My trip to most remote community in northern Taiwan—Smangus, the ‘Tribe of God’

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—On July 19 and July 20, I roamed about in the countryside of Hsinchu County and traveled all the way to one of the most remote villages in Taiwan—Smangus (司馬庫斯).

I am glad I went there at this time of year because no one knows for how long the winding broken road to the “Tribe of God” can remain travelable.

In the first afternoon of the two-day trip I drove to Chincyuan Tribe (清泉部落) in the county’s Wufeng Township and visited the former residence of Echo Chen (三毛), who is my favorite writer. Echo, whose real name is Chen Ping and pen name is San Mao, apparently killed herself with her silk sockings in 1991 at the age of 47. She lived in a brick house in Chincyuan from 1983 to 1986 to help translate three books written by Reverend Barry Martinson’s (丁松青神父), who served at a catholic church in the remote village for more than 40 years.

The Chincyuan catholic church

When I arrived at Echo’s “dream house,” it was pouring down, so I didn’t stay long.   

Chincyuan was also made famous by a historic figure-- the late military leader Chang Hsueh-liang (張學良). Chang plotted and carried out the Xian Incident that shocked the world by arresting Kuomintang commander Chiang Kai-shek and later playing a role in forcing him to join in the fight against the Japanese. Chang, who was placed under house arrest for 50 years by Chiang, spent 11 years at a house in Cingcyuan’s hot springs area. The house was no longer there as it was destroy by a typhoon long ago.

Hot spring water is still flowing in Chincyuan today and there is a public hot spring facility for foot bathing, but I couldn’t find any hot spring hotel in the area.      

I stayed overnight at a B&B near a river in Jianshi Township’s (尖石鄉) hot spring area. The sound of the river was so loud at night that it sounded like rain.

The next morning I started driving on Hsichu County Route 60 around 8 a.m. My first stop on my way to Smangus was the Yulao lookout (宇老觀景台), which commands wide views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. From the point on, there was the pleasant smell of plants in the air. The condition of the country road was desirable until my car reached Taigang Tribe(泰崗部落), where I tasted its juicy and delicious peach, which was in season at this time of year. On my way from Yulao to Taigang, I could see tribes dotted on faraway mountainsides under blue skies and white clouds.

The Yulao lookout

I bet the scenery along the last 16-kilometer country road from Taigang to Smangus was wonderful too on that day, but I was too busy steering my car away from potholes and gullies eroded by floods to enjoy the roadside landscapes. My car lurched down the road very slowly, and it took more than two hours for me to travel this broken road. After seemingly endless driving, I finally arrived at the front gate and welcome sign of Smangus past noon. I could see why two days are recommended for a trip to Smangus.

The road condition of the last 16-kilometer stretch to Smangus

The village is small with houses scattered across a mountainside. I could see the efforts the people of the tribe put into maintaining the primitive elements surrounding the village. It can be seen that logs are the primary building material for their houses. Another case in point is the trail to the “divine tree zone,” where giant trees congregate. No concrete has been used to build the trail, and all the restrooms along the trail were built from logs. The restroom near the 2k mark was built with logs and glass, so you can appreciate the natural scenery while answering the call of nature.    

The front gate and welcome sign of Smangus

Walking on the trail to the divine tree zone, which is about 5 kilometers long, is easy as it gently slopes through patches of thick and tall bamboo vegetation and pristine forests. Before I visited the giant trees, I took a little detour to visit Serifu Waterfall, which is located not far from the trail.

The restroom where you can enjoy natural scenery while answering the call of nature

Visitors are strongly recommended to finish hiking the trail to the divine tree zone because they should not miss dozens of giant trees, most of which are said to be Taiwan red cypress, at the end of the trail. The ending portion of the trail goes around the divine tree zone, where a clean river flows through, so visitors are able to see all the amazing giant trees. I touched the water of the river and it felt so cold as if it was from melted snow.

Serifu Waterfall

The river that flows through the divine tree zone

A visitor poses for photos in front of one of the divne trees

A honey peach orchard in Smangus

I like the divine tree zone of Smangus and wished I could stay there forever. But I still had to go home and go to work to earn my living. I had the famous stinky tofu at the Yulao lookout on my way back to Taipei, and it tasted really good. 

Delicious stinky tofu at the Yulao lookout