The sandstone cliffs of Lungdong ( 龍洞; ‘Dragon Cave’), on Taiwan’s Northeast Coast are one of the island’s great adventure playgrounds, and the best place in all Taiwan for rock climbing. It’s also a favorite place of mine during the scorching summer months (when any serious hiking is ruled out), with its cool seaside breezes, not too much up-and-down, and the promise of a swim in the sea during the trip.
I wrote about Lungdong and nearby Bitoujiao elsewhere on this blog during a visit a couple of years ago (it makes good sense, after coming all the way out here, to combine the two – they’re both magnificent in their different ways). That time, however, we turned back after the Dragon Cave itself, retraced steps back up the cliffs to the big path on the top, and took the easy way across to Lungdong Bay and on to Bitoujiao.
However on our most recent trip (on a sweltering hot Sunday in late August), we chose to follow the base of the cliffs all the way to the marvellous natural ‘swimming pool’ of sea water at the bottom of the cliffs, sheltered from the open sea by rocks.
On our last trip here we’d already been told that it’s possible to walk all the way to the bay at the far side of the cliffs, thanks to a friendly American rock climber, although he rather ominously warned us that there was a ‘risky’ bit to get past along the way (or something to that effect) and that some people don’t dare to do it. Intrigued (after all, we could always go back if it proves too scary or dangerous, couldn’t we?), on we went.
Beyond the Dragon Cave itself, there’s a wide, sloping shelf of flat rock below the impressive cliffs. Shortly however, that ends, and there’s some clambering up and down the steep rocks. By the time we got through that little bit, I was beginning to assume we’d already done the hardest bit, especially when a man carrying a pink umbrella calmly traipsed into view from the opposite direction, round the cliff, looking as though he was on a walk in the park.
At this very point the cliffs turn a corner, and we couldn’t see what lay further round, but the first meter or two of a fixed rope disappeared around the cliff face, announcing that no, the hardest bit was still to come.
The tricky bit is only about 10 or 15 meters long, but it’s pretty well completely vertical direct to the rocks 10 or 15 meters below, and looked very intimidating. There’s no trail at all here, just a natural crack in the rock into which, one-by-one, we put our feet, edging slowly and nervously out over nothingness, while holding the rope with our hands and trying not too look too flustered. No room at all for error here!
Half way along the rock face, there’s a short ledge to rest and regain composure; at this point I was getting more and more jittery, and seriously considered heading back, only the others were already following, so the only way ahead was ahead!
The crack in the vertical cliff resumes after a meter or so, only this time the rope is too loose to be of any use, so the only safe and sane way to continue is to slowly edge along, feet stuck in the footholds supplied by the crack, and hands grabbing onto the rough rock as we went.
In just a couple of minutes, the worst was over, and we were back on solid ground. There’s a little more clambering down the rock face before the way descends to the safety of the rocky foreshore, but after the short by supremely nerve-wracking stretch we’d just finished, the big foot- and hand-holds are child’s play. This is definitely one of those ‘only-in-Taiwan’ places, and possibly the most intense and scary ten meters of ‘trail’ in the whole Taipei area.
Down on the shore at the far end we meet a couple of locals who’d been diving for sea urchins, and were offered fresh urchin sashimi (which tasted a lot better than I’d have imagined) before making a bee-line for the huge natural ‘pool’ (actually part of the sea sheltered from the open ocean by a small islet) right ahead, for a much-needed cool-down. The deep blue pool was already packed (it’s easily reached, without having to risk life and limb, from the western side of the cliffs), but in no time at all we were in the water for a welcome swim.
Continuing west along the base of the cliffs it’s just a short clamber over the rocks to tiny Lungdong village (along the so-called School Gate Trail, because this is the way most beginners learning to rock climb reach the cliffs). After the first of the day’s several shihuadong (a tasty natural jelly that’s popular in the area) in the village, we turned our attention across the bay to the more gentle delights of exploring Bitoujiao cape.
GETTING THERE: Lungdong (and nearby Bitoujiao) are easily reached by fairly regular buses from Taipei West Bus Station ‘A’ building. For more details about hiking in both places, see Taipei Escapes I, page 65-71. To test your nerve on the cliff, take the Golden Valley Trail (page 68) to the foot of the cliffs and simply start walking west, past Dragon Cave.