Monday, 1 August 2016

A Third Trip To Feitsui Reservoir (翡翠水庫)

The downstream area of Taipei's Feitsui reservoir (翡翠水庫).
On Saturday night I took the last HSR train up to Banqiao and from there rode the metro to Xindian in preparation for my third trip to Feitsui reservoir. Arriving in Xindian after midnight, my plan was to grab a beer in a 7-11 and get a few hours' kip while sitting at a table and then drive off to the reservoir before dawn*. I necked some coffee, scoffed some egg fried rice and got myself ready before my 4 a.m. alarm sounded.

This time my main objective was to try and get a view of the upstream face of the dam from the mountains. I had never seen such a picture online and I had only the faintest cause for optimism in the form of a small mountain road which appeared to reach the summit of one of the peaks overlooking the dam to the north. My suspicion was that the road would either be blocked to the public, or that the density of trees and other foliage would block out all possibility of seeing the front of the reservoir and the dam itself from the mountains.

The drive out eastward along provincial highway nine was uneventful despite the princelings in their Lambos and Porsches running the bends at reckless speeds. I reached my turn off point and passed by as it was still too early (pitch black), the road wouldn't have any lighting and I'd likely alarm the people who live there by driving through so early. Instead I drove on up to the ridge overlooking Erge park where I found an old man taking pictures of the pre-dawn light out east using the Taiwanese "black card technique", whereby the camera is set to a very low shutter speed and the upper two thirds of the lens is intermittently obscured by the waving of a black card in order to reduce the light exposure; this technique, when correctly applied (it is tricky), allows the photographer to capture enough light to illuminate a darkened landscape without overexposing the sunrise. I haven't yet had the patience yet for it, but I gave it a go. The results indicated I needed more practice.

The old man talked to me about various other places to take good pictures, but when I mentioned I wanted to photograph the Feitsui dam from the mountains, he said he'd never heard of any such place where that could be possible. I showed him the road I had earmarked on google maps, but he didn't know. I left him to look at Erge park, and drove back westward down to the road I had planned on following. It led up the mountainside and eventually, after a couple of momentary wrong turns, brought me out on a ledge beneath a large temple and cemetery complex with a spectacular, albeit hazy view toward Taipei city...

After pausing to take a few shots of Taipei's 101 building, I returned to the road and drove on uphill through the cemetery complex and into a forest which eventually brought me out into a clearing and over the ridge I had seen on the map. Downhill from this point I was excited, though not particularly optimistic. I expected a heavily eclipsed view of the reservoir from a dead end and no view of the dam itself, yet I was spectacularly wrong...

A panorama view over the front of Feitsui reservoir at just after 6 a.m. with the rising sun in the east. 
Another panorama view after the sun had risen somewhat higher.
I was able to see perhaps 70% of the front "section" of the reservoir, before it twisted around to the north toward "crocodile island", and I could approximately half of the concrete arch dam. Since I was gazing down from the north, it was the south side of the dam I could see, the north side remaining hidden below me by the mountain I was standing on. The view was made possible by a rough, and very short trail leading off the road and out onto the edge of the mountain. It had several large rocks into which previous visitors had carved their names and the dates they visited, and providing the tiniest bit of shade within which to peer at the camera screen after taking a shot.

I stayed for more than an hour taking photos as the sun rose and the clouds rolled further west altering the light. But eventually I left out of thirst - I had no water or coffee and the motorbike needed filling up with petrol. I returned just before 9 a.m. hoping for an improvement in the light, and on the way back up the mountain road, I paused just before the ridge summit to ponder the view north toward Taipei city - it had now deteriorated with haze, but I took some photos regardless...

A hazy view overlooking what I think is either the western outskirts of Taipei city, or a district of Xinbei (my geographical knowledge of Taipei city is very poor so I can't be sure).
When I got back over the ridge summit and down to the rocky overhang, I found that the sun had risen high enough to chase away most of the shadows...

Another panorama shot taken after 9 a.m. as the morning grew longer. 
A close-up on what could be seen of the center of the dam; the walkway along the top is surprisingly wide, easily enough for two cars to pass by one another in opposite directions.
On the far south side of the dam, there is a series of staircases leading a short distance up the mountainside, presumably to allow the engineers access to the mountainside for detecting and measuring movements following tremors and earthquakes.
The debris line rests on the water's surface just a short way upstream from the dam, and slightly downstream from what is probably the reservoir's last tributary. 
This is as much of the dam as it was possible for me to see from my position, possibly as much as one third of its' downstream surface area. At some point I will need to get myself invited on a tour of the area and facilities downstream from the dam so I can get better pictures.
There was nothing much more to do other than hang around all day shooting the same view hundreds of times over, so I left to drive back to Xindian and start the train journey back to Tainan. I took one final panorama shot with the 18mms lens and a filter attached...

It seems that I made this trip just in time because the coming week is forecast for rain all over the island even lasting into the coming weekend. With that in mind it's likely I'll take a break from reservoir trips next weekend and do other things instead, though I do need to prepare for future return trips to Feitsui reservoir, hopefully including at least one trip to the area downstream from the dam for which a permit is required, but also one or two late afternoon trip to several areas in the northern mountains along the length of the reservoir. After that, the Keelung reservoirs beckon...

*Basically, I didn't want to go out of my way looking for a motel that might be fully booked and in any case spending money unnecessarily. However, for some strange reason the convenience stores in Xindian have sitting rooms and yet do not permit customers to use them; they were not under repair or anything, they were just empty. Eventually I found a 7-11 with some stools and a desk by the window; it was uncomfortable, but a price worth paying for the pre-dawn start.


  1. I am about to arrive in Taiwan by the end of August and working hard with my plan for sightseeing Taiwan for my three-month stay there. While looking on the Google Maps, I found out FeiTsui reservoir and its related area (Qiandaohu, Tanyao) and surprisingly found that there is hardly any information of these places on the Internet. It sounds a nice place to visit, though. I wonder why you spent three times coming here as well. :D I am finding information relating to public transportation to get here and appreciate if you may give some pieces of advice. Thanks a lot :D

  2. Fragriver

    Let me know when you want to come, and if it's on a weekend then maybe I can help you and show you some places in Taiwan. My girlfriend and I live in the southern city of Tainan, but I often need to go to Taipei and elsewhere because I have a research project on Taiwan's reservoirs, so I need to visit every reservoir in Taiwan multiple times. There are other beautiful reservoirs in Taiwan besides Feitsui.

    As for public transport, it is not very good in Taiwan because most people drive scooters, motorbikes and cars. I also drive a lot and own several bikes. However, for Taipei and Kaohsiung you can use the Metro trains to get around the cities. The Taipei Metro is much bigger than the Kaohsiung Metro, and it's very cheap.

    Getting to Feitsui reservoir is a little difficult; the dam is not open to the public except at special times like the end of September (and only if you book two weeks in advance). However, if you want to visit the same spots I visited, you will either need a motorcycle (like me) or you will need a combination of Metro train, taxi and hiking. To get to Feitsui reservoir from Taipei city, you will need to take the Metro train to Xindian station. It should take less than one hour and it's very cheap. From Xindian station, you will need to take a taxi eastward on highway 9 (the yellow road), which runs to the north of the reservoir. There are several turn off points along highway 9 which lead down to the reservoir and you can see these as white roads on google maps. Follow these down to the reservoir and you can take some good pictures if the weather is nice.


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