Captivating Tianliao District
Captivating Tianliao District
◎Written by Ye Yu-ci
◎English translation by Hou Ya-ting
◎Photos by Ye Yu-ci, Cai Yi-lin
◎Photos courtesy of Chongde Community Development Association, Kaohsiung Moon World Humanist Association
Tianliao District's spectacular mudstone landscapes dazzle outsiders. The exposed ridges and gullies of these badlands are a special feature of this part of Kaohsiung, and in 2011 Kaohsiung City Government's Tourism Bureau established the Tianliao Moon World Landform Park to promote the area's magnificent topography. The distinctive scenery arouses visitors' curiosity, and many wonder how Moon World gained its captivating appearance.
Moon World was created by repeated soaking and drying, a process intensified by the occasional heavy rainfall and frequent strong sunshine that characterizes the local climate. Each time it rains, the surface absorbs moisture and expands. Then, when the sun shines, the surface cracks up. The area's mudstone is a result of the surface getting wet, then drying out, again and again. Furthermore, the area's creeks gradually erode the mudstone features. At the same time, torrents of rain cause landslides which result in exposed ridges and gullies. These mudstone badlands have very little vegetation, making them Tianliao District's most recognizable physical feature.
Moon World Landform Park
In a 2017 travel article on its website, CNN recommended Tianliao Moon World Landform Park, calling it “a stretch of heavily eroded hillside. The rugged, treeless mountains add a surreal accent to the area around Kaohsiung.” As its name suggests, the desolation of Moon World resembles that of the moon's surface.
The establishment of Moon World Landform Park has made it easier for travelers to access the mudstone badlands and enjoy their barren beauty via the Lake-Circumnavigating Hiking Trail and the Wulikeng Walkway. As they climb up, visitors can appreciate panoramic views of the badlands from various perspectives. Layer upon layer of exposed ridges and gullies appear before them, revealing the full majesty of the mudstone zone.
Tianliao Moon World Landform Park includes a check dam which holds back Jade Lake. The Lake-Circumnavigating Hiking Trail goes around this body of water, which from above looks like a pearl in a desert. The lake's presence seems to soften the rugged outlines of the surrounding badlands.
The lunar-type landscape within Tianliao Moon World Landform Park may appear unearthly, but the adjacent Rihyue Buddhist Temple reminds travelers they have not left our planet. This place of worship has provided the area with spiritual succor since 1972.
While in the area, some visitors also explore the mud basin at Dagunshuei and the bubbling mud cone and hole at Siaogunshuei. Both of these natural marvels are hidden within bamboo forests, and feature thick mud that boils and spills out.
Another popular sightseeing spot on the border between the districts of Tianliao, Alian and Gangshan is Mount Dagang. This ridge is comprised of coral limestone. Among its must-see features are Panlong Gorge and the Stone Breast. The 247m-long Panlong Gorge was formed by drastic geological movements. On holidays, the gorge's flat trail attracts many families. The Stone Breast is a limestone cave which closely resembles a human breast.
Legendary smoke-dried longans
Tianliao's signature crop is longan, the flesh of which is sweet and refreshing. At the height of longan season, local farmers avoid oversupplying the market by smoke-drying large quantities of the fruit. Longans dried this way are a translucent brown and can be preserved for a long period. Smoke-dried longans can be stored with their brittle skins still on, or shucked to become like raisins. Smoke-dried longans make an excellent souvenir.
Tianliao's hilly terrain is perfect for raising free-range chickens and other livestock. Beloved local specialties include salt-cured pork and mud-baked chicken. Mud-baked chicken is a culinary embodiment of the area's unique mudstone topography; the delectable and succulent meat delights gourmands. It seems odd that barren badlands should nurture such finger-licking cuisine.
Many of Chongde Community's residents were formerly engaged in jute cultivation and processing jute fibers. However, the popularity of jute declined as alternative materials became available, and the local economy stagnated. Local folks have endeavored to rejuvenate their community by promoting local culture and values. The community now hosts day-long camps and tours that focus on jute knitting, jute crafts, farming, and cooking with sweet potatoes and other local produce. The community is willing to tailor itineraries to match visitors' needs and interests. Chongde Community's transformation has received central government recognition in the form of a Golden Rural Village Award from the Council of Agriculture.