The Chinese love trees, and espeically old trees; that's no exception at Xitou. Xitou's Sacred Tree (神木) is the oldest tree in the Xitou forest. It is estimated to be around 2,800 years old (older than Confucius) and is 46 meters (about 150 feet) tall, comparable to giant sequoias in age, if not in size. After University Pond, this is Xitou's biggest attraction; hundreds of people will take the short 1.2 km walk from the Xitou parking lot to the tree. As expected, there are plenty of vendors near the tree selling snacks, noodle soups, and popsicles. Sacred Tree is a little over 3 km from University Pond.
From its junction with the road, the Giant Rock Trail leads 300 meters uphill to, well, a large rock. The trail is really more of a staircase than a trail, and gains a good amount of elevation in a short time. The rock (Jushih) is pretty large, but it sort of came as a disappointment, especially after seeing El Capitan this same year. The hike up takes 5 minutes. There's not much to do here except look at the rock; if you look away from the rock, you can see a nice little valley and some mountains.
This stretch of trail is rather long and is one of the harder trails at Xitou; unlike the trail to University Pond, it is not so well kept or so popular. You won't see many people on this trail; there aren't many views, and it goes through what's mainly forest, for almost 3 km. The trail begins by ascending about 200 meters over the course of a km; it then descends before ascending again and reaching a road. The trail is a bit rough; watch your step. The road is closed during the day; follow the road downhill (meaning turn left when you reach it). There are some temporary views of mountains (often cloud covered) before you reach the junction with the trail up to Giant Rock.
Xitou Youth Activity Center is only about 100 meters walking from University Pond and is only a little more than 1 km from the Xitou parking lots. This 'Activity Center' is basically a hostel; there's not much to do here but there are some food vendors here; from the flagpoles at the activity center there's a good view of forest and mountains.
University Pond (大學池) (Daxuechi) is the most famous landmark at Xitou. This artificial pond was created by the NTU University (hence the name), and has very turqouise water. A picturesque suspension bridge crosses the pond, and is popular with small children; no more than 10 people are allowed on the bridge at a time. From the bridge there is a view to some of the forested peaks surrounding Xitou. Many of the trees and plants in this area are identified with small signs. There are a couple of small kiosks near the pond where you can sit and rest.
My next few tips will describe a 5 km hiking loop at Xitou, which takes about two hours.
From the Xitou Village area, follow the trail towards University Pond. This stretch of trail is about 950 meters long, and the trail is wide and paved the entire way. The trail starts off by crossing a bridge, where there is a good view of a burbling creek with mountains and forest in the backdrop (A photo of that scene is found on my Nantou overview page). After crossing the bridge, the trail enters the original Japanese planted forest. The scenery here is moody and green; the trail crosses a good number of small streams. There is a minimal amount of ascending and descending on this trail, but there aren't many wide open views either. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, the trail reaches University Pond.
Xitou (Stream Source) (溪頭) is one of Taiwan's most popular forest parks. The Xitou forest actually isn't natural, but it is still worth visiting. This mountainous region (elevations between 1400-2000 meters) was logged by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan in the early part of the 20th century; the Japanese later planted a good amount of the trees here. Today, the forest is an experimental forest for the New Taiwan University (NTU) (Taida University), who have grown various trees in parts of the forest. There are plenty of sights to see and plenty of trails to walk; Xitou is without a doubt quite a charming place. The forest recreation area opens each morning at 7:00; parking is NT 100 and admission is NT 150 per person. When you enter Xitou, there's a sign for the parking lot, but don't enter there; keep on driving the straight road to an older parking lot at the end, which is much closer to the trailheads.
Hidden deep in the mountains, Puli is one of the most attractive towns on the island of Taiwan. The Chinese know Puli for its good water, good wine, good scenery, and good life; the Japanese have quite a different opinion on that. Puli was once marketed as a retirement area to the Japanese, who came, and later left saying that Puli was too crude for their liking. Puli sits at the base of 1000-meter tall peaks, and is the geographic center of Taiwan. Puli was also hard hit by the 921 earthquake. There isn't too much to do in Puli itself; most people come here to explore it's surroundings, like Hehuanshan and Sun Moon Lake.
On a clear day, this group of peaks is visible from as far away as Taichung. Ninety-nine peaks (Jiu-jiu feng) (九九峰) is a collection of ninety nine sharp jagged peaks in Caotun. The peaks are unmistakable, and although I can't vouch that there are exactly ninety-nine, I counted at least 47 from one viewpoint. The peaks aren't very tall, but their rugged appearence make them seem so. During the 921 earthquake, there were massive landslides in the peaks, causing large amounts of vegetation to be destroyed; today the peaks are slowly being reforested. In Taiwan there is a legend of a man who lead a rebellion against the Qing rule but failed; the Chinese say that for an emperor to come the island of Taiwan, there must be one hundred peaks in the ninety-nine peaks.
The National Museum of Crafts at Caotun is relatively worth visiting. This free museum, open 9:00 through 17:00, has two floors of exhibits on crafts (particularly hand made crafts). Exhibits are regularly rotated; during July 2006, the museum had a "Five Elements" exhibit on the second floor, which showcased arts that in some way pertained to one of the five elements (fire, earth, metal, air, water). The third floor had an exhibit on wood furniture. Needless to say, the second floor was somewhat more interesting. The museum has a good gift shop.
In numerology, this place is good for luck and fortune. There is a road devided this lake into two. One part is more commercial (a hotel on the lake)and the other is quiet. You can ride your bicycle arround the lake. Some people here for fishing. Near the Puli center but the entrance is not very clear.
The center of Taiwan. a small park. climb up the never-ending stair and see the whole Puli. When on the top of the mountain, go the other way to down stair and back to the same entrance (park) 10 min by bicycle to get here.
A very famous temple in Puli of Nan-t'ou county. This is not a historical temple and designed by the same architect who designed the Taipei 101. Combined modern and traditional architectural languages with different textures and scale. They don't use candles and santalaceous stuff for worship so it's a very clean temple. I remember there are buses to the temple but make sure the schedule.
Puli Brewery was set up in 1917 specializing in producing wines as the tributes for Emperors, because of its clear water quality which tasted sweet. It's been famous for Shausying wine since Taiwan's restoration. In order to promote the particular features of Shausying wine, Puli Brewery has set up a wine museum displaying wine products in variety and ancient wine jars and presenting snack foods contained of the ingredients of Shausying wine, such as rice cake, ice-lolly, tea-eggs and chicken claws. Which taste all unique.
You will arrive at the Temple by climbing 365 stairs from the pier in front of the temple. The temple dedicates primarily to General Kuan Yu and also to Confucius and General Yueh Fei. The statues of the divinities in the temple all cast by copper.
The stone-made statue of two dragons is worth appreciating. Mounting the hill behind the Wen-wu Temple, you can enjoy the scene of the whole Sun Moon Lake.