NaMaXia (Formerly known as Sanmin)

17 Nov

Tea Mountain - Sea of Clouds

This is an excerpt from “Two Weeks Around Taiwan” a motorcycling trip around the island that my brother and I did in the Winter of 2008.

 After quite possibly the worst drive of our lives the previous day, we arrived at Sanmin township in surprisingly good spirits. This was mostly down to the best hot spring of our lives that we had at the end of the drive! I don’t know if there is something special about the hot spring water in Baolai or if it was just the sheer pleasure of finally being out of the cold and driving rain that made the hot spring incredibly relaxing and satisfying. Whatever it was, we were both pleased that we could feel our extremities once more and as if to emulate the perk in our moods, the sun finally decided to come out to play, too!

    We had been warned that not many foreigners make it as far as Sanmin and we should expect to cause a bit of a stir wherever we go. However, when we first arrived at the empty campsite where we planned to spend the night at, the owner, although nervous at first, upon discovering we could speak Chinese showed us the same friendliness and hospitality we had now become accustomed to in Taiwan, without being overly excited that we were foreigners. She said there wouldn’t be any other guests tonight and gave us the best camping spot on the site, then introduced the area to us over a hot cup of local tea.
    We unpacked for what felt like the millionth time and got our gear ready for the day before getting back onto the bikes and heading off to our first point of interest. Sanmin is an aboriginal town, actually it is three towns, the Chinese name Sanmin refers to Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s “Three principles of the people” – Minzu, Minquan, Minsheng and the three small villages are named after each. Although Sanmin is mostly famous (famous perhaps isn’t the best word – although we hope after this introduction it will be) for it’s aboriginal culture, the first point of interest was probably as far from this as possible.
    Just outside of Sanmin is Holy Mount Zion, a Christian commune headed by Elijah Hong (who was allegedly directed by God to lead people to settle on Mount Zion). The commune is now a self-governed enclave and all the believers live in the commune. We walked around the site for a while and read a lot of the information boards introducing the religion and Elijah Hong’s story. Being an atheist, all of this was a little too much for me and although I found some of the history of the sect to be quite interesting, I found most of what was being taught there to be in contradiction with my personal beliefs and value systems. We left after eating, what I will admit to being, a very delicious organic lunch.
    Next on our itinerary was a trip to the LongFeng (dragon/phoenix) waterfall. However, as we started driving up towards the other end of the town the heavens opened on us once more and what began as a light shower quickly turned into heavy rain. We pulled over at the side of the road, the rain lashing against us as we scrambled up the stairs onto the covered deck of a roadside coffee shop. ‘This is it’ we thought ‘just wait until this old guy sees us two turn up soaking wet asking for ‘liang bei kafei!’  He saw us running in as he was tending to his plants around the back of the shop and slowly walked over taking off his gloves and washing his hands before giving us the menu. “Good afternoon, sirs. Would you like to dine here or simply have a coffee?” he said in a James Bond-esque British accent. We burst into laughter and then he did, too. It turns out that he had never taken an English class in his life and learned English purely from listening to broadcasts on the radio – the British accent coming from listening to old-fashioned BBC shows, it really was quite amazing. We drank our coffees and no sooner had the rain come, it had gone and the sky returned to it’s sparkling blue color and the sun was once again singeing our skin with it’s brightness.

Long Feng Waterfall Trail

    We found the waterfall trail with little difficulty despite the slightly confusing signposts seemingly sending us in opposite directions. The trail was more tricky than we expected and there were a few times that but for a handy branch being present to grab onto I would have been sliding around in the dirt on my back. We hadn’t seen any pictures of the trail or the waterfall and weren’t expecting too much and that is perhaps why we were so impressed when we got there. The trail was short but great fun, crossing the river several times on rickety old wooden bridges that as you walk across you daren’t look down even as the bridge begins to sway beneath your feet. Then the waterfalls themselves were truly magnificent. The rain that we cursed a few minutes ago had turned into a blessing as it had increased the volume of the falls and made them even more spectacular. As we walked closer we noticed the suns rays were shining right into the waterfall, a little closer and we finally saw it and it really was the icing on the cake. Inside this wonderful waterfall was a full sparkling rainbow! It was just too perfect to be true, standing around this jungle-like forest, not a soul around and two of natures most beautiful sights rolled into one just on show for us.

Long Feng Waterfall and Rainbow

    We clambered back down the trail and onto the bikes. It was beginning to get late and we really wanted to get to the natural gas fires before nightfall so we hit the road again in search of the Sanmin Huo. The road up the mountain began to get a bit bumpy and then was suddenly incredibly bumpy. After a few more minutes we arrived at a scene that looked like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie. The road in front of us was cracked in pieces and there was no way around it. We got off the bikes and started walking. 

Sanminhuo - Collapsed Road

    Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk far and gas fires were just in front of us. We had seen these phenomena before and been less than impressed, particularly at Kending which resembled more of a circus as everyone stood round a manmade circle cooking popcorn on the fires. This was all-natural. Not a popcorn wrapper or noisy tourist in sight. It really was something quite special and we wanted to stay there until nightfall where I imagine it would be even more amazing but the road up was dangerous enough during the day, driving down in the dark would be verging on insanity.


    It was almost dusk and time to head back to the campsite for dinner and an early night, but we were hot from all the walking and driving so decided to stop at a convenience store and get a quick drink. Finally it happened. We got the response we had been expecting all day. As we slowly drove our bikes past the people in the town they looked at us and began to follow us down the street. It was a bizarre moment, I felt like Billy the Kid riding into Dodge City in an old Western movie. Everyone had followed us down to where we parked our bikes and were still walking towards us in silence. In other circumstances, I would have thought we were about to be robbed but as I suspected they were just curious and as soon as we spoke Chinese they all started asking questions at once. We were trying our best to answer every question but the children swarmed around us like bees shouting questions randomly in Mandarin and their aboriginal language before laughing manically. At last one of the older kids saved us by inviting us for a game of basketball. Being British, I’d be much more at home kicking the ball but I gave it a go anyway and provided a lot of entertainment for the local children at the same time. They asked if we wanted to play a real game, but we didn’t want to tarnish our country’s good name so bravely declined and ran away (from the group of ten year old children) as fast as we could.
    Back at the campsite the party was in full swing, which was a bit of a surprise because we thought we were the only guests. The owner of the campsite had the mayor of the town and some friends around for an evening of karaoke. We were immediately invited over for some dinner, washed down with a couple of Taiwan beers. It was an interesting way to end a fantastic day and we had a great chat with the campsite owner and her friends. I wish I could remember more of the aboriginal language they taught us (Bunun) but I think ‘money money’ was the only thing I remember (I think it means ‘hi’).
    The karaoke respectfully finished quite early, possibly because we sat there yawning and looking really tired! We had a quick shower, planned the next days drive to Alishan and then crawled into the tent content with an excellent day travelling around one of Taiwan’s best kept secrets.


2 Responses to “NaMaXia (Formerly known as Sanmin)”

  1. Rachelle December 17, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    I am writing a novel that takes place in Taiwan. I spent a ear in Koashiung on a Fulbright in 1999. The backdrop for mye story will be in the mountains. Having never experienced the natural gas fires, I am curious about them. Can anyone tell me more about them, i.e. what they look like, smell, sound, etc. any experience is welcome. also what would cause the road to collapse like in the picture, earthquake, typhoon?

  2. taiwanstories February 23, 2010 at 2:35 am #

    Hi, sorry it has taken so long to reply. The gas fires are not really that spectacular. There are a few in several places in Taiwan, the ones (formerly?) at NaMaXia being the most impressive.

    I actually don’t know why this road collapsed but I would guess that it was more likely to be because of a landslide caused by torrential rain (perhaps a typhoon) than by an earthquake.

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