Taiwan North Miaoli Cycling Loop Route Summary:
- Starting Location: MingTe reservoir parking lot (明德水庫).
- Length: 105km. Elevation gain: ~2400 m.
- Hill profile: Three medium hills. Steep sections at second and third hill tops.
- Good for:
- Advanced winter training.
- WARNING: potential fallen rock hazard at the Gods Valley (神仙谷) section (Local #21).
- Route Highlights:
- MingTe reservoir (明德水庫).
- Shitan Old Street (獅潭老街).
- Mt Shien (仙山).
- NanZhuang Old Street (南庄老街).
- Gods Valley (神仙谷).
In the previous southern Miaoli ride we visited great things produced by Miaoli’s hilly terrains: Chinese sweet orange orchards, strawberry fields, decommissioned mountain train station and broken bridge.
For this northern Miaoli ride we would further explore its unique North-South mountain ridges, as well as the cultural elements generated by them.
The iconic four-layers, parallel mountain “walls” at northern Miaoli, which can also be seen when riding on a Taiwan High Speed Rail train.
The four mountains walls corresponded to the previous photo.
(Keep reading on to find out the meaning of the Nazi-like symbol in the cover image!)
1. West of Mountain Wall #1: Reservoir
Like our southern Miaoli loop, we began our ride at a reservoir area, the MingTe reservoir (明德水庫). This reservoir was smaller than the LiYuTan reservoir (鯉魚潭水庫), but more popular due to its close proximity to Miaoli City.
Early cyclists got his parking spot!
Solar-powered reservoir tour boats.
Unlike US’ reservoirs, in Taiwan you can have resorts right next to the water.
Main reservoir street vendors.
Old Hakka styled restaurant statue.
Our plan was to bike around the reservoir before we headed east and crossed the first/second mountain walls.
The tolled suspension bridge to one of reservoir’s island.
At winter dry season, not much water goes into the reservoir.
As an older reservoir, the MingTe reservoir had a few big temples around.
High-hung ball decoration above the temple’s plaza.
The Monkey King (孫悟空) in two-faced. Kind of strange to have at a temple because the Monkey King is just a Chinese classical novel character.
At the east most part of the reservoir was another island, on which there was a temple.
A suspension bridge to another temple on a reservoir island.
Took my bike and crossed the suspension bridge.
A cool temple flag.
Stairs to the temple. Too steep for my bike.
Donation record. Probably for building the suspension bridge.
The small rescue boat.
A reservoir bank that connected to the temple island.
The “official” temple island entrance.
Hostel with a cool (cow?) statue.
Since I took the suspension bridge shortcut to the southern reservoir part, I decided to ride a bit backward just to see what there was at the reservoir’s east tip.
And there was a cool blue/red bridge.
Looking back at the temple island.
Appropriately named “Lake Loop Bridge”.
And we began riding the southern reservoir part back to the main dam.
Camping near the reservoir.
“Delicious cuisines above the clouds.”
A little temple with cool carving.
A traditional “temple paper (金紙)” burning furnace.
Crossing the dam.
2. Passing Mountain Wall #1 & #2:
After going around the reservoir we headed onto Local #22 to cross the first two mountain walls, enjoying our first hill climb.
Leaving the reservoir’s main gate.
There was an oil/gas reserve facility along Local #22.
One of the temple gates along the mountain road. The horse riding figure above the gate was Guan Yu (關羽), a historical Chinese general deified as a justices guardian.
The crescent moon shaped blade “Green Dragon Crescent Moon Blade (青龍偃月刀)” was Guan Yu’s legendary weapon. Think of it like Excalibur for King Author.
Far away was Miaoli City. The individual peaks were parts of the first mountain wall.
Temple along the way, the “Cloud Cave Palace”(雲洞宮).
The local mountain was called “Singing Phoenix”.
The west side of mountain wall #2 (wall #1).
And the east side (wall #3 and #4).
As we passed through the second mountain wall we entered ShiTan (獅潭), a small Hakka town situated between mountain wall #3 and #4.
A quiet river passed through the town’s outskirt.
A modern statue not quite fit to this traditional old town.
ShiTan Junior High.
YiMing Temple (義民廟). YiMing literally meanes “the righteous, brave militia”. A Hakka tradition, the YiMing temple was to honor the militia that protected the local people against bandits at Qing Dynasty.
Historical Hakka creek clothing washing station (洗衫坑). Creek water was taken to flow through this narrow passage, and people would use the red rugged washing boards to wash clothes. Then they hung the washed clothes at the above red rod before bringing them home.
One of ShiTan’s specialities was Chinese mesona, a herb used for brewing hot black drink that became jelly when cooled. There was a famous local mesona store which me and a group of cyclists stopped and enjoyed for snacks.
Locally famous “Mt. Shien Mesona” (仙山仙草).
All kinds of mesona dishes you could imagine.
Yummy mesona soup with other herbal ingredients.
Old looking ShiTan Library.
In front of the Library was a painted shortcut. It used to be a shortcut for people to get to the creek, but now local artists painted the walls and called it “the secret passage”.
Took a peek into people’s house…
Looking back at the passage.
Painted house depicting ShiTan’s local specialty: Chinese sweet orange.
I really like they painted the floor as well.
3. Passing Mountain Wall #3:
Having enjoying the quiet town, we were ready to crossed the 3rd mountain wall via County #124. The part we would pass through was called “Mt Shien (仙山)”, or “The god’s mountain”.
The upper left road was where we were heading.
A small temple sign at midway.
3rd mountain wall viewed from the top.
Originally I thought there would be few cars, but as the temple on Mt. Shien was quite famous, today, the Lunar Year’s 1st day (大年初一), there were tons of cars up here, filling up all the parking space. (It’s a tradition to visit temples at this day for good luck.)
“Mt Shien Recreational Area”.
Mt Shien road mark.
Cool double-peak mountain.
“Spiritual Cave Palace (靈洞公)”.
There was another secret temple on top right of the mountain.
Taiwan’s temple was always together with local shops, mostly food vendors.
Left was the passage to the secret temple. Right was the enlarged version of the temple paper burning furnace we saw before at the reservoir.
As we left the temple and continued on #124 we entered a Sai-Siyat (賽夏族) aboriginal village. At first sight you might be wondered why there were German Nazi symbols at this aboriginal village…
As it turned out, the Swastika-like symbol had nothing to do with Nazi or even Hinduism. It was a symbol of the “thunder lady(雷女)” in aboriginal’s legend and represented the shape of thunders.
A cool thing about this village was it used aboriginal pronounciation for its signs.
As we passed the 3rd mountain wall, the 4th one was too high and too steep (photos later) for roads to get through. Thus the road #124 turned north along the valley towards NanZhuang (南庄).
“PungLai Elementary School”.
Great valley view.
At NanZhuang there was an opening for us to go east around the fourth mountain wall. But first we would supply ourselves with great food at the famous NanZhuang Old Street.
The river valley opening which we would go later.
Approached Old Street via suspension bridge.
Notice the full parking lot. There were so many people here.
As another Hakka town, NanZhuang also had its own historical cloth washing station. Not exactly the same design but the concept was the same.
The famous narrow old street entrance. It has another name called “The Sweet Olive Backstreet (桂花巷).
Sausages, with local specialties sweet olive sausages and wild mountain pig sausages.
Not going to squeeze through with my bike…
4. Detour through Mountain Wall #4 and back:
After re-energizing myself with some sausages I was ready to tackle the toughest climb in this route: riding Local #21 to the God Valley (神仙谷).
Gods Valley here I come!
Turning left into the valley.
Last glimpse of the suspension bridge towards the Old Street.
The stunning V-shaped Gods Valley. But there was more…
The Gods Valley was a stunning valley with giant cliffs on both sides. At the same time it looked dangerous here, with quite a few car-size fallen rocks along the roadside.
Notice the broken structure at the bottom right. That was an old road now completely covered by rock slide. This road was also notorious for its sudden steep section, as you could see the deeply ascended road at far left.
Almost 90-degree cliff as part of the fourth mountain wall. This was why the road couldn’t cross it directly.
The super hard Local 22 eventually ended at an aboriginal village, the Dear Field village (鹿場部落). At this season the village’s sakura already blossomed.
Local farm with cliff at a distance.
Chicken and goose flock together.
Local gathering place?
Village police station and dogs.
Time to head back.
Village veggie shop! The hanging stuff was foxtail millet (小米) I think.
Sakura and the great cliff.
This cliff was at least 500 meter above the beneath road.
Great cliff at the other side. Notice the road damage at bottom left. This road was really not well designed and managed. Going too fast and you’ll fly off the cliff, literally.
Goodbye cool valley!
After leaving the Gods Valley we followed back on #124 and went further west along the river.
Ride along the river. #124 was flat and had scooter/bike lane, perfect for some sprinting.
#124 eventually hit State #3, which we turned onto and headed south, soon got onto local routes for less traffic.
4-lane State #3.
Looking back at the four mountain walls we went through.
Historical performance stage.
Eventually we got on to State #13 that brought us all the way back to the reservoir.
Arwin Rose Garden, a garden for a Taiwan fragrance brand.
5. Route Summary
Overall the routes were great. The only concern I had was the Gods Valley part (Local #22). Not because of the steepness (just train harder!) but more on the combination of high fallen rock risk and poor/slow road maintainance (possibly due to Miaoli’s bad financials).
Thus I would recommend just get to the valley’s entrance and not to the top.