Green and Sleepy
Text: Nick Kembel
Pinglin – Greater Taipei Cycling and Tea Sipping Paradise
Just half an hour by bus from the dense human concentration of downtown Taipei, Pinglin is a sleepy village surrounded by verdant hills carpeted with neatly kept tea plantations, in an area traversed by pristine waterways teeming with fish. An ideal location for leisurely bike rides.
In recent years, Pinglin has emerged as a magnet for tea enthusiasts, cyclists, and day-trippers from Taipei City. The Pinglin region has always been on the radar of local weekend travelers, famous for its delicately floral Baozhong tea and known as a fine rest stop for those traveling along twisting, mountain-spanning Provincial Highway 9, roughly halfway between Taiwan’s capital and Yilan County.
Why is the area’s Baozhong tea so delicious? For one, Pinglin District, one of New Taipei City’s largest and most sparsely populated, possesses a cool, humid, frequently mist-shrouded mountainous environment ideal for cultivating tea. On top of this, since Pinglin’s main waterway, the Beishi River (and its tributaries), feeds the Feicui Reservoir, the area is protected as a special water-resource zone, meaning that its waterways and soil are remarkably clean.
When National Freeway 5, connecting Taipei City with Yilan County, was opened in 2006, travelers found they could shoot right by Pinglin if desired via a series of tunnels, whizzing to the Yilan Plain in a mere 40 minutes. Business in Pinglin plummeted. This kick-started a local initiative to transform Pinglin into an eco-tourism hotspot, giving visitors more incentive to go the extra mile – i.e., take the freeway’s Pinglin Exit. The Beishi River – and Jingualiao Stream, one of its tributaries – was meticulously cleaned and manicured, over 20 kilometers of bicycle paths were created, and fishermen used their fluvial knowledge to layer sections of Beishi River into pools teeming with fish. Their efforts have been a smashing success, and now Pinglin has acquired deserved recognition as a splendid getaway for local city folk and foreign visitors alike looking to cycle past tea plantations and sip a hot cup of tea right in the midst of where the tea is produced.
The bulk of Pinglin Village lies along a one-kilometer stretch of Highway 9, running parallel to the Beishi River. Most of the shops on either side of the highway are devoted to hawking the area’s mainstay product: Baozhong tea. If you are in the market for a cup of tea, local vendors are more than happy to brew up samples of Baozhong and other varieties. Local restaurants serve up all manner of innovative tea-theme dishes, including chicken fried in tea oil, tea-flavored vermicelli, tea eggs, tea jelly, deep-fried tea leaves, and tea-flavored ice cream.
Toward the eastern end of the village, just before the narrow Japanese-era Old Pinglin Bridge and a block up from the river, you can peruse more tea-related products on Pinglin Old Street. This narrow artery is the heart of the village. The stone used in many of the traditional Minnan (south Fujian)-style residences was quarried from the Beishi River riverbed. After filling up on snacks in the Old Street district, take Guozhong Road to Pinglin Junior High School at the east tip of the village. Ascend the steps behind the school to reach a hilltop 12-meter golden statue of Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy), the largest of its kind in northern Taiwan, sitting on the site of a former Japanese Shinto shrine. From here you have a grand sweeping view of the valley Pinglin village sits in, taking in the freeway, Beishi River, and the village’s tea museum.
Qinshui Suspension Bridge
On the main highway back at the western end of the village, next to a large welcome gate, cross a small parking lot to find the 60-meter-long Qinshui Suspension Bridge, which, along with the viewing platforms on either side of it, provides visitors with an ideal vantage point for observing the high concentration of fish (in certain spots as many as 50 per cubic meter, according to one study) in the crystal-clear water of the Beishi River below. The river is divided by cement blocks into sections of calm water, enabling you to easily spot the fish.
Among the fish species in residence are catfish, bottom-feeding loaches, and numerous species of carp, the largest measuring up to half a meter in length. Keep your eyes peeled for the smaller shovel-jaw carp, known for its reflective scales, which sparkle in the sunlight. With the soothing sound of the river cascading between the pools, and a mountainous backdrop in every direction that you look, it is easy to forget the fact that big Taipei City is just a half-hour drive away.
Cycling the Fish Observation Path
The Fish Observation Path, which starts at Qinshui Suspension Bridge, is best enjoyed on two wheels. Bicycles can be rented in the village (see Getting There and Around box). After crossing Qinshui Suspension Bridge from the highway side, turn right and ride along the path as it follows the Beishi River downstream. Look closely and you’ll be able to see lanky egrets perched on stones along the riverbanks, preying on the abundance of fish in the water. The path soon curves to the left, and you’ll be rewarded with a commanding view over a field with rows upon rows of tea shrubs.
After crossing a small bridge, you’ll have the choice of turning right for the start of a 40-minute ride along Jingualiao Stream, or left for a shorter ride further along the Fish Observation Path as it follows a tributary, Daiyujue Creek, upstream. Choosing the latter, the further you get from the village the more idyllic the scenery becomes, with elderly farmers in conical hats tending to their tea fields on one side and turquoise pools of creek water begging to be jumped into on the other. The trail is mostly flat and it’s best to adopt an unhurried pace, breathing in the fresh mountain air and taking in the rustic scenery on this leisurely ride.
Pinglin Tea Museum
Back in the village, don’t miss to visit the recently renovated Pinglin Tea Museum. Built in 1997, it is an elegant white-walled facility (admission free). To get to it from the Old Street area, cross the Old Pinglin Bridge and turn left. Passing through the entrance gate brings you into a Fujian-style courtyard. To the right is a multimedia hall, where you can see (and smell) 25+ varieties of tea grown in northern Taiwan, learn how to wrap Baozhong tea in its signature square packages, and observe machinery used for separating and roasting tea leaves.
In the Exhibition Hall opposite the main entrance, learn everything you ever wanted to know about Pinglin and the history of Baozhong. Interactive exhibits cover traditional tea-picking clothing for men and women, information about the different tea-producing regions of New Taipei City, and much else, and also give you the chance to take a photo with your own face placed in an old-time Formosa tea advertisement. To the left of the courtyard, you’ll find a souvenir shop selling fine teas, tea soap, ceramic teaware, and other items, and past that you can ascend a flight of stairs to a calm south China-style garden. A small teashop on the outer wall of the museum just outside the entrance serves freshly brewed hot and cold tea to go. You’ll surely want to savor a cup when leaving the museum, now that you are an expert on the subject!
Getting There and Around
From just outside MRT Xindian Station, the southern terminus of the Green Line (Songshan-Xindian Line; Line 3), bus 923 (hourly on weekdays, half-hourly on weekends; via Freeway 5) and Green 12 (hourly; via Highway 9) travel to Pinglin. The scenic journey takes about 40 minutes on each route, and the buses run from roughly 6am to 6pm. After alighting at the terminus in Pinglin Village, the Pinglin Tea Museum, Old Street, Guanyin Statue, and Qinshui Suspension Bridge can all be easily reached on foot.
Just west of the FamilyMart convenience store on the main highway, Dong Mu He Tea House hires out quality Giant bicycles for a flat rate of NT$200 per day. Clean and modern, the shop also serves a variety of tea-oil dishes, matcha waffles, and an iced beverage that combines Taiwan Beer with local Baozhong tea.
Adventurous types seeking impressive views of tea fields overlooking the Feicui Reservoir can get off the Green 12 bus, which travels from Xindian to Pinglin, at the Shisangu bus stop. Follow the highway for a few hundred meters in the direction of Pinglin, until you see a large stone inscribed with the red Chinese characters for Yong’an Community. There, turn right and follow the small road downhill for about 2km, until you see signs to the Bagua Tea Plantation. It’s quite a bit of walking (on a road very steep in sections), but you will be rewarded with enchanting views of the tea plantation and reservoir. At the plantation you can enjoy fresh tea and light meals.
From Pinglin Village, free shuttle buses F722 and F723 head out once an hour, stopping at the Jingualiao Stream Fish & Fern Trail, which stretches alongside a lush portion of Beishi River’s main tributary popular with weekend picnickers. Another bus, F721, goes to mountaintop Nanshan Temple, from which panoramic views of the Pinglin region are enjoyed. For bus schedules and all other desired information, step into the Pinglin Visitor Center, next to the gas station at the western end of the village.
English and Chinese
|Bagua Tea Plantation||八卦茶園|
|Fish Observation Path||觀魚步道|
|Jingualiao Stream Fish & Fern Trail||金瓜寮魚蕨步道|
|Old Pinglin Bridge||坪林舊橋|
|Pinglin Junior High School||坪林國中|
|Pinglin Old Street||坪林老街|
|Qinshui Suspension Bridge||親水吊橋|
Dong Mu He Tea House (東木河茶莊)
Add:No. 206, Sec. 8, Beiyi Rd., Pinglin District, New Taipei City (新北市坪林區北宜路八段206號)
Tel: (02) 2665-6882
Pinglin Tea Museum (坪林茶業博物館)
Add:No. 19-1, Songqi Keng, Shuide Borough, Pinglin District, New Taipei City (新北市坪林區水德里水聳淒坑19-1號)
Tel: (02) 2665-6035
Website: (02) http://www.tea.ntpc.gov.tw