lovely mums did most of the cooking, and my friend and I made encouraging noises and waved our hands around helpfully. A dad commented to me that he eats better when he goes camping than he does at home.

I interrupted breakfast to take a photo:

The word fangbian, which means convenient, is one is I frequently hear around Taipei. Outside the main cities life is slow and sometimes not very convenient, it has to be said (in fact, sometimes it's downright puzzling) but convenience is nevertheless an ideal to aim for, so that I think the main Taiwanese impression of travelling abroad must be how inconvenient other countries are.

The campsite we stayed at was about half an hour's drive from the closest village, which was far enough up in the mountains to make my ears pop, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of convenience. But each patch of campsite large enough for five or so tents had its own hot shower, toilet and urinal, two washing up points and electricity hookups.

Beautiful Environment

The modernity of the campsite didn't detract from the natural state of the surroundings. We were next to a mountain stream, which provided a soothing gush throughout our stay and a handy, safe play area for the children.

The terrain confined the kids to one small spot for shrimp and crab fishing, so the environmental impact was minimal.

Wildlife encroached on the campsite. When we took my tent down in the morning, we found a frog sitting on the top, and a crab scuttled away from beneath it.

The worm was slower.

Talk and Relaxation

I couldn't sit in such beautiful surroundings without exploring them, but my friends were happy to relax and chat while the children played. I snuck off for half an hour to enjoy the views.

Camping in Taiwan was an experience in understanding Taiwanese culture as well as enjoying the beautiful natural scenery. I'm grateful to my friends for inviting us.

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