Exploring the Badlands of Southern Taiwan

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Sundown in the badlands of southern Taiwan.

The badlands of are one of the island’s most captivating and unusual landscapes. There are several scattered around the island but the most extensive badlands can be found along the hilly borderlands of and . Known locally to Taiwanese as Yuèshìjiè 月世界, literally “moon world”, these landscapes are composed of weathered mudstone outcrops that erode too quickly for plants to grow.

This traditional home on the edge of the badlands is slowly become part of the landscape.
Another more recently abandoned traditional home in the outer badlands.

Unlike the fertile plains to the west these hills are sparsely populated. There are fewer ways to exploit the land and earn an income up here. Some residents grow fruit in small orchards, others keep chickens and pigs behind wire fences along the roadside, but most back country roads are almost completely empty. I saw many homes abandoned to the elements and few people in my travels through the badlands.

Many of the roads running along the ridges are in poor condition, likely due to land subsidence.
The view from the 308 highlands.

Despite my background in physical geography I have little to add to the excellent English-language coverage already provided by Michael Turton and Richard Saunders, both of which are well-worth reading if you’d like to know more. The only detail I will emphasize is the fact that the underlying geological formation, known in Chinese as Gǔtíngkēng 古亭坑, also contributes to the mud springs to the north in Guanziling (one of only three in the world) as well as the many mud volcanoes across the region, the most impressive of which can be found further south at Wūshāndǐng 烏山頂.

Exposed mudstone in Zuozhen Township.
An old mud brick home in the badlands.
Deep in the bamboo forest in the midst of the badlands. The sound of bamboo creaking in the wind is unique.

From what reading I have done it would seem that the Taiwanese badlands are completely unique. Nowhere else in the tropics will you find the same combination of weathering and geology. Look closely and you’ll see that slope and aspect (which way the slope is facing) play a critical role in determining the distribution of vegetation in these badlands. Slopes that receive more sunlight on average are more likely to be bare. Extensive bamboo forests have colonized the sandy flatlands between mudstone outcrops. The eerie sound of bamboo creaking and rustling in the wind is not one I will soon forget.

A farmer’s road running in front of the badlands in Tianliao, Kaohsiung.
The view from Kaohsiung highway 39-1.
Another view of the badlands landscape in Tianliao.
A closer look at the badlands in rural Tianliao.
The badlands within the grounds of the actual Tianliao Moon World attraction.

These photographs were collected on two separate trips, one on scooter and another on bicycle, through the badlands of Cǎoshān 草山月世界 in and those of , formally known as Tianliao Moon World 田寮月世界. Neither are particularly accessible by public transportation; you’ll need your own wheels to get around and make the most of a day trip out to explore these alien lands.

3 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed the information and photos. Do you think that it would be a good place to camp? I have not done any camping in Taiwan but I am thinking about it for next trip there.

  2. Nice work as usual! I’ve also visited those badlands a few times, very impressed one time when we saw a large bubbling mud volcano in the middle of one of those bamboo thickets mentioned.
    The mud was flowing down the hill and road a little like a lave flow. The mud is extremely fine.

  3. I’ve also visited guanziling springs many times, and was also astonished when the hot muddy waters started pouring out of a tap at a hot spring. I had assumed it would just be a little muddy or filtered..but nope…the water was just full of this fine mud. Made a fun bath.

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